The holidays have come and gone, and February is almost here! I hope your Christmas and New Year’s was filled with unhurried rest and peace. Those sound like wonderful goals for myself next year:0) I meant to take a picture of what I thought captured best a summary of our Christmas: a steady flow of bits and pieces of our nativity scene and ornaments, daily added to our “daddy, can you fix-it?” drawer. A few Christmas sing-a-long books awaiting batteries found company with the other broken pieces as well.
We kept waiting for Jeff to be around to officially “take out” our Christmas collection together as a family. But as his schedule leading up to Christmas was pretty intense, I ended up taking out everything with the kids. As items came out of the boxes, there was arguing over who would put up what. And while there was fighting when something came out of the box, there was also crying over what never did emerge from the box, and the remainder of the Christmas season was marked by the constant search for some special ornament that never did make its way down from the attic. My nativity scene was the center for deep spite as one child would arrange it one way, only to come upon it later on that day to see that another sibling had arranged it his/her way. The nativity calendar was hidden halfway through December, as I could not remember whose turn it was, nor endure the fighting over when one child placed one piece in a debatable or questionable place. (Actually, I myself was deeply horrified when Hudson placed the cow in the manger.) We were gone over Christmas visiting family, and returned late one night, only to have Jeff dive back into work early the next morning. Together, the kids and I put away all the Christmas décor, collected all the broken pieces from the drawer along with the voiceless sing-a-long songbooks and put them in a sandwich bag, and back into the Christmas box.
As I put away the nativity scene, one of my most treasured wedding gifts, I felt hollow and unfulfilled. I remember one Christmas Eve as a teenager when my heart was so filled with joy and happiness. I walked slowly down to our barn, warmly bundled up, soaking in the stillness of a crisp and starry night, breathing in air that made me feel alive and awake. I tended to my sheep who were all huddled up in their warm stall. Thick, full, wooly bodies, rhythmically breathing out white clouds of air. With every toss of hay, I drank in the sweet smell of alfalfa…a far-off dream of summer. Dumping and stomping out frozen water from their rubber tubs, I refilled them up with clear, fresh water. And then, after all my work was done, standing there in the stall, amidst the sound of munching corn, and the most endearing sound of sheep sipping up their water, I sang. I sang almost every Christmas hymn I knew. I felt as if I was sharing the story of Christ with them, the real, messy, filled-with-hay story of His birth. I felt as if that Christmas I truly knew in a most real sense, what things might have smelled like, what things might have sounded like. The truths of the Christmas hymns overwhelmed me that night, and warm tears streamed down my cold cheeks. It felt so real and so fulfilling.
Fastforward 15 years. I have children who complain, I have a heart that responds in hurtful anger, “I wanted to make this Christmas so special for you, but you have ruined it!” The sheep of fifteen years ago never argued. They always waited eagerly for me – for what I had to give them. No sheep interrupted my glorious singing, but they all listened quietly, and as far as I imagined, with great delight and rapture.
And while that Christmas will always be a sweet recollection of the beautiful gift God gave to me that year, I need to embrace the beautiful gift God has given to me in this season of life. My children do not come to me with grateful hearts, with hearts predisposed to share kindly with their siblings, to put others’ needs and wants before themselves. They come as sinners. Poor and needy. Weak and Wounded. Sick and Sore. And I come to them, as their mother, just the same. Whether in the beauty of that night fifteen years ago, or in the loud, chaotic, messiness of four little children, my heart is called to respond in the same way, “Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set They people free; From our fears and sins release us; Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart.”
I left Christmas this year with a longing heart. May our journeys here on this earth, in whatever season of life it finds us in, intensify our longings – longings for a Christ in whom our hearts find freedom from fears, a Christ in whom our hearts find their rest. A Christ in whom resides all strength, hope and joy.