I hate the week before Christmas.

The stores are a zoo. The streets are a quagmire of traffic. You can’t even buy a carton of eggs at Publix without having to stand line for thirty minutes. I kick myself AGAIN for not getting my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving. To make matters worse, people I call my friends are giving me boxes of candy and cookies to sabotage my self-control.

I might actually have some Christmas spirit if I knew I wouldn’t have to be up until 3am Christmas Eve still wrapping presents. Especially when I know my kids are going to wrestling me out of bed at 6am on Christmas morning just to watch them shred all the work I did only hours before.

Wow, I really sounded like Mrs. Scrooge there for a second.

Yes, the holidays can be…challenging. Parties, school recitals, family visits, the kids on break from school for two LOONGGG weeks, and the regular visitation of the common cold, all contribute to the Christmas Chaos that can be December.

One of my biggest challenges is finding new hiding places in my house to store my kids Christmas gifts before or after they’ve been wrapped. I made the mistake last year of putting a few wrapped presents under the tree from “Santa” before Christmas Eve and had to do some quick thinking to explain it to my five- and seven-year-old daughters.

A smart parent though learns to have EVERYTHING ready for the kids to play BEFORE Christmas morning. Batteries are installed, bikes are assembled, and all those infuriating wire twist-ties and reams of packing tape are removed to let the toys pop right out of their plastic cases like Mexican Jumping Beans.

When you’re kids hit the age of acquiring serious electronics for Christmas gifts though, being prepared for THE morning is akin to planning for a presidential visit. What parent wants to have their kid hanging over their shoulder Christmas morning going, “Are you done yet? When’s it going to be ready? This is taking forever!” I’m sure even Mother Theresa–had she born children–couldn’t prevent the ghost of Momma Scrooge from possessing her body and soul then.

This year we got my oldest daughter an Ipod Shuffle (at $55 from Walmart, they’re a steal compared to most other electronics up for grabs this holiday). And like a smart parent, I’m getting prepared–I updated the Itunes software of my daughters’ computer (version 9.02.03 to the 10th power), completed the product registration and activation (no, you can’t give away my email address to your partner companies who want to spam me to death with Viagra), and got her favorite music downloaded and her playlists all ready (how many times do I have to listen to the Chipmunks soundtrack?).

And while my kids slept and dreamed of sugar cookies rather than sugarplums, and I was up waiting for the eternal download of the Itunes update, I started thinking–does God prepare this far ahead for us when he’s planning on giving us special things? What is he doing while we’re sleeping, or working, or doing the laundry to give us the desires of our heart? Or better, to give us the things we were never expecting.

For the things that we never would have dreamed up, those are really the best gifts of all–a job that not only pays more than the one we lost, but offers better benefits and hours. A neighbor offering to help fix our car when the local garage said they’d do it for the cost of our monthly mortgage or rent. An estranged friend or loved one coming to terms with their past and seeking us out to say “I’m sorry.” Our teen child choosing to spend time with us rather than their friends. A friend cooking and dropping off dinner for our family “just because”. A sister or brother offering to watch our kids so we can have a real, live date with our spouse.

I think God does scheme and plan our “Christmas gifts” way far in advance because he too likes seeing the joy we get from them. As a good parent, he has the insight to see just when we’re going to need something that we never anticipated or fathomed might be necessary. And voila, there it is, wrapped up with a bright red bow.

This week as you’re planning to make your kids’ Christmas day special, think about everyday that God has made yours. As you’re wrapping your kids’ presents, think about the perfect way God has offered his gifts to you. When you’re watching the wonder and joy in your children’s eyes as they rip back the colorful paper, think about God’s loving gaze on you. And when your little ones throw their arms around you in gratitude for something that, in the grand scheme of things, is really so very small, open your arms to your Father for the huge gifts that he has given you every single day of your life.

Merry Christmas!