Ah, the first married Christmas. I had big, lofty, and admittedly: a bit materialistic dreams for this first Christmas as Mr. & Mrs. The perfect tree in our home, the perfect gifts for each other, and homemade cinnamon buns on Christmas morning. You know – doing all of the wife things, loving my husband perfectly, not a decoration or a light bulb or a perfectly curled hair out of place.
But earlier this month, we opted not to buy a tree – because we’re in the process of selling our home and pine needles are messy and there are strangers in our house everyday so we’re always having to leave it meticulously spotless. And then, after realizing that we had already been blessed beyond measure through our recent wedding and that we’d rather save for #BigDreams2016, we decided not to splurge on unnecessary Christmas gifts for each other. I looked up the recipe for homemade cinnamon buns and was so overwhelmed because it seemed more exhausting than marathon training. (I love you Ree Drummond, but goodness lady, do you ever sleep?) My dreams of being the perfect holiday housewife were starting to dwindle. To top it all off, I started to come down with a wicked sore throat and fever a few days before Christmas. Joy to the world, am I right?
And what comes next is the real, honest, hard-for-me-to-write truth: I didn’t love my husband very well this Christmas. I picked a fight with him on Christmas Eve, as we were getting ready for church, believe it or not. I picked a fight with him over something ridiculous that I can’t even recall now, just four days later, and I cried a little bit (ok, I cried a lot) and used harsh words and I felt like a complete and utter failure as we pulled into our church parking lot. Ashamed and embarrassed, I didn’t want to go inside. I dreaded all of the well-intended sentiments from our family and friends that night and over the next few days: “Oh my gosh, how’s your first married Christmas, guys? So amazing?” Little did they know that I had all but ruined it. No tree, no cinnamon buns, no gifts, and no Christmas love from me to my husband. All I was able to see in that moment, as I wiped the tears and tried to muster up the energy to get out of the car and into church, was what I was lacking and how I was failing. No tree, no baking, no gifts, no perfect love. All of my weaknesses and ugliness exposed.
About twenty minutes later, during worship, my sweet husband, not having said much since I had been tearing him apart with my words, just quietly reached over and held my hand. Have you ever held the hand of someone who just yelled at you for no good reason because you knew they desperately needed your love in that moment? I haven’t. That kind of bold and undeserving love is hard to give.
My soul felt relief, and we held hands, and our church sang and reminded us:
“For the unclean, the unholy
For the broken, the unworthy
You came, Jesus you came
For the wounded, for the hurting
For the lost, and for the lonely
You came, Jesus you came
For the outcast, the defeated
For the weary, for the weakest
You came, Jesus you came.”
(I’d like to think that if there happened to be a fourth verse, it would read: “For the treeless, the giftless, // for the grumpy, the wife who’s got a short temper and won’t be making cinnamon buns tomorrow morning, // You came, Jesus you came.”)
In that moment, with Chad’s kind forgiveness and with the band’s song, I was brought back to Christmas. The real, true, Christmas. Jesus came so that I wouldn’t have to keep striving for perfection, so that I wouldn’t have to find my value in crossing off boxes from my How to Be A Holiday Housewife checklist. He was born so that we could experience the freedom that comes from being loved and forgiven again and again and again, when we don’t deserve any of it. When it’s not owed to us. He was born for short-tempered me, He was born for messy you, whatever it is that you might have wrestled with on Christmas Eve or maybe even this morning – He was born for all of us. For our hands to be held when we desperately need His love.
Suddenly, with that realization and reminder, my Christmas started to get a lot brighter. We didn’t get the tree, and we didn’t get the gifts. I’m still fighting that lingering cold, and Lord knows I didn’t even think about making those cinnamon buns – but we received the greatest love, and we got to celebrate that with each other. How had I been so selfish to forget that before? I wouldn’t trade that humbling reminder for even the cutest of the Target holiday decorations.
In the celebrations and family dinners that followed, people were sweet to ask that once dreaded question: “How’s your first married Christmas?” And with all of the authenticity in the world, I was finally able to answer: “It’s the best one yet.”