Last Christmas season I started planning early. I booked family pictures and shopped for coordinating outfits in early October. I set a budget and made a list of all the people I needed to buy gifts for around Halloween. I searched the Internet for recipes, wrapping ideas, and decorations as soon as the calendar flipped to November.
I started shopping and wrapping and shipping. I hand wrote messages on all our family Christmas cards in coordinating glitter ink. I planned and shopped for the Christmas dinner meal. I baked cookies. I delivered cinnamon rolls, a family tradition, to neighbors and friends. I decorated the house and trimmed the tree. I downloaded new Christmas Albums. I scheduled parties and made travel arrangements, the calendar thick with black ink. I attend plays, parties, and open houses.
My lists ran long and I hustled to check off each box before moving on to the next.
I had it all together. I had it all figured out. To have a great Christmas, I thought, I must go, and do, and plan. There would be time to relax later. Time to really celebrate once everything was done.
I was so very, very wrong.
Three days after Christmas I found myself lying in a hospital bed. In the dark of the early morning, I awoke with pain in my left neck and shoulder. I couldn’t stand and I could barely take a breath. I believed I was having a heart attack. It turned out I had a Pulmonary Embolism.
I was moved by ambulance to a larger hospital. Because I was placed in a special care unit, my daughters, ages 5 and 9, were unable to visit me. I left them standing next to my Husband as I was whisked back into the ER. I didn’t get to hug them or kiss them. I didn’t get to tell them I loved them or even say good-bye.
As I laid in the hospital bed, alone, I thought about how we have no guarantee of our time. I wondered why I wasted so much of it on things that didn’t matter? What if this was my last Christmas with my girls? What would they remember? Would they remember the coordinating gift-wrap and perfectly placed bows? The meticulously made meal and trimmed tree? Or would they remember a holiday where their Mom was so set on getting it right, she got wrong what mattered the very most?
Them. Their Daddy. Jesus Christ.
I cried at the thought. The pain I was feeling from my embolism was bearable but the pain from the realization that I may had left my girls with the wrong idea of what this Season was all about, was excruciating.
You may have never had a PE or found yourself lying in a hospital bed but you know the same pain, don’t you?
The one that whispers quietly at the first, as you set out with good intentions and hope, that this year will be different. You tell yourself you won’t get caught up in the bargains and buying and beautiful bows. You will slow down. You will say no. You will hug longer and hold tighter. You will read an advent devotional and spend time being instead of doing.
But soon you’re back to your old ways. I know because I’ve been there too. You try to ignore it, the pain as it screams. But you put your hands over your ears, and push forward, checking boxes and filling time.
Before you know it, you are standing in the church, head bowed. The choir is singing Silent Night. As you stand there surrounded by candlelight, you are reminded once again of why we celebrate. You promise to do it right next year and in the year to come.
Please don’t wait. Make this year different. We get no guarantee of time. Next year may never come. Start now, today, even if you are reading this on December 24th. It is not too late.
I’ve written a Christmas Manifesto to keep us on track this year. It’s hanging in my kitchen, where I can see it every day. Reminding me to focus on what really matters. Print your copy and join me in getting right what matters most this season.
A Christmas Manifesto
This Christmas season I will not waste time on things that do not matter.
This season I won’t run and rush in an attempt to check off boxes.
This season I will snuggle with family on the couch while watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street, and Elf and Home Alone. I will not multi-task. I will be present and laugh loudly with them.
This season I won’t color coordinate Christmas cards. Instead, I will write words of gratitude.
This season I won’t recite a list of to-dos but recite God’s grace.
This season I will embrace presence over perfection.
This season I will sit near the tree, lights twinkling, head bowed, quiet and still and remember the real reason for the season.
This season I won’t worry about anything but love and hope and joy.
I won’t over schedule and plan everything out, marking the calendar black with have-tos, and should-dos. Instead, I will leave white space and room for want-tos and get-tos.
This season I will stop and take notice. I will celebrate in the little, the ordinary, the mundane.
This Christmas season I won’t wander the mall looking to find the perfect gift because I’ve already found it: a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).
As it turns out, to have a great Christmas, Jesus is all we need.