When Christmas is Said and Done

I hope that you had the merriest of Christmases!  We visited family on both sides, exchanged gifts, ate significantly more than we ought to have eaten, and had a beautiful day.  By evening, everyone was exhausted.  (I'd blame this on my oldest daughter who set her alarm for 5 A.M. to make sure we started Christmas on time, but that wouldn't be the whole truth.  Perhaps 93% of the truth, but not the whole truth.  Christmas is tiring, no matter how you slice it.)

A lot of emotion goes into Christmas each year.  Everyone has expectations, whether for an anticipated gift, or how others will receive a gift, or how the meal will turn out, or how extended family will get along. For some, this Christmas might be the first one they've spent without a loved one, and their ache is as deep as others' cheer.  Some will have put intense energy into planning and preparation, only to feel empty by how quickly the torn wrapping paper was gathered and thrown away.  Kids are strung out on sugar and glazed over with anticipation -- and often more prone to melting down.

It can be an absolutely beautiful time, but it's also a lot to process.

That's why I like to pull back each Christmas season to be quiet and reflect.  Sometimes we make the holidays more complicated than they need to be.  At Christmas Eve service, my pastor said, "Remember, there's nothing that you can do to make Jesus love you more or less.  His love for you isn't based on your performance; it's based on His nature."

I know this in my core, yet I need to hear it spoken sometimes.  When I'm good, my goodness doesn't earn me God's favor.  When I'm selfish and bristly and cranky (say, like when I get woken at 5 A.M.), my bad behavior doesn't undo God's unconditional acceptance of me.  My right-standing with God is because of Jesus, plain and simple.

That's what we celebrate Christmas.  Emmanuel, God with us, came to earth to make us right with Him.

So, now that Christmas officially has passed, we'll assimilate the new gifts into our homes, take down our trees, unstring the lights, stow away the wrapping paper, say goodbye to family until the next time we gather, return the sweater that didn't fit, and detox from our Christmas diets as we head into the new year.  We'll do all of it, like we do each year, because another Christmas is said and done.

But the reason why we celebrate in the first place?

Hark the herald angels sing, "Glory to the newborn King!"
Peace on earth and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled

Yes, even though the day passes, the reason that we celebrate lives on.  Even if you've had a Christmas that fell short of some expectation, we can take comfort.  The reason for Christmas -- God himself, whose love is unconditional -- never disappoints.


You Know You Live in a Small Town When.... (A Story of a Lost Dog)

A family in our town recently lost their dog.  I know this not only because dozens of bright green signs were tacked onto telephone polls and hung at highly-trafficked intersections, but also because local friends forwarded Facebook posts that alerted residents to be on the lookout.  Even our local paper covered the story.

This dog was being sought hard.  

When I was checking out at Wal-Mart yesterday, the cashier who rang up my order began to chat.  "Did you hear the good news yet?"  Unsure of what she was referencing, I shook my head no.  "That missing dog.  He was found!"

After being lost for 14 days, the prodigal dog has returned -- right in time for Christmas, nonetheless.  And our whole town, from Wal-Mart cashiers and beyond, rejoices.


Let's Chat: End of Fall Semester Edition

Friends, it's legitimate.  I recently submitted final grades for the semester and now it's officially break from classes.  You know what this means, right?  It's time for a fireside chat!

Except I don't have a fireplace, so this picture will have to suffice.  And we're not in the same physical location, so our "chat" will be rather unilateral.  But if we were sitting together by a fireplace, I'd hand you a mug of steaming hut cocoa or coffee (your choice), and we'd let the conversation naturally meander, like good conversations should.

Passing Time.  Let me be the millionth person who recently has said this: Time is passing quickly.  About two weeks ago I wrote a post about cutting the grass for the final time, then the semester pulled me into an alternative universe so I haven't written here for a while, and then -- just yesterday, in fact -- my children had a two-hour delay due to the first snowfall.  Somehow, in the time it took me to blink, December not only has arrived, but has reached its halfway point.  We're on warp speed.

Keeping Perspective When You're Worn Down.  I always feel a little crunched, a little off-kilter, and a little on-edge during the final weeks of the semester.  So many decisions must be made.  I check email more cautiously than normal, wondering if there's going to be a message with a vague, yet telling, subject line like "Question," from a student who's on the cusp between grades and arguing for the higher.

My nerves tend to be unfounded, as these issues always work themselves out.  Moreover, I did some quick calculation based on the number of students I teach and the number of students who contacted me with an end-of-semester crisis, which only turned out to be 3%.  In other words, the semester ended smoothly, daresay easily, with 97% of the students I taught.  (It's important for me to remember this when the 3% seems noisy and threatens to occupy 100% of my thoughts.  We never need to give something so small that much mental space, even it it clamors for it.)

I taught delightful classes this semester, too.  When I'm in a classroom, I'm alive, and this makes me realize that I'm doing what I ought to be doing.

Christmas Cards.  Oh man.  Every year I realize that people send Christmas cards, and every year I think, "Robin, you should be one of those people," and every year I also realize, "But, I don't want to be one of those people, because those people clearly are adults and I'm not functioning on that same level."  Why this simple task of goodwill and cheer challenges all my resources each year, I'm not sure, but it's the hardest hurdle for me to scale.

Am I alone with this?  Do any of you struggle with sending Christmas cards?  It's my holiday Achilles heel.

You'll Love Me for This.  Do you have a Trader Joe's where you live?  If so, have you tried their English Toffee?  It's only sold during the Christmas season, which is good, because if it were available year round I'd have a problem.  It's glorious!  It's addictive!  It's unsurprisingly chock-full of calories and fat, but if you ignore that part and feign illiteracy when you see the nutrition label, you'll find that you can be an overachiever and eat much more than the recommended serving size.  Try some.  It's worth it.

On Counting Down.  With ten more days to Christmas, there's still much to do.  Over break I need to prepare next semester's courses and complete writing for work, and of course, there's still Christmas shopping ahead.  But mostly, I want to catch my breath.  I want to have evenings when I sit in our family room by the glow of the Christmas tree and soak in these moments -- the handmade Popsicle-stick ornaments on our tree, the feel of my younger girls' heads leaning on my shoulder as we snuggle under a blanket on the couch and read books together with Nat King Cole singing in the background.

I want to slow down my pace so the next ten days aren't on warp speed, so I feel them passing, so I can consciously reflect on the miracles of this season.

And, friends, that's what I wish for you during these days, too.  Thank you for the gift of being a reader here!  (And seriously, get some English Toffee.  You'll thank me later.)

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