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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

On Forgiveness

Since walking away from shoulds and have-to’s this year, I have to say my life feels a lot lighter, a lot less complicated.

One thing that’s been plaguing me, though, is bitterness.

Something about being 40 causes me to ruminate, but if I’m truthful it’s always  been something I’m good at. I think the kids being older has given me more time to process the last 20 years of my life or so. While I don’t find I’m filled with regret, it recently dawned on me that my heart had become unforgiving toward some people and situations in my life.

I got to spend 24 hours away with a friend this weekend, a friend I haven’t seen in over a year, and it was wonderful. I had a 90 minute drive to myself with a lot of quiet (and a little loud singing)  to let my thoughts roll around.

I caught myself reliving some of my most painful memories and wishing that some of that pain could be bounced back onto those who hurt me and mine.

Ah, I thought, there it is. The thorn that’s been keeping my heart from moving forward is called bitterness and I’ve been unknowingly feeding it over the years.

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I have a strong sense of justice, but like Jonah I forget that God’s ways are merciful, that his desire is to his bring us all into relationship with him, even the worst of the worst.  I should be thankful that I don’t receive his justice rather than pondering the justice I feel others deserve.

I’m sure there’s a thing or two about that in the Bible.

 


 

We both arrived at the Inn we were staying at, after exploring all 14 rooms decided we needed to eat.  Shanna still has little ones, three under 4, plus  three others from 7 to 15. Her large number of children combined with my four means  we can swap funny stories and parenting tips fairly evenly.  We discussed kids, homeschooling, husbands, politics, and religion.  I’ve always loved talking to Shanna because we can talk about Deep Things but never lose sight of the only thing that matters: our faith in Christ.

Everyone should have friends like this woman, and I’m grateful to have her, and several others, in my life.

After we finished our meal and a desert we didn’t really like I confessed that I had a forgiveness problem. I confessed that I wanted to write mean letters to people who had caused pain in my life and let them know I thought they were douche bags.

Is douche bag a dirty word?

I think it might be.

It turns out that Shanna had recently listened to a sermon on forgiveness.

“Forgiveness means that you can see that person and treat them as if they did nothing wrong,” she told me. I nodded because I understood, not because I thought that would be an easy task.

I told her of how hurt I was by people who I had mistaken as friends, who I had invested in, only to have them choose malicious actions. Something terrible happened to our family ten years ago, something that cost us what felt like everything. While we continued to move forward my heart was still broken,  and every negative event that came after stacked up on top of that crack, even sinking into it, deepening the fissure. I didn’t realize I was only stacking up the hurtful moments.

Even after all this time recounting the events that unfolded caused me pain, deep pain, and a rash of hives.

“But think about it,” Shanna said, “You’re hurting more than they are. You’re thinking about it and they probably don’t. They’ve moved on.”

Our conversation took us other places, then we were tired and ready to go back to our room so we could climb into bed and talk more, which we did.

 


 

In the minutes before I fall asleep I always pray, and thank God for getting through the day. As I lay there that night, after our conversation on forgiveness, I asked God to help me find grace and mercy for those who had hurt my family, and for a reprieve from the bitterness. I asked him to help me forgive.

And that was it.

I fell asleep quickly and I woke up with a much lighter heart.

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Seems that it is as easy as that. Turning away rather than turning towards the painful moments in my life is all it took. My shoulders didn’t feel heavy and I was no longer stacking stuff up on top of hurt.

Here’s the rub: I can go back to that old way any time I’d like; if I CHOOSE to. The decision is mine. I can tend the root of bitterness or I can cut it away and plant something more life giving, like grace and mercy. It’s muscle memory, really, and I’m retraining my brain muscle. Every time I encounter acerbic thoughts I must turn away. Every single time.

My shield of faith is taking a few knocks, to be sure.

In my own strength I could not defeat my vengeful thoughts, but allowing Christ to do the work for me, with me, gets the job done. It’s only been four days but I’m reveling in the beauty of forgiveness, of letting myself move away from the trap of of the past.

The thing that has surprised me the most was how ungrateful I had become. I thought I had long ago conquered that beast. I thought I had figured out a thing or two. I think it’s like this: sometimes pain is a companion. I treated my hurt like a badge of honor, like I’d really been through something.

I had accidentally begun to downplay all the really awesome people God had put in my life and I was making idols of the ones who had not been so awesome.

So I’m starting a Gratitude Project.

I’m going to let people know how much they mean to me. I’ll write handwritten notes, Facebook messages and e-mails. Today I took a deep breath and thanked someone in person for what they meant to me,  and that little act unwound something that had been binding up my heart. It was so good I can’t wait to do it again.

I’ll keep you posted as I go, and maybe you’d like to join in as well? 

Projects are always better with friends.

 

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