The kids all in bed for the night, I ran to the grocery store. Usually I shop Aldi's and Save A Lot, but they can't meet all our needs, so unfortunately I end up at Walmart once a week.
Arriving at the front entrance, I couldn't believe the live Christmas trees standing outside. Are you kidding? Live Christmas trees a week before Thanksgiving?
Then, upon entering, it was all Christmas, everywhere. Fake, fully-decorated trees, special towels, dishes, table linens, decorations, and poinsettias.
Regular readers probably already know I hate Christmas for what it is in this country. Every year around this time I sink into a depression and it takes me weeks to pull myself completely out, but all the while, the Lord is with me, talking me through it. I fully believe everything He tells me, but I still struggle, in my flesh.
Every new December I think surely I'm beyond these feelings emotionally and spiritually, by now?
But it's always that first trip into the fully decked out Walmart that gets me. Not five steps in, the feelings return and I immediately think, "I hate Christmas!"
Christmas is for the more fortunate, not the less fortunate, at least in this country. My family and I have many spiritual blessings and much to be grateful for, but financially, we're always barely making it, and Christmas, America's way, isn't for us.
Oh, I try. I do plenty of baking with the kids. I check out comforting, meaningful Christmas library books. I read lots of Scripture aloud. I buy cheap craft supplies to help keep us happily busy, creating traditions of our own.
But the kids know our Christmases are not like most American households--not like those of my childhood. As they become adults and consumers in their own right, they'll understand the special spiritual blessings that come from non-material Christmases, but right now, as young children, they feel deprived.
They have a sweetness about them that comes from not being indulged, and I treasure that. I truly do, and I know that to have money to indulge them even a little, would reduce some of that sweetness.
They know cognitively that they're blessed, but they have trouble fighting their feelings, as I do. December is probably our leanest financial month because of the extra holiday food and the few crafts that I buy, along with the extra baking and higher utilities. Food is more expensive than ever and our budget just can't be squeezed any further. Already every trip I wonder if I'll overspend and my debit card will be rejected.
This trip as I walked through aisle after aisle of Christmas reminders, it was incredibly hard, walking back to the drug aisle to put the vitamins away. Vitamins would have to wait until the next paycheck. The ten dollars was going to put me too close to a rejected debit card.
I'm too used to this to cry, but as I saw other people filling up their carts with a little of everything Christmas, my spirit groaned.
Yes, I choose this. We choose this. I can make more money teaching than my husband can as a low-wage custodian, but my heart is fully at home and his is not. Also, his ADHD would make it very difficult for him to run the house, the meals, the laundry, the paperwork, and the homeschool. And public school is so poor a choice from our spiritual standpoint, that we never consider putting the kids in a brick and mortar school.
Our situation is what it is. The longer we're married, the more I see parallels between my husband and my son, in regards to the ADHD and accompanying issues. Many people think of his Bible college degree and wonder, what happened? Why can't he do anything else?
Outside of neurological healing for my husband, our income will stay low, with some relief coming when my teacher retirement kicks in at 55.
That's a lot of Christmases and I don't want to feel this way every year, nor do my children. They anticipate the gifts from my mom and from Daddy's sister, and because we can't personally buy them gifts, I shudder to think of what will happen when my mother passes away and Christmas does too.
I purposely seek out meaningful Christmas reads, both online and in the library. I try to make Christmas about giving something immaterial. I know the true blessing...the coming of the long-awaited Savior we so desperately needed. We never stop needing Him and he is absolutely the Gift.
As long as I stay in my cozy home I feel this in my heart, and I see it resonate with my children and husband, too. In our personal space, except for the absence of Christian family, we're fine and blessed.
It's only when we venture out into the world, with it's prettily-wrapped Christmas all around us, that we experience the familiar pangs of sin. Because, yes, that's what this feeling is...this feeling deprived. It's sin, plain and simple, because we're not supposed to live as the world lives, or even want to. We're supposed to trade the prettily-wrapped Christmas with all it's cheerful, delightful trimmings, for the miracle in the barn.
Christmas is not gorgeous red or ivory tablecloths and the latest in tree fashion. It's not a sea of gifts or expensive trips to the Nutcracker Ballet, or the most beautiful holiday cards money can buy.
It's the baby in the barn. It's Hope, come in the flesh. It's the promise of everlasting life, where there are rooms in our Father's House waiting for us.
I won't find Walmarts in heaven selling merchandise I can't afford. I won't have to listen to my kids beg for outdoor Christmas lights, like everybody else has.
A meaningful Christian life is lived upside down. The first are last and the last are first. It hurts to be last, here on earth. We can be last in terms of income, last in the looks department, last in the status race, last in material blessings...last in everything that is of worldly value. But in heaven, the last will finally be first...hallelujah.
I know people who are more last than us, and for them too, I say hallelujah for Heaven.
It's during December that I most look forward to Heaven. It's during December that I come closest to fully understanding this: how we gain our life when we lose it.
It's hard to live outside the norm and feel deprived, but it's even harder to have everything that's worldly, and give it all up for Christ. Some people actually do that, like Katie Davis? They sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor, and then they follow Him.
I love you, Lord. I love your upside-down doctrine. I want to give up everything and follow you. Make the upside-down doctrine mine, too, down to my marrow. Infiltrate my heart and mind, and that of my children, and give us a taste of heaven this December.