Last year my friend bought me a copy of Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. It is the most beautiful book that thoughtfully guides you through Advent with stories, questions and glorious illustrations.
I was so excited to spend time with my daughter Autumn and make our way through it this December.
I love it. She loves it.
But last week for three nights in a row we just didn’t manage to read it.
One night I was sick.
One night I was out.
One night I was brain dead and read Father Christmas Needs a Wee, instead.
(insert sad emoticon. The one with the streaming tears)
And then I sent Noah to nursery with his pyjama bottoms on under his trousers. I don’t even know how it happened.
All the mums from Autumn’s class chipped in to buy the teacher a decent present. A brilliant idea! But I forgot to give my tenner in.
I’ve had lots of ideas for Christmas crafts and art and baking. But it seems The Grinch is always on and that’s just easier.
Our tree stands tall and twinkly in the front room. And next to it is a pile of washing so big I keep closing the blinds so no one will see it as they walk past our house.
I went to Noah’s little nursery Christmas Sing-along and it was so sweet. He was dressed up as a reindeer standing at the back and he knew all the words. But then I left my handbag behind. It was full of vouchers that I haven’t even had chance to spend yet.
On Thursday I did five school runs. Coats on, boots on, gloves on, buggy out, rain cover on, heating off, tree lights off – five times. By trip number five little Poppy had this look on her face that said ‘you gotta be kidding me, Mummy’
Yesterday morning, Poppy fell off Autumn’s bed. There was crying and panic and much reassuring. Autumn and I argued about who was at fault. ‘It was mine!’ she declared. ‘No!’ I said, ‘it was mine, it was totally Mummy’s fault!’
My husband just rolled his eyes and went back to bed.
I’ve swapped the Mulled Wine for Lemsip because my throat is busted. Forget the presents and just pass me the Paracetamol, people. I forgot how Winter means there is always one child taking the bright yellow ‘banana flavour’ medicine. My dressing gown is covered in the stuff- a testament to the incessant infections experienced in our house.
I read lots about simple and slow at Christmas time and I whole heartedly agree. I am wired to notice and engage, constantly searching for significance amongst the crazy of this season that seems to start in October. Slow is good. Simple is good.
But I also feel swept up in rush with teeming school calendars and appointments and to-do lists. I am overwhelmed with sickness and tiredness. The pace just seems to be relentless. I can’t quite work out how to do simple and slow this year.
Is it just me or does everyone feel like hibernating? Most evenings, I’m ready for bed by about 7.45pm (except of course when Homeland or The Apprentice is on, in which case I will still be in bed- but with the lap top and a massive bag of crisps.)
I run this Parentalk group in our home on a Monday night. Six mums meet for cups of tea and mini Chocolate Yules and we bash through how the heck we can be better mums and share tips for staying sane and discuss discipline and good communication and we listen to helpful talks on a DVD.
Without fail there are three words uttered by each of us every single week.
IT’S REALLY HARD.
It’s just really hard to be excited all the time and listen to everyone all the time and stay on top of everything and remember everything and try harder at everything and not completely lose it. The truth is we are all just totally working it out as we go and we feel like most people seem to have a better handle on things than we do.
Furthermore – when the motherhood season and the festive season combine, the majority of us are not walking in a winter wonderland. No, we are walking in Abbeycentre AGAIN, our clothes tinged with the bright yellow medicine, staring straight ahead like complete nutjobs, just praying someone finds our handbag.
How can a mum of three little people experience the peace of Christ at Christmas?
Well, how did Mary, having just given birth in a barn, experience the peace of Christ? Delirious and enthralled by her new miracle baby, yes of course – but also bewildered, exhausted, cold and uncomfortable. Proud and incredulous as the shepherds shared words about her child, a Saviour to the world, the Messiah! But also, she was a new mum which meant she was so sore and unsure and nervous.
And yet God’s peace and joy filled her heart because her heart belonged to God.
And if He has your heart then you have His presence.
It’s with you, it’s all around you, it’s on you and in you.
Listen, of course I will find moments to be still and dial down the crazy this Christmas. I will make good choices and say no to some stuff in order to retreat and remember and be thankful.
But mostly Christmas will be loud and busy and untidy. There will be tears and fights, tired bones and dark circles and paracetamol.
And I can still experience the peace of Christ.
Because, just like all year round, I carry the presence of God into every room. My heart belongs to Him and so every situation is filled with His Spirit. He walks with me right into the mess. It’s a lie that says God only comes in the quiet, in the calm, in the tidy and organised. Because that very Christmas night God came in a stable and it was far cry from serene and perfect.
My faith is being lived out in the frazzle because that’s what life looks like right now and God hates when I pretend otherwise and do life without Him.
Brushing my teeth this morning I was a little on edge, frustrated as the kids ran rings around me, annoyed that advent is just whizzing past, clinging onto dates I cant remember and cards I forgot to post.
And that’s when I heard it. During the most ordinary and routine part of my morning I heard these words, spoken right into my innermost being:
‘I’m here. You’re not missing me.
I know you love the quiet. I know you love the simple.
And I know you love your kids and they are excited and loud and taking just about everything you’ve got right now and that’s okay.
You’re not missing me, Tory.
Grace and peace are my gifts to you this Christmas.
Grace and peace are yours in every circumstance.
Carry my presence. Lean into my peace. Keep listening for me.
I have your heart. You have my presence.
I am with you.’