Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas Killed My Life

I had been doing great! I had been running several mornings a week, and doing various other workout things. I had been studying Chinese diligently, reviewing vocabulary each day, and attending various study sessions with various different instructors. I had been getting into the Word each morning, pouring lots of time into conversation with God. I had been - for the most part - getting enough sleep, calmly grading papers and assignments at a reasonable pace, and maintaining the various relationships that I was a part of. Life was good and rich.

And then, my favorite time of the year arrived: the holiday season! Those weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, the feasts without end, the installation of Christmas lights and trees and other festive decor, Christmas music, Christmas neckties, red and green everywhere. Love it! It's so good! It's the most wonderful time of the year.

But, not this year.

Or maybe this happens every year, and I have just been in denial.

This year seemed to be a peak of sorts, a season that maxed me out more than past Decembers. There were several preventable but, at the same time, necessary factors. And there was the ultimate trump card: everything that contributed to the insane busy-ness of 2015's holiday season was fun, worth doing, and memorable.

What made Christmas completely wipe me out this year?

In general, there was more on my plate that usual. All good things, but...just more. There was an extra and very involved poetry translation unit that the eighth grade Chinese and English teachers collaborated on (that's eight teachers who didn't all speak the same language). Sweet! Stimulating! Creative! There was a charity concert that my friend Marina put on, and at which I played bass. Generous! Kind! Warm! There was my school's December Talent Show, which four students and I hosted as MC's. Engaging! Fun! Heavy! There was a youth group sleepover at my house, new instruments to be played, and birthday parties to get crazy at. Fun! Laughter! Time.

There were a few curve balls that were outside my control. The pollution in Beijing skyrocketed during December, and after one week of 600+ AQI levels, the city took half its cars off the road, gave employees the option of working from home, and shut schools down for two days, which I'm told had never happened before. The two days off were actually great; I caught up on a ton of work and had a chance to breathe (through a heavy mask, of course) in the middle of the mayhem. But, boy oh boy, did those days throw a wrench into my tightly-scheduled December lesson plans (and the projects progress report meeting that was cancelled two weeks in a row and that many students and teachers assumed to be cursed from above and below!).

My inability to say "no" to invitations and obligations was also a factor. Could I have opted out of some of the performances? Did I have to be a December Talent Show MC? Were the e-mails and schedule I put together and sent out for the poetry translation unit really necessary, or could someone else have done them? There will come a time when I politely decline such things in order to enjoy the season and perhaps life in general a little bit more. Apparently I've not yet reached that time. Although - obviously - I am the boss of my own schedule, and I just need to make the decision to tell people to take a hike when they ask me to do stuff.

There was also just plain Christmas in general. Which is always madness. Christmas gifts to buy for Ellen, for my family, for my homeroom's Secret Santa debacle, and for a white elephant gift exchange or two. Merry Christmas! Christmas parties to attend and enjoy, and to prepare for. Ho, ho, ho! A fusillade of Christmas performances with the BICF worship team, many at far away and difficult-to-find churches in western Beijing. Happy holidays! All good fun, all more fun.

Last, and best: Ellen and I got engaged! More on this in a later post. This was the most awesome and most significant event that took place in December and indeed, this year! More on this in a later post. I am not sorry at all about adding it to my or our busy schedules. More on this in a later post. I did reflect, though, and realize how I wasn't really able to celebrate the engagement to the fullest in the days after it happened because as soon as I got up the next morning, I had to dive headfirst back into the madness of Christmas season. There will be more about the engagement, though. In a later post.

As I write this, I am in transit from the frantic pace in very urban Beijing to the peaceful quiet of rural Rock Rapids, Iowa. I'm excited to spend some quality time with my family, chatting in the kitchen or while preparing a meal. I'm ready to quietly work on a puzzle, to go for a walk (in perfectly-clean air), and dive further into Henry David Thoreau and Sigund F. Olson, who write about the importance of solitude, of being still and enjoying quiet moments, and of the simple priorities of life.

And then, later, I'll head back to Beijing, and re-enter life there. Hopefully this Christmas season will have a lasting effect, one from which I learn a bit more about time, pace, and commitment. I want to get back to my exercise, to those Chinese characters that are waiting for me to learn them, to catching sunrises and sunsets, to still moments with God in the morning, uninterrupted and pure.

It's all in my hands; I have to decide to do it.