Christmas shocker!

I’ll just say it…I’m a sap.  I love traditions, romantic movies, flowers, family time and greeting cards that make me laugh or cry.

Every year, I have in my mind an idea of how Christmas should go – beginning the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve.  Anticipating the season is almost more fun for me than the season itself.  I think it’s because in anticipating, anything is possible!

As we began this Christmas season, I made my usual trek to the attic to pull out our Christmas boxes.  Let me just say I love having a teenage son who can help my husband and I with this.  He is such a blessing!  As my boy and I were digging out boxes, I imagined what decorating the house would look like.  It’s the same picture in my mind every year…

Our whole family sets a day aside to work together as a team.  Loading up the van, we pile in with coats and gloves and hats – and a camera! – and head to the mountains to cut down the perfect tree.  Once home, we relive fond memories together of the treasures we pull from the holly-printed cardboard boxes, while hot cocoa simmers on the stove and Christmas music joyfully plays in the background.  We finish everything in one day, then end this magical experience with jammies, popcorn and a Christmas movie snuggled under our Santa-printed fleece blanket.

I wanted a Hallmark movie moment.  Not!

This is how it really went…our son pulled all of the boxes down.  However, as I opened them, I was horrified at what we found.  In all my life, and especially in the last 15 years of living in the same ol’ house, I have never seen this.  Sometime over the last 11 months, an invasion occurred.  An infestation of a disgusting kind.  Roaches.  Without us knowing it, those creatures made their way into every last holly-printed cardboard box (the same busted up cardboard boxes we’ve used for literally 20 years because I am cheap frugal). By the time I got my hands on the boxes the roaches were gone, but they had left plenty of evidence behind.

I could have screamed or cried or thrown up!

We’re talking about our family’s compilation of Christmas treasures.  Twenty-two years worth!  I felt like wind had been knocked out of me.

Then, why I ever thought we could drive to the mountains AND do everything else in one day I have no idea.  It’s physically impossible.  So, off we trekked to the local hardware store – like the past 5 years – for our tree.  We donned our coats and camera, and drove up only to find the “outside garden” locked up.  We really didn’t have a thought about the time when we got in the van, but evidentially we arrived 10 minutes before the store was closing.  I jumped out and went inside to ask if we could still pick our perfect tree in under 10 minutes.

I can’t describe the look the woman at the return counter gave me.  Her reply of, I guess so, was accompanied with a life-draining sigh and a look as if I had just asked her to clean out my roach-infested boxes. Clearly, she wanted to go home, and my party of 5 stood in her way.

Not ideal, but we’ll take it.  We thought we could speed shop so off to the trees we went. To our utter amazement, there were like 6 trees there.  Not kidding!  I stood wide-eyed and frozen in disbelief, with the camera hung around my neck, while the kids tried to play their annual game of hide & seek in the 6 pathetic trees.  Seriously.

A woman who worked there appeared and told us that these trees were weeks old and well, we could buy if we want but there’d be a new shipment the next day.

By the time Bruce parked the van and met us, the only decision had been made.  We left empty-handed.

The only light moment was when, on our way out, I played a trick on my tween son who didn’t like a life-size, creepy animated Santa.  I waited for my boy, and when he passed by me, I acted like the freaky-looking, singing and dancing Santa was grabbing me.  My son hit the floor!  I guess I have a sadistic sense of humor as I chuckled all the way out the store with him latched onto my arm. 😉

Okay, so we can still decorate the next day, right?  Nope.  Homework for the kids and a heavy workload for Bruce proved to be too much.  I had to face a decision.  Either I decorate alone or it simply won’t happen this year.

This meant single-handedly dealing with the you-know-what issue…the invasion.

I could have thrown a fit.  I could have gotten angry.  Sad.  Bitter.  After all, doing this alone meant not only a lot of work for me (currently sick and still dealing with my dumb scar-tissued toe), but also giving up the dream of cocoa, music, popcorn and a family movie.  The possibility of the perfect day would be forever deleted from our digital scrapbook.

Was I disappointed?  Yes.  Was I frustrated?  Yes.  Did it mean the holidays (or holy days as in the original meaning) would be ruined?  No.

Somewhere among the boxes, I unpacked my proverbial big-girl panties and went to work.  Why?

I realized that everyone is doing the best they can right now.  My husband isn’t out late at night with the guys, sluffing off his husbandry duties.  My kids aren’t playing hours (or any!) video games and ignoring my requests.  We are arm-wrestling life for a mere 5 hours of sleep a night for crying out loud.

Perspective.  That’s what I unpacked next to my big-girl panties.

I saw this as an opportunity to give an early Christmas present to my family.  It is the gift of keeping Christmas alive despite the attempts to suffocate it beneath the demanding 24/7.

Box by box, I went through each and every item.  Sadly, most everything had to go.  (sigh)

Thank goodness my washer has a sanitize option so I could wash all of the textiles.  Saved, yeah!  And our Christmas dishes are kept inside the house so those were okay.  But every little trinket (minus ornaments in a closed up box) was affected.

Disheartened, I began to take it all out of the house.

However, as I washed, Cloroxed, and tossed, something odd occurred to me.  The Holy Spirit showed me this was an opportunity to let go of the past and cling to the new work God is doing in my life – the healing I’ve been writing about since September.  The healing that begins with brokenness.

I never imagined how many ways I could be broken – or healed.

God reminded me as I went through each box, and every time I pass by the empty tree stand with lights still rolled up and ornaments still in the box, that Christmas is so much more than what we make it.  I’ve been to some beautiful homes, and I mean gorgeous, decorated for Christmas.  But, look past the decor and those homes were void of the love and intimacy God wants for every family.

I’m not a materialistic person, but I am 100% guilty of setting unrealistic expectations of how things should be.  More than the loss of our Christmas decor, I had to let go of the ideal I had in my mind of how this season would look for our family.

Where God allows brokenness He simultaneously begins to heal.

Our family doesn’t have the budget to simply go out and replace everything we lost.  But, God did put me in the right stores that are already offering 50% off their Christmas decor, and I was able to buy a couple of things.

In fact, He made a huge teachable moment for me at the checkout in one craft store.  I placed what I was buying on the counter.  The last item I was deciding on was this adorable little Santa figure.  His facial expression was precious and he was cheap!  The young cashier grew restless as I wrestled with whether or not to buy it.

Why was I struggling?  He was 50% off and really cute!   God showed up and whispered to me, You are at a crossroads.  Do you continue with how you’ve always done things at Christmas, or do you use the loss as the beginning of a new season?

Hmm.  We’ve never made a big deal about Santa, but we’ve participated in tradition. Nevertheless, God is pushing us to a new level – one closer to Him.  As the cashier, and a growing line of people, waited (impatiently) on me, I said to her, I can’t understand why I am having a hard time deciding on this.

However, I really did understand.  It was my carnal nature struggling against my spirit.  I knew what I had to do.

Okay.  I’m not going to get this, I told the cashier as I handed it back to her.

I’m not a scrooge when it comes to Christmas traditions, but clearly God is trying to do a new work in our family, and I’ve learned enough times that when He wants to move, it’s in our best interest to let Him.

Even Bruce said the moment we saw the invasion that he felt it was God saying, Get rid of what you don’t need.

Honestly, we don’t need more Santa at Christmas.  We need more Christ.

Back home, as I continued to unpack and toss, one item was missing and it really upset me.  I couldn’t find our nativity.  It’s not just any nativity.  It’s the one I had as a child.  It’s old, beaten down and weathered, but it’s the one I used to set up every year and sit by the glow of its nightlight bulb with my dog as I gazed at the ceramic figures with their chips, nicks and missing parts.  To think the roaches had taken that too was heart-breaking.

I found one plastic box, not cardboard like the others.  I opened it, and to my astonishment, there was the nativity!  Last year, out of all of the boxes, I unknowingly packed the nativity in the plastic box where it was kept safe.  God did that for me.

It’s ironic, really, that the Santas and snowmen were affected by the invasion, but not our nativity.

No, it’s not ironic.  It is an object lesson for Truth.  Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

People, me included, can make Christmas about a lot of things: expectations, money, parties, stuff, indulging, people, etc.  Christmas is about Christ.  It took me losing so much of our traditional things to reset my heart on Him.

Pushing through the gag reflex of how disgusting it was to clean out those boxes, I can honestly say I am glad it happened.  Bringing me back to the Truth of Christmas made me able to decorate alone and be okay with that because I am giving my family the gift of my time and service, being mindful to give thanks that I have a family to do this for.

We’ll, Lord willing, eventually get around to buying a tree, popping popcorn and watching Christmas movies, but they are no longer held to my expectations.  They will be gifts.

The Grench may have almost stolen our Christmas (literally and figuratively), but he didn’t.  What God allowed to be taken away, He replaced with fresh, beautiful peace and joy that nothing, not even those nasty little creatures, can take away.

And, God gave me a brand new vision for advent candles.  I am working on it, and when it’s finished I’ll post a picture.  I am so excited about this!

God is so good.  Life can be hard, and even gross at times, but God is merciful and He is always working in our best interest.  This whole season so far has been a blessing: The loss of Christmas treasures, me sick, heavy workloads and homework, the fact that our Santa-printed blanket doesn’t even cover all of us, the missing Christmas tree and having to wait to enjoy our family traditions.

All of these are blessings because they once again remind us that Christ didn’t come into a perfect world.  The perfect Christ came into our world.  He came to redeem.  Repair.  Replace. Restore.

Whatever your Christmas season looks like so far, be it the best or the worst, keep your eyes focused on Christ.  Circumstances are temperamental.   Emotions are conditional and opinions are fickle.  But, what Christ did for us, being 100% God and 100% man, never changes.  That alone is enough to light up, and lighten up, our holidays…and keep them holy.

The curse of the Christmas squirrel

Picture it with me.  I’m driving down a 3-lane, busy road on my way to physical therapy today listening to Christmas music on the radio.  Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a squirrel runs into the street!

The little guy barely missed the first car in the far right lane.  A split second later, it ran into the middle lane with its tail bushed up and sheer panic on its face.  A car drove right over it – and the squirrel was momentarily safely frozen under the center of the car. Confused, upset and dazed it ran it circles and headed toward my lane.

I slammed on the brakes, breathed in a huge gasp, locked my arms, tightened my grip on the steering wheel and braced for impact.

Miraculously, as it ran into my lane, it spontaneously turned around and ran the other way with no seconds to spare – crossed two lanes of traffic and was safe, for now, in the median.

Whew.  The drama!  Never saw that coming.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when an ah-ha! moment thumped you on the head?

This was my moment.  God showed up and used that squirrel to remind me of a great lesson…

Don’t be the squirrel this Christmas!

I saw that squirrel as me, only doing what I know – trying to get from one side of the holidays to the other.

The cars are all of the things that the holidays get congested with from Thanksgiving to New Year’s: bargain shopping, wrapping, mailing, make the Christmas card, buy the envelopes, buy the stamps, pick up Christmas cards, address them, update addresses in master list, go back and buy more stamps, check on online orders to ensure timely delivery of surprises, cookie exchange, volunteering, church musical, decorate the house, buy kids’ clothes for the school’s holiday band concert, fuss with half-strings of working lights, buy more wrapping paper because I thought I had enough leftover from last year, neighborhood holiday party, friend’s Christmas party, prepare for party brunch, planning teachers’ gifts and neighbors’ baked goodies, return half of what I bought because it’s wrong, or a duplicate, or whatever, search for gifts that I hid in the house and now cannot find, begin the brigade of homemade ornaments, photo calendar, etc. that I make every year for my family, more volunteering, more Christmas lunches, and so on.  And all of that is on top of regular life 24/7.

Does your holiday list look similar to mine, give or take?

Everything on the list is good.  I want to do it all!  However, in trying to do it all my attitude waffles between Merry Christmas and ba humbug!

In fact, when we were in NYC, a rolling news ticker released a poll taken asking how many Americans would rather skip Christmas with its expense of time and money.  Sadly, the percentage was high.

That squirrel was the best thing that could’ve happened to me today.  I got a bird’s eye view of how we can look at Christmastime – trying to get through the holidays without becoming overtaken by commitments that just keep on coming…one after the other after the other.  Without any time to think or respond, we merely react – which usually doesn’t end well.

You know, at first I felt sorry for that frightened little squirrel.  It doesn’t know any better.  It’s just foraging for what it must to survive.  Then, as I looked in the rear view mirror to make sure it reached the median safely, I thought, Why did it run into the street if it saw cars coming?

I hear people, me included, sometimes complain about all there is to do during the holidays.  So, why are we running into the street when we see the cars zooming past?

At the risk of sounding like a total dweeb, my favorite video game is Frogger.  Remember that one?  I have the attention span of a gnat and therefore have no use for video games, but Frogger was my favorite Atari game.  The game starts out slow.  Easy.  Anyone can do it. Then, the next level is a little faster.  The level after that is faster and has added snakes and crocodiles and bonus points.  The levels get so intense it’s virtually impossible to get that frog safely across the street and river.

I know why we continue to dart the escalating holiday rush…we want the bonus points.

We want to prove to the world, and/or ourselves, that we can do it all.  We don’t want to disappoint anyone for any reason – and this can come at any expense including money, time, energy and even our health.

I came home from Thanksgiving travel sick as a dog.  I have been frustrated this week that I am doing all of the above mentioned things feeling horrible.  So why do them at this particular moment in time?  Why can’t I just put back on my pajamas and crawl into bed and get the rest I badly need and then continue with the list later stronger, healthier?

Bonus points.  Keeping the agenda going.  Self satisfaction to name a few.

Getting sick may just be God’s way of making me slow down so I don’t miss the moments that make up the Christmas season and not merely survive the month.

So.  Where do we go from here?

I know where I am going.  Nowhere.

I’m going to stay at level one.  The slow, easy level.

Chipping away at the to-do list, I will reassess my commitments – those I have been asked to do and those I have created for myself, and will prayerfully decide how and when to do them.  I will remember that these are activities I want to be involved in, and therefore my attitude should reflect that.  I will remember who I am doing all these things for, and that the who is always more important than the what.

Most importantly, I want to remember, and live out, the reason for the season – the love, hope and joy of the world’s largest birthday party – for Jesus!

When we break the curse of the Christmas squirrel, with all of its harriedness, worry, angst, exhaustion and self-imposed chaos, we have room in our hearts, minds, bodies and lives for the blessing of the true miracle of Christmas.  That’s the real bonus of the holiday season.

We’ve made it past Thanksgiving and Black Friday.  We are safely on the median.  Where will you go from here?

Thanksgiving one-liners, oh my!

My family traveled to visit extended family for Thanksgiving week. When you put 12 people – ranging from 9 to 73 years old – a dog, and a hedgehog in one house, it’s bound to be interesting. Thought I’d recap some of the one-liners from the week. Enjoy, and I apologize in advance…

And for the spicy, jalapeno turkey I stuffed a bottle’s worth of Tums inside it.

We decided to have a bloodbath to end it. (Re: The annual testosterone-filled, “friendly” game of Risk)

(Worried about our fuel supply driving to our family’s house, I wanted to stop and fill up, but Bruce didn’t. On a lonely stretch of highway, in the dark, I looked out the window and saw a gas station off the highway.) To prove my point, I said, We just passed gas! Everyone busted out laughing. Took me a minute to get it. 🙂

I can’t help it. I hear the music for Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving and my eyes won’t stay open.

Do it again and I’ll take the keys to your car away.

We should’ve never teamed up. (i.e. Risk)

(Road trip stop at Chic-Fil-A) – May I have 4 grilled chicken nuggets…for my dog.

***

You’re in my personal space!

No! You’re in MY personal space!

***

It was me! Hey, everyone does it sometimes.

If we’re going to be stuck in the Holland Tunnel much longer, I’m going to use this empty cup.

It’s never a good idea to hit bumps on the road while drinking hot chocolate…just look at my shirt.

Let’ play a game…everyone close their eyes. I’ll hide the turkey and you guys try to find it!

(At the movies with our motley crew with a very annoyed candy clerk) Hey! Would you look at this! We have coupons for free popcorn, free soda and cheap candy. It’s our lucky day! Oh, and can we have 4 little drink cups and 5 popcorn trays? (Tacky, I know.)

I’ll moon you!

The dog is on the table… again!

Get the plunger!

Do you realize all our men have left us wives, children and grandmother alone in Chinatown, in the dark, without our car?

I think the dog did it.

Totally worth it! (Re: Lombardi’s pizza and Ferrar’s desserts)

Screaming and crying – My pet hedgehog’s paw came off and there is blood all over the place!*

Sister-in-law after returning from the vet with me – It’s interesting to see what a day in the life of your family is like…

We’re in Kahootz!

There’s a reason why the bathroom has a fan and a can of apple cinnamon spray.

Yeah, I couldn’t eat my breakfast of sausage, eggs and ketchup after the hedgehog incident.

(Regarding the hedgehog to cousins) So, do you still want a hamster?

Roll down the window!

***

So…um…my watch caught the edge of the table that had Uncle’s chocolate frappacino on it…sorry!

Get the carpet steamer…QUICK!

***

(On Sunday) When is it a good time to do some of our laundry?

Saturday… when you go home! 😉

***

Conversation –

Do you have any Sprite?

No, I’m sorry we don’t.

That’s okay. (Spontaneously found one in the garage fridge and drank half the bottle. Sister-in-law returns to the room.)

I replied, Hey! I found one!

Really? Let me check the expiration date because we never buy this. (Pause)

I can’t read this…does it look like 2010 to you?

(Pause) Yep, as I nearly spit it out.

***

Conversation taking family pictures –

Now that I’m 18 can I be in the adult’s picture?

No.

***

You forgot to wear deoderant again, didn’t you.

I need a nap.

(Re: the Macy’s Parade) Hurry up in the bathroom, you’re going to miss your favorite floats!

If everyone would just stand still and smile, we can get this photo over with sooner.

Eww, he swallowed his loogie!

Someone left rocks from the river in the bathroom sink and it freaked me out cause it looked like something else!!!

Stopping for a restroom break on the way home, one person took longer than usual. Questioning if they were okay – the response…Sorry. I fell asleep on the toilet.

(At 4am) Help! I have a booger stuck in my nose and can’t get it out!

***

Should we tell them the bread was molded?

Nah.

***

(Madden Football on one tv, Wii playing on the other and the women want to watch “Say Yes to the Dress.” We women stood united and outnumbered the male Wii players) – Estrogen has entered the building and we’re taking over the t.v.

Hey! It’s the Naked Cowboy! (In NYC)

***

(Sitting on icy cold, metal bleachers outside watching the cousins ice skate)

I can’t feel my butt.

Me either.

***

Is that snow?!?!?

Yes, and never eat yellow snow.

***

On a long stretch of dark highway – Uh oh. My braces just broke.

I’m glad I can’t smell.

Seriously, how long can you wait till we have to stop?

My feet are bigger than yours!

Keep a watch for Sasquatch! (While changing drivers in the pitch black middle of nowhere.)

(Re: metal folding chairs at the Thanksgiving dinner table) – Why do I have to sit in a fake chair?

Do you have any household disinfectant?

With a pouting chin resting on the kitchen table, I don’t want to go home.

I’m going to miss you.

And the award goes to the best one-liner of the week – Someone needs to wipe.

Family time. It may be crowded. Loud. Cluttered. Chaotic. But it’s also so much FUN! Put the whole shabang together and you gotta love it. Happy Thanksgiving from our crazy family to yours. 🙂

* Hedgehog will be fine. The vet determined that she ran her paws raw on her spinning wheel. It was a horrible sight of blood everywhere, but her paw was in tact. It was a wood ship covered in blood that was mistaken for her paw. She is on 10 days of bed rest with no spinning to recover. She’ll be fine, but my nerves won’t be for a while!! Sheesh! :O