Saturday, December 24, 2016


Somewhere around 1991 my mom loaded a K-Mart shopping cart with Christmas gifts for me, my brother, and my sister. She wasn't a shopper and Amazon was just a rain forest, so it strikes me now what a sacrifice it was for her to do that each December. I don't know what was in the cart, because I wasn't there. But I remember hearing her tell my dad how embarrassed she'd been when she had to walk away from the cart and leave the store empty-handed. Maybe she forgot her check book. Or maybe the total was higher than what she thought it would be. Whatever the reason, she fixed it. She went back the next day and retraced her steps, filling the dang cart for the second time.

I couldn't guess at what she hoped for when it came to being the mom at Christmas, but her expectations were somehow always exceeded. There weren't lists of meaningful family traditions, but I remember feeling like I was lit from within at Christmastime. I felt extra tucked-in. Safe. Warm. It was the best of everything.

It's 10:13 pm and I'm blogging at night, as if it's 2009 and my three babies are tucked into their single-occupancy rooms in the creaky upstairs of our farmhouse. The train wails and a fiddle weeps from the speaker hidden above our kitchen cabinets. I'm right here, in 2016, where not even an hour ago, I sat at the kitchen table trying to jam mismatched puzzle pieces together while worrying I'd already ruined Christmas.

I want my kids to somehow experience that intangible feeling that something special is underway. I'm desperate for it and I hate it. I fight the shine even as I fork over money for new books, a tulle skirt, a telescope, a complicated electrical outlet system with its own remote control.

I tell myself we'll lounge around and eat like kings, or maybe like the judges on Master Chef. I categorize a three-columned grocery list and burn a three-wick candle. I bake things. I buy a new puzzle. I play Yahtzee with an eight-year old and pretend it's not frustrating at all.

Last night I dreamed (again, again, again) that I was back in college and had nonchalantly skipped the entire semester, only to come to my senses as finals week approached. Was it too late to drop every class? And would I still have to pay for the credits? I woke up sweating bullets. All week long, I've known what I was up to with my big ideas and my faux-pine scented air. I'm no stranger to the calamity of Shannan Martin, who busies herself crafting unrealistic expectations in an attempt to combat the sinking feeling that most days she's pretty unremarkable.


Earlier tonight we did our third Advent reading of the season. It was about the name of Jesus, and what it means. We tried talking about Emmanuel, but apparently it was a bit too soon after three rounds of Mad Libs because Ruby and Silas couldn't stop laughing about moldy bears clapping their belly buttons together.

We all know it's important that God came as Jesus to be with us, but I honestly wish I had just been with my kids in all their inconvenient exuberance. I noticed Ruby's cheeks swallowing up her full moon eyes, her mouth wide, like a child who doesn't know unnecessary pain. But this was a serious moment we were trying to have, and I forced myself not to let go.

Now I'm left wondering if Jesus wouldn't have felt most near if we had just closed the book and giggled together until our vision blurred.

As I sit here, Cory is downtown in the dark with his camera, trying to nail a shot of something having to do with Christmas lights and rain puddles. Before he walked out he asked me what I was going to write about. "I don't know, meth, depression, and white supremacy?" I joked.

These have been hot topics in our house this week as I wrap gifts and daydream about whisking heavy cream into flour for cranberry scones.

People I love are burning alive, and my cheeks are on fire.

But I am with them in this dirt. They are with me.
This life is a gift I'll never deserve.
And sometimes rain at Christmas is a relief.

Tomorrow morning (Christmas Eve) we'll open a few gifts. We'll turn off our phones and thank God for the surprises he dealt us, especially each other. Calvin bought Ruby a whole bag of oranges just for herself and Cory's gifts both came from Goodwill. There's sausage thawing for gravy and a pineapple ready for slicing. Dinner will be homemade Korean food, in honor of our oldest Korean who will be playing his violin at the Christmas Eve service.

We will grab our fresh start with glad hearts and both hands. At some point, we'll drag it face-first through the crumbs beneath the table. We will need the Savior who came for us and doesn't stop.


God is with us, even when we run.
God is with us, even when we fight.
God is with us, even when we are tired.
God is with us, even when we are sad.
God is with us, even when we can't get a grip.

God is with us, even when our streets swallow us whole.
God is with us, even when people say we don't matter.

God is with us, even when we are sort of sad for the family we lost along the way.
God is with us, even when we sit in seg at the county jail.
God is with us, even when we are strung out and picking at our skin.
God is with us, even when it seems too quiet to believe.

God is with us, even when the house is a wreck.
God is with us, even when the marriage is a wreck.

God pierced the earth with purity and humility and now, we don't have to keep clawing for something better. We don't have to do anything alone. We stretch out our arms, reaching for fistfuls of grace while wearing shoes caked with mud.

We are here, but he is here, too.

God is with us.

I can't wait for tomorrow.


  1. That was just beautiful dear Shannon ~ May you and your family have a lovely Christmas filled with love and joy. May you continue to feel God's presence surrounding you and flowing through you.

    Love, hugs & prayers ~ FlowerLady

  2. Thank you, Shannon. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Shannan, I love your words so much. They are a gift. Thank you. Enjoy today!

  4. Happy Christmas Eve! He IS with us! (And my house IS a disaster) 💟

  5. I love this. I came to my computer fresh from wrapping gifts with my husband--a task he has never before offered to help with--and expectations faltering because his expectation and mine are seldom the same. But this...This reminder is timely and precious. I'll hold onto the advent readings we did as a family this morning and look forward to Christmas Eve traditions of going to look at Christmas lights and remember that God is WITH us. And I will be grateful.

    Your words have influenced my life this year. Thank you and God Bless your Holidays.

  6. Tears. One of my favorite posts ever. Thankful for the way your words changed my life in 2016. You are a gift, my friend!

  7. Goodness I needed this. I am knee deep in mud this week and once again humbled by the 'withness' of our Humble, yet Grand Saviour. Merry Christmas Martin Family!!

  8. The "I can't wait for tomorrow", that is goodness and hope and reality that right where we are, we get to celebrate because right where we are is right where He is :-). Merry Christmas Martin Family!

  9. The "I can't wait for tomorrow", that is goodness and hope and reality that right where we are, we get to celebrate because right where we are is right where He is :-). Merry Christmas Martin Family!

  10. Merry Christmas! I have been meaning to comment for weeks. I have commented once before, I have the same identical recurring dream that you have, the not showing up for class all semester one. Anyway, I bought your book on Kindle when it was 2.99 last month. What a gift it was and is. My husband also read it and a dear friend. Your words were just what we all needed to hear. So many of your conclusions and sentiments echo what we think and feel. I thoroughly enjoyed every chapter. My husband read it while on a trip to China, and he texted me one morning..."I know why you like this woman so much, Chips and Salsa and Library fines!" I am telling you, I can relate to you! Thank you again, and I hope your family and friends grow closer together and closer to Jesus this Christmas and the coming year! God Bless you!

  11. I wish this had been the good news of Christianity I'd been taught growing up. Your kids will be able to own their faith easier because it does not require them to be perfect. If it asks them to sit quietly during an Advent reading, and they can't, and you struggle thru, there's always a next time. Thanks for being YOU, Shannan. You are remarkable.

  12. Messy and struggling, but still in the game. It's all we can hope to be, right?

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  14. My first couple of years of being a step-mom I tried so hard. I tried to make Christmas (and each Sunday for that matter) warm and wonderful. And, what I ended up doing was having unrealistic expectations for me and for them. I ended up stressed and frustrated - not at all the memories I was trying to create. Little by little I've learned that being present is better than anything wrapped under the tree. Shannan, your words always help give me perspective.

    I love your honesty and transparency. (And, I think I've learned a new person slang term. Is seg shortened from segregated population?)

  15. Shannan, I just finished your book. Eye opening is an understatement! Thank you for your honesty and sharing the tough places. I live down the road in Huntington and am staring some of the same things in the eye, but now with a different view. Thank you!

  16. This is beautiful and such a perfect image of the season. Every year I tell myself, we are going to just relax. I will get everything done ahead of time. But something else/more always comes up: one more pie to bake, or oops, i forgot about actually finishing the wrapping of gifts. Our christmas day always feels like a checklist of places to go. I find myself envious of friends who sequester themselves at home either by choice or because family lives far away. Aside from Christmas eve service and despite the best of intentions, Jesus always seems to get lost in the hubbub.

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