Are you experiencing hectic holidays? Are you a little (or a lot) behind on the shopping or the wrapping or the baking? Or is it the budget that’s the problem? Are you finding less time for Bible Study? Are you worried about being around difficult relatives or maybe getting around to all of the kids’ activities? If these are your holiday stresses, can I just tell you that you are very blessed? In the last week, I’ve been in conversation with a friend who just discovered the adultery of a mate, another who just found out that she’s been placed on an urgent heart transplant list, and yet another who is daily making trips to a nursing home to “visit” with a spouse who is rarely awake and never cognizant. A part of coping is the realization that, as we look around, we always see someone for whom we can offer comfort–someone who has a tougher path than do we at the moment.
Nevertheless, when the man who walked across America was asked what’s the most difficult thing about the journey, he replied, “It’s the sand that gets in my shoes.” Sometimes it’s the little material concerns that can take the merry out of the yule. I, personally, rarely scream out in fear, but that dead mouse I uncovered on the pillow in the cabin the other day, as I was cleaning, did make me shriek and flee. There was a perfectly good mousetrap with perfectly yummy peanut butter just a few feet from him, but, oh no, he was too good to die in a trap. He preferred the stately layout on the guest bed, which, of course required the washing of about three loads of linens, comforters, etc…and some pretty stout sterilization–all that, after I enlisted Glenn’s help to dispatch the corpse. (This was a disgustingly hairy mouse, too–maybe Persian or Birman…I don’t know.) Then I got in a hurry and crammed way too many things in the dryer and ruined a pillow that didn’t have room to “tumble” and got scorched as it became lodged against the heating element. I really loathed that mouse.
Then the following day was the much-awaited counter top installation. New soapstone counter tops from the husband for Christmas is an exciting present. I told the installers when they came to measure, though, that I would be perfectly happy to wait until January to have them installed, since I had invited three-hundred-fifty people to my house on the eleventh of December for a big holiday snack party. To me, the probability of something being totally unfinished or not fitting or broken in the process seemed pretty big. I needed that kitchen to be done, with all of it’s ramifications, at least a couple of days before the party. But the workmen were positive. They would come on Thursday (the eighth of December) and, since everything would be precut, they would be all done in three hours and leave with no clean-up necessary. I kept wanting an absolute guarantee and they kept reiterating that this was a three hour deal.
I kid you not….I looked up from my computer in my bedroom which adjoins the kitchen and they were cutting soapstone with gargantuan saws in my kitchen! Texas-sized dust clouds were rising and gusting into pantries filled with cans, and dishes and utensils and cake decor supplies and on top of cabinets lined with cookie jars and on curtains and into all the other rooms of the house. I was remembering that painful needle test that I had done and all those pricks all over my back that revealed I was just so highly allergic to dust and I was thinking, too, about the host of people who had been invited over as I walked through my kitchen leaving footprints in the dust. All these people were coming to the dust bowl in three days and I had to travel to two different out of town destinations between Thursday and Sunday. (One of them was out of state.) I’m not proud to say it, but I cried. I left the house and went to run some errands that had to be done before Sunday and I think I cried all the way to the store. When I wasn’t crying, I was coughing. By the way, my idea of enjoying the tree is not at three in the morning when I am coughing up a lung and sleep, if it’s to be had at all, requires vertical positioning rather than horizontal.
And then, that night, Glenn and I made one of those out-of-town trips to talk with some people who are some of the dearest on earth to us. The struggle in their lives at this holiday season is unbearably painful. When someone chooses to walk away from God, knowing full well that it will destroy family ties on this earth, and that souls will ultimately suffer forever in hell because of selfish sin, the pain for the faithful who love the sinner is extreme. It saps the joy from all the other events that should bring pleasure. It, in short, torments. It is the foretaste of hell in the same way that Christian fellowship is the precursor to heaven. There is very little that we or anyone can do to comfort. Of all the stresses humans experience, the pain that sin brings is the most sorrowful trial we will ever face. When we lose the hope of heaven for one that we love, the loss cannot be reclaimed and it is incalculable.
…And a few hours and a cup of coffee later, at two a.m. on Friday morning, I arrived at Hannah’s house. If you’re a new reader you need to know that Hannah is my just-married daughter and she was hosting her congregation’s Christmas party on Friday night. I had promised her my Friday to help clean and decorate and I had promised to bring some lights and a door swag and some Santas and snowmen. I had pretty much jam-packed my husband’s little Miata with the decking for the halls. (He needed my SUV for doing a book haul, so it was a tight squeeze for me and all those snowmen.) I got out of the car in that wee small hour of the morning and promptly and most immediately locked my keys and all my clothes, my purse, and all the tinsel town I had brought in the car. I’ve heard that, when one door closes, another opens, I was really wishing it could be one of those car doors, but al least they had left the house door unlocked and the light on for me. There was only one thing to do, at that point, and I did it. I went to bed. I had never spent the night in that place before, but I found the guest room and crawled in that bed–clothes, make-up, and all. Like Scarlet O’Hara, I just decided I would “worry about that tomorrow.”
The next morning as Han crawled in the bed with me, I think she was a little surprised that I was already dressed! My husband was surprised, too, when I called to ask him if he’d like to drive an hour-and -a half and meet me for a cup of coffee. “And, oh yeah,” I added, “Could you bring your Miata key with you?”
Well, he’s just the sweetest man on the planet about keys locked in the car. He’s had so much practice at this particular rescue effort that he does it like a pro. Besides that, he speaks at marriage seminars all the time and tells husbands “You know, you are going to go and unlock the car for your wife. You just are. So why not get a few brownie points for doing it by refusing to complain and just go unlock her car and then buy her a cup of coffee and let her tell you what a blessing you are in her life? You ARE going to the locked car. But you do get to choose what you get when you unlock it. You can be unlocking some pain or you can be unlocking some joy in your world.” He’s got that lesson down.
So I borrowed a car and a phone and started out to meet my husband. I turned out of my daughter’s drive, went about a half-mile where I found myself looking at a flashing blue light and in a short line for a license check. A license, by the way, is one of the many things securely stored away in the Miata.
I’m going to stop there. (This is getting way too long.) You get the point. It was just one of those weeks. I’m writing in the aftermath. The mouse has found his way to a new spot in the circle of life. A couple of bottles of Pine Sol and some Murphy’s Soap and some aching muscles later, the parties both happened and they were fun. I learned you can wear the same clothes and make-up for forty-eight hours or so and you’re not really much the worse for it. I really learned or remembered a lot of things. Here are a few things to remember when you finally get to the end of your tinsel rope this holiday season:
- Not all surprises during the holidays will be good ones. In other words, the mouse may be hairy and he may not be in the trap. Not everything about your warm and wonderful holiday will be warm and wonderful. Lower your expectations and you will have a much better chance of meeting them.
- There are no guarantees when it comes to material things (James 4:13-15). So stop putting your confidence in them.
- Trying to cram too many things in a day is like trying to cram too many things in the dryer. Something ends up getting stuck, getting burned or having to be replaced. Often we just need to take a deep breath and be still and know that He is God (Psa 46:10). Every gift doesn’t have to be handmade, every cobweb doesn’t have to be swept down and every ornament doesn’t have to be hung every single year.
- Defiled things are not worth crying over. Defiled people are (Luke 19:41).
- Comfort is for all times of the year and is best given by those who know the comfort of the heavenly Father. There will come a time in the lives of all of us when we will desperately need the comfort of the Father to flow through fellow Christians. I have been there and, if you have lived very long, so have you (II Cor. 1:4). Remember, there are Good Samaritan moments all around us every day and those who really need us may not have their names on an angel tree anywhere. It might be some young mother who needs an hour or two of kids free shopping. It might be the grandmother who needs help cleaning or shopping before all her kids come or it might be the elderly man at the nursing home who has no one to come and take him home for a Christmas meal. It might be your children, who, in the midst of the holiday home-stretch, just need you to take time to sit down and watch “The Grinch who Stole Christmas” (in the short cartoon version) with them. It might help you learn a lesson or two while you’re at it.
- Sleep is underrated. It’s really important to get proper rest during the holidays. It’s not so efficient to drive to a different state to help someone, but be so sleepy when you get there that you lock the keys in the car. Rest was important for the Lord. The demands didn’t ever go away, but sometimes He did…just to rest (Mark 6:31). Lots of life’s issues find resolve in a good nap.
- Try to remember that other people may just need a good nap, too. Give the grumpy store clerk, the nasty people in the postal line or the workmen in the dust cloud a break. It’s hard, but it’s right (Romans 12:10-21).
- Whatever good thing it is–if you’re going to do it regardless–then don’t murmur about it (I Cor. 10:10).
- Thank God for good people who are on your team–and thank those people, too. If you have one person who comes to your rescue when needed, you are most blessed. If that person is your husband, treat him with respect and honor. Let that person know that you count him when you count your blessings. It’s truly wonderful to have someone nearby in the day of calamity (Proverbs 27:10).
- Wherever you can peg yourself on the holiday stress meter, be sure you are on the blessing trail. If you don’t know about the blessing trail, go back and read the blog post for August 5, 2011 and September 1, 2011.