Growing up, one of my favorite parts of the holiday season was Christmas D Day; decorating day. The day mom pulled out boxes and boxes of garland and snowmen, and window decals and miniature houses to be set up as a village of winter wonderlandness, and lots and lots of santas. Gawd, so many santas. Specifically, we had this one really Big Santa. He was like maybe three feet in height. And you would plug him in and he would light up as if he belonged outside a Seven-Eleven announcing their most recently slurpee sale. He was chincy and yet a tiny bit charming with those red little cheeks and large pot belly. I certainly wouldn't have called him any sort of Prince Charming, but my friend and I wanted to know what making out was like so we set three foot Santa on those cardboard red and white brick-like-block things, ‘member those? Santa was a tiny bit shorter than we preferred so we grew him a few inches with brother’s blocks. And then we TOOK TURNS MAKING OUT WITH HIM. Absolutely and completely a true story and absolutely and completely disgusting, I realize. Absolutely.
I sorta blushed every time I’d pass Santa in the hallway after that!
But my absolute favorite decoration was the nativity. Mom had this really great nativity scene that I always claimed dibs and claims on setting up. I had OCD so I’d set the wiseman down once, twice, three and then four times. I’d compulsively make my way through setting it up. The joy and the story that unfolded in my mind with each character, with each piece, was totally worth the hour or two of battling it took to get it just right.
Mom would make us keep the manger empty. It was her way of making us prepare, to wait for Baby Jesus to make his debut on Christmas day. But I always found a way to hang on to Baby Jesus. To spend quiet hours of the day with just Him. He was my favorite character of the whole nativity. And I loved holding him in my tiny hands.
I’d secretly slide him into the manger because that was his rightful place. Then I’d pick him back up, cherishing his littleness. Then I’d put him back down. And by the time Christmas rolled around, I sort of had this little secret going with Baby Jesus. Like someone who had been out skinny dipping. We both knew it happened but it didn’t really harm anyone, and it had been super fun and exhilarating, so it would just stay our little secret.
I did that, by the way, the skinny dippy thing. This summer. A grown ass women of thirty one years of age, I dragged my besties out skinny dipping. It was a pretty big fail as the three of us maneuvered the pontoon around a floating dock, the light of the night not yet set in so we could pretty much be seen by most, if not all, the other boaters.
YOU AND YOUR DAMN DIVORCE! My friend yelled as we all geronimo’d into the dark waters. My one friend managed to snag her toe on her towel and bring it right on in with her. After it’s completion, working our way back to recovery, I managed to not catch the pontoon as they unhooked it and found myself stuck on the floating dock while they circled me like sharks trying to bait and hook my rescue.
ALL I COULD SEE WAS YOUR LITTLE WHITE ASS LIT BY THE MOONLIGHT, my friend reflected after we found ourselves inside, showered and trying to recover from the night's adventure.
It’s true. It was ugly. BUT...AMAZING! I felt like the Little Mermaid. Next to Dr. Ben Carson, Ariel was my childhood hero; absolutely. So to be flipping around the waters, pushing myself to the surface, it was all incredibly exhilerating. However, the part about my lungs dying off on me was not so amazing. Turns out, the cold of the night with the thrill of the jump had my lungs coughing and barking their way to find and discover each necessary breath.
Lesson noted. That’s why you do it when you’re young. You’re supposed to skinny dip when your sixteen. Not thirty one. I mean, right?
Here’s the thing. I’m REAL bad at doing things the way you’re supposed to. I always do them back-assward. From putting Jesus in the manger before his birthday to barreling myself into cool waters clothesless as an adult.
Gawd, you guys, that’s a lot like my life right now. I’m so far from how life is supposed to plan n’ play itself out. Right? Thirty one. Divorced. I’m supposed to be making advent memories with a white picket fence, right?
But I’m starting to wonder. You know, the manger. Maybe it’s sorta irrelevant. That it’s actually baby Jesus I’m after.
These days, I’m not so worried about the manger being perfectly perfect and full each day. Because I learned as a kid that Baby Jesus, well, he’s with us all the time; even when he’s not perfectly placed in the manager. The secrety moments of awe and wonder. The quiet hours of the day where you find and play with him. Even the moments when I’d lay him beside me on the couch while I watched the umpteenth episode of Full House. I’d forget about him completely as I crushed on Uncle Jesse. But he never forgot about me. He just sat there, that baby Jesus. He just waited for me to come and play again.
The manger, take it or leave it. Because I can’t guarantee I’ll do it all right. That I can follow a plan. Sometimes things make sense. And sometimes they don’t. Sometimes I fit the mold-and-make of a makeshift manger, but a helluva lot of times, I simply don’t.
This advent I’m not looking for a baby in a manger. Hell, I don’t even care about the manger. I just want the magic, the secrets and the time and space to giggle with Baby Jesus. To make life the most it can be. To find love. To hide in a way that is filled with anticipation and exhileration. Like a little kid hiding in the dark in a game of hide n’ seek.
To the moments when life makes complete sense and fits into a manger, I say AMEN and BRAVO!
To the moments when the manger is a bit of a misfit to our stories, when we don’t really fit anywhere, I say go and PLAY anyway. There’s a lot of magic to be made with the savior of the world. And you can make it anywhere! And it’s your little secret. It’s yours for the taking.
Go tell it on the mountain!
Go shout it from the rooftops.
Or don’t. Maybe just let it be your exhilarating little secret.