When we left to live in England two years ago I asked my sister-in-law (who has travelled all over the place with her children) for advice. She told me the best piece of advice she could give me was to “live in anticipation of the memory.” I thought that was a wise little nugget at the time, but couldn’t have guessed how perfectly brilliant it was until I lived through that crazy adventure, reminding myself through the almost daily crises to anticipate the memory, to step back and try to distill which parts of all the craziness were going to stick in our memories. I’ve come to believe that if we try to live life well our memories of the life we’ve lived will be golden. Of course we’ll remember the bad stuff, but I’ve found that even the bad stuff looks strong and purposeful if I strive (key word there) to live with faith, patience and perspective.
This Christmas season, this brilliant piece of advice has been my mantra. It came back to me after struggling, early on in the season, through one of our nightly Christmas devotionals. Peter was shooting around like a little pinball, trying to make everyone laugh, Hazel was hyperventilating because people weren't listening to her read the scriptures, Charlie pestering and tooting and laughing (on the brink of his nightly silly stage), Emmeline overreacting to all that pestering (on the brink of her nightly meltdown), me getting frustrated that my kids are getting in the way of me making this beautiful memory for them. We were all wound up but somehow we muddled through and I fought all the kids into bed. When I was tucking Hazel in we processed the day and talked about our not so perfect night, and for some reason we started talking about what we thought people walking by our house and looking in that night would have thought of the scene that they saw from the street. We decided that they wouldn’t have heard all the chaos or yelling (if they were on the other side of the street, and maybe wearing headphones). They couldn’t have felt the frustration we felt of not being able to control that moment. They would have only seen the magical glow of the Christmas tree, the crackling fire in the fireplace, the stockings hung, the grin on Charlie’s face, the little blond boy happily darting around the room, the big girl reading from the scriptures, the little red-cheeked, mad-faced Emmeline embraced by her daddy. We decided it wasn’t such a bad scene, in fact it was a perfect, crystally scene from a movie. The kind where beautiful music is playing and the cinematography is all soft and fuzzy. We decided that it was the kind of scene that people would walk by and long to be a part of, the kind of scene that people dream of being drawn into. We went to bed happy to have been part of that kind of beautiful family magic (as imperfect as it really was).
I’ve been thinking about that night all season. I’ve been trying to step back and see the beauty of what is actually happening. Trying to pry myself from the crazy in-the-moment-details that make things seem stressful and wrong and see the moments the way I’ll remember them in 20 years when all the chaos is over, when the tree’s ornaments are all perfectly placed and all I hear in my empty house is the soft Christmas music that I so long to hear above the noise these days. I’m trying to live with the hope that—if I try hard to have the spirit with me, to love my children, to do the right thing—our memories will be laced with that soft glow of nostalgia. That the powerful love that propels Jeff and I as we build this family will turn all the glaring imperfections of the present into warm memories of togetherness and beauty. I’m pretty sure of this.
Now, I’m not saying that time will make everything perfect. Of course they won’t remember me as a perfect mother. I’m sure they won’t think that our home was always clean. They’ll probably remember that there were laundry baskets they had to frantically sort through to find clothes to wear before being hassled out the door. Of course they’ll know that there was fighting and chaos and lost tempers and mean words. But all those things will grow small and blend into the background, being overshadowed by the love that’s moving us all through this part of life.
This morning on my run I was thinking about the Christmas story. The picture we see of Christ’s birth, while shockingly humble, is picture perfect. A peaceful mother and father cuddling a quiet swaddled baby under a bright new star. But surely living through that moment was different than the picture we have of it now. Certainly that holy night was smelly and uncomfortable and painful and hard. Young Mary and Joseph, while great, faithful people of God were also human. And while their night surely was watched over by a very attentive God, I imagine they were still scared, unsure at times, maybe even a little panicked. As those two worked their way through the night I wonder if they were blessed with the ability to step back, see things as the angels were seeing them from above. Did they live in anticipation of the great memory that now propels a whole season of goodness?
That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m writing this now, on Christmas Eve morning to remind myself of how beautiful the picture is that I’m a part of. How, even the chaos and craziness is part of making this all a beloved memory. And, even if I can’t get it right all the time, even if I have lost it 24 times already this season, I’ve also worked hard to build up memories driven by love. I’m moving forward with the hope that through Him, love will swallow up anything around here that is imperfect and turn it into something beautiful.
I’m anticipating the memory. And as I do, I can see the beauty of the imperfect present.