Friday, December 30, 2016

The gift of grace at Christmas

From last week's Briefing:

I didn’t grow up with staunch Christmas traditions.
We moved a lot. Not every house had a chimney for Santa. Some Christmas mornings were at home, others with my grandparents. There’s no dish we always had to eat, no particular order to opening gifts, no storybook or Scripture we had to read.
So, as people are wont to do, I set out to create my own staunch Christmas traditions when I became a parent.
We tell stories about the sentimental ornaments we hang on the tree. We see the same Santa – the real Santa for photos in December.
We sing “Silent Night” at Christmas Eve worship services and leave out a plate of cookies for Santa and two carrots for the reindeer.
On Christmas morning, we open stockings, eat baked apple French toast casserole and then open gifts, one at a time.
After years of creating and maintaining these traditions, I’ve discovered the most important element of all, the greatest gift I can give myself, the key to stress-free celebrations:
Sometimes ornaments break. Sometimes cookies are from a tin, not my kitchen. Sometimes one child’s stocking seems more generously stuffed than the other’s.
I give myself grace.
Ten years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom with a hard-working husband, a toddler, a kindergartener and a few freelance projects. I had time to decorate the staircase with garland, woven with berries and fastened with ribbon. Cooper and Katie owned multiple coordinating Christmas outfits, and I took photos of them all over town, trying to capture the perfect image for our annual card.
We were building our traditions, and it was glorious.
It was the last “normal” Christmas we’d celebrate as a family of four.
The next year, my hard-working husband was hospitalized as doctors tried to determine the nature of a mass discovered in his brain stem.
The year after that, Steve’s body was deteriorating, suffering the effects of chemotherapy and secondary infections related to his brain cancer.
The year after that, we were a family of three, holding on to our tenuous traditions as we navigated a new normal none of us wanted.
Ever since, I’ve required bucketfuls of grace, not just at Christmas but every single day. Being lenient with myself, loosening expectations about the little things (and most of what we worry about is little) has been essential these past nine years.
Grace means we don’t always unpack the Christmas plates and glasses.
Grace means I shrug off guilt the years that Christmas cards don’t get created.
Grace means we don’t always decorate a gingerbread house or attend a performance of The Nutcracker.
Ten years ago, Steve and I had no inkling that we were celebrating our final “normal” Christmas together. I hate to think – though I’m certain it’s true – that I wasted moments of that season worrying about ribbon or photos or cookies.
Our time together on this earth, no matter how much time we have, is precious. It’s silly to waste it fussing about inconsequential details.
Will we sing tonight of shepherds and angels and peace? Absolutely.
Will we rejoice tomorrow morning, reflecting a complicated mix of secular happiness and spiritual joy? Of course.
Will this Christmas be perfect? Nope. None of them are.
Imperfect Christmases are a tradition around here, and I’m thankful for every single one I get to celebrate.

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