Prepare Our Hearts

Prepare Our Hearts: A common prayer before a church service or a worship set in which we ask God to make our hearts receptive to his Spirit and his love.

I was so busy this fall that I didn’t even get a chance to be sufficiently annoyed about how early “Christmas” is starting these days.

I did notice a Target holiday commercial in the middle of October (fail), and a few weeks ago, while I was deep in book edits at Caribou, I was startled into the moment by that annoying song, “Simply Having a Wonderful Christmastime.”

But other than that, I hardly even noticed it.

On Thanksgiving morning, the sun rose pink in the sky and we sent the kids outside in only sweaters to chase the ducks. We ate and laughed and ate and cleaned, and then I stumbled off to nap, (to sleep off that cooking/Pinterest-project-doing/tryptophan coma).

And when I woke up, the world was entirely changed.

It was snow-coated and glowing, and the kids were clamoring into boots and hats and puffy coats. They were running outside to hold the first heavy flakes in their mittens. The white lights on the house flickered on and lit against the new-fallen snow, and suddenly, it’s Christmastime. Justlikethat.


There’s something about this season that throws into stark relief that gap between who I am and who I think I need to be.

I’ve seen one too many Thomas Kinkade paintings. One too many quilted Christmas placemats on Pinterest. I keep seeing this TJ Maxx commercial for “The Gifter,” and she is sleek with tall books and unwrinkled dresses, and she glides through stores like she’s riding on a cloud. And every time I see it, I know what they’re trying to sell me, and I know that it doesn’t really exist, but still, I buy into it just a little bit.

One friend buys her child very few gifts in a commitment to simplicity and downward mobility. I worry that I’m spoiling my kids by giving them too much. Another friend gives more than I do, and this too ignites my Mama Guilt. I worry that I haven’t done enough, that somehow they’ll be disappointed.

I try to sing Silent Night to Dane at bedtime, and he says, “No, Mom. The Christmas song. Frosty the Snowman!” and I think I have not been hitting the Jesus themes hard enough. But then, I want Frosty for him too. Rudolph and Santa’s big-bearded smile and the whimsical fun of all of it.

The Christmas season comes, and I’m a little hunched under all these ideas that I have. They’ve digitally morphed somehow into one striking composite: the perfect Christmas. I know perfectionism to be an impossibility, a phantom, a myth…but still, I can’t stop waking up in the morning thinking, Today’s the day I’ll get it exactly right.


And I think about that word prepare. I think about my heart, weighed down as it is with so many things. To make ready it means. Or to put in a proper frame of mind.

Look outside: the snow has fallen and the world is lit and the bells are ringing outside of stores. The ads come and come and come in the newspaper and you have to decide now. Who will you be? What will you choose?

This year, I will watch as many sappy Christmas movies as possible and give myself two points for every former child-star from my youth that appears in a starring role. I’ll drink hot chocolate every night, screw the calories. I’ll choose only simple Christmas crafts to do; nothing that requires a “tutorial.”

This year, I will not compare our hastily-taken backyard family photo to the sleek, professional Christmas cards of long-distance friends and family. I will look instead at those faces and pray good things. Then I will look at my own boys’ sweet faces – neither of them looking at the camera  in this shot, the little one with his hand raised, about to smack his big brother. I will choose to be thankful for this family as it is, not as I wish it would be.

I will measure myself not by the downstairs office, where I just started a giant storage room re-org and where it looks like something out of Hoarders. (A photo – in case you think I’m exaggerating.)

I’ll stay in the living room instead. I’ll sit by the lit-up Christmas tree – the real one that we bought from Lowe’s last week. I won’t feel a bit bad that we didn’t go to a Christmas tree farm and get that shot of everyone walking hand-in-hand down a snow-laden path.

I’ll love this tree – the one strung with colored lights and old ornaments. It was $19.99, and it will be sharp and half-dead by the second week of December.

But Dane pulls up the little green chair in front of it and says, “Will you sit with me and look at the lights?” And I will sit there as long as he wants, even if it means we’re having frozen pizza for supper again.

I’ll give out of joy and love instead of out of stress over the “perfect present.” I’ll read the Advent books without pressuring myself to experience the Christmas story with some kind of new epiphany. I’ll stop trying to put the Christ back into Christmas and look for the ways that he’s already there.

I’ll let Dane and Liam help make cookies, even though it takes four times longer that way and we always drop at least one cup of flour on the floor. I’ll sing and laugh and ban myself from Pinterest.

When it all comes down to it, I think I’ve had too many years in a row of trying to conjure up the perfect Christmas. This year, I’ll settle for merry. I’ll settle for good, for less-than-picture perfect. I’ll settle for not-quite-how-it-was-supposed to be.

I’ll choose the manger instead of the inn. The baby instead of the king.

I’ll settle, settle, settle into the couch and give myself permission to be still.

37 thoughts on “Prepare Our Hearts

  1. Addie,
    You have a wonderful way of bringing tears and yanking at my heart strings. This is beautiful and exactly right. Your family is blessed to have a wise mama 🙂 Your Christmas this year will be your best ever, I’m sure.

    Merry Christmas!

  2. I needed this, Addie. Thank you. I don’t have kids yet but I do feel the pressure to make the “perfect” Christmas, or to have a super-spiritual epiphany about the whole thing. Thanks for the reminder to just sink into the season and not worry about making it Christmas-card-sleek.

  3. I love this, Addie. I have a lot more Christmas’ under my belt and my kids are grown. But we still cherish the simple things that we enjoy together. For us, it is time to read our favorite Christmas books,watch our favorite movies and listen to our best Christmas music, lots of cups of tea, delicious food we all cook together, a cold winter nights trip to downtown Chicago for the Kristkindle Market (which reminds us of our years in Europe), the lessons and carols at church, and lots of time, time and more time to talk and laugh.

    I believe you will not regret the decision to enjoy your holiday.


    1. This is so beautiful. It makes sense that the memories that mean the most are not the ones that you stress out about. (PS – my family’s from the Chicago area, and I love Kristkindle Market! What a great tradition. I still have my boot mulled wine mug!) Thanks, Glenda.

  4. Your gift to me, oh gifter, was the triptych of your basement office! Ah, sigh, relief. It looks like mine. How is it that we like to internet troll perfection (even when it pretends not to be, like Pinterest and Martha Stewart who aim to be homey), but actually relate and draw strength from imperfections shared. Ah, the perfect Christmas is in the remembering and the remembering is usually inextricably linked to the imperfections, the stories! I have learned from raising Jessie that its not exactly WHAT you do, but that you do it over and over and over… That’s good. Do it again (to quote holyhelions). So, its the fact that we get all the Christmas books and music out on December 1st that means so much to her. That we open the advent calendar that has a little piece of the Advent story (prophet first, pointing the way) for each day, even tho it is falling apart. So. Yes. Have an imperfect Christmas and just love it all … which I know you will do and look forward to reading how you do it and what it draws out in you in this waiting time. PAX

    1. So glad I’m not the only one with a rat’s nest of crap in the basement. And I love this line here: “The perfect Christmas is in the remembering and the remembering is usually inextricably linked to the imperfections.” So much wisdom there. Thank you.

  5. “There’s something about this season that throws into stark relief that gap between who I am and who I think I need to be.”

    YES. This gap seems to be the theme of all I’ve been writing lately. I’m beginning to think it’s the red thread in my entire story.

    (And btw, the banning Pinterest concept is genius. Good for you!)

    1. Love that idea of the red thread weaved through the story. So true. (And we’ll see if the Pinterest ban really happens. It’s a tempting little corner of the internet…)

  6. ah, i love ranting against christmas consumerism and then taking the child to romp through macy’s SantaWonderlandExtravganza (or whatever the hell it is called). i love being hard to pin down!

    but srsly, can we do something magical together?

  7. I felt a weight lift from me while reading this. And loved this thought, to look for Christ who is already there. Thank-you.

  8. All of this is so true & relevant. I’ve written about similar thoughts. How we need reminders like here. I’m learning to not push too much onto myself or my kids. I want them to fall in love with Jesus without me getting in their way.

    1. “I want them to fall in love with Jesus without me getting in their way.” Love that. Thanks so much Kamille.

    1. Those dang Christmas pictures. How does everyone else get their lousy kids to look so cute?!

  9. “I’ll choose the manger instead of the inn.” Stop. I’m using that. And possibly giving you credit.

    What do we remember of fantastic Christmases as a kid? I remember marshmallows in the hot chocolate, lights, and all the people I love in the same space. I don’t remember which Barbie I was gifted or what the table centerpiece looked like.

    1. It’s so true. We remember the simple things. Thanks for reminding me of that. (And for stopping by!)

  10. Love Love Love this. I suffer this time of year to be the person I feel others expect me to be. Some of that pressure is perception some is reality. But how I react to it, that is entirely my choice, my response.

    So I’m going to settle in and enjoy the lights on my 16 year old fake Christmas tree (boughtatMenardsthankyouverymuch). And I’m just going to remember. Remember why, remember when, remember how much God loves us. And I hope, just a teeny tiny hope, that I shine His light through to others when I stop and remember.

    1. “But how I react to it, that is entirely my choice, my response.” YES. So true. Thanks so much for this comment!

  11. Hi Addie
    When I saw I was not the only one being surprised to find Xmas right on my doorstep, I thought of my husband’s favorite saying that last year this time it had still been still February! Oh, how I would love to experience a white Xmas. I live in South Africa where it is always HOT during the Xmas season, but then I suppose you guys might just want to have a good sun filled time like us, tanning to our heart’s delight (with sunscreen, of course)!
    Bless you and your boys are adorable.

    1. I like the snow at Christmastime, but come January, I’ll be so wishing I were where you guys are! Thanks so much Mia.

  12. This is really, really good, as folks are already saying. Really wise, realistic and hopeful and filled with joy (but no faux exuberance :). It hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the good counsel and words to remember!

  13. Last Christmas I decided to do what I enjoyed and let everything else go. I bought all my presents online from 10 thousand villages because I HATE shopping. I turned my whole downstairs into a Christmas wonderland (because I LOVE to decorate although i also hate cleaning so the Christmas wonderland had piles of laundry on the couch and piles of dust under the evergreen boughs) and every night we weren’t out I drank homemade hot coco and read Christmas books to my kids. We baked a ton of cookies and I sent my kids around to hand most of them out to neighbors so I wouldn’t get too fat. It was slow and festive and a wonderful month and this reminded me of that. Thankyou.

    1. Love the ways you chose to celebrate in a way that filled your heart. Thanks for sharing this Deidre!

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