The baby was in bed and the older two were downstairs watching a holiday movie in front of the fireplace. I looked about my kitchen, dining and living rooms and wanted to scream; my three beloved children had Tasmanian-deviled my home.
Irritating, at best, for most mommies of small children, I felt a rage boiling up within me. Hostility. Resentment. And an unmistakable need for control and order.
The freshly mopped floor highlighted the wet, gloppy dinner slopped over two-thirds of the dining area. Its epicenter? The high chair.
The dishes mated and procreated at phenomenal rates while I chased the children downstairs and to bed, leaving not a single space visible on the outdated counters. Not to mention, a mound of sugar cookies left out still cooling on the rack.
Clothes, pillows, books, toys, trash, Christmas ornaments, and a used diaper littered the living room. Wasn’t this area tidy nearly an hour and a half ago?
It was the first Saturday living life while my husband worked his second job with a full shift. And it was the first moment I had found myself alone and quiet.
Instead of sitting in a chair praying or relaxing, I gathered my supplies to begin cleaning up the dining room slop-glop. Afterall, the children would want a snack in twenty minutes before bed, and I certainly didn’t want them to track that mess into my carpet.
On my hands-and-knees, I began to scrub. Then it happened.
I wept. Hard.
I allowed the sob to release from feet into my belly and out my mouth into the bath towel, my face planted in the towel and my body curled up and heaving as I let my hurt and stress liberate.
Lord, what is happening to me? The kids are just being kids! My house is no messier than most mommies I know. Why, oh, why am I feeling fierce emotions? I’ve lost control of my emotions, and I don’t want to seethe like this. Not in front of the children. They need me to be healthy; this is not healthy.
Later that evening after all the kids were in bed, I stumbled across a website in an effort to prepare for this post: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). I began reading about Complex Trauma and my mouth literally dropped because I saw my childhood and adolescence, to a great deal of accuracy, detailed before my very eyes.
Complex trauma describes someone who has endured multiple forms of trauma with lasting effects.
As I reviewed the last week and the changes within our family structure and schedule, I saw stress.
My mind flashed back to my teaching days, and it all became clear. When the year heated up with stress and my colleagues expressed grumpy, moody, irritated voices, I noticed my complaints did not match in tone and intensity. My responses were out of proportion, but I couldn’t put my finger on the ‘why.’
Having witnessed verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I didn’t realize how much stress I lived with every day as a young girl.
The coping mechanisms that I developed aided my survival. However, as an adult, living in a healthy, safe family, I don’t need those coping strategies.
Yet, when the stress intensifies, I sometimes still react like that little girl fearful of the next moment and hesitant of the eggshell I might step upon.
So here we are. Nine days until Christmas.
The holidays are stressful. Period. It doesn’t warrant a back story including abuse. Our time, our resources, and our spaces flood with stuffs and peoples and demands.
In an effort not to sound flip and to slap a theological bumper-sticker on a rather weighty issue, this holiday season is about the birth of hope through the God-man, Jesus.
Without Jesus, we have no hope, no peace, no joy, and no love. The Christmas season is meant to remember and reflect and meditate on the One who came for you, for me, for all mankind and to rejoice in the greatest gift our hearts could ever know.
It’s easy to allow the vacuum of our cultural Christmas celebrations to suck the very life and hope and peace right out of us by not safeguarding our time and our calendars. It’s easy to keep quiet and allow other people to dictate what our holiday celebration should include or look like.
Strength, dignity, and grace are needed to think ahead, to know one’s self and one’s needs, and to establish healthy stress-absorbers, like solitude, prayer, reflection, meditation, sleep, and rest.
With the help of my husband, I will be building timely stress-absorbers into our holiday family planner. I want my three wee ones to awaken on Christmas and experience the joy and grandeur of life and living for the promise of heaven birthed through a humble, young Mary.
This also happens to include racing through the house Tasmanian-devil style, and I want to smile and enjoy their version of messy joy.
Today, I’m accepting the dare to actualize a plan for our family’s time, including my need for quiet and rest and to engage fully in allowing the joy Jesus brings to manifest itself in and through me.
What’s your next step?
What aspects of the holiday season bring you great stress? Which activities and who bring you joy and peace? Make every effort to be alert of where your time and energies are being spent. Allow yourself grace and freedom to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” this year. Pray and listen for God’s direction this holiday season; it is, after all, His birthday, not ours. 🙂