Dispelling the Myth of Perfection at Christmas: Part 2

There are 12 days, 15 hours, 32 minutes and 18 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 the stores and media are sending to us?

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 a few years ago for the first time with a new company. I was early that year and 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 and 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 up eventually. They don’t realize 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? And 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 a meaningful life in freedom and have life eternal? Did she know all of this? 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? Can I encourage you to choose joy and gratitude right now this moment and revel in the wonder of anticipating the celebration of Jesus?

It shouldn’t be that hard so why do you and I make it so? 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!

Dispelling the Myth of Perfection at Christmas

There are exactly 20 days 13 hours 4 minutes and 40 seconds left until Christmas, or as my grandkids would say 20 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 20 sleeps left before Christmas hits your doorstep.

Maybe you are feeling a little…

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 this 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, shopping, 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 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 don’t end up 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, 14 hours, 4 minutes and 40 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?

 

When Christmas Makes You Mad

Ever notice the closer we get to Christmas people get a little grumpier? Everything seems on wind-up frenzy as the day grows nearer. Are we ever close! This is Monday, just a breath away before Christmas arrives this weekend. YIKES!

I was at one of my favorite stores, Home Goods, and it was absolute mayhem. I could sense that people were trying their hardest to be jolly and have that most wonderful time of the year attitude, but it seemed a little artificial and controlled. The manager kept coming through the line assuring us we would be helped as soon as possible and that she had every register open for customers. I thought to myself, she is very intuitive and realizes a riot might break out soon.

Christmas can bring up even the ugly emotion of spewed anger as we might get tipped over the edge from exhaustion, overcrowded stores, restaurants, unruly relatives, coffee lines, and well just plain too much and too many people and overwhelming tasks. It’s not pretty to talk about it, but it is a reality.

Back to the FB survey from my earlier post. This is what people said about when asked the question, “What makes you mad about Christmas?”

Christmas makes me mad because there is…

too much work
too many people
too expensive
too much travel
too many people I don’t like
too many dishes
too much shopping and not enough money

These were a few of the most common responses.

Have you ever meet some truly angry people around Christmas? I don’t necessarily mean the grumpy ones we might bump into, I mean the really angry ones that seems they are out to rob everyone’s holiday cheer?

If we stay mad then we might move into looking like the character ANGER from the Disney Movie Inside Out.

Does he make you laugh or bring out a teeny tiny bit of resemblance in your own heart? I’ll be honest, I have felt like my hair was on fire just like in the movie.

These are the things about Christmas according to the survey that can really make our hair on fire…
Kids getting too whiny
Uncle Harry getting drunk
Aunt Hilda gossips
No one says thanks
House gets left a mess
Getting cleaning supplies or a blender as a gift
Having to be a cooking and cleaning always with a smile machine

The emotion of anger can put us over the top to the point of no return without any possibility of recapturing our joy. The anger keeps us padlocked, battened down, dark in the dungeon of our frustrations.

Dr. Caroline Leaf who is a brilliant writer and speaker, says this about our emotions…

Every thought we have has an emotion attached to it. How we react to events and circumstances of life will determine our stress levels, the state of our physical being, how our mind is functioning, how we are coping with life, and how we are expecting to cope with life in the future.

This has been incredibly helpful for me. What I hear her saying is that no matter what, we can control our thoughts and therefore guide our emotions to recapture our joy. Yes, that even means when our tempers flare and anger threatens to set our hair on fire and put us in an over the top stressful state.

Many times I get grumpy around this season and it can move into blow-up anger because of one reason.

I AM OVERTIRED!

AND

I am trying to do TOO MUCH.

It took me years to figure this out. I’ve come a long way, but when I find myself headed down this path I stop and take a breath and ask myself,

Why am I so angry right now?

Then I try to simplify and reorganize AND pray! Praying first is really the best of the best ideas. Let me give you a disclaimer here. This is what I want to do, pray and simplify. But my emotions sometimes get the best of me and I have to regroup and give myself a little grace too!

You’ve heard me say that I am a recovering perfectionist and it’s taken me years to get this one thing,

Christmas doesn’t have to be perfect!

I am creative and love to decorate, give meaningful gifts, set a beautiful table and well, you get the picture.

But it has killed me (and my family) at times and any kind of joyous atmosphere in my home just because I was wanting it all to be “just right.”

I learned the hard way and still am working on simplifying so my joy stays intact.

Christmas before last, we had a houseful of people and lots of little people. I had creative grandiose plans and most of them went out the window because there was just too much chaos.

I had bought a glittered initial for each person to put on the table around their napkin for Christmas dinner. Guess what, in all the commotion, I completely forgot! And the best thing about it was I was okay. I didn’t miss it at all because as I looked around the table, my heart was grateful to have all our children and grandchildren together in one place to share the blessings we have. I simplified in the middle of it all and you know what my children said?

They felt it was one of the best Christmases we have had as a family. I am growing! Yahoo!

Christmas can trigger many emotions for us for a number of reasons and if we let it, unchecked anger can be simmering right under the surface. Anger is a God-given emotion and it isn’t wrong, but it’s what we do with our anger that turns it into ugliness and spews over those we love and others we encounter everyday in our world.

In the Christmas story after Jesus is born, the Wise Men come and visit Jesus. But before they did, they had been summoned to King Herod in Jerusalem. He had gotten the news of Jesus birth and was bubbling with anger because he felt his throne was being threatened by this little baby. He pretended to be interested in worshipping Jesus and sent the Wise Men to Bethlehem to find out exactly where he was, “So, that I too may go and worship him” (Matthew 2:8).

The Wise Men didn’t report back to Herod on their way home and his hair lit on fire with anger to the degree that he gave orders to kill all the baby boys under two years old in Bethlehem and the surrounding region. He tried to destroy Jesus but as the story goes, an angel had warned the young family and they fled to Egypt.

Here is my own personal solution for keeping my anger in check this time of year and so I make space in the busyness and don’t deceive my own heart:

1. Make space in the busyness by spending time each day talking to God and having him sort out my priorities. Don’t cheat my time with God. Keep my heart in the right place.

2. Take a nap! Even if it’s only 10 minutes. If you are a Mom of small kids I get that this might not be possible, but try and carve out a few minutes in the chaos to even just sit down and let those toddlers play around your feet. Get enough sleep and rest, don’t push too hard.

3. I try not to  eat too much sugar. It wreaks mayhem on me and makes me cranky.

4. Simplify the big plans I have in my head. This year, I have too much on my plate so I am not sending out Christmas cards for the second year in a row. It’s okay! I want to bake this year so I made space to make memories baking with my children and grandchildren.

5. Participate in doing something in my community for people who might not otherwise have a Christmas.

Our anger can be destructive if left simmering too long and can take out our joy, I’ve been so guilty of this one too many times and it makes me sad. Ephesians 4:26 has been my saving prayer when I feel those emotions of frustration bubble up.

And don’t sin by letting anger control you.

This is the caveat for me, remembering I can be angry but stopping it in my thoughts before it controls me and leaks. My joy then can be recaptured!

Stay tuned for next emotion up at Christmas…

When You Are Afraid Of Christmas

“I just wish I could blink into January,” a friend who is a single Mom wrote me a personal FB message last year 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 slip into the week before Christmas 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  movie that I saw last 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 asking women to describe what makes them afraid about Christmas, mad, sad and disgusted.

For starters let’s meet the character 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 7 days, 15 hours, 50 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. I know we only have a week, but are you up for the challenge?

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. I was away for three weeks and just got home December 10th. I was fairly organized before I left and yet I am reminded daily from the intranet, television and the media just how many more days are left until Christmas arrives.  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. Just one example, I did buy Christmas cards before I left for our trip fully intending to do them while I was away. It didn’t happen, I was sick for a week on our trip and I came home and said, “Oh, Oh!” as I opened card after card from the mail. I took a deep breath and said, “It’s not going to happen this year.” I’m okay with it and I’ve let go of some other expectations that I have put on myself and feeling kind of free actually to enjoy more than stress.

As we step into these last few days before Christmas,

let’s name our fears together,

let them go,

and hurry as the shepherds did to spend a few moments to see Jesus.

I believe that our joy will be recaptured.

Saving Christmas

Her deep brown-black eyes and dark curly hair beckoned a second look from me in the store. She was standing all alone holding a book and as soon as her eyes saw mine she called out timidly, “Where’s my Nana?”

My friend and I looked around and didn’t see any adults close by. I leaned down and told this sweet little girl we would help her find her Nana. I offered my hand and she clung to it instantly and followed us to the front of the store. Before we approached the counter she saw her Nana and went running. It was a sweet reunion. She was safe in the arms of the familiar, her Nana.

Nana then encouraged her to say thank you and after a few seconds she said,

“Thank you for saving me,” in her darling three year old voice.

My heart melted as I mulled the phrase, thank you for saving me over and over.

I noticed the store piled with Christmas décor and I couldn’t help but thinking in that moment what “saving” means for me and for you this season. Christmas is coming and it will be here soon, 25 days to be exact.

I pose this question.

What do you need to be saved from as we approach Christmas?

Is it an overly busy schedule with not enough time to get everything done?

Is it finances?

Is it relational heartache that can’t be mended anytime soon?

Is it having to readjust expectations and simplify in order to stay sane?

Is it the news you have been dreading to hear and it has come true?

I know for me as I reflect on the days to come, my heart is broken for a few of my dear friends. One who suddenly lost her husband last month and two dear friends who lost their adult daughters this past year. I’d love to gather them all up and take away the hurt and pain, to save them from the heartache of celebrating with memories instead of holding their loved ones close. Others face sickness, families torn relationally, bills to pay without enough money to cover them and on and on the stories pour in. And yet, Christmas still will come as it does every year regardless of what we are facing, joy or sorrow.

It will come.

Christmas will be on time as usual and as we rummage through the commercialism that shouts to us, we can find peace and hope in the familiar arms of Jesus.

Maybe He isn’t familiar to you, maybe Jesus feels distant and uncaring, maybe you’ve been wounded. But He is the only one who can save us. It might look different, there may still be pain and sorrow, but He can save us with the gift of His unfathomable love. His hand is waiting to lead us to Himself if we let Him.

The little girl in the store had to let me take her to her Nana. She had to will it, even though she was afraid in that moment. Jesus does the same. Not just at Christmas but everyday.

As we surrender to his hand, He saves us.

As we acknowledge we can’t do Christmas without Him, He saves us.

As we realize we can’t take our next breath, He saves us.

As we recognize we can’t make our family behave, He saves us.

As we try to make Christmas a meaningful time for our families with little resources, He saves us.

As we gaze on that child in the nativity scene, he whispers His promise of redemption and…

He saves us.