Christmas memories, 2020

A post of photos, so I can remember the year when three children sang like angels and siblings burst with joy over gifts exchanged and Percival matched his brothers and Ryan actually had no idea what I bought for him (!!) and the beef was a fiasco and we stayed in slow-mo for days afterward playing games and wearing nightgowns and good heavens, we all needed a solid nap.

the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.

joy for a weary world

“A weary world rejoices.”

Doesn’t that sum up what you’re seeing this year? Strings of lights in mid-November, trees up a good week before usual, the population in general chomping at the bit to sing Jingle Bells and spread Christmas cheer — the feeling of “we need a little Christmas right this very minute” has never been so widely shared.

And maybe this is good for us. Maybe it is right to occasionally remember that the Light came into vast and utter darkness. Joy erupted from a place of total despair. A savior was born because we actually needed to be saved. Not helped. Saved.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn”

We have strung lights, too, and our tree beckons spontaneous morning and evening family gatherings. Favorite songs play while the girls color yet another Christmas coloring page. The fragrance of butter and sugar and nutmeg and rum fills the air. We are celebrating, but the best part is that we’re not celebrating the lights or the tree or the music and cookies. Those are the tools we use, but the object of our joy is so much less fleeting and circumstantial.

We sense hope, but it’s not just because we think a new calendar will magically usher in a better year. Fast-tracked vaccinations aren’t filling my soul with peace. Actually, there’s not a whole lot of joy, hope, or peace to be grasped — until you stop fumbling in the dark for something that doesn’t exist and start looking toward the horizon for the glorious morn promised by a Morning Star so many hundreds of years ago.

A thrill of hope, my weary soul rejoices, and more than ever, it’s not just because the sounds of the King’s College choir are magical (though they are).

We are a weary world, and if the tree and lights and Hallmark movies aren’t doing it for you this time around, may I suggest a better hope, a more lasting peace? May I remind us that the angels came to announce a Savior, and He is near, ready to save.

a culture of celebration

One of the words that Ryan recently used to describe our home culture was celebration. He laughed a bit and looked pointedly at my mom, who can turn anything into a celebration. (I will never forget, when I was around 5 years old, one particular “bedroom blitz” when, at the end of our 15 minutes, we were rewarded with ice cream served in little dishes right at our play kitchen table. I felt very celebrated!)

A culture of celebration is different than just throwing parties because parties are fun. Celebrating requires an object of celebration, and it confers value upon that object — whether it be the value of a person on their birthday, the completion of 13 years of school, or 15 minutes of hard and productive work.

Celebration is part of our home culture, but not just because I love to make my life complicated. Ha! No, celebration is a culture we learn from observing the Heavenly Kingdom. Reading the Old Testament makes clear that God understands the connection between celebration and value. Studying the glimpses we have of heaven reveals that celebration will go on forever!

And so we celebrate as a way to, with time and energy and creativity, point out what’s important.

Celebrations can be ever so simple. They need not require much money. But all celebrations require a bit of sacrifice, because that time and energy and creativity has to come from somewhere, and chances are, you don’t have any of those things lying around in excess. There are some seasons when I have had more of those things to give than others. New babies, fledgling businesses, and sickness all come to mind. There have been times when the weight of life — incredible grief and heaviness of soul — have tempted me to skip the traditions of rejoicing. But those are the times when a culture of celebration bolsters. Celebrating isn’t just having a party; it’s reminding others as well as our own souls of what matters most. (Does grief matter most? Disappointment?) The celebration might be smaller when life is demanding, more creative when managed by a mother in bed with illness or a baby, but it can still exist. It might take unusual twists and turns when we’re, say, sheltering in place, but sometimes those become our most memorable celebrations! No matter the method, our souls need to remember what we’re valuing.

So this week we’ve been celebrating (because really, all the preparations for the celebration are part of it!) We’ve paused the usual school routines and made room for sending cards, making foods, prepping clothes, and special moments as a family. More than any other celebration, this week deserves every communication we can offer of its worth. Jesus, crucified, resurrected, and forever victorious. The Holy Spirit, poured out on us. The Father, inviting us into His presence with arms wide open. This is everything, and so we celebrate.

packing it away

Today we’ll bring up empty bins and fill them with the makings of Christmas. We will dust and tidy and put chairs back in place, and we’ll sigh and say it looks so empty. It will be empty. There is no time of year quite so full in our home as Christmas — boughs everywhere, winter scenes lit by fairy lights, candles in every corner, too many books for our basket. It’s wonderful.

And this year wasn’t all the things we’ve often done, as William pointed out last night. He loves nothing more than a tin of cookies, a Christmas book, and an evening of sitting by the tree. But even with a few twists and turns this year, we celebrated and made a big deal of Jesus’ gift.

A gift we experience and walk in every single day. Emmanuel.