the most unwelcome guest at Christmas

It was like a mini-post traumatic stress reaction. I hadn’t really been too nervous about his surgery. While I waited for the doctor to report to us in the waiting room, I worked on a photo calendar for my in-laws. When the doctor said all was well, we went up to see him. I spent the next 20 hours in that small hospital room next to my recovering four year old. There was no sleep that night, not really. And then the next night, either. Or the next. But he was well, the tonsils were out, I was doing okay, and we carried on.

We went home, had help, friends were kind, family was supportive. But my body started to give me signs that all was not well. The activity and stress began to catch up. And then I looked at the calendar – two weeks until Christmas. And then I looked at my reflection in the mirror – tired. And then I looked at my pantry – disarray. And as my sister dug through a cabinet to find popcorn that I swore we didn’t have (we did), I lamented my mess and lack of organizing.

She opened the popcorn bag, stuck it in the microwave, and offered freedom she didn’t even know I needed: You’re being too hard on yourself. The microwave buttons dinged, and as the little machine roared to life, my recent days played out quick like a movie reel, straight in front of me and laden with heavy worry – about this and that and them and those things. And in nearly every corner, I found shame.

It doesn’t take a hero to offer grace to the grace-filled. But to extend grace in the midst of ungraciousness? That is a most difficult task. And I can be a most ungracious girl to myself. When I forget an ingredient for the cookies, I roll my eyes and call me stupid. More than once. Out loud. And then it spirals into worry that I’m not good at having people over. I get too overwhelmed and I come undone too easily. I may have good intentions, but my follow-through is sloppy. And only an idiot would try. I should just go ahead and wish this Christmas season right away.

When someone else is running late, I am the first to dismiss it. It’s fine! I don’t mind! And I genuinely don’t. If someone else is struggling, I sincerely long to offer support. When you forget an ingredient for the cookies, I can laugh with you and we can make the best of it. I can extend grace to you and it is easy and right. Messed up is what makes you touchable, endearing, lovely.

I will extend grace to you in the midst of your tired and your need. I have difficulty extending grace to me. I don’t want to be my own most unwelcome guest at Christmas. I already see the potential to be swept away by the impossible expectations of perfect, invisible me. Has she been lurking around your house? Force that girl out and offer grace instead. Shove silly in her face and give yourself permission to laugh at the days to come.


  1. says

    Incredibly, I know that girl too…I’ve known her well for many years….and I suspect there are many more me’s and you’s out there wanting desperately to do the right thing and thinking we’ve failed miserably while loving and extending grace to other people. Yes, I do think it’s high time to give the girl I know best at least as much grace as Jesus gives her and to love her as much as well…I’ll probably fail at that too…but with His help I’ll keep trying!

  2. says

    I could have written that whole paragraph about the cookies about myself. Mike gets infuriated that I say I’m stupid because I have made a mistake. (And I don’t care what you say, I am terrible at having people over.)

    • says

      Also, I am taking a meal to our friend who just had a baby, and every time I do that, I totally screw it up. I am really nervous about it. It’s not my skill set for some reason.

      I am really good at laundry, though. It’s my special talent.

      • says

        Whenever I take meals to people, I feel the exact same way. I get all hive-y and worried that other people would do it differently (aka better). I haven’t taken a meal to a person in a while. But I will bring you a meal when Atticus comes. Because I know you will still like me even when I wreck it all up and forget to put noodles in the spaghetti or something.

      • says

        I have done that more than once! I have even been known to order pizza’s for people! (except the one time I forgot to do that too!!!!) I am glad that there is grace…and that there are people who don’t mind a pizza delivery an hour late!!!!

  3. says

    You have “no idea” how verbatum your post is to the conversation I was having with a friend of mine last evening. I just read this post this morning and burst into tears at the truth, the likeness of these words to her sitution.

    I was really blessed. I hope and pray that I can share your words with my friend in the near future as just another source of God’s grace in the midst of our ungraciousness.

    This was beautiful.

  4. says

    Oh my, you looked into my heart and put it on your blog… I know this is me and the spiral happens so very fast it is hard to catch it and see it for what it is… thank you so much! What would Jesus say to us? What would he think of the grace we have for everyone but ourselves…

  5. says

    Isn’t she the worst! Whispering all that un-truth in your ear, knowing all your vulnerable places, your weak spots. She hangs around here too, often at the times I most want to relax and enjoy and just BE.

    Today I’ll try to stop her in her tracks before she really gets going. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. says

    i love how different people are! i worry that I don’t care enough about perfection! i feel shame in rest. and i have to ask – are those your feet int he awesome yellow heels? impressive. i wear teacher shoes all the time.

  7. says

    Emily, have you been hiding in my house? Because this sounds just like me. You describe it so well. We can extend grace to everyone except ourselves. What’s with that? Your words have once again caused me to pause. This time I’m taking it easier on myself. I have an 8 year old that loves when the silly spills out…

  8. says

    Emily…you just make me love you more all of the time. I am now vigorously swallowing the lump in my throat that signifies how much I needed to read your words today. Thanks for reminding me to remember that grace I didn’t realize I’d forgotten.

    I hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas…washed through and through by the grace you so beautifully extend!

  9. karen says

    Thats such a familiar feeling, especially with Christmas so close. Thank you for pointing it out. I want to enjoy completely this last week before Christmas not spending it putting myself down for all that didnt get done.

  10. says

    I know that ungracious-to-herself girl. She is me and lately she has seriously overstayed her welcome. Yesterday in church I was reminded that He came so that we can be reconciled. And that in being reconciled to God, we are free from accusation. Oh, did I need that message. I am my own worst enemy, the first to love the imperfect in others and the first to hate it in myself. The gift I’ve decided to grip tight during this season is the one of freedom and grace to myself {and I’m wrapping it up in comment love and sending it your way too.} Grace, sweet girl. Grace.

  11. says

    Oh yea, I understand completely. That is a crazy woman.
    I had a party yesterday for the neighborhood kids – spent at least 2 weeks preparing the house with christmas decor, trimwork on the kitchen cabinets, new shelves for my cookbooks, obsessive cleaning – then as people started arriving I realized I still had my fall garland hanging on my pot rack (I forgot to change it out to my christmas garland). I made a comment out loud about how I couldn’t believe I was so stupid, and my neighbor looked at me like I was nuts. Meanwhile the kids were running around crazy, christmas music was playing, the kitchen was a mess – and everyone was having a fabulous time. And that is what it is all about, right? Family, friends, enjoying each other. I am going to leave that fall garland up this week – just to remind me…..


  12. says

    These are encouraging words this morning Emily. I woke up w/ my mind racing of things I needed to squeeze in this week w/ the kids before Christmas. This made me let out a sigh of relief and serve myself a big cup of grace. What gets done is great and what doesn’t get done is Ok too. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  13. says

    Internal critics are heavy, wretched, and vicious. They arrive when they aren’t invited, and never leave when it’s time to go. We men have different voices at Christmas, are we providing enough, are we strong enough, are we “there” enough? And most of us never even admit to having them – which makes them all the more powerful.

    I pray for no room in this Inn, in all our Inns, for them. I say let THEM have the stable. It’s only 5 more days to enjoy the season of Our Lord’s birth. Thank you Emily, for reminding me not to feed the horrid house guests.

    Merry Voice Free Christmas

  14. says

    This just brings tears to my eyes because I am her. I am SO her. Hard on myself, easy on everyone else. But this year I extended a little grace to myself by just saying the Christmas cards aren’t happening. I was speaking a lot this fall. I hosted four parties in four days (one for our entire pastoral staff and wives–32 people). Life has been INSANE! And so, one day I made a declaration: “No Christmas cards this year.” I cannot tell you the freedom I felt. I figure I’ll still have friends, even though I don’t send cards. I figure Facebook will keep me in touch. Thank goodness for grace.

  15. Rachel S says

    Beautiful post. Was what I needed to hear. I’ve been so frustrated at myself for being so behind this year. I need to extend grace to myself. Thank you and God bless you.

  16. says

    Dearest Emily,
    Each time I visit, I am always inspired to be more gentle, more gracious no matter what is happening in my life. I read your post today and I am shaking my head up and down. “Isn’t that the truth!” “Aha, yep, I do that.” “I never thought of it that way. I need to be kinder to me and turn off the voice that says “I will never be good enough.”
    I saw the newest narnia movie this weekend and was struck dumb by a line the Great Aslan utters to Lucy when she is being tempted by her own insecurities in a powerful way. He says “Everything you are is enough.” Amen and Amen!
    Miss Emily, everything you are is enough for that’s how Our Creator made you. Perfect in his eyes! may He give you strength of body and spirit this Christmas season. Thank you for blessing my day!

  17. says

    Messed up is what makes you touchable, endearing, lovely. — I loved this line. Thanks for reminding me I am endearing and lovely in my messed up state. I will so take that compliment :-) Nothing I have planned has went as planned pretty much lately so I am just doing my best to go with the flow.

  18. Mandy says

    I am a new visitor- actually this post is the very first post of yours I have read. And, currently, tears are streaming down my face in front of my computer screen at work. You wrote what my heart is feeling. Thank you. I’m printing this and hanging it in my kitchen at home to allow myself some grace. Now… I must read more.

  19. says

    This is me – so very me. Thank you Emily. You always manage to get right to the heart of things.
    I needed to be reminded of this – this grace that I so easily extend to others and withhold from myself.

    Oh yes – the shoes are just adorable!

  20. says

    I TOTALLY, unequivocally hear that same voice in my house! Oh how your honesty resonates with so many of us, Emily!

    A few weeks ago I was having lunch with my 89 year old grandmother who called herself “stupid” and it really bothered me. I thought that this seasoned-woman shouldn’t possibly be beating herself up and it made me cry. And yet, I have done it to myself so many times. So. Many. My husband gets angry at me, actually, when I’m so rotten to myself…and his anger is such love. I don’t deserve to bow to the lies.

    Imagine the sadness our Creator in Heaven has when we beat ourselves up…His creation! His! He designed us! How dare we?!

    Grace for ourselves first…it’s got to happen to fully understand the weight of Grace for others…I really think! Cause, we are quick to extend Grace to others…how can we not? It’s the right thing to do. But…we don’t feel their pain. When we look at ourselves it all makes sense and we can’t possibly understand how we’re Grace worthy. And so when we just breathe in His Grace and laugh at our imperfections, we’re really seeing Him.

    Your post is JUST what we need now! How many of us (even when we say we aren’t) are stressed to the eye-balls? I think God allows us to get stressed out at Christmas to reduce ourselves to Him.

  21. says

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Isn’t it sad that we women have to give one another permission to be less than perfect. Who has set that standard? We want to do too much, and be too much to too many people. The reality is that life isn’t always a bowlful of cherries. Thanks for being real. I am trying hard to keep things in perspective, and not let myself get out of hand over things that others will not even notice. I want to remember the REASON for the season!

  22. says

    Oh man, I can relate to this so well. I had a gigantic, bawling, nose-dripping, howling, hissy-fit break-down the other morning, sparked by the Battleship game pieces ALL.OVER.THE.FLOOR. Again. Despite my best intentions and efforts to have a slow, Jesus-focused Advent, I went and had myself a big fat breakdown over nothing. And then deemed myself a lousy mother, housekeeper, wife, writer, worker, everythinger, while my husband stood by slack-jawed. It was quite ugly.

    And then he offered to grocery shop and cancel the mail and fold the laundry and do whatever else on my list that was causing me to hang by my fingernails. And then I cried some more and berated myself some more because he is so kind and I am so lousy. And then I picked up the pieces and moved on.

    Yeah, merry christmas everyone.
    So yes, I get this big time. And I thank you for being real and honest about it.

  23. NCJill says

    I’ve been reading about perfectionism lately and a few things stood out,esp for this Christmas season. We can study the cross and what it means/accomplished… that we can be both loved and flawed at the same time. (We don’t have to send Christmas cards this year and it’s okay.) We can take our needs to God and nail our perfectionism to the cross. (so my house doesn’t look like it’s decorated for the Southern Living cover yet my family still wants to spend time here). Also, this season are we involved with things more functional than relational? More of “doing things” (hosting elaborate parties?) instead of “connecting” with our God, our family and our friends (maybe a cup of hot chocolate with a few special friends)?

    It’s caused me pause during this Christmas week. Be blessed dear friends, by the One who loves us no matter what.

  24. says

    Hi Emily, I just wanted to say that I’m glad your kiddo is recovery well. And, to thank you for this post! It’s so well-timed and will serve (as it did for me) as a huge reminder to just breathe! We women tend to get so caught up in trying to make things perfect for the holidays that the stress ends up taking a larger toll than we realize. Thanks for this gentle reminder to take care of ourselves and to just laugh and enjoy the moment! Happy Holidays, Becca

  25. says

    Such a great reminder! We are so much harder on ourselves. If my friend were struggling or stressed or depressed, I offer a should to cry on, I’d lend a hand, I’d encourage her to take a nap. But for myself…

  26. says

    hey friend…so glad you had your sweet sis there to find the popcorn, and to tell you truth. she’s right, you know…like most older sisters are. mine had to speak the same stinkin truth to me last night. it’s so easy to find shame in every corner. much harder to stand, arms open wide, and shout for grace to overwhelm us, love to sweep us off our feet, and freedom to be ours to keep. love you.

  27. says

    Too funny! I called my sister tonite and as soon as she picked up I blurted out…”Just tell me that I am not a loser!” She calmly stated, “You are NOT a loser.” sigh….we skipped Boy Scouts just to have a night in…it’s ok, right? Now I just want to curl up and watch “Holiday Inn” with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire!!

  28. says

    Love this post! I’ve been SO feeling this way myself, expecting perfection during this season..I’m gonna take your advice & force that girl out & offer grace instead. Thank you!

  29. says

    My husband had an acl replacement 3 weeks ago, shoulder surgery on Wednesday, a Vasectomy on Friday, and we all had strep throat all weekend and a house full of company because it was Ella’s birthday…I was wretched and evil all weekend. I am indeed my own unwanted guest…and its not even Christmas yet. I’m with you friend.

  30. Claire says


    Your mention of sprinkles has stayed with me this Christmas season. … Oh, my – $2.89 for RED sprinkles for the sugar cookies!? Just use plain sugar Claire. ….. Don’t have ‘birthday’ paper for your daughter-in-laws birthday present which is days before Christmas. Just use Christmas paper. I’m sure she’s had presents wrapped in Christmas paper her whole life. ….. Just chili for dinner, without a salad. Oh well. …..

    Sprinkles. …… Thanks for the word picture that has helped me let go of my perfectionism this season. I hope you can relax. You are precious.

    BTW, I ordered a pillow from Dayspring. I saw it on Nester’s blog. They sent me this lovely magazine with your (and her’s and others) writing in it. It was very nice.

  31. says

    So good, so so good. This same guest has been in my house all month. I can’t bake right. I wrap messy. I can’t find anything. I forget where the gifts are hidden. I am late to meet friends. Anyone else I would just say “whew, she’s human!” but for me it’s like I expect myself to be above all of that. What a battle. Wish I had a sister to say “you’re being too hard on yourself” when I need it.

    Merry Christmas.


    • susan says

      Yikes,someone else who can lose things in their own home! Do you also have a “safe place” that turns into a black hole the minute you walk away? I feel so blessed by reading not only Emily’s post, but all of our humble “humanness”…and you all make me feel better when I cant bring myself to be kind to me….-s-

  32. says

    Ah, yes. . . I knew we were kindred spirits. Unfortunately, that means we share this insistence on expecting more of ourselves than we do of anyone else. Actually, it’s a refusal to accept anything-less-than-more from ourselves, isn’t it? We know, in our hearts of hearts, that we’re not perfect–we don’t expect perfection. In a way, though, this is more dangerous by virtue of its insidiousness. No, we don’t expect perfect results. We just expect perfect EFFORT. Oh, golly.

    Dear God, give us grace for everyone–every single one–you came to give grace to.

  33. says

    AWESOME!!! Was crying out to God this morning that I want to be ME for Christmas and not a crazy, tired, no one-especially me can do anything right person!!!! I will stop to read this each morning this week!!!

  34. susan says

    Dear One,after all you have been thru and are going thru (how are those nasty sinuses?), it is so sad that my “negative witchy! dummy! PITA! Stoopid! So behind you’ll never get caught up! Maybe my nasty brother’s right? No and I can’t even feel sorry for his hatefulness! Why on earth did I think I could do anything right?” self found her way to your blessed loving home, with your gracious,best-friend sister&beautiful family. How did she get to you,of all people, whose writings bless us all? I was going to ask why are so many women so unkind&negative to themselves,and Craig set me straight-where did we *humans* learn to love one another,offer kindness&grace&do anything we can to make someone else feel better and make ourselves feel so much worse? As usual, I truly needed you to speak sense to my “mess” today, spilling your truth like pure water & fresh untainted air. Wishing you the blessings of health, self-love, and the pure joy of family&friends as we celebrate His birth, now and forever. You are a gift and I thank you. Would Nester stick a beautiful bow on your head for me? ;l all good wishes & prayers for blessings to you all…-s-

  35. says

    So beautifully written! Love it. Thanks Emily! You are a gifted writer… because you let Him type the words…. from your beautiful finger tips!

    Traci @ Ordinary Inspirations

  36. Sharon says

    Oh wow. This is so me right now. Thank you so much for posting this today. I caught myself thinking about giving up on this Christmas just this afternoon as I did a marathon trip through the grocery store. And then my next thought was that this is the only Christmas my boys will be 7 and 4 – and so I need to embrace these next few days and just enjoy them fully. Even if my laundry piles have turned into mountains and the presents aren’t wrapped and the cookies aren’t baked. I’m so glad that I got to read this before turning in for the night. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! :)

  37. says

    You articulated this beautifully for so many of us. Thank you. I recently wrote a post called “No Super Woman Here” where I had to force myself to see the grace people were extending me rather than refuse it and try to do things on my own as usual. It usually takes a desperate situation for me to accept the hands of others in my otherwise orderly, controlled, self-sufficient life. How sad. Praying that we both get better at hearing the TRUTH of grace in our own hearts…and speaking that truth out loud to ourselves rather than muttering those little lies. Jesus came to set us free from those little lies. Let us LET HIM!

    O come…let us ADORE HIM!

  38. says

    Oh, Emily, I can’t explain how much I needed your words this morning. I’ve been struggling with the exact same thing. I give grace to everyone else but me. God used what you wrote to wrap His love around my heart this morning. Thank you {tears} thank you. So grateful for you, beautiful girl.

  39. Hannah Braboy says

    Oh Emily. You have no idea how much your words hit home today (as they always do). I needed that so much and I’m pretty sure you and I aren’t alone.

    Much love.

  40. says

    Unfortunately, I know that girl all too well, too. I often lament over the fact that I can be so grace-giving to other people but the very ones who I love the most I seem to be the hardest on – myself included. Why on earth is that? And even here in this comment I do it…

    Beautifully written and an excellent reminder to give grace to ourselves during a time when we feel perfection should be the standard instead of focusing on a baby born over 2,000 years ago who prefers Mary’s over Martha’s any day.

    Thank you for your precious words, Emily.

  41. says

    I can so relate. I can extend grace to the most vile offender, but not myself. God has been really working on my heart lately. I do this little thing called “beat myself up” and try to discipline myself spiritually before God does. Guilt sets in. It’s the worst reel of negative self-dialogue you could ever hear. Then, hit repeat. Again. Again. and Again. This Christmas I am going to let God be God and I am going to attempt to cut myself some slack. Merry Christmas Emily – may your inner dialogue be sweet and full of grace! :)

  42. says

    Wow. I think you’ve been listening to me talk to myself the past few days in the kitchen. I’ve been quoted as saying, “Well, you get a big FAIL for today mommy.” Thank you for your honest words and challenge. I really enjoy your blog and the entire concept of ‘a place where my soul can breathe!’ I know my soul needs that so much. You are an encouragement!

  43. says

    What perfect words for this season, when, apparently, a lot of us are suffering from a lack of grace. But, there’s good news. A baby born in a lowly manger to a virgin mother came to the world to grant us salvation…and grace. So, even when we cannot find it within ourselves, or fail to extend it to others, He will always bestow it on us.

    I hope your son is recovering well. My 2-year-old daughter’s adenotonsillectomy is next week. It’s helpful to catch a glimpse of what may be in store for us.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  44. says


    Mine came from our 24-year-old while we were rehearsing a song for our blog. He said, “if you make a mistake, just keep going or end at a good place.” It felt so good to hear and from my son no less. I made sure to tell him so too. We had a great time after that and we posted it with mistakes and all.

    Thank You Emily for being transparent and vulnerable. It helps me to really be me. Then, I can grow 😀

  45. says

    Wow, Emily… Once again you’ve proven how much we think alike! Unfortunately in this case, it’s not a good thing for either of us! I have often thought in recent years about how I compare myself to an imaginary perfect version of myself that never makes mistakes. What I hadn’t ever thought of was shoving silly in her face! : ) I’ve typically thought of her as an enemy idol I have sacrificed much to in order to try to be like her. But I might try the silly next time she shows up.

    Last night our youth group that i used to work with did a less-than-perfect rendition of the silent monks doing the hallelujah chorus and I loved it and pondered how easy it was to enjoy from the audience but how stressed and dissatisfied I would have been if I had been in charge. Pride, you are ugly and I don’t want you. Humility & Grace, you are beautiful and I need you.

    Thanks, Emily for the reminder. I hope your Christmas was sweet. : )

  46. Anna says

    I love this, and I love the comments, too! There’s a whole long list of women who feel the same way.

    I didn’t send out cards.
    I didn’t make cookies.
    I didn’t set out my Christmas village.

    The worst? The one that sent me over the edge and yes, I called my sister and blurted out my own choice phrase- I LOST my kids’ stockings. We used pillowcases for stockings. :(

    But thank you. I’m going to bookmark this and read it again and again.

  47. says

    oh i love this post. hadn’t ever realized that i do the same thing. 2011 will be the year to extend grace to myself. thank you so much for the eye opening post.

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