It’s 12:05 a.m., December 25, 2011. I promised myself I wouldn’t stay up this late, but I am here anyway. Tomorrow I’ll be so tired and unable to fake a smile in front of everyone come afternoon. But I must get one thing under control before I go to bed.
I arrange all the kids’ presents neatly on their Thomas the Train table. I just finished wrapping the last one. The green Peanuts paper is for the boys, the Snoopy-covered red is for my little girl. They make a pretty picture on the table. I consider snapping a photo, proof of hard work and commitment in this season of emotional chaos, but I am too tired to grab my camera. I simply sit on the steps for a moment to let my thoughts settle.
As I admire this red-and-green gift sculpture, I review our blessings. We are blessed to afford these gifts; we have survived the recession, and with God’s help we have made it through six months as a single-income family, since my job ended. Yes, it took dozens of coupons and every Black Friday deal to make it happen, but we did it. This pile of gifts is proof.
I can’t fix the distance and undercurrent of hostility in our marriage. I’m trying so hard, but I can’t do it all by myself. I am worried about where we are headed. But I can’t afford worry on Christmas morning. I stuff it inside.
I can’t control the wildly unpredictable nature of Christmas celebrations with our extended family. The mood swings, the outbursts, the snarky comments, the cold shoulders. I will face some of this tomorrow—no, wait, I mean later today.
This is the part of Christmas I hate, the part I’ve endured for the past 29 years—almost three decades—as a child of a divorced home. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But my heart won’t stop hoping for a perfect, pain-free Christmas.
All I can do is create a safe haven for the five of us in the morning. An hour or two where no one can hurt us. No one can criticize us. No one can tell us we’re wrong.
This is where we can cautiously find joy in our own family, in our children. D and I can soak up their joy and let it seep into our own broken places. That’s my hope. That’s what I’m counting on. These gifts are joy factories, I pray.
Lord, help me! Help me create good memories for the kids. Help me give them what we didn’t have at Christmas.
And I close my eyes against the tears and seek a few hours of sleep.
If I could sit down with that mama-me of five years ago, I would tell her I love her. I love that she’s trying so hard. I love that she hasn’t given up on pursuing peace at Christmas, even when it seems everything conspires against her.
I don’t turn away from her brokenness, from her pursuit of perfection. I would tell her I understand. I know she’s trying to fill up the past with a perfect present. I know it won’t work. But I want to say, “I’m glad you want something different, something better. That takes a lot more effort than repeating the same cycles you already know. Your desire is good.”
I would tell her it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Much worse. But it will get better, much better, if she is patient. If she perseveres and clings to her faith. God is the only one who can pull her through.
I would tell the past me that God will help her find Christmas peace in her messy, mixed-up life if she seeks him with her whole heart.
I would say Christmas peace is possible, but it’s only possible with Jesus. I can’t manufacture it, can’t wrap it up pretty and set it on a table. I have to humble myself to find it. Meet him crying and broken on the steps after midnight, willing to hand over my quest for control and perfection. Willing to submit to his plan and his ways.
Then I would place my hand on her forehead and pray a blessing of peace over her.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May he make his face shine upon you.
and be gracious unto you.
May the Lord look upon you with favor
and give you
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