I still remember when I first learned the word "anticipate." I was in 5th grade playing on the "Skunks" basketball team. My dad was our coach so we were full-court pressing which most 5th grade girls do not do. But it was my dad and my group of friends were freakishly athletic at 11 years of age. I was in a spot where I was supposed to steal the passes from our opponents but I kept getting to the spots too late. I was reacting, not anticipating. My dad called a time out and told me I needed to "anticipate" where the ball was going to go. My sassy 11 year old self did not enjoy being corrected in front of her friends and shot back, "I don't even know what that means, Da-ad." (I always stretched out the vowel sound when I was mad at him)
He patiently explained that it meant that I needed to read the eyes and body language of the passer and think ahead to where she would want to pass it. I was stubborn and embarrassed and rolled my eyes at him but it was a lesson that made me the basketball player I became. My offense was never something to brag about but I prided myself on my defense. I wasn't that fast or strong but my dad taught me to think; he taught me to anticipate. And so I learned to think a step ahead of my opponents and beat them to spots and stole their passes all because I learned to anticipate.
This word "anticipate" has been on my mind a lot this Christmas season. Christmas as a child is sprinkled with magic and I miss that magic. I still love the season but I miss experiencing it as a child. And I think what I miss most is the anticipation. Twenty five days stacked on top of one another creating a tower of wonder and suspense. No wonder it was nearly impossible to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. Admittedly, this "glittered magic" of the season centered around Santa and presents, not Jesus. The world was still centered around me (at times it sadly still is) and sleep eluded me on the 24th because I was anticipating what I would open the next morning. I was anticipating all the toys and all the joys that would accompany them. And opening presents as a child was truly a magical experience. Just look at Heidi's expression of genuine joy as she discovered her new Barbie car:
Yes, I'm the one too busy with a sucker and watching Heidi to get to my own gift. And while we're on the topic of childhood Christmas magic, here are a few more gems I discovered in my parents' garage:
Yes, that is a legitimate mullet I was rocking at age two. Thanks for that, Mom. At least I had my front teeth..
The next one is one of my favorites though. Heidi and I were clearly still in our church dresses and clearly were not happy about it. I'm guessing this picture was followed by a "you better not pout" lecture that we often received during the Christmas season. Heidi went for her classic "mad dog" pose while I rebelled by simply shutting my eyes to ruin the picture. Good work 3 year old Katie. You showed them. I also love that I am way too old to be drinking from a bottle and Trent and Travis have no idea a picture is being taken. Aren't we the joyful bunch?
Twenty six years later, we still wear matching pjs and take pictures by the fireplace but Christmas has obviously changed drastically. Maybe it's because we're opening scarves and books instead of Barbie cars and Cabbage Patch dolls, but the magic of Christmas morning has sadly dissipated over the years. We may grab and grasp at the glittered remains of Christmas magic, but it will always inevitably slip through our clenched fists as we pass into adulthood and a world of "unmagical" realities. I think part of the magic disappears when we realize Santa isn't real. There is something truly magical, something wonderfully majestic about believing in the impossible; about having faith in something that seems too good to be true. And then when a bully or an older sibling or a careless neighbor shoves you into reality and forces your eyes open to the fact that a fat man delivering presents to the whole world in one night with flying reindeer actually IS impossible, the magic sadly, slowly drifts away.
I know, I know- Jesus is the reason for the season yada, yada, yada, but the Christmas morning magic was typically about Santa delivering surprise presents. There are few surprises on Christmas morning any more. We've learned to tell our Mom exactly what we want for Christmas or else we'll end up with karate lessons. We pretty much know exactly what we'll open. I mean, I was surprised to find a cat calendar in my stocking from my obnoxious brother but it was not the same kind of joyful surprise children experience. I realize Christmas isn't about Santa and the presents, but my point is that the magical man and his presents were a huge part of the magic and anticipation experienced as a child.
I still LOVE the Christmas season; I love being with my family and celebrating the reason I have hope and life. However, I had no struggle sleeping the night before and I would have slept till noon if Nike hadn't jumped on the bed to wake me. There is still wonder and joy on Christmas day, but less magic and anticipation. However, I was able to see the magic again through Vander and Huddy's eyes and it was glorious. Watching their eyes light up as they opened new basketballs or battling hamsters was my favorite part of Christmas morning this year. (Yes, battling hamsters, complete with hamster armor and a battle arena. Beyond bizarre.)
The magic is still there for them. The anticipation is still there. Heidi confided that she needs to find a new way to convince them to behave and go to sleep since they most likely won't care that, "Santa is watching and coming back in 11 months and 24 days."
It's funny how anticipation can change how we live. It helped change how my nephews behaved during the season. When I'm anticipating Christmas break, I teach differently; I teach with more joy and excitement and patience- because I know I'm about to get a break. When I'm anticipating a vacation, the same is true. The everyday annoyances of life aren't so annoying when I'm anticipating something great to come. This is why I always try to have something I'm looking forward to. Right now it's the prime rib dinner we're having tonight. Sometimes it's long weekends or vacations or visits with friends, sometimes it's just a good meal or a good book; regardless of the event, I am always anticipating something and I've found that this dulls the sharp corners of life. It rounds them out. I try to live in the present but also anticipate the joy around the corner when the present is dark and murky.
Last week, the sermon was about how we should live our entire lives in anticipation of the glory to come. We read Revelations 19 which is a glimpse of heaven as revealed to John. He mentions multitudes shouting praises, elders and creatures falling prostrate before the throne, and "peals of thunder" as everyone worshipped God. It's hard to picture. But then the pastor told a story of his wife hitting a buzzer beater shot to win a huge basketball game in college. I cried. Literally had tears streaming down my cheeks because I know what it sounds like to have a packed gym EXPLODE in excitement after a victory like that. I know the feeling of joy that WASHES over you in those moments when you can't hear your own voice amongst the thunderous victory cries. And to hear heaven described like that; to realize that God will elicit that type of praise and worship from us all filled me with such a joy that excitement physically leaked from my eyes.
We will experience the fullness of God in heaven. His glory is seen in the whole world but it is veiled. And one day, one glorious day, the veil will be lifted and we will experience the full glory of God.
12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."
1 Corinthians 13:12
The anticipation of this day should change how I live. But it doesn't always because I don't always think on it. But it is this anticipation that fills me with hope. And it is hope that gives me energy and perseverance. It is this hope that makes me joyful and patient and content even when my circumstances don't seem to warrant joy or patience or contentment.
So I'm trying to live each day as a child on Christmas Eve.
I'm looking forward to something much greater than a new pogo stick or playhouse and the anticipation makes me giddy. I'm trying to live in daily anticipation- anticipating the glory to come. I cannot do this by my own power. I have to daily ask God to help- to give me glimpses of His glory, to remind me daily of WHY I hope and WHAT I'm anticipating. And He answers. He sprinkles my life with much more magic than Santa ever could.
This Christmas I have realized how magical faith in God is. I've also realized that I can recapture some of the magic by anticipating what awaits me; not a new Popple or Pound Puppy or even a giant trampoline (which I NEVER received although I asked for one every single year for 12 years) No, I am awaiting something much greater than wrapped presents. I am waiting for His glorious presence (I couldn't resist the pun) in a magical place I can only dream about, a place that seems too good to be true. I don't believe in Santa any more but I believe in One much greater who fills me with more anticipation than Santa ever did.
Finally, no Christmas post is complete without one of the Hardeman family traditions. The following are our two favorite Christmas ornaments and the tradition is this- whoever enters the living room must examine the ornaments and answer the question: who looks more ridiculous? Please vote in the comments. I'll start.