We cheerfully dusted our final batch of Christmas cookies with an array of colored sprinkles, pushing them into position on the counters. Strewn with our morning’s labor, the cookie-laden kitchen testified to the festive holiday baking my daughter and I dedicated to our morning’s activity. She, her eyes wide with the joy of Christmas, was laying a foundation of cherished Christmas memories she would perhaps one day share with children of her own.
As it were, that bustling scene was, in fact, the vision I had as I planned to share my favorite season of preparation with my daughter and newborn son. On maternity leave, this was my first Christmas season as an adult where I would be home full time, and I had baked in a myriad of expectations for how the season would be. We would make all my favorite Christmas treats together, boisterously sing carols, study the Christmas story, and, through each activity, anticipate the Savior’s birth with joy.
For me, the childlike faith and anticipation of Christmas have never dissipated. Whether three or thirty years old, I sit in an otherwise dark room lit by a Christmas tree and feel that same uninhibited hope and expectation: Emmanuel, God with us, the purest hope. Sharing that hopeful anticipation with my two little people was to be a tremendous joy.
My many expectations stifled the hopeful, expectant waiting the season requires.
What did that day in the kitchen really look like? Only me, baking the Christmas goodies alone, because my sweet sous chef spent the week before Christmas confined to the couch with a stomach virus. Her old receiving blankets were strewn across the couch to protect it, and the counters were strewn with our labor of getting her well. A half-finished bottle of Pedialyte, a pajama top discarded to help cool her fever, and a mound of towels. She, her eyes closed as her body rested and recovered, slept through those mornings spent baking.
Every morning that week, I hoped for a cheerful toddler to greet me with restored health and enthusiasm. Every morning that week, my hopes were crushed when her poor little body got sick again.
Finally, she mended, on December 23. We spent an easy day, lounging around the house anticipating Christmas. This was the turned corner, the calm before a happy storm of cherished memories, I was certain.
On Christmas Eve, my sweet daughter had the worst tantrum of her little life, and refused to take her nap. Determined, I packed her little legs into her Christmas tights and wiggled her stiff, sparkly dress over her head. We. Are. Still. Going. To. Church, I asserted to the family, determined.
Spirits lightened when we reached the doors, lined by cheerful greeters welcoming the children with bags stuffed with treats and quiet activities. After devouring her candy, my daughter demanded milk to go along with it, teetering on the brink of total meltdown thanks to no sleep and general recovery. She and I ducked out of the sermon, searching for a stash, and found an understanding volunteer kind enough to give her a full cup of milk. It was gone before we reached our seats.
And then, finally – finally – the moment I had been long expecting arrived. There we were, together as a family in our Christmas finest, singing a Christmas hymn, hoping for our savior. I snuggled my baby son a little closer, squeezed my husband’s hand, smiled at our daughter.
Thank you, Jesus. This is what I have been expecting.
And then it happened.
My sweet daughter, fresh off a week of sickness, stuffed full of candy and milk, and coached to excitement by her momma, threw up, again, all over her whole family. It was not subtle, as evidenced by the sympathetic looks the row of single, college-aged men in front of us suggested as they turned with kind faces, mixed with sympathetic smile and slightly terrified eyes. Out we marched again, this time covered in vomit.
One of the children’s leaders was quick to rally a clean-up crew, passing out paper towels and spray and directing our family to private bathrooms. As I kneeled outside the sanctuary, scrubbing vomit off our infant son’s car seat in my fancy Christmas dress, I humbly met grace in the eyes and kind words of our children’s leader.
“You’re handling this so well,” she said as she reached for another stack of paper towels, simultaneously directing someone to find more cleaning solution. “I don’t have children yet, but I don’t think I would be so calm.” She couldn’t see the week leading up to this moment, steeped in expectations, missing the calm of God manifesting in human infancy. What she did witness was my resolute scrubbing, stunned silent by how this was simultaneously not remotely the moment I sought and yet very much the one I needed to snap me out of those joy-stealing expectations. Perhaps it took this most humbling of moments and her kind words to bring the truth of the season home: God among us is radiant, but the trimmings are designed by the Holy author, not a human trying to manufacture glory.
Now, nearly a year later, I can laugh as I remember how my expectations stole away some of the delight – and how triumphantly the season ended with the very last moment I would have designed. I also remember how the grace came quietly, not in the picture-perfect moments I anticipated, but in the moments of desperation, of weakness. Still, still, we are tempted to look for a radiant King with a triumphant, blockbuster entry, even though we know his Glory comes to us tucked into a forgotten stable, Holiness in humble trimmings. If we can wait, expectantly, searching for His Glory instead of stacking up our own intentions, I’m certain the Christmas season will be all the sweeter.
Kelsi Roberts lives in Seattle, Washington, where she and her husband are raising their two kids (ages 3 and 1). Kelsi works full time from a home office. She strives to make space for the important things and model what it looks like to love Jesus, raise babies, and work full time for her observant little people. She has learned this requires a lot of grace and a lot of Pinterest fails. You can find her navigating this on Instagram or on her very occasional blog contributions: https://littlespacesblog.wordpress.com/