When I listen to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s famous “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo” (I had to look up the name, but it’s the one that is on the radio all the time around Christmas), I have an image emblazoned in my mind. I picture a heavenly football stadium filled with angelic hosts. The angels are bursting with powerful praises. In the center stands The Trinity in all their glory.
They are facing each other knowing it is the last time they will be together for years. The countdown is on. The music is pounding, filling the stadium in anticipation of the redemption of mankind. The Lord Jesus is preparing to leave His heavenly home to do what has been promised thousands of years before. The enemy doesn’t understand what is about to occur, but God is about to fulfill His promise to humanity. My heart beats in my chest as I imagine it! Oh, how I long to get to heaven and find out what that moment really looked like! It humbles and thrills me all at once! The anticipation of good conquering evil in the most unexpected way—it is the most miraculous story!
For me, this reality is more exciting than any Christmas morning gift has ever been. I’ve always been that way. Even as a little girl, the candlelight Christmas Eve service was the time I longed for most. To venture out into the bitter cold, looking up at the stars, imagining my sweet Savior coming into the world, and worshipping with my family has been a moment I treasured. I wanted to be like Mary: a simple, faithful young woman whom God looked down at and was pleased. To step out in faith, regardless of the consequences to serve God… it’s a beautiful example. Somewhere along the line, I lost my admiration of Mary’s die-to-self attitude and thought the holidays were about me.
Let me take you back to my first Christmas being married… (Sidenote: The following situation has been forgiven, and I truly only bring it up to share some of the realities and challenges we experienced.) Travis and I got married in March of 2009. We lived right in the middle of our parents. Mine were 3 ½ hours north and his were 3 ½ hours south. Because my mother-in-law’s birthday is right around Thanksgiving, we decided to go south to my in-laws for that holiday. Then at Christmas, the plan was to go to my house on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, then to drive 7 hours south to make it to my in-laws for Christmas dinner and presents. The plan seemed like a reasonable one, as we both knew we would be at my in-laws the next Christmas. So there we were, celebrating at my parents’ house, having just gotten home from church, when Travis heard that a big snowstorm was on its way. He started nervously looking into the weather report and discovered that a storm was possibly coming on Christmas Day. To my horror—and to the confusion and shock of my family—Travis declared that we had to leave. He didn’t want the snowstorm to impact us on our long drive the next day. Now I know a large part of my new husband was concerned about putting his bride in danger… but I didn’t feel protected at all. I privately pleaded with him to just let us stay longer. Wait it out a little. Please! Please, Travis! Can’t we just stay here? My tears did nothing to convince him. I can still remember hugging my parents good-bye as I struggled to submit to my husband. The drive was a long, hard one. I don’t remember much, but I do remember my deep sobs. I could not believe that he wouldn’t listen to me at all. I felt like I had made a horrible mistake marrying someone who could overlook my heart so easily.
As luck would have it, the blizzard never came….
And somehow, my husband who usually struggles to stay awake while driving, had a burst of energy that allowed him to drive us through the night… arriving at his parents’ house early Christmas morning. We had a nice Christmas with his family. They are wonderful and amazingly generous, and I love them. But it was not what I was used to and my heart ached at what I believed was my husband’s selfishness. My bitterness lasted much longer than that morning.
Sadly, adding salt to my wounds, this turned out to be my father’s last Christmas.
In fairness to Travis, I have to include that he was still getting used to my family and some of the dynamics were making him very uncomfortable. He had seen my parents arguing and wanted an escape. He was in a difficult situation too.
If I stop and meditate upon some of our early memories, I wonder why I felt so entitled to be with my family. How did I forget my early longings to serve God however He would have me? Mary wasn’t with her family on that first Christmas. Perhaps she was still learning she could trust Joseph with her heart. She wasn’t comfortable with her surroundings—and she certainly couldn’t have been cozy with her transportation! She was shunned by men, and almost completely alone.
And then God did the most beautiful miracle…
The star shone…
The shepherds came…
The wise men worshipped…
I don’t have quite the redemption that Mary had on her first Christmas, but God has healed my heart. Since that first Christmas, Travis and I have brought three baby boys into this world. With each one, I have imagined Mary delighting in her newborn son. Also, we have learned to communicate more lovingly, and Travis considers my feelings much more. He doesn’t just trust his assessment of the situation. In turn, I have learned to choose to believe he loves me, and to be less emotional and bitter.
This year, Travis and I had a very quick conversation about the holidays. What a hilarious contrast from those first few years! Praise God—we’re seeing fruit! We’ve learned something! I want to pass on a few tips to newly married couples, and any other couples that struggle with this topic.
Prioritize—Ask each other the following: What tradition is most important to you? When is it most important for you to be with your family? When do you want us to be here at our home? Obviously the distance to your families varies from couple to couple, so I can’t sort out those details for you. Just make sure you are getting to the heart of the issue.
Compromise—You won’t be able to make everyone happy every year. Perhaps you need to alternate Christmas morning each year. Perhaps one family gets Christmas Eve, one gets Christmas Day. If you look at the situation as the two of you making the best choice for the family, it will be much better than if you think “He got his way this year!” Also, remember that you are forming a new family. Each of your families will probably be a little disappointed. Stand strong together, knowing you did the best you could to make the holidays special for everyone involved. I can recall Travis’ first Christmas morning without his parents. I heard his mother on the other end of the phone, saying she understood but it was hard to be away from him for the first time. I know this day will be hard on me as well when my sons are grown. I want to look at the holidays from each family’s perspective and try to be fair.
Die to Self—As I described above, I had a very self-centered perspective of Christmas. This is one of the most obvious days of the year that we get to focus on Jesus! Don’t waste it by thinking about your own desires! Even if you aren’t where you want to be, rejoice in the newborn King!
- Ask for wisdom—Don’t be embarrassed to ask for counsel as you work through these situations. Sometimes an outside perspective can be very helpful. Often couples wait until it is too late to ask for help. Go to someone you both trust before the problem gets bigger.
Maybe many of you don’t struggle like we did. I’m thrilled for you! I still wanted to reach out to those of you who need a little guidance… May God guide you as you put Him in the center of your marriage, your family, and your celebrations! Merry Christmas!
(Top Photo Credit: Travis Hickox at the Heritage Beam and Board Barn Sale)