Glitter, Lights, and Doing the Best We Can

Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photograph
Photo Credit: Angie McMonigal Photography

“Why can’t we have lights on the outside of the house this year?” Teddy has asked about a thousand times in the past two weeks. “We had them last year.”

Each time, I remind him that we aren’t putting lights on the house this year.

“But look at that house. And that one. They have lights on their house. Why can’t we?”

“Look, honey, we’re doing our best,” I mutter when I really want to scream all kinds of obscenities and demand that he show a tiny shred of gratitude. Why can’t he just be happy with the decorations that we do have – stockings, a big and wobbly tree that keeps falling down, a tiny fake tree that sits in the front window, a couple of snowflakes in the windows, an advent calendar, several candles, and some throw towels in the bathroom? Isn’t that enough for him? And then, perhaps more appropriately, I wonder: Why can’t I be happy with what I have? Why isn’t it enough for me?

I have always been in love with the Christmas season. One year, when I was about ten or so, I got so sad after the holidays were over that I declared the last weekend in January to be Christmas Part Two (though I think it had a more creative name) – a made-up holiday that involved exchanging gifts and making lots of food and throwing a big party. Basically, I wanted to recreate – no, duplicate – the magic of Christmas. Christmas once a year wasn’t enough; I wanted Christmas twice a year. Heck, why not twelve times a year!

It’s no real surprise that Christmas Part Two – and the chores that would go along with it – was not met with the same enthusiasm by my parents. They were exhausted, for goodness sake, worn out in a way that the Christmas madness can do to a parent of young kids. They just wanted a long nap and a chance to catch their breath. Needless to say, I realized pretty quickly that Christmas Part Two would never be as good as Christmas the Original, but by that time, it was almost Valentine’s Day so I moved on to that celebration.

Even today, in spite of all the holiday chores and expenses and unrealistic expectations, I still love this time of year. I love the candles and the lights, the family time and break in routine, the gift-giving and opportunities to show gratitude, and the over-played songs of peace and joy and hope. Yet, there is something about this time of year that tends to draw out a sense of longing and inadequacy as well. There is something about this time of year that begs the question: Is it enough? Is any of it ever enough?

December is a glittery and sparkly time of year and, let’s be honest, we live in a world that places a premium on glittery and sparkly. But the truth is, this time of year isn’t all that glittery or sparkly for many of us. Sure, there are moments that glitter and sparkle, but underneath all of the shininess, there is a less-than-shiny reality. Painful memories, illness, the loss of loved ones, separation, job loss, depression, and loneliness can make the holidays feel more broken and rough than polished and smooth. For many people, this time of year doesn’t feel shiny; it just feels hard. And no bows or ribbons, no garland or ornaments, no twinkly lights or inflatable lawn decorations, no glitter or sparkle can change that. Only an inner light of compassion and kindness and generosity – easy words to say, harder words to live – has any chance of breaking through the darkness.

As a parent, I want to create the magic of Christmas for my kids. I want them to feel the light that comes from bold generosity, radical kindness, and the sense of wonder – all of which seem a bit more vibrant this time of year. But while I want them to see the light that shines – not just at this time of year, but always – I don’t want them to get caught up in a quest for the glitter and the sparkle. I want them to know that the light shines with or without twinkly lights, with or without shiny ornaments, with or without gifts and cards and decorations. I want them to know that the magic comes what we give, not what we get; that the light shines inside, not outside; and that our inner light is always enough.

These are not easy lessons to teach – or learn, for that matter. Heck, I still feel like my home isn’t cute enough, my clothes aren’t stylish enough, my body isn’t fit enough, my writing isn’t glittery enough, my personality isn’t sparkly enough. The list goes on and on. But like I wrote last week, I’m trying to squeeze through a tiny open space into the quieter, calmer side where it is always enough. I’m trying to look past the glitter and sparkle so that I can find that little light shining.

Aren’t we all?

Last night, at dinner, Teddy was telling Matt about some of the holiday decorations we had seen around town.

“We don’t have lights on the outside of our house this year,” he announced.

I took a breath and prepared to defend myself against the barrage of questions and demands for more lights and more decorations, more this and more that.

“Right, Teddy, we don’t have lights on the house this year,” I said, bracing myself for yet another round of complaints.

But, instead, he stood up on his chair, leaned in real close, and sang out, “MARVELOUS! You are doing your best.”

We’re doing our best. That is enough. That’s all we can do, after all: Try to be kind and brave, work hard, appreciate the glittery and sparkly moments when they do come, and shine a light the rest of the time.

Isn’t that just MARVELOUS!

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This post is part of the Photo Inspiration Challenge with Angie McMonigal Photography. She sends a photo; I write a post inspired by that photo. Please make sure to visit her website or facebook page. Her work is amazing.

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