Yep, I mean it.
Yes, I was the former Miss Kringle. My lights are up on my house before anyone else in neighborhood, and I shop and wrap Christmas presents all throughout the year.
But there's a reason I have those lights down by the day after New Year's - and that reason is because my husband won't let me take them down the day after Christmas. Christmas music stops at my house on December 26th. Many of you want to know why.
Christmas depresses me. Christmas Day, itself, that is. It isn't "society," or the retail businesses, or non-Christians that make me feel this way. And you might not even feel the way I do, either because you are just fine with how you celebrate, or because you do a better job of doing it "right." It is how I, myself, have fallen away from remembering why we celebrate. I feel like I'm doing it wrong.
We spend a month or so with enchanting music, mesmerizing lights, and whimsical decorations. It's such a beautiful season.
But no matter how hard we try, that day comes, and it's always the same. Presents and food. Sure, the night before, we go to church and remind ourselves about the birth of Jesus. We sing, we pray, we teach from the Bible. But for the kids, that is just the last obstacle standing between them and the toys they have been hoping for all year.
Alright, that sounds harsh. I mean, who can blame them? I was the same was as a child, and even, to some degree, as an adult.
For adults, our attention usually turns a different direction. Appeasing extended family and serving food - the right food, the right kind of food, the right amount of food, and so on. Maybe this isn't you, but it sure is me. Jesus is the last thought on my mind while I am setting the table for Christmas dinner, and I hate that.
The problem isn't how excited the kids get about the presents, or how anxious the adults get about which family members are visited when, or who is eating what and when. The problem is that our celebrating is interfering with our worshipping.
We should celebrate the birth of Christ. But can we celebrate without the celebration itself becoming the focus of the celebration? (Did you follow that?)
God has blessed us. My family is blessed richly, as are many in America. We have the means to buy our children presents and prepare and eat multi-course meals. We should be thankful for that too.
But here's what I wish. I wish we could celebrate Christmas in a different way.
Jesus was born in the humblest manner that could even be imagined for a God to set foot on earth. He was born in a dirty barn, among animals, to peasant parents. I feel like our Christmas celebration should reflect that.
I would love it if Christmas were just a day where nothing was expected except a quiet worship. Maybe your church could decide on a way to lead that worship, or maybe it would be led by your own family. Work and school would be cancelled for that day, but not so we could cook or play with toys, but so we could spend the whole day understanding that God came to earth to save us. Heaven knows, it would take at least that long to comprehend that.
Then, I feel we might actually be celebrating the Savior and not ourselves or our children.
Maybe we could still have an exciting day that involves presents and family and eating. But let it be a different day. We can still thank God for His provision. Then maybe I wouldn't feel like I have missed the boat in teaching my kids about the reason for celebrating.
He has given us good things - many good gifts - and we can thank Him for what we've been given. But something tells me He doesn't need such a grand display as we have made Christmas to be.
My favorite shop at the shore still is, and always will be, the Christmas store. I guess no matter what this Christmas brings, there's always hope that the next one will be more a reflection of the real reason we celebrate.
It's all about control.
When a child is a baby, you hold him. You control when he is fed, when he is changed, when he is laid down. You practically make every move for him. Maybe that's why we all love to hold new babies.
But even from infancy, children are trying to grow up. THEY control whether or not they actually will eat. (You can lead a horse to water...) THEY control when they actually will sleep or not sleep, and THEY control the amount of noise in the house.
We as parents tend to fight this growth for the entire time span of childhood. We control as much as we can for our kids, because we know best. Don't we?
As a child grows, they take more and more control until they eventually have full control of their lives and move out from our house.
In the case of Jesus, the grown Messiah wants to have control of our lives as well. We adults aren't always comfortable with that.
At Christmas time, we see the harmless baby Jesus, being held by his mother, rocking no boats. Don't we all want a turn holding that placid baby? He never seems to cry. We can do with Him whatever we want, right?
But the baby grew up.
Mary and Joseph got a shock, when Jesus was 12 years old and took control of his own life to wander away from his family and go teach in the temple. His parents thought they had it under control. "Jesus, you will come with us and stay with your family."
But He turned it back to them, asking, "Didn't you know I would be here?" His parents couldn't go as they pleased, they had to do as Jesus directed.
When that baby grew up, He did the same to us. We could continue holding the baby, but then we haven't given Him our life as He has asked. We have to make a choice. We can give Him back when He starts to move and squirm out of our grip, or we can let Him grow and let Him take a hold of our lives.
Every time I think of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I break down in tears again. Not the lonely tear that happens to escape my eye, but the heaving tears that I force out, hoping the pain in my heart will go with them. Even living hundreds of miles away, this one hurt me more than most because most of the victims were 6 years old - just like my precious youngest baby.
I haven't known what to do about my dilemma - do I continue to dwell on the tragedy, hoping to sensitize myself to it? Or do I put it aside and ignore it, knowing that it happened far away?
I am choosing something else. I am choosing to celebrate life in honor of the One Who made it.
The mamas of those babies can't say this, but I can. Hopefully, those mamas will find something else to be thankful for - and believe me, I know it can't be easy for them to look for it! But we were created to give God glory, and so I, for one, would like to do my part.
I know way too many moms or moms-to-be that were swept with the joy of finding out they were pregnant, only to have their dreams slip away in just a moment for reasons none of them could even figure out. So I, too, worried for the first 13 weeks of my pregnancies, and then just a little less after that, that the unknown reason for little babies' lives to end wouldn't find me. It never did.
I had three healthy children, and they all survived miscarriage.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. The terror that grips the heart of every new mom. Even if you do everything right, they might just stop breathing. Hearing silence on the other end of the baby monitor sent me running into their rooms so many nights. When each of my children turned one, I finally breathed a heavy sigh and slept through the night myself. Many moms could not do that.
I had three healthy children, and they all survived SIDS.
This one will hit some of you hard. We are finding many of our friends - FRIENDS, people we actually know and care about! - struck by this indiscriminate hater. Or we follow the stories on Facebook or blogs about the 4 and 5 year old children who one day aren't feeling well, and the next are sent to CHOP for blood transfusions. Children are getting cancer. Not because of where they live, what they have eaten, or bad choices they have made. Just because they do.
I have three healthy children, who to this point, have not been dealt cancer.
They are happening more and more. Not just in big cities, but in little towns that seem too safe for armored guards. Heroes are being made of teachers, parents, principals, and custodians. But lives are still lost. Sometimes there just isn't anything that can be done when the trigger snaps in a crazy man's brain. That's what scares me the most. You just don't know who, and you never know when. But if you spent all your time protecting against it, nothing would be learned at school. Not joy, not friendship, not recess fun. And you can't survive without those either.
The "Columbine" years and the "Virginia Tech" years are still ahead for them, but up until now, I have three beautiful children who have come home from school every day that they have gone.
There are plenty more that will plague us through the years with which we have been given at home with these children. Accidents, abductions, the list goes on.
My little boy is terrified of fire. His biggest fear is our house going down in flames. At least once a week, we need to reassure him why our house is safe and he won't die in a fire. (It would have helped greatly if we hadn't been completely doused by the fire sprinklers in an accident at the mall one day when he was little.) Both of us know the possibility is still there, but we are doing everything we can to keep the probability to a minimum.
Sometimes, we need to do that for ourselves too. We aren't through the woods yet. Risks remain. But we have to remember that the probability is low, and not to let worry eclipse the present joy.
And that, in all things, good or evil, God reigns sovereign over it all.
You know what a manger is, right? First from Greek, then from the French word "manger," (pronounced "mon- ZHAY") which means "to eat," it's a food tough for animals. Not just your cute little pet puppy, but the animals who live outside.
People in those days were dirty enough. It's said that the lowest servant was the one assigned to wash a person's feet when they entered a house. No one wanted to smell a person's feet! Can you imagine how dirty and smelly the barn animals were?
Most of us aren't farmers - but if you are, go take a look at your pigs' feeding trough. If you are not, and you have a pet, go take a look at their food dish. I'm not a farmer. I have indoor cats. What I see in their food dish is crumbs of slopped up food and tracks of slobber. This is after the dish had been washed (and used again).
Yuck. I don't even want to put my finger in it, let alone a brand new baby. You see, I was spoiled. I had three babies. All three were born in a fantastic hospital. Each baby was delivered by doctors and nurses who were wrapped and covered in clean scrubs and latex gloves and used completely sterile instruments. Each baby was taken, after a few moments with me, and washed head to toe. Each baby was monitored there in that clean hospital over the next two days to make sure no terrible germs had invaded their little bodies.
What if the nurse would have put one of my newborn babies on the floor instead of the bassinet lined with starched white sheets? She'd probably have been fired. I mean, do you know what could be on those floors? All the dirt and, um, everything ELSE that people track in on the bottoms of their shoes! THAT could have gotten on the skin of my precious baby.
So, Mary gave birth to her first-born child - stop right there and remember how much more we wash our hands before holding someone's FIRST child - and where did the God of the universe decide was the best place put Him down? In the feeding trough.
That's right. When our infinite God squished himself into the finite body of a baby human, dependent on other finite humans to understand His needs, He was perfectly fine to lay his head in the place where the unclean mouths of the cows and donkeys left their saliva.
What does this say? So many things, but here are a few.
1. God's way is not our way. It probably isn't generally a good idea for babies to be laid in a food dish. Neither is it preferred to beat and crucify innocent men for just proclaiming the truth. Sometimes God had other plans when it came to saving us from our sins.
2. Jesus was given to a race of people who did not know how to take care of Him. But that's okay. We aren't supposed to take care of him. He came to take care of us.
3. He is the Bread of Life. I don't think it was an accident that Jesus was laid in a manger. Though it's doubtful anyone realized it at the time, Jesus would spend His whole life giving every piece of Himself for us. And He is meant to be taken internally, straight to the heart, to give us complete health.
4. Mary trusted God. When I was pregnant with my first baby, I was terrified that not everything would go right. My biggest fear was that I wouldn't make it to the hospital in time. Mary was a new mom just the same as I was. (OK, she was a little different.) But she trusted that if God said it would be okay to let the baby sleep in a pile of hay, it would be okay.
Do we trust God like that? If God said put your baby on a dirty hospital floor, or in a food dish hoping that wild animals don't come and eat him, would you? Maybe the task He gave you is even harder than that. If God told you to go somewhere where the floors are a little dirtier than you are used to or eat food that isn't as clean as you would like, would you?
We are sheep. We have been given something to sustain us forever. Are we going to accept it? Will we take Him in? We are hungry. He knows how to take care of us. He will feed us.
Lately, my kids have taken to doing extra chores to earn money for Christmas shopping.
The floor is "vacuumed," the bathrooms are "cleaned," the laundry is "folded,"... the quotation marks should give you some idea of the quality of the work being done by kids who are just eager to get the nasty stuff over with.
But I'm a perfectionist, especially in some areas of cleaning. So, messes on the floor, even after the work is done drive me crazy. But do I do anything about it?
My supporters, fans and loved ones cheer me on, with fists in the air shouting, "She's such a great mom! Look how patient she is while training her children how to survive in life!"
The critical ones whisper behind their hands to one another, "Really. She's so lazy, she'll live in filth and let her children think they are just fine."
The truth? Can you handle it?
The truth is... I'm just tired.
Again, the critics will find their cause to complain. "Tired? Tired from what? Sitting around on the computer all day?"
While the supporters will sympathize, "Oh poor thing. Of course she's tired. Look at all she does!"
The bottom line is this. People are going to think what they want to think. We can't do anything about them. But we CAN do something about ourselves and the way we think.
You don't need to be a supporter (if it means you are being an enabler) or a critic. Just see things how they are. Too often we assign motives to others when in actuality, that motive may never have even crossed the person's mind.
It happens a lot in children. "Look at that person smoking. He must have such an awful life that he wants to kill all of us."
I'm not a proponent of smoking, but I can bet that at least 99% of smokers don't do it to get revenge on the world with second hand smoke.
Of course, we as adults don't make such assumptions. Or do we? Has this ever been you...?
"Look at her get in the express line with more than 10 items. Who does she think she is that she doesn't have to wait like the rest of us?"
When in actuality, said person probably just didn't notice it was an express line. (Come on now, haven't you been that person too?)
But it can go the other way too. We can lift people up for their deeds, when again, the person never gave it a second thought.
"What a saint. She goes to church every week."
Admittedly, the latter seems much less dangerous. Except in the Christian world, where we will give man credit in God's place.
"See how the people in that church are feeding the hungry?"
The people are? Or God has made a way?
And then there is blind admission.
"I know my friend likes to shop. And her husband has trouble making enough money to pay the bills. But she's a smart cookie. She won't spend more than she has. One cup of coffee won't hurt."
That last example might have a touch of laziness or selfishness added to it as well, but probably a good amount of our enabling stems from believing the best out of mankind. Problem there is that man wasn't built to live up to expectations 100% of the time. Only God can do that.
Where does that leave us? In silence? Don't say anything to anyone, because you will be wrong, right?
No, here is what I am saying. Before you make a judgment about a person's motives, see if you have been there before. Sometimes there just aren't any motives!
Sometimes the glass is half empty, and sometimes is it half full. But most of the time, it just has some water in it that a thirsty person wants to drink.
Passion Under Grace,