Christmas Stress

Lindsey's Phone, Fall 2015 203.JPG

When I was growing up, Christmas was by far my favorite time of year.  Decorations came out, music played, it was the only time we ever had candles burning.  My minimalistic mother even had a throw on the couch, and the decor loving domestic seven year old in me just felt all warm inside.  As I have moved on into a life of being the one to make Christmas happen, I have always tried my best to make it as big and as festive as my budget would allow.  We have had big parties, progressive dinners, presents for all the siblings and spouses, and as our children have joined us in life our celebration has shifted to them.  We don’t have big parties as often now, but we love to go on lots of Starbucks dates and drive around looking at lights after dark and build ginger bread houses and cook together and decorate cookies and partake in all forms of sugar.  We fill the kids stockings until they are bursting and we buy as many gifts as we can afford.  We watch all the Christmas movies with mint Oreos and candy canes and I find myself scrubbing my couch for days.  We want Christmas to be fun, the most fun.
But somehow in all that mix, Christmas has become less fun for me.  I am often so busy trying to make it fun for everyone else that I don’t have many moments feel fun.  I enjoy seeing everyone else enjoy it.  I love watching their concentration as they decorate sugar cookies and watching their excitement build on Christmas Eve and listening to them recite the story of Jesus to me.  I enjoy all those moments, but to be honest I enjoy them while I am still hoping for a nap and halfway remembering all the things I need to do and running through the budget in the back of my mind.

I found myself alone the other day, sitting in the dusk living room with a glass of wine, staring at the sparkling tree and the pile of presents next to it.  I couldn’t find a pen so I had stopped making lists for a few minutes.  I wanted to recreate the sentimentality of Christmas, to feel the excited fuzziness that I did when I was a child, to have all the joy and none of the stress.  I guess what I really wanted was a Hollywood Christmas, not the real one.

The real Christmas involved a woman who found out she was pregnant while still unmarried, whose fiancé was suspicious of her purity and didn’t want to marry her at first, who had to travel while nine months pregnant to obey a census law, who had to give birth on a bed of hay and somehow figure out how to cut the cord (I guess…I have no idea how they did these things then, but I imagine it was messy).  The real Christmas story involved Herod issuing a decree to slaughter all the baby boys.  Can you even imagine what it would be like if military officers were breaking into our homes and killing our baby sons?  That is certainly much more stressful than anything in my life.  But in the midst of the all the crazy stress, angels filled the sky on Christmas and they sang a song of hope and peace.

Even though in the story of Christmas there was great turmoil and a birth in a stable and babies being killed, heaven rejoices.  I want to echo what the angels say, I want to look to the hosts of heaven and see what they see.  They saw the joy shining through stronger than the trials.  I want to cling to the joy of the shepherds and the angels, singing because the world was being redeemed, the course of history was changing.  While I work so hard and so tired to make a great celebration and a fun and joyful time for my family, I should not be discouraged that I bear stress.  The angels  said not to look at the stress of the world, but to rejoice, rejoice greatly!  Even if I feel tired and overwhelmed, that’s ok.  I am in the weary world.  It is part of the story, and it always has been.  But heaven is not weary.  Heaven is full of joy, heaven sees the whole picture.  I want to see the whole picture, rejoicing even in the midst of the tired.

 

 

The Rough Places Plain

cathedral(photo)

“What’s the fastest route” he asks me as we quickly come to a stop behind a sea of red brake lights.  I pull out my phone and map all the options.  Every way is red with traffic backed up.  Deep down I must be a small town girl because traffic annoys me more than almost anything.  We settle into a long wait.

“What do you think about the Syrian refugee crisis?” I ask.  We haven’t been on a date in half a year, so discussing politics while sitting in traffic still feels like a luxury.

We inch our way through the clouds of dust coming from the road construction and finally make it downtown.  We pass the beautiful brick cathedral, looking for parking.  People are rushing up the stairs.  Three old ladies in fur trimmed pea coats walk by us quickly, and I wonder how many years they have attended this performance of The Messiah.  Jon pulls the tall wooden door open for me and we crowd into the foyer with all the other late comers.  A lady in a long black skirt and short hair firmly holds her hand over the door of the sanctuary, waiting I think for a pause so she can let us in with minimal disturbance.

I can still hear the soloist through the etched glass doors …

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”

One of my favorite verses.  All the crookedness will be made straight: the crookedness of my own heart, the crookedness of injustice, the crookedness in the hearts of others, the crookedness of cancer, the crookedness of abortion, the crookedness of terrorism.  Sin contorts and makes everything rough and crooked.  But He came to make it straight, to make it smooth, to take away things that are tough and painful, the small hills and the huge mountains.

We sneak around the back of the orchestra and grab some of the last seats.   The church is beautiful, with tall stained glass windows and white pillars trimmed with gold.  The ceiling is painted dark blue and speckled with gold stars, and the majestic wooden organ covers the back wall.

“Is he awake?” Jon whispers, motioning at the percussionist with his white head nodding off to the side.  He does look like he will slide right out of his chair.

The music is crisp and clear, the soloists on point with every note. Jon puts his arm around me.  “Why don’t we go to things like this more often?” he whispers.  “Because you are wearing a hoodie.” I say and we both laugh.  I scoot my chair closer to his and he tries to convince me in a whisper that suits are totally inappropriate for 40 degree weather.

The percussionist comes alive suddenly as his part comes in, and he acts years younger than he looks, bouncing his head to count the notes.

And then the alto…

“Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

I scan the sanctuary of the beautiful church, looking out over hundreds of bored faces.  Some look half asleep, others look intelligently as if analyzing the music.  Did they hear it?  Death is swallowed up…in victory!  Do they know it?  Can they imagine it? Death, the worst enemy, the thing that breaks our hearts, the ultimate separator of love, the most crooked, the most rough of all the places, even death is made straight and plain, demolished in the resurrection.

The gospel sung is a beautiful way to remind yourself of its truth.  It is sweet to live in a story where you know the ending, and you know the end is all things made straight, the ugliest of all enemies is swallowed, engulfed by righteousness.

We file out of the church with the crowd, thanking several of the musicians as we pass.  The night is cold and I grab Jon’s arm as we try to remember where we parked our car.

The song of the chorus still rings through my head.  So many of my friends have felt the sting of death this year, very closely.  And living through the normal parts of life, like Christmas, is so hard when you are in a valley.  My prayer for them in this season is that they would find great hope and comfort and peace as they cling to the promise of valleys being raised, and of crookedness being straightened, and of hardships being healed, and of trumpets calling the righteous to spring up out of their graves, and of every single causation of fatality in the world melting away like a long lost memory.