Finding Joy in the Darkness

Candle Light

There’s a lot of things I need to explain or catch my ten readers up on. Today is not that  day. I apologize for not posting and I’ll fill you in on some of it another time.

Obviously, the event on everyone’s mind is the horrible mass shooting that happened in Newton, CT on Friday.  Watching the horrific images on TV. Hearing news that just got worse and worse. Parents thinking about if it was their own children it had happened to. Seeing Facebook post after post and tweet after tweet – all of us in shock. I know the world probably doesn’t need another “Live in the moment” blog post but I needed it.

The question I kept hearing over and over again and that I’m still hearing today is how do you explain this type of thing? How does one process this evil act?

The answer is you don’t. This horrible tragedy can’t be understood by any decent human being. Sure, investigators will figure out the logistics of how it all happened. Mental health professionals will study this event and compare it to others in the hope that we might keep it from happening again. Talking heads will talk. Religious leaders will give explanations – some that are helpful and some that are meant to make their followers feel better than others. Politicians will react by giving speeches, searching for scapegoats and introducing legislation – some of these politicians will even be sincere.

But we can’t answer the question of how this could happen when it’s so fresh and new. And I kept seeing friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter asking why this happened over and over again.  It was such a collective outpouring of grief and while I understood why we were immersing ourselves in it, I also knew it wasn’t good for any of us.

I’ve been there. I’ve immersed myself in a tragedy whether by TV or social media. I saw others doing this and I saw them sinking because they couldn’t come up with any answers and they desperately wanted them. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to get yourself sucked into a vortex of misery. I know how damaging it was to my mental health and spirit. So I made a post on Facebook.

Let me make it clear that I know this was not some brave gesture or that it would end the fretting because I was so all-knowing. I explained there was absolutely nothing we could do to bring those kids back. There was no way to help the parents through this loss.  The only thing we could do at that moment was to hold the kids, teachers, parents and first responders in our hearts (and do this for anyone who’s suffered a loss) and if they felt so inclined, to pray for them.

They needed to do that and then focus on their own lives. They needed to live in the moment that had been granted to them.  They needed to hug the people they cared about and tell them that they loved them. They needed to find some way to show love and care to someone who might be hurting. They needed to bake cookies and snuggle in with their families to watch a favorite movie.  They needed to find a quiet place and read an uplifting book.  They needed to go on a hike or go to a playground and see that beautiful scenery and happy yelling kids still existed. That calm and peace and joy – they haven’t left us – they are still there.  I told them to unplug from the news. Turn off the TV. Stay away from Facebook and Twitter for a while and go out and live.

Constantly subjecting yourself to all the awfulness that’s being discussed on TV or in social media isn’t going to bring those kids back or help their parents get through this. It doesn’t make you a weak person to not constantly expose yourself to every moment of this tragedy. A loving & compassionate person can get overwhelmed by all this awfulness. There will be a time when you can advocate for whatever changes you think need to be made and that time needs to be soon. But the best thing they could do was to live in the moment they had and take care of themselves & the ones they loved.

And you know what I did? I actually took my advice. And I did it in such a Chicken Soup for the Soul kind of way that I found it a bit hilarious.  After hugging all our friends at the farmers market, Marcus and I went caroling to shut-ins with people from our church. It was a bit terrifying because I have issues with singing in front of people (a story for another day). But I sucked it up and even busted out some harmonies on some songs. I immersed myself in Christmas spirit and let the sometimes cynical me throw out some holly and some jolly.

We sang to people that were obviously dying. We sang to a little old lady who demanded a group prayer before we left. We sang to the wrong house and freaked out its owner a little bit. We sang to the previous pastor of my church and kept singing when he demanded more. I knew none of the people we sang to. Since we’re new members, I’m still getting to know the people who go to this church. I had no idea that our choir director could play an accordion (and a glittery gold one at that). I sang until I was hoarse. I held back tears when I saw someone barely grasping onto their life and that moment. I hugged people I didn’t know and I got so much more out of caroling than I ever put in.

Yesterday, we went to church. Everyone hugged each other a little tighter. Everyone smiled a bit more at the rowdy little kids running around before the service started. When we had all found our seats and before the service started, our pastor got up and said he knew we all had the kids & parents & community of Newton on our minds.  His voice shook and he wiped away tears as he told us that he would light the Christ candle to signify that Christ was among us there in that church and everywhere else, even when it seems like all is lost. He also lit the Christ candle in the middle of the advent wreath to signify that all of us there in that church were thinking about and praying for the kids, parents, teachers and first responders that probably felt like they could never be happy again. We held them in our hearts that they would find comfort, love, peace, calm and even joy. Yes, joy.

Because you know what the theme of last Sunday’s service was? Joy. Joy for God and His joy for us. Joy for the people in our lives. Joy for the blessings we have. And joy for having the ability to grab that moment and live in it.

We took joy in singing. We took joy for that week of Advent. We took joy in knowing that  Christmas, signifying the birth of Christ, would be there soon.

We heard a young man that had been able to learn to play the guitar and piano because of a wonderful program called the Joy of Music school. We took joy in the beautiful classical pieces he played on his guitar  We took joy in the fact that he was moved by our enthusiastic response.

We took joy in the most delightful hot mess of a children’s Christmas pageant that I’ve ever had the privilege to see. The wrong music kept being played until the director finally yelled up the correct song to the sound guy. We took joy in the fact that a little girl who had burst into tears from stage fright at the very beginning was able to go back on stage, holding one of her mom’s hands and say her lines.  We took joy in the fact that one little girl could never remember her lines, but as soon as the girl next to her whispered them to her, she spoke them with drama and gravity of Shakespeare. We took joy in the fact that the 3 to 4 year olds playing Mary and Joseph actually started an argument in the stable and there might have been some shoving involved. We took joy in the fact that one of the older girls, playing the part of an angel had to herd the shepherds back into the stable. We took joy in the fact that the little baby Jesus Mary carried got thrown back and forth and almost sat on at one point. We took joy in every song they sang, no matter how many notes got mangled. We all shook with repressed laughter in our seats and we all got tears in our eyes because we had the joy of those kids in that moment we were all living together. We took joy in the fact that as soon as it was over, we all stood up and gave them all a rousing standing ovation.

As we were leaving, Marcus and I took joy in the hugs we got and gave back. We took joy in the fact that we had found a church home – a church home that was an affirming, welcoming church where people of any sex, race, gender or sexual orientation were welcomed in and cared for.  A church home that remembers its elderly members, even when they can’t get to church anymore. A church home that lets its members bring to their attention any concerns or joys that might be going on in our lives. A church home where I could get up and express my joy that my friends in Washington who had never had the option to get married, could do so now. I expressed my fervent wish that anyone, no matter what state they live in, who loves one another can participate in the civil act of marriage. A church home where many people hugged me after the service thanking me for getting up and saying that.

And then we drove home. It’s been a long, dark hard road for us lately. But we have friends who care about us and want to help us. We have caring neighbors that we know who care about our community. And my husband and I have one another and love each other even though we think we’re walking disasters sometimes. We took joy in all of that because we were blessed and able to have that moment and live in it. I hope with all of my heart that everyone affected by the events that took place in Newtown, CT will be able to find that joy again.

We’ve all got our moments in this life to live. We never know when that might end. So live the hell out of your life, have compassion for those who need it, and bring joy to your life and others.

Go hug someone you love.

24 Comments on Finding Joy in the Darkness

  1. Genie
    December 17, 2012 at 9:24 pm (2 years ago)

    Wishing you two all kinds of light and love and hugs this holiday season and always. Welcome back to blogging, too — I missed your posts!

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 10:44 am (2 years ago)

      Genie – wishing you & Paul all the happiness in the world. So grateful that weird twists of fate brought you into my light. As cheesy as this sounds, you’ve been a glimmer to guide me towards that end of the tunnel.

  2. Russ
    December 17, 2012 at 10:42 pm (2 years ago)

    I love you.

    Consider yourself hugged.

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 10:47 am (2 years ago)

      Russ – I love you too! So glad you’re in my life as we make our way through this crazy, screwed-up world. I’m glad I’ve got you for snarking & support – so grateful you’re closer now & that you’re in my life.

  3. Anita
    December 17, 2012 at 10:52 pm (2 years ago)

    Russ took the words out of my mouth: I love you so much. I’m so glad you wrote this. xoxoxo

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 10:54 am (2 years ago)

      Anita – I love you so much & am so grateful that I can look back at how local food & twitter somehow led to this wonderful friendship. Thank you for insisting that I’m not a hot mess, even when I feel that way. Again – I’m going to sound so cheesy but I can feel you at my side as I climb my way out of this mess.

  4. Darlynne
    December 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm (2 years ago)

    We have this moment, this one right here, and no other; not the one that came before, not the one to follow. If we remain present and aware that this is all we have, then moment to moment–like an old-fashioned film that moves one halting frame at a time–we find a way to be thankful, to forgive, to love, to be glad. As you said, to find our joy again.

    My favorite prayer is from Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede. Dame Catherine, now Mother Abbess, is at her wit’s end, and on her knees. “I can’t,” whispered Dame Catherine, “so You must.” This is how I surrender when what I am confronted with is too much. And I find I can take a breath, look across at my husband’s face and feel the tightness ease.

    I am so glad you posted your thoughts, Kristina. You are frequently in mine, improbable as that may seem.


    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 11:04 am (2 years ago)

      Darlynne – that was such a moving reply and that poem brought tears to my eyes. It’s hard to just be in the moment, isn’t it? I’ve been struggling with that for months now because the moments haven’t been what I wanted them to be. So I struggle each day to surrender to each moment. And I can’t tell you grateful I am that you faithfully read my blog & comment. I often think of you when I write & I’m honored you think my thoughts are worthy of being read on a regular basis.

      • Darlynne
        December 18, 2012 at 11:28 am (2 years ago)

        Kristina, it was one of your recipes that brought me here originally–pretty sure it had something to do with bacon–but it is your writing and photographs, the stories from you and Marcus about your journey and your lives that bring me back. You have a gift, both of you, that has touched me with its quiet power and created an unexpected tether. I don’t know what you have to face, but my faith in your ability to triumph is strong.

        Can you care about people you’ve never met? Yes. Yes, you can.

        • Kristina
          December 19, 2012 at 5:42 pm (2 years ago)

          Thank you so much. We’ve had a lot on our plates recently but the faith of my friends and encouragement from people like you help us so much.

          And I’ve never doubted that we can care about people we’ve never met. I smile whenever I see your name in the comments and I hope happenstance gives a chance to meet in “real life”.

  5. katie
    December 18, 2012 at 8:43 am (2 years ago)

    You don’t know me. I stumbled upon your blog last year when I was googling “Knoxville CSAs” and have had you in my reader ever since. I’m commenting because I, too, witnessed the very Christmas pageant debacle you speak of. :) As the stepmother of the little girl who played Mary (who woke up that morning with a serious case of nerves, begging to do anything BUT be Mary), my husband and I snagged a front row seat, and oh, how glad we were that we did. We don’t regularly attend your church (my stepdaughter’s grandparents are members), but any time we do, we always leaving commenting on how nice the service/sermon/people/music was. Especially this time. Thanks for posting your good thoughts.

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 11:13 am (2 years ago)

      Katie – you maybe heard me cooing as little Mary & Joseph walked by. They were both so adorable. Please tell your step-daughter that I thought she did a great job, even if she may need to work a tiny bit on her baby handling skills. :D Wasn’t that pageant just perfect in its imperfectness? As soon as it was over, I was one of the first people to jump out of my seat, giving them all hoots of approval. So inappropriate at most churches but so appropriate there. When you visit next time, please look for me (Kristina McLean & I always wear my name tag) so I can give you a hug & tell your step-daughter just how great a job she did.

  6. Denise
    December 18, 2012 at 9:49 am (2 years ago)

    Happy (s0) to see the light at the other end of this post. Glad to have you back my friend!!! Much love coming your way not only during the holidays but always.

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 11:22 am (2 years ago)

      Denise – thank you, my friend! As I’ve said many times in the past & today, I’m so glad the strange happenstance of a food blogging conference & pizza brought you into my life. Give Lenny a hug from me & consider yourself hugged as well.

  7. Lisa
    December 18, 2012 at 10:26 am (2 years ago)

    Thank you for this and for my hug on Saturday at the Market. XOXOXO

    • Kristina
      December 18, 2012 at 11:27 am (2 years ago)

      Lisa – thank you! I often feel like the Market Square farmers market is not only a community, but also a rag-tag, crazy (in the best way) family. And I’m grateful that a hug is always part of seeing you there, even if the one yesterday was tighter than usual & made me a little weepy.

  8. The Modern Gal
    December 19, 2012 at 3:44 pm (2 years ago)

    So, so wonderfully said. I learned about the shootings while at an office Christmas lunch, and I’ve thought from the start that was a blessing. While others were obsessing over the news, we were in the middle of being celebratory and cheerful about the holiday. We had the rest of the afternoon off work, and I had pegged it as time to finish my shopping. I would check in on Twitter every so often and could easily see how people were ODing on the constant stream of information. I was happy to be out, living my life. Grief and Twitter don’t usually mix well.

    I have also said often in the wake of tragedy that while it is important to mourn and grieve, the best way to memorialize is to live your life to the fullest.

    • Kristina
      December 19, 2012 at 5:51 pm (2 years ago)

      Expressing grief on Twitter or FB can be catharthic. But when we read it constantly searching for every detail as it comes out minute by minute, it just creates this horrible feedback loop that does nothing but make us feel worse by the minute as we keep searching for news. Nothing can help us process this – it’s that bad. But we can help one another get through it.

      I’m glad you were out living your life and being grateful for it. Because I also think that living in the moment and reaching out to one another is one of the best memorials we can give to all of those that were lost and to those that are grieving.

  9. Amy
    December 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm (2 years ago)

    The internet is a small, small world. I followed the link from The Modern Gal (who I really wish had more time to blog), and had tears in my eyes from your description of the meaning you found in caroling. I read on and thought of the way *my* pastor spoke of Newton, and, hey wait … he lit the Christ candle, too. And got choked up. And the Joy of Music was at my church on Sunday.

    My youngest daughter is the one who couldn’t remember her lines, her big sister was the line prompter. I couldn’t see Mary & Joseph from my seat, but have watched them grow up. (Katie – S. is such a stunningly lovely little girl.) I’m glad that our church brings you as much joy as it brings to me.

    We will be out of town this Sunday – I’ll look for you on the 23rd.

    • Kristina
      December 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm (2 years ago)

      It is a crazy, small world, isn’t it?

      Your youngest daughter was delightful and I fully expect to see her on Broadway when she gets older. Marcus and I were completely charmed by her and her sister. We were over near the left side so I did see Mary & Joseph look displeased & “whisper” furiously at another. I did not directly witness the actual shove but overheard a friend saying “You know, that last shove makes me think Mary & Joseph might be getting a divorce soon”. :D It was so wonderful.

      Amy, please look for me! I always wear my nametag and we might even have met but remembering everyone has been a little overwhelming at times. It’s such a wonderful church and I’m so glad we found it.

  10. Kim Adie
    December 28, 2012 at 5:19 am (2 years ago)

    Gosh, that got the tears flowing! Great article and you are so eloquent. Thanks.

    • Kristina
      December 28, 2012 at 1:02 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you. It helped me to write it. It sounds so cheesy but it’s true – live the crap out of every day you’re given.


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  1. [...] P.S. On a related note, I watched a lot of people OD on coverage of the Newtown shooting on Friday and Saturday and then turn to social media to emote. Twitter and Facebook became tense places as everyone tried to grieve in their own ways, while many criticized how some chose to do their grieving. At these points, I wanted to say to everyone, ‘Back away from the computer and go outside and live.’ I didn’t, and now I don’t have to because my friend Kristina at Mouth from the South did a great job of saying it herself. [...]

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