And I'm totally old school...my lists are always on paper. There's just something I love about a clean piece of paper and writing in pen that makes me love list making even more! I love brainstorming on my lists...like for Christmas gift ideas or, my absolute favorite, vacation planning...and having lots of arrows and underlines and cross-outs and exclamation points for the really good/don't forget kind of ideas. I even love re-writing my lists to make a final working copy after all of my brainstorming is complete. Just to make things neater...and as an excuse to write out another list!
List making helps me to feel like I'm organized, focused, and have a plan to move forward. It brings a certain level of peace deep inside, even when I have a lot to do to accomplish whatever list I'm working on.
While I love lists, they are not my ultimate focus. It makes me feel good to have them, but my joy is not based on being able to cross everything off any particular list. This hasn't always been my go to sentiment. Getting to this thought process has taken a lot of growing and stretching over the years. As a younger mom, there where years when I felt terrible about myself when I couldn't get just the right picture for a Christmas card, or gifts didn't go over as I thought they would, or the tree fell down multiple times in one Christmas season breaking several precious ornaments beyond repair(I think our record is 3 "timbers"), or (shudder) a stomach bug or other illness makes Christmas less than the Merry I had in my head.
If I get caught up in looking at my list as something to check off rather than more of a wish list, I am literally sucking my own joy out of the Holiday Season.
I don't know about you, but I tend to over plan for the Holiday Season. What sounds good when I'm making my to do list in early December, sitting in pajamas on the couch under a blanket with a Hallmark movie on in the background, is usually completely different than actual life come December 20th. When I'm solely focused on creating Christmas magic on paper with all kinds of extraordinary ideas, I have to remember to consider all the real life "goings on" that will still be happening all December long despite all the extra projects and events that I want to add into my schedule.
For example, everyone still expects dinner every night...the laundry doesn't take a hiatus just because it's Christmas...there's still basketball practices and games...still men's group and youth group..still a regular work schedule. (You get the idea!)
"It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages boxes or bags.
Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store.
Maybe Christmas(he thought) means a little bit more."
I think in our heads we all know that Christmas isn't really about all the details. Does our attitude and choices we make during the Advent Season reflect this truth? I know mine often doesn't. I get too caught up checking off my list and not remembering the real reason I have the list in the first place:
To show my family and friends the love I feel for them in my heart. To show my coworkers that I appreciate them. To show my children's teachers and therapists and bus drivers how grateful I am for all they do for my children.
I get so caught up in the to do list that I forget to reflect on the opportunity that God is giving me during Advent....the opportunity to consider the great gift that His Son was for me. There's so much to reflect on this time of year! We have Mary's yes that encourages us to seek and follow God's will, even when we don't know all the details. We have all the innkeepers who had no room for the Holy Family...bet they were too busy checking things off their list!...that encourages us to to make sure we are ready when Jesus knocks on the door of our hearts. We have the shepherds and wise men who followed the signs given them that led to the most amazing grace of meeting the Savior of the world!
There's so much that could keep my focus and actions from being a way to shower love on my family. It's not the perfect, Martha Stewart wrapped love that could grace the cover of a magazine that our family needs.(Although if that level of decorating is your God given gift, then you go girl! Being crafty is something I admire yet have no talent in!) The "perfect" Christmas for your family is going to look different from my family that is going to look different from every other family around me! And guess what? Your perfect Christmas will be different for your family from year to year depending on the ages of your kids, #of your kids, and the circumstances of the months leading up to Christmas. Life is always changing!
The perfect Christmas is one where love and mercy are poured into our families, friends and everyone else God places in our paths. The perfect Christmas happens when we allow God's love and mercy to pour into ourselves first and foremost.
We can't give what we don't have!
How does that work on a practical level? We HAVE to be willing to let go of things that don't work...even good things. Maybe there are gift bags instead of wrapped presents. Maybe the menu has less items on it than usual. Maybe Christmas cards get skipped this year or go out after Christmas... which is still the Christmas Season! Maybe you only bake 4 kinds of cookies instead of the 10 you wanted to. Maybe you don't put out as many decorations this year as you did last year(or will next year).
If we focus on getting our lists checked off but are burned out, stressed out and cranky, we are just missing the reason for doing it all in the first place. We aren't spreading joy and we certainly aren't receiving joy if we are walking around aggravated and snapping at people and can't wait for Christmas to finally be over!
Sounds like it should be part of 1 Corinthians 13...Love does not snap at their children for crying during the family Christmas picture. Love does not throw a temper tantrum because the house was not cleaned from top to bottom for company. Love does get discouraged because the pie got burned.
(veteran mom tip: if the family picture just isn't working out, pick a photo card that had multiple spots and just choose different pictures that you've taken throughout the year of your kiddos. It doesn't matter if a beach scene or an Easter basket ends up on your Christmas card! Truly!)
Wishing you an Advent full of sanity and unfinished lists!