It had been a pretty terrible day. Afternoon, at least. The kind where a fire builds on the inside and spills over into tears.
We’d bought a tree four days earlier, yet it still stood bare in the stand. Day one, we didn’t get around to it. Day two, not one strand of lights worked. (Not one!) Day three, I forgot to buy more. This was day four.
I’d bought new lights and strung them on the tree while the kids were at school. I could envision us decorating with glee – finally! – once everyone was home and the dinner all eaten and the littles were pajama-clad yet not too tired to help. It would be perfect, the way decorating a Christmas tree should be.
The kids came home but dinner was a fiasco, as was every single thing in the hours before and after. Somewhere amid the disobedience and the scolding, the cooking and the being flat-out irritated with each other, Mama lost it. Meaning, I locked myself in the bathroom until I could breathe normally.
Needless to say, no ornaments were hung on the tree that night. After the boys went to bed, I sat defeated at the dining room table next to the empty, lit tree. I was wallowing and I made no effort to hide it.
She walked in so quietly I hardly noticed. She stood in front of the tree in her pink nightgown and tiny bare feet, and after a long, silent minute, she sang.
“Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn king!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled…”
It was an obvious attempt to recreate the scene from It’s Christmas, Charlie Brown, and the lyrics were perfectly imperfect, right down to the “new bored king.” But seeing her standing there, facing that tree like it was the most beautiful she’d ever seen and singing loud and sweet those lyrics she is just starting to understand… it took my breath away.
The next night we decorated the tree, and it was intense. Boys jumping off chairs, ornaments flung to the floor, little hands grabbing decades-old memories faster than this control-freak heart could allow. And though there were many moments when I forgot what she taught me just the night before, there were actually a few when I remembered.
This chaos is my peace on earth. These tender hearts, my mercy mild.
And so I pray for me (and you?) today: May we be brave enough to put aside the picture-perfect Christmas in our heads for the sake of the real-life Christmas happening in our homes. Amen.