The new year came quickly and I wasn’t ready, like a friend called suddenly to say they’d be over in five minutes and I still had yet to shower. This isn’t a good time, I wanted to say. Can’t you give me another week or two? The answer was of course, No. I’m already on my way.
And now the new year is here and I’m tired. The past several weeks took a lot out of me–how about you? Christmastime is the season of peace and joy, but as we entered into it, both eluded me at first, and I tried hard to construct the illusion of joy for our kids, because I didn’t want them to miss Christmas just because I was feeling funky, you know? The further into the season we got, though, I realized that joy doesn’t suddenly show up when the Christmas lights begin to cast a magic spell over the neighborhood. It isn’t a decoration to dig out and put on display for a few weeks, only to be tucked away again for the rest of the year. It’s not a knickknack to or an ornament or a garland or a star–because joy isn’t an exterior embellishment. Joy lives underneath it all, swirls around it and flows out from beneath those things, like caramel. Real joy pours out of a heart deeply moved by and secure in the love of God.
Two weeks ago, I lost sight of all this again. It was already the middle of December and Christmas was only 11 days away and we had only just started ticking things off our long list the day before. I spent that day running, quite literally, from sun up until sun down, showing up with a smile and spreading myself too thin in the process, perhaps. I forgot to set my alarm that morning, which means I didn’t take a shower before slipping on yesterday’s jeans, throwing my hair in a bun and running from one thing to the next. I pushed and ran and hurried and kept smiling, singing Christmas songs at the top of my lungs while I zigzagged across town with Emery in tow, both of us hungry and on the verge of grumpy.
Of course, in my rush to get out the door that morning I forgot to feed myself. I had snacks for Emery at least, but graham crackers and apple squeezers get tiresome, I imagine, especially when all the other kids are eating pizza and cookies and cake. After wrangling the poor kid away from all those allergens, I realized I’d need to feed him somehow before we headed over to Addie’s party later that afternoon. And so, I ushered us over to Costco because I could both squeeze in an errand and get him a hot dog. When we pulled into the parking lot, I gave my mom a quick call and launched question after Christmas question to her, trying to figure out details and make the words from my mouth catch up with the words in my brain, until I had to stop mid sentence to say, “Hang on. I have to lick frosting off of my purse.” My mom laughed, and it woke me up, I think. It broke the tension inside and helped me remember that sometimes, the right thing to do is to slow down long enough to taste the sweetness of the what surrounds me.
Boy, was that day a mess. And gracious me, how sweet it was too. Back to back Christmas parties with our girls, the freedom to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the permission (and encouragement!) to bring Emery along with me, the warm beds waiting at the end of the day, and just-as-worn-out-faces of friends who had to pull double duty that day too. Walking this harried road is a whole lot less lonely when there are people walking with me, because they are a safe place to be honest about how I have to choose joy because it doesn’t always show up on its own. More often than not, I live in a state of panic, afraid that my strained efforts at nurturing joyful kids will return void. I am afraid I am failing.
The choice I had to make in the middle of that messy, tiring day was whether or not I would let the joy spill out in the middle of the mess. Would I focus only on the imperfect world around me and keep my joy locked away, hidden because I was tired? Or would I let it free to leap out of my heart, wild and beautiful and ready to be shared? I chose joy, I’m happy to say, and what’s even better? Peace came too. The two settled in with us and beckoned us to play with them for the rest of the Christmas season, and so we played outside on a cold, icy morning.
We made popcorn and gingerbread houses and played Ring Around the Rosie in Sausalito and ate fancy Macaroons at Miette.
We baked Spritz cookies first thing on Christmas Eve morning–a last minute decision that was beautiful, delicious, and totally worth the mess.
We crammed family around our tiny kitchen table for leftovers and pie.
We shaped pizza dough into a snowman, a candy cane, a Christmas tree, and a star to celebrate the star of this whole show–Jesus.
On Christmas morning, we ate a store bought breakfast off of dollar store plates so we could get to church without fussing in the kitchen first thing in the morning.
And we spent the day ripping open presents that remind us of the greatest gift that’s ever been given.
The joy and peace we sing about all season long–it came, it lingered, and I pray it stays. There was rush and there was scurry, along with doubt and disappointment, but there was also stay and play, rest and enjoy. Immerse yourself in joy, the season seemed to whisper, because that’s what it’s all about. Isn’t that what the Angel said, all those years ago when Christmas first began? “Don’t be afraid!” he said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people”(Luke 2:10). I was afraid, but then I found joy. Not feigned or forced–but real, true joy.
Christmas isn’t about constructing the illusion of joy. It’s not about spreading ourselves thin chasing a fantasy of what we think Christmas should be, sacrificing the reality of what we have at home in the process. Shielding the kids from disappointment or pushing them to smile just one more time so we can get a flawless picture is nonsense. Joy glories in the messes of life, after all.
Sometimes the message of great joy is wrapped up in messy buns and rumpled jeans. Sometimes joy bursts out, bright and shiny by licking frosting off your purse instead of freaking out over an empty sleeve of wipes. Sometimes it’s making a double batch of kettle corn and watching a gaggle of kids break into song, dancing and proclaiming the glory of the baby king. Sometimes, choosing joy looks like disappointment at first, like saying no to a fancy night out and staying home, pajama-clad and tenderly rocking a feverish child to sleep instead. Saying no to fear, to the sense that all is not well within me, and instead saying yes to the idea that joy is mine when I accept the gift of Christmas–the gift of Jesus–that’s when joy starts to leak out.
Joy is always best put on display when the story of the Christ child that dwells inside of a heart tender to Him swells and spills over out into the world He came for.
Joey and I host House Church in our home this year, and our little group has more food allergies than its fair share (but at least misery loves company, right?). We made a batch of Joey’s kettle corn one Sunday because everyone could eat it–and happily, everyone did. Our group can go through two batches of the stuff and still wish there was more around, but when it’s just Joey and I, a single batch suffices. He came up with this method years ago and it’s still one of our favorites. You can use coconut oil instead of canola oil–just warm it a bit before pouring it into your measuring cup. Joey prefers to use canola because it’s easy, so that’s what I’ve written here. Also, if you don’t have a Whirley-Pop, I don’t know how to help you, except to say that we love our funky red one and have been using it every single week since we got married, so it’s worth a small investment to get one if you really love making popcorn at home. House Church Family, this one’s for you. We wish you a merry Christmas (and a happy new year!)
- 1/2 cup popcorn kernels (we like Trader Joe’s organic popping corn best)
- 2 T canola oil
- granulated sugar (a little more than 1 Tablespoon)
- kosher salt, to taste
First, get your equipment ready. Put a Whirley-Pop on the stove–lid open please–and make sure you have a big bowl close by. Next, measure 1/2 cup popcorn kernels and set aside. Then, measure 2 Tablespoons of canola oil in an angled liquid measuring cup (like this one from Oxo, which I have and love) and spoon granulated sugar into the same measuring cup until the oil reaches the 3 Tablespoon mark. At that point, stir the oil and sugar together, mixing it up into a slurry.
Next, turn the stove onto high heat and pour the oil/sugar mixture into the bottom of the pan, followed by the unpopped popcorn kernels. Close the lid, and wind the handle, spinning it round and round so the sugar and kernels don’t burn. Keep winding the handle, and have patience. Before long, the kernels will begin to pop–keep winding the handle until the popping slows down and you can count two or three seconds between pops.
Pour the hot popped corn into a large bowl and promptly sprinkle with salt. Fiddle around with it a bit–sprinkle some on, toss, and taste. If it’s not salty enough for you, sprinkle a little more on, toss and taste, and so forth until you reach popcorn perfection.