Nine months into quarantine. And it’s Christmas.

Nine months into a pregnancy. The first Christmas.

Men and women preparing for an event that should be filled only with joy, but that also includes days that are sometimes marred by confusion or frustration or trepidation. Hearts in people that love God, and yet are still in need of some assurances and motivation. Is how we’re feeling now maybe also how Mary and Joseph were sometimes feeling two thousand years ago?

We know Mary sang with joy while pregnant but did she perhaps also worry and fret about her future? Especially when she first found herself pregnant and faced having to tell people, like her parents and her sort-of husband. Or when she had to embark on a long journey right at about the time she would be delivering her baby. Did she ever grieve because her life wasn’t exactly going the way she expected? Did she ever feel anxious about responsibilities she didn’t feel prepared for or expectations she wasn’t sure she could live up to? Did she ever cry in the dark and still of night because she was tired and overwhelmed?

Each year I try to read The Nativity Story, developed from the screenplay of the 2006 movie. It helps me think of the Bible “characters” as real people, who had thoughts and feelings and reactions like all people do. Like all humans do. Like I do.

These last few months I have found myself constantly trying to be a “together” Mom who cheerfully and competently manages work at home and school at home and church at home and literally everything at home. All while being stuck at home. All. The. Time.

I have had all kinds of time to put into action plans that one year ago I was convinced would never work until I had more time and a different schedule. Things like getting up early to walk and stay healthy, cooking fancy things on weeknights, reading the dozens of books and devotionals that are stacked around this house, patiently helping with homework after researching and refreshing my knowledge on all subjects needed to pass fourth and tenth grades, and really dedicating quiet time to just writing and focusing on family and faith.

As it turns out, when faced with all kinds of time at home I will embrace DoorDash and books no one reads in school. I will not walk or ride bikes if it’s even remotely chilly or hot. I will spend time stewing over the ridiculous racist, sexist, total-antithesis-of-Christian content “good” people like on social media instead of brushing up on the different layers of the earth and atmosphere. I will focus on what is not working or not fair, I will then not sleep well and then not get up early, and as a result I will find myself frustrated. All. The. Time.

Was Mary this human? It doesn’t seem like it. I feel more like Zacharias’ kind of human – the guy who didn’t believe Gabriel’s news that he was about to father John the Baptist, so faced a punishment of not being able to speak for months and had to learn the hard way that he should have a little more faith.

It’s Christmas, and I competed all the tasks I needed to and had time to spare. This season I got out cards, finished shopping early, read the book I like to focus on in this season, watched the cartoons and movies I always like to watch, found a new nativity set…and yet still things were off. So last week, I gave up logging on to Facebook thinking maybe I just needed to not be exposed to people for a while and focus on more positive things. That definitely helped, but still there was just a strangeness about this season. A disconnectedness.

All because of stupid COVID and quarantine. I wanted to dress up and go to the Christmas Eve service. I wanted to see my parents and my sister and brother-in-law. I wanted to hold hands while we say Grace. But I wasn’t going to get anything I wanted.

And then today, I opened a gift from Ella and the world righted itself as thankfulness rose up within me. She’d filled a mason jar with hand-written notes. Some are funny, some are encouraging, and some are things she’s thankful for. Written on the first one I drew out was You showed me God.

I’m not sure exactly how I’ve accomplished that, particularly in the last nine months, but somehow she loves God even though I am a stuck-at-home mess of feelings and frustration. The answer is only by the grace of God.

I’ve been the innkeeper this quarantine Christmas season – the one missing the opportunity as I was focused on all the wrong things and all that wasn’t going to be the same. Thankfully, I opened Ella’s gift in time to notice all that quarantine added to this Christmas. Because my family celebrated via FaceTime today, it was actually less chaotic as we all opened presents. We had to really listen and pay attention to one another, and we were really looking at each other instead of at all that was going on in a busy house. Toward the end I realized I should take a picture of all of us “together.” The first picture I took had two empty chairs, because 2020. But I continued to try to get shots at just the right time even though at times our phones and iPads were moving around like in The Blair Witch Project.

On quarantine Christmas, our limited shopping ability (online shopping is just not as fun) resulted in several homemade gifts that we all laughed and cried over. On quarantine Christmas, my sister gave my daughters the most thoughtful little boxes which will help them focus in tough moments but that are also really a lesson on how to live and to learn to trust God. On quarantine Christmas, I noticed the looks of joy on all the faces of the people I love the most. On quarantine Christmas, we didn’t take pictures all sitting or standing in a certain spot and as a result I now have this picture of my Dad. On quarantine Christmas, I got my thankfulness back.

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