The Gift of Inclusion

My word was “read.” I’d dipped my hand into a whole bag of self-care verbs, and this was the one drawn by chance or metaphysical mischief to kick off my personal Advent experience. Read. I almost scrapped the whole concept right then and there.

Not that I’d been sure what to expect in the first place.

Advent has never meant much more to me than a religious term for the countdown to Christmas. I tried to absorb its significance even as a child, pressing my little-girl fingerprints into purple wax and burying my nose into poinsettias on the church altar, attempting to infiltrate myself with the sacred significance of these long December days. I never felt it though, the holy hush of expectation that draws so many people to the heart of the Nativity. My skeptic-mind never made that mystic-connection, and I’ve spent many holiday seasons standing outside this brightly lit soul-window wondering why I can’t just escort myself in.

With my daughters, I’ve held onto the countdown aspect of Advent without trying to force it to mean more. They open calendar windows to find chocolates or Legos, and it’s a fun component of our family tradition. Still, there’s the wistfulness of finding myself a stranger to my own religion and the longing to feel more, to explore the mysterious nuances of Christmas spirit and rediscover wonder.

That’s why I joined Mandy Steward’s #adventwindows experience this December, albeit one week late and more wishful than hopeful that it would be my missing link between Advent-as-a-countdown and Advent-as-a-spiritual-journey. Mandy created this series of self-care prompts as a way to be “intentional about discovering wonder,” which, yes please. If anything could draw me into deeper appreciation for the season, it would be this guided dance between the practical and the intuitive. And then, as if years of seasonal loneliness weren’t hinging on its significance, the first word I drew was “read.”

Let me just tell you what “read” means to me:
It means guilt for how I lose myself in the pages of a good book and crackle with resentment if responsibilities pull me away before I can finish.
It means overwhelm when I look at my want-to-read list, the many, many, many inspiring books that hold pow-wow in my friends’ hearts while I slip further behind.
It means jealousy for those with access to well-stocked libraries and unhurried hours.
It means the heartsickness of looking back on an old love.

I didn’t realize any of that until I drew the word though, and I was caught off balance by my reaction—the sudden punch of tears, the impulse to throw away my little Advent experiment and forget I’d ever tried. That reaction more than anything is what told me Wait. This is important. One innocent verb meant to nudge me in the direction of wonder and self-care had triggered a sister strain of loneliness, and my goodness. When “read” affects you like a weapon? You stop, you take off your shoes, and you pay attention.

And here is the truth hiding under all my defensive reactions: I fail miserably at self-care. I don’t treat myself to books—even those old favorites growing dust-beards on our shelves—because I don’t feel like I deserve to. I don’t feel like I’ve done whatever arbitrary and impossible feat would earn me the pleasure of curling up for an hour and immersing myself in story. I haven’t once checked out the English shelf of our local library to see if they have anything of interest because there are so many other books to which my interest already feels indebted… and even if I did check something out, I would run straight up against the problem of merit again.

This isn’t limited to books, of course. You may be familiar with this quote by Anne Lamott: “Every day you need half an hour of quiet time for yourself, or your Self, unless you’re incredibly busy and stressed, in which case you need an hour.” This quote has always given me truth-hives. On the one hand, doesn’t St. Anne know that my Self needs to earn a reprieve from busyness by acting extra busy?  But on the other, don’t I know that’s rubbish? Self-care is not something to be earned or quantified or stolen or withheld. It can only be received, and only once we recognize our own deep worth. 

This is part of the intentional discovery of wonder, isn’t it? Facing hidden loneliness head-on and extending the gift of inclusion to ourselves? For me, today, that is going to mean pouring myself a hot tea, wrapping myself up in a far-too-large blanket, and getting lost in the pages of a good book. Tomorrow, it might mean ignoring the dishes and sitting down to build Lego cities with Dan and the girls. It will mean going to bed when weariness first tugs at the corners of my thoughts and then tiptoeing to the kitchen before dawn with my Gorey journal on the contrail of dreams. It will mean painting my toenails even though they rarely leave the refuge of fuzzy socks these days. It will mean cooking one-serving gourmet when my husband’s away on business. It will mean standing a long moment outside at night to drink in the ice-studded sky. It will mean making room in my day-to-day life for amazement and joy… room for the true heart of Advent to invite mine in.


What does self-care look like for you? What do you wish it involved?

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  1. I love this so much. First of all, I really do love Advent, but I struggle with it, too. Part of what I have loved as I began celebrating Advent as an adult was the rituals we did as a church family – decorating the church, singing carols, making Advent wreaths. I’m still trying to figure out what it means to wait for Jesus, to wait for the baby to come…it’s such a mystery. Please give yourself the gift of reading, however you can!I struggle sometimes in giving myself permission to read, too – I know that sounds crazy, when you know how much I love to read. Remember…the Word was with God, and the Word was God…I always like to think that God is in my stack of books…

  2. Don’t have much to say. Just that I love this.

  3. Takes the breath out of your sails, huh? My first day was rough too.

    I love the wrestling this word caused in you. I want to wrap up the world of “guilt-free book reading” for you and lay it on your porch and ring the doorbell and run and hide somewhere so I can watch your face glow as you rip into it.

    And a Gorey journal?! That’s the magic right there.

  4. i enjoyed READing every word in this post.
    thank you for sharing.
    glad to be on the #adventwindows journey with you too. xo

  5. I’ve been doing the AdventWindows since the beginning and I have been surprised by how every single day the word I choose in the morning fits perfectly for my day and where I am in my personal journey. I picked HOWL on day 2 and had NO idea what to do with that until I sat with it for a little while. It’s only been 7 days but it has already turned into one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts today. They are beautiful and I loved reading them. Here’s to carving out more time for self-care (for both of us)

  6. Love this so much, Bethany. 🙂 Self-care is very difficult for me too, but I’m getting better as I practice things like taking time to meditate, looking out the window at the trees, puttering in my garden after the sun goes down. And reading, yes. That is a hard one for me too. I love it so very, very much, but it requires so much courage and self-worth, doesn’t it? I love that you’re reading today. 🙂

  7. self-care. i feel like i am always backsliding on this. it is so easy for me to get caught in doing that i forget to take care of myself. it’s a journey of learning, i guess.

  8. Sam – It’s oddly comforting to know you struggle with granting yourself permission to read too… because when I think of bookaholic, you’re the first to come to mind! 🙂 I’m tucking away that last sentence of yours to hold onto long-term.

    Melissa – Thanks–I’m so glad that you said something anyway!

    Mandy – Can I convey just how hard your comment made me smile? A ding dong dash for guilt-free reading sounds just about perfect. (And holla to a fellow Gorey fan!)

    Erica – Nice to meet you along the way! I stopped by your site and just have to say… your hair is totally crush-worthy. 🙂 I’m glad our paths crossed too.

    Makeda – Now I’m incredibly curious what “howl” turned out to mean for you! I haven’t picked that one yet , but it’s a stumper even from here. Thanks so much for your comment!

    Krista – I don’t know that I’d ever thought of reading for pleasure as something that required courage or self-worth before. So glad you understand me.

    Keishua – My goodness, I can understand the doing, doing, doing to the complete detriment of meeting my own needs. It definitely is a learning experience. Thanks for your comment!

  9. This is so powerful…and familiar. I started reading Cutting for Stone in August. I got about a third of the way through, and then…WORK. It is still sitting on my bed-side-table. I am afraid to pick it up again without doing the work around here first: take down the Christmas decorations, do the LAUNDRY, CLEAN, plan next semester….I could go on. I never thought of reading being self care. It totally puts a new spin on things.

  10. Megsie – You, Liz, and Sam are my bookspiration! I have taken up audiobooks so I can “read” while cleaning the house, but it’s not self-care the way that real, solid, ink-on-paper books provide.

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