Remember that time a few years ago when I was asked to speak at a women’s Christmas banquet? And the preparation for that speaking engagement lead me to write this little series on celebrating Christ? And I meant every word. Then. Hope I still do. But if I am completely honest, I struggle more with perfectionism and performance than I enjoy peace on earth reigning in my heart…
Like the incident at the Christmas tree farm on Tuesday night, or more accurately, the soul aneurysm I had AFTER we returned home. Been thinking that I should probably write about it because you know that confession is good for the soul. But then the sadness and shame of it got to me and I lost my nerve. And then I read this from my homie and internet BFF, Flower Patch Farmgirl. As usual, homegirl speaks to my heart, moves my soul and makes me brave. So I figure, what’s a little humiliation among friends, right? And she happened to include an invitation to share our own Christmas cheer in a link-up on her blog. And what could be more cheerful at Christmas than a soul wrenching confession on the state of my sinful heart?
So, it goes a little something like this…
After spending a day of daddy scaling great heights on a ladder to install Christmas lights and mama on her hands and knees chasing dust bunnies in an attempt to prepare a place for this year’s tree, we loaded up the family and headed to the local Christmas tree farm. It was business as usual. A regular old Normal Rockwell evening. Emmylou and Eliza running and hiding in the rows of trees. Emmylou picking out the perfect tree, all by herself. Again. A ride on a trailer of hay bales pulled by a tractor to see all the sights of the farm, you know, lots of trees. Then into the store to warm up with some hot apple cider and pay for the “O Tannenbaum.”
I was doing my best to play it cool and let the evening unfold naturally before me and my camera instead of trying to create some picture perfect moments to capture. So much so that I resisted the urge to ask a professional photographer/acquaintance to take our family’s picture after we passed her family getting off the hay ride. Just live your moment. And let her have hers. Stick with the original plan to pile everybody on the ground, camera included, and use the remote control to take a group picture ourselves. You can do this.
Before heading back out into the rows of trees for the family shot, the girls were playing on the various “photo op” displays. Santa’s sleigh and house & a group of wooden trees with holes for sticking little heads through. And, of course, I’m standing nearby with my big girl camera in my hand. I had already taken a quick picture of them on the sleigh when a sweet family pulled up to the tree farm. A precious little girl bolted out of the car and made a beeline for Santa’s sleigh where my girls were still playing. She was so fast that it was a few moments before her mama and daddy walked up near the sleigh. I watch the three girls smiling and hear them laughing not quite close enough to hear exactly what is being said. But later Emmylou told me how cute she was and the funny things she was saying. The dad sees my camera and kindly tells his little one to come down out of the sleigh because he thinks I am trying to take pictures of my girls. I smile and say that she is not interrupting anything. And then they head off in search of their family’s tree.
The sweet family is forgotten while I search for a premier location to set up our “quick” family picture. That is, until I see them heading way out, saw in hand, to the teeny tiny trees. You know, the ones that need a few more years before they are big enough to be worthy of decorating. If they were a fish, you would throw them back and give them time to grow or perhaps use them as bait to catch “the big one.” But then, back to the task at hand. It only took two tries to successfully take our own photo – the first being blurry because the way I positioned the camera caused it to focus on the trees behind us.
Tree – check. Photos – check. Family fun – check. Yet another successful trip to the Christmas tree farm in the books.
And then we got home. And Steven cut the net off of the tree and her limbs plopped out like some plus-sized princess in a ball gown waltzing her way into our home and taking up most of our living room. And I slipped in to panic mode. While trying to talk myself off the ledge concerning the girth of our great tree, I began to upload the photos from the evening onto my computer. I was less than pleased at our attempt at a family self-portrait & commenced to berate myself for not asking the photographer friend to take our picture. And I felt the Pinterest perfectionism begin to pierce my petrified heart. And with each stab, I allowed a little more joy to leak out.
And I lost sleep over it. For reals. I spent an entire night fretting over the tree that is too perfect, too plump and too pretty and the picture that could have been taken by a professional.
Then comes the morning. And with it new mercies. And these words from one of my favorite Advent devotionals, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp, “I will not be driven by perfectionism or performance – because I was formed by Love, for Love. I will simply enjoy the Ministry of Presence today: God’s presence, people’s presence, the present moment, the gift of now. The greatest gift that I can give back to our great God is to let His love make me glad.” (On a side note: we love to read the children’s version to the girls each evening during Advent – Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas).
Along with Ann’s words came a gentle remembrance from the Spirit. The precious little family that I was too preoccupied to allow our presence together there in that place to be an opportunity to share some of the Love for which I was created. What a few moments of my time and possibly a few dollars from my pocket might have meant to them in this season of giving. And it saddens me that I spend each morning asking the Father to help me be mindful of others and how I might be a blessing and then when the moment is upon me, I completely miss it in midst of my self-absorption.
And what if it were Jesus? And it is. “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'” (Matthew 25:40).
And I praise Him that He made the journey from the cradle to the cross into the crevices of my crooked heart. As Luther states, sin is the heart curved in upon itself. And I’ve got that in spades. Thankfully – “Our weakness is a vessel for His power and our flaws a canvas for His grace” (SHE READS TRUTH).
Then a little later that day, a friend posts a reminder about a Department of Human Services program called “Home for the Holidays.” The gist of the program is that you allow a child or children that have been removed from their homes and are staying in an emergency shelter to spend the Christmas holiday with you and your family in your home. And while there are many things to consider before making such an amazing commitment, I am ashamed to say that the first thing that came to my mind was wondering how I could possibly pull off the picture perfect Christmas morning with broken strangers in our home.
And what if it were Jesus? And it is. “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'” (Matthew 25:45).
Even while I am sickened by my selfishness, I know that this is why the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. That I might be saved from myself through the power of the gospel and become a part of God’s eternal purpose to reconcile and renew all things to Himself in Christ Jesus.
And knowing & believing that, am I really willing to miss ministering to Jesus while experiencing the real meaning of Christmas for the sake of a Pinterest worthy photo? Both at the tree farm and in my home.
And I simply don’t know what to do with the depth of that depravity. Except this…
“How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with. He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is.
Some of us are religiously jumpy and self-conscious because we know that God sees our every thought and is acquainted with all our ways. We need not be. God is the sum of all patience and the essence of kindly good will. We please Him most, not by frantically trying to make ourselves good, but by throwing ourselves into His arms with all our imperfections, and believing that He understands everything and loves us still” (A.W. Tozer).
And I pray, as the girls say every night before blowing out the Advent candles, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”