I haven’t decorated the house for Christmas since 2010. For years, Brandon has been the one to pull out the boxes, set up the tree, and arrange the synthetic poinsettias and nativity.
In our house, this makes sense. I married a man who actually cares about home decor. (No man in my family prepared me for this, but here we are.) His opinion rarely resembles my own—on any level—but he has one, by golly.
Brandon is also a Christmas fanatic. He wants the tree up the day after Thanksgiving and leaves it there until well past Epiphany. He loves buying and wrapping gifts. I sometimes even let him wrap the gifts I bought because he’s so good at it, and I’m…not.
The Hallmark channel projects sappy Christmas movies in my living room starting on November 1 without repentance until the New Year. The DVR saves all the features he misses due to hunting or work so he can catch up later. For years, we threw an annual holiday party we called “Christmas with the Keasters” until I became too ill to do so—yes, really—a party Brandon plans to one day resurrect.
If I win the vote, we probably won’t. Brandon says I’m a Scrooge, and then he winks at me.
As you can see, Brandon is the Christmas guy, so it made sense when the boxes appeared on the evening of Black Friday and he and the kids began decorating the tree and bookshelves.
What didn’t make sense was my simmering resentment when he said, “Hey babe, why don’t you decorate with us?”
Now, if there’s anything more socially unacceptable than not wanting to decorate for Christmas with your family, I can’t think of it. Something was wrong, but I couldn’t put into words what I didn’t understand myself.
I watched them decorate the tiny corner of our mobile home’s living room. Unable to find a scrap of inspiration, creativity, or joy, I said something encouraging to the kids and sat next to them on the couch as they dressed the tree with a hodge-podge of old ornaments and art projects they’d created over the years. I wanted to love it. I didn’t, and that bothered me.
I had a choice. I could revert back to old, ineffective patterns—shame myself for being immature and a waste-of-space mom, grit my teeth, and muscle through the right thing to do—OR I could expose my brokenness to Jesus and give him an opportunity to renew my mind and to heal me.
Shame had never worked before. Chances were, it wouldn’t now.
Closing my eyes, I asked Jesus, “What’s going on here? What’s the matter with me?”
He showed me a picture of himself decorating the tree with the kids and encouraged me to simply enjoy his presence and my people. It seemed he wasn’t interested in psychoanalysis that night.
Brandon, who has studied me for years, said nothing more. He finished decorating and sat down beside me. Placing an arm around my shoulders, he said, “What’s going on?”
I could have tried to explain myself by complaining about my circumstances—
“The house is so small and cramped. We can hardly do anything, so why bother?”
“Everything here is at least a decade old. We need new stuff.”
“We really need to clear out every ‘Christmas ornament’ that’s really just a scrap of paper.”
But the problem wasn’t the size of the house or what we have. It was me.
I shook my head. “I don’t know yet. Jesus didn’t say.”
But this I knew—he would.
The following week was full of activities and an upcoming trip out of state. Distracted, I didn’t return to my issues until the following weekend when I was hanging out with some new friends in Georgia. One innocently asked, “Hey! Have you decorated for Christmas yet?”
She had no idea she’d hit a tripwire. “Nope. I don’t do that. I let Brandon and the kids take care of it,” I said flatly with a touch of hurry.
Had my friends not been so experienced with people or inner healing ministry, they might have allowed my comment to pass. As it was, it was funny to watch them try to explain my strong response with explanations similar to those I might try to provide if I didn’t have such a deep commitment to internal honesty.
In the end, I said something like, “Maybe, but I think I’ve got some kind of wound there, and Jesus doesn’t think I’m ready to deal with it yet.” Why else would he remain silent?
But on the long drive home, I hounded him until memories of Christmases past flashed through my mind, leaving echoes of anxiety in their wake. The harried pace, self-imposed expectations, and utter exhaustion all came flooding back.
Christmas 2009, I came down with a bad case of tonsillitis the day of the largest Christmas with the Keasters party we ever had and still had to pull that thing off, all the while running fever. Micah, our 10 month old was also sick, and I was trying to keep my head above water while preparing for my music studio’s Christmas recital. We hosted a Christmas dinner for our parents and sisters, and attended three gatherings on Christmas day. Sick. With a baby.
Christmas 2010 was worse. In addition to that year’s Christmas recital, I planned a musical tour through the town of Farmerville, sang at multiple events, and conducted a community Christmas concert. We also hosted the weirdest Christmas with the Keasters party to date, as well as our familes’ Christmas, and again—attended three Christmases in one day. One day. With a toddler.
During Christmas 2011, Brandon and I again ran around like headless chickens from one event to another with a two-year-old and a colicky infant screaming all the way. Though we were careful to protect our baby from illness, she contracted RSV over the holidays and became extremely ill at only six weeks old. Not to mention, my own health was in mid-plummet.
Extreme food restrictions and limited contact with friends and family due to mast cell activation syndrome marred the Christmases from 2012 to 2014. I attended a handful of get-togethers at great personal cost each time.
Christmas 2015 was exhilarating but chaotic. I was in the process of healing but hadn’t yet healed enough to enjoy the foods of the season or sustain the pace of a healthy person. Sara was sick again in December 2016, this time with mono, and last Christmas I was battling the worst case of seasonal depression I’d suffered in years.
And then the revelation came—I hate Christmas. I really was a Scrooge.
I hated all the running around and making everyone happy at the expense of my health, sanity, and children’s needs. I hated the illness, the depression, the expectations. I hated the loneliness. I hated to work so hard at a thing that I couldn’t enjoy it. I hated the out-of-control feeling this season inevitably brings.
Jesus then showed me pictures of how he’d been with me in all the chaos, at times chasing after me with a diaper bag strapped to his shoulder, at times sitting with me in the isolation of disease.
In those pictures, I saw the truth. I’d blamed Christmas for being out of control and chaotic, but the truth was that I’d been out of control and had created that chaos. I didn’t hate Christmas as much as what I’d done with it, and if I wanted things to be different, it was me who had to change.
So I forgave myself, released myself from my judgments, and asked God for a truth to heal me.
I am Christmas, he said.
Wow! Duh. But wow!
As I’ve preached the truth to my soul, I’ve contemplated its meaning and how to put it into action. Here are a few things I’ve come up with:
1) When I receive Jesus, I receive Christmas. It’s okay to take a Mary-moment or two and ponder him in my heart.
2) I don’t have to do everything everyone else does. I don’t have to listen to Christmas music non-stop, attend every event to which I’m invited, or decorate every room in the house. Those things are a part of Christmas, not Christmas itself. I can reflect the Spirit of Christmas by being present, giving gifts, and nurturing the souls God has given me.
3) Jesus spent Christmas with his family, a few shepherds, and a few kings. Not everyone. Not all in one day. My inner circle deserves the best portions of myself. Shepherds and kings are both welcome at my table, but they’ll have to come to me and be okay with dinner served on Corelle in a humble trailer. And hey—there’s always January.
I’ve done several events already and plenty of ministry. I’m already tired. It’s time to enforce some of the boundaries I’ve established this year so that I don’t exhaust myself with what I think Christmas should be. I need to receive from God the peace and joy of the season so that I can share it with others. It’s time to let my Lord take me on a journey to discover and celebrate him.
I still plan to see my all of my extended family, but probably not all in one day.
And if my vote wins out, Christmas with the Keasters will remain for Keasters only or be relegated to July. Scrooge-y or not. I’m just sayin.
Merry Christmas to all! O come, let us adore him!