Martha Stewart and The Ghost of Christmas


Martha Stewart & The Ghost of Christmas Present

Confession: I am not one of those people who LOVES Christmas. I like Christmas, and I have good memories of family holidays and piles of gifts and too much food… but I was not one of those girls who just-couldn’t-wait to have a home of my own to turn into our personal winter wonderland each year. Much of this may have to do with the fact that I grew up in the Southern Hemisphere and our most popular Christmas Day activity was to go swimming at the beach, but I digress…

Our first Christmas as a married couple was spent in the USA, and it was the first year I felt the pressure to wave my Christmas wand and magically produce sparkle and memories and happiness in the living room. As it turned out, my Christmas wand had been snapped in two by the purse-string Grinch: we were broke. And Christmas sparkle costs. And even if we hadn’t been broke, I still don’t think I could have made it happen. Pinterest had not yet been invented, but I was already intimidated by it.

My knee-jerk reaction to the pressure was to boycott the whole thing. We don’t celebrate Valentines Day, we don’t decorate for the seasons – we could just add “not decorating for Christmas” to the list of ways in which I am Not Like Martha Stewart. (Also, I don’t bake brownies from scratch. And I can’t fold a fitted sheet, even though I watched the video a dozen times. And I don’t iron. Ever. That handsome genius going to a meeting in a crumpled shirt would be my husband. Sorry.)

But back to Christmas: in my heart of hearts I didn’t want to boycott it. I wanted a Christmas tree. No, I wanted a FABULOUS Christmas tree. I wanted something in my living room that would bring warmth to my hearth and literally put a twinkle in my eye. I wanted people who visited our little house to take a deep breath when they walked in and to say: “Wow! It’s Christmas in here! Your tree is gorgeous – I LOVE it!”

And that was when I realized what the problem was: I had been thinking about Christmas decorating as if it were for the guests who walked into our house. I was decorating so that OTHERS would love and admire it. I was looking for arts-and-crafty affirmation from friends, and feeling all tied up in knots because I KNOW I’m not arts-and-crafty enough to outbow outdecorate and outglitz anyone on Survivor Christmas Island.

It was at about 2am one December morning, as I sat nursing my firstborn child in a sleep-deprived haze, that the Ghost of Christmas Present gently pointed me in a better direction. I had been decorating with the hope that OTHERS would love it, and feeling frustrated that it wasn’t gorgeous enough and simultaneously snarky that I didn’t want to decorate anyway.

20131201-214304.jpgBut as I looked at our rustic (read: cheap) Christmas tree with its dim and gentle lights that morning – I LOVED it in all its quirky and quaint oddity, and the Ghost spoke to me: This is how you decorate. You decorate because YOU love it, and because those you love will love it. Decorate for your joy, for your family’s joy, and screw the rest.

Sometimes, the Ghosts of my imagination are quite rude. Occasionally, they are quite wise too.

The grinch has been fired, and Christmas decorating is no longer the emotional burden it was. Just as I can embrace that my house is not messy (I prefer to think of it as “well loved”), so too my house is not particularly Christmas-pretty. However, it IS decorated, and since I’ve set the bar really low, I always clear it.

Yesterday we dragged the Christmas tree down from the attic with our box of decorations. The kids put their less breakable art-project ones at the bottom, and we hung the glassy baubles at the top. Drape lights, affix star, and VOILA! Christmas in my house. We had a blast. The lights make me happy. We hung stockings on the banister. There is a wreath on the door. And we are DONE. Regardless of what anyone else thinks when they walk through the door, the important thing is that when WE come into our house we say “Wow! It’s Christmas in here! It’s home and we LOVE it!”

And you know what, friends? It is. And we do. Ghosts: be gone.

Doing it Gangnam Style

Last weekend I found myself in the charming city of Hilversum in the Netherlands, speaking at a women’s conference on the wonderful-and-very-serious topics of redemption, justification and adoption. (I’m starting to write up some of the talks – click here for part of the justification talk, here for my post on one of the implications for us in church life, and if you have 43 minutes – click here to see the video of the first talk). If you’ve ever wondered what I look and sound like in person, here is talk 2 from the conference:

Looks like I have it all together, doesn’t it?

Well, let me share with you that just minutes after this talk finished, the women at the conference had organized a stretch-your-legs ice-breaker. All of us were asked to stand up and dance to the 15 second clip of music being played. The leader would then call “freeze” and we could laugh at the ridiculous poses we found ourselves in.

They played a waltz. We all laughed and 1-2-3-ed around the room. They played the can-can. We laughed some more and kicked our legs high into the sky. We did the twist. We did the robot. And then they played Gangnam Style, and before we had a chance to freeze the leader of the activity looked down on the sea of awkwardly writhing bodies, and she called me out. “You”, she said, “come up here and do Gangnam style for all of us.”

Are you kidding me?

But a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, and so up I got and did my very best attempt at this:

Let me tell you, I did NOT have it all together. Whatever you’re imagining right now, let me assure you it was more awkward than that. MUCH laughter was had at my expense, and I blushed a very furious shade of scarlet. But when I returned to my seat, one of the women leaned over, still laughing, and said “Yes! Now you really belong to us!”

Which leads me to think: maybe sometimes the best gift we can give to people in helping them belong is to be the fool. To be the silly dancer. To be the one with the messy house. To be honest about not having it all together. To let others see you cry.

We feel we belong not when our very best self is accepted by others, but when we know our worst self, our failed self, our real-me-self is accepted by others.

Go ahead, I dare you. Do it Gangnam Style.