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Picture Perfect

The picture you see here is from Christmas Day 2014. It looks almost picture perfect. It gives the appearance of a perfect, well put-together family Christmas. It gives the appearance of one of those ideal Christmas moments for which we all long. It gives the appearance of Christmas Wonder in full effect. But this picture is rooted in chaos. It took effort and time to get this picture. It took effort and timing to get rid of the tears, the hurt, and the disorder that occurred just before the picture was taken.

Allow me to explain. We have a tradition in our house that has taken place since my boys were young kids, and still carries on to this day. On Christmas Day morning, the boys and I gather in one of their bedrooms at the end of the hallway in our house. It is still dark outside and the sun hasn’t even thought about coming up yet. Candles in the window are the only thing that give light to the room. Christmas tree lights illuminate down the hallway to give an added ray of magical light. The setting is Christmas. The setting is holy. The setting is perfect. We then read the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke 2 in the Bible. We follow that with worship to Jesus, and close by singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus. We put first things first.

Then, I retreat into the family room where Santa has left all their gifts in their prospective places. My wife prepares the camera. I prepare the video. I then put on the “Hallelujah Chorus” through the loudspeaker in the house. We then release the boys to make the mad dash down the hallway to see what Santa has left them! And yes, they still make the mad dash with as much excitement as they did when they were younger! It is a sight to behold and one of the highlights of the year!

Christmas Day 2014 was no different. We had gone through all the “first things first,” holy moments. Attitudes were in check, perspectives were right, and all was well. Christmas Day and its moments were shaping up to be another memorable experience in the Carnes household. The boys all gathered at the end of the hallway. They began jumping up and down. Excitement was in the air. The “Hallelujah” Chorus began with its usual zest and vibrant joy. I released the boys!

Pummeling down the hall they came together. They only needed to make the left turn into the family room. When all of a sudden, my middle son Ryder, who had been pulling up the rear behind his brothers Baylon and Jadon, in great Nascar form, took an inside route, stuck out his elbow, slammed his little brother Baylon into the wall, and moved out front. Baylon hit the wall, and in true five-year old fashion, hit the ground with force and began to scream and cry as if a tiger had bitten off his foot. Yes, he overplayed it, but the drama and chaos ruined the perfection of the moment.

Everything was now in disarray. I immediately stopped the moment. I stopped the tape, stopped the camera, halted the other two boys, and told all three to get back to the room. We couldn’t have all that screaming and drama on the camera roll. It wouldn’t play out well in the memory log. I sent them all back down the hallway. No presents, no gifts, no Santa. My oldest son Jadon yelled out, “Ryder, you ruined Christmas!” Ryder began to cry. Baylon was still crying. Jadon was screaming, and I was overreacting to it all. We had gone from Christmas holiness to complete southern dysfunction in a matter of minutes. All the while, my wife stood in shock, camera in hand, in the hallway speechless. I was angry because our Christmas perfection had been tainted.

I won’t labor anyone with the specifics of everything that was said. But apologies were made (including my own for overreacting and getting angry), tears were shed, hugs were given, and forgiveness was offered. Humorously, we even felt like we needed to sing a few songs to Jesus again. The boys lined up again with a promise not to slam each other into the hallway. I promised not to get mad, and the boys began to laugh and be joyful again. The “Hallelujah Chorus” began again. They released. JOY! We got a second chance. Thank you Lord!

Though it seemed chaotic in the moment, I think back to that moment with fondness and much gratitude now. It is one of the Christmas memories I remember most. Why? Not because it was peaceful with the perfect set of circumstances, but because we found peace in the midst of the imperfection. Though we long for the perfect Christmas and try to produce perfect Christmas moments each and every year, the truth is that the real essence of Christmas is about finding peace in the midst of the chaos and imperfect. It’s about knowing that in spite of the fact that circumstances are less than ideal, there is still a JOY in the midst of it that is bigger than all of it, and over all of it.

We’ve fancied Christmas as some sort of perfect post-card. But it was anything but that. There was no room for the young parents of Jesus. There was scandal and there were accusations. There was a dark and cold feeding trough for animals. There were dirty shepherds. The world was dark, without hope, and under the rule of tyranny. There were threats against the child’s life. Chaos was everywhere.

But against that backdrop, the angels broke through the night sky with a message of good news to all that Hope was born! The skies lit up with life and salvation, a second chance was born! In that moment of “less than ideal,” peace and joy came to form. But make no mistake, the child was born to die. The soft hands and gentle cooing would give way to bloodied, nail-scarred hands and the cries of “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In that moment of “less than ideal,” peace and joy came to form.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which passes anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

It is profound that God never dismisses the chaos or imperfection. But He does promise peace and triumph through it and in the midst of it. The same is still true today. No matter how much you decorate them, ER’s are still ER’s. Funeral homes are still funeral homes. No amount of garland can shape a hospice house into perfect Christmas form. The chaos of life can seem to still be filled with more a tear than cheer. And yet, that is where Christmas is generally found most profoundly. Somewhere down in the midst of the imperfection is a peace unexplainable.

I deleted that imperfect video that day. It is one of my biggest regrets. We always try to erase and avoid the imperfect things don’t we? Had I kept it, I would have seen that my family was given a moment of “second chance,” not only in the midst of the imperfection, but because of it. But the memory still burns in my heart and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a profound reminder that God triumphed through a world of hopelessness, a tyrannical rule and government, an overcrowded inn, scandalous assumptions about an untimely pregnancy, ordinary people, and less than ideal circumstances. He’s still triumphing in my imperfections and less than ideal circumstances today, and strangely, I feel the peace and the WONDER.


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