Each year, as we set out the painted, clay nativity set my daughters made when they were in elementary school, I am reminded of God’s ability to bring love and grace to the most unexpected places. Ten years later, the day they made it is still fresh in my mind. It started like this….
“ Mooooooommmmm!” the ear piercing screech reaches my ears just before the sound of a door closing, hard. Hard enough to take off a finger. I rush up the stairs to find that my daughter has slammed the door in her sister’s face. Fortunately no fingers or noses have been lost. For the millionth time that day I try to figure out what has happened. I try to mediate an argument with two girls who have lost all logic and are intent on revenge for some imagined sisterly slight.
I channel my angry energy into looking for a hammer or screwdriver or something that will help me take the door off of its hinges. You see, in our house, the immediate punishment for a slamming a door is the removal of the door to your room. We like to make a statement, I guess. I spend enough time looking for tools that I cool off a little and reflect on why the fighting is non-stop today, of all days.
I blame some of the arguing on the hectic schedule we had been keeping. Friday night we had two of the girls’ friends over. Their parents came for a while and before we knew it, it was very late (although it had been very fun). The rest of the weekend’s calendar looked worse. We had the school’s annual pancake breakfast, a Girl Scout winter party at our house (hooray, gingerbread houses for 12!) and hubby was going to spend as much time as he could at the hospital with his very ill cousin and grandmother. We were thankful they were in the same hospital so they could see one another and because it meant one less trip in the car.
I mentally braced for the rest of the weekend, silently reminding myself that Christmas is in the preparation and the waiting for a Savior, not in the decorations and trimmings that often stress me out. I attempted to put things in the proper perspective, despite being a bit frazzled around the edges of my soul. I was pretty tapped out from worrying and decorating and trying to make everything “magical”. Too often, in the past (ok, I admit it, this year too!), I had rushed around to make Christmas events appear, at least photographically speaking, perfect. But perfection stole my presence in the moment, robbing me of peace and joy. I was looking forward to the weekend’s activities, hoping that they would renew my spirit.
I must have forgotten to share my peace and joy-filled plan with the kids. Because, however prepared my heart was, their constant bickering and back-talk wore away at my patience until I was ready to send the girls to Siberia rather than spend the weekend with them. The door slamming happened. We threatened them. We yelled. We begged of them, “Why can’t you just stop fighting?” They normally get along pretty well. Waaay better than I ever remember getting along with my siblings. But not this busy, exciting weekend.
Until Sunday after church… We were making holiday gifts for family out of fabric and clay and other crafty items. The gifts were turning out well, even if the attitude that surrounded the making was one of grouchiness and obligation rather than love and generosity. My oldest had the idea to make a baby Jesus lying in a manger. My youngest copied her. And when the oldest predictably whined, “she’s copying me!” I replied, with gritted teeth and the last drop of my patience, “why don’t you work together on the entire Nativity?” Something shifted. They decided the clay nativity would be a gift for Daddy. One used her baby Jesus clay to mold a kneeling Mary. The other began working on a donkey and a camel. I escaped to make dinner and left them alone.
I could hear them in the background, complimenting each other, discussing which animals or people to include, and giving each other tips. When I was done fixing and cleaning up I looked at what they had created: a perfect nativity with Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, 3 kings, a winged angel, a donkey, a camel and a shoebox stable.
Somehow, in spite of 36 hours of constant bickering (is there a Guinness World Record for that?), they were able to come together and fashion a thoughtful, beautiful gift for their father, without any advice or cajoling from me. Love and kindness were able to break through the nasty, frenzied attitude that had engulfed us all the entire weekend.
That evening, we got them ready for bed, earlier than usual. We tried to take the door off the hinges, but still couldn’t find the tools we lost in the move 8 months earlier. So, we gave the slammer a little grace about her punishment. We went to bed very weary, but hopeful that we might experience more peace in the coming days.
The imperfectly-perfect nativity is set out every year. As I pass by it throughout Advent, I am reminded of that stressful weekend. I am reminded that the busyness isn’t worth the stress. I remember that peace and joy can be found in the everyday moments, sometimes more so than the pre-planned “magical” ones. Even with this tangible memory, each year I find I must relearn the hard lessons of letting go of expectation and embracing the anticipation and hope of God with us.