It was the evening of December 25, 2021. The Christmas rush had come and gone as quickly as an Appalachian storm. The floors and couches of our living room were littered with wrapping paper and long-awaited, brand-new gifts. They bore witness to the unbridled joy that filled the room just hours before. Each torn sheet and piece of tissue served as a monumental tapestry to laughter, bliss, wonder, family ties, hopeful expectations met, and even a few unmet expectations.
Andy Rooney’s quote, “One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly.”, is as true as it sounds. Our living room was brimming with Christmas mess, and it was perfectly beautiful. I still contend that our couches look much better with toys and clothes from Christmas draped across them. It doesn’t leave much room for sitting, but the sight, the memories, and the moments that accompany them, make it all worth standing or sitting on the floor.
As usual on the night of Christmas day, my eyes were weary and my body was fatigued. The days just before Christmas have always been relatively and joyously sleepless for me. There is simply too much to be awake for during this time period. I find myself not wanting to miss a moment of it. In the peace of this moment, I stood viewing this beautiful mess, as I do each year, and I was thankful to God for it.
Just as the peace of this moment began to engulf me, my youngest son Baylon walked into the room. He stood at the foot of the wood-stained entertainment center that houses so many of our Christmas decorations each year, and looked straight up at the Elf perched at the top, dead-center.
The “Elf on The Shelf” is a Christmas tradition we have employed with our boys since they were all very young. Each night during the Christmas season, the Elf moves to a different location in the house, leaving everyone waking up the next morning with great intrigue to see where he or she has landed. It is a tradition that gives great opportunity for creativity. Sadly, the tradition loses its momentum as your kids grow older. The effort to keep it alive takes creativity and fortitude. Though it has lost some of its momentum with my two teenage boys, it has not yet lost its momentum with my 12-year old.
Traditionally, all Elves return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. But for each of the last two years, my youngest son Baylon has asked for an extra day, and the North Pole has gladly granted the request. The extra 24 hours were over and it was time for the Elf to make his leave until next year. Baylon had made his way right into the middle of the Christmas living room mess, and stood before the Elf. The Elf had left a special note reminding Baylon to “stay a kid.” While this was not going to be possible physically, it could certainly be done in his heart.
I am not naïve, I realize my youngest son is at the moment of his life where he is seemingly suspended between two realities. Childhood belief, wonder, and imagination are beckoning and begging him not to leave. Adolescence is crowding its way in and commanding its place in line, waiting to usher him into adulthood. As a parent, I watch this happen, trying to navigate the process accurately. Secretly, I hope that childhood wonder will win this tug-of-war. But I know adolescence and adulthood will have their day, as they should. So I will turn my energies to the fight for keeping wonder tucked away in his heart forever. The fight is difficult and emotional, but worth the effort.
That leaves me with this one little, unexpected, marvelous moment that invites itself into my space on Christmas Day. I am not surprised. Thankfully, I am completely aware of it and have the sense to welcome it. My youngest kid, about to turn teenager, raised up his arm above his head, waves at the Elf, and says, “Goodbye Elf, see you next year.” As tears begin to flow from my eyes, I wonder if he’s just saying goodbye to the Elf or also unconsciously saying goodbye to his childhood. Maybe it’s both. It seemed a page was turning from one chapter to another. Stop it tears…stop flowing! No, it’s okay. Let them come.
Too many miraculous moments come into our lives disguised as routine. They make their invitation wrapped in the mundane, and we fail to give them entry due to what we deem as insignificance. We are too quick to clean up the clutter, too busy to stop or wait, and too rushed to get to the next big thing or the next big moment. We have to get here or get over there. Sure, there is a time to move forward and to move on, but knowing that we’re literally all one second from eternity each and every moment, should give us pause to embrace the significance of small things. Every moment we experience could be our last, why do we rush out of them?
I walked over and put my arm around Baylon’s shoulder. We both looked at the Elf, realizing that right in the middle of that beautiful mess and clutter, the extraordinary had stepped in and overtaken the ordinary. To many, the moment would seem quite routine, mundane, or insignificant. But to us, it was so much more than that. Words were fittingly left unspoken. We did not rush the moment, nor rush to exit the moment. We just stood and embraced it. The moment was monumental for me because I knew we would not have it again. I’m not sure if he’ll ever look at the Elf that way again.
When we position ourselves for these moments, we find that life is much more extraordinary than it seems. Miraculous moments of wonder are wading through every conventional and periodic mess of life, waiting to be experienced and to give firm footings to our faith. And when these seemingly insignificant, yet miraculous moments invite themselves in to the clutter of your routine, always give them a warm welcome, pull up a chair for them, and embrace them. You never know which one may be your last.