Not one person in my life would accuse me of being chronically organized.
One of the places where I find it hardest to corral the chaos of my life is our family car. Living the #suburbanmomlyfe means that often our car is the equivalent of my purse when I was living the #urbanhipyoungpersonlyfe. Fifteen years ago, that purse was filled with items I *might* need, along with food and snacks, keys and lip balms, collars and anointing oils, and about a dozen click-pens, because I have a compulsive habit of stuffing one into my purse whenever I leave the house.
Our car functions in much the same way today, but is that space for three to four of us at any given moment, plus a dog who wants in on all driving adventures (aka driving the kids to school and back). It is full of all the stuff you might imagine—hot wheels, legos, leaves and sticks which we just ‘had to take home, mom,’ crushed pretzels, water bottles, click-pens under the seats (I have a problem, I know), and any and all amount of pull ups, wipes and extra clothes for us all.
Occasionally when the weather cooperates, I clean out our car, whole hog. Car seats are uninstalled and washed, rugs vacuumed, hands bravely extended under and in between seats where I am clearly pushing the limits of my gag reflex. It takes a few hours, and I spend the following week yelling at anyone who dares bring anything into it. It’s bliss.
But too often, the weather, available time, and my mood do not cooperate for such an endeavor. I have instead settled on a small habit for the in-between massive clean-ups: I must remove three items from the car every time I pull into our driveway.
Sometimes those three items are two earrings, and a hair clip. Sometimes it includes a lunch bag, a child’s water bottle, and an empty tissue box. Once I grabbed two click-pens (sigh) and the rain boots which I wore once then stowed in the car ever since. Sometimes it’s three pieces of trash, and they get deposited in the bins outside before I can let myself in the house.
Often, nothing looks different when only three items are taken out. The car still can feel as though four people and a dog spend most of their waking moments in it. It can still overwhelm. But small acts of hope are just as holy sometimes—and just as important—as the big ones.
Coming full steam into Advent from late Pentecost, there is a sensory pleasure in moving from Ordinary Time to tinsel time in one fell weekend and swoop. It’s better for photos, and it’s emotionally satisfying in so many ways. The big reveal. The new car with the bow on it. The transformation of the angsty, gray fall season (at least here in New England) to the ‘nip in the air with anticipation’ season all at one time.
But with each year, I’m wondering if Advent isn’t more about the small, chipping away at what holds us back from hope—holding us back from daring to imagine life differently, a world conformed by love, patience and possibility. The long walk to Bethlehem is still a walk, plodding along at a donkey-pace. And somehow each step brings us closer to the Christ-child, to the impossibility of God here and now and with us. Approaching the manger wasn’t done overnight—all the participants had to travel to that holy place, each step bringing them closer to what might be. None of this ‘around the world in 24hrs on a flying sled filled with presents’ for the shepherds and wise ones. Just one step after another, hopefully pointing in the direction of Bethlehem.
At moments our family chaos overwhelms—and in truth, some of it is of my children and some of it is of me. When I can’t drop everything to solve it—to bring myself to that place of socially acceptable organization—I pick up my three things: a candy wrapper, a tissue and a sock, and bring them gently into the house, where, with God’s help, I deposit them where they need to be. And in that act, incarnate a tiny spark of hope that the future will and can be different.