A few years ago, I had an epiphany early—during Advent. My daughter was in middle school, and I wanted to see every basketball game she played and to be sure that we participated in all the activities at our church. At work I faced a growing pile of essays to grade, and as the Christmas season loomed, I hadn’t done any shopping for the perfect gifts for the people I love. Determined to remember peace on earth and in my life, I wanted desperately to participate in the book study at church of Robinson’s and Staeheli’s Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season.
But I didn’t have time to take the class. And that made me even more stressed. Weekends were filled with grading essays, shopping, shuttling my daughter to activities that I wanted to be a part of. I felt guilty that I couldn’t spare an extra hour…so I stopped by the church office and bought the book.
But I didn’t have time to read it.
You know this feeling, don’t you? Your story is different. You may have three children and be thinking to yourself, Ha! You think the Christmas season is tough with one child? Piece of cake! Perhaps you’re a newlywed who’s trying to figure out how to juggle two families—or even more if you have divorced parents. Perhaps you’ve lost your job and are wondering how you’ll put food on your children’s table or how you’ll explain when they think Santa is stingy or, worse, upset with them. You may not even celebrate Christmas. Perhaps it’s Hanukkah or your father’s 80th birthday or your sister’s wedding.
Almost all of us know the feeling of trying to find peace in the middle of a hectic life or difficult circumstances. During those difficult years, I tried to remind myself that at least I had a job that I loved—one that gave me more than enough money to spend on the people I loved. I thought of my parents, who didn’t have such a job and who insisted I get the education that would give me that job. And I remembered that when I was a child who wanted more than my parents could afford, my mom would laugh and say, “Want in one hand and poop in the other and see which one gets full the quickest.”
My husband, who says my mother is “strong like bull,” and my daughter, who knows my mom as her gentle Grandma, only half-believe that story. And now that my mother is in a nursing home, receiving Hospice services, I’ve been thinking a lot about what she’s taught me by her example. One Christmas, when my father was out of work, our dinner was a gift from people more fortunate at a time when we were eating government cheese and bologna and drinking powdered milk. But my mom somehow managed to give each of her children one small gift that year. And I remember how much it delighted her once we were grown and she was able to get her first job that allowed her to spend two months’ salary buying us whatever she wanted.
But I don’t remember ever seeing her as stressed as I was that year when I couldn’t find time even to read about how to turn off the Christmas machine until a snowy day in January closed schools. And when I remember how much I love my mother in spite of imperfect Christmases, I’m able to take a breath and know that my daughter and the people I love will love me in spite of imperfect realities, too.
So tell me your story.