I saw my friend Rhonda this week. “Your house looks so pretty!” she exclaimed. “Who does all your lights?”
Y’all know who does our lights. It’s my husband, Buddy the Elf, and this year’s blast of frigid air in Virginia Beach got him more inspired than ever. Robbie claims he “cannot work” when it is above 50 degrees (something about the warmer air kills his holiday mojo) and so, thanks to this recent bout of global cooling, we are starting to look a little Chernobyl. In a Christmasy way.
Inside, though, it’s a different story.
The kids brought the boxes down from the attic over Thanksgiving weekend and put them in the living room. Which is where they are now. Last week, I pulled out the nativity scene to get myself in the Jesus mood, but it didn’t really take. I don’t feel all that Advent-y; I mostly just feel…overwhelmed.
Even the Christmas cards–a tradition I normally love–don’t seem to have what it takes. I came up with a prototype back in November, but when the kids saw it, they gave it the ax. So I went back to the drawing board, designed a Plan B, and had them printed this week. Now, the cards are sitting in their own little boxes on the kitchen counter. If they never get sent, will Christmas still come? If a tree falls in the forest…
Speaking of. I am thinking that my problem actually might be our tree. You already know it’s too big for our house; we had to move the furniture all to one side in order to get the thing into the family room. It fit–barely–but there is zero feng shui. And if you want to watch TV, you have to crane your neck around the branches to see the whole screen.
And, positioned as the tree is in front of the room’s big double window, it literally blocks ALL THE LIGHT. I keep thinking about how Jesus came as the “light of the world,” but I am not feeling it, at least not in our family room. All we are in there is just dark. It’s like the year that my friend’s husband boarded up the windows and gift-wrapped their ENTIRE HOUSE house so that it looked like a big Christmas present. He was all happy and proud of himself; she started asking people if they had any spare vodka.
Honestly, though, I am kind of surprised by our tree’s darkness power. It has already lost so many needles that you would think it would be see-through by now, but no. On the plus side, I get a little chuckle out of looking at Buddy’s hair. My man faithfully waters the tree every night, and he always comes out with a head full of pine.
(Which explains why I keep finding Christmas tree parts in our bed.)
All of which is to say…appearances can be deceiving. Because if you rode by our house at night, you would think that a very “all together” person lived there, someone who was probably inside baking cookies and wrapping presents while Bing did his thing on Pandora. And, if you are one of those people who sometimes falls into the comparison trap (and who doesn’t?), you might even go home and start feeling badly about your own Christmas prep.
But don’t. Because, looking at the outside of somebody else’s life, you never get the whole picture.
One of the best pieces of advice anyone ever gave me was this: “Don’t judge your insides by somebody else’s outsides.” I feel like that’s especially important for parents to remember. It can seem like other people’s kids are always more squared away than ours are, or that other families have it all together in their marriages, or their finances, or whatever.
The truth is, none of us do. We’ve all got gaping holes in our lives–boxes that clutter our living rooms, cards that smack of things left undone, pine needles that mess with our heads–and we all need huge buckets of God’s strength and his mercy. We might look all fresh and festive on the outside…but inside we’re all desperate for grace.
Which is, I think, the whole point.
Jesus didn’t leave his glorious home in heaven in order to come into a picture perfect world. He came to inhabit our mess. To walk through it with us. To use it, even, to draw us to himself. To invite us, in the most beautiful way, to surrender.
Which is kind of what happened with me. I sat there yesterday, looking at all of my undone decorating and my unsent cards (and trying not to make eye contact with the tree, lest it hurt me), and I prayed.
“Jesus,” I said (and, as pathetic as this sounds, I am not making it up), “do you mind waiting a little while, while I try to put up some decorations? Like, I really want to worship you, to celebrate Advent, to breathe deeply of Christmas.
“But until I have all my Santas out and maybe cut some magnolia, I just don’t think I can do it.”
And y’all, I promise. I didn’t hear Jesus laugh–not out loud–but I sensed him smile. And I felt him whisper these words to my soul:
I can wait. But I won’t. Not for this. Not for you to make yourself–or your living room–perfect.
I came for your mess. I love you in your mess.
And I’m here.
Alrighty then. We don’t have to wait until December 25–or until we get our halls decked–to celebrate Jesus. We can enjoy him right now. We can know, in the midst of our mess, how very much we are loved.
Even (and especially) on the inside.