“Authenticity is cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”
As I grow older, I realize that imperfection and authenticity are connected. They must be, for none of us is perfect. And life is not perfect.
My most recent reminder came last weekend when my husband and I ventured out on a chilly Sunday afternoon to buy our Christmas tree. Normally, we get an 8-foot Fraser fir from a nearby hardware store. We wait until mid-December to get our tree, because we leave it up for the 12 days of Christmas, which conclude Jan. 6.
That sometimes leaves us with slim pickings, but we usually persist until we find an acceptable tree.
Note: I take my trees seriously. I grew up in a house with 10-foot ceilings. We had trees that filled our foyer and took several days for the entire family to painstakingly decorate. I now live in a home with 9-foot ceilings and insist on a tree that will beautifully display the ornaments I've collected since I was 12, both from travels around the world and as gifts from friends.
Some years we haven't found the perfect tree, despite going from lot to lot in cold, blustery weather. And sometimes I got pretty upset about that.
Read more about 3 Ways to Sidestep Stress at the Holidays.
This year, I knew there could be obstacles to finding the perfect tree. First, there's the nationwide Christmas tree shortage. And then, there's the fact that my husband had surgery in November and wasn't too keen on trooping around lots looking at trees (truth be told, he never is, but this year he had a viable excuse).
So, we arrived at our lot to find just what I expected: slim pickings. There were only a couple of trees that even approached 8 feet tall, and they were all balsam firs, not Frasers. For those who aren't tree aficionados, the balsam has flimsier branches than the Fraser, making it more challenging to put lights and ornaments on the limbs without having them sag heavily toward the ground.
But, I accepted that this year we'd have a balsam fir. It's kind of skinny, and there are brown spots on one side, but fortunately we can put that side toward the wall.
And this year I am at peace with our imperfect tree. Sure, I may curse under my breath when I try to decorate it, and I may think wistfully of last year's amazing tree. But I reconciled myself early on that this would be the year of the imperfect Christmas, in keeping with what has been an imperfect year.
The worst part of this Christmas will not be the scrawny tree. It will be that my sister is no longer with me. She died of cancer in August, and I miss her terribly every day and most especially during the holiday season. I also will not see her daughter and son-in-law this holiday season because their traditions have changed, and their travel will take them in different directions.
Adding to this imperfect Christmas was my husband's surgery in November. That meant that uncertainty filled our lives once again. We made accommodations for the fact that he wouldn't be able to lift anything heavy before Christmas, so the decorations came down from the attic in October.
And, I accepted that things might not be perfect in the sense of not doing them the way we've always done them:
- My husband cannot hang the outdoor lights. (I may or may not get them done.)
- I did more shopping online than usual and sometimes with less thought than I would've liked.
- I decorated on top of the dust, rather than after a thorough housecleaning.
- I haven't begun to plan holiday meals, and Chinese takeout may be part of the plan.
But, despite these minor imperfections, I know that this really will be a wonderful Christmas because I will be surrounded by family and friends. My husband is recovering, and I am healthy. Our two daughters are coming home from Colorado and Florida for a whole week. Our dear friends in Chicago are flying in to spend Christmas with us. We will go to the midnight Christmas service, as is our tradition. We will have presents under the tree and family all around on Christmas morning. And we will share Christmas dinner with family and friends, hosted by two very special friends.
We are very fortunate.
So, while I know the tree may droop, the food may not all be homemade, the packages may be hurriedly selected and wrapped, and I will most definitely miss my sister, I know in my heart that this imperfect Christmas will be special for my family and me because we have each other. And that is authentic love.