For the first time since I became a mother, I felt as if I failed at Christmas.
The past few months have been crazy. Fall semester is always much busier than spring but this one was particularly busy. We left last week, directly following a production of “Annie Jr.” in which my older two children were involved, for a seven-day-long trip to Florida. This trip involved more traveling than our vacations typically involve and was not exactly restful. Upon arriving home, there were groceries to be purchased, friends to visit, and the next thing I knew, it was Christmas Eve.
And I was exhausted. I’d been so exhausted and distracted that I accidentally bought my oldest child a gift I’d told his grandfather to get him. And due to some miscommunication I don’t quite understand, three of his gifts under the tree this morning had been given to him last night by other family members. So, at about 1 am I found myself scrambling around trying to figure out what I could do to make up to my child who was receiving significantly fewer gifts than his siblings. As if that weren’t enough, I also realized that I’d kinda blown off stocking stuffers. I had a few things for each child’s stocking but, well, it was pretty pitiful. Maybe I’d meant to take care of that on the trip and just didn’t see anything they would like and it sorta slipped my mind?
Also, as usual, hubby was working last night. Which meant that I had to do Christmas by myself again. I had to get the gifts out of the closet, stuff the stockings, read the Santa hate mail from the girl, and stress over the incongruity of the gifts… all by myself. Slammed my head against the shelf in the gift hiding closet as I attempted to stealthily retrieve the gifts without waking the sleeping sweeties in my bed. Being a single mom on Christmas is extremely lonely.
So when the oldest got up at 5 am, before his dad had time to get home from work with an extra gift, I found myself feeling embarrassed by my shortcomings. I found myself explaining to him why he didn’t have as many gifts as his siblings and how I was sorry that the stockings weren’t full. I held my breath, scared that he’d have a melt down, accuse me of not loving him as much as I loved his brother and sister. Instead, he just looked the gifts over, said, “That’s the coolest backpack ever” about an Adventure Time bag I’d snagged at a local discount store, and proceeded to want to see a picture of the new baby sister that had been gifted to his best friends in the wee hours of this morning.
He didn’t care.
Not only did he not care, he felt the need to comfort me.
And despite the fact that I threw a giant fit, slammed doors, and locked myself in my bedroom where I cried for half an hour after the gifts had all been opened (and, at times, broken, insulted, thrown, and, to be fair, squealed over), he’s continued to be super sweet to me today.
After my fit (and a shower that helped me feel a little better), I announced in my kitchen that I wasn’t okay. I stated that I felt like a giant failure because of the broken gift, the unappreciated “gross” gift, the Louise hat that didn’t quite fit right, the duplicate gifts, the lack of stuffed stockings, the chocolate peppermint waffles that fell apart. My husband promptly responded that I had it all wrong.
Christmas is not about gifts and everything being perfect. It’s about family and being together and having fun.
“Well, I’m not having much fun right now!” I responded.
Then my five year old entered the room and yelled, “It’s about the looooove. Christmas is about LOVE!”
I didn’t have anything to say about that. This little boy understood Christmas better than I did? How could this be?
And if Christmas was about love, how come I wasn’t feeling very loved at the moment? After all, I received three gifts… earrings from my girl that I’d picked out and watched her buy, a calendar that I’d bought myself, and some candy that, in all fairness, I love and my son did pick out and purchase for me with his own money. Still, having worked so hard to buy something small and sweet that made me think of my husband, I was hurt when he’d not given me a gift. First no birthday gift or card. Then no anniversary gift or card. And now no Christmas gift or card. Sure, Christmas may not be about gifts but if it was about love, where was the expression of this love from this man who had promised to love me?
Then came the dreaded epiphany. I realized that this Christmas wasn’t about the love that I would receive. Instead it has been about the love that I have been able to give.
My reality is that I’m of very little use. At least I don’t feel very useful. I’m not great at anything. The one thing that I might like to do for a career (work as a doula or a midwife assistant) is just beyond my reach because if I were to go through the training, I’d still have my husband’s night job standing in my way until my children are old enough to be left alone at night for extended periods of time. Heck, even my attempt to serve as a Bible teacher at church has left me feeling rejected, misunderstood, and completely useless.
I’m simply not much good to many people.
What I am good at, however, is loving people. Some folks will tell you this is absolutely not true. Those are the people who have met my attempts at friendship with contempt, judgment, and criticism. Those people don’t get a vote.
But there is a whole other group of people who would tell you that I’m a damned good friend, a wonderful mother, and a service to my community. Because those people see my actions and the love behind them. Best of all are the folks in my life who let me love on them. 2014 has been a year filled with many opportunities to love on people. I’ve been able to be the hands and feet of Christ, outside of the church walls, over and over again this year and I can honestly say that I finally feel like God is using me and my talents more than ever. While I still feel like I could make a bigger impact on the world around me, I can at least see myself as a blessing to others.
Clearly, my little guy was right… Christmas is about love. And this afternoon I’ve dried my tears and I intend to spend the remainder of the day resting, taking care of myself, making food for my family, and maybe watching another one of my favorite Christmas movies. I will feel grateful that my life is filled to the brim with people who I love. Who let me love them. And I will love on my kids too, because they are a huge part of my ministry and were given to me, specifically, because I am capable of loving them best.
I may have forgotten to fill my children’s stockings but I can certainly be intentional about filling their hearts. And I will make it my mission to try and fill my husband’s heart as well, forgiving him for what may have simply been an oversight on his part as much as the stocking stuffers were an oversight on mine. But even if it wasn’t an over sight, it doesn’t matter. My true gift is being given another day to love on him. And I can totally do that.