Why I'm Done Pretending to Like Christmas

It took me many years (and some challenging words from my husband) to realize that I did not, in fact, enjoy Christmas.  I know this is American blasphemy... trust me, I was as shocked as anyone by this discovery.  I love giving gifts, and I like to put Christmas lights on the tree with absolutely perfect distribution.  I like singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs, making up all the words as I go. (*2012 discovery: the word "soiled' is not actually in any of the Christmas songs.)

As much as I have enjoyed these traditions, Tom brought it to my attention a couple Christmases ago, that I don't actually enjoy Christmas.  He said it so matter-of-factly that I was insulted.  He just said it as plainly as if it were a fact known and accepted by all, "Well, that's because you don't like Christmas."

After my initial shock and disbelief wore off, I started thinking about how I really feel during the holiday season.  In a word: sad.

I thought I was enjoying Christmas, because to a degree, I was.  I enjoyed watching my kids have the kind of Christmases I wished I could have had when I was growing up.  I love that my kids wake up with both of their parents in their home, and with all of their siblings, and with a sense that they are safe and loved and protected.

When you have experienced loss, tragedy, divorce, or trauma... the holidays are often a painful reminder of what, and often who, is missing.  The divorce of my parents and the death of my brother happened within the same year, and those experiences really boiled down all the decorations, and gifts, and traditions, leaving only this sad reminder behind: I wanted my dad, and I wanted my brother.

I still do.

I don't know how to stop missing the people you lose.

Since Tom brought to my attention the fact that I don't like Christmas, I have worked really hard to pretend to like Christmas.  It's a strange thing, not knowing that you hate something, then realizing it, then pretending to like it again.  It seems easier to have just continued falsely believing I liked it.  But, I have arrived at a place where I am done pretending to like Christmas.

I spent the month of October challenging myself to process and heal from the death of my brother in a productive way, by focusing on others and showing acts of kindness.  I think that openly grieving for Adam allowed me to release some of what was holding me back from enjoying not only Christmas, but a lot of good things in my life.

I have felt God growing me and refining me... and I am, once again, experiencing that feeling where the decorations and gifts and traditions are being boiled down.  Only this time, what remains is not just tragedy, loss, pain and grief.  Now, when everything else gets boiled down, what I can finally see is a baby in a manger who changed everything.

On the morning of Christmas Eve, we sent the kids upstairs to play and would not let them come down because the local authorities were telling people in our area to stay away from windows and doors because a crazed gunman had not yet been apprehended.  The man had set a car on fire to lure first responders to the scene where he then opened fire on the unsuspecting and heroic volunteer fire fighters.  He killed two of these brave young men, and it is believed that he also killed his sister, whose remains have not yet been officially identified from the fire.  Three other first responders were shot or inured, 7 homes were completely destroyed and 2 more homes declared unlivable.

These horrible things happened about a 30 second drive from my home, a place where my family takes walks and on the route where I go running.  This shooting just hit too close to home, literally too close to my home, but also too close to my heart.  I hated hearing the worry in my mom's voice and knowing that, for her, shootings are real and they can claim your child's life in an instant.

I used to think there was some sort of pain quota that we all have, and once this world has gotten its pound of flesh, it will leave you alone for the most part.  This theory was based on nothing, and it makes zero sense.  The more I live, the more people I know and love, and the more pain I see and experience.  The truth is that there really is no quota for tragic things that one may endure in this life.  There is no guarantee that you will not lose a child or a marriage.  Or both in the same year.

There is no quota.  We can experience unimaginable pain, and we can do it time and again in unimaginable doses.  That is why we need that baby in the manger.  That is the only thing I can possibly find hope in, because this world offers no promise of hope and no limit to our loss.  Without that first Christmas there is no Easter, and without Easter... there's really no promise.

So, I think I am all done pretending to like Christmas.  I am going to actually like it, because apart from Christmas, and Easter, and the promise of new and lasting life after this world... we ain't got nothing but a wreath and some pain.  So, I will choose to celebrate Christmas next year, with unabashed joy and reckless abandon.  And I will try to live in that same mindset day in and day out for 2013, hoping that Christ's message of hope will transform not only the holidays, but the regular days too.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The Capuano Family.  May your year be filled with the reality that the baby God in the manger changes every day, not just one.

The Lara of Christmas Past

The other day I got a letter in the mail from my former self.

Bear with me, this actually did happen.  Tom handed me a letter and said "did you mail yourself a letter??"  I thought "No!  How ridiculous!"  I picked up the letter and then thought "Oooh, I kinda like this handwriting."  And a moment later "Oh, yeah, I definitely wrote this to myself."

A long time ago, my friend, Erica, and I had a small Bible study kind of  group that we led.  We would take turns leading, and it went a little something like this:

Lara's turn:  Talk about our deepest issues, maybe cry it out, and applaud any time somebody says something remotely intelligent.  Do lots of icebreaker questions aka cheaps and deeps... some questions are easy (cheaps) and some heavy (deeps.)

Erica's turn: write poetry by candelight, express yourself through painting pottery and inserting your name into scriptures and taping it onto your bathroom mirror.

It was a good blend of my useless jokes and her deep, symbolic thinking.  We called it "Circle" and we reunite about twice a year and do fun things like play "Project FUNway" where you have to transform a hideous bridesmaid dress into something fabulous.

So, we are coming up on our annual Christmastime reunion and I open the letter that Erica made encouraged me to write to myself as one of our exercises.  I wrote it begrudgingly at the time, but when I opened it and read it as if it was from someone other than me... I was kinda blown away at how nicely I could speak to myself.  Maybe it was because I was writing it at the beach by candelight (this is true) and because Erica had a pocketknife at my back forcing me to write it. (this part is less true.)

Anyways, the letter arrived right when I needed somebody to tell me some very specific things.  I was surprised to discover that it was younger ME that came through when I needed her!  I learned how much more productive I could be if I encouraged myself instead of being so verbally abusive.  I would absolutely, never in a million years talk to another human being on this earth the way that I talk to myself.  So, it was a much needed mercy to receive a gentle and encouraging rebuke from the one person that usually gives me a verbal backhand.

I am sharing the letter because it explains why I am a Christ follower.  I have a deep fear of being that pushy Christian everyone vomits about, so please know that I share this because I have a lot of readers who do not  understand my faith, let alone share it.  Perhaps this will help some understand what I believe and why.  If nothing else, it should explain why you should mail stuff to yourself.

Dear Lara,
   Jesus died on the cross for you.  He did this not for your captivity- to shame, guilt, fear - but for your freedom.  He is making something beautiful out of you.  Let yourself experience the freedom He died for.  Be as free and as beautiful as He has created you to be.
   I know that you feel like a failure; like no matter how hard you try, you will always slip back.  But, you really are pure in His sight, being made new.  You are a holy vessel.  You are set apart for His use, never to be used for unholy causes.  Do not let Satan convince you that you are unholy - he is your greatest enemy in this life.  Make him sorry he ever messed with you.
   Some day your children will rise up and call you blessed.  Just stay present.  Keep working hard.  Get up early to pray.  Accept them always.  See them.  Let them see you.  They will forgive your mistakes - if you can really be present - they can forgive anything.  Every moment with them is a gift. You will never regret plugging in.  Be truly grateful for everything. It's all from God.
   You are not your past, or your parents, or your problems.  YOU. ARE. HIS. BELOVED.
                                       I love you Lara, 

Why I Hope My Kids Are Never Popular

Lately, one of my daughters has been feeling a little left out at school.  I struggle with a zillion concerns and challenges as a parent of four kids.  I have endless goals and desires for all my kids, but having school-age girls is really bringing some specific challenges to light, especially as it relates to little girls.  Here they are in alphabetical order just randomly thrown on the list:

  • Preserving their innocence, without sheltering them to the point that they say things like "bowel movement" when they are in college.  
  • Allowing them to be completely their unique, individual selves... without being socially unaware.
  • Fostering an environment where they feel like they can tell me the truth about everything.
  • Fostering an environment where they also feel terrified of breaking the rules.
  • Fostering an environment that nurtures their independent thinking, creativity and free-spiritedness.
  • Establishing a balance between being free-spirited, and always losing your lunchbox.
  • Instilling a primary desire to please the Lord in everything to do.
  • Instilling a secondary desire to use dry humor effectively.
  • Training them to be godly girls.
  • Instilling humility and grace, so they serve and honor others ahead of themselves.
  • Instilling enough self-respect that boys are afraid to ask them on dates.
  • Teaching them that their inner-beauty is what matters most.
  • Also teaching them how/when to create the perfect "smokey eye."
  • Creating a home that becomes the hang out for their friends.
  • Fostering friendships with the kind of kids that won't get drunk and steal my family heirlooms.
  • Teaching them to dress in a way that will not get them the wrong kind of attention, nor cause others to question if they time-traveled from pioneer times.  
  • Empowering them to stand up for themselves, and others, when necessary.
  • Empowering them to lead when they need to, and follow when they need to.  (And to discern when to do which.)
  • Empowering them to be the first one out on the dance floor at a lame wedding.  (They need to learn that I won't always be there to get the party started for them.  Someday, down the road, probably after a double hip-replacement, I won't be there... and YMCA will be playing, and they are going to have to grow up, and dance like total fools without me.)

This, friends, is just the tip of the iceburg.  I want my kids to live counter-culturally... but, also be able to live amongst the people so that they get to enjoy full and fruitful relationships.  I want to help create the counter-intuition required to care not about being happy, but about being holy.  I want so many paradoxical things for my kids, I am afraid they will develop multiple personality disorder.  The bottom line is that I want what God wants for them, and it takes some really delicate balances, and also some pretty major extremes to live Biblically.

Perhaps I am failing desperately, and that is why the girls sometimes feel a little like they are "odd man out."  Or, perhaps, they are odd afterall... and that notion is almost comforting because I ran with "the popular crowd" for some time when I was in school and here are a few of the things I got from that experience:

  • People can hate you for no apparent reason.
  • People will do almost anything to be accepted by others.
  • People are threatened by that which they do not understand.
  • So many more people smoke pot than you might expect. (And I am not only talking about the high school kids, but their parents. And teachers. True. Story.)
  • Appearance is everything... not even physical appearance, but appearing like you have confidence, or that you don't care what others think, or that you have money, etc.
  • Believing in "God" is fine, good even.  
  • Following Christ is laughable.  Viewed as "extreme."
  • Nobody has as much money as they pretend to have.
  • Teenage girls are clinically insane.
  • Teenage boys notice this, and disregard it.  They really are as horny willing to overlook a insanity as legend holds.  Maybe more.
  • Dating in high school is not always a total joke, but, usually.
  • Kids use swear words more than they use regular words.
  • Nobody is saying "bowel movement."
  • When a teenager says to someone  "your parents are so cool!"  It really means "I don't realize this now, but later in my adult life, I will look back and judge your cool parents for being so stupidly insecure and permissive."
  • The kids that are perpetually in some spotlight of popularity are subjected to more scrutiny than is bearable for such a poorly developed brain.
  • Academic, athletic and social pressures matter more to most parents than spiritual and moral development.
  • A lot of the most popular kids are really, really sad.
  • The kids that have the most stuff, are often the saddest.
  • A lot of the popular kids are just peaking really early, and this is as cool as they will ever be.  
So, there you have it.  My last three years of high school were a pretty miserable experience.  I felt hated by most of the people I was friends with for the many years before that.  I felt like I couldn't break into the other friend groups, because I was viewed as a "popular girl" and I don't think anyone would have believed that I really didn't have more than one or two good friends.  I was "friends" with everyone, but when the weekends came... it was really just me and my best friend, Chrisann, and so much singing into hairbrushes in my bedroom.

As a mom, I want my kids to just fly under the radar of popularity so that they can be themselves without being subjected to the scrutiny of being psuedo-celebs in their schools.  I want them to sing into their hairbrushes with one or two great friends, and not feel like they failed because they lost the huge group of friends that used to come over.  I want them to be friends with everyone, but have only a few really true friends... and I want them to know that this is a success, not a failure on their part, or because they have been rejected.  And I want them to genuinely follow Christ, even if it gets them laughed at.... because I know that the only lasting joy comes from knowing that I am who God says I am, and that I am pleasing the God that created me for His glory.  I really believe that if my kids can get ahold of this truth, they will be awesome for life.

Not just in high school.

Why I Quit Being Thankful

Okay, okay... I didn't altogether quit being thankful, I just quit recording my thankfulness for a few reasons. Most of them are weak and pathetic excuses, "I have been so busy!" or "My kidney hurts so much!" But, I also have a couple reasons that are actually legitimate.  My best reason is that I have really struggled during this "season of gratitude" with a lot of guilt and (admittedly) irritation.  Most of you can identify with the feeling of being inundated with other people's really great news on Facebook.  Trust me, I could't be more thrilled that your vegan turkey tasted just like actual turkey, oh wait... yes I could be, I could be way more thrilled.

You get the point though, right?  We all read other people's comments about themselves and their own lives and we think "WHO CARES!"  And then I sit down to write my blog, and I think "Who cares!?"  It doesn't make me feel bad, honestly it doesn't.  I barely care what I am making for dinner, I know that you people don't!  So, I felt a little sick about writing all the things that I am thankful for, when they are really just silly little things that only I could care about.  Additionally, I have grappled with the concept of  the "humblebrag" which is just a way of bragging under the guise of gratitude.  "So thankful for my precious son who can already write in complete sentences at age 2!" which really just means "So thankful my baby isn't as dumb as your baby!  Clearly I am a sensational parent!  Happy Thanksgiving, my kids are so smart."  Or maybe it doesn't mean that.  I don't even know what it means... but, I know that it sometimes makes people feel bad about having a child that cannot speak, let alone write, or not having a child at all.  So, I struggle to report in on the things in my life that I am genuinely thankful for, because I know that nobody really cares about the superficial details of my life, and sadly, I am just shallow enough to be really thankful for some very self-serving conveniences.  Plus, my kidney actually has been acting up.

But, alas... I have promised to share the things I am thankful for, and I shall do so below.  Please know that when I brag, I will do so in an outright and disgusting manner, I have zero interest in the humbebrag.  When I am a jerk, you'll know it.  So, please trust that anything I write is not intended to be braggy or competitive, unless I am blatantly trash talking.  Then, well... I am just a jerk sometimes, and it is usually meant for comedic value.  Or because my vegan tofurky was actually golden browner than yours.

Day 17: Road trips.  I love road trips.  Road tripping has been a huge shaping factor in my life.  They have given me (and my kids) a sense of adventure and have been the #1 healthiest outlet for my wanderlust.
Day 18: Invisible Children.  This organization has done some amazing things and I was so blessed to be a part of their MOVE:DC event.  If you don't know about KONY 2012, you should google it before it is 2013.
Day 19: Great nail polish.  (See, I told you I am shallow!)  I don't care what ANYONE says, unless I hear differently from Jesus Christ himself, I will continue to believe that God created nail polish for me personally to enjoy.  I like to think that there is a special little corner of heaven especially for mani/pedis... chip-free, y'all.
Day 20:  Lisps.  If I could go back in time and record one thing, it would be Marlie at age 3 saying "cookieth, caketh, candieth."
Day 21:  Bins.  Without bins, I would look like I lived inside an episode of Hoarders.  I have 1,060 bins in my basement that hold clothing for boys, girls, neutral, newborns, toddlers, etc.  Sorting out sizes and seasons is a miserable and time-consuming job... only made tolerable because of my deep adoration for a solid bin.
Day 22:  Consignment/thrift shops.  Anything that I cannot buy with a Marshall's gift card comes from a thrift store.  I love items that richer people have rejected.
Day 23:  Squinting.  I love to squint at things because you see things in a completely different way.  I know that this sounds stupid, but trust me... I do this all the time and as stupid as it sounds, it LOOKS even stupider.  Seriously though, you squint at your Christmas tree one time, and you will not be able to stop.  It is really the only way to look at Christmas lights.  (See?  I know you just squinted, and then sang "A Whole New World" from the Aladdin soundtrack.)
Day 24:  Ethnic food.  Cooking with only American spices would be like being in taste prison.
Day 25:  Songs that I know all the words to.  As it turns out, there are only, like, five songs that I know by heart.  I loooove knowing the words to songs, and I will make words up just so I can sing along.  
Day 26:  My kids' schools.  I am one of those horrible Christians that actually sent my kids to public school.  Honestly, I haven't regretted it.  They have had awesome teachers, made great friends, and been exposed to some really important life experiences.  Sure, there are some draw backs... but, so far, we have had a wonderful schooling experience with our kids.  After parent/teacher conferences today, I am feeling particularly thankful for how caring and nurturing their teachers are.
Day 27: Makeovers.  I am in the business of making gals look fabulous, and I really love it.  I love making accessories, and I love showing people how to "pull it off."  I love making people feel fabulous, and I love when I get to know someone well enough to say "burn those shoes immediately."  If somebody approached me at any given moment and offered me a million dollars to use for making over ten people... I already know the ladies I would die to get my hands on, because I have fantasized about overseeing their makeovers for years.  I am thankful for fresh starts, changes and the freedom to try something new.
Day 28:  Conditioner.
Day 29: My marriage.  Today, I have been married for nine years.  I am thankful that we are still married, and that we still laugh together every day.

This is all a little anti-climactic I am certain.  But there you have it, some things that I genuinely appreciate.  As for my challenge to you... the month is coming to a close, so I would encourage you to stop the humblebrag, and to share only things that you are truly thankful for.  Don't praise the Lord on facebook before you take the time to thank Him privately.  And since God isn't on facebook anyways, I challenge you to stop posting your prayers there altogether.  I challenge you to view life less competitively and don't be afraid to be honest about who you are, what you struggle with, and what you really love.

Even if it just just a lisp and some nail polish.