Join Julie Lyles Carr today for a special Christmas episode! Julie takes the mic herself to share some Christmas behind the scenes in her own life with a special devotional and encouragement for your Christmas. Merry Christmas!
It’s long been my favorite day of the year. Christmas. I’m Julie Lyles Carr and today, on a special episode of The Modern Motherhood Podcast from All Mom Does, we’re going to do something we haven’t done before. It’s going to just be you and me today, and I’m going to be sharing with you some of the behind the scenes of my life as we arrive at this time of the year…that can be beautiful, hard, melancholic, and joyous.
Growing up, Christmas was it. The big game. As you’ve probably know from the conversations I’ve had with our guests throughout this past year, I was raised in a Christian home. But the church I was raised in didn’t really celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus being the focus. The thought was this: Jesus most likely was not born at this time of year, which, to be fair, is what most scholars tell us. Most historians believe that it was Constantine in the 300’s AD who transformed what had been a very popular Roman holiday season in December with Saturnalias and with Juvenalia for this kiddos, that it was under his government, in his young faith in God, that he transitioned those Roman holidays into a celebration of the birth of the Christ child. So in the church of my childhood, because the Bible never specifically called for a celebration of the birth of Jesus and because it was something of a repurposed pagan Roman holiday, we mainly experienced Christmas through Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus and presents. It was my dad who actually made it a tradition in our family to read through the account in Luke of the birth of Jesus, having me or one of my two brothers read it outloud as we gathered around the Christmas tree. My youngest brother David, six years younger than me, put us all into silent giggles when for several years he earnestly and mistakenly read from the Biblical record about Joseph’s exposed wife Mary instead of his espoused wife. Big difference.
My parents put a lot of effort into making Christmas magical and fun. And my brothers and I were all in. We wouldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve~at least, it felt like we didn’t sleep. We’d lay in the doorways of our bedrooms along the same hall and feverishly whisper about what we thought would be under the tree and in our stockings the next morning, all the while listening with super sonic bat ears for any activity from the living room or for my parents’ footsteps, angst ridden at possibly missing Santa’s appearance and at the same time terrified we’d get caught by our parents, out of our beds, on the most critical night of the year for staying off the naughty list. Once morning rolled around, we were giddy, sleep deprived, and almost frenzied as we were released to sprint into our cool Southern California sunken living room and skid under the tree to our pile of presents, my dad’s enormous deer head lamp of a camera light on his 8mm movie camera tracking our every move.
My love for Christmas only grew through the years, so much so that when my husband Michael and I got engaged, I was determined to have a Christmas wedding. Green is my favorite color, Christmas carols are my favorite songs. But then Michael and I ended up having a very complicated engagement, one that included a dramatic break-up and a tentative reunion. Eventually, I gave up the idea of Christmas nuptials in favor of simply getting married to this guy of mine, and while the bridesmaids’ dresses were Christmas green, we got married in the heat of a relentlessly sunny summer day in August. In Texas. Decidedly not Noel.
Our first child, Madison, was born 15 months into our young marriage, during the week of Thanksgiving. It made that Christmas, just five weeks later, all the more special, to have a tiny baby in the house during the holiday, the holiday in which we celebrate the good news of the birth of the Savior.
That first baby of ours is now a woman with a successful career in Chicago…and seven siblings. Christmas continues to be a big deal for all ten of of us, Michael, myself, our eight kids, definitely the favorite time of year, with all the food, laughter, and magic of the season. Through the years, our family continued to grow, as did the scope and magic of the season. There’s nothing like little kids in the house at Christmas, full of all the emotions I remembered so well as a kid, the wonder, the nervousness, the questions, the excitement. It wasn’t just mine and Michael’s family that was growing, it was both sides of our extended families, and Christmas became this full-on massive reunion every year. Michael and I were so blessed in that both sides of our families all truly enjoyed each other and often celebrated the holidays together. Those were noisy, busy, stressful, hilarious, sleep-deprived years, with the week after Christmas feeling like a needed recovery lap. Even after Michael and I moved away from a lot of the extended family in a corporate relocation, we still made our way back every holiday season to Oklahoma, to celebrate and eat too many carbs and get too little sleep and get a little too stressed and laugh until tears ran down our cheeks and usually have most of us come down with some kind of cousin virus that seemed to make the rounds each year. We’d somehow made the Christmas wonder of our childhoods continue to exist with all the original players, all grown up.
We’ve also had some real heartbreaks during the Christmas season, things that seem completely incongruent to mistletoe and candy canes. There was the early second trimester miscarriage I had several years ago, right after finishing the studio sessions for a Christmas album I did. There were the years when it seemed like all the kids…and Santa, ahem, came down with a bad stomach bug. There was the year of a really bad ice storm that had everyone edgy and cold. And then there was the year we lost my dad, in 2013, a week before Christmas day. And since saying goodbye to him five years ago this Christmas, my adored father in law and mother in law have now both passed, and my mom is now in a memory care unit, things I never expected to have to deal with while still raising a young family in my mid-forties. Those Christmases past really are now in the past, and we’ve navigating a new normal as a family.
I don’t bring this up to focus on the sad. It’s really about, what do we do when all the promise of the season, the hot cocoa and the presents and the reunions and the wonder, doesn’t work out exactly like we planned? There are people who say that Christmas can be one of the loneliest, most isolating, most stressful seasons they experience. So how can we realign our hearts with what is most important on this day?
See, I used to evaluate how ‘successful’ Christmas was as a kid by which gifts I received off my list. And then, as a mom, I evaluated how ‘successful’ it was off of how surprised my kids were Christmas morning and if I’d managed to get all my Christmas cards out in time and if my Christmas day brisket made everyone swoon. Successful Christmas had so much to do with experiencing it all as a fantastical, sparkling, magical brand that we love to think is achievable and that we propagate through all our Christmas movie specials and imaging, with all the circumstances lining up just so, like the neat porcelain houses in a miniature Christmas village.
But from those things that have shown up in the Christmas season that didn’t seem to fit, those losses, those disappointments, those inconvenient reminders of mortality, the Christmas story has become far more precious and far more layered.
Yes, it’s about a Messiah being born. Specifically being born into difficult circumstances to reconcile us to God. We can still celebrate Christmas in the midst of dark days because of the hope that the birth of that baby long ago brings us. Jesus was born into circumstances that were far less than ideal. An out of wedlock pregnancy. A journey over tough terrain to fulfill the requirements of an unreasonable government. A birth away from the familiar, away from home, in the backyard barn of a motel that was full up. Those circumstances were all about what didn’t fit into a ‘successful’ birth story. But the circumstances don’t dictate the success of the Christmas story.
The day after my dad passed, I found myself frantically running funeral errands, trying to find items we were going to need for his memorial service. I was in such a daze, and I realized with a jolt, standing in the aisle of a store, that Christmas music was playing over the speaker system. Why on earth were they playing Christmas music in this store? And then I had a further jolt, as it dawned on me that they were playing Christmas music because it was Christmas. At my dad’s funeral, there were poinsettias everywhere. The casseroles and meals people were graciously bringing us were served on cheery holiday platters. It felt surreal, all the garish Christmas paraphernalia in full force as we said goodbye to my daddy.
But that’s when the Christmas miracle happened. After my dad’s funeral, after a day of sorting through the paperwork and details we needed to complete, we all gathered at my brother’s house, and we had…Christmas. We read the Christmas story, just like my dad always had us do. We opened gifts. We ate. We laughed. We did Christmas.
I don’t know how.
But I do know how.
Jesus is our hope.
We focus on the details of what we know about the birth of Jesus. And they are compelling and beautiful. His mother, Mary, full of faith in the face of an unprecedented pregnancy. His adoptive father, Joseph, dreaming angel dreams and keeping Mary at his side. The sold out inn, the rough stable. The birth, the manger, the shepherds who first receive the news of Jesus’s birth. The wise men, who travel under His star. That beautiful story, carried in the lyrics of our carols.
We have that cutesy saying about Christmas, where we say that Jesus is the reason for the season. But really, he’s the reason for every season, the pleasant seasons, the seasons where things go our way. And the seasons, even in the Christmas season, when they don’t.
Just like that first Christmas, that is the Christmas miracle. Even when the circumstances are sideways, there is still reason to rejoice. Even when it feels like the deck is stacked against us, there is still good news. Even when the Christmas ham gets burned, the flight gets delayed, the prodigal family member doesn’t show up, the Christmas story is about a baby who came to lift us above all of that. That’s a successful Christmas.
So today, if it’s all gone the way you dreamed when you were planning and preparing and purchasing, I’m thrilled for you. It this Christmas has completely gone sideways, I’m pulling for you. In all of it, know this. By God’s power, you can still celebrate the meaning of the day, that there is an antidote for mortality, for darkness, for sin, for loss, for failure. His name is Jesus, and any day that you can remember Him and His love for you brings you true success over whatever you face. That’s the Christmas miracle, that the day’s details don’t matter in the light of the Savior’s love. May that carry you, whether you feel like you crushed Christmas like a boss mom or if you feel like it crushed you~embrace the Christmas miracle that we are more than this life, we are more than conquerors, and we can stand blameless before God, because He sent His Son into unsuccessful circumstances to rise above and raise us from the grave.
Merry, merry Christmas to you and yours from me and from all of us here at All Mom Does.
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