Worked Up

I love reading letters to younger selves. If I were to write a letter to my younger self I would choose this month to do it. It would short and to the point:

Dear Kara,

Don’t get so worked up. You are loved by the Creator of the universe.

Let that be enough.

Love,

Your 44 year old self

 

 

Back in my twenties, before we had children, my main goal was to make sure people liked me. I didn’t know that back then so it wasn’t like I woke up in the morning saying, “How can I make sure everyone I encounter likes me?”

But it was it pretty close to that.

 

My in laws were… demanding. They had a lot of traditions already in place. The expectation that we would participate in every. single. event. was something Lee and I never discussed before we were married. I think because of my people pleasing ways and Lee’s bend in the same direction we just assumed we could make it work.

We never asked each other what we thought was important about the holidays.

Even when we added children the assumption that we would be at every gathering, on time no less, didn’t change. There were gifts to be bought and food to be made. Meanwhile we were struggling to make ends meet in just our ordinary lives. The added stress to our minimal extra cash was a lot. Nobody forced us to participate. We were invited, not threatened. Still, the unspoken, yet obvious, theme of ‘If you come you are part of the family. If you do not…”

Inevitably, what ended up happening was this: I got very worked up.

Very.

I didn’t share with Lee, except through explosive and tearful outbursts, that the lead-up to the holidays weren’t fun. The time we spent with family was fine, minus the fact that I was exhausted from stress and too much preparation. 

One year something terrible/wonderful happened. Our oldest girls were around 8 and 6 and they got strep throat the day before Thanksgiving. When the nurse came back in with the positive test results the relief that flooded my heart was extremely telling.

The kids were bitterly disappointed but Lee and I were thrilled.

For years we’d been cramming three Thanksgiving meals in. We’d never had the big meal in our own home.

We called Cracker Barrell and ordered four meals. I made pumpkin pies. We lit candles at our own table. We sat around and watched movies. The antibiotics kicked in by Thanksgiving evening and the kids started to feel better.

It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories, because it finally felt like ours and not theirs.

 

I want to be careful to say that I do not blame anyone but Lee and I for our feelings. Again, no one was forcing us. The issue was that both of us were first-born hard-core people pleasers, plain and simple. We could have talked this through before we were married, or at least before we had kids. We were not the victims of family functions.

There’s just so much you don’t know at the beginning of a new thing.

We don’t regret any of those years that we ran around like mad trying to get everywhere on time. I don’t regret our kids being overly tired at the end of all. I don’t even regret the money we spent. I do regret the zen desk garden we purchased for Lee’s dad.

The thing is this: Lee’s dad was killed in a car wreck almost ten years ago and he is estranged family is estranged now. We haven’t seen any of them in years.

We didn’t see any of that coming. Those years that I was crying and sick to my stomach because of all my uncomfortable feelings were the only ones our family would have with Lee’s family.

That definitely gives me perspective.

Now, I’m not saying that you should run yourself into the ground during the holidays because someone could die. Death is a reality in this world for all of us. I think it’s silly to let that truth guide decisions that we make.

I am saying that boundaries are essential and healthy. We had choices that we didn’t know about.

We could have:

  • participated but come at a time that was convenient for us
  • participated but not in the gift exchange
  • shown up after a meal
  • skipped some gatherings
  • said, ‘We’ll let you know what our plans are.”
  • Invited them to ours house, even though it was small
  • divided up the gift buying/wrapping/baking between the two of us

 

We didn’t have the tools to do that at the time, though. I don’t hold that against our younger selves. However, we have learned from our mistakes and simply refuse to get worked up over the holidays.  Because when you’re worked up and upset you miss the gift that is Advent.

You miss the chance to do things slowly.

You miss the message that Christ came to bring us home.

Frantic is not part of the nativity story. Feeling like a failure is not in the Great Rescue Plan. Silent night, holy night doesn’t have the same ring when you’ve ground your teeth every night for a month.

Worked up is more like the work of the enemy. 

I believe that’s what that nasty devil loves: strife at the holidays. People worked up and arguing does not leave much room for thinking on the beauty of Christ coming into the darkness to bring us light. 

So, brave ones, let’s not get worked up. Let’s not get churned up. Let’s not Pinterest ourselves into forgetting about the gift of these holy days.

Let’s not give gatherings and events more power than Jesus has in our lives.

Instead let’s do simple and slow. Let’s look at the calendar and choose what we love, what we need. Leave the shoulds and the have-to’s off.

 

Be brave, misfits, and set up some picket fences on your calendars.

 

 

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The Reality of Christmas

We made a quick trip to visit dear friends on Thursday, two days before Christmas Eve. It seemed irresponsible to do that, but we don’t visit family and I miss the hustle and bustle of packing and going. So we went and it was fun, and one more memory with my kids’ almost-cousins is catalogued on my phone.

I love traveling.I especially love traveling with my family. Lee couldn’t get off work so I had to navigate the highways on my own. My 18 year old daughter, Kiley, was the co-pilot calling out directions, talking me down when my voice got screechy.

I’m not a fan of heavy traffic.

Photo Credit: KW BOY Flickr via Compfight cc

Kiley said she didn’t feel very Christmas-y, and I could only listen, because some years are like that. She admitted that her sister told her that it was probably because she’s older now, almost 19. I agreed that was probably part of the problem. I thought back to the year I was 18, maybe 19, and recalled that on Christmas morning I didn’t have the excited pit in my stomach, or the urge to jump out of bed at 5 a.m. I think that was year that I had a cross-stitch to finish and was up until 3 a.m.

I also remember that I received a wide-brimmed felt hat from Santa, which I loved. It had a beautiful purple silk flower pinned to it. I wore that hat a lot that winter.  However, sitting on the floor playing with a felt hat doesn’t have the same draw as sitting on the floor tinkering with the Glamour Gals Cruise Ship. Not the same thing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, it was still fun, and that cross-stitch I nearly went blind completing hangs in my parent’s room today. I enjoyed watching my brothers with their loot. They were 15 and 11 so still got toys. For me, though, the sparkle was missing. Not even my memories of those early adult years  are glitter-covered.

I didn’t feel very Christmas-y.

Lee and I married and had babies and still Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. We were stuck under Should’s and Have-To’s and and spent a lot of time trying to please others. We didn’t have a lot of money, either, and I sometimes had the feeling that we weren’t doing enough. I may have even felt shame over a few of the gifts that we gave family members. The message of the Little Drummer Boy was lost to me.

Then I met Jesus.

I used to scoff at people who claimed to be ‘saved’ thinking that they were a little goofy – in a quaint way, of course. I loved the ritual of putting up the tree, hanging decorations, visiting Santa at the mall, and wrapping the gifts. I still love it. Going to Christmas Eve service at 11 p.m. with Dad became a ritual, too, one that I looked forward to and picked out a new dress for.  When we turned all the lights out in the church, singing Silent Night with no help from the organ, passing the flame from candle to candle until the sanctuary was well lit always gave me goose bumps.

Those things may  seem like empty rituals, remnants of liturgy without meaning behind them to a non-believer. My encounter with Christ, though, brought all of those things together like puzzle pieces that had been scattered, just waiting for their moment to come together forming the word HOPE.

 

Getting to know Jesus revealed to me His glory, revealed to me the Reality of Christmas.

Christmas isn’t a feeling, and it’s not a time of year.

Christmas is a fact.

Our God loves us so much that He came to us in the most vulnerable way; as a baby.

Christmas is vulnerable.

Our God loves us so much that he came to have relationship with me, with you, with everyone, no matter what they look like, smell like, or act like.

Christmas is relationship.

Our God loves us so much that he supernaturally interceded on our behalf, freeing us from the law and binding us to grace forever. He didn’t come to live the good life, he came to live THE life, and then give it away painfully, freely for us. He never planned on celebrating anything in his life, certainly not his birthday. His Christmas wish was that we would be free from sin. Our Christmas miracle is Jesus.

Christmas is supernatural.

Photo Credit: Design_Ex Flickr via Compfight cc

 

Once I was exposed to the Reality of Christmas the sparkle was back.

For the most part. Every now and then I can get bogged down with expectations for the most wonderful time of the year. The should’s and have-to’s creep back up on me and my calendar can swallow me whole. That’s when I have to make like a Shepherd and follow that Star. I have to be intentional about putting Jesus first, remember His reality, and allowing all the other stuff to fall into place. It’s all just stuff in the end.

Still, the Reality of Christmas has changed me from the inside out. I may not look sparkly but I sure feel it. These days I rarely sleep on Christmas Eve, that excited pit in my stomach and unstoppable grin keeping me company through the night. (Coffee is my Christmas miracle, too) It is so fun to give gifts to my people. Watching them open their little presents always makes me reflect on how our Lord must feel when we accept His gift.

I know that Christmas does not only come in December.  Some of my favorite Christmas gifts have come in the other months. Heck, I know that Jesus wasn’t born in December, but I understand why the early church opted to remember the Light of the World’s entrance during the darkest month of the year. Symbolism is not empty if you know what it means. 

Sometimes I can get a little bogged down in wondering and worrying that the culture has a hold on Christmas. I read the books and blogs the Facebook meme’s demanding that we save Christmas.

I’m just not sure Christmas needs saving because you can’t change reality.

The Great I Am will always be.

So I choose to be part of His Story. I choose to know His light even in my dark. I choose to be awestruck by His goodness and mercy even while horror takes place in the world. I choose twinkly lights and sparkly paper because it cheers the dreary, gray days. I choose traditions and rituals that remind me of the King of my heart and His bold move to save us. 


Not every Christmas will feel holy.

That’s a reality, too.

Some Decembers will find us sad, out of sorts, in the hospital, or without family to love us. While Christmas may not always feel holy, the Holy One is always with us – no matter what we look like, smell like, or act like. The Reality of Christmas means that we get to reflect on Him every day, all the time. There are no mess-up’s with Jesus.

I pray that tonight, on Christmas Eve, you can find one candle to light, one song to sing.

Photo Credit: m.rsjoberg Flickr via Compfight cc

 

May Christmas be real to you, today, tomorrow, and all the days that come.

May you be real, vulnerable, and have loving relationship in your life, and may God’s supernatural love be tangible in your life.

Be brave, misfits, and Merry Christmas.