I am grateful to be sitting at my little table typing; last Friday afternoon, I was suddenly gripped by a stomach bug so severe I couldn’t open my eyes for 36 hours, the room was spinning so out of control. It was violent and scary, and my darling mister wanted to take me to the ER. It was powerful and comforting to be in the caring hands of Aaron, who took care of me and the babies and the house. We had lovely friends praying and checking in and bringing us meals. If you know me, you know I struggle accepting help, so that points to how dire our situation was. And today is the first day I am out of bed. I showered and am washing linens, and I just sat down to assess our Christmas situation.
Well, folks, it’s pretty pathetic. Advent didn’t turn out much like I had hoped. Our Usually Very Healthy Household really took a hit. Both babies had the stomach flu—one got it twice—and Baby Boy currently has pneumonia and an ear infection. This has obviously thrown me for a loop and slowed me down.
I can list all of my shortcomings:
- Candy for neighbors did not get made or delivered.
- The food for Christmas dinner is not yet purchased.
- Pies are not baked.
- Gifts are not wrapped.
- Children are wearing pajamas instead of their cutesy Christmas outfits. In fact, Baby Girl is sitting beside me, pouting after having smashed her beet crackers with her sippy cup; not very Christmas Charming.
- We are waaaaay behind in our family Advent readings (and my personal readings).
- I did not write the poem I had started constructing.
- The babies’ gifts are not assembled.
- The Christmas crafts I planned to do with Baby Boy are still sitting off to the side.
The list goes on. I am tempted to be discouraged as I start to feel dizzy, the weakness of my illness still lingering. My back, spasming from too much time in bed, reminds me that no matter how hard I try, I can’t catch up. And my heart, resolute in its brokenness, is on the fence: do I sigh into the familiar insufficiency of self or do I turn to Jesus?
It’s my age-old question.
The first time I realized I had an option was after being slighted—seriously slighted—by someone who hurt me deeply. I sat with my head in my baby sister’s lap, sobbing, her tears of compassion falling into my mess of hair. “What do I do?!” I pleaded for an alternative to my usual spiral into self indulgence.
She lifted my chin. “You pray. You turn to Jesus and you pray and you believe that he loves you.”
It was a lightbulb moment for me. I hadn’t realized before—for whatever reason—that I had a choice. I had always assumed that falling into my DWOD (Dark Well of Despair) was inevitable. Caitlin was litruhly a lifesaver in that moment. She told me there was another way. And she prayed with me and showed me the way of Hope.
This is totally different. Not having gifts wrapped is not truly that big of a deal—it’s petty even. But my little ol’ heart, fragile with scars and mistreatment and misunderstandings, feels like it’s a big deal. I wanted this Advent to be big and hope-filled and joyous and monumental and one for the books. I am so tired of disappointments, even small ones. I feel like a failure to my family and friends and neighbors (although, who is counting?!). I can’t measure up to my own expectations of how to love them well.
I was recently visiting a friend at the hospital, and I noticed the hospital’s huge nativity scene. Vintage and awesome. And missing one key component—Baby Jesus. I am sure one of the nuns who volunteers her time there will place him in the manger with care on Thursday morning, completing the Christmas picture. It was a reminder to me. We live in the Already But Not Yet. Jesus has come, but we are still in this broken world. Jesus has delivered our hearts, but our bodies await redemption. Jesus has conquered sin, but our hearts are not yet restored.
I can console myself with empty platitudes: next year will be better, now I know how to plan more effectively, this helps me focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Blah blah blah. But that’s not what my heart needs—what my heart needs is the reminder of Christ. Emmanuel. He has made a way to be with me during the disappointments, throwing up, crying when my baby can’t breathe, sitting next to a sick friend in the hospital. And he has made a way for me to Hope and for that Hope to come to fruition some day. Some day when he will wipe away all my tears. When my sobs of grief will turn to heaves of laughter. When the Already But Not Yet has passed away and the road to DWOD is gone forever.