Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Doing a New Thing

It was December 23rd, 2005. We had just arrived home with our two-day-old baby, Abigail. Expecting a Christmas baby had made me plan ahead much more efficiently than most years. The tree had been up for weeks. The presents were all bought and wrapped. The house was clean (as it should have been, seeing as we had only lived in it for two months). We had anticipated Christmas ahead of time, just as we were anticipating the arrival of our first baby.

Our time in the hospital was exhausting, as these hospital stays often are. Abigail was born at 1:00 in the morning after 11 hours of labor. And then the fine dance began. That slow, clumsy waltz of inexperienced mother….far from being able to claim seasoned, comfortable “mama”….and tiny, needy, helpless babe. We met, we cuddled. She cried. I cried. Daddy cried. She nursed. I cried more. We slept, but rarely at the same times We welcomed visitor after visitor after visitor. First babies have a way of making people drive the miles. We smiled with each one who came through the hospital door bearing flowers, chocolates, stuffed animals. We were glad to share our greatest accomplishment and prize with our friends and family, even if it meant putting off sleep for a couple more hours or pushing aside our hospital meal as it grew cold.

But then, we were home. Just a little family of three for a short time, until there were more visitors. His family first. Pass around the baby, tell the story of her arrival. Hugs goodbye. Alone again. Rock, nurse, sleep, shush, repeat. My family next. It was Christmas Eve.

Christmas Eve. A time my family always treasured. We looked forward to it every year. We would buy our most favorite foods. The shrimp, the crab legs, the CHEESE. Cover everything in the finest, richest cheeses! Oh, how we loved Christmas Eve. And in 2005, we tried to do Christmas Eve as usual. All the finest foods. Our favorite movies.  A new grandma and grandpa proudly passing their first granddaughter back and forth. A new uncle, a new aunt. We all barely slept that night as Abigail reminded us that she was now the one in charge. We woke up Christmas morning, so tired, to open presents.

And I tried. Oh, how I promise you, I tried. I wanted it to be a nice, normal Christmas. Except it wasn’t. I wanted all of our traditions to be exactly as they had always been. Except they couldn’t. No one told me I would break down in tears at random (why didn’t anyone tell me???). Those post-pregnancy hormones, they are really something. No one told me how much my baby would need me. Need all of us, of course, but me more than anyone.

Paul and I were talking just a few nights ago about how we both were having trouble capturing that “Christmas feeling” this year. And it surely isn’t for lack of trying. We have decorated the tree and bought the presents and visited Santa and watched all the movies. We have Advented and Cantata-ed and Christmas play-ed. I’m not sad or unhappy or stressed. I don’t feel at all like I have set some unrealistic Christmas standard to live up to. And yet, we feel like we have had to “force” Christmas this year. What is the issue? I’m still not quite sure.

But it made me think back to the Christmas of 2005. It made me think of how hard we tried to have a nice, normal Christmas, when there was nothing normal about it. I wanted to hold to all of our old traditions.  But we had something NEW! SomeONE new! And as much as she needed us, oh, how we needed her.

It made me think of Joseph and Mary. Of the visitors and the crying and the tired. Who knows what kind of “normal” they may have been trying to have when there was clearly nothing normal about it. They had Someone new.

Isaiah 44:18-19 says:
18 “Remember not the former things,
    nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

I didn’t realize it in the moment in 2005. But I look back now, when I have this indescribable feeling that I’m missing something, that Christmas feels like I am trying to manufacture it with my tired, feeble attempts. I think back to that year and hear God whispering “Focus on the baby. I am doing a new thing. Forget the traditions. It’s different now. I am here, in this moment. Don’t miss Me in this. Focus on the baby.” I hear it now. How I wish I had heard it then.

Now, whenever I talk to a couple who is expecting a baby around the holidays, I only offer one piece of advice. I know they have heard everything and probably will miss what I am telling them, even though it comes from my own real experience. I tell them, “Just throw in the towel this year. Don’t try to hold to your traditions. Don’t try to make it perfect. Stay in your jammies all day. Eat pizza. You can start fresh next year. But your holiday, don’t expect it to be normal because it’s not. It’s new. Focus on the baby.”