You know that family that does it all for the holidays? The inside of the Joanna Gaines’ style, rustic-modern farmhouse home is elegantly and professionally adorned in sparkling hues of red and green. Each room houses its own uniquely themed, lighted tree. The outside of the flawless craftsman-style house is so extravagantly lit that the electric bill quadruples any mundane month of the year. Between crowding each seamlessly wrapped gift chosen directly from each child’s ten-foot wish list under the tree, remembering to move the elf to a new clever location daily, attending every local light show, eating pancakes with Santa, and making sure the children are the best dressed at each Christmas program, that perfect mom is no doubt crashing at the end of her bed fully dressed with a glass of wine in hand and wrapping paper taped to the side of her face at the end of each day. I refuse to be a part of the family that does it all this Christmas. Honestly, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season leaves me longing to experience a Christmas that represents more than noise.
As a nontraditional family unit, we face unique hardships. Though filled with joy and laughter, the holidays also reflect ghosts of the past. Painful memories of moving in the darkness of night from everything they knew to a new home in a new city with a new family occurred during the cooler months for my girls. Our first Christmas together was somewhat fun but mostly awkward. We were celebrating the season of perpetual hope with homesick children whose worlds had been shaken (We’ll call that my greatest understatement yet). They went through the motions of novel traditions and enjoying the company of strangers, but the expressions on their beautiful faces screamed of disorientation and confusion. We awkwardly stumbled through our first Christmas together, and I reflect on it fondly as a time our army of loved ones united forces to help our household survive the holly jolly season.
As fall approached, and our one-year anniversary as a family drew near, I vowed to construct a season so full and busy that we wouldn’t have time to feel the lingering effects of the foster system. I vowed to beat my own mediocrity as a mother. We marched together through every community, friend, and family event we could find. Every evening at home included a themed activity. We did it all (with oversized bows, ugly boots, and all). What was the result, you ask? My children did feel less disoriented than the previous year, but that growth can probably be accounted for by noting their first Christmas was spent with Mr. And Mrs., and their second transitioned into a time spent with Daddy and Mommy. That perfectly hectic time of year with Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s done “right” spurred the start of what would become the most difficult and painful year of my life.
My children transitioned beautifully into our home as foster children in a new foster placement. They had done this before. One year in, some messy truths began to tear through the facade of easy transitions. We were no longer just a new placement, we were a real family. One of my tough little babies found her role in this new real family to be a hard pill to swallow. She had honestly had the easiest transition at first. She was a fierce leader and the most affectionate child I had ever encountered. She loved the routines, daily baths, healthy meals, and safeguards of her new home. After a year; however, she began to forget her old home, and losing memories (both good and bad) made this little fighter feel outraged. For the next twelve months, we wrestled with her emotional instability, battled a daily power struggle of defiance, and we were determined to allow love and connection to survive hateful manipulations.
We survived a year of battles, pain, and transitions. We look different. I’m much less organized, much less productive, and much less concerned with how I appear to the rest of the world (talk about feeling mediocre). My husband is much less guarded and has surrendered to the helplessness of being completely out of control in his own home. My children are much less anxious and fearful of losing all the love and blessings life currently offers, but they’re also much more anxious that any sign of discomfort can turn into an epic battle of wills. We prayerfully and painfully survived.
This holiday season, I have chosen peace. It’s not my job to distract my children from the painful memories of their past. It’s not my job to keep everything light and happy. It’s my responsibility to focus on hope and accept each obstacle thrown my way with humility and grace. This IS the season of perpetual hope. I have hope that 2019 will be the year that my family of five will finally transition from three last names to one, representing just how connected these five individuals truly have grown to be. I have hope that we’re approaching a year where hard feelings can be accepted and coped with as a family without a war. I have hope that this household will continue to focus on the beauty of our ability to ban together and survive an unimaginably tough season of life and cross to the other side stronger and more solid than we were before. This Christmas we’re doing the activities and events We WANT TO DO. We’re not rushing around juggling obligations and shopping for countless items that represent empty bliss. We’re choosing to focus on the parts of the holiday that offer peace and comfort. Just as Christ brought hope to the world as an infant so long ago, His love continues to bring hope to a broken people. Maybe my family was built in a nontraditional fashion, but as I look around, I realize, everyone is battling ghosts of the past this time of year. We’re all broken. Losses, worries, and feelings of inadequacy are reflected in the eyes of each of us as we cloak ourselves in mediocrity. Friends, I challenge you to quiet the voice that tells you your pain makes you mediocre. I challenge you to focus on the hope of the Christmas season. I challenge you to quiet the noise that is commercialized holidays and comparison to others. Just paint the room black. There is a loud beauty within the mediocrity. Find it. Bust the speakers. Never turn it off.