On December 21, I went to see Santa. My soon-to-be-8-year-old son wanted to see Santa, so I agreed to wait in line with him. It was so hot. My heavy wool coat was draped over my arm because it was humid in the tropical conservatory at Fredrick Meijer Gardens where Santa was stationed for the evening.
We were surrounded by people dressed warmly for December in Michigan, standing too close, as we all piled in to see Santa. Too close for the humid air, and too close for a pandemic, even with our masks on. My feet and hips ached after an hour of standing on concrete. Isaiah and I passed the time by playing the alphabet game and discussing what he would tell Santa when his turn came.
Most of the children waiting were preschool age and starting to lose their cool. It was after 8 PM. We could hear tantrums and meltdowns as we wound our way through the conservatory pathways at a glacial pace. But Isaiah was a total joy as we waited. He was excited to see Santa, and he was being a good sport. He told me five times what he was going to ask Santa for for Christmas.
When it was finally his turn, it had been 90 minutes of standing and waiting. He sat down next to Santa and couldn’t remember what he wanted for Christmas, just like Ralphie in a A Christmas Story. It was so cute. Santa told him he’d bring surprises, and Isaiah was thrilled.
I treasure this little memory because he is my youngest, and I’ll bet I never stand in line to see Santa again. (He doesn’t even believe in Santa, so I think he just wanted to experience the ritual of it.) Even while my hips and feet ached and I was boiling hot and thirsty, I was aware of the “here and now”-ness of that moment. It was both mundane and filled with magic at the same time.
The next day, I was going through 20 reflection questions from an author I follow, for the purpose of looking back at 2021. I remembered all the truly awful parts of this hard year.
- My brother-in-law (and his family) fought through 12 rounds of chemo for colon cancer.
- We changed churches.
- The pandemic + the whole year of political news (especially January 6, and all that followed) carried a general sense of dread about the way things are heading.
The last of the reflection questions was “What is one phrase that you would use to describe this past year?” Immediately, the phrase that came to my mind was “I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (from Psalm 27:13).
Why did that phrase come to mind? HAD we seen the goodness of the Lord in 2021? Of course we had, in several big ways.
- Mark’s chemo resulted in a “No Evidence of Disease” report post chemo, and he competed in a race in November, and won.
- We took two family vacations this year. During one, I reconnected with an old friend, and during the other, we had a cool encounter with a dolphin, among other memories made.
- Jamie and I celebrated 20 years of marriage; evidence of the goodness of God for sure.
And there were countless day-to-day moments, like standing in line to see Santa, that I recognize were actually key moments. Here are a few, just from the last two weeks:
- A family Nerf battle with the five of us. Shared delight and laughs.
- A pack of neighborhood kids crossing the street with their sleds. An ordinary scene, the blessing of being part of a community.
- A nighttime walk with Jamie. Connection and listening to each others’ ideas.
- A rescue pickup by our neighbor when our van died. Neighbors who feel (and act) like family.
Hear these words from Frederick Buechner:
“Listen to your life.
All moments are key moments.
I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited life as the one I was living opened up onto extraordinary vistas.
Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye.
Eating lunch with a friend.
Trying to do a decent day’s work.
Hearing the rain patter against the window.
There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…
If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this:
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.
In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
– From Frederick Buechner’s Now and Then