I suck at Christmas. Most people wouldn’t believe that, but I do. I love Jesus, and the simple story of how he was born in a manger to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. But I wish we could celebrate his birth every year without any of the ridiculous hoopla that is now called Christmas.
My favorite Christmas decoration is a ceramic Jesus in a worn manger we’ve always placed on the hearth. Jesus is chipped, missing the ends of a few fingers and is wearing a loincloth Stephanie made Him when she was a little girl. The children were always allowed to play with Jesus and the manger, so they are a little beat up. I wanted my kids to know Jesus like I do; most likely very approachable, extremely kind, and someone who adored children. “Of course you may play with Jesus,” I’d tell them.
Each year as I unpack the 30+ boxes of Christmas decorations, somewhere in the neighborhood of Thanksgiving weekend, I can feel the familiar panic already starting to set in. I’m trying to find Jesus in all this, thinking, “Where is He…where did I pack Him last year?" If I find Jesus and put him on the hearth, I think I’ll be ok. He’ll be a blatant reminder of why I’m doing all this.
There was one year, 2008, with Jesus’ birthday quickly approaching I knew I was going to have to lead my family away from our traditional Christmas, and Skip Christmas completely. Could I do it? Would I be allowed? What would my family and others say? What would Jesus think? I had to close myself in a dark, quiet room to drown out all the “noise,” so I could hear Him.
I’ve decided spending 12 glorious, uninterrupted, carefree vacation days in the company of my husband and children was the holiest thing we’ve ever done. If home is where your heart is, I was home cruising the blue-green seas of the Caribbean, snorkeling, sailing, swimming, sleeping, reading, listening, resting, sunning, and basking in the 24 hour attention of my family. We immediately opened the doors to our adjoining rooms, and shared long, luxurious meals that were prepared, served and cleaned up after by others.
Those 12 days did not come cheap. Christmas doesn’t either, so we had to choose one or the other. We are blessed to have families who love us unconditionally & who wished us all a wonderful trip, possibly having broken hearts and hurt feelings. That’s love though. Our families knew I needed those 12 days of vacation, and to Skip Christmas to survive.
It had been a long haul for me trying to help care for my ailing Dad. After we lost him, I gained many new responsibilities, so many of which I had no understanding. Thankfully, I got a lot of help from my dear Godfather, one of my Dad’s best friends, Tony Pierno, an attorney in private practice.
Towards the end of 2008, I knew I needed to get in a quiet place and listen for a special voice who would give me some direction. What I heard was that I was going to heal. I heard I needed to stop and allow myself to feel. I heard I needed to say the words out loud that my heart was broken and I missed my Dad, who was also one of my best friends. I needed to say the words I can’t do everything, all the time, for everyone. I needed to say I was exhausted, drained, stressed beyond my breaking point and I can’t do Christmas this year. Those are not easy things for me. I am half Merrill, half Joan. Complain? Wimp out? Me? It’s not what we do!
While I was raising my children, taking care of my husband, our home, various jobs, a sick Dad, and a variety of other tasks, I was always going at 100 mph and rarely ever sleeping. Why then, was I in my quiet place, sobbing, thinking I was a complete loser because I couldn’t face a simple go-round with Christmas?
If that were someone else, I’d probably cry for them. I’d tell them to Skip Christmas and have a wonderful, relaxing vacation, they’d earned it. It took me longer to be kinder to myself and to hear His comforting words. He was offering to carry me again, and I was fighting it, always wanting to drag myself farther. I’m honestly like a 3 year old that screams, “No! Me do!”
Thank you God, my forever Abba Patare for your unending patience with me. I always want to be in control. Thank you for helping me understand how the celebration of your birth lives within my heart wherever I go. I’m still learning to let go and let you lead. I’m 48, but still just your child.