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Pumpkin On A Stop Sign

It was around Halloween when I noticed it. Near my kids’ elementary school on the corner of 17th and Toledo Streets someone had put a pumpkin on top of a stop sign.

Even if you’re not normally aware of your surroundings, your brain takes note of things like a pumpkin on a stop sign. Pumpkin

It stayed there longer than I expected. Surely the street department or a neighborhood resident would remove it. But it remained for at least a couple weeks till I saw it smashed on the street, a messy clue fingering kids as the disposal crew.

Whoever put that pumpkin up there had another one. Because a day later the stop sign was once again sporting an orange gourd hat. I laughed when I saw it and wondered how long this one would stay perched.

People were either too lazy to take it down or just got used to seeing it there because it survived the entire month of November. And into December. Looking quite resiliant, I might add. Definitely the freshest looking pumpkin I’ve ever seen on a stop sign after seven weeks. But it is December. Pumpkins are supposed to be gone long before the holiday fruitcakes show up.

Dropping my kids off at school the other day, it was still there. Except someone, in the spirit of the season, had painted it gold. Now it fits in with the Christmas lights. It’s still a pumpkin on a stop sign. But it’s spiffed up now. And I think anyone who sees it turned out for the holidays would have to agree that the stop sign would be under-dressed without it.

Can I say it? Christmas the event, the birth of Christ, is joyous. Christmas the season, with all its stress, is not. For most of us, our level of angst during this time of year is high as the North Pole. Every unresolved situation, every strained relationship, every financial hardship, every unmet goal, every failed resolution bubbles to the surface. Somehow we hope “the most wonderful time of the year” will fix everything that’s broken in our life. We try our best with carols and cards, parties and presents. We cover our houses with everything that glitters and glows.

Yet more often than not, it simply illuminates how undone we are.

All my adult life I’ve hoped for the perfect Christmas. That just once everything in my sphere; relationships, goals, finances, mindset and emotions, situations and circumstances, would be as perfectly synchronized as the blinking lights on the tree.

Is it a big surprise to say it’s yet to happen? I’m always disappointed. In fact, several of those years have truly been “The Nightmare Before (and during and after…) Christmas”. You’d think I’d adjust my expectations. But every year, sure as stripes on a candy cane, my hope for the perfect Christmas appears.

So what to do? Abandon hope? Embrace cynicism? Quit on Christmas?

Those are options. Many people have chosen one or all of them. Having been there myself, I can’t blame them.

I’m moving toward another solution. To accept, as best as my kicking and screaming self can, that that this side of heaven my life will never be in sync. I’m a broken person living in a broken world. My idealistic expectations are getting in the way of my potential joy.

Reality is, this side of heaven, my Christmas (and my life) will more often look like a pumpkin on a stop sign than the star on top of the tree.

So the best I can do is paint the pumpkin. To dress up and turn out and not worry about the frayed edges of my life. To express sentiment without fear. To celebrate what is instead of bemoaning what isn’t. Most importantly, focus on Jesus. The One who loved this out of sync world enough to leave His throne and show up as a baby so He could live our life and walk our walk.

Jesus our Savior, born for us.

Immanuel, God with us.

The One who understands that painting the pumpkin gold is sometimes the best we can do.

Merry Christmas.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

– John 1:14

Todd A. Thompson – December 21, 2008

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