Sometimes life doesn’t quite go the way we planned. This past weekend was my husband’s college graduation ceremony. We have been leading up to this day for four painfully long years. These past few weeks have felt like an eternity as he finished up his classes and we prepared for the big day.
Being an adult student is a completely different ball game than being a traditional 18 year old college student without a care in the world. Over the past 4 years my husband has kept up his full time 50-60 hour a week job, I’ve worked full time, our family has grown to include two small children, and we have the usual adult responsibilities of home maintenance, car repairs, and various other obligations. When you add in a full time college course schedule, life can feel a little bit like drowning at times. But we made it through! And he graduated magna cum laude (with high honors). We certainly have lots of reason to celebrate.
The graduation ceremony was scheduled to take place early on Saturday morning, over two hours from our home. My husband had to arrive two hours before we did, so I booked us a hotel room nearby to make life a bit easier. I got an extra room for my mom to give me a couple extra hands to get the kids ready in the morning. We prepped an activity bag and a snack bag for each kid to keep them occupied and happy during the ceremony. It felt like we had planned for everything and I expected the day would be filled with joy and excitement and celebration.
While at the hotel, my son tossed and turned for much of the night and took hours to fall asleep. I assumed it was due to excitement over everything going on and being away from home. Somewhere in the middle of the night though, I noticed he felt warm and I could hear him burping. Then he said his mouth hurt and felt funny (he’s 3, so his descriptions are a little difficult to decipher). I started getting very nervous and said a few urgent prayers as we fell back to sleep.
In the morning, we all popped out of bed, excited for our day, except the little one. He just rolled around in bed and refused to get up. I tried to take him down to the lobby for breakfast but he just cried and said “no”.
My husband had just gotten out of the shower when suddenly my son got sick all over the hotel room bed.
This was not how this day was supposed to go. After four long, hard years I just wanted this day to be a huge celebration. There was to be nothing but happiness and joy as we cheered my husband across the stage. The only tears that should be shed were to be joyous tears and tears of relief that we were done! But instead, I had a sick 3 year old, shivering, crying, and puking all over our hotel room.
I sent my husband to go prepare for his big day while my mom helped me clean up my son and get us all ready. We made it to the ceremony just as the procession was starting and quickly found our seats. I was beyond stressed, scared that my little boy would get sick again in the middle of the ceremony and ruin the day for everyone. I was worried that I would miss my husband’s walk across the stage. I was nervous about our long drive home with a sick kid. I was angry because this was not in my plans for this momentous day.
As I sat and listened to the opening speeches I remembered that stress is what happens when our minds resist what is. When we try to fight with reality and wish and hope and dream for different circumstances, we are only met with disappointment, anxiety, and stress. Nothing good can happen by clinging to what might have been.
My only hope for surviving and enjoying the day was to let go of my expectations, to release my worries and fears with the knowledge that worry and fear can’t actually fix anything, and simply be. I needed to take the morning that life gave me and enjoy it to the best of my abilities.
I settled into the ceremony. I snuggled my sick baby and let him fall asleep on my chest. I enjoyed the excitement of the day and remembered that no matter how things turned out, we still have much to celebrate. As the graduates moved their tassels across their graduation caps, signifying the end of a long journey, tears filled my eyes. This has been a long journey for us, but thankfully, there is still so much more to come.
My boy slept through most of the ceremony and the drive home. He was miserable and exhausted, but we were soon settled back at home where he could rest and recover in peace. We didn’t miss the ceremony. We didn’t miss the joy. And even though it felt all wrong, it still ended just right. We were together, celebrating this accomplishment as a family.
This week, you may have high expectations for how Christmas should turn out. You dream of the excitement on your children’s faces as they open their gifts. You’ve imagined the peace and beauty as you read the Christmas story. You can’t wait for a joyous meal shared with the ones you love the most.
And it might happen exactly as you plan. You may have the perfect Christmas of your dreams. But, if life has anything to do with it, Christmas might not be quite as perfect as you hope.
People may start fighting, someone might get sick, the turkey may burn and the pie might be soupy. Gifts may not cause the excitement you anticipated. And you might not even get a chance to read the Christmas story.
When all of the holiday stress and disappointment threatens to steal your joy, I challenge you to remember that stress is what happens when we resist what is. What is, may not be what you want or what you expected, but it still can be beautiful. It still can be filled with joy and love and peace. Choose that. Choose to recognize that even when life unexpectedly takes a different path, we can still accept what is, and experience moments that take our breath away.
Because Christmas isn’t about perfection. It isn’t about all of our dreams coming true. Christmas is about a perfect God coming into our imperfect world to be with us. He came to experience life with us, the good, the bad, and the mess. He never promised us perfect, He never said He’d meet all of our expectations and fulfill all our dreams. He just said He’d be here with us, through all of it. And that is all we need.
Merry Christmas. May the love of our living Savior fill your heart, your home, and your lives this Christmas. May you recognize the beauty of His perfect gift in the midst of your imperfect Christmas. May you choose to savor His love, experience His joy, and rest in His peace.