The Monday after Thanksgiving I’m perplexed when no one shows up for work as I’m leaving the house at 9:30. I arrive home at 11 to find my house empty still. At this point, I’m fuming thinking about the lack of progress from the week before coupled with this. I call the contractor and to my surprise, he answers on the second ring. Although I’m not usually a confrontational person, I launch in immediately: “Why isn’t anyone here working?” He scrambles to come up with a response: “I was just about to call my crew to find out why they aren’t there.” Clearly, I’ve caught him by surprise and he’s coming up with a fast story to tap dance his way around my frustration. “I’ll call you back as soon as I hear from them” he promises. He still hasn’t called when I’m leaving the house a half hour later. I send him a text message. “I am going to be out for a while. I expect to see you here working with or without your crew when I get back. Do I need to remind you that we are still washing dishes in the tub and eating on the floor? We have tolerated people working on weekends and evenings- even working until midnight. I am furious that no one is here working on a Monday morning. We need this job to be finished without any more delays. No more excuses, please!” I am seething- so angry that I’m literally shaking.
I return home later to find two workers putting stucco on an outside wall. This isn’t helping to get the kitchen completed, but they tell me they don’t have the materials needed to finish working inside. I ask what time they arrived and they hesitate. After a long pause “I don’t know, maybe around 11?” I shoot back: “Have you talked to or seen the contractor today?” Another long pause, followed by: “No, we’ve been trying to call but he doesn’t answer.” No one seems to want to own up to the truth about what’s going on. As long as someone is working, I decide not to pursue it further. The two guys work the rest of the day outside, while the kitchen sits untouched. Ultimately, the contractor never actually does come that day because he’s off picking up “materials” that we’ve been told he bought long ago.
I wake up the following morning feeling grumpy and indignant. Christmas decorations are going up in our neighborhood, songs are being played on the radio and there is no denying that the Christmas season is upon us now that Thanksgiving has passed. I think about our new couch still wrapped in plastic and taking up all available floor space in my mom’s living room, where she has kindly stored it for us since it was delivered in August. I realize that our contractor’s slowness is going to have a ripple effect. My mom can’t put up her Christmas tree until our couch is out of her living room. All the anger and resentment I felt on Monday resurfaces with a vengeance.
Adding further salt to my wounds, I’m preparing for the annual kick-off celebration for the holiday season at my weekly women’s Bible Study. The morning’s focus will be a Christmas program followed by a time to wrap gifts for the needy and share lunch. I feel no enthusiasm about all of these Christmas activities. In fact, I feel dread wondering if we’ll be celebrating Christmas in our “hovel” without the usual decorations and foods that we enjoy every year.
While I’m sitting with the other women in the church singing carols, I can feel my bitterness beginning to dissipate. As my heart turns away from my own problems and I start to worship, conviction pokes at my heart: “If the Son of God could be born in a manger among farm animals, you can probably survive celebrating Christmas in your unfinished house- even if it feels like a hovel to you.” I’m embarrassed by my own self-pity and the realization that I’ve bought into the idea that “real” Christmas celebrations must include decorations, gifts, good food and pretty surroundings. Maybe not being able to have those things in my own home this year will lead me to focus on the true meaning of Christmas that I’ve said I embrace all along. A quote from the Bible study we’ve just finished rings in my ears “Are you strong, or just spoiled?” I like to think I’m strong, but when things get personally challenging or uncomfortable, I don’t seem to be faring very well.
The first weekend in Advent my younger son bounds out of his Sunday school class toting a bagel that has been covered with sealant and has had four holes drilled in the top. Each hole contains a small birthday candle and the entire bagel is scattered with sparkly glitter. “It’s an Advent Wreath!” he announces gleefully. We decide to give it a place of honor in our hovel since it is our only Christmas decoration. Each weekend, we’ll light a candle and read from the Advent booklet he was given in class. It’s not much, but our little Advent Bagel helps us to focus on the true meaning of Christmas and reminds us that lasting joy is not dependent upon our circumstances.