A Christmas Letter

Photo by Freddy Castro

I have been procrastinating big time on writing our annual family Christmas letter, a cooperative task my husband and I generally enjoy greatly – spending a fire lit evening side-by-side on our couch sipping a festive drink as we attempt to outdo each other with witty comments. He finally gave up on me last weekend and began piecing together the outline of this year’s letter himself.


I ordered the family photo cards weeks ago, waited excitedly for them to arrive by mail, had the empty printer ink cartridges refilled, and purchased a 100-pack of holiday stamps from Costco. Each necessary component sits on my husband’s desk, awaiting someone, namely me, to allow it to carry out its grand purpose.


Yet I avoid the cards like I do the restroom door handles at the gas station. I sometimes even choose a different path to walk around my house so that I don't have to see the box of cards looming larger and larger every day on his desk. I just can't seem to feel inspired enough to begin writing. It’s not that I’m avoiding the Christmas season… I’m having a fantastic time wrapping presents, planning surprises, cranking up the Christmas tunes and dancing over to my oven door to check on the jam-filled almond shortbread cookies (yum). I’m delighting in our family advent traditions and looking forward to upcoming extended family celebrations.


As a first step of moving forward, I finally acknowledged my procrastination today and am self-analyzing to get to the heart of the matter. I’ve determined that the major reasons for my Christmas writing avoidance are my desire for authenticity and how I feel about my personal goals over the past year. Typically our family letter is filled with humorous tidbits and anecdotes about each member of our family, weaved together with a photo or two and an inspirational message about what Christmas means to us. The tone is generally quite optimistic.


I have not been feeling “quite optimistic” as of late. When I look back at the past year and what my New Year’s goals were going into 2016, I don’t feel like I have made much progress. In addition, I haven’t felt like writing happy, jolly things in my family’s Christmas letter because my family collectively has spent a lot of days this year feeling sad, angry, and/or stressed out for various reasons.


My sister wrote this post on Facebook a week ago:


“I heard yesterday on [Christian radio station] about a parent who couldn't stand the letters of perfect families at Christmas, so they started saving all of the ridiculous things their children and family did during the year and putting those in the Christmas card. I may have been one of those annoying family letters before, although I never mean to imply we are anywhere close to perfect. You may want to watch out for next year's letter, if I remember.”


I like this idea – authenticity in Christmas letters.


So… truth, here I go:


Dear Family and Friends,


A very Merry Christmas to you and your’s! Me and mine spent many wasted minutes almost every day of 2016 arguing about how much screen time my sons were allowed to have and what tasks needed to be accomplished before the screens could be turned on. Obviously, dealing with this problem will be on my list of resolutions for 2017.


I attempted to grow a garden on a shady hill in my backyard this summer (the entire backyard is shady, but on the hill some dappled sunshine trickles in through the tree canopy). Things grew painfully slow, but grow they finally did; however, about a week before harvest time some animal figured out how to stretch their neck over the garden fence and ate nearly all the efforts of my hard work.


I donated money to a lot of causes and non-profits that are near and dear to my heart this year, but I didn’t volunteer as much as I had planned to; nor was I able to contribute as much money and attention as I’d have liked to the victims of major crises/natural disasters (e.g., hurricane and earthquake victims, the Syrian refugees). The needs are so great, and I feel like I'm not doing enough to help these hurting people.


I set out to write a blog in earnest in the New Year and started off strong, but then life happened and my blog posts became fewer and less frequent. I still don't know if I'm doing this blog thing correctly, despite all I've learned.


I haven’t been a good enough friend this year to those I care about and who I need in my life. I haven’t always been the supportive partner my husband needs as he juggles so much everyday. I didn’t call my parents every Sunday afternoon to catch up like I’d planned to. Sometimes I failed to talk with my siblings, whom I love dearly, for months at a time.


I have put on weight this year and haven’t exercised as much as I had planned. (I like to blame my sweet kitty that likes to sit on my legs while they are propped up on my ottoman at night.)


I was an optimistic, encouraging parent about 5/7 mornings of each week (post coffee, goes without saying); but by about 12:00 noon each day I was reminded that I’m not as perky and sunshiny as I’d like to be. Young boys who can act like mouthy teenagers quickly sap the optimism right out of my brain, but they deserve patience and love and someone to calmly model correct responses to frustration.


I worked hard all year from home, though I didn’t make any money.


I responded to all sorts of kid crises and drama, sat through many a parent-teacher meeting, and took my kids regularly to the orthodontist, doctor, endocrinologist, dentist, speech specialist, allergist, and therapist.


I kept my phone with me 24/7 in case my kids needed me. I checked for teacher email updates and blood sugar numbers on the hour. If I momentarily lost my phone and couldn’t find it for a few minutes, I felt panicked.


Diabetes sucked this year. We kept our son's overall health stable enough, but his average blood sugars were too high and his doctor and we parents can’t come up with good reasons for this.


I didn’t go on any dates with my husband this past year (well maybe one, which ended up being a Home Depot run), but I watched countless hours of Netflix next to him on our couch (one of us with a warm kitty resting on our legs). Sometimes we even watched different shows, as we have realized after 15 years of marriage that we don’t have the same taste in TV shows, nor do we have the same level of tolerance for each other’s tastes.


I cleaned my house at least a bit every day this year, yet my house was never fully clean.


I consider all of these "unmet goals" and have many more thoughts, and yet, tonight I’m filled with joy as I gaze upon our Christmas tree with it’s 10 strings of white LED globe lights, branches laden with my kids’ 1st – 10th year specially-chosen ornaments, our honeymoon and family vacation ornaments, and the family legacy ornaments. My gaze wanders to the porcelain nativity set my mom gifted to me many years ago, my attention drawn to the small, peaceful-looking baby in the manger. A Godly baby born to earthly parents that absolutely lit up His world…. and my world.


His gifts to me came without strings attached. I don’t need to be perfect or even optimistic every day to receive His free gifts of love and forgiveness. He doesn’t care that my New Year’s resolutions were unmet or that I felt like a failure many nights this past year as I tiredly trudged up the stairs to my bedroom. His love covers up all of my imperfections, and that is enough for me. I’m so thankful that Jesus is the real author of my Christmas letter.


I just might get to work on my family letter now. I have a feeling it might actually be a good time.


Christmas tidings of comfort and joy from my home to yours,


Photo by Gareth Harper
Photo by Gareth Harper


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