Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Great Expectations and Hard Times

In Birmingham several years ago I got on this short-lived kick to read the classics. That is, if you call reading The Brothers Karamazov short-lived. After the beautiful punishment of two months with Dostoevsky I decided to find something  a bit lighter and slightly closer to my adopted home and chose Dickens for my next book choice. Surely Dickens would help me savor life in England.

With Mr.Dickens' whole literary portfolio to choose from I'm not sure why I picked up the rarely acclaimed Hard Times.  Maybe I thought a novel about Victorian poverty would cheer me up, or at least help put my life into perspective.  Maybe it was the cheapest of the Penguin classics at Borders. Either way, what is true is that though my hopes for England were more Great Expectations, Hard Times is what I got. Nothing turn-of-the century or anything, just harder than I'd have liked.

I've been thinking a lot about expectations and reality these past weeks. Christmas will do that to you. I love Christmas and every year endeavor to recreate the magic of Christmas as a child. But magic creation (especially the homemade variety) is hard work and takes time. Time I don't have right now.

Living with great expectations can sometimes be a burden, especially when reality doesn't match.

I'm dreaming of a blue-skied Christmas with handmade stockings, a robust Douglas fir lined with perfect gifts and cookies and reading books wrapped in a blanket with a steady stream of eggnog latte. What I have is dead tree branches against grey skies, perpetually wet feet, hour-long drives to Kent (which is the total opposite to Kent, England) and a steady stream of tasks. And an eggnog latte (some things I can control).

But the other day I had the epiphany that this is enough. Like the vibrant berries sprouting out on trees across town, even in the imperfection of reality, there are little bursts of magic.

This December I've been so thankful that, even though aesthetically my Christmas won't be appearing on design*sponge anytime soon, I'm happy. I'm thankful for my husband, our little tree in our little apartment in a city I love, redcurrant candles, working in the Int'l District and the view of Seattle from the parking lot, the drive through Pioneer Square, the Christmas party with World Relief catered with Ukrainian food. Even grey skies and barren trees are somehow beautiful in their own stark way.

This year I'm appreciating that even though in our culture Christmas is laced with great expectations of what the spirit of the season should look like, there's so much beauty rooted in unmet expectation. Two-thousand years ago, to many waiting for a revolutionary savior to tangibly free them from an oppressive regime, a baby born in a manger would have been a disappointment. Or at least certainly not what was hoped for. Salvation so often looks different than what we hope for -- less outwardly glorious, much harder, still wonderfully what we need.

I will always be a Great Expectations girl and I will never seek Hard Times (nor re-read it). But so rare is it for life to meet expectations, that embracing reality and the glory of the mundane is a useful skill.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, appreciating all that you have, imperfections and all. 

{Photo by Irene Bush}


Rebekah said...

mmm, absolutely beautiful Alisha - I am savoring your sweet reminder of why we celebrate this season and how sometimes our expectations cloud out the pure and simple grace and love we have from our Savior. Merry Christmas to you and Dan - may it be full to the brim with life!! xo

Bob said...

Wonderful thoughts, compellingly written.
You mention Dostoevsky. Remember one key passage? The skeptical brother confronts the monastic one with the problem of evil. He recounts a (true) story of a boy needlessly tortured by his own parents. He asks Alyosha whether if he were God he would justify such tears even with the promise of paradise. Alyosha understood and said he wouldn't.
And then...the next hour and day and year, Alyosha continued his joyous Christianity.

Jess Fouche said...

Lish, I love this. I keep typing out why then erasing it, so I'll just say thanks for your beautifully written thoughts and I can relate in my heart with you. Hope to talk to you soon friend~

Rachel said...

So well written Alisha! I have never really looked at the beauty in unmet expectations, but you're so right-- it's there. Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring. :)

alisha said...

Thanks everyone! Hope you all have a great Christmas.

Claire Carey said...

Beautiful and sublime, Alisha.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

This post was beautiful and so so true. I'm a die-hard Dickens fan and enjoyed the chuckle over "Hard Times" as well. Eeeesh. ;)
Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Kristen said...

such good words, alisha. thank you for writing and sharing. merry christmas to you and dan!

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Lish
This writing sounds like you in a way i haven't seen u write in a while: *love!* so alisha. i think about the hiddenness of the 1st christmas a lot lately:'its Gods thing, naturally He'll provide a hotel':thats what i wouldve thought if i were mary. the meaning of His plans often transcend our personal projections. that i've learned. *merry christmas*

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