Rolling with Imperfection This Christmas

So we are finally down to two of the biggest days of the year, Christmas and Christmas Eve.

But with Big Days come Big Expectations.

Expectations that often can not be met.

I’ve been noticing this month more and more how my melancholy and struggle with the Christmas season is not actually rooted in a dislike of Christmas. In fact it comes from my deep love of Christmas and all that it stands for. A love so deep that nothing could possibly ever live up to my ideal of how to celebrate it.

I am not satisfied with the lovely hour of caroling at the neighboring nursing home. I want our musical family to come up with an hour long act to perform at nursing homes across the mid state area. The Hobbs family singers. In my mind we bring outrageous joy and cheer to the countless sad folks who need it so badly.

A nice idea. Sure. Realistic? No way.

Embracing imperfection this Christmas

My wonky Christmas tree complete with burnt out lights and mis -matched ornaments

 

Even my less grandiose dreams are hard to pull off. I see all these Pinterest perfect pictures of friends’ houses scrolling across my facebook feed. My own house is a mix match of handmade and passed down ornaments and decor that don’t always speak the same language. On good days I describe it as quirky, but secretly I worry I just don’t measure up.

So I find myself turning into my favorite Christmas character. No, not Mary or Elizabeth or even the ever spiritual Linus. Come mid December I morph into the lovable but crazy Clark Griswold.

Yes, Clark too loves Christmas and wants desperately to create the perfect family Christmas for everyone to enjoy. Complete with light display, big family dinner, and a show stopping present that will bring joy and delight to everyone on Christmas morning.

Undoubtedly Clark’s heart is in the right place, but he is asking too much. Nothing will ever be that picture perfect. The tree will be wonky, the in-laws will fight, and weird relatives will crash your party and dump toxic waste down your storm drain.

But Clark learns. He learns to roll with the imperfections.

When you get locked in the attic while your family is out shopping, just put on some old clothes and enjoy those old family movies.

And when Aunt Bethany says the pledge of allegiance instead of a blessing of the big family dinner, just stand up put your hand over your heart and join in.

For Christmas was never really about perfection anyway. 

 

In fact, it is about our imperfection. The imperfection that draws us to the God who came to be with us and lead our wonky, quirky selves into joy and light.

So this year when the turkey turns out bone dry and the cat burns the tree down, just roll with it. Embrace all the imperfection. For it is not so bad after all.

After all, you may not always remember the picture perfect Christmas, but no one will forget the night they stood on the lawn and sang the national anthem after Uncle Louis’s cigar set off an explosion that sent the plastic Santa and all his reindeer flying through the sky.

So, Merry Early Christmas Everyone!

 

May you find joy in the unexpected and even the imperfect. For often that is the best place for it to be found.

 

Learning from Babouska

Every year my children and I read from this picture book, My Very First Christmas: Stories for the Very Young. It has delightful little stories retelling not only the Bible narratives, but also sharing Christmas legends from around the world.

One of our favorite stories from this book is that of Baboushka.  The kids originally loved it because of the thick Russian accent I would adopt whenever I said her name. It made them giggle every time. I love it because I cannot get through it without crying. It speaks truth to my heart.

So as an early Christmas present, I will paraphrase for you the story of Baboushka as told by Lois Rock.

Remembering Baboushka

*****

Baboushka was an old Russian lady. She lived alone in a cottage by the edge of town. Even at her age, every day she worked hard cooking, cleaning, and going about her daily chores.

One day as Baboushka was finishing dinner, she heard a knock at her cottage door. When she answered she discovered three men dressed in the finest clothes. Being a good hostess, she invited them in from the cold. However as she noticed the puddles their snowy boots were making on her floors, she couldn’t help but grumble to herself. She had just cleaned them and now look at the mess!

After Baboushka served a dinner of soup and bread, the three rich men prepared to go. They informed her they were looking for a new baby, a baby that was to be king. “Come with us Baboushka,” they asked. “Join us as we travel to offer our gifts to this new baby king.”

Baboushka thanked them for the offer, but politely declined. There was still so much to do. The house was a mess and her list of chores was never ending.

As Baboushka slept that night, she was awakened from her rest by the sound of angels singing. She looked out her window and saw a star dancing in the sky. Realizing these must be signs of the baby king, she decided to rush after her three visitors and join them. She too would offer the newborn king a gift to welcome it into the world.

But as Baboushka walked around with her basket of toys for the baby, she was not sure where to find him. Just to be safe, she began leaving toys at any house where she heard the sound of children. Even if this was not the house of the king, surely he would like her offerings.

Even today people say Baboushka is still wandering about, looking for the king and leaving gifts for all the children she finds on her way.

remembering Baboushka

****

This story nails me every time because of how often am I like Baboushka, too worried about how messy the house is getting or what is left on my December to-do list to enjoy the miracles that are happening around me every day.

December can be a busy time and therefore stressful. But what a shame to miss the joy of the coming of the king because I am too worried about the mess on my floor (while ignoring the mess in my heart).

Baboushka reminds me to let some of my to-dos go so that I can get swept up in the magic and miracle of it all. I can relish the joy of my own laughing children as well as the joy of the child who came to be king.

In the end, I still read the story of Baboushka even though my children are no longer “very young” because I still need it. I still waste precious moments being cranky and consumed by unimportant details while angels sing all around me. I push through the rituals and routines of Christmas to check them off my list instead of letting their joy and meaning resound in my heart.

So, take some advice from me and Baboushka this season. Let some of the little stuff go. Put down the broom and go on an adventure looking for the king. Pass out toys to children you meet along the way. And always, always keep searching for that baby king come down. You just never know where you might find him.

 

Do you have a favorite Christmas legend you read every year? Care to Share?

 

 

Some of my favorite Christmas storybooks

If you are like me, some of your favorite Christmas traditions revolve around reading.

We always read an advent devotion together as a family. This year we are trying out Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, which has a Jesse tree theme. It is a beautiful book and I can’t wait to dig into it. I’ll let you know how the kids respond.

Christmas stories

In years past, we read My Very First Christmas: Christmas stories for the very young which you can now get used for a buck on Amazon. I loved the simple telling of the Gospel accounts as well as the stories from different countries and traditions around the world.

This year I am looking forward to a little Christmas reading gift to myself.

My friend, Tara of I Might Need a Nap, has been published in an anthology of Christmas short stories. There are 31 short entries from different authors ranging from funny to sweet to poetic.

If this weren’t tempting enough, today you can get A Cup of Christmas for your Kindle free by clicking here!

Don’t worry if you miss the boat, though. Proceeds from the later sales go to benefit a children’s literacy charity.

So these are some of my favorite reads (because you know no matter how proud I am of them, I just can’t bring myself to read the devotions I write. Funny, huh?)

I’d love it if you’d share your favorite Christmas reading in the comments below!

The week after Christmas: The best is yet to come

I’ve read a few other blogs out there talking about the unique time that is the week after Christmas.  We’re not quite back on normal time yet, but the pre-Christmas hype is definitely over.  Jeff Goins in particular addressed the week after Christmas blues.

I guess the time after Christmas can be a real let-down, especially if we are operating under a mindset where Christmas morning is the end of the story.

I’ve been grateful these past several years to attend a church that celebrates the Sunday after Christmas with a lessons and carols service.  It is a day where we basically read several sacred stories and sing Christmas carols in between the Scriptures.  It is usually a good day for me as I can enjoy the carols and soak in the stories during a quieter moment than I did on Christmas eve (read: without breaking up stick battles between the shepherds).

This morning after hearing the story of John the Baptist pointing the way to Jesus, we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  At first I wondered about the hymn choice.  Wasn’t this an advent hymn?  A hymn of waiting and preparation?  Were we not already in Christmas now?  Wasn’t the wait over?

And then it hit me.  Of course the wait isn’t over, for the story isn’t finished yet.

Yes, the baby was born in the manger and Jesus comes to us in this world even now.  But there is another coming that hasn’t happened yet.  There is more advent to be had.

Maybe that’s why the day after Christmas can feel a little hollow and we bristle when people ask us if we got everything we wanted.  How can we possibly have everything we want when people still go to bed hungry tonight?  How can it be the most wonderful day of the year when so many still suffer in different ways?

But yet we can Rejoice.  For not only did one come to be with us so that we would not suffer alone.  But this One is also still coming and will come again until there is no more weeping, no more sickness, no more hunger.  We look for a day when either our advent comes and we return to the bosom of the one who formed us or the Great Advent comes and the whole earth will be restored and redeemed.

best is yet to come

In the meantime we will get homesick from time to time, not for the place we were born and raised, but for the land from which we were created.  When we do we can remember the baby that came down in love.  How the mother smelled heaven on his soft infant hair, how the shepherd felt the hands of healing grasp their pinky tight, how the wise men glimpsed glory in his eyes.

Like them maybe we will be lucky enough to glimpse a bit of  heaven on earth from time to time.  When our own child is born or tears against all odds turn to gleaming smiles.  And until then we wait.  We watch with hope.  For the story isn’t nearly over yet.  And the best is yet to come.

week after Christmas

When we come to the end of ourselves. . .

It was a little rough at my 7am coffee shift this morning.  People came in looking even more tired and haggard than usual.  They were not cheerful.  They could not find proper change or their keys.  They seemed to be almost at the end of themselves.

It happens this way sometimes, doesn’t it?  If you are the person who makes it to the 23rd of December and is still humming a merry tune without stress or sleep deprivation, congratulations.  I wish I knew your secret.  For more and more that seems to be the minority as all the preparations for the modern Christmas can flat take it out of you.

Or maybe it was already taken out of you.  Maybe things have been already been hard and Christmas just seems to emphasize the struggle a bit.

So for all you walking wounded out there, here is my gift to you.

Remember Mary.

 

Yes, Mary. The mother of Jesus.  The Theotokos.  The bearer of God into this broken world.

Whenever I think of Mary, she brings me such comfort.  For she and her song remind me that having it all together may not be our quickest path to God.  In fact, it seems that one of the qualities that enabled Mary to be the mother of God was in fact her emptiness.  This poor, young, vulnerable woman became a participant in the incarnation not in spite of her lack, but because of it.

You see Mary’s emptiness made her the perfect vessel to be filled with God’s very self. Combine that with an open and humble spirit and you have the makings for a great miracle.

And the best part is, in some little way we can all do the same.

So this Christmas, when you feel you are coming to the end of yourself, take heart.  Your emptiness and vulnerability have made you a vessel.  Just choose wisely what you allow yourself to be filled with.

I myself will be calling to mind this lovely lyric written by an old friend.

when we come to the end of ourselves

For the difficult Christmases

At some point in American history, people started expecting Christmas to live up to an certain ideal.  Maybe it was a Norman Rockwell thing.  There should be presents and candlelight and lots of smiling faces of family and friends. Within our own families we develop certain traditions and expectations.  In my family growing up, Christmas always included my Aunt’s brunswick stew, my uncle’s silly jokes and lots of cousins playing on the front lawn.  This is all well and good, but what happens when something goes wrong with our formula?  What happens when the one who always made that certain dish gets so sick they can’t cook anymore?  What happens when there’s a divorce and people are missing from our celebration and Christmas becomes a split ticket between families for the kids?  What happens when one of the places our the table is vacant because a loved one has died?

for the Difficult Christmas

The reality of life is that Christmas does not always look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Just because Hallmark does not have a card section for “the difficult Christmas” it does not mean it does not exist.

While I was writing my advent devotional, Lighten the Darknessthe reality of the difficult Christmas weighed heavy on my mind.  I’ve gone through several of these hard Christmases in recent years as I walked with my Father-in-law while he battled life threatening illnesses and then with my mother-in-law and husband as they grieved his death.  I wondered how or even why we keep saying “Merry Christmas” when everyone has tears in their eyes?

The journey took me deep to the heart of my own Christmas celebration.  The best answer I could come up with during that time was that I kept celebrating Christmas because it reminded me that in the midst of these hard and sometimes dark days, that we did not walk them alone.  For as John tells us of the birth of Christ, it is in this moment that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.  In Christian circles it is commonly called the incarnation (God with skin on).  It is also why Jesus is referred to as Emmanuel, because in him God came to be WITH us.

In the end that was the best news I could have hoped for during the difficult Christmases.  For even though times were sometimes hard, I never endured them alone.  There was always Someone with me, helping me and lightening the darkness that lay ahead.

I think even people who don’t ascribe to the Christian faith are drawn to this concept. That’s why we have the impulse to draw together at this time of year.  For not only did God come to be with us, we were also designed to walk with one another.  To hold each other in joy and comfort each other in sorrow.

So if your Christmas this year is of the difficult variety, I offer you two words of hope.

You are not alone.  It may feel this way at times, but the odds are there are many who love and care for you.  Find them.  Let them hold your had and light your way.  And know that beyond our imperfect human comfortings, there is One who is greater that is with you.  The hand of the Almighty may be unfelt and unseen, but trust that it is there for you, cradling you in your darkest hour.

Even if your Christmas is not “merry”, it is still Christmas.  Your sorrow or struggle will never undo the fact that Love came down and came to stay.  The fact that you are sad does not mean it is not Christmas, or even that it is not a “good” Christmas.  It just means that you will remember the hard way that the presents and candles and food were never what it was about anyway.  As my friends the Grinch learned, it was always about something a little bit more.