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Relishing the Christmas Season

Air Date 11/23/2018

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Author Alexandra Kuykendall explains how wives and moms can develop realistic expectations for Christmas and enjoy the season by scheduling well, spending wisely, and connecting with God.

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Episode Transcript



Alexandra Kuykendall: It really is digging into the story and remembering that God came because He loves us. And so these ideas of hope and love and joy and peace - it’s like peace is the culmination of absorbing all of that truth that leads up to that point. And so really being in the story and remembering it.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Alexandra Kuykendall. And she joins us today on Focus on the Family. And I’m John Fuller. Your host his Focus president and author Jim Daly.

Jim Daly: John, this is such a special and exciting time of the year for so many of us. We’re celebrating friends and family, of course, but most importantly, uh, the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We’re almost a month away from Christmas. And even though it is a beautiful season, uh, with the holidays comes plans and parties and shopping and the gift list. And I think people are already getting stressed, fearing that.

John: Yeah, you’re making me feel it here.

Jim: Raising the anxiety for everybody. But today, we want to help you, uh, develop realistic expectations for Christmas and enjoy this season and not be burdened with all the stress, uh, perhaps by scheduling well, spending time well and connecting with God maybe more than you think you can at this time. I think the bottom line is, let’s embrace the season. And as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 16:14: “Let all you do be done in love.” And I like that as the theme for this Christmas. Couple of years ago, our guest, Alex Kuykendall, performed an experiment, which we will hear about, to really be intentional about enjoying Christmas. And she’s gonna share both her insights and the results of this little test with us today.

John: And is an author and the cohost of the Open Door Sisterhood podcast. She speaks to women’s groups around the country on parenting, faith and personal growth. And she and her husband Derek have four daughters.

Alexandra: That’s right.


Jim: Welcome.

Alexandra: Thank you.

Jim: Good to have you back.

Alexandra: Thank you. Merry Christmas.

Jim: Merry Christmas. Okay, we’re gonna talk about your experiment. I always light up. I love experiments.

Alexandra: Yes.


John: You are - you are into experiments. Yeah.

Jim: I’m that little boy. I just love experiments. You know, whatever you can test - it’s fun. And I - what’s the premise of the experiment? And what did you find?

Alexandra: Well, with an experiment, typically, you’re doing it because things aren’t going well, right? You don’t want to mess with a system that’s already going - running smoothly...

Jim: Oh, that’s interesting. That’s true, yeah.

Alexandra: ...Going well. So, uh, a few years before I did the experiment, I had a particularly hard Christmas year. I think it was probably the ages of my kids. I still had a toddler. I was working part time at MOPS. And I had visitors staying with me. And this amount of stress and all of the extras made me resentful of the season. And when Christmas ended and I was walking around the office kind of saying, “Happy New Year” to everyone, people asked me a very innocent question: “How was your Christmas?” And I couldn’t even say, “Fine.” It felt like that was a big fat lie because I had stressed out so much that I had missed the good parts. I had absorbed the stressful parts. And I thought, “You know, I would be fine if I didn’t ever do this holiday again.” With the exception of the baby in the manger, I could do away with all of the extras of Christmas. And I knew that there was something wrong there, right? Like, we shouldn’t feel that way about this holiday.

Jim: But it’s a real feeling. I mean, I think a lot of women, particularly, are saying, “Amen, girl. You’re exactly right. I had that experience last year.”

Alexandra: Right, because women - and I’m going to make a generalization here - but women are the Christmas orchestrators.

Jim: They carry the load.

Alexandra: Right?

Jim: “Will you please get up from that football game and help me?”

Alexandra: Well, and we really...


Jim: I mean, it’s true. I’m guilty.

Alexandra: We - we love special.

Jim: Yeah.

Alexandra: And we like to make everything special for our families. But we can over special. And I have heard it said that a woman birthed the first Christmas, and women have been birthing Christmas ever since...

Jim: Wow.

Alexandra: ...Because we decorate the tree. We do the food. We often do the shopping. We do the wrapping. We do the Christmas cards. We do all of the extras. And it can be overdone.

Jim: Well, let me - let me ask you this because that really does open an interesting perspective because there’s so much expectation that’s created with all that. And I think, you know, where I’ve let down Jean is right there ‘cause she has an idea undisclosed...


Alexandra: Right. And often, probably she doesn’t even realize it.

Jim: ...Of what this is supposed to be like. And on Friday, we’re gonna do all this decorating. It should only take six hours.


Jim: And I, you know - no, I’m serious. I mean, you know, and that is lean. I mean, that’s pretty good if you can get the lights up by that and get the - the tree, you know, all that stuff. But we’re clueless. Me and the boys are like, “Whoa.” But there is that problem. So let’s talk about the parameters of your little scientific experiment here about making Christmas more about the Lord.

Alexandra: Right.

Jim: What - what did you say - “Okay, we’re going to do this differently.” What were the parameters?

Alexandra: Well, I think expectations are a huge part of it. And we get expectations from all kinds of places that we don’t even realize are feeding in to our psyche - so how we grew up, traditions. So we either want to continue and create the Christmas for our new family, uh, that resembles the Christmas of our childhood or the opposite; Christmas was kind of a crazy mess, and we want Christmas to feel different for our kids. So there’s that. We’re combining two sets of family traditions, often, but then just commercials, Pinterest, Instagram - like, we have these constant feeds that are telling us this is what Christmas looks like or this is what Christmas is supposed to look like.

Jim: Should women not look at Pinterest the whole month of December? Would that be a good idea?

John: That’s probably a good idea.


Alexandra: In my experiment for loving my actual life, I did go off of social media in December. And I do think it - if you are gonna take a break, December is a great time.

Jim: You’re already busy.

Alexandra: You’re already busy. You don’t need to know how to make the Jell-O mold look like Rudolph.


Alexandra: I mean, you - it really doesn’t make Christmas that much more special. So why not, if you’re gonna take a break? But if you do absorb social media, if you do consume it - because that’s what we do, we consume it - to do so with a discerning eye and to say, “This is somebody else’s highlight reel,” and this gets to the spirit of the book, that we can live into the if-onlys of Christmas in a big way. If only we had a bigger house, then we could have a Christmas party. If only we had a bigger budget, then we could give the kids the gifts that they really want this year. If only I lived closer to my sister. It doesn’t matter what it is. We can fill our season with, “If only our life was different in this way, then we would have the holiday that’s worth remembering.”

Jim: Yeah.

Alexandra: And that’s not how God operated in the first Christmas. He didn’t wait until Mary and Joseph were married. He didn’t wait until they had the perfect place. I’m sure Mary’s birth plan did not include having a baby in the barn with, really, the cows standing around and all that goes along with that, right?

Jim: Correct, yeah.

Alexandra: So Christmas entered humanity’s story when things weren’t perfect. And the holiday enters our lives every year when life isn’t perfect.

Jim: That’s so good.

Alexandra: And so if we can just put aside the whens and if onlys, and if going off of social media helps, then let’s do that. And let’s focus on the gifts that God has given us this year right now.

Jim: Well, we’ve touched on expectation. In the book, you kind of mentioned how we have to highlight hope over expectation. What do you mean by that, highlighting hope or emphasizing hope?

Alexandra: So the experiment, really, was using the themes of Advent as kind of the guideposts for my season. You know, Christians have been celebrating Advent for centuries, so there’s probably a pretty good place to start. So I looked at hope the first week. And some churches use the word expectation in place of hope, which as a mom who’s been pregnant four times, anticipating a baby and expectation, those words seem to go well together for me. But it does touch on, what are my expectations for this season? What are my husband’s? What are my mother-in-law’s? What are my own expec...

Jim: So getting those out on the table is really critical?

Alexandra: It is. It is. And so those are real practical things that we can talk about. Like, where do you want to spend Christmas Eve? What is that gonna look like? Who’s gonna be there? And talking about them at the beginning of the season rather than on our way to church to the Christmas Eve service, it’s just gonna go better. But sometimes those conversations are difficult, so we avoid them. But really, they are gonna go better if we have them early on. And then hope is part of that because our expectations are based in the reality of our actual lives. And sometimes those are difficult, and they are not what we want.

Jim: Yeah.

Alexandra: But hope is something that sustains us. Hope entered the world. That’s what we’re celebrating at Christmas. And so to balance the expectation of our actual lives along with the Christ child is Christmas. This is Christmas. And I do want to say something - we’ll hit this probably when we talk about joy a little bit.

Jim: Yup.

Alexandra: But there is something about Christmas that brings out the hard in our life that exists all year long. So if there is an empty seat at the table, it feels especially empty at Christmastime.

Jim: Interesting, yeah.

Alexandra: If we’re having a hard financial situation in our home, it feels especially hard with the extra spending that comes up at Christmas. If our marriage is having a hurting spot, we can feel that hurt, or in our extended family, the hurt in a more dynamic way over the holidays because it gets to that expectation that I thought life was gonna go a certain way. And the holidays are when we’re taking pictures and everybody’s together. And if things are difficult, that feels heightened.

Jim: Now, that’s so good. And it’s true. And it’s a wonderful way to look at it. Alex, let’s get into the Advent adjectives, like I just said. We covered hope a bit. Um, let’s move into love and joy. What - how did you begin to apply these? Why were these important to you? I mean, the - this is fruit of the spirit. And I like that aspect of it. But, uh, why were these the things that jumped out for you?

Alexandra: Well, I kind of was looking at that church tradition and the church calendar, and these are the themes that often on a Sunday during Advent are celebrated. So I looked at love next. And, you know, God is love. He came as love during Christmas. And love is a word we almost overuse. It starts to lose its meaning a little bit, right? “I love chocolate chip cookies” doesn’t mean the same as “I love you” or “God so loved the world.” And so I wanted to dig into “what does it mean to love during this season?” And really, it was paying attention to the people that are around me because often, as Christmas orchestrators, we can become a little bit rigid, I’ll just say, about...

Jim: Yes.

Alexandra: ...Around the traditions and the to-do list that we forget the people that are involved.

Jim: Again, expectations, really, isn’t it?

Alexandra: Yes, yeah. And, you know, we’re gonna do this craft tonight it - because we always do it, one, so that makes it, like, a have to.

John: I’ve heard that before.

Alexandra: Right.

Jim: Oh, this is resonating.

Alexandra: And when you have children, all of a sudden, your children have opinions, too, about what has to be continued. You do something one year, and suddenly, it’s a tradition in their mind. And...

Jim: Right. Or that it has to be continued.

Alexandra: Right.

Jim: That’s another one. “Do we have to do that?”

Alexandra: “Do we have to do this?” Right. So as the mom, as the orchestrator, I need to listen to my people sometimes.

Jim: That conversation can go something like this. “Yes, we have to cover love tonight.”


Alexandra: Yes, we have to do it. Um, but really, it was, how do I pay attention to what my people need? So from my husband, to my kids, to my mom who was spending the first year without her husband - he’d passed away just a few months before. And I cover that a lot in the book because it was part of the reality of my Christmas. So how do I love people well? And really, it was about, in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the busy, how do I pay attention when people need me?

And so one example was in the book, um, that very first Monday of the week of love, I was taking one of my children to visit a middle school. She was going on her visit. We thought this is probably where she was gonna go the following fall. And I realized, you know what? I have a couple of hours when she’s done. Why don’t we go out to lunch? Why don’t we just play hooky today from school? And so I spent a few hours with her. And here is a child who’s in the middle of our group of four who often gets overlooked in the shuffle of the busy.

Jim: Right, no special time.

Alexandra: Right. And so it was - allowed for me to spend some one-on-one time with one of my middle children. And it really was letting go of the to-do list and saying, “You know what? The Christmas cards aren’t gonna get addressed today like I thought they would, and that’s gonna be okay.”

John: That is a great way to show tangible love to one of your family members. And there’s something very practical and easy to do for you. And, uh, it reflects just one of the many ideas in Alexandra Kuykendall’s book, Loving My Actual Christmas: An Experiment in Relishing the Season. And you can find that at

Jim: So, Alex, you covered hope for one week, love for another week. The third week was joy. Um, how did joy come about in this experiment, this Christmas experiment that you did?

Alexandra: Well, I think joy is one that’s a little harder for people.

Jim: Really?

Alexandra: Again, if things aren’t working out the way you thought they would. Now, Christmas brings up the hard. It is also an annual marker because if you think about it, you know exactly where you were last year at Christmastime. If someone says, “Where were you at Christmas,” you know, right? So you’ve lived a year of life since last Christmas. And if you’re feeling disappointed, either life didn’t work out the way you thought it would when you look back to yourself a year ago or it just isn’t working out in general in certain areas of your life. That pain can be very real. And so to think of joy as this exuberant feeling of happiness, it often is a contrast to how people are actually feeling over the holidays.

So I’ll take myself as an example. I was having a lot of grief. And in some ways, this was the most difficult Christmas I had spent because someone I loved dearly had died just two months earlier. My mom was dealing with a ton of grief. And I was carrying a lot of that load and caring for her in the process. And so I don’t want to just skim over joy like it’s something that’s easy for people to achieve. At the same time, this is the reality of living the Christian life, right? We live in the midst of hard. And we know that God is the source of our joy. He sustains us. He is the joy of the world. And we sing at Christmas time “Joy to the World.” And so that is how joy was kind of approached as I walked into this week. How can I find joy in the midst of my grief?

Jim: Yeah. And for you going through that, you know - the grief process and losing a loved one right at that time - some people can be swallowed up in that. How did you, I guess, fight back to find joy? Um, that would help a lot of people to hear how you did that.

Alexandra: Well, the good news is that we have good news, right? So the Christmas story is God entering in the middle of grief. He enters the world for us, especially for us that are grieving. He came for the brokenhearted. He didn’t come for the people who already had a joy-filled heart. He came for the brokenhearted. So that - if you think about the characters in the Christmas story, there was a lot of grief in there, a lot of disappointment, a lot of unmet expectations from Mary to Joseph to, uh...

Jim: I’m sure their extended families.

Alexandra: Right, their parents. Like, this wasn’t the script that they thought they were going to live out. And so to go into that story I think was really helpful for me that year, to read Luke chapter 2 over and over and look at the story from the perspective of the people who were living it out and say, “I see myself in that and Christ came for them and He came for me in my circumstances today,” and to know and remember that this is Christmas. Christmas is the light of the world entering darkness. So if you’re feeling like you’re in a dark place, the good news is we have good news.

Jim: And you’re really, in a great way, touching on the fourth point of peace. And I mean, that is it. You see part of the world not at peace, all chaos, and then you see your own little setting. And on the one hand, you have to be grateful. “Lord, thank You for Your Shalom, Your peace in my life.” That moment with your daughter - I mean, that’s a God peace moment. And then you got to bear the burdens of the world in some way, some capacity. How did you address peace?

Alexandra: Well, you know, the last week leading up to Christmas tends to be the panic week for the Christmas orchestrators, right?


Jim: Certainly for us husbands.

Alexandra: It’s all of the last-minute shopping, the last-minute food prep...

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Alexandra: ...And so it was recognizing my limitations, for one, and saying, “I need to get sleep. I need to not be up until 2 AM on Christmas Eve putting - wrapping presents...”

John: But things won’t get done then.

Alexandra: Right, but - so I had to let go of things. And so some of peace is recognizing my human limitations and allowing Christmas to be what it is at that point...

Jim: And being comfortable with it.

Alexandra: ...And being okay with it and saying, “You know, this doesn’t look like something I see on Pinterest, and that’s okay.” And then it really is digging into the story and remembering that God came because He loves us. And so these ideas of hope and love and joy and peace - it’s like peace is the culmination of absorbing all of that truth that leads up to that point. And so really being in the story and remembering it. You know, I want us as Jesus followers to be Christ ambassadors at Christmas time. And that doesn’t mean getting mad at people because they don’t say, “Merry Christmas.”

Jim: I’m laughing at the store clerk, you know? Don’t lose your cool because it’s crazy for them. So be different. Say, “Man, you must be under so much stress, what can I do for you? You want a latte?” Go buy them something.

Alexandra: Exactly. Right. And your neighbors - to recognize the pain and the hard that they’re missing their son or your, um, neighbor whose husband is deployed - to recognize the people around you and to live differently and to say, “You know, this is a crazy time for me, too. I’ve got all the same to-do lists that you do. But I am living under this umbrella of peace because my heart knows that I am loved and because I remember that the reason we do this whole crazy making in the first place is because God changed the trajectory of humanity when He stepped on to Earth as a baby, and we celebrate that now. And that is what gives me peace, even though I’ve got a lot of wrapping still to do.”

Jim: Yeah, and I love the authenticity of it. In fact, in the book - this will bring us back down to earth - I think you and your husband Derek had an argument when he picked up a few stocking stuffers, right?

Alexandra: Oh, right.

Jim: So this is good.


Alexandra: I had a system, right? I had a system of how many gifts each child was gonna get under the tree and in the stockings. And he thought he was just being generous - right? And helping me out.

Jim: He was blowing the equilibrium of the entire universe.

Alexandra: And I got very upset at him for going and buying, you know, two of the kids extra things for their stockings because it blew my system. But what I realized in that moment as I was having a meltdown in our kitchen and he was looking at me like, “What is the problem? I was just trying to help,” is that it was an issue of control - that here I was, the Christmas orchestrator, and I wanted to control everything, and in the midst of my grief that I could not control and circumstances for my mom that I could not control, I was grasping at the things that I could. And in an unhealthy way, um, it was seeping out. And so it was, again, letting go of some of the expectations and recognizing my own limitations and saying, “Thank you for trying to help. And I might make a few adjustments, or we might hold these out until Valentine’s Day, these gifts...”


Alexandra: “...So that my system isn’t messed up.” No, but it was recognizing that this was a matter of my heart. And I wasn’t stepping into the peace that really is what should sustain me during this season.

Jim: You know, what I appreciate about who you are and what you’ve written in this book - you strike me as a mom and a wife. But at the same time, bringing that kind of idea that you can take a deep breath, take it as it comes, do the best you can, settle into the important things, the gifts that God has given us, not what mankind can give us - the new whatever, phone or what have you - but that idea of hope and love and peace and joy. Those are the gifts that really matter. And I’m thinking of that person - as you said a moment ago, how lonely Christmas can feel. I mean, depression is high. Suicides are typically high at this time of year because people feel hopeless, joyless. And so all these things happen. Speak to that woman who is in that spot, right at the end of the program here, who maybe is so suffocating from this world, they can’t even breathe. What would you say to her? What can she do today that can begin to dig her out of that hole of hopelessness?

Alexandra: You know, we talk at Christmas time about these words of hope, love, joy and peace. And we cross-stitch them on pillows, and they become just part of the background of the season. But when we step into the true meanings of the word, they are not trite words. They are not easy words to even live into, even for someone who isn’t in a dark place. They are words that are complex and that God understands. And when we think of love and God’s love for us, it is His love for every part of who we are, the parts we want to show the world and the parts we don’t want anybody to see, that that love is in its entirety for those dark places, too.

The same is true for hope, that we don’t just have hope when things are going well. We have hope because things aren’t going well, and we know it’s not the end of the story. The story ends on the cross. Jesus’s story started at Christmas, but it’s pushing toward the cross. And the baby in the manger doesn’t have the same meaning unless we look at the redemption that happens on Easter Sunday. And so this is a big picture. So that word of hope, it encompasses all of that. And joy and peace, which can feel so out of reach in a time of darkness, are also words that God - He’s present with us and offers us these things that feel so much like they’re slipping through our fingers during this season because He understands pain. He came to Earth to be able to walk and understand grief in the same way that we do, and yet He offers us a sustaining joy. So joy is the word that we go to. It’s what we cling to when we aren’t happy. It’s the sustaining knowledge of who God is. He does not change. And so His character and His promises are what we can look to when the world feels like it’s crumbling around us.


Jim: Yeah. And at this time of year, many people feel that way. And let me say, if you’re in that spot, we’re here for you. You know, thankfully, we have supporters who allow us to staff a counseling department. You can call us. Uh, they can help you. They’ll get back to you if they’re, you know, inundated with phone calls. That’s okay. We want to be inundated with phone calls. So if you’re living in that dark place here at Christmas and leading up to Christmas, call us. Let us talk with you and hopefully provide a Biblical perspective, as Alex has done, to say here’s why we can have joy even in chaos. This is the Christian experience. This is what we mean by eternal life. And, uh, we certainly hope that you possess that - a relationship with Jesus. And, uh, Alex, this has been terrific. Thank you so much for reminding us what are the true gifts of Christmas - love, joy, peace and hope. This has been terrific. Thank you so very much.

Alexandra: Thank you.

John: And if you don’t have that relationship with Jesus, as Jim just mentioned, we have a terrific article for you online called, Coming Home. And it’s gonna answer a lot of your questions and walk you through the steps that you can take to come to know God through Jesus. Find the link for that and the book by Alexandra called, Loving My Actual Christmas, when you visit us at

And our staff is enjoying a couple of days off for the Thanksgiving holiday, but if you need to talk to us, you’re welcome to jot this number down and give us a call on Monday during normal business hours: 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.

And I’ll remind you that Focus on the Family is a listener-supported ministry. We’re grateful for your prayers and your financial support. Your monthly contributions allow us to plan and budget for programs to reach families with truth and to answer their difficult questions. And we encourage you to donate today. When you make a contribution of any amount at our website, we will give you a copy of Loving My Actual Christmas as our way of saying thank you for joining the support team.

Well, have a great weekend, and plan to join us again on Monday when Dr. Ken Wilgus helps you understand what you need to know about parenting teenagers and why you might have the wrong motive for not letting them grow up.


Ken Wilgus: It actually feels like I’m doing the right thing. I’m more involved. I’m more knowledgeable parent, when in fact, what you have is a fearful parent. That just - control comes from fear and over control comes from almost irrational fear.

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Alexandra Kuykendall

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A popular speaker and writer for moms around the nation, Alexandra Kuykendall is the co-hostess of The Open Door Sisterhood Podcast. She has contributed to other nationally known publications and authored three books: Loving My Actual Life, Loving My Actual Christmas and The Artist's Daughter. Alexandra resides in Denver, Colorado, with her husband, Derek, and their four daughters. Learn more about Alexandra by visiting her website,