#90 – The Post-Holiday Blues

“Trying to live all the time in rising or fullness is exhausting,” says Christine Valters Paintner, one of my favorite spiritual  writers, in her end-of-year meditation.

I thought about this in relation to the post-holiday “blues,” which most of us, I imagine, try to avoid.  Or at least I do.

Aunt Esther Musselman and husband, Russ, in 1996

While my parents were still living, we drove to Pennsylvania on Christmas Day, arriving in time for a light supper and Christmas carol singing with my Aunt Esther. Going to Pennsylvania, I could let go of the pre-Christmas busyness of the Provident Bookstore or the congregation I was serving and enjoy the anticipation of spending time with my Pa. family.


But the drive home five days later felt very different.  I felt just plain sad. I knew I wouldn’t see my family again for 4 or 6 months, and let’s face it, Ontario in January is pretty dull for people like me who don’t enjoy winter sports. I also thought of the major hosting my sister-in-law did, and how exhausted she must be afterwards.

Our travel pattern changed when my mother died in 2003.   We stayed in Ontario in December, heading for Stratford on Boxing Day for a couple overnights. It was a way to decompress after a lot of holiday activity – and to try to avoid the post-Christmas blues. But I still “came down” when we arrived home from Stratford.

This year, we ate Christmas dinner with friends and planned mostly low-key holiday activity. We decided not to go to Stratford.

So I scheduled some things at home to nourish my spirit, wondering  – in what state will be my spirit be after the holidays this year?

Here are some nourishing things I planned for the last days of December and into January:

  1. Joshua-Ehlebracht-Headshot
    Joshua Ehlebracht

    The day Sam watched three football games on TV, I arranged with a friend to go to an organ concert by 19-year-old Joshua Ehlebracht at St. Peters Lutheran Church in downtown Kitchener. Beginning with the Nutcracker Suite and ending with Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, with lots of Bach in between, Ehlebracht stunned us with his talent and confidence.  The large church was nearly full.  Ehlebracht can be a bit of a showman who projects fun at the organ. He wore a black tee shirt which sparkled when he moved. Two-tone green and silver shoes completed his otherwise black outfit.I felt wonderful when I came home – and sorry for Sam, since the “wrong team” won in all three football games he watched!

  2. We competed with each other for a turn with the puzzle Kittens in the Basket, and completed it on New Years’ Eve day.
  3. Michelle-ObamaI enjoyed browsing at Wordsworth Books a couple times, savouring a gift certificate. I bought (and enjoyed) a book I would call an “entertainment” – The Colors of all the Cattle, the latest in Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana lady detective series.Over Christmas, I read more heady tomes, including Michelle Obama’s very well-written memoir, Becoming. She’s clearly a self-aware woman, talking about her journey with an amazing lack of invective. More difficult but also a worthwhile read was Prairie Fires, The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. The author expertly reveals what the Wilder books hide. Laura and her daughter Rose created and added to myths about western settlement and the pioneer life which, in her opinion, have negatively contributed to U.S. self-understandings.
  4. Of course we managed a drive north of Waterloo, visiting Martin’s Family Fruit and Stemmler’s Meats on New Year’s Eve day.

And yes, we built in lots of reflection time.

….There’s really nothing wrong with “coming down” after Christmas. It’s a time to savour the joys and acknowledge the disappointments of extended family time, to step back from hosting, to read a book or take a drive or watch football on TV or listen to music or hope for snow or to simply be.

Christine Valters Painter notes that “when we turn to the natural world we find with each new day, each moon cycle, and each season a rhythm of rise and fall, fullness and emptiness.”

She’s helping me understand that we humans too are made to flow with the rise and fall of each day and with the changing seasons.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Do you tend to “come down” after the Christmas/New Year holidays?
  • If so, how is your spirit nourished during these “down times”?

Next week: TBA

#61 — A Perfect Sunday

Looking back, I thought – “now that was a perfect day.”

My Sunday morning began as usual, with the opinion and arts sections of Saturday’s Globe and Mail.

Then I wrote in my journal in a leisurely fashion, and read a couple articles in Presence, the magazine of Spiritual Directors International. A poem about snow geese, cranes, herons and whales attracted my eye and my spirit.


Abundant lupins on Prince Edward Island

After that, bright orange and red poppies called to me as I walked through Rockway Gardens across the street. The colourful lupins reminded me of roadside ones we saw in the Maritimes a year ago.

Back at home I took coloured pencils and experimented with artwork to accompany a text I’ve been considering lately:

Thus says the Lord:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
     and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
     and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16a

Pastor Scott blessing a bicycle

Then we walked to church for a special service of “Blessing the Bicycles.”  Cyclists from preschoolers to seniors  rode their bikes to church, storing them at the back of the parking lot under the watchful eyes of two biking veterans. The service focused on seeing the natural world up close, being environmentally friendly, and imagining various kinds of blessing with biblical writers.

At the end of the service, we processed to the parking lot, where our pastor “blessed” each bicycle by putting a dab of 3-in-1 oil on the sprocket while we sang. It was a great intergenerational event!  One family grouping included a grandfather in his 70’s, along with his two daughters, a son-in-law,  and five grandsons…

After lunch and my nap, we headed across town to take in an event at Conrad Grebel University College. Starting a bit late, we got caught in slow-moving traffic in Victoria Park when I suggested, “It’s a perfect day…why don’t we go driving instead?”

The Conestogo River at Three Bridges near St. Jacobs

Thus began a long, leisurely drive combining parts of our two favorite excursions through Old Order Mennonite and Amish country.

What made that jaunt more perfect than usual was listening to seven innings of an amazing Toronto Blue Jays baseball game on the radio while driving. [Yes, I’ve become a serious fan over the past several years.] The flagging Jays won the game against the flagging Orioles 13-3, with rallies in the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, causing us to hoot with satisfaction….

But there was more! When we arrived home we relived our hymn sing of a couple weeks ago by looking at photos on the computer and deciding which ones to print.  Then after supper Sam read to me the first two months of my Aunt Esther’s diary from 1950, courtesy of a cousin. [The musty smell makes these diaries too difficult for me to read myself].

Thus I eavesdropped on my 37-year-old aunt. I glimpsed her life as a pastor’s wife, a mother and sister, a piano teacher, and a woman willing to name in private that certain endeavors of other people had “flopped”!

Published by Viking 

Finally I settled into a charming novel which our women’s book club at church will be discussing in September. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles recounts the adventures of a fictional Russian count under house arrest in a  formerly swanky Moscow hotel after the Revolution….

Reading the newspaper…journaling…walking in the public gardens…playing with art…blessing bicycles…driving through the country… listening to an amazing ballgame…recalling our hymn sing…glimpsing the life of a favorite aunt…losing myself in a novel.

A perfect rejuvenating Sunday….

Question for Reflection:  What does a perfect rejuvenating Sunday look like for you?

Next week:  Standing at the Crossroads


#22 – My First Mentor

Long before I knew what a mentor is, I had one – my Aunt Esther Musselman. She was not only my Dad’s younger sister, but also my piano teacher and the wife of one of our pastors.

Esther and Sue in late 1990s

I remember Aunt Esther as an energetic woman, much livelier than my parents.  She took a special interest in me, perhaps because her own daughter Mary had died at birth six months before I was born.  Aunt Esther was an agent of God’s care for me, and she didn’t expect me to be perfect.

This vibrant, gifted woman with a bit of flare (for our community!) had the pluck to get certified as a piano teacher and to complete high school by correspondence as an adult. [My grandfather had seen no reason why she needed a high school education.] I noticed early on that as a pastor’s wife, she had considerable freedom to use her creativity and her leadership gifts,

I took piano lessons from Aunt Esther from Grade 2 through most of high school. While I certainly wasn’t a natural musician, I likely progressed adequately until heavy school responsibilities cut into my practice time.

We had piano recitals at the local Fire Hall.  Each year it was predictable as clock work that Susan Clemmer would forget the piece she had so carefully memorized. Nervousness took over, and halfway through I just stopped!

Esther-Musselman-handsAfter several years of trotting out to give me the book so I could finish the piece, Aunt Esther finally gave up.  She invited me to play duets with her, using the book. An act of desperation for Esther translated into special time with her for me, with all the pressure gone.

During my teenage years, I interacted with Aunt Esther in many settings.  After I was baptized at age 11, she coached me in the strange ritual of foot washing by volunteering to be my partner my first time.  I was pleased to exchange a “holy kiss” with her! As my youth Sunday school teacher, she made it safe for me to ask questions. She accepted doubt as a part of faith, giving me hope.

Aunt Esther and Uncle Russ celebrated my graduations with little gifts and remained important encouragers to me as a young adult.  Unlike my Mom, Esther did not think the sky was falling when I chose to marry a draft resister and move to Canada.

Esther and Russ travelled to Ontario for my ordination, and Esther told the children’s story in that service. She played piano when Sam and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Canada.

Aunt Esther still taught 15 piano students at the age of 82, and played piano or organ for funerals. She died in 2002 in her 90th year.  Even though she’s been gone for 15 years, my heart still smiles when I think of her.

Christmas, 1996 with husband Russ

I especially treasure my memories of four generations of Clemmers singing Christmas carols in Jim and Ethel’s living room with Esther playing the piano. And she delighted us endlessly by playing our phone numbers!

Aunt Esther blessed me by noticing me, by accepting me with my foibles, and by expecting God’s best for me with a non-anxious spirit.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. In your growing up years, which extended family member or other adult in your family’s circle blessed you? How did he/she do this?
  2. As an adult, which young person(s) have you noticed and blessed?

Next week: The Artist’s Eye