I don’t know about you, but I blinked and it was December. Time is such a funny thing isn’t it?
The flurry of back-to-school, Canadian Thanksgiving, Hallowe’en, Remembrance Day, American Thanksgiving—which features prominently here in Canada, thanks to Black Friday—somehow make this time of year seem like its careening at us and past us at a million miles an hour.
And then, just like that, it’s Christmas.
I know this to be true, not just because the calendar says so, but because my e-mail inbox is crammed full. Marketing and sales notices live side-by-side with emails outlining helpful ways to exist in this month that is so at odds with itself.
We anticipate the birth of Christ: God’s greatest gift to mankind, born to set us free. And somehow, we get all wrapped up (pun intended) in a shopping and social extravaganza, complete with trappings and trimmings that hold us hostage to anxiety and stress. It’s such a strange juxtaposition.
Even the helpful emails—true confession: most of which I sign up for voluntarily—cause a little wave of panic in me when I open my inbox first thing in the morning and see that menacing little red “unread” email circle. How many did I actually sign up for??? (Clearly, I have boundary issues.)
The last few years, I’ve been on a mission to simplify Christmas and shift my perspective from one of dread to back to one of wonder. Maybe you have too?
For me, it’s meant deliberately reorganizing my priorities: reducing and shuffling the gifting, decorating, baking and prepping a little to the back (but not abandoning them altogether, because my people love those things) and bringing the season of Advent—the four weeks leading up to Christmas—into the forefront.
Advent is, after all, all about preparation…
But it’s not about the “to-do before the 25th” list; instead, it’s the heart and mind that get the attention. And quite truthfully, I’ve found that when I slow down just a smidge and take the time to wrap my head and my heart around the reason we celebrate Christmas, all the other stuff seems to fall into a place that is no longer the boss of me.
When our hearts are in the right place we can lean into the magic of anticipation of the coming season, not live in dread that we’re not going to get everything on our lengthy lists done. We can actually savour the beauty and meaning of the season.
Side note: I wrote something about this last year because I obviously need reminders every time Christmas rolls around. If you want to read about my three strategies to keep Christmas in check, click here.
Growing up, we kids always had Advent calendars. I thrilled with anticipation of the daily treasure hunt: frantically scanning the busy images on the front for the minuscule number indicating which door to open that day. Inside, my reward was a small piece of chocolate. That tiny chocolate first thing in the morning was an extravagance reserved only for December 1 – 24th and I was all in for it!
These days my kids get the chocolate calendars from grandma and it’s much the same as when I was growing up; race downstairs, locate the correct door, and voila… a chocolate appetizer before breakfast.
And while that advent tradition certainly touches on the theme of anticipation, it really is only about anticipating chocolate, there’s no heart preparation involved. I might also mention that there is no savouring going on with that chocolate either. Once it’s open, it’s gone!
Last year, I decided to include my children (read: slow them down and drag them along) on a different kind of advent journey, which included their chocolate appetizer with a side of short daily reading.
While getting to the kitchen 10 minutes earlier each day was a seemingly monumental undertaking, and the reading (Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift) was occasionally a bit much for their 12- and 14-year-old tastes, the time of enforced pause each morning was actually beneficial. Both girls agreed that—in the end—they didn’t miss the extra 10 minutes of physical prep time and, for the most part, enjoyed the readings.
This year they’re in different schools on slightly different morning schedules, so I’m not sure what the logistics are going to look like for our Advent readings. I suspect they’ll unfold into some rhythm we can live with—I keep telling them, “It’s only 24 days. Surely, we can manage 24 days?”
The book we’re reading through this Advent is called Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Asheritah Ciuciu. It was a small paragraph in her introduction that sold me.
“We all suffer from soul amnesia, forgetting who God is and what He has done for us from one day to the next,” she writes. “Like you, I too must remind myself each year who Jesus is and why His birth is so miraculous—not because my mind doesn’t know but because my heart ceases to be amazed.”
Isn’t that the way it goes with Christmas? We get so caught up in all the things we’ve made it about that we cease to be amazed. As adults especially, it’s easy to lose the sense of wonder that is so apparent in children. We become desensitized to the meaning because we’ve heard the story so often.
Do you celebrate Advent in some way? Maybe this is the year you’ll add a small pause into your day—each day for the next few weeks—preparing your heart and head first before you head into the craziness of the coming season.
Maybe this is the year you’ll join the slow soul-food movement and savour all the season of Advent has to offer.
Since my diagnosis four years ago, I have actively kept hope at arm’s length. It’s not that I exist in despair and hopelessness but, in general, I’ve put off planning anything of significance more than a few months in advance. It’s been both a blessing and a curse.
A steady inner battle wages as my practical nature keeps the fragility of my future firmly in perspective while my hopeless romantic bumps up against it, desperately wanting to envision retirement years and front-porch-rocking days, grandchildren and a long life filled with purpose.
Recently though, I’ve found myself in a strange place. Thinking about the future. Tentatively making plans. Allowing myself to hope that time is on my side and some of those things that come to mind and touch the deepest places of my heart may actually come to pass.
It’s new and a little bit exciting.
I’m halfway done my chemo treatment (three down, three to go!) with the next round coming right up. And as I write this, I can honestly tell you I feel great. Even almost normal.
I know this won’t be the case this coming weekend. The three days that I receive the drugs are not fantastic days. I won’t be laid out flat and can still function somewhat, but I feel just a general level of crappy. And I’ll confess to you that I’m kind of dreading the pill days because no matter how I split the dose or try to manage it, 20 poison pills a day is just hard on the stomach. Fact.
But, I also know that by Day 5 I’ll be back on my feet and looking forward to a steady uphill climb for the next three weeks. Hooray for recovery time!
When we booked my start date back in June, Christmas wasn’t even on my radar, but I’m so thrilled that the timing of my treatment will allow me to be feeling good over the holiday. Fingers crossed we’ll even get away for New Year’s.
My hair, though thinning significantly, is still looking pretty full. Most people can’t tell it’s falling out. I can because I clean out my brush and my shower drain regularly and I now wrap the elastic around my ponytail four times instead of two! *Shout out to the good friend who picked up some “follicle plumping” shampoo for me at the beginning of my treatments. Who knew?
There’s one last thing on my heart this week
As we navigate these next few weeks leading up to Christmas, can I ask a small favour of you? Will you take some time to slow down, take a deliberate pause, and look around. There are people in all corners of our lives who are hurting in some way.
Sure, it’s “the most wonderful time of the year” but the reality is that someone is going to receive a diagnosis. Maybe a marriage will collapse from the weight of expectation. Depression and anxiety don’t take the holidays off—research says they amplify during the season. Someone will spend more than they have to make Christmas magical for their kids. Someone won’t get a gift at all. Maybe they’ll dine alone.
I’m simply asking you to look. See the lonely and the hurting. And do something kind.
*For my praying friends, I know a young woman who is battling breast cancer for the second time in just 18 months. She has a young son and a few family members supporting her the best they can. But she could use a little hope and a lot of prayers this Christmas. Maybe even a miracle. In the spirit of Matthew 18:19, will you join me in lifting this young woman up?
“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” (The Message)
As always, I want to thank you for taking time out of your day to read these musings. I find consistency a struggle–as you well know by now if you’ve been following my blog for any length of time. My husband says my spontaneity is endearing, but if you look up “long-suffering” in the dictionary, you’ll see his picture. The reality is, I know how frustrating I can be.
The truth is, I appreciate you more than you know. It’s so nice to have a community–even an online one–to journey through life with; navigating the ups and the downs, the twists and the turns, putting one foot in front of the other and–hopefully–not in my mouth.
I cherish your patience, your comments and your feedback, and because I am my own worst critic, I am grateful for your encouragement along the way.
If you want to receive my posts directly to your inbox, I’d love it if you’d subscribe. Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent but, at the very least, I hope you’ll find encouragement here.
Thank you so much for visiting.