No matter how many carols played, or how many gifts I wrapped.. I just wasn’t feeling it.

The Christmas Spirit left when the chicken pox arrived. (Funny how that happens, huh?) Michael and Matt were maybe 3+5… and they decided to share the gift that keeps on giving… communicable disease.

For a solid month we had to stay home as they took turns with fevers and itching….cabin fever doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. It was awful.

Yup- right at Christmas. I was disappointed, lonely and depressed.

We’d scrimped and saved and planned ahead to have a most wonderful time of the year. Gifts were wrapped… Our stockings were hung from a shelf in the family room… (no fireplace ) The tree blinked in our front room window… but it didn’t matter. Nothing helped.

I baked. (and ate.) We played connect the dots with chicken pox. (I have one child who’s still angry about that.. apparently he doesn’t remember it fondly…) We watched videos. (Maybe the Barney videos are what pushed me over the edge…OY. I hate Barney.) I tried hard to make the best of it.

But.. each night,when everyone finally went to bed… I felt like crying. Some nights, I did. Having sick kids is stressful and exhausting.. AND THIS JUST WENT ON FOREVER. The places in my heart where  I should have felt “Christmas-y”  instead felt: wrung out, sad and empty. Instead of finding Christmas joys each day.. I found disappointment- over and over. The holidays aren’t just ONE day… there are a bazillion things to do and places to go… traditions to celebrate and enjoy….or not.

We missed:

  • the holiday pageant at church
  • The Christmas MOPS meeting
  • Christmas shopping together.
  • Family meals shared.
  • Holiday parties.

Each event missed, left me more and more depressed. The boys were sad. My husband was sad.

I tried not to be. I tried to make it fun. I tried to mom-up, and deal…

It didn’t work.

Christmas cards arrived each day, and they mostly made me feel jealous. I was jealous of the holiday cheer we were missing out on. “Does anyone care that we’re trapped here, alone… with a pox upon us?” (You get a little crazy about day 3 of isolation.. and we were on WEEK 3…of course, my kids got them one after the other. A solid month of quarantine….I was losing it. )   I felt like I ran a leper colony. (We pretty much did. This was before chicken pox shots were available)

One particularly sad night, we were watching holiday specials between doses of benadryl and calamine lotion pat downs…when someone suddenly banged on our front door.

“It must be a bill collector…it figures.” I thought.  “Maybe, they’ll go away. if we don’t answer the door.” (we were young, times were tough… it could have been a bill collector. Who else stopped by after dark? :P)

It wasn’t a bill collector.

When my husband opened the door— there was huge group of teenagers on our front lawn.

I wondered if they were out causing trouble.. (wouldn’t be the first time, in that neighborhood…) and then.. they started to sing:

Silent night.
Holy Night
All is calm. all is bright….

It was the youth group from our home church…. caroling. I fought back tears.

Finally… I felt it: Christmas-y.  Someone cared. Someone came. They brought Christmas to us when we least felt it, and most needed it.

The rest of our holiday had a totally different feel. My attitude changed. Sure- I was still exhausted and stressed. The kids were still sick.  There were things that we missed. But we were together, and  for once there was no running around from one house to another- trying to see everyone and do everything… it was just “us.”

I liked it. So did they.

I’ll never forget those carolers…… and their unexpected gift.

Question: What makes you feel “Christmasy?

Maybe you’ve stopped by and you’re not feeling it…maybe the kids are sick or bill collectors are banging on the door…I want you to know that I care. And you’re not alone. I’ve been there, felt that, and lived to enjoy the holidays again… and I’m praying for you.. right now.

“Dear Lord- the holidays are wonderful and complicated. Sometimes they are disappointing and they are way stressful…I pray that for anyone who reads today thats not feeling it.. that you’d pour out your love to them- and let them know they are not alone..I love you lord– amen.

Here’s something that always makes me feel Christmas-y enjoy! (but I gotta say.. I prefer those teens singing in my yard..)

 

follow the starThe wind  was howling,the snow swirled past the window. There was  little cash for Christmas gifts. And I was stressed and disappointed with the holiday in general.  Our (half) of a duplex was for sale, and the stress of trying to keep it clean ( & ready to “show”) with two little ones was making me (and everyone around me) crazy and miserable.

At my local MOPS group that week- we had made these cool ornaments with just cinnamon and applesauce. It sounded like the solution to both my cranky-ness with my kids.. (we needed to have some fun together) and my minimal budget for Christmas gifts. I bundled everyone one up against the cold and headed out to buy bulk cinnamon and applesauce.

We arrived home, cold, tired and hungry. Everyone needed a nap. (Mommy included) This was not to be, I was on a mission. We were going to make ornaments and have fun together, or, (quite possibly) die trying.

I turned on the “Johnny Mathis Christmas album” .. put our matching aprons on and showed my 6 and 3 year old sons how to mix the applesauce and cinnamon into dough.

It had started so innocently, and smoothly. The boys helped measure and mix like pro’s.

Right about the time I started feeling like a scene from a Christmas movie…I noticed rust colored clouds of cinnamon floating through the kitchen and into the living room. They settled into the mauve (don;t judge me- this was the 80’s)  carpet to create an insoluble, but holiday scented,  mess. Shouts of “Be careful!,” and ” Don’t get cinnamon on the carpet!” soon drowned out poor Johnny.  Chunks of cinnamon scented concrete were becoming “one” with the kitchen floor.

The pressure of making ornaments “fit to give” spread through me like a virus. I was soon- re-rolling the dough to make it smoother and took all the non-Christmas cookie cutters away so that we wouldn’t be making dinosaurs for Great Grandma’s tree. My oldest totally lost interest, and went to watch PBS. The youngest, continued on.

When we were finished and still breathing, I called it a win. Ornaments were drying in the oven, (to speed things up a bit.. I tend to do things a bit last minute;) The house, while dirty and freshly stained, smelled wonderful.

That’s when, I noticed strawberry colored patches popping up all over my youngest. His face, arms and hands were puffy and raw looking. Tears welled up in my eyes. I thought: “Great. No money… no gifts… the house is a mess and now the “baby” is sick!” I got scared. I called my husband home from work.

I was pretty convinced I had killed the kid. NOT GOOD.

A quick trip to the urgent care center revealed a reaction to the cinnamon. A little bath in colloidal oatmeal and frequent slathering with hydrocortisone calmed the rash, but not my heart.

That night I cried myself to sleep, the tears and sobs were also prayers, worded and otherwise. I felt like a bad mother. I felt like an idiot and a failure. I couldn’t even just have a fun afternoon with my guys. I was sure I had ruined Christmas.

In the morning, I grabbed my coffee, and my Bible, while it was still quiet and the moonlight shown on the snow. I opened it to Luke. I read the Christmas story. I thought about Mary… so young… I wondered if she felt she was ready to be a mother. I wondered if she felt awful for not having things all ready for her child’s birth. They couldn’t even find a room to birth in. They ended up in a stable. Smelly animals surrounded them, hay poked her in the back, she didn’t even have a “proper” layette.  I wondered how she felt.

But- there she was- the mother of The Christ Child. I flipped to the Easter story– and re-read that, too…the two stories were one. A light switch flipped on for me. The baby’s birth that I was trying so hard to honor, celebrate and share, perfectly. Had led to the Savior that I needed, yet again, so desperately. Much more desperately than sidewalks and bigwheels.

Somehow- everything shuffled back into place. My priorities, lined up again. By the time the boys woke up, I was ready. We continued through the rest of our holiday with joy and rest. No more worrying over the gifts, we could do what we could do. That was all. No more worrying about creating perfect “Christmas memories” with the boys… we decided to just let them happen.

Every year- (my oldest two now 24 and 21,) retell the story of the ornaments, and forced fun. Every year, we laugh. Sure- I still get caught up in the hustle bustle and pressure to create a Martha Stewart Christmas scene….but then- inevitably, I get a whiff of cinnamon. And I remember. The baby in a manger- who grew to be savior…. and get back to the heart of Christmas…. till the next time, I need to be reminded.

“Dear Lord- I know that Christmas isn’t about packages and bows and gifts and decorations… but, I get sidetracked so fast, I barely know it’s happening till it’s nearly too late. Please God- help me to remember, help me to follow the star and be reminded of of the sacrifices you made- leaving heaven at God’s right hand.. to be born in amnager and die on a cross, so that the world could have peace, love and forgiveness. I love you Lord- and thank you, – oh- and lord- thnx that we can laugh at that Cinnamony Christmas.. and learn from it..amen…”

Oh— wondering about the title? I always remember too late that I WANT to force bulbs for my Christmas centerpiece one year…married nearly 20 years and have never remembered in time to actually do it;)

Sig Tag

(re-post form Laced with Grace 2007)

IMG_5293“Turn off the video.”  Those are the only words I spoke while my husband had his phone set up to record our annual tree trimming. That: does not bode well. It means I knew I did not want my next words and behaviors to be saved in perpetuity on his IPhone. (I’ve learned that- in 25 years of assorted tantrums caught on film of all sorts. There are a few celebs who should also learn this lesson- justsayin. I’m not alone.)IMG_0001_5

I should back up…. I didn’t plan it to be a too-cranky-for-cameras experience. It was supposed to be all: cocoa and cookies and Christmas music and memories made and shared…. A scene that took two days to set up and 12 seconds for me to wreck.

We did have warm cookies. (Yes- break and bakes count.) We did have cocoa. (I even made it the old fashion way that doesn’t involve packets or freeze dried marshmallows.) We even had Christmas music. (Gotta love shuffle on a playlist. Ba-ru pa pum pum.) We also had: college kids who had to get to work, and had other things to do, an elementary schooler who wants to horse around, dogs that want to steal cookies and cocoa and cost us an expensive visit to the doggy urgent care… (they didn’t- but they tried.) We had a father in the middle of trying to close a sale. And: a mom that felt compelled to clean the Christmas tree room before the tree was put up. (For the camera- of course.)

I should have known we were at risk when I tripped over the beagle and into the china cabinet while furiously cleaning. I really do mean furiously. Here is the soundtrack from that cleaning binge….”Why can’t anyone else see what needs to get done, and DO IT? Why am I the only one who can run a vacuum? Why am I the only one who does anything around here???? Why doesn’t anyone put their crap away?” Yup. Furious. I moved furniture, cleared the way for all the Christmas stuff to be brought up and set out- all while having an everlasting gobstopper of a tantrum. The truth is- by the time we finally got to the trimming “party” I was sore, exhausted and frustrated.

It was my own fault.

Here’s the thing: the fury was partly fueled by my lack of boundaries and teaching my family to be responsible. (With a side of stress and probably a touch of PMS.) The rest was fueled by my desire to make everything perfect.

Instead of perfect, it was one mess after another. Including but not limited to: a cocoa-milk boil over on the stove. (Multitasking gone bad, again. I may never learn.) A pre-lit christmas tree with all the lights: burned out. A Pre lit Christmas tree with most of the lights burnt out. A rash of undetermined but probably Lupus/autoimmune  or nervous origin. Dogs that insisted on either going in and out and leaving muddy paw prints on my just mopped floor- or peeing on it. (Next flooring will be dirt colored. For sure.) And kids that wanted to get the show on the road so they could move onto their lives- because they have them. (As they should.)

Boundaries and expectations. The truth is-I didn’t have to make it so difficult. I should have asked for help. (I have great kids- they help when I remember to ask them- but they are not moms- they don’t always “see” what needs to be done.) I should have set reasonable expectations. I didn’t. And because of that- I had to turn off the camera to protect myself from becoming “that” viral video mom. The crazy one yelling at everyone to smile or, I’d kill them. And the one telling everyone to put ornaments on the tree- and then moving each one into it’s “proper” position. (I know, I know- if I were my kid I’d say: “Why bother?” too.. “if you’re just gonna move them after you MAKE us put them on…”)

The topper? Guess what the first thing I  had to do once we put up the tree was? Vacuum. Again. (Yes- fake tress drop needles too.) The next thing? Dishes. (baking cookies just adds to the mess I have to clean.. WHY do I do this to myself?) Then- the cocoa boil over goo had to be removed. (Truthfully- there is still some on there. Maybe it will burn off. If I’m lucky.) And I needed Advil. (to say the least. My neck and back can only handle so much in one weekend- and this was more than that.)  And of course- I had to re-dust. Because somehow, even though encased in enough plastic tubs to create a new Hawaiian Island if it were launched into the pacific…..everything still manages to be dusty when we bring it out. Every. Single. Year. And here is what the rest of the house looked like after I cleaned the “Christmas room”   IMG_5290

Which is exactly why I didn’t want the camera running. I did however get a few still shots that captured our day…..and guess what? Messy and cranky or not- they are still precious moment of real life captured with my family…. My real- messy imperfectly perfect- family. who loves me even when I’m cray cray. And Whom I love even though they are afflicted with dirt blindness, and cannot all pose for a decent photo to save their lives…. (Which I may have futilely threatened to get the shots I did…) 

From my messy house to yours: Merry Christmas- and- chill out. Enjoy the moments and stop trying to make the memories perfect… chances are you’re just like me- making everyone miserable. Unless- of course, I’m the only one….

Dear Lord- I hate it when I get caught in this loop of trying to make things perfect and not setting or maintaining boundaries…and then getting angry that my family isn’t mind readers…..help me learn lord. Help me grow. I need you.. even here- in the Christmas Mess. I love you lord- thank you for loving me- even at my crankiest and messiest. Amen

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1441273_10201627269256256_1776938028_nWell, Cancer- here we are again. It’s the holidays- and you are that shadow in the corner. You are the uninvited, obnoxious guest that doesn’t know when to leave. You’re the drunk family member everyone wishes would just pass out already, so we could take the keys from you without blood shed. You are the Grinch trying to steal our Who pudding Who- hash and Roast Beast.

For 3 Christmas’ you’ve been an unwelcome guest. We’ve done and are doing everything to try to get you to leave- from serving up obnoxious juice concoctions and organic everything…to surgery, radiation and now: starving you of the hormones you crave.

I wish I could say that we’ve dodged everything you’ve thrown. I wish I could say that while you’ve shown up over and over each year to steal our cheer- we haven’t let you. I wish I could say that our heavenly heart alarm (kind of like a home alarm system, only it can tell the difference between a cat and a burglar. And it protects your heart- not your house….and Jesus shows up instead of the police….pretty much.) has caught and detained you every year.

It hasn’t. Maybe we forgot to pay the bill.

The truth is- your repeated attacks and effects, make our hearts ache. Maybe even more so at this time of the year.

Because-it shouldn’t be this way.  Cancer treatments and side effects should not be part of our holiday decor. Fear, anxiety, facing mortality, and an unknown future aren’t on anyone’s Pinterboards for holidays.  Cancer is never highlighted in a magazine spread on how to host the perfect holiday. Cancer has never been one of Oprah’s Favorite Things or  Ellen’s 12 days of Giveaways. (Could you imagine the audience response on that one? ) Norman Rockwell never painted a Merry Cancerous Christmas. Christmas is supposed to be all Silverbell’s and Holly Jolly.

Not, hot flashes and PSA tests and Cancer center appointments.

Isn’t it?

Honestly… Christmas has always been  different form what we imagine and try to create.  There have been holidays on bed rest- threatening to miscarry, holidays with chicken pox (FYI: Santa is immune.) holidays with stomach flu,holidays with grief and loss, holidays’ with casts, holidays after surgery, holidays with surgery looming with in days,  holidays with family conflict, holidays with no money, holidays with overspending and a nightmare of bills in January.

All things we didn’t invite. All things we didn’t want. All messy and broken and imperfect.

Yet somehow, all still wonderful.

The year on bed rest brought friends to be with me, the season of chickenpox? Gave us a year without running ourselves ragged and we got to enjoy a quiet holiday. Stomach flu? Gets you a pass on travel and a few extra days to shop- post sales. Holidays with grief and loss? Make us more thankful for memories made. Holidays after and before surgery? Mean no one expects us to do “it all.” It’s kind of nice not to have to battle that expectation… even when it comes from my own head. Holidays with family conflict, well- they suck but conflict is part of relationship- it can even make it stronger in the long run. (In theory.) Holidays with no money- show us how little it actually takes to make a holiday bright and merry. Holidays with overspending- feel decadent and teach us not to do that again. (Again: in theory.)

So Cancer- here’s what I have to say to you: Christmas is never perfect. It never has been. It was broken before you ever arrived. From the very first Christmas- that was surrounded by rumors of infidelity and lies.Unfair taxes and taxing travel. A young woman forced to give birth in a dirty barn surrounded by donkeys and sheep while passersby gawked. (The manger scene where Christ was born was more like a circus sideshow than a private LDR justsayin.) And unexpected guests bearing awkward gifts (have you every smelled Frankincense or myrrh? PU. Also: awkward- I imagine Mary thinking: “What are we supposed to do with THAT? Bethlehem-bay it?” ) and frightening warnings….(“Oh- by the way- the king who sent us, wants your baby dead….. congrats. We gotta run.”)

Yup- Christmas has always been broken. Maybe it’s brokenness is supposed to be. Maybe we need to to be broken to remind us of our greatest need….. for a savior.

Which- by the way Cancer- you cannot conquer. You cannot steal, you cannot ruin. The savior has already come. On that first messy broken Christmas. In that dirty manger. He was born while gawkers gawked, rumors swirled and threats threatened- he brought peace.

So you know what Cancer? Merry #BrokenChristmas. There has always been beauty in broken Christmas’ past- and there will be in this one too.

  •  “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Immanuel means God who is living with us.
  • Isaiah also gave this prophecy; “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • The prophet Micah foretold where He would be born. “But as for you, Bethlehem… From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, From the days of eternity” (Micah 5:25).
  • It was also foretold that He would come to be the sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish, Who would bear “the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:12)
  • Isaiah prophesied that even though He would be “pierced through for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-6), He would also be raised from the dead. “But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand” (Isaiah 53:10 cf. Psalm 22:19-24).

Dear Lord- You know what I envision as a perfect Christmas and Cancer is not a part. I know-in my brain that perfect is not attainable- it never has been. But- cancer is NOT part of my decor and is not on my to-do spreadsheet. But lord-  it IS once again a part of this Broken Christmas.  I trust that you will bring beauty in and from it- because you can and promise to. I love you lord- and I  hate cancer. Heal my husband and heal our hearts- in Jesus precious name- amen-

Dear Reader- I don’t know what shadow is lurking in your Christmas…. sickness, pain, loss, grief, fear un met expectations or just plain brokenness. But I want you to know this- you are not alone. Broken or not- it’s still Christmas- because of that first messy- not what anyone expected Christmas- when the savior we so desperately need- was born. Invite him into your brokenness. Invite him into your mess- he can handle it. He’s been there. If you’re struggling with brokenness this Christmas- I recommend you read “The Beauty of Broken” by Elisa Morgan- it will remind you that there IS beauty in the brokenness- and that we’e all broken. There is no perfect family- not one.

14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,f Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4)