“I want a hand carved Nativity.  That will be the perfect souvenir!  An heirloom!  It will be perfect.” I told my husband- long before we left for our trip to Germany. When we arrived- I scoured every shop in Bavaria searching for just the right one. Finally- in a beautiful, tiny shop that smelled of  raw wood- I found it: Our perfect nativity.

Afraid it would be damaged on the  plane ride home, I carefully wrapped it, boxed it and shipped it from the hotel. (It would have been cheaper to buy it a plane ticket. International shipping from the hotel was: pricy. I’m pretty sure the shops and hotel conspired against all tourists on that one. Everywhere we went it was: Buy it- no problem! Sure- the cuckoo clock- and maybe the grandfather clock?  The hotel will ship it for you!”)  Once home- we had to wait weeks for the package to clear customs.  I wanted it to be there before Christmas. The clock was ticking.

It made it. (For the most part even intact. One corner of the creche was broken:( )  However- it was perfect. A golden winged angel floated above the creche by hanging from a tiny nail. A green pine tree creates a pastoral feel. Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child look exactly as I’d imagined. Holy. Wonderfilled. And then there was my favorite piece- a tiny little mother- holding the hand of her son and introducing him to her Lord (Forget about the wisemen… I wanted a momma!) It was beautiful and meaningful… I wanted it to be the hearth of our holiday home..Yup, it was perfect.

So perfect, in fact, that I decided not to pack it up after the holidays.

It stays on our china cabinet in the kitchen. It’s there. Right now.

Years went by.

I had another baby.

And I got very busy. Way too busy. My to-do list items multiplied like bunnies.

I decided to bake cookies as gifts. A lot of cookies. So many cookies that it was a fulltime job for days.

A job truly, and: I didn’t have childcare. I had: ignore the child unless he’s in danger, care.

I was cranky. I groused as I baked. I rushed. I had gifts to wrap and parties to attend. Parties that involved “bringing a dish.” Which meant: more cooking. I couldn’t even hear the Christmas music playing because my brain was screaming: “I can’t do it all. No one will appreciate it anyway! What’s the point? Why does the mother have to make all the Christmas plans? I can only do so much!”

As I whipped pans in and out of the oven, yelling at the dog to stay back and threatening anyone who dared snatch a cookie before they were counted and divided into the awaiting “perfect” boxes. I heard my youngest- Noah’s tiny voice playing super heroes. “Ha! Got you- Take that! Hi-ya!” Near the china cabinet. “At least he’s busy and out of the way.” I thought. 

I moved on to truffles. As I concentrated on tempering chocolate and blending ganache… I could hear Noah…. “the dog..baby Jesus… Momma.. the dog….. baby Jesus…”  But somehow none of it registered.

After putting a bowl of perfect ganache into the fridge.. I decided to take a break. As I walked to the other side of the kitchen, I noticed funny yellow and gold bits on the floor… It was not, as I suspected at first, Cheerios. I bent to inspect the bits.

“What’s that, Noah?” (Why do we always ask?)

“Momma! The dog ate baby Jesus!” Noah announced. “I told you!” Making it very clear that this was my fault.

On further inspection, I found that she had done, just that.The dog ate baby Jesus. She’d also noshed one angel’s wing and one tiny angel hand went completely missing. (I think she had seconds.)

Apparently, the super hero play had been between the angel and Jesus…at least it had been,  until the dog attacked like a beagle-zilla. In one  cookie filled ganache covered moment- our perfect and precious nativity became empty.

Tears welled up in my eyes. I blinked. A lot. Trying not to cry.

Noah started to cry. “Are you mad momma?  I no do it!” His hands covered his little diaper padded butt… afraid a swat was imminent.

I left the room. I went where all good moms go to cry- the bathroom.

The sobs had little to do with the nativity. It was just….everything. The stress of trying to buy gifts for 32 bazillion people on a single income.  The stress of trying to create a Martha Stewart Holiday with children and pets underfoot. The stress of trying to make many people happy- including myself. And in realizing that in doing all that… I’d totally missed the point.

It wasn’t just the nativity in the china cabinet that was empty.

The dog ate  baby Jesus long before that super hero- smack-down.

… the dog’s name wasn’t Sami (our Beagle) it’s name was busy-ness and the pursuit of perfection. She’d snuck into my holiday and gobbled up the point along with the figurines.

In that moment, I decided enough was enough. I wasn’t going to let the rest of the holiday slip by in a blur. No more cookies. No more perfect dinner. Everyone can bring a dish to pass, I can’t and don’t have to do it all. Clean enough is clean enough. It isn’t about perfect presents… and it isn’t about starving in January to pay for December feasting. I made changes. (And I may have eaten a few spoons full of ganache without bothering to roll the truffles first-I needed to take the edge off.)

Noah and I retreated to the couch. I left the dishes until later. Instead of a swat, we cuddled in front of the tree.

That was years ago.

The empty nativity still has a place of honor on our china cabinet. Nope. it’s never been replaced. Baby Jesus is still gone. The angel looks post- apocalyptic. But- it reminds me that there is more to this season than the pursuit of a perfection… There is a God who became man and brought with him the perfect gifts of grace and love…. Who came in humility from a throne to a dung-pile. (Mangers are not so nice in reality- they smell and have all the detritus, animal and other wise, that any barn would have.) It’s about a father’s love.

This year- again.. I want to remember. I’m trying. It’s hard.

I want to make sure the dog doesn’t eat baby Jesus…..(we still have that beagle… I love her. Even if she ate my savior:P)

I have to:

1) Say “No.” No, I can’t volunteer for this- I can’t give to that… I can’t be everywhere, I can’t do it all.

2) Accept enough. Maybe one batch of cookies is enough.(For that matter- buy cookie dough and pass a spoon.. that’s how we really like it anyway!) Maybe, drawing names instead of buying for everyone we’ve ever met, is enough.

3) Do the things that matter. I’m slowing down. I’m building a fire and reading the Christmas story. I’m watching Polar Express without folding laundry at the same time. (Multi-tasking= doing too much. just sayin.) Cuddling. Listening.

What about you?

What can you say “no” to? What’s good enough? What matters? What tries to snatch the baby Jesus out of your family’s nativity?

Let’s keep those dogs at bay.. together.

This is a post I put up every year- because I need the reminder- very year;)