“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;) 

1441273_10201627269256256_1776938028_n1) Read this.   Let’s save the word “persecuted” for those who actually are. Like these people. And not just the Christians…. there are so many others. Just sayin.

2) “No” Is a just fine answer. We tend to think we have to do it all. If we can’t, we feel compelled to give a valid justification for why we can’t. We don’t have to. Sometimes, “No.” Is enough.Let’s practice- say it with me:

No, I cannot bake cookies for 14,000 elementary students.”  (Each with unique allergies, including but not limited to: gluten. nuts, milk, eggs, chocolate, fruit etc…..I’m pretty sure those options leave you with beef jerky cookies. But then there are vegans.. so- you lose. No matter what.) “No, I can’t host the Holidays this year.” “No, I can’t buy gifts for every human being I’ve ever had contact with.” No, I can’t re-decorate to accommodate my picky inlaws before they come spend the holidays with us.”  “No, I can’t donate to every heart wrenching cause just because it’s the holidays.” “No. Just No.” Pretty much- Insert whatever thing it is someone wants you to do- and add: no.” You can soften it with a “I’m sorry, I wish I could.”  Or, offer something that you CAN do. Like find a restaurant where you could all meet to celebrate, etc. However, the key is NO. Anything else is  not necessary, and opens the door for trying to convince you for how you COULD or SHOULD. “No” Is not a mean answer. “No” can be an honest and loving answer. An answer that saves you, your family and your holidays from becoming chaotic and miserable.

If saying “no” is hard for you- I give you permission to buy this. It might help. I have one. I’m wearing it for a talk on boundaries in a couple of weeks. (That was my justification for buying it:P)

Here’s the thing: We also need to ACCEPT “No’s” from others. Without guilt tripping or probing. This goes both ways. It’s called: Respect.

3) Keep the main thing the main thing. I can’t tell you what the main thing is for you and your family. however,  I suggest you make a Holiday mission statement and stick with it. If it doesn’t enhance or support the mission: See # 2.

4) Smile. Be nice. This is a season when that’s Ok. You’re not going to be at risk of being thought of as creepy. (Mostly, unless you ARE creepy. But don’t be creepy. Ever. Ok? Thnx.) Also: Don’t be that mean person who’s angry every time you have to wait during the holiday season. It’s busy everywhere. Bring a book. Google something. Wait nicely, smile and say: “Thank  you” to those who help and serve you. Even if it’s busy. Bonus round:  Don’t be a jerk- leave a tip. Tip as well as you can. Sometimes tip well even if the service isn’t stellar. It’s called “Grace.”

5) You can’t do everything. Don’t try. You’ll just make yourself and everyone around you: miserable. Trust me. I’ve tried. See again: #2.

I could go on…but really? You won’t read more and I won’t do more. As you can see by the current state of my Manger- I need to get things set straight. (The dog ate baby Jesus = years ago. Literally.)

So-  let’s try to start here. I have a feeling it could change the holidays for all of us.

Dear Lord— The holidays are upon us… and honestly? Sometimes it feels more “Game of Thrones Winter is Coming” Than: It’s a Wonderful Life The Best Christmas Pageant Ever or even Elf. Please God- help us to get things straight in our hearts and minds before we let ourselves get caught up in the crazy that can me the holidays. Let it be more Silent Night than Black Friday. I love you Lord- and need you desperately to help me make the best decisions I can and to focus on you. Let your mission be mine this year….I love you Lord- Amen. 

Readers: So what are your holiday challenges? Saying yes too much? Wanting everything perfect? Being Nice in stead of Naughty? (A snarky meanness is sometimes the soundtrack in my head.  Trust me- I get it.) Keeping focused? Feeling persecuted? Tell me….. And tell me your solutions! I can’t wait to read them!