Christmas joy has eluded me this season.
This has been the busiest December we have ever had as a family. One week we had 6 Christmas programs for our kids alone (school and church). The following week we had 6 Christmas parties to attend. We sprinkled in things like a birthday party and a couple of extra school activities. Not to mention all of the usual schedules to keep, groceries to buy, meals to make, and laundry to clean (folding is a different story).
I got swept up in all of the arriving early, finding parking, saving seats, worrying about my child's performance, remembering to take gifts and food everywhere, wearing my same old clothes to all the shindigs, and never having downtime with my family.
I'm a homebody by nature (thanks, Dad), so this December schedule just about did me in. I just needed to spend some time at home besides sleeping and bathing. I took a hard look at our calendar but didn't find anything I could eliminate. I knew that if I couldn't change my circumstances then I'd have to change my attitude. But I couldn't figure out how to do that.
I heard/read at least three devotionals about focusing on the true meaning of Christmas rather than getting caught up in the to-do's. They did nothing for me. I prayed. I talked to Jared. I asked a friend to pray for me. But I still found myself singing "Where are you Christmas?" rather than "peace on earth, goodwill to men."
Then I gathered all that exhaustion, frustration, and bitterness and I frosted it with some guilt. I should know better. I understand that Christmas is all about Jesus, so I should be spreading Christmas cheer to everyone I bump into. I should be a shining light in a dark world. I should handle every responsibility with poise and grace. I should already be filled with peace and joy, but instead I was barely running on fumes.
With just six days left until Christmas, somehow Christmas joy found me last night. It wasn't a sudden turning point. It was more like something slowly rising up from my toes until it eventually reached my head and spread a smile across my face.
When Nolan came home from school, he brought home a collection of papers he had written at school. They were all persuasive letters. He wrote his principal three letters, and the principal actually wrote him back. Nolan also wrote letters to me and Jared telling us why we should let him get a snake, chameleon, or iguana. The letters made me giggle uncontrollably. I think that's what sparked the joy down in my toes.
Then after dinner, Nora and I delivered Christmas gifts to our two little friends who happen to be fabulous gift receivers. I found myself literally squealing in delight as I watched these two kids enjoying the gifts I bought them. I felt the joy rising higher.
Jared had taken the boys to a roller skating party for church. While they were there, Jared sent me a text that said, "Direct quote from Griffin: 'This looked so much easier on Curious George!'" I cracked up! The joy crept up more.
Nora and I went to Hobby Lobby to pick up two quick things while Jared and the boys were gone. I have decided that running casual errands with just Nora is one of my favorite pastimes. She is so carefree. She cracks me up in unexpected ways. I love talking to her as we walk through a store. When we left the store, we walked hand in hand through the parking lot. Nora jumped over every crack in the pavement (there were lots) and sang a song with lyrics something like "Don't be a cracker" every time she hopped over a crack. That was the moment that I really felt the joy rising over the muscles in my upper back where stress makes me tense. I realized that I felt happy. I told Nora I loved her, and another giggle leaked out.
The rest of my night was spent on my feet in the kitchen. I had to make caramel apple pies in jars for Jared's dad and grandma (for their Christmas gifts). The whole process takes a solid two hours (or more). It's a bit exhausting at the end of the day, but I tried to enjoy it as much as possible. I used my phone to stream Christmas music from our local Christian radio station. I had heard all the songs already this season, but somehow the combination of spending time baking, working on gifts, and humming along created a perfect path for that joy to find its way to my face.
With the kids nestled in bed and Jared at the grocery store gathering supplies for all of this weekend's festivities, I had enough personal space and quiet time to find a little hope, an appreciation for traditions, and a sense of accomplishment.
And the joy finally found me.