Christmas before kids used to be a very precise affair. Ornaments were hung in exact locations. Decorations were never out of alignment. Even the buffet table had a very particular order, purpose and intention.
Now, order is not necessarily a bad thing. The trouble can come in the rigidness of said order. When it becomes a must-do instead of a nice-to-have, it may be that the thing out of alignment is actually your own well being.
I never used to have a problem with my personal level of meticulousness. It was a secret badge of honour. I’d roll my eyes when friends called me the “Martha Stewart” of event planning, all the while secretly thrilled that someone noticed my intense attention to detail. Christmas cocktail parties were my favourite time of year, as the glitter and glam of the holidays could spill over to the hors d’oeuvres section of the table, and the tree could be perfectly – perfectly – symmetrical. I’d invite my friends for fun times and laugh lines, but spend more time refilling drinks and ensuring plates were full than actually visiting with anyone. There was a definitive sense of “unrelaxed” at my parties, even though it usually only stemmed from the hostess.
My case manager at mental health recently told me that I have OCD. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, I guess. All those years of aligning ornaments and revering structure had to come from somewhere. It was a bit of a blow to my ego, though. I knew I struggled with depression and anxiety, which is what led me through the doorway of mental health in the first place. But to be told that your desire to straighten all the candy canes really stems from your obsessive compulsive nature? Well, that stings a bit.
I made a choice to self-refer to Mental Health and Addictions Services recently because I knew there had to be a better way through episodes of anxiety and depression than just trying to ride it out on my own. I have reached a place in my life where the status quo just isn’t good enough anymore. Not for the person I know I can be, and not for my family, who relies on me to be there for them. In my efforts to become fully present in my everyday life, I have found myself reaching out to others to help facilitate healing. That’s a good thing.
FYI, Mental Health and Addictions Services is not nearly as scary as it sounds. Too often we feel we need to hide our deficiencies from others. Recognizing that there’s no shame in understanding your own limits is the first step to finding new ways to walk in healing and freedom.
It’s ok to be broken (I firmly believe we all are – broken, that is – on some level). When you are tired of living broken, there are alternatives.
Some of the thinking that has held me back for far too long includes: 1) thinking I need to be able to do everything on my own and 2) thinking it is shameful to admit when I can’t cope. Neither of these are true.
So, back to Christmas…
Fast forward a decade and, while I still enjoy party planning, my focus has shifted from cocktails to Popsicles. Married life brings it’s own need for re-alignment of priorities, needs and wants as two become one. Add in a couple of kids, and everything you thought you knew about life shifts in big ways! Our twins are four now, and they are paying close attention to everything we say and do. They’re also seeing what’s going on in the world around them and they want to participate fully. As we navigate the potential for extravagance and excess this Christmas season, I find myself wanting to guide them towards a less consumerist, more generous way of being.
If we are to practice extravagance, let it be extravagant grace.
If we are to experience excess, let it be the excessive joy that comes from giving of ourselves. I believe we will find our best selves rise to the occasion.
Last night we decorated our Christmas tree. Four sets of hands helped place the ornaments. One small boy added the Christmas star (with a little help from Dad and a lift from Mom). One small girl proudly displayed the beautiful decoration she made at Grandma’s house out of construction paper and shiny things. Both were filled with joy as they watched Christmas light up before their eyes, and used their own hands and hearts in completing this creative work.
Our tree pays tribute to the beginning of an eclectic collection of ornaments – some hand made, others special gifts to commemorate special occasions like the twins’ first Christmas, or our first Christmas as a couple. Our tree is not symmetrical – far from it – but it seems to have taken on a glow of tangible grace that didn’t exist in the rigid structures of Christmas past.
Here’s the thing about little helping hands: in their efforts to decorate, they actually help undo the damage (self-inflicted or otherwise) that has perhaps hardened hearts and turned us against ourselves. In their exuberance and joy for the season, they take away the desire to be perfect, filling me instead with a desire to experience this extravagant grace I’ve been hearing about. From what I’ve been told, it’s typically found in the messiness of everyday life, in the small things done with great joy, in the thanks giving offering of a life lived with gratitude for every precious moment. I’m learning to live in this place of extravagant grace, and what a beautiful place it is!
My Christmas tree used to be a reflection of symmetry. Now, it is an image of life lived to the full. There’s a vibrancy extending from its branches that could never be found in the previously “perfect” set up. And for that, I am thankful.