joyful mary or stressed martha?

I have been MIA these past few days, but I have a good reason for my absence.  My husband and I just hosted our very first Christmas party!  It was an “Ugly Sweaters and Beautiful Christmas Cookies” party complete with prizes and everything.  Go big or go home, right?  Planning a party is a wonderful experience that helps to enlighten oneself to who he or she is as a person.

For example, I have learned through planning a party that things have not changed since college- I am still a procrastinator.  And OCD.  Not, I repeat, not a good mix.  As my plans progressed and less and less sleep was had, things began to get chaotic and…well…hilarious.

First, let’s begin with the fudge.  Everything was going fine with the homemade fudge, so my friend started stirring it while I prepped other things.  I instructed her to make sure she stirred the mixture quickly. I, however, didn’t explain what that means for my type-A childhood family.  The word “quickly” means, if your arm isn’t burning with the heat of a thousand suns, you aren’t stirring fast enough!  Therefore, I started noticing that the mix seemed like it was beginning to crystallize.  Crystallized fudge= fail.  Thus, I decided to take over and stir.

My poor friend.  She sat back and watched as unfathomable chaos ensued.  The fudge mix was beginning to look more like the consistency of the Christmas toffee, so I called my mom (queen of the Christmas candy).  I was stirring like a lunatic while my friend, wide-eyed, stood back trying to figure out whether she should attempt to help in some way or just back out of the kitchen slowly while fudge droppings fly.  My mom and I are heatedly discussing what I am supposed do with the fudge until I finally took it off the burner, scooped marshmallow fluff quickly into it (which, by the way, if you have ever used marshmallow fluff, you know that it is not something you can scoop out quickly by any stretch of the imagination).

Finally the fudge was done, and I had to wait until it cooled to check the consistency.  My friend left shortly after that to put her son down to his nap.  Much to my surprise, she actually offered to come back afterward or the next day to help!  I knew I had made a friend for life when she could survive my family’s Christmas candy making and still offer to come back for more abuse.

The night before my party went something like the night before a paper is due.  I realized that I had way more tasks to complete than I had allotted myself time for, thus commenced the frantic rushing to get things done in the wee hours of the night/morning.  Procrastinator + OCD tendencies + sleep deprived mommy = the recipe for success…ful admittance to a sanitarium.

The day of the party, I was rushing around getting stuff done. The list of to-dos included making the Christmas toffee.  Hang on to your bootstraps, ladies and gentlemen; this is one for the books.  My family’s Christmas toffee is one of the most stressful things to make.  ‘Tis the season for high-blood pressure medication.  It includes precise timing and temperature as well as constant stirring and supervision.  A task for a mom at home alone with her two children (one three year old hyped up on Christmas spirit and one baby wondering why his source of food looks so distressed)?  Why not!  

I was stirring the mix of butter, sugar, and brown sugar together (That is considered “Paleo”, right?), and I had the timer set and the thermometer in the toffee.  My mom said that it usually takes around 15 minutes for the toffee to be the right temperature.  Easy enough.  I continued stirring.  Baby was in the jumper.  3 year old was just hanging out around the house.  All under control.  I had the heat on medium and the temperature seemed to just be sitting at the same number, so I turned the heat up a smidgen.  It began to increase, so I turned it down a bit.  No problem.  Just was controlling the situation.

The temperature had to get to 290 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was hanging around the 250s, so I turn it up a little bit again since I wanted things to progress a little.  Things were good.  Life was good.  Christmas time in general was… wait… what was happening to the temperature?  Why was it increasing at an accelerating speed every second?  There was no time to turn it down; it was in the high 270s!  Oh snap!  288?  When did that happen!  Abort mission!  Abort mission!  I took the pot off the stove knowing the candy was probably already too hot and poured it onto the buttered cookie sheet.  Phew!

…The walnuts.  I was supposed to pour the walnuts into the toffee in the pot before pouring it onto the tray.  I frantically grabbed the walnuts and threw them onto the toffee already on the tray and haphazardly mixed them in with my spoon.  Lovely… I was pretty sure that the whole thing was ruined anyw… what was that sizzling sound?  The pot!  I had stuck the pot with sugar remnants back on the stove that was still turned on!  I momentarily took a walnut mixing hiatus so I could place the pot somewhere else, but being that my kitchen was still a war zone, there really was no where to place the p… what was that dangling off the pot? Oh greeeeaaat! The baggie from the walnuts had affixed itself to the bottom of the pot and was smoking.

I had to decide whether to ignore it so I could stir in the walnuts and risk potentially burning the house down in the process (or more realistically, having the smoke alarm piercingly shriek in my children’s delicate ears). I decided to run the pot outside and place it on my brick front porch. Meanwhile, I was fairly certain Daniel had begun to fuss and T.J. was asking what I was doing as I ran the pot outside (Shouldn’t he have been used to me almost burning the house down by that point? Get with it, kid!). I left the door ajar- okay, fully open- and came back in to continue mixing walnuts into the abomination formerly known as Christmas toffee. I asked T.J. to close the door for me, which he did. Praise Jesus for a child old enough to actually be able to do things for me when I ask! I finished mixing in the walnuts and had to make a pivotal decision: did I want to use the chocolate chips and risk it being inedible, thus wasting the chocolate or did I want to just start from the drawing board again?  What the hey! I figured I might as well give it a shot.

I still have yet to chisel the rest of that baggie off my pot.

The third catastrophe happened when the party was beginning and I still hadn’t finished making the frosting… for the cookie decorating… for my cookie decorating party. Note to self, soften the butter by leaving it out for a few hours before decorating… not by microwaving it for fifteen seconds. I will sum this whole experience up by saying that I was grateful one of my friends was right on time (6pm) to be able to help me create the…grotesque, separating masses of butter, milk, powdered sugar, and food coloring. No amount of shaking could mix the containers well enough to make them not look like they had parasites/some foreign disease. Needless to say, I should have made it an “ugly sweaters and even uglier Christmas cookies” party instead. Half the time, I couldn’t get the icing to come out, and when it did come out, it came shooting out with a vengeance as a liquidy, chunky stream of horrendous. It tasted divine but looked like diarrhea. Excellent.

The fourth catastrophe came when a few people showed up around 6:45pm and the food had been nearly devoured already! Apparently my chili and Chile Rellano pie were a hit! I was thrilled that people loved my food, but considering it was dwindling fast, I was worried that by the time the few more guests showed up there would be nothing left to serve them! Usually people overshoot on food, but me? Nah, I like to keep things interesting. Hey, at least I didn’t ration them. That would have been awkward. They came back for seconds and thirds no problem!

Once I allowed myself to let go a little and relax, I rather enjoyed the party. Might as well since the guests were enjoying it! Everything was going beautifully. Ugly cookies were being eaten. Guests were admiring each other’s horrid outfits.

That is when catastrophe #5 happened- the worst one of all. That amazing friend who came and helped me out only the day before heard the thump and shriek sound of her toddler falling and slamming his eyebrow into the corner of our baseboard. Many parties end with injuries due to raucous, alcohol-induced behavior. However, when you are a parent, they still end with injuries… they just happen to be from toddlers slipping on a stray book in the middle of your hallway. Poor kid ended up at an urgent care center.

So that was our first Christmas party. I let you know about all of the crazy things that happened. Now let me share with you the blessings:

1. The fudge was smooth and delicious. It ended up being firm when in the fridge, but if left out, it was not only soft, but also not the slightest bit crystallized. Win.

2. The toffee? Perfect. Absolutely perfect. And a hit to our guests after they cracked open their goodie bags.

3. The diarrhea frosting? People still decorated, and as I said, it was actually quite tasty! People had fun despite the odd texture and look of my frosting fail- I cared more than any of the guests did!

4. The dwindling dinner? Everyone ended up getting something to eat and then gorging themselves on sweets anyway. Between that and the eggnog, people were satisfied.

5. The kid who fell and got hurt? He didn’t end up with stitches- they were able to glue it- praise Jesus! No one wants their kid to go through the torture of stitches and stitch removal. After things settled, we thought about the whole incident… an inch lower on his face and he may have had some serious eye damage or even blindness in that eye. God’s grace abounds.

You know what is the best thing about our experience? People have told me what great hosts we were and what a great party it was, despite everything I, in my pride, worried about. I wanted a perfect party. Yet in the imperfection, I learned how to let go and have a great time despite things not going exactly as I had planned. I read something beautiful on Instagram the other day about opening up your home and being hospitable because you could probably feed someone with something you currently have in your pantry. Sometimes we don’t spend time with people because our home isn’t perfect, we aren’t perfect, or we don’t have the “right” thing to feed them. However, the truth of the matter is, people aren’t yearning for perfection; they are yearning for fellowship.

“That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Romans 1:12 (ESV)

“Let brotherly love continue.” Hebrews 31:1 (ESV)

“That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:3 (ESV)

Do you go to someone’s home to see a perfectly clean, dust-free, sparkling house? I would venture to say no. And if you do, please don’t visit me. No offense. We could meet at a coffee shop or the park, but if you seek a perfect home, mine is not your ideal hangout, trust me. Why do we have to set dates way in advance to fellowship with one another? Is it because we need to “plan”? Let’s stop that trend, shall we? Let’s instead choose to sometimes just say, “Hey want to stop by tonight for dinner? We are having pizza,” or “We are watching a movie with the kids tonight, come on over and join us!” Guess what? You don’t need to stress and clean your home from top to bottom. You don’t need to make sure to set out the perfect snacks in the perfect bowls. You don’t even need to make sure that everyone is dressed well. You work those sweatpants! Just fellowship. Just be together. Talk about the Lord. Talk about current events. Talk about your families. If a dust bunny hops by, laugh about it and move on. Don’t ruin what could be a wonderful evening by obsessing over small, insignificant things.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6 (ESV)

Now, before I receive perturbed comments, let me clarify. There is nothing wrong with planning a lovely evening. Many people really enjoy party planning and perfectly putting together events. Bless you. Truly. I wish I could be more like that. I am just encouraging you to not allow imperfection to keep you from friends who need your fellowship. Some of the best times we’ve had have been casual get-togethers without things being planned out and perfect.

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25 (ESV)

God doesn’t call us to perfectly fellowship… He just calls us to fellowshipIn fact, Martha got rebuked for obsessing too much when Christ was in her home. Mary dropped everything to worship her King and spend time with Him. Martha, though diligent and with good intentions, kind of missed the whole point.

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’  But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

Hopefully you can learn from my mistake. If you throw a Christmas party this year (or any other year for that matter), make sure you focus on the things that will bring the most glory to God rather than glory to yourself.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12 (ESV)

I only wish I had loosened up earlier so I would have had a better time fellowshipping and glorifying God through blessing others and putting off anxiety. Because as hard as you try to make your party “ooh” and “ahh” worthy, at the end of the day, if the icing looks like diarrhea, people are still going to have fun just being together.

Merry Christmas, and may you choose the joy of Mary over the stress of Martha during this season.

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