On the heels of every Thanksgiving, Christmas season expectations peer at me from around the corner of November like a small army, eager for battle. As if on cue, after the piles of Halloween candy have been consumed and the leaves have begun to change colors, my family begins planning: tree shopping right after Thanksgiving weekend, tubs of Christmas books and decorations travel down from the attic where they’ve been sleeping, and I will find my Sunday readings for Advent and imagine myself calm and contemplative.
At the beginning of November, I am full of hope. I imagine how things will go, mentally commit to doing things better this year, and get excited about the traditions we keep, from cranberry muffins on Christmas morning to taking turns lighting our Advent candles.
Despite the hope and motivation that arrive with the crisp autumn air, I inevitably come up short with all of my plans by the time December is here. I am easily distracted. I forgot to move our Kindness Elves more than once last year. Another time, we didn’t make it to the post office in time to send extended family gifts by Christmas. Should I mention what could go wrong with Christmas cards or how brittle our tree usually becomes in a home full of brown thumbs? And the tree. Since we don’t have a great place for a nice big tree and we still have boxes full of preschool-made ornaments, the result is usually something that resembles a grumpy, mismatched old lady with too much jewelry. It’s never a sight fit for the clean, minimalist squares of Instagram, no matter how well I zoom and crop. And all of that is just a list of things gone wrong on the outside.
In my distraction and ever-growing list of unmet expectations, I easily lose sight of what God truly wants me to be prepared for. I live as if preparation has to do with my own perfect planning as a mama, when it actually has everything to do with expecting God to show up right where I am – willingly opening myself up to what he wants to birth in and through me.
It isn’t just the holiday season when I am tempted to live this way. Throughout too many family seasons and transitions to count, I’ve grasped hard for control as a remedy for both the outward clutter and chaos in our home, and my own inward anxiety. But here’s what I am slowly learning: My inability to live up to ideal plans is actually paving the way for me to see things differently. It’s my own seeming failure to keep up that leads me to a crossroad of perspectives. I can choose to see things through a lens of despair and head down the path of give up or try harder. Or, I can choose to see and walk on the road that reminds me I am known and loved by a God who began a good work in me and will be faithful to bring it to completion in every season.
God wants me to toss my hindering distractions and worries this season aside so that I can be ready to receive. Listening to his voice is where I will find true gifts of abundance that my family and I need. I don’t have to wrap these gifts or stay up late assembling and fussing over them. I don’t have to tuck my mom guilt into the corners of their packaging.
I think of that first Christmas and the way Mary’s heart was so willing; her disposition so humble. What readied her arms to hold the God of the universe as a crying, unpredictable, dependent baby? Surely she didn’t expect the difficulty and heartache that would inevitably come with the gift that God chose for her as a “favored one.” Yet, when she found out what God was going to birth in and through her, she listened and was ready to surrender to it. Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 2:36-38)
I can best prepare for this season and all that unfolds within it by listening for the right voice and being willing to receive and surrender to it.
So, while the aisles of every local store begin to fill with all things commercial for Christmas, I ask myself this one question: What good (and possibly unexpected) gift does God want to birth in and through me this season? I am praying for a heart-posture of servanthood and surrender to receive it, whatever it may be. I am beginning to believe that the most prepared of us aren’t the ones who plan perfectly and get it all done with filtered photos as proof, but instead the ones who listen and receive with open hands, open plans, and a surrendered, courageous heart.
Tasha is a dreamer, a Hapa girl, wife to Matt, and mama to 3 little warriors: 2 wild boys and 1 little lady. She loves french fries, world maps and Stabilo pens. A coffee-drinker, story-lover and kimchi-eater, she was made to walk where cultures collide, from dirt roads to carefully placed cobblestone streets. Find more of her writing at www.coffeeandkimchistories.blogspot.com.