Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Gifts of Christmas: Guest Post

Two summers ago I spent a week at the Collegeville Institute for one of their writing workshops.  (They are an incredible experience, the next round of applications is open, check them out!)  Melynne Rust, a United Methodist minister, was one of the other writers in my workshop.  She is a writer with an ability to turn the ordinary into the memorable. I still remember the opening to Melynne's piece that we workshopped for her — and this piece, too, resonated deeply with me, in part because Crash has gone off to spend Christmas with the brilliant and deep and funny Maiden of House Clark, in part because I can still remember my mother wistfully reflecting as I moved a continent away from her, that once she was married, she never again spent Christmas with her family of origin.

Just as I can always hear Good Friday and Easter simmering under Christmas, I hear in Melynne's beautiful reflection the tension between holding on and letting go. It's the Transfiguration, it's Mary Magdalen's moment in the garden, but written in the letters of our own lives. We want to cling, but are called to let go.

I note that I gave Crash luggage tags for Christmas last year, so likely shouldn't be surprised that he uses them.  Now, over to Melynne:

The Gifts of Christmas
Melynne Rust

It is the morning of Christmas Eve when my daughter announces she will be leaving the day after Christmas. I am heartbroken; it feels as though she has only just arrived. Initially, she planned to be home for two weeks, now she will be gone in half that time.

April says she wants to return to school to work, to earn money for her trip to Argentina after her college graduation in the spring. This is what she says, but it is not what I hear. What I hear is that she does not want to be with us, her family, at Christmastime.

This brings up memories of when I was her age, when I was in college and went to spend the holidays with my fiancé’s family instead of my own. It turned out to be the best Christmas present of all, not having to go home to all the dysfunctional messiness that was usually magnified this time of year. I am afraid April feels the same way about us that I had felt about my family of origin; that all she wants is to get away from us. Are we dysfunctional? Are we a mess?

I confess my fears to her, and she tries to reassure me that it simply isn’t true. She says she loves being home with us, but she wants to get back to her job at the coffee shop. It is something I cannot understand as thoughts of my younger self flood my rational brain. I am despondent the entire day, yet I hide my sadness and fear beneath a cloak of self-righteous anger towards April.

And I keep wondering, what happened to my little girl who didn’t want me to leave her at bedtime? Where is that precious child who could charm me into staying with her as we read and re-read her favorite storybook? Every night we finished the book with the same ritual of declaring our love for one another. “I love you up to the moon, Mommy,” April would say, and my steadfast response would be, “I love you up to the moon, and back.”

How can someone who had been such a ‘mama’s girl’ be the same person who, when she was only sixteen, spent a year in Austria as an exchange student? And then, as a junior in college, she spent another year in Argentina as part of a study abroad program. And now she is determined to go back. Why does she always want to leave?

At the Christmas Eve service that night I cannot bring myself to join in on the lovely carols we are singing or the special scripture passages we are reading. After we return home, I am unable to celebrate with the others as we share delicious desserts and toast with champagne. I want to be filled with peace and hope and joy, but these elusive Christmas sentiments are well beyond my reach as the melancholy envelops me.

The next morning I go through the motions of making coffee and tea and try to fix a smile on my face as my grown children find their stockings and discover the gifts I had stuffed inside. As I watch from a distance, April unwraps two beautifully crocheted luggage tags. I had forgotten about buying those for her. She holds them gingerly in her cupped hands, and then glances over my way, a mesmerized hint of a smile on her face. I can’t say for sure, but that look on her face makes me worry that she might consider the luggage tags to be my blessing on her never-ending travels.

I think back to when I first saw them. They had caught my eye because they looked like April; they were creative and vibrant, the colors of her spirit. But that wasn’t the only reason I had bought them for her. It was also because I knew—deep down inside me I knew—that discovering the world is the way April discovers herself. This is who she is.

I had forgotten this yesterday, when my own history and my own needs stood in the way.
Whether or not I want to acknowledge it out loud, I know the luggage tags are my blessing on April’s perpetual leave-taking. I know they symbolize my maternal longing for her to live into all of who she is, even if it draws her away from me.

Something softens in me, and it causes my anger to lose some of its edge, my sadness to lose some of its focus.

After the kids finish with their stockings, they begin to pass out their gifts for my husband and I. April comes over and gives me a handwritten note and a photo of a painting she is having done for me. It is a night scene of the ranch where she had worked in Argentina, and it has a full moon shining down upon the land.

Here is what she wrote: “Dear Mama, I think now more than ever this painting is appropriate. I want it to symbolize that we are always together in spirit, despite our physical location. It has and will continue to comfort me knowing that wherever we are, we are both looking at the same moon. I love you to the moon and back. Love, April.”

As I tearfully read the note, I finally begin to hear April’s voice, to really hear what she had tried to say to me the previous day. April has given me what I could not claim for myself: the gift of her continual love and devotion, even in the midst of venturing off into her own dreams. She has also given me something I had not been able to receive the night before: the gifts of peace and hope and joy, the gifts of Christmas.

Melynne Rust is a United Methodist minister, writer, wife, and mother living in a small coastal town in Florida. She and her husband have three adult children, two of whom live nearby and one who lives in Argentina. 


  1. Thank you for this - beautiful.

    1. All thanks to Melynne -- all I did was post it!