Around this time last year, I tried explaining to my mom why I was so exhausted (aside from the obvious child-rearing and work responsibilities). There had been countless weddings that year, bachelorette parties, bachelor parties, girls’ trips, family trips, work trips, and conferences galore. What’s more we live in California – and our people are for the most part on the East – so when we are asked to do anything at all, it almost always requires a cross-country flight.

“It’s not always going to be this way,” I said to my mom, looking for encouragement. “Next year will be different, right?”

“Why would next year be different?” She asked.

“Because we won’t have all of those things to do,” I said. Duh.

She looked at me lovingly, rested her sage hand on my forearm and said, “Charlotte, I have to tell you something. Next year is not going to be any different.”

I was shocked. And a little nauseated. This was not the maternal optimism I was hoping for (something more along the lines of, “New Year, new you, gurl!”).

And so, obviously, I have spent the last twelve months fruitlessly trying to prove my mom wrong. We will start saying ‘no,’ we will counter the busy times with times of rest, WE WILL MAKE THIS WORK AND I WILL KEEP CALM ALL THE WHILE.

To me, busyness – in addition to distracting us from The Main Thing – is like adding an unnecessary, self-inflicted torrent of nuttiness to what already seems to be a very nutty life. Busyness throws me off balance. I feel out of control, not myself, don’t sleep well. And on top of all the emotional helter skelter, I have an autoimmune disease, the management of which requires sleep and low stress among other things. Dreading busyness, therefore, has seemed like a fairly righteous way of thinking, no?

Because of my hyper-sensitivity to busyness and alarmingly low threshold for chaos, I really thought I understood all of the mom-bloggers when they touted the dire necessity of protecting family during the Holidays – self-care and whatnot. But then came December 2017: the Getz’s first true “holiday circuit.” By November 27th, invites began rolling in from friends, neighbors, church, work, and the kids’ school. Especially given that we’re new-ish expats in California, just about none of these events seemed worthy of a no.

In the weeks between Thanksgiving (which was spent in Florida) and Christmas (which will be spent in Illinois), we saw no less than three California Christmas parades, went on two lights-based boat rides, sat on Santa’s lap, picked out a Christmas tree, sent out Christmas cards, heard a creepy Grinch look-a-like read from his book, attended work parties, a Clippers game, cocktail parties, chili parties, children’s birthday parties, a local production of White Christmas, and even a cross-country work party in Alabama. I’m guessing you sane folks out there just closed your laptops mid-article to say a prayer for us and then sprinkle some holy water on your own calendars.

This December (like many other weeks and months in my calendar year) has been busy. The house, while physically abundant with Christmas spirit, is otherwise a mess. The dishes are dirty. The toys are out. The beds are unmade. The floor, on this particular morning, is covered in sheets of scrunched up Star Wars paper towels. The laundry is not done – and if it is done, it’s definitely not folded – and if it is folded, it was definitely folded by a babysitter. We are tired. We are all poured out.

WHERE IS CHRIST IN THIS CHRISTMAS??

Last Friday marked the final event of our tour-de-Holiday-activities. My husband’s work colleague had invited us to go on a boat ride (which is apparently what coastal Californians do at Christmas). We were running late, totally drained, and considered blowing the whole thing off altogether.

When our Uber pulled up to the marina, Alex and I immediately burst into laughter. What began in our minds as an intimate, inconsequential boat ride had taken a turn for the unusual. This was our actual boat:

We weren’t just going on a little jaunt around the harbor. We would ride aboard “The Last Hurrah” – a stunner of a yacht that was about to become the sweepstakes winner of the 109th Annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Alex and I, wide-eyed as we stepped on board, were immediately offered festive cocktails. We were encouraged to take a look around and, after spotting a stage on deck, were told that we would probably dance later on; Alex and I were skeptical. We indulged in tiny but delicious hors d’oeuvres. We met new friends. And once pulling away from the dock, The Last Hurrah was surrounded on all sides by moon and stars and boats upon boats lavished in the most gorgeous, extravagant Christmas lights. It was magic; a sea of floating chandeliers. The parade lasted about three hours. All along the shore stood at least thousands of people at house parties, on the beach, on boardwalks, on docks, at restaurants, on rooftops, on bridges, on piers, aboard other boats, all mesmerized by OUR BOAT. They cheered, they screamed, they waved, they were delighted. For the duration of the parade, Alex and I giggled like children in awe and disbelief. Tears welled in our eyes for the wonderful strangeness of it all. Two years ago we grieved having to move from Alabama to the West Coast. Now here we were, surrounded by people who knew us well enough to invite us to things – so much so that we were overwhelmed this December. We were not just invited to watch and to witness this parade, we were invited to be a part of it.

We ate bread pudding. We each fired a t-shirt gun into the crowd. We waved giant foam glow-sticks in rhythm with music that blared from speakers behind the boat’s stage. And ya’ll? We danced.

If I had known from the beginning that we were going to be in the parade, I may have dreaded the event with even wilder fanfare. But something about the shock of it all – of not knowing what we were in store for – felt like some of the strangest grace I have ever known. This grace didn’t show up on a silent, restful night at home. It didn’t show up in a bubble bath or a long night’s sleep. It was there in my total exhaustion, in the middle of the most gauche, loud, flashy, over-the-top parade I have ever encountered. And I have always been convinced that parades will be a real focal point of heaven.

Unlike the hymn, this was not a silent night. In fact, not many of my real-life nights are. And my mom was right; this year was no less busy than last year. I have wrestled with and fearfully anticipated these messy, tiresome seasons of going. I have begrudgingly said yes, dragged my feet all over town, all over the country, and struggled to stay afloat. But I’m encouraged by what transpired on The Last Hurrah: everyday grace is not just in the calm after the crazy, but right there in the middle of it.

During Advent, we hear a lot of talks and read a lot of articles that offer the (very valuable) message of rest, of orienting our hearts toward the Reason for the season. But this Christmas (much like the first), the Reason didn’t ask the Getzes to slow down and meditate; he came right into the throngs of our turbulent month, and he came bearing glow sticks. It might be a far cry to compare the manger of Jesus to a prize-winning yacht, but not from my vantage point. Christ brought himself into our Christmas this year (and every year before it). This life, this grace, this Jesus, is an embarrassment of riches.

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David’s town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother’s hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
On the streets of David’s town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
For the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

It was not a silent night
On the streets of David’s town.

Andrew Peterson, “Labor of Love” (Behold the Lamb of God)