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If I’m being honest with you, I only went to the Christmas tree place because I knew my kids would want to look back and see pictures of me there with them.

I didn’t want them to think I was a Scrooge, or that I was preoccupied, or that I didn’t care about all the moments that will string together in their minds to create childhood memories. So I did go, and I smiled when the flash went off, but I wasn’t really there.

I knew we were going to be getting on a bus in two days and we weren’t going to be back for nearly three weeks. I was panicked about packing, getting my work in order to bring with me to make sure I wasn’t falling behind, and mentally gearing up for being on the road touring in such a hectic season.

Todd dragged the tree into the house while the kids bounced around and plotted ornament strategy. I walked behind him, kneeling intermittently and lamenting the number of pine needles being embedded in the carpet after every step.

We weren’t going to even see the tree for more than a few days total, so we were tempted to just bypass the whole thing, but again, THE MENTAL SCRAPBOOK AND ALL.

It was late by the time it stood up in its metal base, and Todd made a makeshift untangling station for the lights while the kids camped out on the floor waiting for the big moment. Some time later (and my memory is fuzzy, but I believe it was at least 10 hours), the plug slipped into the wall and all the room filled with hazy blues and yellows, reds and greens, and the sense that it might just be well after all.

They wanted to decorate it because Todd was leaving in the morning, but the process of digging ornaments out was a little daunting at 11 pm, so we kissed their heads and whispered, “Tomorrow.”

I slept late, waking to the sounds of little voices above me and feet running back and forth in a hallway they don’t normally use. I slipped on my glasses and stumbled up the stairs to find what can only be described as, “Christmas just vomited everywhere.”

angie christmas 1

They had found the boxes tucked deep in closets and had literally taken out any item that even remotely resembled a holiday theme.

There was a garden picket sign, propped against the wall pointing the way to a pumpkin patch. It sat next to a rocking chair that had been decorated (and I use this term very loosely) with at least three full strands of garland and a snowman I don’t have the heart to throw away despite the fact that our dog swallowed half his face a couple years ago.

I bet he was happy to see what was outside that box. Well, with his good eye at least.

I stood in the doorway, my stomach turning, and wondered how in the world I was going to clean this up on top of everything else I was supposed to be doing. They had discovered a horrific instrumental Christmas CD somewhere in the chaos, and it was playing in the background of what I had now decided was my official undoing.

I was motionless as they continued their frenzied routine, and I glanced down to see the dog dressed in a Christmas tree bedskirt, his eyes fixed on the wall in what appeared to be a therapeutic coping mechanism.

angie christmas 2

Finally, Charlotte looked up at me.

“Hi Mommy!” she shouted, and the others turned to face me, their eyes bright with anticipation over what would surely be my awestruck praise.

I fell short of the goal, stuttering out the words, “Is that an Easter bunny?” while pointing at the mantel.

Three different manger scenes were spread out on the ground like a crime scene, and the bubble wrap was being put to good use by Kate. Repeatedly.

My eyes welled up with tears, my hands covering my face instinctively so I wouldn’t ruin their celebration. Abby knew right away because she always does, and she started walking over to me while I shrank to a sitting position. Between the music, the pop-pop-pop-pop of bubble wrap and the lack of one square inch of visible carpet, I had simply reached the end of my mental rope.

“Mommy, are you okay?” She whispered. I nodded yes but my shoulders shook in disagreement.

Abby sat with me for a few minutes while I got myself together, trying to dig through the clutter in my mind before facing the clutter on the floor.

What I wanted was what I saw everywhere else. A warm fire and a string of popcorn, the smell of hot chocolate and the sound of ANYTHING BUT THAT MUSIC.

It’s the kind of scene I remember from my own childhood, and I want them to have it, too. And now it was all a mess. Goblins and shepherds and pastel eggs were the least of my worries; I felt like I had failed to give them this moment and now they were grabbing at what was left of it.

Truly, it was a ridiculous scene.

And one I will never forget.

Because when I finally opened my eyes I saw a joy I feared I had stolen. In all my “trying to make it perfect” sketches of what Christmas should look like, this would never have occurred to me.

But God uses moments when you can’t see past yourself to remind you that He can.

Baby Jesus was lying on His side facing a string of Valentine’s Day hearts, and I was captivated by the simplicity of what I saw.

Despite everything, He remained.

I begged God to bring me peace, my eyes focused on the tiny figurine, and two words echoed through my mind:

He did.

He is real, you know.

More real than anything we could haphazardly string around the room in an attempt to hasten the season of hope.

He saw me smile for the camera and make a tilting motion with my hands when Todd asked if the tree was straight. He saw me on my knees, picking pine needles from the path, and He saw me climb the stairs the next day.

And if you ask me, He knew that somehow in the hustle of boxes and seasons, that baby would lie in front of me speaking a thousand volumes about what I was missing all along.

Smile for the camera, but look past it to Me.

When the tree is crooked and your head is shaking, remember why it stands here at all.

When you find yourself on your knees, desperate to make things right and clean and good, stay there and worship the One who did.

Climb up to the mess of your days, a life that feels scattered and out of order, with more than you think you can fix, and find Me right in the middle of it all.

It’s not a new story – this “trying to focus on the Lord instead of all the other Christmas hoopla” theme. I know that.

But maybe today you needed to be reminded as much as I did to look beyond the boxes and the hours, the nagging sense that you have to get it right, and the countless obstacles that come against a grateful heart.

It is a mess; I won’t deny it. And the music is often noise instead of notes.

We’re paralyzed by expectation and forgetful of the expectancy.

It looks all wrong from the doorway sometimes, doesn’t it?

My prayer for you (and for myself) is that I am reminded daily how little my own hands can do to “make” Christmas. After all, it’s not about what they might remember me doing anyway.

It’s Him I want them to remember – more than the soundtrack of our days and the smell of a fresh-cut tree.

And so I picked up the baby, tenderly placed Him in the manger, and whispered into the chaos of it all:

Lord…let them never forget.

{Top photo by stev.ie}
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  1. 1

    Angie,
    Your post was a balm (and an out loud chuckle) to my frenzied soul! I am not only trying to prepare for Christmas, but also for my wedding in January. Last night I reached the end of my mental rope and I collapsed into a sobbing lump. I fell, exhausted, into bed and now your post. Oh how I needed to hear that Jesus can see past me when I can’t…that He is right here in the middle of the chaos and that I need to fix my eyes upon Him. He is the Peace in this chaotic parade of my life. I know this…but I SO needed the reminder this morning. With much gratitude…
    Blessings,
    Bev

  2. 2

    As I was reading the post just got better and more real with each sentence! How I can relate to all of it!! And how I needed to hear THIS today ~ in the middle of so much hustle and bustle.

    I will try to make sure they see HIM ~ not a mom always worried about the mess and the after math of a mess ~ thanks!

  3. 3

    Beautiful post. Pertinent truth. I was crying my eyes out by the end!
    Thank you for being transparent and for having a heart willing to listen to His still small voice. He rejoices over you!

  4. 4

    Thanks for your courage to speak up and remind the world we need not jump on their bandwagon. My heart hurts for those who so struggle with trying to make His birthday into what it is not! So many struggle with poverty and loneliness and the continual bombardment is painful. My sons and I are not participating in the material non-Christ like view of His birthday. My prayer is for those who have to open their hearts, dinner tables, and front door to those who have not! Happy Birthday and I appreciate His gift to us everyday!

  5. 6

    O pick up the little Christ Child and kiss HIS cheeks. You’ve made me cry cos it’s all about the little Christ Child in the manger and in the mess of it all, like ours, like there was no room at the inn, we have our eternity forever and ever. Amen.

    Good post.

    A crying one.

  6. 7
    Patricia says:

    GOD IS GOOD ~ I was smiling! laughing and then crying reading this Angie..precious post

  7. 8

    What a delight-filled share.
    Yes, I felt the angst, the exhaustion, the verge of panic……..
    and I saw the wonder, the glee, the thrill of “using everything you’ve got” to Celebrate Christmas….and it sounds like the children did EXACTLY that. They used everything they could find, to declare as vibrantly as possible: We Celebrate the Season, we celebrate YOU…..and we know YOU are present, thru every calendar season……….and most importantly, in all the seasons our hearts travel as well.

    They WILL remember, forever, that you shared in their delight.
    And one day, they will look back with Adult eyes, and wonder how you pulled it off….and then you’ll be able to share your personal, quiet moment, with the Christ child.

    Merry Christmas Mama.
    Bless you “extra much”

  8. 9

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing Angie. I love it when you share your real life through word pictures because then I don’t feel so alone.

    Blessings,
    Linda

  9. 10

    So sweet Angie. You and your beautiful children have touched my heart today! They really know the meaning of giving. They must have been so pleased to give you that surprise, so full of Christs love. What a wonderful Mom you are..they get it.
    The pictures were pure joy!
    Merry Christmas!

  10. 11

    THANK YOU a zillion times over!!!

  11. 12

    Yep im done with it. My our lives will never be a rockwell painting and im so okay with it. Esp since we are africans lol. I tried for years to make my family fit in the proverbial traditional cinderella slipper. Mommy why doesnt our family look like theirs, mommy why dont we do this or that…well, The slipper broke bc it doesnt fit and thats perfectly okay God
    With God so long as we honor Him. My family will no longer suffer from my bitterness as i compare my life and family with everyone elses is it perfect HARDLY but its real and i choose to be happy today. In the real world

  12. 13

    Love the dog

  13. 14

    Beautiful Post Angie. Comment to Alli, thank you for sharing, it struck a note with me. I compare myself with others not confident in who God create me to be or my family. Chritmas Blessings to all

  14. 16

    Such a good Momma and such a memory your children will have. :-) If we were perfect (unattainable) and/or normal we would be oh so boring LOL!
    Love, Patty

  15. 17

    I loved reading your honesty . I am strugling financially this Christmas ie I only have £24 to last me till christmas.
    Luckily I had done most of my shopping ages ago anyway what I am trying to say is that by tve grace of God I have enough presents for all that need one . I regifted some from my birthday that were just not me
    Praise God that he knows where we are.

  16. 18

    Your post blessed my heart and brightened my day. Thank you for sharing the Lord’s comfort and gentle reminders, even in difficult moments.

  17. 19

    This post brought me to tears with it’s authenticity. He is real, you know. Yes. Yes, He is.

    Heart Hugs, Shelly <3

  18. 20
    Becky Jones says:

    Angie,
    You post today was so real but as you reach my age you wonder if opening everything to the kids is really worth. On Christmas afternoon the kids were usual playing with the boxes ad the toys were under the bed. I have found that Christmas is fun and so warm but we need to put more of Christ in the celebration. Share Christmas with your children and enjoy the day and the dog is cute. We put red satin balls in a green bowl and set it down low and our dog has not bothered it at all.
    Love,
    Becky

  19. 21
    Tiffani says:

    Thank you for you testimony to the chaotic lives we have, but the true joy is spending it with our savior. We needed to remember to focus on our Lord!!

  20. 22

    Thanks for sharing this, Angie. You had me laughing and crying as I read. My Christmas looks quite different than yours – I don’t have children to decorate the mantel with Easter bunnies and the dog with a tree skirt – I don’t even have a dog – but I do identify with being paralyzed by expectation and forgetful of expectancy. And not just in Advent. I LOVE the grace that can (and does) meet us through a baby Jesus lying on the floor and in a myriad of other ways, right in the middle of our very real and messy lives.

  21. 23

    “Climb up to the mess of your days, a life that feels scattered and out of order, with more than you think you can fix, and find Me right in the middle of it all.”
    Totally needed to hear that today.
    Thank you!

  22. 24
    Marinalva Sickler says:

    Christmas… What mess in my house half packed, half lacking organization. Without a car and waiting for things to happen accelerate my anxiety. I am holding tight in God’s promises and reading my favorite blogs to get some hope. January, perhaps February will be completely different. I hope. Thanks for such sincerity.

  23. 25

    Angie, I did need this today. Since my (step)son is about to spend the next two weeks at his mom’s and we won’t be celebrating Christmas until new years I’ve thought about skipping the whole decorating thing. I want so badly to do all the things my friends are to make this time about the real reason for the season but I haven’t been. The truth is that it is about Jesus and he is here. He is always here. Thanks for helping me to remember.

  24. 26

    Oh goodness! I can SO relate to this post…to your emotions when facing the mess and the madness of the holidays. I’ve been there. Truthfully, I still struggle with it…the idea in my head of the perfect Christmas with my family. But now as my kids are older and leaving home…and if they’re able, they all leave home…I intentionally find time to be in the moment with them when they are here. To love them well. To look to Christ above all else…and to show HIM above all else.

    I wish I could say I did this every time…all the time…but I don’t.

    But I want to.

    Thank you so much for sharing today…for not only keeping it real, but for the encouragement you give in this post. :)

  25. 27

    I have felt this way more than once and then I miss the joy. I do so much better these days. Thank you for sharing your story.

  26. 28

    Angie, I am so grateful for your words right now. Yes, exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  27. 29

    This morning I realized I’d lost the trail to my heart. It’s been covered up by the lists and expectations of this month. Thanks for helping me dig it out!

  28. 30

    Oh Angie. Right there with you girl! This sounds Soooo familiar. Ironically, I also have a daughter named Abby. And we have a couple of Christmas ornaments that she decided to color on (one is a Barbie bride doll-yes, a “Hallmark collectible.”) She is now 20 and wants nothing to do with Christmas decorating, which makes me wonder what I missed in all those years or what I did wrong. I really enjoyed your post – thanks for sharing. And enjoy those little helpers…see their joy before it’s gone.

  29. 31
    Beth WIlliams says:

    My phrase is: “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here”. We don’t do Norman Rockwell either. We usually go over to my in-laws and have a little meal and open up gifts there.

    Try to make good memories for your children, but don’t ever forget the true meaning of Christmas. It isn’t about all the gifts and glitter and worldly stuff–it’s about the birth of a Savior. I find it amazing that children can cut right to the chase and find the real meaning behind seasons. They don’t have any expectations.

    My favorite song this year is “It’s Called Christmas with a Capital C” by Big Fish. It states it quite simply that “You can call it what you want, but It’s still Christmas..about the birth Christ and you can’t take that away.”

  30. 32

    “Goblins and shepherds and pastel eggs…” Welcome, Jesus! Have a great Hallowmaseaster!”

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