I think one of the greatest battles for a mother during the Christmas season is the battle that rages within against unrealistic expectations.
As mothers we feel a pressure to bring the magic of Christmas to our homes. Somehow the responsibility of living up to the “Hallmark Holiday Television Special” standard of Christmas is placed squarely on the mother’s shoulders.
Very rarely do I see a husband stressing about Christmas cards, matching PJs, or finding the perfect gift for his mother. No, it is the woman that carries that burden, knowing that if she doesn’t execute all parts of the holiday production with Martha Stewart grace, there will be a price to pay… with guilt being the universal currency.
And what is even more ironic in this tale is that the expectations and the guilt is rarely laid on us by someone else. Instead it is placed squarely on our shoulders by self. I have spent this month pondering what deficiency in myself or what human frailty drives this need for Christmas perfection.
Perhaps I was spoiled in childhood by parents who made Christmas so magical and made the magic look so effortless. That is a hard act to follow when you become a mother yourself.
Maybe it is the saturation of possibilities that bombard us on social media (aka: Pinterest,) making everything we do seem “not enough” when compared to all we could do at Christmastime.
Perhaps it is simply the plague of “oldest child syndrome” that comes with a certain drive for pleasing others and performing perfectly that I never can quite shake.
I try to kill the beast within but it is an ongoing battle that leaves me swinging from unrealistic expectations, to fatigue, to guilt and back again.
The Lord knows this sin I struggle with. He knows how the holidays feed this beast within and only make it grow. He knows my fear of losing control and disappointing others only serves as a chasm in our relationship that drives me away from Him rather than draws me closer, so often He will step in to protect me from myself, and allow situations that are bigger than me and my power of control, to realign my focus.
And when that happens, as much as I might fight it, I find that I gain my footing and am able to exhale.
This December was one of those seasons of surrender.
This month we were faced with challenges and obstacles bigger than us. And during most of those challenges Toby was out of town and I was struggling to manage them on my own. Add to the challenges we were facing as a family, the pressures and unrealistic expectations that come with the Christmas season, and I found myself at a crossroads. I had to willingly make a choice to LET GO of my vision for the holidays and LET GOD lead.
This meant my itinerary, my plans, my traditional parties, activities, and ways of bringing Christmas magic that I was holding onto so tightly had to be let go so as to open my hands and heart for the type of Christmas that God had planned for us.
I shared some of that transformation in a previous post, but God continues to work on me. He is helping me to refocus, slow down and see the Christmas season in a different way. And in the process He is bringing a depth and closeness to our family and a greater appreciation for the true gifts of Christmas in the process.
Lately it seems the theme for this Christmas is: I plan and God laughs… and then He provides something better.
That theme continued with Toby’s homecoming and our plan to get the perfect Christmas tree.
We have been eagerly counting down the days for Toby to come home so that we could go get our tree and start enjoying those traditions that we didn’t want to do without Toby. . Going to get our Christmas tree was at the top of the list. We usually drive to a “you pick” Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. I love everything about the experience from the tromping through the woods, to the debate over the best tree, to the towing the tree home on the trailer.
It is my favorite part of Christmas.
So when Toby arrived home and we made plans to go out Saturday afternoon to cut down our tree, we were all very excited. It felt like Christmas had finally arrived. Daddy was home, the tree was going up, and now, 7 days before Christmas, the holidays could begin. All was right with the world.
It was right about then God started laughing.
You see, the night before had brought an ice storm that left our steep driveway encrusted in a beautiful, but treacherous, layer of ice.
My van was parked at the bottom with no hope of climbing the slick drive, but we were surprised to find out that Toby’s truck, that ALWAYS makes it up the driveway, even in the worst driving conditions, couldn’t make it up.
In fact not only could he not make it up, he actually ended up being pulled backwards down the driveway, losing his trailer that was attached to his truck, over the edge of the hill.
Our plans to take his truck and trailer to the tree farm were stalled as we called for a tow. Assuming we would just have to postpone our plans for a couple of hours we started working the phones, only to find out that NO tow company wanted to have anything to do with our driveway and our predicament.
So we moved onto plan B. We would take the van and deal with the truck and trailer later. The van was already at the bottom so we would take it and simply strap the Christmas tree to the top. Nothing was going to stand in the way of going Christmas tree hunting.
And then God laughed.
We climbed in the van all bundled up in gear and proceeded to spin in place. For an hour we dug, we laid gravel and salt, we pushed and we pulled, but that van wouldn’t budge.
So now it was Saturday afternoon and we were stuck.
It was the last Saturday before Christmas to get our tree and we had one truck with no brakes (remember Gracie’s crash,) one truck perched precariously on the edge of an icy driveway, and a van parked on an ice skating rink. We weren’t going anywhere until the spring thaw.
I was frustrated and discouraged. Once again my plans were not God’s plans.
Then He planted a seed of an idea. The day need not be discarded as failure. After all we lived on 53 acres of land. “Why not,” the thought came to us, “go Christmas tree hunting on our own property.” If we can’t drive to the trees why not shop at home, so that is what we did. And it was the most special Christmas tree hunting experience we have ever enjoyed as a family. It was an experience we would have never enjoyed had everything “gone right” and played out as I wanted it to.
The kids were sold on the idea immediately. With hand saw in hand (the chain saw was trapped in the back of the jack-knifed trailer) we headed out. The three dogs joined us as we tromped through the snowy woods.
Our Christmas tree options were limited.
While much of our land is forest, it is filled primarily with deciduous trees and not evergreens. This added to the challenge of the hunt and a whole lot of laughter as we pondered the possibilities which seemed to come down to 30 foot or 3 foot pines, with not too many options in between.
The dogs loved this unique adventure and raced around our legs, chomping on the snow, as we worked our way from one corner of the property to the other.
We finally stumbled across a possibility.
It was definitely “airier” (that is the kind way to say it was sparse) than a commercial tree, but it had a pretty shape and a country charm about it.
Tyler had his heart set on another tree that we had to veto for the simple fact it was too small and delicate to hold any ornaments. I could tell Tyler was frustrated that we couldn’t see the possibilities in his tree, that he viewed as perfect, so he did what anyone else might do in the same situation:
He ripped it out by its roots and carried it home to put in the corner of his bedroom, root ball and all. 🙂
Toby then pulled out his hand saw and dropped our mighty tree….TIMBER!
It looked even bigger when it was laying across the road.
We ended up having to “trim” half of it off to make it fit in the 14 foot tall corner of our living room.
The hilarity of the situation continued as we tried to drag this enormous tree up our icy driveway and get it into position in the living room.
Stay tuned for part two of our tree adventure…decorating Goliath.