How to Underwhelm Your Overwhelmed Holiday

Two Christmases ago we received a terminal diagnosis.

IMG_3530My precious Granddaddy’s cancer had metastasized and we knew this would be our last Christmas. I was in the middle of directing A Christmas Carol and between the constant coffee and stress, I worried an ulcer into my stomach and winced pain all season long. Scrooge lived in our home that year in the form of this overwrought mother.

Because Granddaddy had dementia, he would forget his diagnosis, and eventually, we quit reminding him. The last time I saw him happy was Christmas Eve. My sisters had decorated the house and brought in a tree because he loved the smell of that fresh cut pine. I made him cookies and we huddled around his chair that day, the big family Christmas that had been planned thwarted by the stomach bug and death’s cruel march. He smiled and told me he’d see us all again soon.

He died in hospice care one week later just as the deep cold came and settled itself around the South.

That was the winter I never felt warm.


Last year we fumbled though Christmas in a fog of uncertain diagnosis, and I vowed and failed in my attempt to keep my Scrooge in check. The tree always undoes me. In an already small space, bringing in six feet of Frasier Fir, no matter how slender, seems futile. But then, as the days marched on toward fear, I tried to loosen my grip. To enjoy my children and their antics and their normalcy. I didn’t want to have to write another one of these posts and admit how much I fail at enjoying Christmas. And on my darkest days, I didn’t want Amelia’s last memories to be of a Christmas where all Mama did was waver between tears and anger.

Do you know I can’t even remember what we gave them last year?

But I remember with crystal clarity every detail of our Christmas week MRI and losing it in the parking lot of a Chic-Fil-A after a trip to Stone Mountain.


And I knew headed into this year, how much I didn’t want this to be my story anymore.

Overwhelmed by the season of light and giving and love in a way that only made me feel underwhelmed by God.

Is this all there is? Hustle, bustle chaos and comparison and conflict?

This time I prayed before it all began. This time I didn’t vow, I asked. For grace. For patience. For a heart of simplicity. For eyes to see all the blessings that have already been pored out and a mind to register gratefulness every time I look at my daughter who’s still here, healing, right now never in any more constant danger than just the danger of everyday life.

(And I’m definitely not perfect and neither is she and that’s why there’s grace and forgiveness and sometimes spanking when a tantrum gets thrown because I asked her to clean up her art supplies and she threw the scissors across the room.)

This is my parents’ tree. This is why I have a tree complex.

When you really want to underwhelm your overwhelmed holiday so you can be overcome with the true Spirit of the Season–compassion and faithfulness and generosity all wrapped up in swaddling clothes in a manger–you’ll practice these three things. 

Saying no. To the party you don’t really want to attend, to the gift that costs too much and you don’t really want in your house, to the social media that’s making you feel like a failure because all your elf does is sit around (or you don’t even have one like us).

Saying yes. To the kids who want the big tree and are willing to figure out where to put it, to the teacher who asks so hesitantly if you can maybe just help for one hour, to the crazy idea that since layaway has ended maybe there’s no reason to try and hide a giant box of trampoline for ten more days when life is happening right now.

Saying thank you. To the cashier who’s curt, to the kid who’s sorry she made you feel like the worst mom ever because you were too tired to play Bananagrams on a school night at 8:45, to the people who have made your year matter in a whole new beautiful way.

Because at Christmas, I only want to be overwhelmed by the love. 

And maybe the cookies.



4 thoughts on “How to Underwhelm Your Overwhelmed Holiday

  1. Again, so beautifully written yet so real and raw. A great combination and a blessing to so many feeling the very same way. Keep writing. I’m sharing. Much love. Have a blessed Christmas.


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