Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Jenga

I promised myself last year that Christmas 2012 was going to be the year. The year that I had it all together. I was going to start my shopping the first day of October and be done by Thanksgiving. Instead of Black Friday shopping, I would spend the day writing my Christmas letter. I was going to have the house decorated and everything wrapped by the first of December so I could spend the month trying out new Christmas goodie recipes, playing through all my Christmas song books on the piano and watching Christmas movies with my kids. (Would you believe I still haven't ever seen such classics as Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story or Holiday Inn?) Every night I was going to gather my little ones around me for a Christmas story and then family prayer before bed. It was going to be a busy season, yes...what with the various concerts and plays we were involved in...but I was going to enjoy the journey and when we were home, I was going to really be home.
But everyone got sick. And prepping for the the plays and concerts took up more time that anticipated. And my shopping didn't get done until this past Friday. I almost didn't even write the Christmas letter....the cards got dropped off at the post office just yesterday afternoon which means they probably won't be delivered before Christmas. I didn't wrap a single present until I set up gift wrapping central last night and spent five hours wrapping and curling ribbon. Rather than be the year....I ended up more behind than I have ever been any other Christmas season. I found myself overwhelmed and frustrated.

So today in church when I heard this quote from President Uchtdorf's 2011 Christmas fireside talk, you can probably understand why I sat up and took special notice...

Sometimes it seems that our efforts to have a perfect Christmas season are like a game of Jenga—you know, the one played with small wooden blocks that are precariously stacked up to a tower. As we try to increase the height of the tower, we pull out one wooden block before we can place it on top of the delicate structure.
Each of those little wooden blocks is a symbol of the perfect Christmas events we so desperately want to have. We have in our minds a picture of how everything should be—the perfect tree, the perfect lights, the perfect gifts, and the perfect family events. We might even want to re-create some magical moment we remember from Christmases past, and nothing short of perfection will do.
Sooner or later, something unpleasant occurs—the wooden blocks tumble, the drapes catch fire, the turkey burns, the sweater is the wrong size, the toys are missing batteries, the children quarrel, the pressure rises—and the picture-perfect Christmas we had imagined, the magic we had intended to create, shatters around us. As a result, the Christmas season is often a time of stress, anxiety, frustration, and perhaps even disappointment.
But then, if we are only willing to open our hearts and minds to the spirit of Christmas, we will recognize wonderful things happening around us that will direct or redirect our attention to the sublime. It is usually something small—we read a verse of scripture; we hear a sacred carol and really listen, perhaps for the first time, to its words; or we witness a sincere expression of love. In one way or another, the Spirit touches our hearts, and we see that Christmas, in its essence, is much more sturdy and enduring than the many minor things of life we too often use to adorn it.

Because when I think back on the past few weeks, there really have been plenty of those sublime Christmas moments. Moments that maybe I enjoyed while they were happening, certainly...but quickly forgot in the mad rush of the season. I wanted the whole season to be that way...full of the spirit of Christmas everyday and always, and yet that is fairly unrealistic. I'm glad that in hindsight, most likely what my mind will focus on and replay in months to come are those special moments. But I hope that I'll also remember next year to not set my expectations so high and to not be as hard on myself. To try, certainly, to make the season memorable and magical for myself and my family...but to realize and remember that most likely that magic will come in unexpected ways mixed in with the day-to-day mundane. We just need to look a little closer.

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