Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the lights go dim

We live in a house that's 101 years old. There's a lot about it that's charming -- the tall windows, the picture rail, the fold-out ironing board in the wall of the nursery, the wraparound porch. And there are some things we just shrug our shoulders and laugh about, such as the fir floors that have been painted an interesting shade of maroon. Or the glass-shaded fixtures in the skylights we have never figured out how to turn on. (For real! There's no switch!) And how you can tell the furnace is about to kick on when the lights suddenly go dim.

It's a big house, and even though there are no vents to the upstairs -- seriously, it gets chilly up there -- when it's time to warm things up a bit, there just isn't enough energy to go around.

So we sit in the dusky room while the air blows and the thermostat rises, and then when the furnace shuts off, the lights pop back to full strength, and things get bright again.

That's what this holiday season has been like for me.

Some time before Thanksgiving I started to get anxious. And weary. It was actually kind of paralyzing. I don't really know why, but it for sure had something to do with Peter's birthday falling between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And maybe the three visitors we were graced with who spoiled me and took over some everyday tasks, especially entertaining the kiddos, while they were here. It's hard to gird the loins and return to the normal routine after a vacation mindset, especially when "normal" means it's time to "do" the holidays.

God made it clear to me pretty quickly that there just wasn't enough energy to go around, when even a glance at my to-do list made something seize up inside and I didn't know where to begin.

(For me, that's not normal.)

And that I didn't want to simply survive through until Christmas, dragging Tim and the kids behind me. Where's the joy in that?

So after a couple of weeks of withering inside, fretting about the turkey and the bathrooms and Peter's gifts and his party and advent and Christmas cards and the whole works -- I took a red pen, mentally as well as literally (well, it may have been a pencil), and just crossed things out. I dug myself out of the hole of holiday expectations (my own most of all) by lowering the bar, clearing the calendar, and resolving to do less, and be happy with it.

Oh, it has been so freeing.

Instead of running around crazy trying to make the house spotless for out of town guests on Thanksgiving, I cleaned the bathroom and tidied the toys. And actually enjoyed the day.

Instead of killing myself knocking the socks off our guests at Peter's birthday party, I focused on the one thing that mattered to my son -- his cake -- and the rest was simple and fun.

Instead of filling our days with must-do's in order to squeeze every last drop of memory-making activity out of this season, I put up a red and green list of can-do's, for whenever we feel like it.

We CAN take fudge to the neighbors, when four out of five people aren't coughing up a lung (as they are right now), but we don't have to.

We CAN decorate our gingerbread cookies with frosting and sprinkles, but you know, they taste pretty good plain.

We CAN make our own garland from the cedar we boughs we cut weeks ago, but it's okay if we end up throwing them back on the brush pile.

We CAN open all the doors in the cool new advent book, but we don't have to do it every morning, or every night. 

We CAN dig through the clothes in the attic to find the baby Christmas jammies, but Susie will look cute no matter what.

We don't have to be slaves to our traditions.

I am so glad God made it clear to me weeks ago that I did not have to accomplish everything on my holiday to-do list. That, in fact, it was better not to. That skipping some opportunities, and even some parties, and not having a litany of Christmas crafts! and holiday cookies! and special outings! we had to abide by, but making room in our days for spontaneity or rest or the sickness that has come for an extended visit, was the way to thankfulness.

I have been so thankful for the small things, for kids being patient on necessary errands, or for a particularly restful nap for Susie, for the way Linnea and Peter played together contentedly when we took Tim to urgent care last week, and for being able to experience the Nutcracker with Linnea for the first time yesterday (which was NO small thing!). Amid the stripped down traditions I am watching our relationships grow by the lights of the Christmas tree, and as I shop for gifts online and make peace with some unmet expectations, even of a healthy family during the holiday season, God has given me thankfulness. He is teaching me to look for Him in Christmas, perhaps more than I ever have before. That perfect love drives out fear. And I am free of my anxiety! I think the lights around here just got brighter.