How to Live Life Out of Order During the Holidays

How many times have you set a schedule to have it squashed when the time arrived? Meticulous plans marked in ink, only to be crossed out? Appointments abolished because someone or something didn’t cooperate with your carefully choreographed calendar? Sometimes when timing is off, we say “good miss.” Or something better supplants our plans and we enjoy the unexpected change.

Other times, it just feels out of order.

Today marks 38 weeks since we lost Brooke on a back road in rural Mississippi. Ironically, were this June 1999, we’d be welcoming Brooke into the world. Brooke arrived at exactly 38 weeks in my pregnancy – about 2 weeks ahead of schedule.

Life was out of order – yet exciting and glorious.

At this time of year our minds and hearts focus in preparation to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. From Mary’s and Joseph’s perspectives – an unplanned and untimely pregnancy. Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Yet the marriage had not been consummated and all of a sudden – Mary is expecting. Without getting into a debate on the meaning of “betrothed” and “married” in Biblical times, it is clear that neither Mary nor Joseph was expecting a baby.

A baby? How? Now? They had to set up their home and establish their careers first. A trip to Bethlehem for a census was not their idea of a “babymoon.”

Life was out of order – yet exciting and glorious.

During all of this excitement, Mary and Joseph learn that they will be the earthly parents of the Messiah. They know that the world will be saved through their son, Jesus. But do they really know? Do they really understand how out of order life will get?

Mary couldn’t have fully understood what the next 33 years held for Jesus and for her as his mother. Had she known, she surely would have been paralyzed; unable to function.

Life was to be out of order – excruciating and gruesome.

While God foreshadows for each of us – Mary included – how “out of order” life will be, He simultaneously protects us from the full brunt of the disorder. Life’s chaos is carefully rationed into bite-sized kibbles lest we choke.

I hadn’t penciled Brooke’s accident into my daily planner. I hadn’t set aside March 22, 2107 to celebrate a short life and to say my “final good-byes.” Life re-arranged the calendar for me. Thank God, I didn’t know one instant earlier than necessary about the untimely schedule change. God knows that I would have done my best to upturn His carefully choreographed calendar.

Life is out of order – excruciating and gruesome.

How do we live life out of order? Despite all of our obsessive planning, schedule changes continue to crush our calendars. At this time of year especially, our daily agendas are chaotic and overburdened. This can be especially tough if you are smack-dab in the middle of a “disorderly” life – watching a door that you know will not open, waiting on a phone that doesn’t ring, dialing a hotline in seek of solace, or facing any one of a number of life’s “disorders.”

Joseph provides some insight on how to live life out of order with grace and poise, especially during the holidays – Study (Your Heart), (Be) Sensitive, and Surrender.

Study Your Heart –

Joseph’s initial reaction to the news of Mary’s pregnancy was to run! After a nocturnal visit from the Angel Gabriel and (I can’t help but believe) some exploration of his own heart – Joseph instead moved Mary into his home and took her as his wife.

Study your heart. With each invitation – no matter how exciting the event or how thrilling the company – consider mindfully how much you (or your loved one) can handle. Err on the side of caution here. Holiday events are generally more stimulating than at other times of the year. These events come with expectations of joy and light-heartedness. For some, this can be overwhelming. For others, this can be uplifting.

Know your heart.  RSVP accordingly.

If a holiday event is too much, you can always counteroffer. Suggest a quieter visit with your host/hostess after the hustle and bustle have settled.

Be Sensitive –

Even when Joseph contemplated a quick exit, he was sensitive to Mary’s plight. Joseph had every “right” to out Mary as an adulterer, which would have resulted in her death by stoning. Rather, Joseph had intended to divorce her quietly before Gabriel’s visit.

How can we be sensitive during the holidays?

First, be sensitive to our own needs when the traditional holiday schedule is too painful to face. You don’t have to put the Christmas tree up the day after Thanksgiving – or at all – just because that is what you’ve done every year until now. You don’t have to plan and prepare a family feast if your heart just can’t bear it – just because that is what you’ve done every year until now.

Sometimes tragedy can lead to beautiful new traditions. We lived in New Orleans in August 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and like thousands of others, our lives were in upheaval. When it came time to celebrate my daughter, Megan’s, birthday in January, our typical birthday celebration wasn’t in the cards due to schedule changes.

On the morning of Megan’s birthday, the neighborhood kids came to the house before school and we had an ice cream cake for breakfast. Though it wasn’t intended to become a tradition – Brooke turned it into one.  When her birthday came the next June, she insisted on the same and a new tradition was born.

You don’t have to do what you always do just because it’s what you’ve always done.

Second, be sensitive to the needs of others. There is no better way to put a broken heart into perspective than to gaze into the shattered pieces of another broken heart. There are so many in need – but especially so at the holidays. If you aren’t in the mood to create your own holiday memories, contribute to someone else’s.

Even if charity doesn’t feel at home, you can give to a charity in the name of your lost or ailing loved one. When you don’t feel like carving a turkey, carve out some time to pack food boxes for the needy. Having a blue Christmas, attend one of the many religious services or support groups in your area. Even if you don’t speak a peep, your very presence might be what another blue soul needs to reassure them that they aren’t alone.

Surrender –

Waive the white flag. Ultimately, Joseph bowed to God’s will over his own.

Give in to a change of plans when your heart needs it or when the heart of someone you love needs it – even if it means cancelling prior plans. This is a hard one. We feel obligated. We feel guilty. After carefully considering what we can handle, we learn at the last moment (and often unexpectedly) that we just can’t follow through. If you find yourself in this situation, communicate honestly with those whom are affected by your inability to see plans through.

Embrace upheaval in the schedule when something better comes along provided of course that your last-minute change doesn’t require cancelling a commitment. It’s one thing to change plans when your heart simply can’t take the festivity. It’s another to dump a friend or cancel a plan for “something better.” If an opportunity arises, don’t be afraid to go with it. “Something better” might be just the ticket for inviting some joy back into a difficult holiday season.

And if all else fails – you can take the advice that the Salvation Army volunteer gave me as I exited the mall yesterday – SMILE. (Even a forced smile can lift your spirit for a moment or two.)

Peace and joy!


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