The last year we had photos made for Christmas cards was 2011. We look happy. Casual. Coordinating but not too matchy. You might even think we seem like the kind of family it would be fun to go grab dinner with when our photo shoot ended…….
But that day was awful. The younger two children were not in the mood for pictures, neither was the husband. I fussed around all morning at my family and then had hurt feelings and tears by the end of the ordeal. We were cramming family pictures into an already busy weekend in the busiest month of the year. The only reason those photos are were good is the talent of my sweet friend and family photographer, Kelly.
Among the painful lessons I have learned throughout my years of motherhood and wifery, “How to Ruin Christmas” ranks as one of the worst. Probably because it is one of my favorite times of year, I always placed such high expectations on myself to create magical moments while simultaneously feeling joyful, peaceful and delighted. Shockingly, I somehow managed instead to feel disappointed, irritated and stressed. It took me awhile to catch on, but after one too many “family picture fiascos” I began to realize my dreams of cozy moments and perfect memories were being thwarted by my pressure to create them.
It turns out you can’t script which moments in life become treasured memories. They do not follow a Pinterest plan. They often elude all the careful planning and coordinating. Rather, they seem to emerge when simply given time and space with minimal expectation. Some of the best times with my kids came when I carved out space for family time, but allowed them to help plan what we filled it with. The very worst times were when I had a rigid picture of not only how an idea would look, but also how everyone would feel in the midst of it. Times when I not only wanted things to look perfect, but everyone to share a specific emotional response, that I had decided ahead of time would fit my mental picture. The truth is kids are sometimes cranky, whiny, tired and unenthused. People run late, husbands get sick, cocoa spills in the van while light looking, dogs throw up on the christmas tree skirt, baby Jesus gets dropped out of the manger and breaks an outstretched arm (true story), dinners burn in the oven and children refuse to sing in the kids choir on the night of the performance. It’s still normal life, even though it’s Christmas.
Do you know what Emmanuel means? God with us. That’s what makes Christmas miraculous. God came down to be with us, in the midst of our normal and often messy lives. You want to know how to really enjoy Christmas? Be with your family. Fully present. Let go of the lists of ideas and projects and just be with them. Celebrate a God who came down to us. Tell them of a Savior who loves them just as they are. And while you’re at it, tell yourself.