expectations –  noun | \ˌek-ˌspek-ˈtā-shəns, ik-\

: a belief that something will happen or is likely to happen
: a feeling or belief about how successful, good, etc., someone or something will be

I’m starting to get excited for Christmas.

It might have something to do with the fact that our shopping is finished and our Christmas cards are addressed and sealed and the holiday to-do list has started to shrink instead of grow. It might also be because the twinkle lights on the Christmas tree make the house feel warmer and softer or the fact that we will spend lots of time eating and laughing with friends and family over the next 10 days. The forecast shows 52 degrees and rainy on Christmas, nothing like the foot of snow my brother’s family in Montana received yesterday. But it will be white and still in my heart even if we have to traipse through the mud to get to church on Christmas Eve.

But honestly, I don’t think any of these are the reasons I’m excited for Christmas. Because the shopping could still flop if the mail orders don’t get delivered on time or the boys don’t like the gifts we tried so hard on. The fact that I am going to the post office on the last day for standard delivery before Christmas again (every year it happens), means I’ll probably stand in line longer than I want. And though we were careful, at least one of the addresses on one of the cards will probably be wrong. We’ll get that card back sometime around New Year’s Eve, and one of our family members or friends will have gone ungreeted for the holidays. Those special times with friends will result in overeating and probably at least one misunderstanding, and someone at some point is going to give me a gift and I will have not thought to buy them something. And really, would it hurt to have just a little snow? Real, fluffy snow? I would gladly have traded the five inches we got back on November 21 for an inch or two on Christmas.

No, I’ve lived through enough Christmases not to let the details get me too excited. In fact, when our youngest son announced a few days ago that he’s more excited about Christmas this year than EVER BEFORE, I worried. Expectations like that are bound to be disappointed.

If I’m honest, I’ve spent far too many Christmases myself discontent and disappointed and even a little disillusioned. Since I was 10, I spent holidays here or there, divided between divorced parents then parcelled out among stepfamilies and in-laws. I’ve spent many Christmases in the car traveling from one house to the other, always invited, always welcomed, but never home.

When I got married, that changed. Now, Steve and I spend Christmas with the boys at our home or their mom’s. Over the past three years, my mom has been here with us, along with the boys’ mom and her mom. I’ve never wanted the boys in the car driving here and there on Christmas like I had to. But that means I’m no longer with the rest of my family, unless they come here or we go there in the days before or after Christmas.

We work it out. All of it. Just like we co-parent all year long, at Christmas-time, the texts fly and the phone rings between my husband, the boys’ mom, and me. The side conversations at basketball games and in the church hallway involve shared Christmas lists and menu plans and the coordination of Christmas parties that interrupt our normal schedule of who has the boys when. But if the Christmas spirit relies on perfectly orchestrated communication or parenting, then our holidays also are doomed.

My Word of the Week: Expectations

I’m operating with a different mindset this year — or at least I’m trying. The holidays actually are just crazy days unless we remember to treat them as holy days. And as holy days, that means we set them apart in our minds as different, and we set ourselves apart as different during them.

The ways we set the days and ourselves apart vary as much as we do from one another. I’ve heard all kinds of counter-cultural ideas about gift-giving and celebrating Jesus’ birthday and focusing on Advent rather than Christmas. Many families read the account of Jesus’ birth from Luke or Matthew before opening gifts; we will attend church on Christmas Eve. It’s a time when the needs of many are highlighted, and we’ve joined with others from our community to provide gifts for those who wouldn’t otherwise have them. These and many other ideas help us keep the holidays as holy days.

But I also am excited about Christmas this year for another reason. As I’ve set apart a few minutes most mornings to read and pray and consider this season, I’ve been reminded how completely ludicrous and totally unexpected is the story at the heart of Christmas. A baby born in a manger. We make such a fuss over something God went to such lengths to hide. Tucked away in the barn. We are disappointed when things go differently than we want, when our big plans don’t work out, yet Christmas is the quintessential story of understated surprise. God made flesh.

I’m still thinking about that question my pastor asked the first Sunday of Advent: How are you going to receive Christ afresh in your heart this year? And I’ve decided not to answer it. I don’t want to be looking up or around and miss what’s coming to me low and just ahead. Something small like a manger or a star or a baby who’s actually God with skin on.

Yes, I’m excited about Christmas this year, but I’m keeping my expectations low. That way, God can really surprise me.

What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.

Photo by Marjan Lazarevski, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License. Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.