Christmas with young kids seems to be both wondrous and insane. To their credit, the unadulterated joy of my kids seems to leave everything frosted with glitter, with magic waiting to pop out from every gaudy light display (“Look: a ten-foot inflatable reindeer, kids!”), or with promising-looking packages, like a cup of cocoa overstuffed with marshmallows. Their slack-jawed amazement lifts my eyes from the character-building traffic and checkout lines to the sparkle of Christmas. It’s a little precursor, I think, to what heaven will be like: one extended, breathtaking “Wow!”

And still, Christmas with kids adds the star on top of our already-bulging schedules. Not only do we stack on the Christmas cards, emailed gift lists, and trips to the post office that everyone else does. Let’s sit through a bunch of kids we don’t know singing carols in an overheated auditorium to see the kids we do know, waving back in hopes that our daughter keeps her dress down and our son isn’t the one picking his nose. We’ll try to travel without pulling over toward the end of the month, create some chilly memories when we hit the downtown parade, and craft something together that’s homemade and still cute for the teachers and doesn’t make us want to throw a utensil through the nearest tinsel-garnished window. Don’t forget to hang the ornaments up high enough that the toddler doesn’t yank them off and/or choke. And I’m guessing you still have normal little obstacles like mine — walking into the bathroom, for instance, and finding your youngest stirring the Vaseline with his brother’s toothbrush. Not that anybody’s kid would ever do that.

Last night in my pajamas, I shuffled downstairs in the half-light with four wrapped boxes stacked up to my chin and gingerly bent to arrange them beneath the tree. (My goal this year was to finish as much before December as I could so that during Christmas, I could actually enjoy it.) As I straightened, I looked at the lights and ornaments I love — each one with its own story, a collective, motley path through our family’s life — and renewed my determination to observe Christmas truly this year … and not just for my kids.

This year, my question-filled preschoolers are asking things like, “Why do we decorate a tree?” As usual, the answer was good for me to think about, too, because it’s not just to celebrate Christmas, I realized. We decorate, sing, and give to help us remember: to point us to Christmas … to Christ.

And “us” includes me.

Sometimes I get to Christmas — any holiday, really — and I realize that I’ve fully invested myself in making memories with my kids, teaching them the lessons to be gleaned from the holiday, and creating a “prepared place” for my family to thrive with sweet times together. But inside, I feel hollow, somehow like the holiday has run past me. Or over me.

The Christmas season as it stands isn’t great for moms to meditate on the real miracle of “God with us.” It’s far easier to be the “Martha” focused on loving everyone well at Christmas — the pitch-perfect gifts; the awe-filled memories;  the scented, warm atmosphere; the sentimental foods and story times — and completely miss the beauty of being a “Mary” who focuses on the One Thing that is important.

So I decided to carve out some time tonight to start out the season truly prepared, not because the Christmas photos are ordered, my Amazon order is on its way, and the stockings are hung by the chimney with care. This year, I want to start Christmas in my heart before everything else snowballs.

As a mom, I started rereading the accounts of Elizabeth and Mary, the mothers of the Christmas story. It amazes me that every year, their story still unwraps truth for me. After all, even Mary, with an out-of-wedlock pregnancy before her, chose to laser-focus her eyes on God — for His honor — rather than her circumstances.

I get that as a mom, it’s important for me to set the tone in my home at Christmas that way — and even to structure my family’s schedule with that solidly on the brain. But even apart from leading my kids, I’m realizing it’s important for me to worship God for what He did in this season. Like Mary in her heart, she treasured the things she saw.

Even if her son happened to get into a little Vaseline.