Five years ago, I was planning a great family party for my little C, who was turning five years old.Though I was certainly busy at home with little ones, in that season, I still had more time than money. With that in mind, I had concocted a delicious, completely homemade, menu. I would make my little girl’s favorites, all from scratch. Macaroni and cheese. Cinnamon rolls. Mini pizzas. Pink cupcakes. The list was vast and I was excited.
I woke the day before the party and laid out my game plan. I mixed up the cinnamon roll and pizza doughs; set them aside to rise. I blended herbs and spices into crushed tomatoes to make my homemade pizza sauce and set it to simmer.
And then I watched in alarm as an ice storm started brewing.
The sky darkened and the sound of ice coating our roof made me wince. I watched the glacial coating thicken on branches and powerlines.
And then the inevitable happened–
The power went out.
It is a common experience of many to sort of enjoy storms– until the power goes out. Many of us can be content stuck at home, but the charm fades when the electricity is gone.
I stared at my rising dough. I looked at my now-cool burner. I shivered as my house grew colder.
And I started to cry.
My house grew even colder yet. My shivering little children grew hungrier. They were young– just 5, 4, and 1. Salty trails dried on my cheeks and, defeated, I carried a candle from room to room. It was December 20-something and the sun set super early. The icy blackness made me angry and brokenly sad.
“Why don’t we drive into town and try to find a restaurant?” my husband asked gently. “The kids can warm up and we all need to eat.”
I nodded and bundled them up.
We slid down our windy mountain road and made it safely into town. The heat from the car felt lovely and I smiled a half smile when I saw lights blazing in buildings.
We huddled into Friendly’s and waited for a table. The kids thought it was a lark, this impromptu adventure of ours, and happily stuffed their bellies with chicken strips and ice cream.
Surrounded by warmth and light and chatter, I felt the tight grip in my belly ease a bit. I poked at the spinach wrap on my plate and asked, “Do you mind stopping at Stop & Shop on the way home?”
My husband tipped his head a bit, “Sure, we can do that. What do you need?”
“Just some party stuff,” I answered, smiling weakly.
He drove the minivan through the slushy, icy parking lot of the grocery store and I scurried on in.
It was a ghost town in that usually bustling store and I ventured around haphazardly, swinging a purple plastic basket.
I bought little rolls at the deli. A package of ham and one of turkey. Some sliced cheese. A bag of oranges and one of apples. Some crackers. I grabbed a bottle of cranberry juice and a 2 liter of ginger ale. I strolled by the bakery and snagged some garishly bright pink cupcakes. On a whim, I picked up a big bag of tater tots on the chance the power might be restored by party time. I knew I’d have to store my cold stuff outside if the power wasn’t back, but I didn’t let that faze me.
We headed home and held our breath as we approached our neighborhood.
Alas, our street was still in blackness.
We headed indoors and, while my husband helped get little limbs in snuggly jammies, I carefully placed our cold goods in a waterproof bag out on the ice.
We tucked in sleepy, rosy-cheeked children and piled their covers high. Shortly after, we burrowed under our own covers.
We woke to a flashing alarm clock.
Still, the party was early in the day and there was no time to complete the original plan.
We welcomed people into our home and let them make their own tiny sandwiches on store-bought rolls. I baked up piles of tater tots and they were wildly popular. I served sickly sweet, greasy-frosted cupcakes and no one complained.
We laughed. We sang. We celebrated.
Because, at the end of the day, it was never about the spread I served up. It was about celebrating the birth of an amazing little girl. Though my arrogance had me believing otherwise, the truth was simply this–
There was really no way for me to screw it up.
And so it goes this time of year. As we hustle and bustle and trim and treasure and flourish and festoon, the reality is that those are all just trappings. Are they good things? Sure. Just like homemade cinnamon rolls are good things. But do they MATTER? Not really.
We’re not celebrating trees and cookies and lights and elves and bows and finery. We’re celebrating the birth of a Savior.
And nothing you can do (or not do) will screw that up.