It's sneaking up on us. A Christmas commercial here, a holiday jingle there. The season is beginning and while I have tried to pretend otherwise, the neon glow pouring out of the Christmas tree displays at every major department store has shaken me from my autumn peacefulness and is building within me the electric hum of holiday stress. So, before it gets the best of me, the best of us, let's take a second to reign it all in and align our focus on the things we want... the things we need... and not those things that have become "shoulds" or "oughts".
There are a lot of pieces of this season that cause us to worry and wonder about our plans and actions but the one that comes first to my mind is expectation. It comes at us from every side; the media demanding that we offer mountains of material goods to children who likely need very little, our families wanting, needing, requesting our time and attention and often calling us out of our homes and onto the road, our children seeking the magic of Christmas all the while being unsure of what that really means, and lastly, our own expectations to provide for our families the lasting memories of family time, of warm scenes filled with the love and hope that are a part of the very core of the season at hand.
It is a lot my friends... it really, really is. Looking at it all can cause the healthiest heart to skip a beat and in many of us begins the building of stress that marrs our annual journey through these days. But, what can we do? How can we break this down into pieces that can easily be handled, one at a time?
Many of you know that Mark and I were privileged to spend 6 years living and working with college students. That experience had a profound effect on our parenting. Each year in August, I would stand in my tiny residence hall apartment and watch mommas say good-bye to their babies. From the outside, those babies may have looked 18 years old, but you and I both know that each of those precious children felt much littler when held in their mother's arms. As those freshman students walked into their college life, behind them trailed memories of sleepless nights, first steps, two-wheeling rides, new shoes, school days, and so much more. We save that all up, don't we? In telling the Nativity story, the Bible says that Mary "treasured up" all these memories about Jesus. Those words make sense to us mommas. We get that. And every year, as college began, I watched hundreds of mothers release their babies into the world... walking away with tears in their eyes and worries on their hearts and prayers on their lips. When they looked at their grown children, they saw babies.... and because I watched.... when I looked at my babies, I saw grown children. Our perspective was changed.
Ask yourself today, "What does my family need from this holiday season?". Don't rush that answer and do not confuse what is needed with what is wanted. On the day that you bring your baby off to college, what holiday memories would you like her to have tucked away? What will matter most to him?
Here is what I know. What I want most for my young family is a season that is fully immersed in truth and love. That has nothing to do with travel or material goods or so many other things that call to us during Christmas every year. My expectation is that we will find moments of peace, that we will claim this season for our family and in doing so, make room for what is most important... a story that is the most true thing I know... a momma and a daddy and a baby that changed the world. If I start here, it becomes easier to see what needs to happen... and what does not.
Several years ago, Mark and I made decided that our holidays needed a make-over. After years of driving and rushing and focusing on goals that were not always ours, we stayed home. I cannot tell you how glorious Christmas has become. Our church holds the Christmas service on the 24th and we always attend that beautiful time of worship. We come home, frost cookies for Santa and go to the Norad website to see where the jolly, old elf has been. We tuck in our babies and finish details for Christmas while watching "It's a Wonderful Lfe" on TV. In the morning, we are greeted, often too early, by the eager faces of our four children who cannot wait to head downstairs to the tree. But, before we open gifts, I load the oven with goodies prepared before church the night before and we gather together in the living room to focus on what we know matters more than anything else. Noah and Benjamin "teach" Josiah and Elizabeth the Christmas story, quoted from Luke 2, using PlayMobile figurines to act it all out. We pray together and begin opening presents. We take our time. We wear our jammies. I drink Christmas coffee out of Christmas mugs and the house smells like egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. When the food is ready, we stop where we are and go to the table to eat. The food is good and cozy and unlike any other breakfast I make all year. The day goes on... assembling toys, laughing together, playing new games. Everyone gets one-on-one time and everyone spends time as a family. We have nowhere to be, nothing to do but be together and play and eat and remember. I make a huge dinner and we usually go to bed early. It is good and it is ours. Sometimes people join us... family members and friends... and we love to share our day with them. We always stress that the relaxed nature of the day is important... our door is open and this is what we do.
It took us years to find what worked... to balance what we do against what we want to give to our kids. But, when looking at the day from the perspective of a momma releasing her baby to college, I feel good about what they will take with them. We struggled with expectations...our own and those of others... but in the end, our Christmas experience has all the elements that we value year-round.
What about you? What expectations do you have for Christmas this year? Are there changes you need to make, encouragements you have to share, ideas that have worked well? In listening to one another maybe we can release the needless stress and find a way to focus on what is really important. In doing so, we may find the joy we hear so much about. That joy is found in a baby and a story that gives us hope. What an important gift to discover!
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