One fun thing about being back in DC for Christmas is that we got to visit our old church. On Christmas eve, Jamie said it's especially bad "when things go wrong at Christmas because it shatters the perfection" and I had to laugh. Ben and I -- I'm slowly realizing -- do not thrive at Christmas.
And when we do it badly -- shall I walk through the years?: sit in the living room in smoldering silence, livid, as we set up hot wheels for our four year old boy; show up at the family dinner table after a full blow marital-rocking conversation hardly able to breathe; stand in the sunshine together putting up a tent to surprise the kids with fire coming out of our ears because we didn't coordinate our efforts -- the discordance feels harsher than on other days because Christmas is supposed to be ______________.
It's the problem of special days. Even the best kind of days when we celebrate the most important things: special days are supposed to be special. And the "supposed to be" leaves them riddled with pressure.
I used to call this the Snow Day Effect because every time the kids had a snow day, I'd ram into my idealized expectations of what the day should look like (outings to the monuments, art projects all together at the table), and the pressure killed it for me every time (though they generally were happy to do nothing but play around in the yard and drink hot chocolate).
At church on Christmas Eve, Jamie talked about the rats in the barn. I'd never thought of rats before, but of course barns have them. Mary's baby was born in a barn that smelled like a barn and had rats in it.
And before that, she'd had to travel nine months pregnant (for those of us who've been nine months pregnant, it's pretty uncomfortable) SITTING ON A DONKEY (laughably terrible). And after however many days of that, when they finally arrived in town, every place was full; she, possibly cramping, sweating, starting contractions, literally had no where to labor.
Talk about a bad Christmas and thwarted expectations. (I bet there was at least a little marital tension in the mix, too).
And yet, that's where this beautiful moment happened, in the middle of a dirty stable that smelled like cows, between two poor refugees: God came.
I would never say I'm striving for perfection, but I do get pretty bent out of shape when my expectations are jolted. Or when I can't live up to the pressure I've heaped on myself. And certainly if there are rats in (or near) my room, or if my house (or anywhere near it) smells like sewage. Or there aren't clean sheets, or even soft enough sheets where I'm sleeping.
Mary might have bitched and moaned through her whole nine months, as they traveled, when she crouched in dry brush to go to the bathroom unable to see her feet because her belly was so big, the days or day when they couldn't find anywhere to stop. She may have cursed angrily during her labor that straw was poking her legs or there wasn't enough water. But I'm guessing she didn't.
The Christmas story, itself, is about "perfection" with all of its expectations, shattering.
It's about how the perfection's actually been shattered all the time, despite how we decide to orchestrate our snow days.
Next year will I head into Christmas knowing Ben and I will collide and probably wrap presents angrily together? Probably not. But maybe for a second I'll remember that everything went "wrong" the first Christmas, and something about landing in the barn made Mary, the baby, the stars, the gathering of all those unexpected people, more beautiful.