Over the fireplace hang the stockings. On the front door, the wreath. The kitchen table is covered with chips of white frosting from the three gingerbread houses that serve as our centerpieces.
But there are no lights.
Our annual light display isn't grand or fancy; there is no color theme or music or even any semblance of design. Simply woven through the tree branches or draped across the shrubs, the lights I usually put up outside just haven't gotten done. Life came fast and furiously at us after the end of Thanksgiving weekend.
There was rain, and then more rain, ark-building rain falling at the tail end of a year of epic rain in SW Ohio.
There was the youngest who had a cough, then an ear infection, then more coughing, then finally bronchitis.
There was his older brother who had his own ear infection that decided to hang in there for a second grudge match with a stronger antibiotic.
There was the stomach flu and it's faithful sidekick - biohazard laundry - that took out 2/5 of our family just as all the other coughs and germs fled the premises.
And then there was just the usual stuff on our family calendar: homework and meetings and scouts and sports. And there was just the basics of life - groceries and dinners and making beds and walking the insane canine and occasionally sleeping when my five cups of coffee finally wear off.
The lights may never get done this year, much to the chagrin of my oldest.
But as I remind myself, trying to keep my mind from spinning out of control over the details of the season, the season isn't about this world's details.
Tuesday, when all seemed impossible, when three were home sick and I was fading fast myself (a pox on all stomach flus!), I raced through the day, caffeinated, forgetting to pray in the midst of all the chaos.
Late that night, Knute and I whispered about life and our the kiddos.
He told me that our oldest had spent the day tending our youngest, despite how poorly she herself felt.
I asked him if he had heard our older son talk at dinner about his reconciliation at school that day, about how he was scared but then he felt better.
He told me how while I was gone at Girl Scouts with our oldest, The Grinch had come on TV. The boys had leaped up at the point in the tale when Christmas came, it came just the same, both shouting over each other that of course it comes without presents because Jesus comes.
Something Bigger happened on Tuesday, something bigger than sickness and errands To Do lists and forgotten lights and still unmade Advent paper chains.
I saw the spirit of Advent in the caretaking of our oldest child.
And in the relief at repenting by our middle one.
And in the echoing of the Grinch by both boys as they heralded the coming of Christ.
When I prayed at Rosary on Monday, I prayed for help to truly live in the season. To feel the joy and excitement.
For help to see Christmas through the eyes of my children once again.
To see Something Bigger.
So how wonderful, how humbling, it was to have that prayer answered by the spirit of Advent shining through my own perfectly imperfect children.