Some of my favorite memories come from the Christmas season.
Dragging our mattress into the living room and sleeping under the tree with my husband.
Steaming mugs of hot chocolate with a hint of peppermint, dotted with whipped cream.
Fresh pine and twinkling lights.
Big packages arriving in the mail from grandparents, aunts and uncles in CA.
Eating See’s chocolates and picking out the best one (which, if you’re wondering is rum nougat. No one else in my family agrees with my assessment, which is all the better for me.)
Snuggling into a blanket to watch a favorite Christmas movie. (White Christmas & It’s A Wonderful Life are probably my top two, with A Charlie Brown Christmas winning for the children’s category.)
Feeling giddy with excitement to give my brothers the gifts I’d bought for them.
Eating warm cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, dripping with frosting. (This was before our gluten-free days.)
There is a special delight in the knowledge that Christmas is soon. But as I think of this quickly approaching holiday, I’m struck by how different it feels this time around. I find myself in a different place on the other side of the country, with different people, and if I’m honest, my heart feels a little bit different too.
I’ve been thinking the last few weeks about what I want Christmas to be like this year, in light of all the different. My husband is not terribly interested in decorating, although we both can agree on the magic of Christmas lights. My heart feels weary and I don’t know if I can muster holiday cheer on my own. I don’t know if I have the strength to pull up the Christmas bootstraps.
But even as I think those thoughts, Jesus whispers to my heart that there is a different way. A way that isn’t all or nothing. A way without hustle. A way that reflects the truth I believe in. A way that speaks of grace. A way that celebrates the beauty in the mess. A way that breathes redemption into my life. My heart longs for a Christmas like that.
So instead of decorating all at once, as soon as Thanksgiving is over, pushing and prodding myself to “do Christmas” I am choosing a slower, simpler pace. I’m choosing something that I hope looks a little more like something I can find Jesus in, instead of more distractions to keep me from him. Here’s what I’m hoping for this year:
- I’m giving myself the whole time leading up to Christmas to decorate. I want it to be a process and to enjoy it. I want to create some of our decorations. I want to cut branches from the holly tree in the yard. I want to tie ribbon on tin cans and light candles. I want to cut out paper snowflakes. I want to hang up some Christmas lights. I don’t want to rush through it and miss the beauty. And I’m giving myself permission to not do any of the above if it is too much.
- I want to be with people. I don’t want to fill my calendar to the brim with events and places that I miss the people. I want to pause before I commit to something. I want to be intentional to do things with the people I love.
- I want to pay attention. I want to slow down long enough to notice. I want to journal what I’m learning. I want to take pictures. I want to dance to Christmas music with my daughter. I want to savor these moments of the world turning to winter. I want to set down my phone so I notice what is happening in the small moments around me.
- I’m asking for presents for others instead of myself. Now before you give too much credit, this wasn’t my idea. Jesus asked me if I was serious about what I’ve been thinking and praying about recently. So, before I gave him my answer, I sat and tried to think of my Christmas list. There is a beautiful grace in the fact that I had trouble thinking of what to ask for. I have more clothes than I need. I get to blog about books and literally have books arriving on my doorstep (a dream come true for this reader’s heart!) As soon as I finish one, another one arrives. What would I even ask for? So, I’m asking for gifts for other people instead. Now please hear me, I don’t think this is what everyone needs to do. I think this is simply what Jesus is asking me to do this year. And there’s something that feels good and right about not asking for things this year, as much as I really do like getting things. So, my husband and I are planning to sit down and pick out a few Christmas presents for me this year from the Compassion gift catalog. If I’m honest, when I only think about not getting gifts, it makes me a little sad. I like presents. But when I think about a family getting a goat to provide food and income or a mom learning to read or medical care for a sweet baby, I realize I want that more than I want to another candle or bottle of lotion or book. I want to do something that feels like the grace I’ve been shown. I want to do something that feels like redemption.
It feels like a small thing. It does. What good can my Christmas gifts really do? Even as I ask that question, I’m reminded of all the “small” things Jesus has used in my life to transform it. I’m reminded that he seems to take pleasure in using “small” things to build his kingdom. I’m reminded that outcomes are Jesus’ department, not mine. I ask that he would use these “small” offerings for his glory. (If you do get me a tangible gift, I have no qualms with accepting your thoughtful gift. And I’m pretty sure my husband is still getting me something. This simply feels reflective of my conversation with the Lord and shouldn’t feel like pressure or judgment in regards to anyone else. But if you want to get me something and don’t know what, I’d ask you to please consider picking me out something from Compassion. If this stirs something in your heart, another option could be to allow your purchase of a gift to care for those in need. Sarah Bessey outlines a guide to those kinds of gifts on her blog.)
- I want to be with Jesus. I think of other seasons in my life when I allowed distractions to take away from time spent with him. I don’t want to be on the other side of Christmas, feeling farther from him. I want to show up. Advent starts on Sunday and I want to allow the practice of slowing and expecting to have space in my heart. I am planning on reading these Advent Readings for the Very Young, hoping that the simplicity and child-like nature of these reflections helps my heart to slow and pause.
For better or worse, I tend to think in extremes. All or nothing. A or B. One end of the spectrum or the other. So often, Jesus reminds my heart (often using my dear husband’s words) that there is always another way. There is a third option. I see this this so much in how Jesus responded. People think they have him cornered. He has to answer this way or this way, and either way he’s trapped. But instead, he picks the third option. He responds with a question. He responds with love. He responds with grace.
I think there’s another way to celebrate Christmas. I don’t think it will be easy. The noise and clamor is tremendous. The expectations and pressure, even just from our own hearts is weighty. But I think there is another way, a third option, if you will. It isn’t all or nothing. It is without hustle. It reflects the truth I believe in. It celebrates the beauty in the mess. It breathes redemption into my life. It is the way that speaks of grace.