Sunday, December 29, 2013

For when Christmas is over

I started writing this post a few days before Christmas, and somehow in all-of-the-crazy of the holiday season, I never found time to sit down and finish it. And now the ornaments and stockings are packed up. The tree sits bare-branched, and Maverick licks every last drop of sappy-water from the tree-stand: we don’t bother refilling it. Despite the temptation to forget all these ruminations, to simply slip into a new year and fresh start; I’ve been convinced to post it anyways. I’m never quite sure why certain things press into my heart, but maybe someone needs to read it in these strange post-Christmas-pre-New-Years days.
Adam takes the kids grocery shopping this morning (bless him), because I am desperate for a little space. I shower, because I think it’s been a few days, and then sink into the couch, curling my fingers around a warm cup of coffee. I light candles and put on some soft piano Christmas hymns. I’m desperate to conjure some Christmas spirit, some semblance of joy or peace or hope, or anything really. And so I read yesterday’s entry (of course I’m behind) in The Greatest Gift; because if Ann Voskamp cant help me feel Christmas-y, I’m not sure anyone can.

Are you ok? Adam whispers it to me earlier this morning as I struggle to formulate appropriate responses to the children’s many requests for snacks and movies and various breakfast foods, gulping coffee to shake the last vestiges of sleep. Yes, I tell him: it’s just a lot. Which, as it turns out, exactly mirrors my feelings right now about the Christmas festivities and the Christmas season in general: it’s just a lot. It feels like I’m still wiping the turkey-induced-sleep from my eyes, and I can’t quite catch my balance in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. We hop from one gift exchange and family Christmas party to work Christmas party to the next. And I can’t help but think intermittently about how opposed it all feels to what Christmas should actually be about. Like somehow we’ve taken and started celebrating everything that directly opposes what Christ means to a hopeless world.
I feel disillusioned, and distant.  As stubbornly as I try to recapture my former enthusiasm for Christmas and all it entails, it just wont come. We wait entirely too long to start our Christmas shopping this year, and miss all the shipping deadlines. This means, horrors, we have to actually go to Target in the city at the height of Christmas-crazy. In the course of our one-day-Christmas-shopping-extravaganza, we get stopped at stoplights and parking lots no less than four times and asked for money. Each supplicant presents a sad story, or a piece of cardboard box saying I am hungry God Bless you. One woman clutches the hand of a small boy in a bright blue winter coat, dark curls peeking from under his cap. Tears pool in her eyes and trickle down her cheeks as she explains how her house burnt down and they need a hotel for a few nights and her mom is sick and it will just be until she gets out of the hospital. I nod sympathetically and hand Caden to Adam, because he won’t stop loudly asking WHOS DAT MOMMY? I press a few dollars in her hands, wrestling to stop the flash of annoyance that courses through me. I’m just trying to enjoy some Christmas shopping and there’s nothing that ruins a good consumer-driven Christmas experience like a reminder of another’s less-than-good fortune.

When I get back in the car Adam informs me that she already stopped him on the way into Target with a different story of a grandmother’s house that burnt down and a husband in the hospital. I know, I sigh. But that poor baby with her. 

I am disenchanted.

I think the crux of my disillusionment lies in the fact that I’ve somehow rounded this corner I cannot seem to turn back from. And suddenly Santa and the red-nosed reindeer seem not cute and harmless so much as dangerous. Hurtful even. Particularly to the very ones that Jesus came to offer thrills of hope and worth for the soul.
She needs a ride to the doctor again, and her mom pulls me aside to whisper they’re getting evicted.

I unfollow no less than five of our kiddos on instagram yesterday because the things they post are so wildly inappropriate they make me blush.

He’s not sitting in a jail cell this Christmas, but I sometimes wish he were. At least he would be safe from his own self-destructive bent.

They are hungry and ends wont meet and they cant afford a Christmas tree. While we have two. The need piles, our own excess a heavy burden beside.

A friend today lost her husband to cancer. And I weep to imagine the pain and joy entwined together inexplicably. Loss and new life and ache for an end that doesn’t make sense, all tangled together in a big messy knot.

And the longing seems the only part of Christmas I can resonate with this year. The waiting and laboring and lumbering towards an unknown arrival on the back of a donkey. The pain and stretching. The lack of space and the stink and the no-fair-this-cannot-be-the-birth-place-of-the-King.
A bunch of neighborhood kiddos come over on Christmas Eve for a dinner of pizza and hot wings, followed by a bonfire and smores. We don’t go to a midnight service, and we don’t even try to read the Christmas story for good measure. Instead, we snuggle the kids into bed after leaving cookies and milk and carrots for the reindeer. The boys exclaim how adorable our kids seem for believing in Santa, because they have never met a real-live-human-being who actually thinks Santa Clause is real. Believing in a jolly red-suited man who brings presents down your chimney remains relegated to the realm of those children lucky enough to actually receive Christmas gifts. Most of our kids get theirs at giant toy giveaways where they are handed a garbage bag stuffed with a toy or two labeled BOY 5-7 or GIRL 2-4. Or possibly at awkward family-sponsorship programs, which they declare unanimously as the-worst.

Zack wears shorts despite the cold, and he volunteers to guard the door from the inside while the kiddos test out Jayci’s new tire swing, arcing wildly across the dark cold and star-laced sky. We huddle around the warm campfire before heading inside for a loud and slightly-ridiculous dance party, which makes me laugh so hard I nearly cry.

Driving the farther-away kiddos home that night, we pass the burnt-out, fallen-down house on the corner, behind which a large crowd of homeless men gather around the bright flame spilling from a burn barrel. Topped with hats, and wrapped in blankets, I hear laughter and watch a few sip their warmth from brown paper bags.

I wonder about them, while pondering the Jesus Storybook Bible story we read Jayci earlier that morning. Particularly the illustration of the shepherds reclining around a fire: they’re described as rough and rag-tag and reviled by all of society.

Hmmm. I say it out loud, as images of angels announcing the birth of the Savior to the unlikely group huddled around the burn barrel dance through my mind.
I think too of Bethlehem and all of the people hustling and bustling through the busy little town, worrying about the census and their taxes. Laying in the beds they secured in the inn long before Mary and Joseph made their weary arrival on a donkey. After all, they planned ahead and the-bed-was-rightfully-theirs. But think of what they missed. Of how the Savior slipped into the world and lay in a manger just outside their windows.

I don’t want to miss it. I want to be in the stable this Christmas.

But sometimes things smell in the stable. Because the mess and the muck and the mire that Jesus entered into? It’s messy and mucky. Exhausting. Gross even. And sometimes I ache for his coming back, not as a babe, but a King. THE King. For an end to the weary world, and epidemics and poverty and cancer and all-of-it-quite-honestly. 

Christ has come. His Kingdom is here, and if I want to find it, I think perhaps I need to make my way back to the stable. Because this unlikely King seems to make Himself known in all the most unlikely places. And the further we follow, the deeper it all trickles down.

If I’m honest with you, sometimes I want to turn back. To figure out how to capture the magic of Christmas with Santa and elves and hot chocolate. But I’m not sure this Savior who breaks all the rules has bought into a culture where bigger is better and we only take one-day-off from shopping to unwrap all the things we bought before we head back to the stores to spend gift cards and exchange everything that didn’t fit just right.

Sometimes I feel like life doesn’t fit me just right these days. And I’m reminded today among the broken pine needles and bags of crumpled wrapping paper of exactly why: because this is not my home. And the Kingdom ushered in by a newborn King doesn’t operate right-side-up by chasing the American Dream straight up the ladder. Instead the least will be greatest. The pared-down life that solely seeks His glory, this resonates most deeply with the pared-down Christmas story. The one that speaks less of magical elves and flying reindeer and more of a simple, hard journey to Bethlehem to birth a baby. Of prophecy fulfilled and hearts tuned to their worth. Not you-better-be-good-for-goodness-sake, but you will never be good enough and so He came.

I stumbled through Christmas this year. And next year? I have no idea what needs to look differently. But I do know this: Christmas must mean good news for all the souls who ache for something more. Which, as it turns out, is all of us.


  1. Thank you. Beautiful and Heartfelt.

  2. Oh, Becca.
    Can I tell you that I felt sort of like this too.
    There is just so many needs all around me.
    Gary says NO MORE SPENDING on families that are not our own but I don't listen.
    I can't listen.
    When a mom of a 9 year old calls and says she has no food and no presents, I have to help.
    And when I drop off her things with kids in tow so they can see how beautiful Christmas is, I see more people that need help.
    And it never ends.
    There is just SO MANY PEOPLE in need right now.
    I want the pain and suffering to go away.
    I sit here at my work computer crying as I read your powerful post.
    I feel your pain and see your heart.
    I love you for being there and for showing love,
    You are a treasure.

  3. oh man, becca. so thankful you put these thoughts down for us to benefit from also! so with you on this.

  4. beautiful and heartfelt. thank you for sharing. xoxo

  5. love this.
    as always, you speak my heart-
    (like literally. today.)

  6. I love this, I too struggled through Christmas this year, and decided next year I will be doing a lot of things differently. Thanks for sharing your beautiful heart. I love you friend!

  7. Mmmm...fresh air for my soul. I agree with Marla.

  8. Wow. I love this quote! "Not you-better-be-good-for-goodness-sake, but you will never be good enough and so He came." I wonder if I can manage to make some art for my house with that for next year? (Or if I'd poop out after word #2 and decide "joy" or "Peace" is really more my style. heehee. wink.) But, seriously ... yes! SO TRUE!

    1. thanks friend! :-) and totally agree on the JOY being about my speed!


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