Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rush

This used to be where the panic would begin.

“Scotty, do you know where the other suitcase is?”

“Hang on, I’m still getting stuff out of the dryer. Did you get that refill called in?”

“Oh, no!”

Christmas chaos, Kansas style.

Now you could say that Heather and I were upholding one of the oldest Christmas traditions of all. I mean, Mary and Joseph not only hit the road for Bethlehem, but they were doing it at a time when everyone else was on the move, too. Throw in highways, cars, and an SUV stuck in the breakdown lane, and you’ve just about got the modern holiday picture.

Of course, our own December odyssey had nothing to do with a decree from Caesar Augustus. Like millions of others, we were heading home – and for seven years, “home” was an eight-and-a-half-hour drive away, from Emporia, Kansas to Longmont.

A lot goes into planning  a drive that long. Especially when you have to account for a dog that has to come with you, a bird that has to stay behind, a wife’s back that has to be accommodated, a dozen medicines that have to go into the bags without forgetting a one ….

What’s that? Presents? We’ll buy those when we hit Longmont. We’re on a schedule, here!

A part of me can still hear this entering the hymn book:

Field and fountain,

Moor and mountain,

Following … oh,crud, did we leave the oven on?

The net result was usually a late arrival in my parents’ driveway, the excitement of the season still in our hearts – somewhere – but the exhaustion of I-70 still in our bodies.  (I’m still not sure how Santa manages 24 hours in a sleigh; his chiropractor must be a rich man indeed.)

Grueling as it was, it had this advantage: you never had any doubts when the Christmas season had arrived. You might be passing through it like Clint Bowyer at Talladega, but those bells had been well and truly jingled by the time you were done.

Now? Now we’ve been back in Colorado for four years. The season comes quieter. Softer. More gradually.

And if in the frenzy, there was a kind of joy, the calm brings with it a touch of peace.

Even in our busiest years, that was always my favorite part of the season – the chance to find a special, even sacred moment, set apart from normal life. “All is calm, all is bright,” as the old song has it.

It’s precious in the midst of chaos. And it’s still valued now. It’s a chance to see the extraordinary behind the ordinary, to keep “normal” from becoming “complacent.”  To not just find the balance, but consciously notice it.

A Kansas pastor of mine once said that peace isn’t just the absence of conflict. It’s when everything is as it should be.

This December, as I look at Heather, at Missy, at all the changes that have come in such a short time, I realize how much is as it should be. And how much more is growing.

And I’m grateful.

There’s still bustle if we truly need it. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of energy as I struggle to wrap the last gift or as we hurtle down the road to my father-in-law’s in Aurora. But the heart of the holiday isn’t in the rush. It never was.

And now, as I think ahead, I’m really looking forward to getting a peace of the action.

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