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.”
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.
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 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.