Alas, if we had hoped for a Norman Rockwall Christmas, this year wouldn’t deliver. Rather than the iconic painting, it seemed ours might look a little more like the classic Charlie Brown motley crew around their scrawny tree.

Some years it just seems we’re doing well just to “hold it all together.”

After receiving a new cancer diagnosis, doctors’ appointments, surgery, and procedures ensued. “I don’t have time for all this now,” I thought, as I considered all the holiday preparations yet to be made. But then again, I had to make time for it.

I felt like a spider with eight arms and legs, trying to keep that many plates spinning between my medical care, my husband’s medical care, my children’s school, extracurricular activities, a book that needed editing, and ministry endeavors. It was all I could do to not let any of the plates drop.

A friend texted me after my surgery and asked how things were going. Unsure of the degree to which she really wanted the truth, I briefly replied, “I’m fine.” That’s always the safe answer, right?

As I checked out of the line at the big box store, the clerk carried on with the obligatory chit-chat. In that moment, I just wanted to be invisible. Since I couldn’t entirely avoid it, I desired the next best thing: to keep our socially gracious conversation to a minimum.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” she asked.

It no longer mattered that I couldn’t find coordinating paper napkins to match the small dessert plates. I didn’t want to stand there, feeling naked and exposed in my pain, while they checked the shelves for me. Nor did I want to create a delay for the person waiting patiently behind me. “Yes, thank you.”

“Are you ready for Christmas?” was a simple enough question. I knew my answer wouldn’t matter to her once she started helping the next customer in line, so I quickly quipped something about there always being more to do than we have time for.

Moments later, after having loaded my trunk, I sat within the safe refuge of my locked car and the tears flowed freely down my face.

No, I wasn’t ready for Christmas, and I wouldn’t be. Surgery left me unable to lift my arm, and the wound kept zapping me with nerve pain to remind me it existed in more than my dreams or the figment of my imagination.

In my mind it couldn’t be almost Christmas… I might be ready for Christmas by St. Patrick’s Day.

We had a few decorations up, but that was only because I had a ministry meeting at my house the week following Thanksgiving, and I knew if we didn’t get them up in time for that, it wouldn’t happen. And I was right.

The annual Christmas picture, Christmas letter, and Christmas cards never happened and wouldn’t this year. While we had looked forward to sharing the upcoming birth of a new book and the growth in both boys over the last year, no one wants to share a diagnosis of cancer in a Christmas letter.

The lights wouldn’t be installed on the outside of the house. As it was, we needed an electrician to come out and fix our everyday living lights that no longer worked and left us prepping meals in the dark.

Many Christmas gifts for friends and family members didn’t make the cut this year because of financial, time, and energy constraints. There was only so much of each.

I drove home, tears flowing, the whole time thinking back to Christmas’s past and comparing them to this year’s somewhat simple Christmas. I heard the whispers in my ear, berating me as a mother and a wife, for all the ways Christmas might be less than perfect and idyllic.

Yet, I argued with myself, maybe simple was better. When we strive for the picture perfect Christmas, we can miss out on focusing on what matters most.

-I made sure they each had their absolute favorite Christmas cookie, rather than an endless assortment.

– A Christmas tree is lit with lights but remains void of any of the collected decorations from years past.

-I normally loved beautifying the gifts to be given with pretty wrapping, ribbons and bows. This year, the wrapping was likely to be the love with which they were purchased.

-The Christmas dinner menu had not yet been decided, but would not be an elaborate affair. It would likely comprise one favorite dish for each family member, each of us assembling our favorites together, enjoying each others’ company.

-The thought of cleanup following Christmas day dinner tipped my “last straw meter.” This year may just be punctuated with paper plates and uncoordinated napkins. Perhaps in addition to the traditional “Happy Birthday Jesus” cake for dessert, we’d also have happy birthday plates and napkins!

As I drove home after the sky had given way to the winter early darkness, the Christmas decorated lawns in our neighborhood seemed to mock my still wreath-free front door. I pulled into the garage, turned off my car’s engine, and just sat for a few quiet moments, willing myself to face our current reality.

“Lord, how do I make this up to them? This is not what they are used to, and it’s not their fault.”

I sat still as tears flowed.

“It’s not your fault either. Instead, consider it’s to your credit.”

“To my credit?” I echoed.

As I sat, He gently explained.

“In all the busyness, you made sure that their favorite cookies were baked—the ones they had to have or it wouldn’t have seemed like Christmas. The others didn’t matter.”

“They wanted the tree up to put presents under. You gave them that. The ornaments didn’t matter.”

“You shopped and have chosen gifts from your heart. The wrapping or lack thereof doesn’t matter.”

“Dinner may not be elaborate, but they are never impressed by elaborate. They just want to be fed and be together. Elaborate doesn’t matter.”

“This year, you are giving them the very best you have to offer. You are being intentional with your time, with your money, and with your presence. That’s the best gift you can give them and that’s to your credit.”

My heart needed to hear it was okay to quit striving for the picture perfect Christmas. Perhaps you do too. Perhaps you are struggling to create the picture-perfect Christmas and feeling woefully inadequate. It’s okay. It’s all about relationship—ours with Him and with each other.

Jesus wasn’t born into a picture-perfect palace. Jesus didn’t come for picture-perfect-it doesn’t matter. In fact, if we and our lives were picture perfect, we wouldn’t have needed a Savior. He was born for our inadequacies, to heal our pain, and to meet our needs.

Picture perfect doesn’t matter but a perfect savior does. He makes all the difference whatever we’re going through.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This year, may you give yourself permission to quit striving for a picture perfect Christmas, and enjoy the presence of a perfect Savior.

Because of Him, #HopePrevails!

The Gift of Hope makes a Great Stocking Stuffer!

Hope Prevails Book and Hope Prevails Bible Study {hope for overcoming depression}

Hope Prevails and Hope Prevails Bible Study make great stocking stuffers! Available now at Amazon!

Available now through book retailers!

Hope Prevails: Insights From a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression and the companion Hope Prevails Bible Study help the reader understand how depression comes to be, recover their joy, reclaim their peace, and re-establish their true identity, while knowing their worth, remembering their secure destiny, and being confident that nothing separates them from God’s love.

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Were you hoping for a Norman Rockwall kind of Christmas, but yours looks like the Charlie Brown motley crew and scrawny tree instead? #encouragement #Christmas