I finished a handmade Christmas gift for a friend. So excited to have it completed, I held it up to admire, and the art was off center in the frame. Off center equals imperfection, and what I had thought was completed now required another attempt.
The decorations on the Christmas tree are imperfect this year. The girls love decorating the tree and have hung the ornaments for the past five years. Most years the obviousness of a child’s decorating ability is charming. This year, Audrey intentionally gathered all of her musical ornaments and arranged them in a cluster at the bottom of the tree. No amount of reasoning or cajoling can convince her to spread out the ornaments. Her claim is, “This is the way I want them.” All those heavy ornaments pulling at the bottom branch of the tree make me twitch.
And, I thought I was going to have an imperfect birthday cake this year. Doug and the girls queried me for my favorite kind of cake, and I asked for a two layer white cake with buttercream icing. The three of them convened in the kitchen for serious moments of precision measuring and taking turns running the mixer. When the layers came out of the oven, the three of them gathered to flip the layers onto cooling racks. One of the layers came out completely bald with a thin veneer of cake clinging to the pan. The other came out half cleanly and half bald. I took one look at those layer cakes and thought, “My cake will be a lopsided, imperfect mess.”
Imperfection seems to be the theme of my Advent season, and some days I handle it better than others. Last Sunday, I sat in worship and prayed for the peace to let things be imperfect. Later in the service the pastor read the story of the birth of Jesus, and I thought about Mary, who must have known that there were some imperfections with leaving home when the baby was due, giving birth without the comforts of her female relatives at her side, and then wrapping such a precious new baby in bands of cloth rather than the wool blanket handed down from her mother and her mother before her. I thought about Joseph, who must have felt anxious to provide shelter and support but instead faced closed doors almost everywhere he went. I thought about the innkeeper, who counted an infant among the inhabitants of the stable and wondered if he felt remorse at not making room in the inn. I thought about how the birth of Jesus had imperfections, at least from my vantage point. But somehow it didn’t matter at all that Jesus was born in a stable; he was still the Messiah, and his story changes hearts to this very day. If the Messiah can be born in a stable, surely our imperfections will be alright in the end.
My birthday cake was better than alright. After a heavy layer of frosting by Doug’s deft hands, we all sat down to sing, “Happy Birthday” and cut the cake. The cake tasted delicious, and I got to hear the girls tell me, “I measured the flour. I ran the mixer. I cracked the eggs.” I looked at Doug, Eve, and Audrey and realized there was nothing imperfect about this moment at all.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.