Warning: Long, night-before-Christmas post ahead.
Usually when a day is amazing, there are a million little sparkles that come together to make one giant display of wonder. These probably won’t, at least not in your mind. But if you were in mine, we’d share champagne at six a.m. during a two hour delay, with orange juice, of course, to make it legit.
I met a friend in Indy for her birthday yesterday. We see each other 4 times a year, max. But we talk on the phone, usually on her way to the gym while I sit in jammies with fattening creamer in my sweetened coffee. God plunked us together when we shared maternity clothes and wove our hearts deeper as we’ve shared life through the phones pasted to our ears.
Meeting her on an ordinary Wednesday was a huge treat. A boy turned up with a fever and miraculously, my husband wasn’t scheduled to work. There would have been times that the beauty of that gift would have been buried in the busted water pump and water standing in the crawl-space. Muted by the cable service guy that hung out with me for six – I said six – hours the day before and discovered the water. Completely bricked in by the crazy of coloring everyone else’s hair while my own has three inch roots.
But, God has been teaching me how to receive gifts with grace. For almost 15 years, I’ve been able to see, clearly, the gifts all around me. I have journals, snips of paper, entire drawers full of the minute and mundane as well as the outlandish and audacious.
I could tell you stories that would make your eyes drip and the fuzz on your neck dance.. Each one more personal and detailed than the last.
Stories of hundreds of dollars left anonymously on our vehicle.
Of a house dreamed, promised and lost. A house that would two years later be given in one lavish sweep at the most unexpected time.
A van that has physical history in some of the very middle of the most painful places in my life. A van that God graciously, generously, with a holy flair used to speak directly to the heartbreak of my soul and show me that he redeems all brokenness.
A van. Do you get that? It’s useful, necessary. But every switch of the radio station, every flick of the heated seat, every double click to open the doors or the hatch is a reminder to me that God sees, knows, and restores.
And while I’ve received most of the gifts he’s given knowing their implications in my life, I’ve not done a great job at receiving them well. Which is to say with no guilt, thankful open arms, and absolutely no words of false humility.
Ann Voskamp has a new advent companion book called The Greatest Gift with short but rich insights for each day in December. Today was about the story of Ruth and Naomi.
I kind of roll my eyes on the inside when I hear people talk about Naomi and Ruth. Travel, turn back, I’ll go, Boaz, gleaning, threshing floor, naked feet, kinsmen redeemer, they lived happily ever after.
It’s never, ever moved me and always made me think, no way would I take up with a mother-in-law to a foreign country, good for you Ruth, but I’m out. And the kinsman redeemer thing? Whether you learned to crawl in a church foyer or not, those are weird words.
The story is beyond strange, but this thought helps me settle into to the dark without fearing that I’ll be consumed by it.
Ann says that brilliant people don’t deny the dark; they are the ones who never stop looking for His light in everything.
I write a lot about life in the shadows. A few weeks ago, an acquaintance with whom I’ve shared years of shallow hello’s, looked me in the eyes and thoughtfully asked me how I was doing. My mind makes up stories all day long and this may be one of those times, but I know she sometimes reads my blog and I’d just written about the pitch black covering my heart. I’m pretty sure she wanted to make sure I wasn’t going home to party with some carbon monoxide. ALL of that business to say that the darkest of the dark is apparent to me on most days, but there absolutely has to be pitch black in order to see the brightest light.
The gifts that I’ve received in the last 48 hours are some of the most twinkly lights I’ve seen in a while and might not seem like probably wouldn’t seem like gifts to some. But if you could sit on my couch for 7 days, you might begin to understand. You’d have to bring your own food and water because when I’m telling the story, I forget that people need to eat. But If we could camp out, you’d understand how extra cable boxes and gifted Christmas tickets, lamp shades and chairs, new winter coats and trimmed window boxes each contain the wonder of Christmas morning to me.
Even the pitch days hold gifts if we choose to see them and accept them.
Here’s where my week comes together with all the magic of the 25th. Tuesday evening, we went to my son’s Christmas musical, the lady in front of me, bought the tickets for my entire family. What? Who does that? ….all kinds of twisted guilt.
If that wasn’t enough, a very good friend had arrived early and saved fantastic seats for my entire family – if you’re kids are in my school district, you understand.
On Wednesday, while my husband stayed home with my son, a friend of his stopped by to check out our water pump issue discovered by the chatty cable guy. The friend offered to fix it for the cost of parts because my husband has referred him some new customers in the last couple of months……frays of guilt.
I drove south to have lunch with my friend. The birthday girl bought me lunch, guilt can come in crumbs if you let it.
After lunch, we made our way to the GW chic boutique and looking back and something changed in me.
The sweet miraculous was evident to me that day, because every thing I found was an answer to a very specific prayer. I don’t believe in silly prayers, but if I did, the prayers for these things could be shoved in the, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me file. .
A new chair that met all of my criteria (alone, worthy of it’s own Hallmark Miracle Movie), a sweater that will put the Ho,Ho,Ho into my holiday wardrobe, a lampshade to finish my entryway, and the most fabulous like new Lands End coat.
I could have schlepped around Indy in holiday traffic, used an entire tank of gas, been frustrated to tears and not found even one of these items, I know this from painful experience. But instead, I stood in the line with my dear friend, in my favorite store, after 30 minutes and left with all of these lovelies for about the same price as several lampshades I’ve eyed at Target.
Tell me that God doesn’t answer prayers specifically. But peeps, beyond the haul loaded into my van, was the change inside of me. It was the first time I’ve left the GWB without feeling guilty, and I’m a frequent shopper. There was all the wonder of Christmas morning in my soul as I drove home and actually enjoyed the treasures that I believe were placed there just for me.
I woke up yesterday to another gift. A two-hour delay. Before you think that I just adore having my children home for two extra hours the week before Christmas break, you should know that I view it as a gift, because I’m choosing to, not because it’s my first happy thought when I see the yellow traffic light on the school website.
It’s a gift, because I opened my hands to receive it. A gift, because it gave me time to get words out of my head. A gift, because my people were well rested. A gift that slowed down life for two hours in the middle of the madness we’ve created for ourselves in distorting this season.
Ann also said, when we have an agenda for God, we can’t see the gifts from God.
My must-have list, of what I think I need for life to roll like I want, is being shredded daily.
I’m learning to receive what he’s gifting me and offering back my must-have’s as a gift to him.
In an attempt to fight materialism we spent a lot of time talking about the fact that Christmas isn’t about the gifts.
But it IS.
Because receiving the gifts represents the meaning of the First Christmas. I haven’t figured this all out yet, but I think we’ve neglected to balance the belief that the greatest is in the giving.
Sure, giving takes our eyes off from our own selves, and most certainly, if God wouldn’t have offered his son we wouldn’t even be having this discussion, but equally as important is the fact that we have to receive the gift. When we teach our children to give, give, give and never to receive gracefully, we’re teaching them that they are the only one with something to offer, I should know. Our attempts to teach them selflessness get tossed like the wrapping paper at noon.
I’ve spent the entire length of my parenting with an internal battle raging between my desire to help my children focus on what matters and the understanding that what I was doing wasn’t working. I believe the reason it wasn’t working was because I’d never learned to receive. I’ve tried to teach them to not expect things when I should have been teaching them how to receive unexpected things.
Only when we receive a gift gracefully, with honest appreciation, and no disclaimers or guilt, do we begin to have something to give. We have to learn open our eyes to the wonder of gifts woven into each moment. It’s what I’m hoping to change about Christmas this year.
What’s going to be different about your Christmas? Do you receive gifts well? Could you offer some insight on giving or receiving?