Straighten Up


I spread the Christmas ornaments across our rock hearth and told my four boys to decorate, instructing them to spread each as evenly as they could across the tree. I asked the oldest to vary the colors, space the larger ornaments from the smaller ones. Even still, there are about seven glass ornaments near the top of the tree and about 450 ornaments at the bottom, hanging in tight clusters of color.

I’m nothing if not a control freak so I tended to the laundry instead of hovering over them with a full potential to bark the fun right out of their hearts. I figured I could fix tomorrow what really bothered me today and decided not to look at the tree until it was over, but I did listen in as they admired each glittery thing.

We have many outlined handprints and Elmer’s glue snowflakes, and each one comes out of the box with laughter and awe. I usually do all the decorating and don’t hang this kind of ornament. I’ll hold sweet reindeer drawings to my heart before putting them back in the box, but this time I hear sentimental old men in the unchanged, nostalgic voices of my young boys.  They treated these innocent creations like expensive, hand-blown glass and put them up front in prominence while discussing what this season means for us: the Advent evening services, Ian’s baptism, more banana pudding from Memaw, and a long drive to Alabama and Louisiana to be with cousins. We have so much to look forward to.

One by one, oldest to youngest, the boys walked to other projects until finally Titus was there alone finishing the job. He would hang ornaments in tight groupings, stand back, and gasp, “It’s so pretty!”


The jumbled look on the tree was worth it, and I thought to myself that I might let them do it again next year. Aren’t they on their way to becoming men? They know how to delight in the twinkling lights, and they know how to look to the past and lift praise. This is the Advent way, and they know it more naturally than I do, relishing the time while looking back and hoping forward.

Advent frees us from minutia. It shakes us free from time a bit.

One of our Advent readings from church last Sunday landed on me like a sobering rock up against my head. After Jesus tells how Jerusalem would be destroyed and how He would come with a cloud in great power, He says:

“. . . but watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” {Luke 21:34, ESV}

Sometimes I find myself fairly drunk on perfectionism. I find myself so trapped by minutia that I swirl with anxiety and grasp for control. Sometimes I’m so drunk with worry that I think I can’t lift my own head.

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” {Luke 21: 28, ESV}


I am learning from my sons. I’m learning what it means to straighten up. I’m learning to treasure paper-plate angels and to wonder where all daddy might take us. Who knows? When we’re in Louisiana, could there be some chilly alligator swimming on the wide Pontratrain?

All we know is this: it’s sure something to look forward to.

Straighten up. These are hilarious instructions to me, because it’s exactly what I would say to my boys to get their attention. Straighten up because things are coming, good and terrible things, brilliant things we don’t want to miss!

As we find time to sit near the tree, I will lean forward in anticipation. I will smile for the little girl in my own heart and for the old woman I’ll one day be. I will smile for the journey ahead, for the growing, the discovering. Here’s to hope in the mess, sisters.

There’s so much more to this journey than what we can see with our eyes today.

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Lest I sound like the sweet little old lady with blue hair…treasure these times that your boys want to decorate the tree and make clumps of color here and globs of glitter there. The time will soon come that they’ll be grown. I am still learning, but am better at letting go of the minutia and treasuring up these things in my heart. Finding the beauty amidst the mess is a real gift…may we all keep honing this skill. Loved this post…

    • Mary Haynie

      How true. My girls are married and on live with their husbands. When they were little I had their special ornaments is separate bags. When they took out the goodies, they talked about each one and what they remembered about them. They had a start with their own trees with these ornaments and added their own.

  • janicew526

    Thank you Amber for this much needed word.

  • Jane@Still Trying

    Amber, we are at different points on this journey called life, but as I read your post with tears in my eyes, I was reminded. I remembered a year when I decided I wanted to have a pretty tree. I decided that I would still have the regular tree down in the family room….you know, the one with Popsicle stick stars and pictures of my little girls in macaroni covered frames. In the upstairs large window, however, I bought a beautiful flocked tree, and I covered it with expensive, sparkling ornaments. I sat back in awe at the beauty. Here’s the funny part of the story! With each day, I noticed that I visited the upstairs tree less and less. It simply wasn’t me. Now, twenty-five years later, I still put up my Popsicle stick stars and frames with only one or two macaroni pieces, and I’m reminded (and I need constant reminders) of what is important. Amber, thank you for this post.

    • amber@therunamuck

      Oh! This made me tear up!

  • Leslie Meyers

    I LOVE this – because it was ME several years ago as I let my own boys decorate our tree – and now it is my favorite thing to sit on the couch and LISTEN as they talk about it “remember when….”, “I got this one because…..”, etc. THIS year there is a girlfriend – a very very serious girlfriend who I feel will become a wife and thus a daughter to me. I can’t wait to watch and listen as the boys (especially HER boy – or should I say young man?) unwrap the ornaments and tell HER the stories for the very first time………….

  • Lovelle

    Amber, This is sooo good! I needed this reminder today. It’s about embracing the moment and cherishing every second you have. <3

  • Debbie Nance

    Love you Miss Amber! While reading, I could hear in my head my late Daddy in his deep voice and east Arkansas accent admonish us to “straighten up” whenever we got too loud or too wild around the house. Had no idea (and bet he did not either) that there was a Bible connection to this call for quiet. Thank you for sharing the phrase “fairly drunk on perfectionism” which spoke to me about how my own perfectionism affects all that I do and say during the holidays ( and most days.) Putting the home made ornaments on the front of the tree this year. Thank you for reminding me how precious they are.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Loved that statement about looking back and hoping forward. Someone once said that Christmas is the day for all time. Perhaps he meant it’s one day full of warm nostalgia for Christmases past, present experiences, and (as you said) a future of hope. Especially as believers in Emmanuel, God with us, we can embrace all three with glorious joy!

  • Beth Williams


    As a child we had large tree(fake) that I loved putting together. The enjoyable part was putting out all the ornaments and watching the light twinkle. Now hubby and I have a “Charlie Brown” style tree. The best part is the Jesse Tree ornaments I got last year. They add so much to the tree, and the book by Ann Voskamp adds a special layer.
    Loved the phrase: “This is the Advent way, relishing the time while looking back and hoping forward.” This year I’ve slowed way down and relishing the time I have with family and friends. I will look back to many Christmases ago with my parents and hope forward!!
    Blessings :)

  • Kate

    Isn’t it funny that these littles we live with – teach us the truest and deepest things? Sweet revelations. Thanks for reminding me to pitch the perfectionism, and gather up all the wonderful mess of real life into memories. May your Advent be filled with fresh revelations and joy! Thank you for writing!- Kate :)

  • Cathy

    Ah, but did you ‘correct’ the tree or leave it just as your sons decorated it?

    Your comment “Advent frees us from the minutia” stopped me in my tracks. I’m not sure how to take this because the season adds so many added responsibilities. Over the years I have reduced my decorating and shopping and baking to better focus on Jesus. This attitude certainly frees me from the minutia. I love the warning to straighten up because something is coming you don’t want to miss. That’s exactly the message I try to convey during Advent as people hurry through the preparation minutia.

  • Michele Morin

    Beautiful words for Christmas! I’m watching my boys grow up too, and one of them has taken his box of ornaments to his own home. This year I watched his little boy quiver with excitement over our Christmas tree just as his dad did. What is it about Christmas that freezes time while also revealing how fast it’s whizzing by. So happy for you in your decision to stand back and let the boys do their thing. They’ll be more confident and capable because of it — and you’ll keep your sanity!