By this time last year, I’d gained a little holiday weight already. Several pounds of dissatisfaction had settled onto the hips of my heart. This time of year there are so many rich lies about what you need to fill you up.
The holiday season seems to be a smorgasbord of expectations impossible to live up to.
I’ve seen the pictures. The perfect tree, the perfect mantle, the perfect advent calendar countdown experience for the kids. In the past it has made me look around our house with dissatisfied eyes.
I’ve worried about what I am not giving my kids. And then I’ve worried about giving them too much. I’ve swallowed down the impulse to rush around instituting a rash of new family traditions that seem to make other families so happy and fulfilled. I don’t bake or quilt or have the time or real desire to make an advent calendar from scratch. I am not a photographer or a crafter. But I’ve compared nonetheless. And I’ve come up wanting. And so tired.
I’ve wanted more space. I’ve wanted to take advantage of all the coupons that come calling at this time of year. I’ve wanted the right words to explain to my son why our house is “liddle” and his friend’s house is not. I’ve wanted to erase the distance and all the miles between my South African family and me with just a wave of the hand. I’ve wanted things I can’t even put into words. I just know, that I have been full of what I want.
All my many wants have choked me in the past. Stuck in my throat, they make it impossible to feel full. I’ve gagged on them. And I have remained empty on the inside. Hungry.
you who have no money,
come, buy and eat! ~Isaiah 55:1
And then I have remembered the only true way to feel full. To feel content. To feel totally filled up from the inside out.
The Christ nudges me to reexamine my expectations through the eyes of a young, newly engaged girl. Hugely pregnant and uncomfortable she travelled away from her family as her due date approached. Unwelcome and unexpected she gave birth without mother or friends to encourage or celebrate with her.
There were only farm animals and strangers saying strange things.
There was no gift registry, no baby shower, no clean hospital or crib.
There was no time to settle in. There was just uncertainty and more travel; this time to a foreign country into a strange language and no promise of immediate return. Waiting and wondering and comparing their situation to the ordinary lives going on around them, the couple must have cried with the weight of their own expectations.
That story – it shifted something from off my shoulders. And this year I’ve breathed better.
Because I am deliberately remembering.
I am making the time to remember whose I am, rather than who I don’t compare to.
I remember that my expectations are not important to the God who came to us wrapped in the unexpected vulnerability of a baby. His expectations are what matter.
I am readjusting my sights. I am shifting my vision. From me to Him. From my perspective to His.
I see this life we have differently when I see it through the eyes of the One who gave it to us.
I see fifteen years of marriage, countries and fellowship shared; three children bursting with life and health. Family ties that have held despite the distance.
I feel it.
The weight of our wealth; we are knee deep in riches, living beyond my wildest expectations. Love lingers in these walls. Love sleeps in a bunk bed and toddles down the hallway in the mornings to wrap itself around my neck and whisper, “I wuv you mama,” day after day after each otherwise ordinary Monday. We pour into each other and grow stronger together. We journey through lean times and learn how to measure success on a different scale.
I start to feel full. This is the only hunger worth meeting. And He is the only food that will do.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John 6:35.
Everything else is cotton candy by comparison. Sweet and vapid it dissolves on the tongue and leaves the stomach feeling unsettled. No one in their right mind would serve it for dinner.
I’ve eaten that kind of cotton candy for years.
But I’m done now. I’m back in the kitchen. And He doesn’t ask where I have been. He simply sets me a place and spoons steaming hot meat and potatoes into my outstretched bowl.
Side-by-side we sit and eat the first Christmas again. Slowly, chewing it over, piece by piece. Warmth spreads from my belly to my heart. My wants are filled up by what He has given me. My needs are met. Satisfied. I promise to come back for breakfast. And lunch. And snacktime. And dinner again.
We make a date. Now all I have to do is keep it. Because I know He will.
This year, I’m OK with a bit messy and a bit uncoordinated. I’m OK with wax dripping onto the table and kids squabbling during the advent reading. Because this year we’re showing up just the way we are.
And we’re going to slowly read through the family tree of Jesus and how we fit into it. This year our family is reading Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.
It’s my only advent plan. One reading a day. One candle per day.
The kids and I gave our advent plan a test-run last week. I didn’t grow up celebrating advent. I’ve barely paid it any attention as an adult. But I have a friend whose childlike delight in the wonder of Advent is utterly contagious.
Her stories and her ideas for ornaments and “The Night Before Advent” hot chocolate parties? She’s swept me up completely in this new way of seeing the season.
It’s no longer about keeping up with – but about celebrating with.
That we are good at.
That is a joy and not one more to-do.
So, starting December 1st we’ll be reading from this book.
And we’ll be lighting candles for each day of December on this wreath watching Mary travel toward Christmas.
I’m sure we’ll forget at least one day.
I’m sure someone will fight with someone else who wanted to hold the book.
But here’s the thing – I’m OK with that. Christmas was always messy. It has always been about children. And unexpected circumstances.
We’re leaning into ours this year.
And waving a friendly “hi” across the table and the dishes and hoping you feel at peace in the midst of your mess too.
If you’re looking for just one thing to do differently this Christmas season – I can’t recommend this family Advent Devo enough. But if it feels like one thing too many – grace friend – have grace with yourself to just let it go (see what I did there? )
You can get your copy of the book here.
And this is the Advent countdown wreath we’re using over here.