Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Life

I have about a zillion pictures that I took this year that most likely will go un-posted for some time. Or, until that time when I have nothing else to do and then I might pull out the pictures when everyone else is putting up green for St. Patricks and I will reflect back on this Christmas Season.
This Christmas Season has given me time to Reflect.
To Listen.
To Be Quiet.
To Cry and To Laugh all in the same moment.
To Remember.
It has been a deeper Christmas.
One surrounded by both Sorrow and Joy.
One filled with emotions of Grief, Anger, Relief, and Praise.
It's been a Christmas that has reminded me that the first Christmas was a messy one.

Luke's grandma became seriously ill just a few days before Christmas.
She fought for life until His birthday.
Christmas morning, while I was singing Carols back at home in the church that I had grown up in, she drew her last ragged breath and flew home to be with Jesus.
There's nothing quite like holding your sobbing 7 and 9 year old listening to them ask why Grandma has to die on Christmas.
There's nothing like being give the privilege of a in-your-face explanation for the birth of Jesus and being able to explain it to your tearful children.

The Pastor that morning spoke of death. Death is a part of the Christmas Story. I thought it a little odd that he was preaching on the "dark side" of Christmas. The slaughter of the innocent babies in Bethlehem. The cruelty and in-humanness of King Herod. The violent world that God chose to send His only Son into as a completely helpless baby to be cared for my a couple of homeless teenagers. Why?

To free us from Death. To deliver us. Christmas is about deliverance from death. Deliverance from the pain of this world that we can know the hope of life.

We arrived home from a beautiful service to the phone call of her passing. The Pastor's message was even more meaningful.

Christmas was one of Grandma's favorite times of year. Christmas was when we lost Grandpa just a couple of years ago. Christmas Day was a good day for her to go home to be with the Child-Grown-into-Man-who-came-to-Save-us. Christmas is the day her body was freed from her dementia and inability to form a complete sentance. Christmas Day is the day she was set free.

I sit here. All the activities and plans of our Christmas were either re-arranged, thrown out the window, or are on hold. The memories I so often try to create for my children don't seem to matter as much. The cookies, the presents, the advent calendar I have intentions to do but have failed to do all year but one, the caroling, the pageants and the plays.

Christmas comes into focus when the reason for His entering into our world is to save us from death.
Christmas Sings Life.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Traditions

I love this time of year.
All the little things that make up our family's Christmas traditions are added up together until my cup overflows with the love of it all.
It's that moment when you stop and look at a stack of boxes on the counter and get all tingly inside because it signals what is ahead if I so chose to over-look the business of it all and focus on the meaning of why we celebrate Christmas.
Christ's birth.

How in the world did these 3 boxes remind me of Christmas?
They have nothing inside of them that speak of the 3 wise men. They were honestly filled with a couple of books, some sow suits and something else that I can't even remember. But somehow, the gifts, still yet to be wrapped in Christmas finery, standing next to my little cupcake stand filled with votive candles and glittery balls whispered "it's coming" into my ear and that little thrill of anticipation I get coursed through me.
It's time for the gifts to be added together and build up to the culmination of remembering Christ's Birth.
It's the good stuff.
The stuff that says life is Holy if you chose to see:
Baking cookies with my children:
Good Lookin' and I had made up dough enough to made 14 dozen cookies one afternoon while the baby took an incredibly rare afternoon nap all at the same time. It was our sweet afternoon together.
Two days later, we rolled it all out and spent an entire day cutting, slicing, re-rolling and baking all 14 dozen cookies.

Almost-tween hands next to rapidly disappearing baby pudge.
My babies are rapidly growing up before my eyes.

Sweet happy spirals of Christmas cheer.
Never mind that a certain pre-schooler thought it just as fun to throw sprinkles in the air and watch the "color rain!"

Gifts of Good Cheer

Ice skating together as a family

This is a new tradition that we started a year ago thanks to the college student that lived with us for a time.
Some of us were not so enthusiastic about the feeling of heavy skates on our feet:

Others of us sobbed for the first 30 minutes terrified that we were going to fall.
(Not Luke) He knew he would fall and that is part of skating and part of life.
It's the getting back up and on your feet and skating on that matters.

Watching and pouting from the side-lines is not nearly as fun as gliding on ice.
He figured out it truly was fun about 10 minutes before closing time. ; )
Some of us have waited so long that it doesn't matter that the old skates don't fit and that our legs threaten to fail us. We are determined to enjoy the day because, by golly, we've waited a whole year for this!
And although we aren't fabulous, we can certainly pick back up where we left off the year before.
And then there are those of us who are there to make a new friend wherever we go because life is just that much sweeter when you have someone to share the fun with and to encourage...even if you may never see them again.
It's that eureka moment when you realize that even if you do fall and the ice is hard, you can always get up again, and glide on with the aid of a helping hand and it is all about being together and cheering on another on and that is fun!

Watch out mom. We are all standing on our own!

They are all happily chewing on their Christmas bones that the kids begged to give them early.

Gazing into the valley at the milk cows below.

"DOWN THERE is where you miwk comes fwrom!" I overheard Nater Mater tell his little friend.
"Uh-huh" was the (I already knew that) smug reply.
They are so certain of their little worlds. ; )

Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas Season and Christmas Programs

The Season of Christmas has begun.
It began about 3 weeks ago at our house with the first of 3 Christmas Programs of our kids that we attended this year.
Every year for the last 15 or so years the 2nd grade music teacher has led 300+ kids in a delightfully cute, funny, tear-inducing (for the those proud parents), crazy program at the local University.
I remember watching as a college student and loving those cute little nose picking, crotch-shrugging, loud-sing, laughing (some pouting), wiggly little 2nd graders sing their sweet little hearts out to an adoring college crowd. We college students love it. It made us long for home and little kids, and family and all things not dorm-life-or cafeteria food-like. It made me remember that sweet childhood that was so long ago and yet just yesterday.
Then last year Precious Jewel hit 2nd grade and she was one of those cute little kids singing her sweet and nervous little heart out to the college crowd.

This year, it was Mr. Smiles turn.

He had been chosen for a quartet singing Silent Night and was ecstatic. Precious Jewel had the same part last year and he was excited to follow in her footsteps.

Have you ever seen 300 little 2nd graders all crammed onto one stage?

CRAZY and so dang cute!

His music teacher is BRAVE!

They all sang for the 10:30am Chapel Service and then we went again that night to watch them all sing again for the families.

Nater Mater was NOT duly impressed. He found it much more entertaining to crawl under the pews and grab the unsuspecting victims ankles in front of him much to my horror and embarrassment.

Mr. Smiles has a sweet bell-like voice that rang out when singing Silent Night and he took his part very seriously.

So seriously, that before the morning's performance when they had all the kids practicing BEFORE chapel and no one was there, he nearly dissolved into tears.

When Luke was able to catch him on his way to a bathroom break before all the college students started flooding the chapel, he asked him why he had such a long face and was refusing to smile when his music teacher kept asking them all to smile.

He, near tears and angry, replied that everyone had missed it all and he'd sung to a bunch of empty seats. They'd been working for months and no one saw him!!

We assured him that what he's just done was dress rehearsal and that the REAL program would start in just a matter of minutes.

Shining eyes and smile returned!!

Some of us didn't make it all the way through two performances that day.

Two weeks later: We had our little church program that a mom helps direct every year.

Every year, there are more and more kids and I have to say toddlers are stinkin' adorable.

The 3 tots in front happily sang along and performed all the hand actions during practice that morning before people arrived. Later, not so much.

Mr. Smiles and his little friend, who is also in 2nd grade, sang their Silent Night solo in front of the whole church...giggles and all.

I had to say that I got choked up. Good Lookin' happily participated this year.

He Happily Participated for the first time at the age of 5 1/2. Every year before that has usually been preceded by a Fit. Refusal. Tears. Stomping of Feet and general holiday angst. No cute singing and I've learned it's best not to push the issue and he sits on the front row with me while I've helped encourage the others.

This year though, he wanted to be by the side of his sweet little friend whom he has declared he will marry when he grows up. Sigh a happy mother's heart...not because he performed, but because he was so cute and I finally got a picture.

"Rock baby Jesus SWEETLY" they were all instructed. Hehe

Now during the actual performance for the parents, Nater Mater and his little friend thought it would be more fun to entertain the crowd than perform for them. Jumping on and off and eventually log-style rolling down the steps was much more fun than rocking baby Jesus softly. Ahhh, once again, boys have a way of keeping a prideful mother humble.

That night: Christmas Program Number 3

Precious Jewel has joined a Children's Choir this fall instead of another year of AWANA.

The girl likes to sing and we thought it best to get stuck in her mind some of these powerfully-packed and Message-filled songs instead of Lady Gaga or Miley Cyres that she often hears via friends. Many of the songs are filled with Scripture and while there is nothing wrong with many many secular songs, at this stage in her life we want to help fill her mind with ones that will speak to her heart. We're in a heart battle with her right now and she may not realize it, but these catchy tunes she has practiced week in and week out are far more fruit-producing and heart-softening than any talk we could have with her about music, books or movies that her friends and her giggle about.
She also was chosen for a solo for a beautiful song I'd never heard before.

And once again, another program attendee has bit the sleepy dust.

Merry Christmas everyone!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thankfulness begins with Looking

"The practice of giving thanks...eucharisteo...this is the way we practice the presence of God, stay present to His presence, and it is always a practice of the eyes. We don't have to change what we see. Only the way we see." --Ann Voskamp

I Need to see beauty every day.
I need
to be fed by His Word every day or I will starve.
This is My daily manna.
We can't keep it still good from yesterday.
We need it fresh new.

I see Jesus in my children's faces.
Behold: His glory in each of their creations.

My curse? My poison?
Wanting to control what I cannot.
So I pursue harder, faster, but it eludes me.
Running, laughing and mocking just in front of me and I can never grasp it.
This may be a relationship with friends. This may be a relationship with my child. This may be a relationship with my husband. This may be material.
The poison of discontent spreads further and the depression deepens.

The remedy?
"How we
behold determines if we hold joy.
Behold Glory and be held by God.
How we look determines how we live...if we live."

"Faith is the gaze of the soul."

"Looking comes first."--C.S Lewis
What are my inner eyes seeing?
Beholding: children searching for the last colored leaves in the grass.

"How my eyes see, perspective, is my key to enter into His gates.
I can only do so with Thanksgiving.
If my inner eyes has God seeping up through all things, then can't I give thanks for anything?"
Even strife? Conflict? Anger at a perceived injustice?

In order for me to help my children see, I must be able to show them How to see by learning this eucharisteo myself.
How do I walk a daily thankfulness myself?

Behold: Grandparents who love their grandchildren.

Behold: Hayrides on Thanksgiving Day

Behold: Cousins who live close and who love each other.
"If we don't intentionally commit to the hard practice of seeing, don't we die in barren wilderness? Anger, frustration, emptiness?"

The raw inner life of mine cuts like sharp hay poking through clothes designed to cover, protect.
Do I let worry, stress steal the joy from my life?
Do I let thanklessness and refusing to do the hard act of looking, steal the Joy He has purposed for my life?
Or, do I let the WORD; the Daily Manna clothe my heart and point me to Him.
"Give Thanks" He whispers.
"Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; Trust also in me" (Jn. 14:1)

Behold: the magic of sun rays on a cool Thanksgiving afternoon.