I am not sure how many regular readers I have, but for those of you who do exist, I am going to attempt to post more often; I have a couple of writing projects in the works, and I find that blogging keeps my creative juices flowing and is good discipline in general. So, there you go.
The last couple of days, I’ve been processing Christmas 2013. This was the first year in our marriage that I did not do my Christmas baking. The first year we were married, I spent an entire day baking; I made enough for an army. To my dismay, my groom did not eat much of it at all—he just doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I dispersed the goodies among my coworkers, his coworkers, and friends. In subsequent years, I still did all my baking, but with different intentions; knowing Aaron wouldn’t be all that interested, I gave the treats to guests when we hosted, neighbors, coworkers, and my grandmother to give to her neighbors since she doesn’t cook much anymore. But this year? Nothing.
This Advent I also didn’t follow an Advent devotional or even do daily Advent readings. I finally put the tree up mid December, but we didn’t hang Christmas lights outside. I didn’t make my annual Christmas Eve gumbo. We didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve. And we didn’t host anyone. We didn’t visit Santa Claus, and we didn’t even watch “White Christmas” of “Elf”. Aaron and I did a joint gift, which we received at the beginning of December, so we had no gifts for each other under the tree. I didn’t hang stockings, mostly because the cheap ones I bought a few years ago melted last year when we burned fires in the fireplace. I didn’t do gifts for the neighbors. And each of the babies just got three simple gifts. In fact, I didn’t even wrap Baby Girl’s gifts, and I failed to get any pictures of her first Christmas. I didn’t even shower.
By all counts, Advent/Christmas 2013 was a huge failure. And yet, Aaron and I both agree that this was the best Christmas we’ve ever had as a family.
One thing that we did differently was accept an invitation to join another family for the day. Usually I like to spend a quiet day at home, just us. But this family is preparing to leave the country in the near future, and we thought this was a good chance to spend quality time with them. So we showed up with food, games, and babies in hand. We enjoyed a traditional meal and then the men sipped whiskey while we ladies had coffee and dessert from a gorgeous spread. They presented gifts to us and the babies and allowed me to browse their vast old book collection, which included several special Christmas books. They brought out fun toys for our big Baby Boy and held and cuddled Baby Girl. Then we played games, laughing and enjoying one another’s company. We felt like we were home even though it was the first time we had been in their house. The love this family showered on us was a reflection of God’s love—warm and tender and thoughtful. Through their selflessness and grace, we experienced Immanuel, God with us, that Christmas day.
As we left, Aaron fought back tears as he thanked our gracious hosts. How rarely we are so embraced and unconditionally loved with no expectation! And how safe we felt in their home.
Going to someone else’s house meant that the pressure was off me to create the perfect Christmas experience for me and my family.
My not doing my typical, yearly Advent list was due to the fact that I had a 20-month old as well as a 2-month old. I just couldn’t do it all. So I did nothing. And I tried to give myself permission to not feel guilty. I told myself that it didn’t matter this year—our oldest didn’t understand any of it but maybe will next year when I’ll be able to make sure his Christmas is full and perfect. Then in one of the blogs I follow, I read that we should not “do Christmas” but “delight in Christmas”. I found myself with plenty of time to meditate on that while cleaning babies, wiping bottoms, washing dishes, laundering diapers, feeding babies, etc. My deep disappointment in myself for failing to produce an amazing Advent led me straight to Jesus. I experienced Immanuel in Christ’s joining me in my sorrow. He comforted me and reminded me of my value—not in my acts of Christmas programming and decorating and cooking, but as a child of God so beloved he sent his son to be born as a human in awful conditions.
I realized, embarrassedly, that in past years, all my planning and lists were to conjure up some feelings of Christmas happiness. I wanted to experience the magic you see in Christmas movies and on Facebook statuses. If I did enough and did it well, I maybe could feel something special and Christmas would be a success.
This year, that was stripped from me. I had no effort or works to give me a sense of Christmas worth. Instead, I lived the mundane of comforting crying babies, wiping spit-up and snot, assembling cloth diapers, researching crockpot recipes, washing dishes, forgetting to do laundry. I wrote off this Christmas, thinking I’d be able to do better and more next year. And yet, the unexpected happened—instead of a fabricated feeling of Christmas magic, I felt God with me in my daily life. In the joys of toothless smiles and first words to the struggle of the monotony of oatmeal every morning. I realized that in my working so hard past Christmases to create a meaningful holiday season, I didn’t leave room to experience Immanuel. My attempts at producing the perfect feel-good Christmas stole the feelings of peace from the assurance of the presence of Hope and Joy. Where I felt I had failed as a homemaker and Christian, Jesus met me, walked with me, delighted in me, worshipped with me, dwelled in me. It was an Advent and Christmas to remember. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll be a big failure next year, too.