It was late. It had been a long day of Christmas errands, wrapping, and preparing for my daughter’s Christmas party the next day. We were ready for hosting her closest homeschool friends. The house was even… clean.
My daughter and I were cuddling in one of our new chairs, in front of the fireplace. I saw a gingerbread house on TV, and suddenly remembered: Oh! We hadn’t made our annual gingerbread house yet. Though I desperately needed some time, I found myself asking my husband, “Have you seen the gingerbread house kit in the pantry?”
My question did not go unnoticed by my eager eight-year-old daughter. She has boundless energy, a sweet tooth, loves to do anything fun with me… and is always ready to stay up late. She looked at me with her huge, green sparkling eyes; “Can we?”
My eyes did a quick survey of the clean house. I checked my phone for the time. “Honey, it’s late. You have a party tomorrow. We will make the gingerbread house, but it’s probably not the best time.”
“Please?” She smiled. She could sense my hemming and hawing. She’s an angel, my little girl is. She’s the patient one who has so often waited as the last one to get much treasured quality time, because so many medical and other pressing needs have had to come first. She will always say please… and she will always silently accept if my answer is to wait for later. There have been too many laters.
“YES! Let’s make the gingerbread house!”
“Yaaaay!” There’s the quick little clap of joy she does when she’s happy, which her drumming brother brought to our attention. It’s actually four fast claps all in a row. She does it now, and jumps off the chair to grab the kit and place it on the table. It’s just a small store bought kit, but it’s our tradition to make one together every year. She reads my mind, as she reminds me about the new frosting dispenser we bought together. Sure enough, it works perfectly. With a frosting dispenser in place of a bag, I actually have some success getting the frosting on the roof.
I’m so glad I said yes, instead of going upstairs to wrap presents. I’ve needed a breather and some time to myself, but I need her more. She needs me; more. Her sweet spirit calms me. It always does. It never ceases to amaze me how even a short bit of quality time together fills up our hearts and rejuvenates us. But there’s more. She teaches me things… good things… things that heal my soul. And for the first time, we are about to change our gingerbread house tradition for the better.
After my daughter’s graceful little fingers have carefully applied gumdrops and colored candy beads; our house is imperfectly messy, but complete. Then she says it; “Can we eat some?”
And I say like always, don’t you want to enjoy looking at for a couple days first?”
She shakes her head, and smiles, “Nope!”
I laugh. Are you sure, Abby?”
By now her daddy has come to the table to sit with us and check out our handiwork. He tells our daughter that she did a great job. Thanking him, she asks if he wants to eat some of the house. I tell her how the gingerbread house from the kit isn’t really meant for eating… that you can, but it will probably be really hard and tough to bite. She doesn’t care. “Just a little piece?”
She’s asked me this every year. We never eat any after it’s decorated. And then we realize it a couple weeks later; when both Christmas and New Years Day have come and gone. I think back to the elaborate gingerbread house that stood in the dining room when I was five. I’d watched it being beautifully and magically created… but didn’t get to help. It looked so delicious! And this one looked delicious to my daughter!
“Like this?” I tentatively try to break a piece off the back of the house, so I won’t destroy the rest of it. That memory sits there in the back of my mind, of a beautiful cookie house… that’s not meant to eat.
Yes! My daughter encourages me to keep going; she’s looking forward to eating a piece. As I start to break off a piece, the roof starts to cave in. “Oh no, Honey! The roof is caving in! It’s my fault!” I’m five again. I’ve eaten the chimney off of the giant gingerbread house. I couldn’t help myself. And now I’ve made the creator of it verrrry unhappy. You don’t eat gingerbread houses.
“That’s okay, Mommy! I don’t care!” I’m immediately pulled away from the sad memory of the past. I’m brought back to the present, where my daughter thinks I’m as good as cookies!
“Are you sure, Abby? Because I don’t think I can hold it together.” I’m watching her eyes for tears. There aren’t any. She’s smiling at me, like she always does. The truth is, she would’ve told me it was okay, even if she was disappointed in me. Her love for me is unconditional that way. And mine is for her, as well… so we start laughing as the roof caves in. My husband is also staring wide-eyed at our creation crashing down before our very eyes.
“Daddy, want a piece?” He does. It didn’t even phase her. She wants to eat the house, because that’s the best part! And I suddenly very much want to eat the house too; just like I wanted to eat that chimney decades ago. But this time, eating the house is a happy celebration. There are no tears, no sullen faces, and no long silences where I have to wonder if my daughter, as the creator, will start talking to me again.
I offer to go get some milk, to soften the gingerbread. My daughter nods her head yes. She’s holding a frosted piece of roof, and her eyes are shining; “I’m so excited to dip it in the milk!”
I’m excited too! It actually tastes really good, and it’s a sweet Christmas moment I will treasure forever. Because whenever things seem to be falling apart in our lives, the silver lining is still there. It shines through, setting us free from perfectionism, and warming our hearts. Maybe instead of trying to fix the broken chimney, it’s about the bigger picture of making sure we don’t have broken relationships with those we love. Just maybe, it’s about creating a silly, happy, imperfect memory; which grows into a healthy, joyful life-lasting relationship. When we have Jesus in our lives, we can rejoice in our imperfections, because God always has something better planned for us! We can relax and laugh when the roof caves in.., because eating the gingerbread house is the very best part!
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
Psalm 34:8 New International Version