The Emotions of Christmas Part 1

photo“I just wish I could blink into January,” a friend who is a single Mom wrote me a personal FB message because the season was feeling overwhelming and reminding her of everything she could and couldn’t do because of her limited resources.

The most wonderful time of the year can ramp up emotions such as these as we step into the month of December and sigh…

ANOTHER CHRISTMAS.

The days of December can cause us to fall into the vortex of losing our Christmas joy rapidly if we aren’t careful. We know in our heads that this should be a celebration of that tiny precious baby coming humbly to a manger to bring hope, peace and love, and yet somehow Jesus and the joy of the celebration gets lost.

We are by nature emotional human beings, and those emotions are more heightened around Christmas, or so it seems. Which brings me to talking about a recent movie that I saw this past year.

Did you see the movie Disney film, Inside Out? It’s a story of emotional characters taking place inside an 11-year old girl who has to move across the country and all that she experiences. In the story you meet her emotions of fear, anger, sadness, disgust and joy. The story stirred up all kinds of emotions for me and it made me cry, laugh and be sad as I watched.

As we approach December 25th, I’d like to share how each of the emotions that they identified in the movie can impact our feelings about Christmas and how we can recapture the emotion of joy. But first, I want you to know that I did a high-level survey across hundreds of people. Okay, I did a simple FB survey a few weeks back asking women to describe what makes them afraid about Christmas, mad, sad and disgusted.

For starters let’s meet fear from the film, can you relate?

This is what surfaced about being afraid at Christmas from my FB survey…

People won’t like what I made

People won’t like what I give

I’m afraid of not being enough

Not making people happy

Not having enough

Not going to have time to have a break

Do you know that fear creates exhaustation? According to the experts, fear is learned and shaped by our experiences. Fear can then become control. Did you know that controlling people are driven by fear and in order to stay safe they are driven to control because they are afraid of something? They might lose it!!! Ring any bells in the house? ME…GUILTY!

I am a recovering CONTROL-FREAK around Christmas time. Why? Because of many things I just listed. I felt I needed to control Christmas because of how I thought things should look, taste, feel and experience for my family and my friends. And then the fear caused me to really lose my joy and anger would seep in, but we will talk about that later.

As I write this, according to the xmasclock.com Christmas is 19 days, 16 hours, 5 minutes and 55 seconds away. And with that comes the ramping up of these kind of emotions at least from what I have observed for one specific group…women.

Can I get a witness?

The frantic and frenzy,

the pressure,

the anxiety,

the relatives,

the cooking,

baking,

shopping and more.

So between now and Christmas day, I want to talk about these emotions that can creep up and rob our joy. Instead of dreading it and getting emotional hives because of the pace, I am hoping that by the time Christmas Day comes we can experience and recapture the joy that God intends for us to have.

Back to our first emotion, fear. How do we then overcome the fear of not being enough or the people-pleasing trap we can fall into?

We can take our cue from the shepherds receiving the message in Bethlehem the night they were told about Jesus birth.

But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Luke 2:10

God addressed their fear first before He gave them the good news. He told them they didn’t need to be afraid because Jesus had arrived.

He wants to address yours and mine.

We have to acknowledge first that we are afraid.  But we have slow down long enough and name it. Grab a piece of paper right now and write down.

What are you afraid of this December?

Get it out, write it down, tell Jesus, tell a friend, ask for prayer.

Ask God to help. Because if we let the emotion of fear take over than our need to control will take-over like a run-away train and we will be miserable. Take it from me; I’ve done it so many times I’ve made not only myself miserable but my family too!

We can’t miss the second part of the announcement. The angels told them what they could find it they let go of their fear.

The angel also told them where they could find JOY. Because JOY is a person, it’s not just the warm fuzzy feelings we might experience over Christmas.

It was in the good news that Jesus the Savior was born in Bethlehem and they decided to go and see. That is joy.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. Luke 2:15.

The next verse said that they hurried to see Jesus. I want to hurry to see Jesus and not hurry to be in a hurry this Christmas season.

My fear this Christmas is that I won’t have enough time to get everything done that I’d like to get finished. So in order to make sure that doesn’t happen, what I really mean is lose my cookies in the process, I am purposely choosing to simplify a few things this year.

Let’s name our fears together, let them go, and hurry as the shepherds did to spend a few moments to see Jesus and I believe that our joy will be recaptured.

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part Three

IMG_0141I’ve always wished I could witness first hand the angel coming to bring the news to Mary. Here was an ordinary teenage girl experiencing the supernatural phenomena of a messenger from God Himself. I can’t hardly wrap my brain around it let alone conceive how I would respond if I were her.

And yet Mary’s response captivates me. When she got over the shock of the news Gabriel delivered and her heart most likely full of questions, her reply was simply, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true. Then the angel left.” (Luke 2:38)

Brilliant response. Faith-filled and a heart that held trust as a core value. She didn’t cower or run in fear, she believed and pressed into the experience. That alone speaks of her immense faith. Is that why God chose her, because of the strength of character and belief demonstrated by her life?

As I read the story I focus in on three gifts she seemed to embrace. They are all imperfect, but yet they were the gifts that set her course.

The first gift was humility. She acknowledged that she was God’s servant and knew she couldn’t do this by herself, she couldn’t orchestrate how it would all happen, she had to rely on God, she had no choice. It was all faith or nothing.

The second was acceptance. She was willing to accept the imperfect process of how God was laying it all out. Her life changed forever that day the angel came. So many questions unanswered and yet she confirmed to the angel that she would trust and believe that God would indeed bring it about and let go of any control.

The last gift she embraced was the gift of faith. She had the faith to believe in something bigger than herself by hoping that everything the angel said would come true.

Mary embraced the gifts of her fragile humanness and her imperfections. Those around her, the heritage of her people the Jews, expected so much more.  In some ways they demanded their Messiah to come in pure perfection, royalty and splendidly. But Jesus trumped the expected and came unexpectedly. He arrived in a smelly barn, with dung and hay and poverty. He was perfect, but he came to an imperfect world. Jesus was a huge disappointment in his arrival to  the nation of Israel because he turned everything upside down. No wonder they had a hard time embracing who Christ was. His calling card was less than perfect.

In the same way, Christmas can come as a disappointment to us in its arrival because of our own expectations.  In the days leading up to Christmas, I don’t think that is our intention. It evolves because we have so many other voices and vices that dictate what it should look like. It snowballs and takes us by storm. For instance, we expect this time of the year for everyone to behave themselves and be holly and jolly. Why should they, really? Just because it’s Christmas? Why would all of a sudden those cranky relatives turn up at your door-step transformed? When will we get it? We are an imperfect people and when the stress elevates it heightens our behavior. Each and every one of us have a default switch when stress shows up in full force.

How do we avoid slipping into that mode and flipping that switch? We follow Mary’s example. We embrace the three gifts of humility, acceptance and faith. Here’s what I think it looks like.

We don’t try to do everything all by ourselves and our way.

We set limits.

We ask for help.

When we are tired, we readjust.

We practice humility by letting someone help us that might not do it ‘our way.’ I have a confession to make. I didn’t exercise humility when we put up our Christmas lights last Saturday. I got impatient. I had a vision in my head and expected my husband to read my mind. I was cranky and had to apologize later. Who wants to help a cranky person anyway? No one. Be humble, let go and share the diversity of making Christmas happen, together.

We accept the imperfect days leading up to Christmas.

We surrender to sitting and practicing ‘being still.’

We listen to that small still voice and remember that people are more important than anything. That includes the person who wants to steal your parking place at the crowded mall, or the person who cuts in line when you’ve waited and are next. We surrender unruly emotions and turn them into kind acts of service and words. We accept imperfect all around us.

Lastly, we believe.

We choose to believe that Christmas is bigger than us.

It isn’t about you or me, presents, lights, dinner, relatives, a clean house or a perfect Christmas program. It’s just about Jesus.

God coming near to our brokenness, our failure, our emptiness and offering His incredible love wrapped up in a song of hope and peace.

 

 

 

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part Two

woman-stressed-with-christmas-lights18 days, 00 hour, 49 minutes and 37 seconds until Christmas arrives. How are you doing? Are you giving yourself room to be imperfect? Are you tuning out some of the bombarding messages that stores and media are sending? I am more aware of this since I wrote about it and had a twist of events that only helped me to check myself.

I ordered my Christmas cards this year for the first time with a new company. It was early, only November when I pushed the send button and I was so proud of myself! I was planning to get them out ‘perfectly’ by December 2nd or 3rd. The little orange package arrived. I ripped into it like a child opening a long awaited Christmas present. I couldn’t believe what I found. Perfect strangers on those cards, an adorable family, but not us! It was a mistake. Sigh…now I wouldn’t get my cards out when I wanted to. It wouldn’t be, are you ready for this? PERFECT! That thought actually crossed my mind! It actually made me laugh after I hung up the phone to correct the mistake because I had no choice but to adjust my expectation of getting those cards out. December was starting out imperfect already and I was faced with choosing to embrace it and let it go.

My grandkids have an expectation when I take them out for lunch. They have a favorite restaurant that have a tankful of fish that match those in the movie Finding Nemo and the best chocolate shakes in town. Each time we go, it’s comical to watch them as they try to get the shake up into the straw into their mouths. Their little cheeks suck in so hard like the fish they are watching in the tank as they work the straw. The shake is so thick it takes them awhile. Nearly every time I have to tell them to swirl it around, wait a little until it melts and be patient because then the goodness of what’s in the glass will come. They don’t realize that they wouldn’t have to suck it up so hard if they would wait.

Here’s what I think we do around the holidays. We get so overwhelmed by all the jam-packed things that need to happen that we push down all the goodness that is waiting for us in the glass. We keep sucking it up and sucking it up until we make ourselves crazy. We never get the good stuff like joy, peace and love because we are trying so hard to make the perfect holiday. Instead, we should be waiting with anticipation through Advent and embracing the imperfections.

Jesus mother Mary, had no choice but to embrace the imperfections while having the greatest favor ever to be bestowed on a woman. She had to embrace the imperfection of being ridiculed because she was pregnant knowing she was a virgin and not married. In Jewish times, it was cause for her to be taken outside the city and stoned.

She had to embrace the imperfection that she couldn’t even give birth in her home town, in the comfort of her own home, with her mom around or her family. Instead she had to travel miles away and not even know where she was going to lay her newborn son down to sleep for his first night on earth.

She had to embrace the imperfection of giving birth in a smelly dirty barn with strangers all around.

Mary had to embrace the imperfection of knowing she was the mother of the coming Messiah and Savior and not knowing what lie ahead, her future uncertain.

Did she know, her baby boy was to be the Savior of the whole world?

That one day he would actually be beaten, tortured and then suffer an agonizing death to bridge the gap of sinful man so we could live in freedom and have life eternal?

Did she know all of that?

Did she try to control the circumstances and make everything  perfect?

Did she know how hard it would be? I venture not.

She had no control, so she made a choice to embrace the gifts of imperfection so she could experience joy, peace and love that was offered to her in the gift of being Jesus mother.

As we continue to approach these coming days before Christmas, let me ask.

What ‘perfect’ do you need to let go of to receive all the divine goodness that God wants to give to you this season?

Like my Christmas card mistake, where do your expectations need to be adjusted? Do you have to send out cards this year? Is it necessary to bake 100 dozen cookies?

Where can you invite others to help you? Don’t try to do everything yourself.

Can you choose joy and gratitude right now this moment and revel in the wonder of anticipating the celebration of Jesus? Can you take time to sit, wait and soak up the wonder of the simple moments you find along the way?

It shouldn’t be that hard, so why do you and I make it that way? Just like those little boys with their chocolate shakes, choose to swirl the goodness around, be patient and wait in anticipation for the joy and peace to come!

(image from http://www.sheknows.com/health-and-wellness/articles/848961/is-perfectionism-ruining-your-holiday-happiness)

 

 

 

How to Survive ‘Perfect’ at Christmas: Part One

IMG_1432There are exactly 20 days, 14 hours, 12 minutes and 17 seconds left until Christmas, or as my grandkids would say 21 sleeps left! I don’t know about you but right now as that clock is clicking down it makes me go into a cold sweat and break out in hives.                        

How about you? Knowing that there are only 21 sleeps left before Christmas hits your doorstep. 

I asked a room full of women this question over a week ago and this is what they said.

Panic

Anxiety

I want it to be over

I don’t want to think about it

Rush

Relatives

What is it that happens at this time of the year that causes us to freak out and turn into women that we normally don’t seem to be the rest of the year?

I was trying to explain this to my husband and he said, “I don’t think people struggle with that as much as they used to, I think that it’s just a few people like you.” Now he wasn’t trying to be mean or heartless, I think it is because most men just don’t get everything that goes into Christmas. Not because they don’t want to, but for them, they pretty much just show up for the holidays like a guest. They might do a few things at our request like help clean, cook, wrap some gifts and wrangle the kids together but most of it seems to fall on us.  My husband has always been a tremendous help and asks frequently what he can do especially when my voice gets higher and stressed! Here’s a side tip, nothing to do with where I’m headed but it will help make Christmas smoother. Be sure and give your husband kudos of appreciation when he jumps to your side this Christmas in the prep. I know that sometimes they see us stressed and don’t know how to fix it, and when they jump in, be appreciative as much as you can without any cranky remarks. I am preaching to myself right now!

To help Kevin out a bit when we were having this discussion, I nonchalantly pointed out when we were watching a movie and there were several Christmas commercials. I said, “Look, look, see it’s all women!”  Most of the commercials were about women getting things ready for Christmas. The houses were perfect, the tree was spectacular, presents were wrapped exquisitely under the tree and everything looked like it was in perfect order. “There!” I sighed, as I moved my hands up and down towards the big screen to prove my point of helping him understand how we get caught up in the madness of perfection.

Now, before I set some of you on edge or sound like I am stereotyping or men bashing, I know this isn’t true for all men, I do know some men that actually take care of the whole meal for their families by shopping, prepping, cooking and everything. I have a friend whose husband wraps ALL their gifts. I know of another guy who actually decorates not only his house but also where he works and helps friends do the same. But generally speaking, Christmas does or doesn’t happen mostly because of the women. And then if you are a single parent, that’s a whole other story…everything falls on your shoulders to make Christmas happen!!

No matter how much we try and disconnect and tell ourselves it doesn’t have to be like what we visually see in the stores or on the television, we are thrust with images that portray perfection EVERYWHERE!!! Even the scripting of the commercials reinforces it with, “find the perfect gift” “set the perfect table” and to top it off everyone looks so happy together as relatives arrive and the warm sentiments of the Christmas season. Enjoy Christmas perfectly if you shop our stores and buy our stuff, that’s the underlying message. One of my favorite magazines had on the cover “395 Ways to Dazzle Your Friends and Family.” No wonder we struggle!

You and I both know how hard it is to actually find the perfect gift, keep a perfect house, tree, food and are you ready for this, really PERFECT relatives.

Now you might say,  do we have to talk about this? Can’t I stay in the cave of denial and just get it over with? I would say, let’s for once get gut honest and talk about this Christmas chaos and what it does to our psyche. We all to some degree struggle with this in our lives, whether or not we do a lot or a little for Christmas. It stirs up all kinds of emotions for us as women and seems to magnify the reality and heightens our awareness that we don’t have it all together no matter how much the media or retailers try to help us get it all together. AND we have messy families, cranky relatives who show up and that alone can create extra trauma around the season.

We buy into this ‘perfection’ whether consciously or unconsciously. We try so hard only to be utterly disappointed and exhausted at the end of the season eating ourselves into oblivion to cope with the stress that accompanies the holiday season. Then we feel worse because we’ve gained weight and our clothes don’t fit, we make New Year’s resolution we end up not keeping and we do the self-talk and the cycle continues. Is anyone out there that can relate? Whether it is a 15 on a scale of 1 to 100 or a 85 because of cranky relatives we all face it at some point.

I am hoping that this Christmas, the anticipation of what is to come, that we can embrace something that can’t be bought or given, and that can help ease the stress…..something that can’t be put on a credit/debit card and shopped for. I would like to give you the one gift you can give yourself~the gift of imperfection.  Brene Brown has written a book, The Gifts of Imperfection on this very subject and I have found it liberating and enlightening. She gives these definitions when talking about the need to put on the perfection.

Perfectionism is not the same things as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. 

Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.

It seems to be all about having to be perfect because we are worried about what other people are going to think more than striving to do the best. Who will raise their hand with me that we are of so guilty at times?

Here is what became my ‘aha’ moment when I was reading her book. She said that, Perfectionism hampers success, in fact it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis which mean we’re too afraid to put anything out in the world that could be imperfect.

 WOW! Having the need to be perfect at Christmas or any other time actually hinders my success, my ability to actually enjoy life, and especially to enjoy Christmas. This was huge for me. We all want to experience the love, joy and peace of the Christmas season, so here is what I think the solution is….receiving the gift of imperfection! We will continue on and discover what that looks like over the next few blog posts. So in the meantime, here’s a tip of what I am trying to practice for the next

20 days,13 hours, 52 minutes and 13 seconds left until Christmas~ANTICIPATION.

I am creating a space of anticipation that invites

slowing down,

being still,

enjoying the moments,

being present,

choosing gratitude and

speaking it out loud daily and writing in my journal.

Creating this space looks like intentionally sitting each day in my favorite cozy chair curled up with a cup of tea and the devotional “The Greatest Gift” by Ann Voskamp and my Bible. It’s only Day Four and my heart is making space for Advent, the true meaning of waiting to receive the greatest gift, celebrating Jesus. The noise, the fanfare, the chaos subsides within me as I am choosing to submit to a ritual of being still and pondering as Mary might of done when she received her news that she would be the mother of the Son of God. It is causing me to break out in worship.

It doesn’t come easy for me, it has come slowly and it is growing each day. Will you join me on this Advent journey?