If I could, I would change a few thing that happen in my life every year near the end of December.
In my Christmas fantasy, there are no expectations. Gifts are optional. I don't have to spend money I don't have on junk that no one needs. Each guest in my home is happy to receive a cup of instant cocoa, the fancy kind, and a warm Christmas chat at the kitchen table. I shamelessly offer store-bought gingerbread men as I light a gingerbread-sented candle, to the delight of everyone in attendance. Children applaud, even though they prefer chocolate chip.
There is lovely music playing in the background and joyful lights on the tree, which is topped by a star, not a sparkly snowflake or non-representational sculpture or plaid-clad Victorian angel. (Since when do angels wear green and red plaid?) In my opinion, this is plenty of heavenly ambiance, and everyone agrees. No one is disappointed by the lack of bling. Our crèche, nestled under the tree, is not overpowered by towers of wrapped boxes. Gifts, when given, are from the heart. They are understated and, as previously mentioned, entirely optional. No gift is considered inadequate. No one is allowed to ask, "Did you save the receipt?" And no one feels slighted if he or she is overlooked by someone in the group. This applies to everyone from rarely seen members of my extended family to my closest friends and relatives.
Attendance at this well mannered love fest is also optional. My Dad does not coerce my angry atheist brother to attend. My brother, should he opt to ride across the country with my parents to join us, would never dream of insisting that my financially-strapped father foot the bill for a hotel room for him, and subsequently chauffeur him fifteen miles back and forth across town every day, so that he doesn't have to sleep on our couch or rent a car. The hotel is welcome in my fantasy; after all, my folks are in the guest room, and the house is crowded. But at forty-three years of age, my gainfully employed brother's unwillingness to pay his own way, is not.
Pressure from out-of-town in-laws to drive six hours each way on jam packed, dangerous roads for a holiday visit is forbidden as well. In my Christmas fantasy, former victims of childhood abuse like my husband are not required to cross state lines to make polite conversation and pretend that everything is okay, while inwardly having to clobber demons they've been dodging for decades. Christmas should be a break from that mess, not a doorway into it.
On the surface, my fantasy looks pretty good. I can justify every bit of it, all the way 'round. There's one big problem though: it is selfish. The truth is, once a girl enlists in God's army, her focus at Christmas (just like every other day of the year) must turn outward. December is a spiritually charged month. Churches fill up as the year draws to a close, and calendars are crowded with social engagements. Many of us will spend time with rarely-seen family members who have little to no idea of the true meaning of Christmas. Opportunites to serve and shine for Christ abound. My prayer this year is that I'll do a better job than I have in the past. God, help me love these people—even the one who spilled the home-brewed beer he brought as a "gift"on the rug, and hid the spot with my favorite velvet pillow.
If, like me, you are a closeted holiday-hater, take heart: you are not alone. Despite what you may think, dysfunction is normal. Every family is weird, each in its own way. Take it from a prayer counselor who has been on the receiving end of multitudes of surprising stories from people who look as if everything in their lives is pulled together. It's not. Life rarely looks like a Hallmark made-for-TV-movie. For many of us, having to face our families is not easy. Set proper boundaries, get prayed up, and rely on God to protect you and to work through you in your situation. He won't let you down.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. ~ 2 Corinthians 9:8