I can feel it. I do it every year. Turn Christmas into a performance until I feel depleted, uninspired. Empty.
He follows me into the kitchen.
“What is wrong? I thought you guys were doing Christmas crafts.”
I sigh big.
“We are. They just aren’t listening, and they aren’t turning out right. And…”
Another sigh as I realize how ridiculous I sound. Not that I didn’t know. But to hear the words out loud.
Etched in my mind are four crestfallen faces. Mom’s mad again.
“You wanted to do crafts this year. A handmade Christmas. You didn’t want the budget strain, the focus to be off what really matters.”
I nod. I know. And I do. I do want a calm, quiet, peaceful season of remembering our Savior’s coming. Of looking ahead to His return. I don’t want it to be about budgets and lists. Lists of things to do. Lists of things to buy. Lists of what they want. I just want Jesus.
And then it sets in. I wrestle with that raging giant that slays me at every. single. turn.
So and so made the most adorable gifts with her kids.
So and so has shelves of Christmas baking done. The cutest little cookies and candies you ever saw.
So and so has the most fabulous decorations. The most beautiful tree.
So and so’s house always looks so perfect.
And on and on and on.
He waits patient because we’ve been down this road before. He, who has mastered the art of not comparing patiently waits for his wife’s mind to stop racing through all the ways she’s coming up short.
I try again.
“Well, your mom does so much for us. If we are doing crafts for our presents, I just want them to be perfect.”
“She’ll think they’re perfect if they’re made by the kids.”
“Well, but my sister did this for me…we can’t just give her family goodies!”
“She’ll like them because she knows the time you’ve spent on them.”
His calm infuriates me. It is maddening. And I know why. It makes me angry because everything in me is in turmoil. I feel the swirling tide of “not enough.”
I haven’t done enough. My house isn’t clean enough. I’m not teaching the kids enough. I haven’t cooked or baked enough.
I’m not enough.
And I feel myself going under this swirling sea of stress that I create each year during this time. This time that is magical to my kids because it just is. It’s magical to watch Christmas movies by the light of the tree. It’s magical to read Christmas books. It’s magical to hear and tell the story of a tiny Babe come so humble.
And then the five year old comes into the room and she hands it to me. Just a little book. The First Night of Christmas.
This book was a gift this year. Without my knowledge, my mother-in-law painstakingly sorted through a box of moldy, wet Christmas books from an accident in our basement and wrote down each title she could decipher. She knew my heart was broken at the loss of my most beloved Christmas tokens. And she has spent almost every week since scouring local thrift shops for the titles. She’s found some of my beloved books. And she’s added new ones.
This little one is one of the new ones, already a favorite with its whimsical lines and pencil drawings. But the thing that stirs my heart every single time I read its words to my littles?
The thought and love behind the gift. Not because it cost a lot of money or is a limited edition. Because the search behind the gift speaks of sacrificial love and giving.
That is Christmas.
So I’ve taken lots of deep breaths this week. I’ve cuddled the kids when I itched to wash the windows. I’ve breathed deep and long when I’ve wanted to yell. (And I’ve blown it and had to ask for forgiveness.)
And I see in their eyes. These are gifts worth giving.
So this morning, I turn off the alarm clock, and I let them slumber on peacefully. And when they wake, I am calm and forcefully turn from the clock as they chat. And my mind wants to tell them “go, go, go, we’ve got chores to do and breakfast to eat and teeth to brush.” But I smile and I sit on my hands to still my impatient gestures. And I bite my tongue to still the “hurry” threatening on my lips.
When the oldest two move on to do those things, all the more happier for having their first moments be peaceful, pleasant ones, I go wake my littlest littles. They are still sleeping, winter colds making their warm bed more pleasant.
They needed this rest, I think, as I sit on the edge of a bed watching a little chest rise and fall.
Sleep filled eyes open and my five year old, she coughs and groans and burrows deeper. I hear an answering cough from the crib in the next room.
I shove my phone deeper in my pocket, willing the time to not haunt me. We’ve nowhere to go. And who do I try to impress with my keeping on the schedule?
“Oh my,” I whisper, “you’re cold sounds awful. Would you like to start the morning with a bubble bath?”
Eyes open wider and she giggles. Mom isn’t grumpy and she didn’t say “hurry” once.
I fill a tub with warm, bubbly water and scoop my littlest from her bed. She giggles as I place her in the warm water and hand over bath toys. Her sister climbs in and forms shapes in the bubbles. We smile and talk and play with our cups and bath toys. Two warm, sweet smelling girls emerge from the tub, and we comb out hair and dress warmly and snuggle for just a moment on Mama’s bed.
We’re an hour past our schedule, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve given them the gift of time and attention and me.
And I see that it’s the gift that matters.
So today I breathe deep, and I think these are the gifts I want to give.
Lavish love. Time. Unhurried attention.
I can have Jesus this season. I already do. I just get too busy, too caught up in all there is to do to make the days, the parties, the presents, the gifts just right. When I realize that over two thousand years ago, He came. Humble. Quiet.
And it was just right.
I echo Charlie Brown’s words as he cries out: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”
And it is.
And I smile as my husband’s words replay in my mind.
“Did you ever notice that when Linus starts speaking and says, ‘Fear not,’ he drops his blanket?”
I love this detail. So when I’m tempted to fuss and fret and turn this holiday into a time to perform, to outdo, to measure up, I will drop my security blanket and remember to “Fear not” and to focus on the “good tidings of great joy.”
For that’s what Christmas is all about.