As I sighed heavily this past week over my unfinished Christmas to-do list, I was gently reminded of lesson I learned (and keep relearning) this past summer.
It was after a hot day spent doing yard projects and housework that my husband invited our neighbors over for a picnic on our back patio. He announced this to me as I was setting the table, after the food was already on the grill.
I paused in the midst of my preparations to consider my jeans with dirt and grass stains smeared across the knees, the hot pink, paint-splattered “project” t-shirt I don whenever I’m working on projects, and my general “I’ve been working outside in the dirt and the sun all day” appearance…. It was too late to run in and change. I remembered that our neighbors are two of the nicest, most down-to-earth people around, shrugged off my appearance, and called the children to dinner.
As we all settled around the patio table after saying a simple grace, Aaron stepped back into the house to grab the ketchup. It was at that precise moment that my three-year-old son decided to open the conversation by leaning in and loudly asking our neighbor whether or not he was a boy (using anatomically correct terms).
As I started sputtering and choking mid-sip on my beverage, my son realized I was going to shut the conversation down and so repeated himself, louder. While our poor neighbor froze in uncertainty, his wife (a nurse) calmly leaned forward and answered my son’s question directly and without any hesitation. My son, satisfied, allowed the conversation to be steered away from any further talk about body parts.
I wish I could say that our dinner was smooth sailing from that moment forward, but I can’t.
It was a typical dinner in our house — complete with parental cajoling to try “one bite” of everything, with reminders to sit politely, chew nicely, use manners, and to speak with an inside voice instead of shouting — all of the normal things that occur with the five-and-under crowd. It was not the relaxing “summer night out on the patio” dinner with our guests that my husband and I had envisioned.
As the kids finished eating, they went inside to watch a movie and enjoy a snack while we continued to visit. I was mentally exhausted from our efforts to provide a respectable dining experience and was inwardly cringing over the noise and the dinner chaos we had just subjected them to.
Our conversation was wide-ranging, and as our time wound down, it became clear that our neighbors had genuinely, thoroughly enjoyed being included in and surrounded by our family chaos — and I quietly marveled at the realization.
As the husband wrapped me in an unexpectedly emotional goodbye bear hug, it occurred to me that, perhaps, their peace and quiet that I sometimes envy, might be a little too peaceful and a little too quiet. Perhaps the invitation into our “real” family dinner — without polish, without pretense, without airs — was something they missed: longed for, even. They are grandparents, with grandchildren half a day’s drive away, and maybe this dinner was partly a reminder of their own grandkids of similar age and partly remembering these years with their own children wistfully and with fondness.
It was a revelation that our chaos, our noisy family (the noisiest on the block of a neighborhood filled primarily with grandparents), might be exactly what others are missing and long to be a part of.
And so, as the Christmas parties are in full-swing, as we prepare to make the rounds to the houses of family and friends and Christmas Eve church services, and as I contemplate the list of things I simply won’t get to this year, I am reminded of that bear hug, filled with unspoken emotion.
Maybe its okay to slip and slide into Christmas without every last box checked off the list, without every last decoration out, without finding time to bake. Maybe I need to let the image of a “perfect” Christmas go and simply embrace the chaos and the mess and the craziness that comes with having a young family.
After all, as much as we romanticize the notion of the first Christmas with beautiful songs and exquisite nativity sets, the night of our Savior’s birth was one of chaos and mess and noise — not of Mary and Joseph’s perfectly laid plans, executed precisely. God sometimes does His best, His most significant work through, at least to our eyes, chaos.
Lord, help us to find JOY in the midst of our circumstances, whatever they may be, this Christmas season. Help us to let go of expectations, of perfectionism, of situations we cannot control as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior. For those hurting, remind them of your great love for them in a way that is so personal, so precious, that they cannot help but feel your presence. Help us to find You in the midst of our chaos this Christmas. Amen.
Have a Merry (unperfect) Christmas, friends.