(Oh I know, last week was the last one, but it just didn’t feel right ending/starting the year without one to grow on!)

It happens every year. 

As I start to put the Christmas stuff away, I find myself wondering what my life will be like next year when I take it out again. Today, as I held each little ornament or snowman in my hand for a moment before bubble wrapping him up, I thought to myself, “The next time this is in my hands, what my life will be like?” Being a bona fide Suzy Sunshine I almost always feel hopeful, so I imagine things like that perhaps by this time next year I will have found true love and a lifelong partner, perhaps I will be a published author, and my son will be happy in college. Somehow this forward thinking helps me shape my goals for the year, not so much as resolutions per se, but in defining what I want to make happen in the next year of my life.

Many a year throughout the holiday season, a particular lyric in the song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas has resonated to my toes. The line is, “In a year our troubles will be far away.” Man, have I had some years that lyric just played over and over in my head and it seemed, was playing in every elevator and store I stepped into during the holiday season. I felt like God was reminding me that it would get better. Like say the year my husband walked out two weeks before Christmas, or say, the year I got diagnosed two weeks before Christmas. This year my life was even and good, so while the words didn’t pound in my ears like other years, I did see other people struggle during these holidays with family troubles and illness and such. This year, the song reminded me that the world is indeed fair, and that we all take our turn with that lyric for sure. And we can use that lyric to whine, or use it to instill hope and say. “Yes, the troubles will be far away, because I will make that happen.”

This practice of “envisioning” as I pack up the holiday stuff has served as a good exercise in establishing what I want and don’t want, what I need to eliminate and what I need to put effort into finding. It has also taught me a lot about what I wish for and understanding that God is in control of that.  Because each year when I unpack it all, I re-evaluate what I hoped my life would look like last year at this time, and almost always, it’s not like I envisioned; I never reconciled with my husband, I didn’t die of cancer. But almost always, it’s better than I could have dreamed.

My son and I giggled last week about how it would be nice if after life events and experiences, like the holidays, you could fill out a checklist and rate your experience. Handily checking off quantifiers like “met my expectations” or “exceeded my expectations.” He, being the statistical whiz that he is reminded me that however exceeding your expectations might not always denote a good thing. Another friend reminded me that expectations are planned failures. I dunno I think it goes both ways, I always expect the best and yes often do find myself disappointed…but I’d rather go through life expecting the best, than like Eeyore.

I prefer to think of it as thanking god for unanswered prayers.

I also drive my kids nuts as I get somewhat weepy too when packing up Christmas (and no not because it means the season of eating is over.) No, I weep when I think about how a few of the people and one dog I love oh so much are getting older. As I pack the stockings, I find myself wondering if a little paw print stocking will still be hung next year with care, and it makes me cry. But all the same, this practice pokes at me like the pine needles on the floor and makes me cognizant of the need to embrace every day with that person, or tripawd as be the case.

The year I got cancer, the packing away ritual was especially difficult and emotional. As I bubble wrapped my collection of Christmas kitsch, I only wondered, “Will  I be alive next year?” Would I ever unwrap this crocheted candle again, or would the task be done by tiny motherless hands?

Being thrifty, I am one to go out the day after Christmas and stockpile the usual suspects I know I will need for next year like wrapping paper, bows and those sorts of things. Occasionally in the post-Christmas shop, I come across some kind of deeply discounted Christmas decoration and I pick it up imagining how it will look on my mantle next year. In the days that followed that Christmas cancer diagnosis, I was in a store and came across this little five-inch tall concrete Santa. He fit solidly in my hand; his heft felt reassuring. He had a little divot in his Santa sack allowing a spot to put a votive candle, or perhaps a small red Christmas ball as he stood sentry on the porch steps for the holidays. I loved him, yet I vividly recall putting him down in the store thinking, “Why should I buy this; I may not even be here next year.” 

But eventually as with all things Lauren, several days later I climbed out of the catastrophic death spiral, getting a toe hold on the edge the canyon rim and hurling myself up over the edge onto steady ground.  I decided that if I didn’t believe in my future, no one else would, and certainly a number of cancer cells would be doing an end zone dance if I didn’t get on with it. 

So, while admittedly I didn’t buy wrapping paper, I went back and bought Santa. Curiously, I chose not to pack him away, perhaps unconsciously avoiding the internal talk of death in my head as he was rolled in bubble wrap. Instead, he stayed next to me on my desk all year. He was a sentry alright, a guard of a belief in a future, of belief in life and good things, and of belief that in a year my troubles would be far away. Until the next year, he solidly stood guard, seeming to onlookers with an empty pouch, but to me with a pouch full of expectations and a life ahead of me.

Go ahead everyone. Buy Santa. Expect the best. Make it happen.