It’s a simple Christmas platter. Clear glass embossed with snowmen, and red and green confetti along the edges. I rediscovered it yesterday while pulling out the Christmas decorations. A remnant of Christmas parties past.
Twenty-three-year-old daughter, Abby, recently shared a Facebook memory of the final Christmas baking spree. “Three hundred cookies baked so far!” the post proclaimed, along with a picture of Abby playfully peeking over the edge of a cookie-laden tray.
In the background, the beautifully remodeled kitchen that boasted three ovens, wall-to-wall high-end cabinetry, and miles of polished granite.
It’s funny how I spent months with a designer, working out every last detail of that $50,000 kitchen, yet I never really remember it. I always picture the previous kitchen. The one we ended up turning into a family room during the remodel.
Those cabinets were salvaged from a dumpster. The stove came from a garage sale. And the clearance section at Lowe’s had yielded the green, laminate countertop.
In that kitchen, I had a wall phone with a cord that stretched to the stove so I could talk to my grandmother every evening while I cooked dinner.
In that kitchen, my girlfriends and I sat in the floor, eating cold lasagna, and chatting until 1:00 a.m. while weary toddlers slept in our laps.
In that kitchen, on that old stove, we started the preparations for our very first Christmas party. Originally, it was an evangelical endeavor. My parents’ church was holding an event called “The Living Christmas Tree.” We had invited our non-Christian friends to attend with us, and then come to the house afterwards for snacks. Snacks were a sure-fire incentive when leading people to Jesus.
Each year, our list of invitees grew. One year, we held a white elephant gift exchange, and another, we had a cookie exchange. Our party budget grew to $400 which was quite extravagant at the time, but we felt it was for a good cause.
After a while, it became more difficult to convince folks they should attend the Living Christmas Tree. Once my mom passed, it became emotionally difficult to attend anyway. We decided to skip that portion, and simply have a big party.
For another fifteen years, it continued to grow until our guest list topped 300.
As our income increased, so did our party budget. By the end, it had multiplied ten-fold.
We did all of the party prep in our newly remodeled kitchen. The one with the beautiful hardwood floors, and the exposed brick where I hung the cuckoo clock I had carefully selected while on a trip to Berlin. The entire space, with its seeded glass-front cabinets, lighted shelving for international travel souvenirs, and custom bronze sink was a masterpiece….but it was never “home.”
As we spent the week cleaning, decorating, and baking hundreds of Christmas recipes, I didn’t know we were preparing for the final hurrah.
I mean, I knew things were bad. I knew I was faking a smile for our guests, and for the sake of the kids, but I never dreamed I’d actually leave.
Three months later, completely broken and exhausted, I called the therapist that had been recommended by a friend. On my first visit, I opened with the statement, “I need to decide if I want a divorce.”
I already knew the answer, I just wasn’t quite ready to act on it.
We shared twenty-five-years and five kids. To divorce would be to painfully rend the very fabric of our lives.
The therapist asked a lot of questions. I liked that. I’d never been encouraged to think for myself. I’d always had to reference everything back to what I’d been taught about the Bible. But now, there was no leading. Just questions being posed that prompted me to think.
I was scared and unsure of myself. I didn’t want my kids to hate me. I wasn’t sure if I could make a living. I didn’t know what else to imagine besides growing old with the husband of my youth, in the home we had established, rocking grandbabies, and throwing big parties until the day I died, and was buried in the old church cemetery, alongside my in-laws.
The future was set.
It took a great deal of inner work to alter the picture of the life for which I’d been groomed since childhood.
One afternoon, I announced to my therapist that I was ready to file.
“How did you come to this decision?” she asked.
I told her about our grand parties. I described how even the kids would throw themselves into the preparations, and 150 or more people would come. I shared how, for those few hours, we displayed an enviable life as the perfect family, and the day was merry and bright.
I continued, “Last night I visualized my husband being remarried, and throwing the Christmas party with a new wife. All of our friends were there, and our kids, and everyone was having a wonderful time.”
“Where were you?”
“At home, alone.”
“Why are you alone?”
“Because I choose to be.”
“And how do you feel?”
I smiled. “At peace.”
Here I am, six years later, with a much better life than I ever visualized. It’s worth noting that the simplicity of my little kitchen adds to my joy each day, but it is the home I have found within myself that brings true peace.
The kids’ father has remarried, and recently moved back to the community. From my limited perspective, he seems to have re-established a good home and life. I suppose the day could come (perhaps it already has), when they will have a huge Christmas party, and many of my friends, and possibly all of my children, will be there. I don’t know. It’s not my business. That in itself is freeing.
Daughter baked cookies yesterday. She was only eight when we held our last, large-scale baking spree, but her older sisters have taught her well. I put two cookies on the snowman tray, poured a glass of milk, and grabbed my laptop.
Here I sit, in the middle of my king-sized bed, munching cookies, and writing what I hope will be a story of encouragement. Visualize a future that brings you peace, and make the changes necessary to attain it. The future hasn’t been established. It is yours to create.