This has been a busy, and to be honest stressful week for me, as I’m sure it has been for many of you. But last night was a little peek into some of the joy that Christmas brings. I hope this blesses you and your family like it did us…
Last night my children had what would arguably be the best ride around the town they’ve ever had. It wasn’t so much what they did, as the experience with friends that made it so memorable. A couple weeks ago my friend Tricia asked if we would be interested in our kids joining them in a family tradition. Every year on a special night at Christmas time, they take their kids around town to see Christmas lights in “The Christmas Express”, which really means a totally decked out version of their own van, with Dad dressed up as a different chauffeur each year.
Tricia has six kids, and we have five, and she is my friend that is super organized and pays attention to details. I aspire to be like her because I am a “big picture, who cares about details” kind of gal. I can use more Tricia in my life. So, in her unique way, she prepared for this night with flare. She printed tickets on gold paper, laminated them, and gave them to me ahead of time so I could give them to the kids. The plan was they would come and pick the kids up in their van around 8:00PM and the dads would take the children around town looking at the lights together while they chatted about what kids chat about and munched on popcorn and drank hot cocoa!
So, the day finally arrived, and I decided to hide their tickets inside their stockings. We did our normal bedtime routine around 7:45, and sent the kids up to tuck themselves in. We waited a few minutes until they were all in their rooms and then Kevin went up in the hallway and said, “guys, I think Santa actually came early and put something in your stockings, so why don’t you come down and look.” The kids looked at him with confusion, as we don’t do Santa in our house (hey-before you judge me, we still do presents and all the other Christmas stuff, but I just never had the heart to play along with it all. Don’t worry, we tell them not to tell your kids!) So, they cautiously went downstairs and checked their stockings. Inside was a golden ticket with their name on it to a ride in “The Christmas Express”! They read what it said, and they were still totally in the dark as to what was going on, but there was anticipation growing in the air. “Alright, everyone has to be in pj’s!”, I said. They ran upstairs and came back down in a flash. “Okay, get your coats and boots on!” At this point, they had smiles plastered to their faces, and they were asking us what they were going to get to do. We walked out into the crisp, cold air and stood on the driveway. After a minute or two, I said to them, “something is going to happen…”, and they looked all around in the quiet. About a minute later, our friends came sailing down the road with Christmas music blaring. The sight reminded me of a cartoon! This big black Nissan NV flying around the corner, Christmas music spilling out of it, colorful Christmas lights strung along the inside, and children’s giddy voices breaking the quiet night. “That’s it!” my oldest shouted. He recognized the van as our friends van. As they pulled up, our friends honked the horn, and our kids started jumping up and down and lots of shouts went up. They had decked out their van, and it was nothing short of awesome. Tricia’s husband Josh jumped out, “tickets! tickets! Where’s your tickets?!!”, and simultaniously their kids flew out of the van to jump all over our kids and hug them. He pulled out a hole punch, punched the kids tickets, handed it back to them and told them they need it to get in their seats. Tricia jumped out the other side of the van with a basket full of boxes she had made for each child filled with treats. They all filed in and found their seat next to their friend, and wouldn’t have been able to wipe the smiles off their faces even if you asked them to. It was great to see them so happy.
And as fast as the big van flew into our driveway it flew back out again, this time with the Dads in the front seats. Tricia and I stayed back at our house to chat over Christmas cookies and tea while one baby slept and the other played at our feet. (It was quiet and lovely. I think we got the better end of the deal-wink!)
They were gone for almost two hours driving around to experience the Christmas lights, all the while snacking on popcorn, pretzels, and hot cocoa, chatting away with their friends. When they came back they were filled to the brim with the joy that children have at Christmas time. You know…joy. Like, the joy that kids can bubble up with out of nowhere. I’ve learned that children don’t need much to be overwhelmed with joy.
Don’t you sometimes wish you had more joy? I know I do. I struggle with that. When I was about sixteen I was diagnosed with depression. I don’t know if I really did have depression or if I was just stuck in the muck of being a teenager. Regardless, that word labeled me for a while. I went on medication, but also dove into God’s Word to see what He had for my life. As I searched His Word, I saw it. I saw that there were scriptures about joy all over the place. And that He was the one that restores joy. “In Your presence is fullness of joy”, Psalm 16:11. “You turned my wailing to dancing, you clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises”, Psalm 30:11-12. I wanted to have the joy of a child again so bad. I went off the meds a few years later. I’m not sure I really needed them in the first place. What I do know I needed was lots and lots of booster shots from God’s Word (of course I have to put a disclaimer here: if you are suffering from depression, please DO see a Dr and get on anti-depressants if that’s what you think you need. I will have more posts on this subject since it is close to my heart). These days it’s not very often that I feel overcome with depression, (thank the Lord) but when it comes knocking on my door, I go to God. I now KNOW that in His presence is fullness of joy. But I also think that God knows life is really hard, and He has put a sweet deposit of joy into our children. And I love when I see it spill out. It’s like, “yes! They still have it.” Like the bell in The Polar Express that rang for the children but faded as they grew older, joy seems to fade as we get older. I don’t like that. I wish it didn’t, but it seems like the pressures and demands of life sit right on top of joy and squish it right down to the likes of an unrecognizable deflated soccer ball. If you feel that way this Christmas season, I leave you with two challenges. One, take your kids out this week to look at the lights. Send them up to bed like usual, and then surprise them. Tell them to pile in the car, have some hot (warm for safety!) cocoa ready, and some other treat, and start driving. Maybe even pick up some friends along the way! They will love it, and they will probably remember it forever. And two, don’t check joy at the door of adulthood. Make time in life for the things that make you feel like a kid again. Think back to it. That feeling where life felt just amazing. Pray that God will bring your joy back. Pray that He will give you ideas of how to awaken it. He will. And as you drive your children or grandchildren around, watch their faces light up, and try to match their excitement. It may feel weird, but just try. You may surprise yourself…and them too!