prepare.jpgLove is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)

Tune in with me for a just a minute to It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sure it’s on at least one channel right now. Fast forward to the end of the movie and look at that picture of Christmas. All the family and neighbors standing around, reveling in their togetherness. The picture of holiday harmony. Is that what Christmas looks like for you and your family?

At our house, the family part of Christmas is anything but serene. Just setting the date for our celebration takes an Act of Congress. School calendars, work deadlines, travel restrictions, and well-meaning in-laws jockey for position on the holiday calendar. Negotiations begin months in advance, leaving all parties ample time to finagle and finesse the dates. In the end, compromises are made, and we manage to be together all in the same place for approximately twenty-two-and-a-half hours on a day some time in December or October or possibly June.

In those hard-won twenty-two-and-a-half hours we eat; open gifts; eat; go to church; eat again; scrub all the tiny, squirming cousins clean, and coerce them all into matching sweaters to “please just once all look at the camera and smile for Grandma at the same time.” (We really need to learn Photoshop.)

My primary focus before the Christmas onslaught (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) is to prepare my home. I clean the house from top to bottom. I empty the guest room to make room for all the bags, suitcases, and pack-n-plays. I stock the fridge, wash an ample supply of sheets and towels, and stash a pair of earplugs under my pillow. And after the great Food Poisoning Caper of ’05 (fifteen people violently ill and bedridden for two days . . . not from my cooking, I promise), I’m sure to keep an extra cabinet of Jell-O, Saltines, and Pepto on hand.

Once the Christmas chaos arrives, whether we’ve scheduled it for mid-June or December 25, I’ve got a whole different kind of preparation to do. I have to prepare for the emotional rigors of that many people, in that small a space for that amount of time, with that many kids and dogs running amuck, high on a cocktail of breakfast donuts, great-grandma’s cookies, and contraband candy funneled to them by mischievous (and childless) uncles.

I must learn to relinquish my role as the Great Scheduler and enjoy a little flexibility. I need to remember that I am not everybody’s mother and that nobody asked me. (Shocking, I know). I must certainly be willing to let grace abound and to, on not-so-rare occasions, bite my tongue. I also have to practice apologizing for the times I might not manage to express love, grace, or self-control.

Most importantly, I have to realize that all the expectations that I place on these tender, sometimes tenuous relationships may be the very thing weighing them down. I think maybe I need to let go of my picture of the perfect, normal, loving “functional” family having a perfect, normal, loving Christmas in order to realize that (a) that family does not exist and (b)for whatever reason, this is the family I’ve been given. I love them, I do. I just need to learn to enjoy them for who they are and discover how knowing them can help me know Jesus more.

I have no idea what your family looks like. Whether it’s large or small, chaotic or well-organized, tight-knit or strained. You may not have the same battles with crazy dogs, over-sugared children, and food poisoning. But in relationships that close, the potential for stress, disappointment, pain, and just plain exasperation is high. Being prepared for these things may mean one of a hundred different things, but it is a way that you can love the family God has given you.

Dear Father, give me eyes to see my family through the lenses of Your grace and allow me to experience the joy of relationships, no matter what form they take.

For what relational difficulties do you need to prepare this Christmas? How can you do that?