Halloween is HERE?!

How the heck did that happen? I feel like we just picked out our pumpkins and we did that a month ago! Holy cow, time is flying by and sometimes I just feel like I’m constantly treading water to keep up… anyone with me? I’ve actually been thinking about this a lot lately- why is it that I love this season so much, but have this nagging feeling that I’m continuously behind in enjoying it? Every other month or so, I write an article for our church newsletter and this month, I started wondering… am I the only one who feels this way? I thought I’d share the article with you here- who knows, maybe we can make a pact together to take some of the stress out of “the most wonderful time of the year”. So with that, here we go:

I’ll Ride the Bench This Year

I’ll admit it here first, folks. This year, I’m setting myself FREE.  From what, you ask? Well, here it is:

I am setting myself free from all of the expectations and pressures that come with the holiday craze.

 You probably know by now that this is my absolute favorite time of the year. There is something about cool days and colder nights, sweatshirts at football games, green, yellow, and red leaves all on the same tree, and (don’t even get me started on) campfires that just sings to a deep part of my soul. Autumn, you have my heart!House 029

As I think about fall, part of what gets me so excited during this season is the anticipation of what is to come. I mean, let’s be blunt, friends. We’ve got an ALL-STAR line up of holidays coming our way. We start out with Halloween, a childhood favorite and a great way to kick off the season. Who doesn’t like playing dress-up and eating candy? Up next is Thanksgiving- a crowd pleaser through and through. Football, family, parades, and pumpkin pie… my kind of paradise!  Meanwhile, the anticipation continues to build and grow for (sing it with me now) “the most WONDERFUL time of the year”! Christmas carols, cookies, wish lists, nativity scenes, the smell of pine, snow… what could be better?

First Christmas Tree!

Ahh, just thinking about all the festivities gets me so excited! And, dare I say… anxious? Because along with the thrill comes the pressure, the expectations, and the stress. I have talked to many people who say that the most relaxing part of the holidays is when they are over.Calm Snow I can sympathize with this because already I feel myself becoming flustered with the minutia of the hustle and bustle. Here’s how the conversation in my head goes if I allow myself to dwell on what is “required” of me to make this season “the best year ever”:

(This should be read at a fast pace, while gulping large breaths of air.)

Okaaaaay, good morning world! It is… October 16th. I think I’ll have a quick bowl of cereal before—wait, OCTOBER 16TH?! How can that be? It was just September 1st and now we’re halfway through October? Oh my goodness, there is so much to do! I haven’t even started putting out the Halloween decorations. What will the neighbors think when they come Trick-or-Treating and we don’t even have any PUMPKINS? And we really should carve one- that would be a fun, festive thing to do (and let’s go all out this year), but WHEN will we do that? There is not a free weekend in sight for the next two months… And by that time, it’ll be November… Oh my gosh, November—THANKSGIVING!!! We better figure out who is hosting and when we’ll see the in-laws because that has bearing on where we’ll be for… oh no, Christmas. CHRISTMAS?! It’s practically NEXT WEEK and I haven’t even started shopping for gifts! We’d better get on that to allow for shipping time… oh my word, if people are going to be coming to our house I better bake double batches of cookies (WHEN will I get that done??) and I guess we’d better have the tree up (real or fake this year?)—holy cow, I FORGOT TO GET NEW CHRISTMAS LIGHTS WHEN THEY WERE ON CLEARANCE LAST YEAR! Now, we’ll have to pay full price…

 And so on, and so forth.

My question for us to think about (or perhaps a challenge for us to consider) is this:

Does it have to be that way?

 Why do we have this notion that we have to submit to the expectation of being busy throughout the season? I believe that this is due largely to the fact that there is a lot to do during the holidays and we feel that we have to do it all… and do it all flawlessly. And who can blame us? We have set ourselves up and live in a culture that screams expectations (Ever been on Pinterest?).That shouts hustle and bustle from the rooftops (There are Christmas trees in Lowes, people. It’s October.).christmas trees at Lowes My question is this: Can we challenge all the chaos of the season with the peace of Christ? Can we vow to ourselves and to our families that we will take measures to minimize the stress of the holidays so that we can maximize the joy?  Think about these song lyrics:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king;

Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing.

 The overarching sentiment of the season is (or should be)… pure joy. And how often does that get lost in the ways in which we are trying to execute the perfect party? Let every heart prepare Him room. It doesn’t say “let every house prepare its rooms”. The song speaks of the preparation of our hearts. Something deep inside reminds me that I don’t need to have the perfect family and in-law schedule lined up, laminated, and hanging on the fridge, ready for action for my heart to be prepared to celebrate our Savior. And heaven and nature sing. Are the Christmas carols turned up too loud on the radio for us to hear the heavens proclaiming the glory of God? Are the commercials turned up even louder, blocking the symphony of nature as it sings to the Almighty King?Christmas Stress

Which celebration do we want to be a part of? Well, I know which camp I’m in. I want the party in which all I have to do is show up. Show up and REJOICE!

Now you’re thinking: Well, yes, I want that too, but let’s speak realistically here. Just saying that doesn’t make the stress of the season go away. And you are right. How do we put this notion into action? I like practical and tangible steps and suggestions, so here is a list of a five habits we could try to adopt to lighten the pressures of the holidays:

  1. Start early. Ask for your loved ones’ wish lists now and go ahead and start the shopping (and wrapping!) even before November ends.
  2. Do we really need ALL of the decorations out this year? Put out the ones that make you happy and leave the rest in storage.
  3. Communicate your goals to friends and family. Encourage them to join you on the quest to minimize the stress and maximize the joy. Tell them how they can help you with this and ask them how you can help do the same.
  4. Take a walk. Outside, once a week. It can be difficult to hear heaven and nature singing if we never expose ourselves to God’s creation. Give yourself that space and time to “pause” the chaos and enjoy some peace and quiet.
  5. Make a list. Not a to-do list, but a list of things you’d like to look out for this fall and winter. This one is especially important because it will help us combat the “busy” and keep our eyes open for the “special”. (Need some ideas? This year, I hope to see: a random act of kindness, a tree full of fall leaves, a cup of hot chocolate, a live nativity scene, a cloud with a neat shape…)new house 052

Anyone with me this year? Let’s ride the bench on Team Holiday Craze and let ourselves embrace the joy of the season. I wonder what this year would look like if we adopted the thinking of this Scripture:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

My prayer for you this season is that you will be full of joy as we prepare our hearts for the birth of our King.IMG_1065

Happy Fall, everybody!