“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. You don’t know how much you helped me last Christmas!”
I recognized Cathy from church, our kids were roughly the same age, but they were at different schools and our paths hadn’t really crossed before. I certainly didn’t remember anything special I had done for her last Christmas.
“Really? How was that?”
“Oh, I was running late to Christmas Eve Mass, as usual. Yelled at the kids trying to get them out the door. Kevin didn’t want to put on a tie, I had argued with Emily over her too-short skirt and I was just in a foul mood when I got into church. We sat a few rows behind you, and I felt envious. You were on time. Your husband was with you (mine never goes to Mass with me) and your three sons looked so handsome in their blue blazers.”
At this point I was wondering where she was going with this. Someone looked at MY family as a model of Christian devotion and sartorial distinction?
She went on. “And then, as we were rising for the Our Father, I looked over at your family again. The lining of your youngest son’s blazer was frayed and dangling like tinsel! I laughed and didn’t feel nearly as discouraged as I had when I came into church.”
I had to laugh, too. My failings as a domestic goddess actually helped someone? (In my defense, the boys wore blazers to school every day and the youngest was wearing a hand-me-down that had seen a lot of time shoved in a book bag or thrown in the bottom of a locker during sports. Repairing the lining was on my to-do list, I swear. It was just at spot number 2,528, right above untangling the hoses on the side of the house.)
We all do that, don’t we? Look at other moms and think they’ve got it all together? It’s not surprising; we are bombarded with perfect families smiling out from Christmas cards and TV commercials, with curated Instagram feeds that would make Martha Stewart feel inadequate. Cathy wasn’t laughing AT me, she was laughing with relief. Relief that she wasn’t alone.
With all the decorations and the expectations it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that God used a perfect vessel to deliver our salvation in Bethlehem, but He did it in an imperfect situation. Jesus wasn’t born to a queen and swaddled in silk. He was born into what was quite a messy situation–Joseph needed his own annunciation moment to keep him from quietly divorcing Mary when she became pregnant. God didn’t put His son into perfection, He put Him into a family. And family life isn’t perfect.
I spent a lot of years trying to be the perfect mom (thankfully Pinterest wasn’t around then or I might be locked away by now). I sewed the Halloween costumes (but not the blazer linings, it appears) and baked the cookies. I mailed the Christmas cards with pictures of the boys on our family vacations, the annual letter filling far-flung family and friends in on their latest accomplishments. But a few things didn’t make the letter. The trip one of the twins took to the police station for underage drinking. The year the youngest didn’t speak to us except to snarl. Those stayed in my heart.
Our faith tells me that God’s love is greater than my failings and that I shouldn’t worry what others think of me, just what He does. Maybe we should let God use our imperfections, the trials we’ve encountered, to encourage others through their own struggles. I’m not suggesting we run around broadcasting every problem we encounter–certainly a positive attitude is a blessing to those around us. But if we can embrace our challenges prayerfully, hopefully and honestly, those moments of grace will appear, the times when our experience, our words, are the balm to a frazzled soul.
So it doesn’t matter if the cat knocks down the tree, if the teens are a little surly or if Grandpa snores through the burnt-turkey dinner. God knows our weakness, our failings, the frayed linings of our hearts. Maybe, if we let those frayed linings show, just a little, we can be the heart of Jesus to those around us. Merry Christmas!