I have been struggling to feel the Christmas Spirit a little bit this year.

And then I found it.

It curled around me on Sunday in the middle of our Christmas church service.

It wasn’t the music, per se, although it was beautiful and gave me the perfect palate to mix together my thoughts.

What hit me the hardest sitting on those cold, hard seats in the back of the gym because we were late (again), was the beauty of a family.

First of all that Jesus came to a family in that little stable all those years ago.. He didn’t come in glory as a king, he came to a humble FAMILY who were there to teach and train Him. To a mother who was displaced and young but who God felt was “with favor” and obviously chosen for such a son as this.. To a father who went against the status quo and loved her and that new baby despite the unique circumstances. Yes, that little family didn’t have much.

But they had to have had love. And really, sometimes that is all that matters.

Pondering about that little family led me to ponder about the beauty of families.

I LOVE this painting:

It’s by an artist named Rick Shorten. It is Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and that it’s called “Wondrous Responsibility.” Can you even imagine that responsibility?

I thought of that painting as I sat there in the midst of all those families in our congregation including myself who all share that “wondrous responsibility” of raising children.

Raising souls.

The messy beauty of that act.

I thought about how I had been so touched this year multiple times as I perused the isles of Target and Walmart overhearing many young mother’s interactions with their babies/toddlers:.love oozing out in their patient words as they led those children along. I’m sure they were trying to get things done, just like I was in my “hustle-bustle” mode. But they were so present. And it really hit me: did they realize what they were doing, those simple, loving “ordinary” interactions? Did they realize with every kind patient word they were helping build such incredibly precious connections?

I thought about the young mothers at Lucy’s piano recital last week, nodding at their children as they went up to perform, trying to seep out some courage through their smiles. One mother in particular who sat in front of us happened to be our babysitter years ago before she had four babies of her own.

I sat there in awe of how this works: a young woman newly married, new baby, and how the years have changed her and molded her into this beautiful mother sitting in front of me keeping her toddler quiet in her lap and smoothing the hair of her daughter sitting next to her. Calm. Reverence. Patience. I thought of the journey of motherhood to develop those qualities. Those qualities take time. They take attention. They take new-beginnings because of course we don’t always have this business down-pat. (At least I like to hope there are others where the “mean mom” mode errupts like mine does!) They take taking ourselves lightly and being willing to keep trying.

Even when we fall down and feel like failures over and over.

And over.

And, sitting there in church, I was overwhelmed with love for the young mothers sending their kids up to sing one of the program songs with the other primary kids, patting them on the back as they left, embracing them with a smile when they returned.

Alll in the work of a mother: the building of souls.

And then I thought of fathers too. Specifically when one I know well walked in to the chapel. I know some deep things his family is going through. Heavy. Full of sorrow beyond sorrow. Yet he was still walking. Even shaved. There sitting with his family. A rock for them to lean on.

Yes, this “wondrous responsibility” is sometimes dark and often messy.

But as I sat there in church looking down the row at my own family (including Max and Abby who were in town), I realized THEY are the biggest gift of Christmas.

The gift of a family.

Starting with that small, new one in that stable under that giant star.

We are in these families to learn to forgive, to repent, to make mistakes and try again. To learn to trust. To learn to have courage. To learn to give grace.

I know family life can take on all forms, and that just as some families can be a safe harbor, others can be heartbreaking and broken in fragments. I know so many, even readers from this blog, who feel hopeless, families seemingly beyond repair.

But I also know that we can start where we are.

Crate a new trajectory.

Take hold of that “wondrous responsibility” and make it something beautiful. Whether it is forgiving broken relationships, “turing the other cheek,” humbling ourselves to acknowledge we all have work to do.

And letting God prevail just as Mary and Joseph did as they looked at the tiny baby wondering what in the world lay ahead for them.

I believe we have been chosen for “such a child as this” just as Mary and Joseph were.

And that thought enveloped me in such gratitude as I sat listening to that beautiful music on Sunday, and enshrouded me in that Christmas spirit I had been craving.

I do believe God is there and wants to guide us as we guide these souls, His souls, though the highs and lows of life..

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  1. Shawni this Mom and Grandma’s heart needed to hear these things. You say things so beautifully! I am grateful for you and your family and your wonderful example! May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Blessings to you all!

  2. Good morning! I love reading your blog – I am a mom with a 3 year old and 8 month old and just so appreciate your encouragement in motherhood! Thank you for being such a positive light!

  3. I love everything about this. It’s filled with truth, meaning, purpose, and beauty. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas!

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