the gifts of Christmas

Christmas gifts Kris Mouser_Brown Foter.com CC BY_ND

There are good years when everyone is home, getting along well, happy with their gifts, and focused on the “reason” for the season. But there are also difficult years when what we hoped for or what we envisioned does not come anywhere close to happening. Both are very normal in life. The problem is not the difficulties. The problem is our expectations. Our expectations that Christmas will be perfectly wrapped, shiny-bowed, and glitter-dusted like a beautiful Christmas gift.

Our reality doesn’t match our hopes and expectations.

Maybe you have a “special” person in your family or group of friends. The one who no matter how many advent candles you burn or how many advent calendar dates you turn, you just don’t feel filled with Christmas spirit when you’re with that person. They push your buttons, triggering your feelings and emotions so that you are angry or frustrated or discouraged, or you feel judged and criticized no matter what you do.

Perhaps you have experienced a loss this year that’s going to affect your Christmas. There will be a gap, someone missing in the pictures, in the activities, at the table. Maybe you didn’t lose them this year. Maybe it was sometime in the past, but their loss still impacts you, especially in times like this. This is the first year my mom won’t be with us. I get blindsided by missing her when I least expect it.

It might be that you have done your shopping, your decorating and your baking, and you think you’re doing great… until you happen to spend time on Facebook or Pinterest or visit a friend’s home, and all of a sudden your work feels a little inadequate, a little sub-par, not quite how you would like it. Comparison gets to your head and heart, and makes you feel “less than” or incompetent compared to others around you.

If comparison does not make Christmas hard for you; it might be that your financial situation is more difficult than you had hoped. Maybe that promotion didn’t come through or maybe the new business hasn’t taken off or maybe you are out of work, and you don’t have the money to buy what is on the wish list. You’re worried about seeing disappointment in some young, sweet eyes looking up at you on Christmas morning.

You might be sick or care-giving for someone. Holidays with those realities makes celebrating more challenging. I will spend Christmas with my Dad. He has Parkinson’s, dementia, and alcoholism that are affecting his days and therefore they are going to affect our Christmas. He may or may not remember what day it is.

Maybe your difficulty is not the ones that you care for. Maybe it is more the lack of someone to care for… maybe you feel alone and lonely during these days.

These are real Christmas challenges for many of us.

It could be that none of these issues affect you this year. Last year was close to perfect for me. My biggest challenge was dealing with a form of survivor’s guilt – I call it “blessing guilt” – because I had all my children at home and we had a great time enjoying every minute of it, while at the same time close friends and family were dealing with all kinds of pain – the realities I just mentioned. I struggled to fully enjoy the gifts that God had given me without overlooking or underestimating the realities of others.

Whatever your reality this year, I hope you know that Jesus is not only “the reason for the season”, but Jesus is also the “answer” for the season and for all your needs. He is not distracted by preparations or decorations or gift buying or baking. He has plenty of time and energy and limitless power to take interest in what’s difficult for you, to come along beside you and help you.

Jesus had relatives who sometimes made life difficult for Him; Jesus experienced loss and wept; Jesus went through many difficulties and would have traded some of His experiences for another if He could. And His birth we are celebrating this season? A cross-country journey by a very pregnant teenage mom on the back of a donkey, an unsanitary birth with only a first-time father to help, and His first days surrounded by smelly livestock and shepherds?

Jesus understands a reality that is different from the ideal. 

I invite you to see this Christmas not simply as an opportunity to bake and decorate and buy and wrap, but also a time to reflect and lean into Jesus to find understanding and hope in a way that maybe you’ve never done before. Let go of your expectations of what Christmas will or should be like and embrace your reality – even your difficulties – this year. Struggles are often some of the sweetest times in our faith journey.

May God build your faith stronger
as He heightens your awareness of His presence always.

May He deepen your appreciation for people,
as you recognize that life is so very fragile.

May your contentment grow greater – with yourself – and your circumstances.

And may you become a more gracious person – grateful for what you have received and compassionate and empathetic with others in need.

Those are the best gifts.

Old favorites. New traditions.

Old favorites. New traditions.

Christmas has finally arrived at our house! 

My husband and I decided to wait to turn in our final Capstone project. Yesterday afternoon the SEND button was pushed, and after 3 1/2 years, we have completed the work for our MA in Global Leadership degree. That is cause for celebration!

So we jumped in the car and drove to Hollywood Studios to see the (literally) millions of lights that “dance” to music for the wide-eyed, joy-filled, shoulder-to-shoulder packed-in-like-sardines, crowd in the street. It was truly impressive and a first time experience for this Orlando transplant.

… and so begin the new Christmas traditions.

This is our first year in our Florida home, so decorating requires new decisions… with the old favorites. Many plastic tubs of strangely-out-of-place snow and evergreen themed treasures, a life long of collected ornaments, and beloved hot chocolate mugs have exploded in my living room. I love the transformation that warm candles, white lights, and years of collected nativities bring to the home.

We are bringing all of our children to Orlando to celebrate this year – another new experience with “old” favorites. This Christmas will include Disney parks, warm weather, and lots of crazy people filling every inch of floor space in a small townhome and every moment of the days with silly insider jokes, laughter, music, adventures, hugs, stories, pictures, memories, and love. We need to buy more food, warn the neighbors, and make sure the camera batteries are charged. I can’t wait!

This morning, as I anticipate the craziness, I also reflect on my every-year desire to keep one constant in this season – a quiet, peaceful, heartfelt connection with the One who gives true meaning to this holiday. Jesus is my favorite part of all life, and each year I have the opportunity to create new “traditions” that keep us close.

Here are a few of my special traditions for CHRISTmastime perspective. 

Pentatonix a cappella cover of  “Little Drummer Boy”

The Piano Guys “Angels We Have Heard on High”

(an older favorite) A Social Media Christmas

What are some of your Christmas favorites? What new traditions are you starting this year?

amando (esta) navidad

Siembre he amado la Navidad.

Christmas
Mis padres crearon tradiciones navideñas llenas de asombro y sorpresa. La Navidad no llegaba a nuestra casa hasta la mañana de Navidad… porque Santa traía todo! Después de que los pequeños colocábamos las galletas y leche de Santa y nos íbamos a la cama, Mamá y Papá comenzaban la gigantesca tarea nocturna de llenar las medias, armar y decorar el árbol, montar los juguetes y colocar las montañas de regalos en montones individuales. No tengo idea de cómo mis padres lograban funcionar la mañana siguiente, pero sé que tazas con café muy calientes eran indispensables mientras que los niños desgarrábamos las atiborradas medias sobre la cama de Mamá y Papá. Cuando terminábamos de abrir las medias y Mamá y Papá permanecían semi despiertos, ansiosamente nos deslizábamos por el pasillo aguardando con mucha expectativa en la puerta cerrada de la sala. Después de que pasaba una eternidad, Papá abría lentamente la puerta hacía al mágico mundo de la Navidad! Aún puedo experimentar el sentimiento de asombro del primer vistazo al enorme y brillante árbol y a la gran colección de luminosos y radiantes regalos que esperaban por nosotros.

Con mi propia familia, la navidad llegó con verdor y bayas que envolvían las escaleras y pilares, luces exteriores en los tejados y ventanas y decoraciones en cada esquina de la casa… entreteniendo a las visitas, bolsas de arroz para protegernos del frío, galletas de azúcar decoradas con diferentes estilos dependiendo de la creatividad de los niños y los tradicionales roles de canela que comíamos tranquilamente en la mañana de navidad mientras abríamos las medias y los regalos uno por uno. También teníamos un árbol grande – pero con cordura dimos inicio a una nueva rutina de armarlo con la ayuda de todos y con semanas de anticipación. Ya que vivimos en México, a veces añadimos la cena de Noche Buena, chocolate caliente y piñatas nocturnas. El servicio de encender las velas en Noche Buena y una colección de nacimientos navideños nos ayudaban a recordar a Jesús en medio de la locura.

Este año, vivimos en Orlando, Florida en un pequeño departamento. La mayor parte de mis decoraciones las regalé durante la mudanza; la tradición de los largos días de decoración duró solamente unas cuantas horas. Es caluroso y soleado afuera; los hombres de nieve y árboles congelados parecen extrañamente estar fuera de lugar. No hay niños en la casa, no hay medias que llenar, no hay montones de regalos debajo del árbol y no hay motivación para hornear galletas de azúcar que no debemos comer.

Así que me pregunto… ¿qué es realmente la Navidad? ¿Es el asombroso encanto de los niños por el esplendor y los regalos? ¿Son las bonitas decoraciones, compra de regalos y comidas favoritas? ¿Son los momentos familiares especiales, tradiciones o servicios de la iglesia? Todos son buenos, y al paso los años los he disfrutado todos… pero ninguno es la verdadera esencia de la Navidad. Este año, como gran parte de la Navidad normal ha cambiado, me doy cuenta que de hecho he recibido un maravilloso regalo — la oportunidad de concentrarme intencionalmente en Cristo. Hay muy pocas distracciones, entonces hay más paz y más tiempo para pasarla con Él. Sé que asistiremos a fiestas y eventos, compraremos un poco y hornearemos (para regalar :)), pero particularmente estoy emocionada de pasar momentos sin prisa, tranquilos y especiales con Jesús este año. Creo que esto puede convertirse en la clase de Navidad que ame más.

¿Qué es lo que más amas de la Navidad?

loving (this) Christmas

I have always loved Christmas.

Christmas
My parents created Christmas traditions full of wonder and surprise. Christmas didn’t arrive at our home until Christmas Day… because Santa brought everything! After the little ones set out Santa’s cookies and milk and went off to bed, Mom and Dad began the gargantuan, all-night task of filling the stockings, setting up and decorating the tree, assembling the toys, and placing the mountains of gifts in individual piles. I don’t know how my parents ever functioned the next morning, but I know steaming cups of coffee were essential as the children tore into the over-stuffed stockings on Mom and Dad’s bed. When we finished opening our stockings, and Mom and Dad were semi-awake, we anxiously crept down the hall to wait expectantly at the closed living room door. After an eternity passed, Dad slowly opened the door to the magical world of Christmas! I can still feel the awe of that first glimpse of the huge, glittering tree and the enormous collection of bright, shiny gifts that waited for us.

With my own family, Christmas came with greenery and berries wrapping staircases and pillars, outdoor lights on the awnings and windows, and decorations in every corner of the house… entertaining, rice bags to keep out the cold, cut-out sugar cookies decorated in varying styles of creativity as young children grew to teenagers, and traditional cinnamon rolls eaten leisurely on Christmas morning while we opened stockings and gifts one-by-one. We also had a big tree – but we sanely began a new routine of setting it up with everyone’s help weeks ahead of time. Since we lived in Mexico, we sometimes added Christmas Eve dinner, hot chocolate, and late-night piñatas. Christmas Eve candlelight service and a collection of nativity scenes helped remind us of Jesus in the midst of the craziness.

This year, we live in Orlando, Florida in a small apartment. Most of my decorations were given away in the move; the days-long decorating tradition lasted only a few hours. It is warm and sunny outside; snowmen and frosted trees seem strangely out-of-place. There are no children at home, no stockings to fill, no piles of gifts under the tree, little motivation to bake sugar cookies that we shouldn’t eat.

So I wonder… what is Christmas really? Is it children’s delighted wonder at glitter and toys? Is it pretty decorations, gift shopping, and favorite foods? Is it special family time, traditions, or church services? All are good, and through the years I have enjoyed it all… but none are the true essence of CHRISTmas. This year as so much of Christmas normal has been stripped away, I realize that I have actually received a wonderful gift — the opportunity to focus intentionally on Christ: His story, His life, His example. There are so few distractions, so there is more peace and more time to learn from Him. I know we will attend parties and events, shop some, and bake (to give away :)), but I am especially excited to spend quiet, not rushed, special times with Jesus this year. I think this may become the kind of Christmas that I love most.

What do you love about Christmas?