I know for most of us, the week before Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year. For us, it’s usually insane. Donn spends lots of hours prepping one of the two biggest messages of the year and trying to make them fresh, plus there are a million other details that he’s thinking about as we pull MVF’s three special Christmas Eve-Eve services together. Add all of the regular Holiday Hustle and me singing at all three services, and you have a stressed-out situation waiting to explode.
Three years ago, Donn finally let me convince him to have a small get-together of friends and family over for his birthday. I actually sent out invitations, if I remember correctly. My sister and her gang were here from Texas, my parents and Hunter and Lauren came down from Bailey, and Trooper was on Christmas break from college in Utah… so about 12 family members and about 10 other friends.
That year, Donn’s birthday, which is December 22, was on a Sunday.
Since this was literally the first party he’d ever let me throw for him, I went full-on southern belle, determined that it was going to be a perfect event… my house would be sparkling and beautiful, the food and drink would be spectacular, and I would, of course, be the life of the party.
All of our family had come down the mountain for Church that Sunday morning, and then just stayed to help get things ready for the party. That morning, I felt a strange little twinge in my belly as I hugged and kissed my sister, but I was so busy, it was easy to ignore. Donn and Trooper had shared a stomach virus the week before- and I honestly felt that it was a Christmas Miracle that I had escaped unscathed.
After church, the family minus Hunter and Lauren converged on my house to help with party prep. The twinges in my belly seemed to be getting a little more persistent, but there was no evidence that anything was wrong with me, if you know what I mean. I skipped lunch just to be safe.
Guests were to start arriving at 5:30 and literally at 5:25 there was one final lurch of my stomach and I broke out into a cold sweat and raced to the bathroom. The twinges had suddenly become very large boulders that were rolling down my southernmost hill, and there was no stopping them. There was only making sure that they rolled into the right place.
Not only were boulders rolling down the hill, but a volcano was erupting up north. At the same time. We’ve all been there. Sitting on the toilet and heaving violently into the closest trash can which is tucked securely between your knees. I had just never been there five minutes before the start of a party I was hosting.
May I just say that, I do try to be a lady. I still say Yes Ma’am and No Ma’am, I hand write thank you notes, and I cover my mouth when I sneeze. But there was nothing ladylike about this stomach flu. It came straight from the bowels of hell, and it could not be dealt with quietly. The party was in the room adjacent to the one I was in, with one thin little wall separating us.
I tried to be quiet, I did. But soon my mother and sister were standing in the bathroom door holding their noses and staring at me with horror as I did my best impression of the exorcist. I kept saying “Get Out!” in between heaves. When they finally understood they threw a cold, wet rag on my forehead and said, Don’t worry about the party, we’ve got it!
The next ten to twelve hours were a blur- kind of like a closing sale at your favorite store- Everything Must Go! I survived the night and drug myself to the performances on the 23rd, sheepishly asking the custodian at the school to please unlock the bathroom next to the stage. But I was an empty vessel at that point.
The next day, I called my parents, where all of the family was staying, to confirm our plans for Christmas day only to hear that my sister had written a poem. I’d like to share it with you now.
THE BUG BEFORE CHRISTMAS
‘Twas just days before Christmas
When all thru the fam,
A stomach bug crept
Like a thief on the lam.
First Trooper, then Donn;
Next came Angie and Daddy,
Then Audrey and Ian
And now my turn, sadly.
I ran for the bathroom,
Tore open the lid
Then heaved like I’m dying
(When did I eat squid?)
Of shivers and headaches
And teeth-chatt’ring chills
And loud eardrum ringing
I’ve had quite my fill.
Four blankets, two aspirin,
Please, stomach, don’t lurch!
I don’t want the toilet
For my all-night perch.
My mother and hubby
Alone have been spared
So please, God, please let them
This virus not share!
Warn Hunter and Lauren,
Just keep them away.
Their new life should NOT be
Beginning this way!
Tomorrow is Christmas,
Your precious Son’s birth –
One act in all history
Revealing our worth.
This virus will die out
But Your love will not dim
So puny and queasy
And mis’rably sick
I’d rather be Yours THUS –
One thankful (sick) chick.
We postponed Christmas for two days that year. When we all finally did get together on the 27th, it was a day of pajamas, hot chocolate by the fire, chicken and dumplings, old movies, and lots of sprite and crackers. It was the one time I can remember letting the wrapping paper lay on the floor all day… we were too drained to pick it up and that was ok.
There was no mad rush to get family pictures while everyone was dressed nice. No last minute wrapping. There was no going through the paper to plan our attack of day-after-Christmas sales. There was no fancy ham or turkey, and no rushing around trying to get things done, picked up, put away.
We just… were. And we just were… together. And looking back, it’s one of my favorite Christmases to date.
Later, I thought, maybe we’re on to something…
Our next two Christmases were simple too. We fixed up and sold our house of 19 years and have been in two different rentals since then, living a vastly pared-down life. There are two storage units full of our things, and they’ve been full of our things for the past two years. The place we live now with our college-aged son Trooper is a tiny pre-WWII shoebox built in 1940 with one bathroom and no working fan. We are buying stock in Poo-Pourri.
We’ve been in transition, and life has become so. much. simpler. Waiting on God to tell us what’s next… one door opening, another closing.
All of my foofy Christmas decorations are packed in the back of one of our storage units- we don’t even know which one. But I thought ahead and kept out a few meaningful things, knowing we’d have at least one Christmas without a permanent home.
And our last two Christmases have been beautiful. Quiet. Contemplative. Not full of fuss and stuff, or spending too much money, or noisy, hectic trips to malls and post offices, fighting traffic all the way.
They’ve been… simple. And full of wonder when we read the Christmas story in Luke, contemplating what it must have been like back then. Wondering how the God of all things could choose to come into a deafening, messy world and dwell with us.
There were no earthly celebrations planned, no foofy decorations strung up to welcome him. Most of us know that Jesus came without pomp into a less-than-perfect situation: his mother a teenage bride being led by her new husband into a foreign, unwelcoming place- doors were literally slammed in their faces. She was feeling the pains in her belly become more and more frequent, though hers were of a different kind. I can almost see Mary’s desperation as she looked around at what was surely the very last place on earth she would have chosen to have The Son of God and thought, “Not here. Not now.”
I don’t know how many times I asked my boys when they were little and standing in the middle of a mess that they’d made, “What?! Were you born in a barn?”
Some say it was a cave. Regardless, it was full of hay and animals, and the stuff that accompanies animals. The scriptures seem to indicate that it was just Mary and Joseph. I’d like to imagine a scene of multiple Jewish women talking loudly as they fussed over Mary and shooed Joseph away- this was not a man’s work. But if they were able to find a midwife, we aren’t told about her.
It was just Joseph, and Mary, and finally, finally… a baby. He came intimately and naturally, straight into the arms of his family, in about as lowly and humble a place as you can find. It was messy. It was dirty. It smelled bad.
The surroundings were far from perfect. And yet Jesus still showed up, right on time, right into the middle of our simple, undecorated mess.
Did you hear that? He chose to show up into the middle of our simple, undecorated, mess. He chose simplicity over pomp for a myriad of reasons, I’m sure. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says, “You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us- in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.”
But the thing that speaks most loudly to me, especially this time of year, is how simple and intimate (and a little messy) his birth was. And if simple and intimate and messy is ok with the God of All Things, it should be ok for us as well.
I would encourage you to take a look at simplicity this holiday season. Try keeping most of your foofy decorations in boxes this year- if you’re like me, you only dread having to put them all away again from the second you take them out.
I can’t talk about Simplicity without mentioning Matthew 18:1-5. The Message translation puts it this way: “At about the same time, the disciples came to Jesus asking, “Who gets the highest rank in God’s kingdom? For an answer Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, ‘I’m telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.”
Following Jesus isn’t difficult. You don’t have to jump through a million hoops. You don’t have to be a bible scholar. You don’t have to be “good enough” before you come to him… in fact, you can be in pretty bad shape. All you need to do is believe in him and confess that. Believe that he chose to come from his high place and become one of us as a tiny baby. Believe that he died for you, and that he rose from the dead for you… for all of us.
And then – grow the relationship just like you grow any friendship. Talk to him through prayer, just like you’d talk to any friend. Hear from him by reading the Bible, especially the New Testament. Dig deeper by trying a bible study, and joining a Lifegroup where other Christians are doing the same thing. And go forward into your new life in the simplicity that he provided for us.
If you’ve stepped away from your relationship with Christ, I would say that this Holiday season is the perfect time to renew your friendship. I promise, He will run to you with open arms and welcome you back.
In closing, the world-renowned philosopher Ferris Beuller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” So, instead of a huge, fussy, over-decorated, time-consuming holiday season, try taking out a few things you love and enjoy them.
Put down your cell phone.
Stay off of social media.
Spend time with the people you love and take the time to really love them.
Ask how they’re doing and really listen.
Let the dishes sit in the sink.
Leave the wrapping paper on the floor.
Make choices that help keep things simple and streamlined… so you have time for what’s really important- thankfulness, friends, family, and most importantly, Jesus.