The scent of pine swirls around me as I lean further into the recently decorated tree. The needles jab my skin through my clothes. A handful of brightly colored gifts in varying shapes nestle neatly under the branches. Ting…ting…ting… Little bells hanging from branches ring out Christmas cheer. Anticipation grows. In a few minutes, my family will find comfortable seats on the couch with freshly made eggs and toast. Dad will read the Christmas story. THEN we will open presents! The rest of the day, we will sit around our black and white TV, surrounded by our new treasures, watching Christmas specials and eating homemade fudge and English Toffee.
Ahhh…the vivid memories excite my soul with anticipation every year!
Christmas looks different now. Autism challenges old traditions. The first few years, Anticipation took her familiar place with Hope poised next to her, ready for the boys to share in the excitement of the holiday season.
“Judah, come open this present from Dad!” A reluctant six-year-old squirms uncomfortably on my lap as Neil tears the pretty paper away, demonstrating how to open gifts. Shrill screams of horror and frustration pierce my ears like daggers. If he could talk, Judah would be screaming, “Dad is ruining the pretty packages under the tree!” Hope begins to dissipate.
“Noah, do you want to open a present?”
“Nope.” He returns to reciting the movie playing in his head for the umpteenth time. Neil and I exchange helpless looks of surrender as we finish unwrapping the remaining gifts. For our boys, the familiar routine of everyday is much preferred to unanticipated surprises.
A year later, Noah spotted a box under the tree. “Open present?”
“Sure!” It’s not Christmas, but what the heck? Excitement opens the door to Hope once again, and Hope enters with Anticipation following on her heels. This year is going to be different! At least Noah will enjoy it. It wasn’t long before Anticipation dropped me 1,000 feet down and Hope walked out, abandoning me to numb disappointment.
From this, a new tradition was born: open one gift every day. “Noah, would you like to open another present?” I pushed the envelope.
“No, no, no”, came the answer.
I laughed and noticed a shift in my outlook. Disappointed expectations, a redirection of dreams, and a shifted perspective…that’s okay. While other boys and girls scramble to open unfound treasure under the tree, Noah takes baby Jesus, from the nativity, for a walk. In other homes, newly purchased toys are scattered abroad from built up anticipation and excitement. In our home, it is peaceful and quiet with the sound of Noah and Judah watching and listening to Joy to the World for the millionth time. Once in a while, I can even hear Noah singing We Three Kings or Oh, Come All Ye Faithful.
Every year, I learn more about what the “Christmas crescendo” really is. If it wasn’t for the power of God wrapped, not in pretty paper, but in human flesh, there would be no “crescendo” at all. In fact, there wouldn’t be even a song. If my sons can grasp that concept, that would be the best gift!
Our “crescendo” isn’t bright lights, various versions of Jingle Bells and Jingle Bell Rock, tons of Christmas decorations in every corner, or a vast array of food overflowing the table to its four corners. I’m learning that our Christmas is filled with anticipation of Dad being home, a lighted tree in one of the rooms, soft music of Away in the Manger in the background, and a few favorite goodies sitting out on the coffee table for all to share.
Most of all, I anticipate Hope differently. Hope stays with me. Hope’s not a wish on a wishing well, but it’s the guaranteed promise of the gift of life. When Jesus was born, Hope came alive. When He was crucified and then risen, the ultimate gift was offered: accept Him and receive Life forever.
I’m constantly being changed by this Gift. So is my family. This year, I anticipate Jesus Christ in all things. He is the Christmas crescendo.