Unexpected Joy

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I love to decorate for Christmas. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. I love the glitter, the lights, the candles….all of it. But this is our first Christmas in this house and I found decorating to be a little troublesome.
You see, we spent 11 Christmas’s in our last house. I had sort of built a pattern for where things went. Every bauble had a place. I knew where my gingerbread men stood and where my elves sat. I always hung the big glass Santa in the middle of the tree and placed an antique camel with no hook near the top. My puffy fleece countdown tree always hung on my pantry door and the red and green glittered cones had a special order on the mantel.
This house, while lovely and exactly where I want to be, is different. Our Christmas tree didn’t fit in this living room. We had a twelve foot artificial tree at the old house. We have nine foot ceilings in this house. There are shelves I didn’t have before which are begging to be filled but with what I’m not sure.
I know, these are completely first world problems. I am fully aware that the starving children in Bi-Africa don’t care about my gingerbread men not fitting in. (I’m not even sure Bi-Africa is a place but my friend, Denise, says there are starving children there and I’m certain they have bigger problems than me.) But I needed to figure it out. My heart has been crying for simplicity for quite a while in every area of life and as I started to pull out the boxes and boxes  of decorations, some of them didn’t feel right anymore. It all felt frivolous and too much. There were quite a few items that I had no desire to even pull out.
And yet I still wanted to decorate. Decorations have always helped my heart warm to the season of Christmas. This year, however, I was turning away from the pieces that were just about the pretty and was drawn towards the pieces that had a story; had meaning.
There was one ornament that was a gift from a friend after our first trip to the Nutcracker market together.
Then there were the sport ornaments I’ve purchased over the years for my husband. Some of them were his heroes growing up and some of them reminded me of special games or seasons we celebrated together.
I have 9 or 10 “Baby’s First Christmas” ornaments from the year my daughter was born. She was an October Baby so it was a popular gift. I didn’t pull them all out this year but instead hung the one my in-laws brought her from a trip they made to Germany to visit my husband’s brother. It wasn’t like the rest. It was hand carved and painted and felt like it had love all over it.
I have a million hand made ornaments from the kids preschool and early elementary days but there were two that almost called out to me as I sifted through the box. They both had the same teacher in 1st grade. She’s an amazing lady who seems to have been born to teach 1st grade. She dipped their hands in white paint and wrapped them around a glass bulb and wrote their names on it in silver. So simple and yet so precious. I hung them side by side on the tree this year.
And then I found the Santa ornament. Listen, Santa is my jam and I have LOTS of Santa ornaments. But there’s one that is more special than the rest.
When my parents got married in 1967 they were very young and, from what I understand, didn’t have two nickels to rub together. But my dad bought a little tree and my mom hand made ornaments that year. She took Styrofoam balls and pinned sequins and ribbons to each one. She made one by gluing a Hallmark napkin with a jolly Santa to a ball and wrapping ribbon around it.
A few years before my parents split up she threw out all of those hand made ornaments. She said they were old and ratty. She replaced all the decorations with shiny blue and ivory ornaments. She put blue lights on the tree and in the yard. All of the hand-made, multi-colored Christmas pieces were gone.
The Christmas after her suicide in 1997 I got all of her decorations out. It made me so sad that the boxes were full of bulbs and balls and lacy pieces that had no meaning. But at the bottom of one of the boxes was the Santa ornament made from the napkin. I sobbed with sorrow and with gratitude. I have no idea how that one ornament made the cut. I don’t know if it was special or if it was an accident but it’s the only handmade ornament I have of hers. I’ll treasure it forever.
We can gather joy and delight from the most unexpected of places. My mom had no idea how precious that napkin glued ornament would be to me almost 50 years after she made it.
When my kid’s first grade teacher dipped their little hands in white paint she probably didn’t know it would bring tears to my eyes this far down the road.
I suppose that’s what Christmas is though, right? Christmas is about unexpected joy. The people of God waited for hundreds of years in darkness for a Savior. They expected a mighty king or a swift warrior – not a baby- and certainly not a baby in a barn!  It’s the unexpectedness that I cling to these days. The hope of when life feels dark and I don’t know what to do or where to go that God has a plan. It rarely looks like what I expect or could design on my own. No, God’s plan is always unexpectedly marvelous and always just in time.
So if your heart isn’t feeling it this year and you’re struggling to make sense of why any of the glittered poinsettias matter, know that you aren’t alone. Know that the God of the Universe cared about your story so much that he sent his one and only Son to a dark and lonely world. He sent him to bring light. He sent him to be light. He sent him to be the light. And if asking him to light your whole season seems unrealistic, ask him to light up your week. And if a week feels too big then ask him to light up your day. And if today feels like too much you can ask him to light up the next moment. He will. His love for you is so rich and deep and good and joy will show up in the most unexpected of places.

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