It’s Christmas!

And are we really here? The day before the day, the day of anticipation that only escalates even in our sleep tonight? The day of last preparations — Mama watching for UPS anxiously, cookie plate assembled for tonight’s little family party, clothes ironed and matching ties and bows all at the ready, special foods planned and partly assembled. A last vacuum, candle stick filling, kitchen tidying. A last day to get ready, but really, whatever does or doesn’t happen, who cares? Tonight the cork will pop — the waiting and whispering and wrapping with its pressure of expectancy will burst into celebration!

I am determined to just ride this wave and stay in the moment — to not mourn the passing of another December, the last year my children were 13 and under, the year I failed in this way or that. No, today is a gift to open and enjoy, to trust in the faithfulness of God to continue to give the gifts of new mercies wrapped in new days.

And what a pile of those gifts were mine to open this year! Days full of newborns and nieces, Dickens and ringlets, family and parties and cookies and Christmas music in the early mornings. A beautiful little tree with pretty packages tucked beneath, but most of all the clear reminder that Christmas isn’t about looking back to a point in time, but a time for looking ahead to a Second Coming — one when the fullness of Joy to the World breaks forth and all eyes behold the glory of our King. This, this is why we celebrate so big. It’s an expectation and anticipation that finds shape in December, but oh, that it would shape my every day in a deeper way. Time to make ready. The Lord is come!

H O M E

I’m home! Our tree is decorated! There are cookies in the tins, awaiting frosting and sprinkles! The washing machine is running and my suitcase is empty and Instacart filled our bare cupboards!

My four oldest were a smashing success in their opening night of A Christmas Carol. Yet again, a wonderful experience for them, surrounded by encouraging peers and kind adults and fabulous talent (which they think is completely normal and perhaps will be quite surprised to grow up and find that not every rural population can orchestrate and direct and choreograph and set design and costume and then sing, act, and dance the way this population can!) This has been their December thus far, and I’m so glad to be here to see the final product. Truly wonderful. William’s touching five minutes of Young Scrooge brought me to tears. You should go see it if you can.

And my December thus far wrapped up with a plane trip home for my two littles and me. After eleven days with my sister’s family, it was time to return — and I’m so glad to be back at the helm of my little ship, but if only Virginia were not so far away. Being with Carina was every kind of special. Even without a brand new baby whose arrival I witnessed (miracle upon miracle, ever time!), a whole week and a half to just be with their family, helping and loving and watching and laughing and getting to know those little personalities (or rather, big personalities in small bodies!) better than ever — what a privilege and gift.

I’m so blessed to have sisters who are closest friends. We don’t just share mutual memories — we share each day going forward and are eager to be a part of helping and encouraging the future we’re walking out in the Lord.

I’m also so very blessed to have four oldest children who gladly gave up their mama for eleven days (because they truly love Ricky and Carina as much as I do) and who were nothing but cheerful, friendly, responsible, and capable the entire time I was gone. Ryan kept praising them to me, and whenever I was able to FaceTime them, I could instantly sense their joyful camaraderie. My time away was so sweet because I never for a moment was concerned about the ones back home.

Ryan sent me a video — and this is just a screenshot, obviously, but before I could even be impressed by Fiona’s excellent reading, I was overwhelmed by the way Jameson served breakfast each day just because he honors me: candles lit, scrambled eggs in covered casserole dish, Christmas dishes used.

Or this photo that almost made me cry — evidence of big brothers playing happily with little sisters, making their dreams come true:

Several years ago, after thousands of days of investing in young children, I suddenly felt that glimpse of where we were heading: to a place where we would be able to give and reach beyond our little family circle because my children had been invested in and taught and were ready to bear weight as we opened our arms to the world around us. And I saw that this month — my children making it possible for me to go and bless. Very amazing.

So I’m logging these memories, knowing that I am about to be whisked into the beautiful busyness of Christmas celebrations, not the least of which includes Victorian ringlets and vitamin C by the boatload for my young thespians. Happy Friday everyone!

family memories

Where do I start? After spending November waking up in the middle of the night with my mind full of details and planning and excitement, my alarm went off at 4am on November 20th, and we were off! Ten days all together, driving 2,700 miles to visit family in Virginia and Florida, with swimsuits and Christmas presents and coloring books and snacks all packed into our van.

And now it’s all but over. Another memory to recall.

Long 13 and 15 hour drives with kids who never once complained. Except for Cecily, who took awhile to understand that we were actually going to be in the van all day, they never even asked the whiny, “How much longer??” The van would look like a bomb went off, pencils and books and stray fruit snacks everywhere, and the boys would cheerfully tidy it up the next day, getting us ready for the next leg of the journey. We cheered every time we crossed a state border, and noticed the changes in trees and landscapes along the way. McDonalds breakfasts at 8 were our ritual. Hours and hours of audio books, music, and just silently watching cars go by. All with my favorite people.

Virginia time with Carina and her family — where we got to celebrate a birthday, visit their new church, tour a battlefield and a plantation, and I enjoyed morning walks in sneakers instead of winter boots.

Florida was a birthday party for my mother in law, Thanksgiving with a full table of food and family, pool time and Turkey trots, and putting up the Christmas tree all together. It was so special.

Then back to Virginia, to be with a sister who was already in the early part of labor when I arrived. A quick goodbye to Ryan and the four oldest kids, and now I’m settled in here for a few more days, sharing early mornings with nieces, making food and running laundry, going on outings, and getting to dote on the tiniest and sweetest new baby.

My heart is full and thankful.

*****

wholecloth faith

Many years ago, when I was a brand new mother with my first brand new baby, I stumbled upon a private little blog by Ann Voskamp, a name every one now knows, of course — but back then, she was just a deep-thinking mother, working to express the things God was speaking to her as she lived her life surrounded by young children. Many word-pictures of hers stuck with me, but one has come to mind several times this week: that of a wholecloth life, rather than the crazy quilt we tend towards. (Go ahead and read that link. You’ll be encouraged!)

I’m thinking about it again because I am challenged by the story of Corrie ten Boom, which I am reading again but this time out loud to my children. I suppose every rereading of such a story reveals different layers of faith and conviction, but the common thread I am astonished by this time is their holistic faith — a faith lived simply unto God, that was unknowingly preparing them to serve in astonishing circumstances.

I am inspired by the stories of those who have left the comforts of their homes to embrace the challenge of bringing Jesus to a difficult place. But lately I am even more challenged to read of normal everyday believers whose world was turned upside down — and the quiet faith they had diligently lived was all the preparation they needed to become beacons of light.

In this story, for example, a quiet family who has always loved people, always preferred others, and always clung to God’s standards is set up to go from a (some would say) hum-drum existence to that of high-intensity clandestine activity.

It makes me stop and ask myself: what are my actions today preparing me for? Am I living a consistent life of discipleship now? Am I serving, preferring, standing firm, dealing with fear correctly? Am I loving God above all else, and loving my neighbor as myself? A life of relative ease leaves so much room for passivity and apathy, allows self-deception and the segregation of the chambers of one’s soul.

Heroes of the faith didn’t go to Hero School. They simply lived their whole lives in the fear of God and were ready when He whispered the smallest request to follow Him, whether it would be seen or unseen.

I want a whole cloth life, not a crazy quilt of selfish ambition and worldly attachments with a bit of “holy” threaded here and there. I want a consistent thread of obedient faith to be woven throughout every moment of my day, prepared for whatever may come, ready to stand with joy before the Faithful Judge who has seen every thought and intent of my heart.

One last nod to October

Oh, October, I shall miss you.

Pause for a moment: October brings William’s birthday, and he was so blessed this year with a day of sunshine and mild temperatures — just perfect for his one birthday wish: hours of football. Pizza and cake and gifts, too, but most of all just football. I was so very happy to see him playing his heart out, happy to see him happy. William is so steady, so principled. Rigid, except that he’s letting the Lord help him to grow in compassion and understanding. He twinkles and dimples when he smiles. He is gentle with his sisters. He is driven and self-disciplined and learning to process grace and gentleness towards himself. He’s a leader — and a good one, as one of his friends pointed out.

We love him.

Back to October:

October days

Have you ever looked at photos of truly amazingly beautiful places in the world and thought, “I can’t believe people just live there! Wake up every morning and do life in that stunning place. What is that even like??”

In October, I feel like I am that person.

You can’t believe that I live here, that I just drive around doing errands, folding laundry, checking the mail, and THIS is all around me. Just casually being more stunning than anyone can even absorb.

I know that this little rural pocket has never made it onto any global tourist brochures, but that just makes it more amazing to me: that this little canvas, painted every single season with absolute brilliance, is an every day sort of painting for the Great Designer. He just does this because why wouldn’t He?

That makes me smile as I think about the deep clean I did of my closet yesterday. Probably no one, not even Ryan, will even notice or care that there isn’t dust on the baseboard no one can ever see anyway, but that’s okay. I bet the sun glances off of scarlet leaves in a wood no one ever visits, and it’s not wasted effort or beauty. It’s consistency and character we can count on — and I want to mirror that the best I can.

*****

Two weeks or so of October, and we’ve filled it to the brim with living. A trip to Burlington to celebrate Jameson’s 13th birthday, the start of Friday Enrichment Program for the kids and me, apples arriving by the bushels to be processed and baked and just plain old eaten at a startling pace, up to our eyeballs already with learning and reaching our first milestone with a special “German Day,” an overnight with friends, ballet and Lego League and learning to read, and packing up for another special outing to see my grandparents.

Finding rhythms that serve us where we’re at (finding rhythm is different that forcing rhythm, which is what I naturally tend to do, as I assume my rhythm is the right one.) Shifting things around, being flexible, helping the kids to learn to do the same. Coming face to face afresh with my weakness and old sin patterns of frustration and impatience and lack of grace when the noise and activity overwhelms me, revisiting the truths God has shown me many times over.

*****

Time to wrap up those pies and hit the road. More October days to live!