This time of year is always hard for me. I start becoming anxious when the year rounds second base in late June. First there are just passing twinges of nervousness as I notice the days growing shorter. By September, with the cooler temperatures around and football blaring from every angle, the anxiety has upgraded to a steady underbeat running through my days…”Christmas. It’s going to be Christmas soon. Have to get ready. Can’t get ready. How will I do all that?”

Added to my perennial anxiety about Christmas is my perennial realization that the final days of Daddy’s life wound down this time of year. The last Thanksgiving–him sitting small and gaunt, dwarfed in his recliner, grinning that “I know you know I’m dying…” smile at me, broaching the topic without ever upsetting Mother, while others ate (and slept in the only other chair in the room) around us. Two weeks later as he struggled to tell us how it felt to die (although he didn’t use the words “I”m dying”), his urgency to give voice to what was happening to his body leaving me certain he was trying to prepare us for the final unknown thing we’d ever face without him. (Always Daddy. Always taking care of his “wimmen”, whether we realized it or not.) The final, groggy “Lub you” the last time I kissed his cheek…the snow flurries blowing against our cheeks as we got into our van and drove away from my Daddy, alive, for the last time. And the phone call the next morning…two words as horrible as the two he’d spoken to me 22 months earlier–“It’s cancer.” This time, they were “Daddy’s gone.”

Carrying Mom through the stupor of the next days…planning the funeral…visitation night when the line was snaked around the parking lot, two hours long, in the cold wind…people waiting to say goodbye to him and to love on us. Then…that most horrific of events…on a cold shady hillside…the final goodbye as we left his body to be put into the ground (by a man he looked upon as a son, who we knew would treat him with respect and care).  All the horror of that event comes center stage by Thanksgiving.

Aside from that, by this time each year I’m in full panic mode. Presents are rarely bought, I’m juggling work and worries and stress while TRYING to be excited, at least for the kids. The huge burden of making Christmas happen has always fallen to my shoulders, alone, and I’ve always fretted over it. Even if I were a millionaire, I’m fairly certain I’d still panic that the tree wasn’t the right one, the gifts were inadequate, and that my doing of Christmas would be found lacking. Perhaps that’s because for 25 years or more, no matter how I tried, I never got it right. Each year something was pointed out that I’d messed up. Or perhaps it’s just me, my own worst enemy, criticizing myself internally while others see nothing amiss.

I realized this year that due to my stress over the season, I’m robbing myself of 1/4 of each year (September-December), and thereby 1/4 of my life. This is all simply due to my OWN worrying and fears of failure. So…how do I fix it? How do I make it better? (No, there’s no pill to fix it. At least not yet.)

This will be a milestone Christmas–my fiftieth. (To be fair, the first Christmas I celebrated I was in the hospital, 3 days old.) I’ll celebrate it as always since I became a Mom–Christmas Eve dinner with the girls, reading from the book of Luke, and our newest tradition of having Mom sleep over. Christmas morning will be very different from those golden years when Mammaw Chapman was as excited as we kids were, and would have a steaming breakfast (including Candler Supermarket sausage!) waiting for us as soon as we’d had our “Santa” time and made it to her house. The mountain of wrapping paper we’d pile up in the middle of her floor as we opened gifts won’t be happening…Daddy and Uncle Joe won’t be cramming it into bags to burn. There will be no males present, in fact–just us wimmen. Yet…there’s good, too. The girls won’t be racing from pillar to post to visit everyone, eating 3 Christmas dinners so no one is offended. We’ll be here, in our nice warm new home, sharing our first Christmas here at a leisurely pace…just my little family. There will be time for each other, time to finally relax after the insanity which is the byproduct of working in retail during this season. Time for them to do something I always secretly longed for on Christmas–the chance to be at home and enjoy my gifts, rather than being gone all day.

After this year, I have promised myself that Christmas will change. I haven’t yet decided what or how that will happen…but it’s time. It’s pretty certain that I have fewer healthy years ahead than behind me…I can’t afford to fret away any more of my life.

It’s time for grabbing onto those bootstraps, for acknowledging how wonderful former Christmases were, but also for deciding which parts of celebrating them should stay, and which parts should go. Time to establish traditions which look ahead–to the days when I will have grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will want to be home with their gifts on Christmas Day instead of traipsing about. Time to make peace with celebrating Christmas morning alone, which is such a daunting prospect that I can barely fathom it.

Time to listen closely…to hear the echoes of Daddy’s favorite song (Jesus Loves Me) still resounding in the valley where we’ve spent our lives…and to pick up THAT song, replacing the worries and fears which have shadowed every holiday season I’ve known. Time to focus on HIM…instead of on US, or ME. Somehow…some way…to replace the anxiety of the season with the joy found in the reason for it. To wrap myself in Jesus rather than in trinkets…to feel His love instead of my insecurities…to celebrate HIM and His love, in a way that will honor Him. And, once I’ve figured it out, to share that peace and joy with as many as I can.