Thursday, December 3, 2015

Well, What did you Expect?

Before we roll full-speed into December, I have to take a moment to give thanks for our sweet season of Thanksgiving. Oh, November, you were such a favorite. I love this time of year and the nearly universal focus on gratitude. Thanks to beautifully fashioned quotes on Pinterest, and gratitude journals, being thankful is trendy now, and that's a great thing! I wrote about Why I Don't Tell Facebook What I'm Thankful For, but I am all about being thankful for this life and this season.

At the same time, holidays are multi-layered for me, as I'm sure they are for many others. I have Hallmark movie inspired visions and expectations of how they will play out. A toasty brown turkey cooking in the oven while home baked pies cool on the counter. A beautifully decorated home full of people I love serenaded by a fantastic soundtrack. But the reality of the holidays often looks much different from the dream in my mind's eye, and you know what? Sometimes the real thing is way better.

A week before Thanksgiving, as I was tucking Ainsley into bed, she asked me when her cousins were arriving. What she didn't yet know was that there was no plan for them to come this year, they drove all the way from Orlando last year and this year they were headed to my dad's in Illinois. When I told her they weren't coming, her eyes brimmed with wet tears and she said, "I've had six Thanksgivings and my cousins have been with me for three of them." Pensive and darling child that she is, she went on to ask, "How can we have a giant feast and celebration when there are only four of us?" It made no sense in her little seven year old mind, and I admit to pondering the same thing more than once. I too couldn't imagine how a big festive holiday celebration could happen if there wasn't a big gathering of people to go with it. Such are the musings of a girl with loved ones and family scattered in multiple states across the country.

Emerson surely would also have preferred a house bustling with people too, but true to her character, she brought her best self for our holiday foursome. She decorated and planned as though we were set to host the masses. She and Ainsley wrote a script for a Thanksgiving play, a tradition they have enjoyed with their cousins since Ainsley was a babe. But this time, with just the two of them, Em gladly took on the challenge to write a story featuring just two characters: a pilgrim and a turkey. And indeed it was a darling tale of a bird who couldn't understand why she was being hunted by her pilgrim friend. At long last, the pilgrim decided to spare the turkey and invite her to join the other pilgrims for a Thanksgiving feast.
 And somehow the holiday stars aligned and all of the dishes I prepared come out in harmonious synchronicity. Sure, the rolls got a little over-browned burned to a crisp on the bottom (which I promptly sliced off), and the cranberry sauce boiled over into charred and smoking ruby crystals (but the rest was so yum), the truth is, even still, everything turned out beautifully. And not just the feast, but those who gathered around our table.

We sat where we sit each night for dinner with the same four people that make up our family, and yet it felt, different. It felt festive, special, celebratory. Ainsley had set the table so that everyone had a turkey place mat and place card.
Emerson had collected Thanksgiving trivia questions and quizzed us as we ate our feast, which was giant indeed! Ainsley passed a box of Thanksgiving gratitude prompts that made my heart melt into a puddle. They had done it. They had brought as much cheer and celebration into our home as a bustling crowd ever could have. Maybe more.

As we sat around the table my heart was overfilled with thanks. Goodness, these people light up my whole world and have brought such beauty to me. I sat there bowled-over with peace in my heart. Peace in seeing that we are a unit, a force, a team. Everyone of us brings something different to the group and together we are better, stronger, fuller. Our little tribe still loves the opportunities to host gatherings and join them as well, but I have learned that there is something beautifully sacred about celebrating with just the tight knit bundle that we are.

So for me the best part of the holiday was the lesson I learned about expectations. My friend Johnny used to define stress as unmet expectations. I have found this to be so very true. We're stressed because we didn't expect their to be so much traffic and now we're going to be late. We're stressed because we thought the package we ordered would have been delivered today and now we're left without the item we needed. Or, we're stressed and sad because we expected to celebrate holidays with a house full of extended family and friends, but here we are, just our little group. Well, it's time for me to put those expectations in check. Some of the most fun I've had is in taking winding detours because of unexpected traffic. Opportunities for me to receive grace from others has abounded when things I had planned for and expected didn't pan out. And maybe my favorite prize of from the gift of unmet expectations has come on holidays. 

The notions of how things are "supposed to be" don't leave much room for the magic that comes with the surprise of finding my children spinning beauty out of thin air. All of those dreams of the "big fun" I'll have with lots of other people don't leave room for the sacred essence that is this nestling in close with this family that I dreamed and prayed about for years before they came to me.

Sometimes things really do go better than we could have hoped, once we bravely lay down the ideas of how we think things should go. 

2 Comments so far - Add yours!

  1. That was just beautiful... Your children are incredible but as far as I'm concerned all four of you are!