We didn’t always practice lingering. It’s a much-forgotten necessity in this world of marketing strategies that rush us on to the next promotion. Even the church gets caught in the push. But I believe Christmas is still here in the New Year. While the world capitalizes on resolutions, Advent is just as relevant in January as it is in December.
On this Twelfth Day of Christmas, as I sit in the glow of golden hour approaching, I’m forcing my bent toward perfectionism to take a backseat for this post. I’ll even resist refreshing the water tinged pink by cranberries, though I was tempted to change it out for this photo. It is fitting. We have had a very unpolished Christmas season full of many unexpected happenings.
First, I became very ill just as the fam began trickling in. Sepsis. It is no joke. There is much I don’t remember of those first few days Christmas week between the brain fog/difficulty thinking and high fevers as infection rushed through my body. Confession, I refused to be in the hospital because I was determined to be with my family. It took IV antibiotics along with two oral antibiotics to get it under siege. The infection messed with my cognitive function so much, despite years of owning a baking business, I managed to botch nearly every dessert I tried to bake. Even the re-bakes were screwed up! I couldn’t get anything right. (I even burned tea this week!! Who does that?! My brain and body have yet to fully recover.)
Next, our precious twin grandbabies came sick, along with their understandably tired and worn out mama and daddy who had also caught their illness. An urgent care visit once here confirmed RSV. Our little Junie-bug struggled so hard to breathe it scared us all. Her chest laboring to take in air. Her tiny self vomiting like a fire hydrant as her mother put it. She required round-the-clock breathing treatments.
Goodness, at one point, both the baby and one of the grand-dogs were vomiting. It was a tight call for a few days between babies and grandpups who required the most clean up!
We prayed consistently for our youngest daughter to be granted the time off she requested from work to be home this special year (The married kiddos share Christmases and Thanksgivings between us and their bonus families, switching off every year. This was our year to have all of them home for Christmas – a first experience to welcome our newest bonus son, and our first grandchildren.) They gave her the time off but she became very sick. After multiple days and trips for tests, she was positive for Strep. Our hearts were saddened she was left behind and alone until no longer contagious.
Then, tragic news came to our first bonus son of the loss of a very dear family member after a long fight with covid. Death is such a thief. It is no respecter of persons or time or holidays.
All our plans were so fragile.
When Christmas Eve dawned, the ten of us finally altogether, we remained adamant to take family photos through fevers, grief, and all. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my smiles were heaven-sent. I felt like God had moved heaven and earth to not only get us together but keep us together.
In addition to what my body was experiencing, I don’t think my mind or heart were very well this Christmas. Previously, I wrote about the many different heartaches that bubbled up at the start of Advent (you can read it here). For the first two weeks of December, God kept gently pulling back out and putting before me what I consistently kept hiding away. Deeper layers from childhood sexual abuse. I managed to let Him in a few times, then forced myself to journal because I knew I would need the reminders of His revelations. But, despite His tenderness, I chose not to continue trusting His timing to heal.
After those two weeks passed, only ten days remained til the first wave of kids would arrive. Avoiding all Christmas music for fear it would further trigger childhood or other trauma, I let the dial of my Achiever strength (Living Your Strengths by Winseman, Clifton, and Liesveld) be turned to max efficacy. It is an embarrassment how many hours of sleep we lost to the projects I wanted to complete. Some were necessary, especially the new beds for a room that had none.
But my bent towards completing a vision no matter how costly won out over a custom headboard I’d been planning and creating in my head for months. We could have done without it. Yet, my mama heart wanted my oldest daughter to see and enjoy it because she only gets to come home about once a year – it was for the room her family would sleep in. She didn’t ask me to; she would even tell me not to do it if it were going to cost me, but I did it anyway.
While there is nothing wrong with wanting such things. In short, I traded the eternal for the temporary. It cost me way more than sleep.
Back to Christmas week.
By Christmas Eve I felt like I’d shot all my healthier and holier desires from the beginning of Advent to hell and back. I don’t mean that in the cussing kind of way. I set out to have a more restful advent (and wrote about that here – I did enjoy one movie sandwiched between my hubby and kids on the sofa, and I did keep my promise to myself to bake less). Beyond sick in my body and far past exhaustion, I was also sick with shame. The house was decorated, the headboard was built, presents were under the tree. But instead of holy intimacy, I felt far from Jesus.
Our tradition on that night is to give gifts to Jesus. My kids will tell you it is the highlight of their Christmas. Most treasured of all experiences. We read the story from Luke 2 of Jesus’ birth. Then, a candle is lit and passed around the room while each person tells what they will give Him.
The gifts are of great value from our life that we release to Jesus. Over the years, mine have consisted of things like trust, my fears, the dam of “guilt” (namely false guilt) that blocked my writing for years, the healing of my body/heart/mind/spirit.
Though I’d busied myself so furiously for days that I ceased to truly seek or hear His voice, that night He broke through when I kept panicking under my breath that I didn’t know what I should give Him.
What do you want to give?
I immediately understood the emphasis on the “want.” I’d been holding on to something I didn’t want to give but knew I should. Yet Jesus desires an authentic giving. We do many things because we should. But the greater delight comes when we want to.
When my turn came to hold the candle, I let it spill out honestly. The weariness of battling chronic illnesses, the ways I blew it through the month, the old habits I allowed to creep back in following my ways instead of God’s. Through my long hospital stay in the summer, He called me to a “reset” for my body, mind, heart-healing, how I spend my time, writing, and more. (You can read more about that here.) But the last couple months I resorted to old ways little by little. Swapping His agendas for mine. It felt like He let me have my way during the ten days leading to Christmas so I would remember just how much better His way is.
This December 24th, I gave my agendas to Jesus. Along with my reset. It wasn’t an easy gift for me to give. I have learned over the years the act rarely releases a zap effect. Rather, God chooses to invite me deeper with Him over the next twelve months. It is through repeated intimacy such a gift is unwrapped – together. It’s value increasing over time.
So, did I immediately feel better after that night? Not this year. I continued to learn from further mistakes. We spent more hours in urgent care with sick babies who developed secondary infections. My body went deep into recovery mode, still sleeping 10-12 hours a night and napping 2-4 hours many afternoons. It has taken all the days of Christmas for Jesus to convince me I am just as loved when I mess up as I am when I “get it right.” To believe He’s never been closer than He is right now. That He doesn’t leave us when we struggle.
Jesus is not “a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”Hebrews 4:14-16
On the 12th day of Christmas my True Love gave to me REST. I slept til noon, moved at a slower pace, and decided to enjoy all the lights and decorations for one more day. Who knows, but I may even play some Christmas music. I am free to linger, and so are you.
Advent is the coming of Jesus. Certainly we need Him to come to us as much in January as in December. The new year and the gifts we give Him are nothing without Christ coming for us. Try not to rush on with the world, friends. Soak in the earth-shattering truth that Jesus has come. And comes still. Right where we are.
It is not too late to give a gift to Him if you haven’t. What will you give?