#TellHisStory: How to Have a Guilt-Free Christmas

December 10, 2013 | 26 comments

We came home from Haiti last week, wrecked.

While we were gone, our country had been strung in blinking lights and decked with signs screaming “50 percent off!” Our feet were still dirty, covered in the dust of third-world Haiti. And all the consumerism choked us for days.

We vowed to do Christmas differently. Like you, I wanted a manger Christmas, not Big Box Christmas. Like you, I didn’t want more tinsel.

I wanted more Jesus.

We have been wrestling with how to make that happen in our home, and we’ve made some changes here this year, just as we’ve done in years past.

But this week, I felt a sense of guilt fall upon me. I felt it deep: I was certain that I wasn’t doing enough. But then, I remembered the truth about guilt: Guilt is never from God, but from the enemy alone.

Friend, you might be looking around today, thinking that you’re doing it all wrong … that if you were a “better” Christian, you’d do Christmas better. Know this right now–

Guilt is the weapon of the enemy, who wants to sabotage your manger Christmas, by stealing your manger joy.

You’re doing it, friend! You’re doing Christmas right. You, right there — decorating sugar cookies for your daughter’s third-grade Christmas party. You, wrapping a present that you know will make sparks fly Christmas morning. You, putting together “blessing baskets” for your neighbors. You, setting the manger scene — just so — on the mantle. You, lighting candles, and whispering prayers, and humming carols as the moon rises over your roof.

Don’t let Satan rob your joy by scissoring through your Christmas with the sharp edges of guilt.

I’m sharing a fun story today from Christmas 2010, when I tried hard to make the best Christmas ever, only to turn around to find that it was happening on its own … in the smallest, most beautiful ways.

My #TellHisStory …

Season of Good Intentions

It always starts this way.

This was my thought as I lay flat on my back in two feet of snow. I was caked in white, 100 yards from the house. I heard my girls yelling across the field: “Mommy, are you all right?”

I was stuck.

Yes. It always starts this way—with good intentions.

I wiped the hair out of my eyes with a snow-covered glove, and let all my breath out in one huge sigh, fogging up my glasses.

I was so, so stuck. And now I couldn’t see.

I had come out here on a mission: to make Christmas more meaningful. I wanted to uncover, as they say, the “Reason for the Season.”

My mission involved crossing farm fields so I could retrieve cornstalks from our bales. I’d read online how a mom could promote kindness in her home with a project involving hay. When her children committed acts of kindness through Advent, they could take a piece of hay and put it inside the Nativity scene. On Christmas Day, Jesus’ manger would be lined with kindness.

I loved the idea.

I had visions of me gliding gracefully across bucolic farm fields, like Dorothy Hamill on skates. I forgot that I was a farmer’s wife in heavy snow boots.

The girls, giggling hysterically by then, came to my aid.

This took approximately forever.

Their slow rescue gave me plenty of time to remember how I’d found myself there in the first place. It started around Thanksgiving, when we began decorating. I made hot cocoa, popped in my Osmond Family Christmas CD and flipped the fireplace switch on the wall. Thwock!  Instant flames.

But in our home, the season doesn’t really begin until I make my annual proclamation, ensuring thatthis Christmas will capture the true meaning of the holiday.

It’s been that way as long as I can remember.

Before a single stocking was hung, I prayed that God would help me focus. I read how other moms celebrated. I bought an Advent wreath. I hid the two-inch resin Jesus, because I read somewhere that He shouldn’t appear until Christmas Day. I told the girls about our big plans.

They stood gape-mouthed.

“Isn’t this what you said last year?” the youngest asked.

I watched as the color drained from my oldest girl’s cheeks. “Does this mean we won’t be getting presents?”

I reassured the girls they’d still get presents, but that we’d redouble our efforts to focus on Christ.

A few days later, I accidentally flushed my MasterCard down the toilet. I wondered: Is this God’s strange way of answering prayer?

And then, of course, I found myself in the spot you see me now—bespectacled and sprawled in snow.

The girls—a few dozen pounds each—tugged and tugged. They were no help. I rolled across the snowbank until I found firm ground.

And now, here I am, three days before Christmas, reflecting on all that has transpired. I look back and wonder: Did I find the true meaning of Christmas?

I wasn’t exactly sure, until the other night, when one of the girls tugged my sleeve before bedtime.

“Mommy?” she said. “I think you should put some hay in the manger.”

“Because of the cookies?” I asked, pleased that she’d noticed my “kindness.”

“No Mommy,” she said. “Because you love us, and you help us know about Jesus.”

I tucked her into bed, turned out the lights, and put a piece of cornstalk in the manger scene. It felt right this time.

But before I went to bed, I made two more vows:

To never play outside during a blizzard, and to keep my credit card in my purse instead of my back pocket.


So, what’s your Story? A #TellHisStory is any story that connects your story into the story of God.

You’re invited to tell that story right here, in community with us.

Share your narratives, your poems, your Instagrams tagged with #TellHisStory, … your beautiful hearts. You are the chroniclers, the people who help others make sense of the world with your words and your art.

Story is how we know that, no matter what happens, we can get back up again.

Visit someone (or two) in the link-up to encourage with a comment. Then, Tweet about your posts, and the posts you visit, with the #TellHisStory hashtag. Come back on Friday to visit our Featured #TellHisStory, in the sidebar.

A final note: This is a safe place to tell your stories. You don’t have to be a professional writer or a grammarian to join us. Story is built into every single one of us. Your story matters, because it’s part of God’s story down through history, not because you punctuated everything correctly. Deal?


For more details on the #TellHisStory linkup, click here.

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by | December 10, 2013 | 26 comments


  1. Nannette Elkins

    So funny!! Picturing you feet up in the air, kicking and screaming, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”…priceless. A friend of ours fell into a snow drift this week, and I am NOT making this up, a neighbor comes along and sees her down in this gully and tries to pull her out but can’t. They struggle and struggle but he can’t get her up! She is almost 70 but not an invalid…He gets back on his tractor and ties a rope around her and pulls her out!! She has the guts to retell the story! Pride is not something she will have to pray through over…So glad you shared a lighthearted post, mine is one as well. ♥

    • dukeslee

      GREAT story, Nannette!! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    I love this story, it reminds me of my first Christmas as a newlywed. My husband and I had to work and I was sick and we were far from family and I just couldn’t figure out how to “make” Christmas happen. What God taught me that year and reminds me every year since is that Christ comes now matter what, the good news is not a product I produce, but a gift I am invited to look for, eagerly, Christ came and continues to come, not because I “make it happen” but because of God’s great love.

    • dukeslee

      “The good news is not a product I produce.”

      A-to-the-MEN. Love that, Kelly.

  3. Patty Burnes Horstman

    Very funny and honest and lovely and poignant. My dear, godly, wonderful mom and I just had a similar conversation the other day. What a deep freedom in knowing that God knows our hearts and intentions better than we ourselves do. What an amazing truth that because of that baby in the manger, our truest hearts–when that baby resides there–are pure and lovely and beautiful. Reason to celebrate guilt-free! Love you, friend!

    • dukeslee

      Your words are freeing. Thank you, Patty.

  4. Lisa notes

    I love that your daughters associate Christmas with your intentions to make Christ the center of it. I vow to do that every year too, but I don’t know that I always succeed. I have definitely scaled back my decorating and gift-shopping this year, but that alone doesn’t mean I’m focused appropriately; it might just mean that I’m lazy. ha.

    • dukeslee

      LOL! (re: the lazy comment) … I must just resemble that comment this Christmas. I couldn’t get the gumption to put all the decorations out after we got home from Haiti, and now that I’m more in the mood, it just seems like so.much.work. 🙂 … The girls didn’t mind. They helped me set up our little nativity, and decorate our tree with ViBella ornaments. 🙂

  5. Mia

    Dear Jennifer
    Oh, you remind me of C.S. Lewis’ book, The Screwtape Letters!! As far as I can remember, old Screwtape went to his master, the evil one, feeling very defeated because they couldn’t get the children of God to commit overt sin. The evil master told him that they should try condemnation, shame, guilt and discouragement for then they are at their worst. I am sure you were a sight for sore eyes and if I were there, I would have joined your girls with laughing before trying to help you up.
    Blessings XX

    • dukeslee

      Great book. Thanks, Mia.

      And thanks for laughing with me, not AT me, right? 😉

  6. Kris Camealy

    Ah this struggle, to keep the focus on Jesus. We have it here too. Every year I make the same kind of proclamation–and some years, it sounds more like a threat, “This Christmas we will think only about Jesus–or else…” he’s doing such a work in me. We have thankfully come a bit of a ways, and I think our Christmas celebrations are becoming so much more about Him. I am grateful for how He grows us. I always love reading your words–you inspire me and make me laugh, all while pointing me to the poignant truths of the Gospel. What a gift you have.

    • dukeslee

      Or else. 🙂

      Yeah. I get that.

      Grateful for a flushed Mastercard and a flat-on-my-back moment in the snow to put things in perspective. 🙂

  7. Michelle DeRusha

    I definitely need to read that part about guilt today. And yeah, that part about reality not quite meeting the expectations, too. But the real reality? Emmanuel. God with us. Always.

    • dukeslee

      Always. Yes. Let’s put our hands to our hearts. Feel the beat. Know He’s right.there.

  8. ro elliott

    Don’t let Satan rob your joy by scissoring through your Christmas with the sharp edges of guilt.
    Oh this quote…I give a hardy yes…as a young mom…my deep desire to make ” Jesus the reason for the season”… Started out simply…but my unbridled passion…my twisted view of all that God “was against “… I sliced and slashed until there was nothing left…oh the Grace of God…my children don’t despise me for it…they can even thank me for what they did glean from it all…God is truly a great redeemer!!!! And now as they are married….starting their own families….they start from a clean slate…building in their homes…what they want Christmas to be ….and me…I am whole heartily joining in the celebration with them. Joy restored!!!!

    • dukeslee

      I’d like to increase the font size of your comment here, and put it in bold letters, and ask young moms everywhere to take heart. Thank you, Ro.

  9. Alecia Simersky

    Trying to slow down and remember the real reason can bring it’s all brand of stress. This time of year is joyous and stressfull…but I love it! 🙂

    • dukeslee

      I’m so glad you’ve found a good balance for you, Alecia, so that in the end you get to say, “I love it!” What do you do to keep that balance?

    • dukeslee

      Thanks, Charity. Have a blessed, guilt-free Christmas season, my friend.

  10. Lyli Dunbar

    Oh my, I still can’t believe you flushed your credit card! That is hysterical.

    Conviction, not condemnation. That’s the Advent theme. Thanks for the reminder.

    • dukeslee

      It was in my back pants pocket. It was very embarrassing … especially when the plumber had to come over to fish the card out. It lent a whole new meaning to the slogan: Mastercard — Priceless.

  11. soulstops

    Amen…Jennifer…guilt can be so debilitating, I can relate…what a sweet story…glad your daughters saw the beauty of your heart 🙂

  12. Monica Sharman

    So when I initially read the first two sentences, I thought, “Yeah, this is how it always starts for me, too. Flat on my back.” 🙂

  13. Duane Scott

    Jennifer, your opening paragraph…. beautiful. And then the story… hilarious. 🙂

    But lets go back to that opening, how you said we were doing Christmas “just right”. I’m reading this, just after I read the article on the Idolatry of Christmas over at The High Calling. http://www.thehighcalling.org/faith/christmas-and-idolatry-consumerism

    And… where is the balance? I’m finding it, slowly, in your words here. I find frustration in not being able to celebrate Christmas the way I think God would want me to, but then comes your words:

    “Guilt is the weapon of the enemy, who wants to sabotage your manger Christmas, by stealing your manger joy.”

    So, allow me to sing an awfully off-key rendition of Joy to the World while wrapping gifts, eating popcorn balls, and strolling through the mall.

    This is me, doing Christmas the best I can, and a small reminder I find here: to keep the focus on Christ and nothing can steal one’s joy.

    Thank you

  14. Devi Abraham Duerrmeier

    Hi Jennifer, I’m new to the #TellHisStory community, but I love the idea :).. and hope to keep joining in the future. I am constantly misplacing and losing important things like the cell phone, cards and wallet.. my husband is mystified!! Thank you for these great reminders.



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