This Advent reflection below comes straight from Getting Past Perfect, but it seems fitting because I’ve seen so many people across social media lamenting that their Advent hasn’t gone exactly as they’d hoped. Are you feeling that way, too? Well, join the Advent Loser Club. In all seriousness, I have far too many blank pages in my Advent Devotional Journal. I do get points for reading the daily Scriptures *almost* every day, right? We have read some of our favorite Advent/Christmas stories like The Night of the Las Posadas, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona!, and the daily stories from Little Bear’s Advent Storybook. The kids have sometimes fulfilled their daily sacrifices they pull out each day from our little Advent calendar. They’ve definitely remembered to eat their daily treats. Our tree is up and half-decorated. We will be hosting an Advent tea next Friday for the women in our extended family. Writing things down makes me realize we’ve accomplished more than I thought. Even if we’re only baby steps closer to the manger. We are moving in the right direction. Also, I keep reminding myself of something beautiful that I read on Laura Kelly Fanucci’s Instagram account: “Advent does not depend on us. But we depend on Advent.”
Persevere. Show up. I often say during my “getting past perfect” talks that the only thing I’m going to even try to work on perfecting here in this messy world is my perseverance. I’ll keep trying. I’ll keep picking myself up when I’ll stumble. I’ll keep showing up with my half-decorated tree, ragamuffin children, and tired, mombie, and snotty self (raise your hand if you have a cold, too!). I will perfect my perseverance.
Each Advent season, my family heads out to a local Christmas tree farm in search of the perfect tree. I’m honestly okay with a Charlie Brown tree, but my detail-oriented husband is a perfectionist about things of which I am not and always has a hard time selecting our tree. The kids show him their favorites, and he inevitably finds a bald spot or notices the tree’s overall shape is too sparse or too asymmetrical. Eventually, he reluctantly acquiesces with one of the kids’ selections after I remind him no real tree is going to be a flawless shape and height. But, wouldn’t we rather have real than artificial?
Then we return home, and that’s when I start wanting things to be perfect. The tree is just a tree, but the memories we make decorating that said tree better be glittery-gold. So I make home- made cocoa. The girls dip candy canes into warm pools of chocolate. Then they watch The Grinch as my husband laces the tree with multicolored lights. None of that elegant-only-white-light business for the Wicker tree; that’s not the kind of perfection I’m after. We do bold and bright in our house. The same holds true for the ornaments. There are no themes. The decorative danglers cover the gamut—from homemade angels with pictures of the kids’ heads for faces to a bristly hedgehog that was my husband’s as a boy.
I love sifting through the bottomless container of ornaments. So many of them conjure up memories or old loves like the golden horse head molded out of clay that reminds me of my beloved Palomino, Sunny, or the Baby’s First Christmas ornament that I received during my first month of motherhood. This is a tradition I savor. My children do, too, and I hope these are the moments they will remember instead of the less golden ones such as the daily fighting that occurs each morning over whose turn it was to open the drawer of our Advent calendar where four M&Ms (all the same color so as to dissuade yet another fight) were hidden.
I don’t always get my perfect memories during Advent or otherwise. That’s life. This past year, we gathered around our new tree, and kids started pulling out several ornaments all at once. Then Thomas broke an ornament. It looked like a ball, so he hurled it across the living room. And, of course, all the girls were sad as if that was their favorite ornament of all time. We comforted Thomas because we thought he was scared from the glass ball shattering at his feet. But shortly thereafter, he snagged another ornament off the tree and chucked it across the room where it promptly shattered into colorful shards.
I remember how I felt standing there in the shadow of our beautiful, sparkling tree. I examined the pieces and knew there was no way to salvage that ornament. At that moment, I felt our memories were the same way—like they’d been broken into so many pieces there was no way I could make them happy and whole again.
Nothing seemed to be turn out the way I had hoped or the way I wanted it to. The Advent memories were not very Norman Rockwell-ish at all. We were a mess. And a very noisy one at that.
So I wonder: Will the children’s memory banks see past all that? Will they take ornaments out each Christmas and smile fondly, or will they remember the shards reflecting the tear- stained faces in their broken shininess?
And what if they do? Does that make their life any less meaningful and good? Maybe Advent is supposed to be a little sad because we so desperately need a Savior. Maybe motherhood and childhood isn’t always supposed to be magical but real and yes, tough. Maybe just like our tree, imperfectly real is better than artificial. We are broken, hurting. We’re not always satisfied. We need hope—Christ—to be born in our hearts. But we’re also not anything like that shattered ornament. We can always be redeemed and pieced back together.
I’d like to think my children will grow up with only happy childhood memories; yet, I’m a memory maker, not a memory keeper. My kids might have some glum recollections, but perhaps they will have the Christmas memories, too. The memories where we all got it right—not perfect but right for the moment. There were broken ornaments and sometimes broken promises, too. There were silly stories and happily-ever-afters, but there were tearjerkers thrown in there as well, with endings that weren’t all neat and tidy. There was a mother who did her best. Sometimes that wasn’t nearly good enough for what her children and family deserved. But many times it was. There was hurt, but there was love that was inexorably linked to mercy and forgiveness.
And there was always grace, and it almost always was born out of the darkness. It came in the child who hugged a tired mama. It came in a “just because” note that compared Mom to a flower everyone wants to be around that a child scribbled down and shyly handed to me. It came in an apology. Grace filled our hearts as we filled cups each dinnertime—cups that sometimes splattered and spilled and needed to be re-filled. Grace slipped into our lives just when we needed it. It was a gift that grabbed hold of hearts even if we were lousy at preparing ourselves for it. Somehow, like Christmas for the Grinch’s Whos, it came all the same without packages, boxes, or bags. Without perfect mamas, perfect children, or perfect memories. Grace was there. Joy was there. This is what I hope, God willing, these children of mine might remember.