I talked to him on the phone the other day and he said, in his little breathless voice, "Are you comin' 'a my birthay party?"
"No, sweetie," I responded. "But I'm coming to see you RIGHT after Christmas."
"Ohhhh," he said. And my brother, his dad, reported that he was making Little Sad Face. I would have stabbed myself in the eye with a fork, but my sister later reassured me, "He's three years old! Don't worry about it! There's going to be tons of people there! You'll see him a week later!"
I still died a thousand deaths, of course. But life in ministry means that just you can't go gallivanting off five or six hours each way to be at a family birthday party over the weekend before Christmas. I could go, of course. I could squeeze it in since I'm not preaching on the 17th. I could rocket down the Jersey Turnpike and try not to be in a knot of anxiety and tension by the time I skidded home in a high blood pressure rush by Monday. But we're in the countdown to Christmas, and two days of travel is just not possible right now. It's not possible in my own body, which just needs to be focused on church right now. How do you explain this to a three-year old? You don't. Good thing I'm his auntie and not his mommy. I don't know how clergy parents do it. All I can say is this: put family first. Make a habit of it early on.
As the days grow dark by 5 pm, I notice that my free evenings are compulsively quiet. I cannot get much work done. I can cook, I can read, I can think, I can pray, I can go out and attend something that requires no "on" from me. But the usual flurry of writing, planning, calling is a struggle.
So I wake up a couple of hours earlier -- just after sunrise -- and I move everything back so that I don't have to depend on being very productive in the dark evenings when everything within me wants peace and rest and gentleness.
There's been a lot of death hovering around lately, too, which also slows and sobers me.
I say I'm not a morning person, but maybe I'm a winter morning person.
My mantra with everyone this holiday season is Keep Your Expectations Fair And Realistic.