Category Archives: holidays

It’s a wonderful life (and a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day)

The day started with a white shirt.  The younger boys poured bowls of frozen blueberries after breakfast.  It went downhill from there.

Some days I just feel fallible.  The bags under my eyes are heavy with my own insufficiency.  It’s true especially in December.

The Christmas season is in full swing.  Lights, evergreens, cookies, gifts, peppermint, snow, parties, sleighs and tradition.

But traditionally, this season slays me.  My husband disappears into the retail world from the first of November until late on December 24th.  He’s busy running a store, helping people spend their money.  Paradoxically, we tighten our belts and hunker down until the commercialism storm peters out.  It will.  I wish I could hibernate like a pregnant bear until then.

After blueberries, I headed out to the store, promising not to spend any money but also buy enough to feed my small army for a week.  The car’s heater chose this morning to stop working. ( It wasn’t so bad when its air conditioner died this summer – the truly hot season only lasts a few weeks – but in New England, heat matters).  We watched our breath freeze in clouds as we hurried there and back before my husband had to run out the door for a long day of work.

Still stained with the blueberries, the younger boys clambered down the basement stairs to ride tricycles.  I turned my attention to fractions, suffixes and prefixes with the homeschooling crowd, paying little attention to the reassuring sounds of wheels spinning below us.  About half an hour passed before the wheel spinners emerged gleefully at the top of the stairway.  They were both covered, head to toe, ears, hair, and pockets, with little Styrofoam packing balls (smaller and far more diabolical than the classic peanut).  A box containing the offensive static balls (ironically, from last Christmas) had been discovered and pried into.

It looked like a tornado had snowed in the basement.  (I didn’t know that was possible till today).  Grimly, I pulled out grandma’s trusty old Electrolux and started vacuuming.  First I vacuumed the offenders, who squealed with the delight that wanton destruction can cause a young male.  I scooted the machine across the immediate floor (I think vacuuming a bit of the pet lizard’s food, which happened to be a live cricket.  Sorry not sorry).  Then I headed down the stairs, muttering darkly about static cling.  I spent an hour cleaning, until the trusty old vacuum finally died.  Can I admit I cried over a machine?  My life without a good vacuum will get ugly fast.  “God, what are you doing?!?”  I moaned.

As I finished sweeping what the vacuum had missed, my husband called.  We discussed the bleak prospects of paying two mortgages before Christmas, as well as all the other bills. He mentioned increasing pains in part of his body.  I hope it’s just stress.  I didn’t mention the dead vacuum.

A mom posted a warning that some friends had discovered lice.  Great.  I panicked at the thought of what that would mean for laundry.  And prayed for my washer as I went to check heads.

I emerged dusty from the basement and looked at the clock.  It was half an hour later than I had thought, and supper wasn’t started.  We were planning to watch some of the boys’ friends in a Christmas play in an hour.  Breakfast dishes still filled the sink – under the lunch dishes.  We’d have time for spaghetti if I was quick.  I started filling a pot with water when there was a knock on the door.  Four extra boys suddenly appeared.  Oh.  I added more water.

Nerf bullets whizzed past my head as I browned ground beef and dumped on pasta sauce.  “Find socks!” I hollered.  “Get deodorant!”  The boys shoveled in noodles; I cleared the table.  We’d have to track down all the smashed pasta under the chairs later.  I did manage to change my shirt, pulling a fresh one over my expanding belly and hoping there weren’t any blueberry stains on my pants in places I couldn’t see below my stomach.  My kids were in sweatpants and still bore traces of spaghetti sauce on their faces.  I realized, with a wave of stark understanding, that I looked like “that mom” at whom I’d always tipped up my nose at Walmart.  And I was taking us shamelessly out in public!  We piled into the Yukon like the ragtag bunch we were; maybe I could pretend I didn’t know the 10 bedraggled boys trailing behind me.

We survived the play, though I spent most of it hissing “Stop climbing on the wheelchair!  Turn off the flashlight!  There are no cupcakes in my purse, stop looking for one.  Put the pocketknife away.  You just went to the bathroom!  You can’t boo at the 6 year olds on stage!”  I was glad to finally make it home.

The starving children rummaged for snacks as I collected pajamas.  They made it to bed amidst threats they’d better stay there.  I went downstairs and wiped applesauce off every. vertical. surface. in the kitchen.  It was homemade applesauce, fresh from grandma’s kitchen to ours.  Apparently for our kitchen rather than for our mouths.  With some Styrofoam balls mixed in.  I scrubbed halfheartedly.  It was late when my husband stumbled in.  We fell into bed exhausted and sore.

And so another wondrous day of Advent passed.

I commiserate with Mary.  Did she feel similar that first Christmas?  She didn’t decorate for the holidays; she had no time for craft fairs or parties.  She inventoried their meager provisions and wondered how they’d manage.  There’s no mention of a donkey in the Bible; did she have to waddle on swollen feet all the way to Bethlehem?  Her heater and air conditioner weren’t working either.  It was dirty in the stable; she had no vacuum, no way fight lice if she found them, no deodorant to mask the smell of stress and animal energy.  No money for take out.  Her husband stressed over lost work time and travel expenses; she saw the worry on his forehead and felt powerless to ease the burden.  She was pregnant; a new baby added to the concern.  It was a dark, lonely season.

I know I’m not the only one who has ever come into Christmas time with a sense of foreboding.  I’m not alone trying to stretch the almighty dollar, or watching my husband’s shoulders bow under humbling burdens.  But I know something else.

There’s a Baby coming.

I’m reminded by the kicks and hiccups in my own growing belly.  There’s a little mewling infant.  Insignificant, helpless, antithetical to the commercial world, the impending birth of a child means little to the rushing, shopping, card-perfect scenes of the season.  A Child was born two thousand years ago was noticed by only a handful of shepherds, an old man and woman in the temple, and a few foreigners a thousand miles away.

But that little Baby  changed everything.

Because He wasn’t just a new Baby.  He was a new kind of God.

The world was used to fierce, proud, vindictive and condemning gods and kings.  They only knew mythological, emotionally fickle Greek deities.  They knew merciless Roman dictators.  They knew conniving, immoral kings who demanded worship.  They knew gods who demanded payment, who could be won over by good works and flattery and gold.  He wasn’t a god like ours, like busyness, or Pinterest idealism, or even a consuming desire to make our families happy above all.

This Baby was no such god.

This Baby didn’t need lights and garlands to herald His birth.  He didn’t need wreaths or gifts.  He didn’t need a vacuumed house or gingerbread cookies.  He didn’t need a “season”.

He just needed a mom.

My two year old, still with traces of spaghetti sauce on his round cheeks, clambered into my lap before bed.  He looked though his luscious lashes (so not fair on a boy), gazing seriously at my face.  A little grubby finger reached to push at the worry line that had grown between my eyebrows.  Tears threatened me and I hugged him closer, flicking a Styrofoam ball that dared linger behind his ear.  At least it wasn’t lice.

We didn’t have a tree or stockings.  We didn’t have lights and garlands, promises of heaps of presents and lots of family get-togethers.  Our house didn’t smell like cinnamon or look like a scene any family other than the Lampoons would dare plaster on a card.  We didn’t have the spirit of the season.  All we had was the promise of a baby.

“For unto us a Child was born…”

I realized that’s all that matters.

All the baby expected was for me to be mom.  Be that mom.

That was enough.

That is enough.

I have a wonderful life.

 

Mommy and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Holiday Season

‘Twas the night before yesterday, and I happened to be scrolling through Facebook.  Nestled between warm photos of my friends’ brightly-lit new Christmas trees, I saw the candle ad, “How to make your house smell like Christmas.”   I scrolled down, past the six people who had shared a new rendition of a favorite carol, and blinked briefly at the twinkly-perfect blog titled something like, “Simple Ways to get the Look of Christmas.”   After a a few more smiling-through-snowflake-family pictures slid by, a pretty meme sign popped up with a bunch of happy faces, proclaiming “It’s starting to feel like Christmas.”

I turned off the monitor and wrinkled my nose.

My house smelled like diapers and boiled over dinner.  My living room looked like a tornado had done the decorating.  My emotions felt a lot like they had in November, and October, and last year.  I wasn’t full of cheer as I crunched a Cheerio under my bare foot.  I was (you might want to sit down) grumpy about Christmas.

The ninja-bread man
The ninja-bread man

It’s true.  It’s not just that I won’t win any Pinterest awards for great fake snow and shimmery lights and cinnamon pinecones arranged around a rough hewn hand painted pallet sign proclaiming the real reason for the season. Haha. No. There is a stuffed snowman peeking out half-guiltily from the mantle, and a stack of junk mail telling me all the great seasonal deals I’m missing at all the stores.  But otherwise there isn’t much in the house to belie the tinselly-mood we’re supposed to be reveling in.

I lay on the kitchen floor on Saturday. The toddler used my hips for climbing practice, but I hardly noticed. The fog of exhaustion was too thick.  I really should have bundled all the kids up and out of the house to buy diapers at a big box store – but it was the day after Black Friday.  That’s an adventure on a “normal” day!  Or I could have taken them to cut a Christmas tree – eight months pregnant, with a toddler and a kid in a wheelchair and three more offering to handle the saw.  I could have simply cleared the table and offered to make everyone cocoa and stick in a Christmas CD while they made red and green paper chains.  But I didn’t.  I just didn’t have it in me.

I’d caught a cold the week before, and hadn’t managed to shake it before Thanksgiving.  It’s not like moms get sick days.  My husband, who works in retail, had already been putting in long days and weeks leading up to the holiday season, even though the Advent countdown had yet to begin.  I missed marriage.  I wished I’d socked away more savings so I could have Christmas shopping done already, but  with car repairs and things breaking, money -and time – had been tight.  The boys, sensing my own impatience and discontent, seemed intent on clashing over every little thing.  The house felt small; I couldn’t even imagine fitting a tree into our overflowing house, let alone the new baby due early in the next year.  So I just lay there, tired, overwhelmed, and not the least bit full of wonder in the magic of the season.  I simply wondered how it would all happen.

But still… I wished I could feel some of that wonder, see some anticipation in my kids’ eyes as we prepare for a grand holiday, and maybe smell something more engaging than the morning’s eggs in the kitchen.

So I prayed that prayer again, the one I need to.  “Lord, let me see with Your eyes, touch with Your hands, feel with Your heart.”

And I realized, it really would be dumb to throw a pity party for someone who has everything they need but not everything they want.  Just because my Christmas won’t be as American-perfect as everybody (on Twitter) says it should.

I bet Mary didn’t get to go to every holiday brunch and cookie-swap to get all enveloped in the wonder of the season.  She was too busy being snubbed by her family and friends for claiming to be a nine-month-pregnant-virgin.  She was too busy bringing forth a baby in a pig sty to worry about bringing anyone cheer.  Her arms were so full of the Promise of Life; they had no room for  spruce boughs or tangled strings of lights or sale flyers or plates of gingerbread men or party clothes or cards with smiling family pictures.  The only entertaining she did was of uninvited smelly raucous shepherds, surrounded by the literal blood, sweat and tears of childbirth in a dirty stable.  No one even hung a string of lights around the stable door.  It was cold.  Dark.  Dirty.  Embarrassing.  How very un-Christmassy.

For us, a tree will find a place (where, hopefully, the toddler won’t be able to climb it).  Presents will appear.  Decorations (after a fashion, don’t judge) will distract from some of the clutter and chaos.  The kids will have cocoa mustaches and chant familiar carols and help decorate gingerbread.  We will survive the busy season, and, darn it all, we will enjoy some of it.  It is one of the tougher seasons of motherhood, requiring ever so much more than the just the impossibility of normal.  But even though Mary didn’t have a smartphone to document every dramatic moment, she did have the memories.  She didn’t make them.  They just happened.

The pressure started to slide off my shoulders.  Maybe it wasn’t all on me to force my family into the perfect Christmas season.  Yes, there is a lot to do.  But if I don’t throw the Christmas party-event-of-the-season this year, chances are good my kids will still be socially accepted.  If they get underwear and new pajamas rather than jet-powered boots that can blast them into space (that was on one of their wish lists), I’ll just have to hope they won’t need therapy to recover.  If we make and eat a dozen fewer kinds of cookies, I doubt I can call that a bad thing.

And if they really feel the need to experience the perfect Christmas environment, I bet some of our friends’ houses will uplift their spirits with peppermint and cinnamon.  I know you’re out there.  I’ve seen your social media accomplishments.  But don’t worry, I won’t be competing.

Take that, Charlie Brown
Take that, Charlie Brown

 

Remarkable

Two things happened to me last week.  I got a hair cut.  And I got older.

I didn’t really plan either.  The birthday kind of sneaked up on me this year.  The hair cut was simply because it was my husband’s day off and he kicked me out of the house without children as a birthday present and I didn’t know what to do with myself.

“I haven’t had a cut since I had the baby,” I admitted as the stylist drew her comb through the strands.  “Oh,” she chatted amicably, “Your first?”  “No.” I smiled slightly. “My fifth… My fifth boy.”  The dozen eyes in the cozy salon glanced up.  “No way!” the man who seemed to own the place enunciated his surprise.  “You look about 12!”

“I’m nearly three times that.”  I returned, feeling the math equation might be a bit much for such a place, but such a blunt outburst earned me the right.  “Well, minus four…”

They all recovered and offered customary commendations before returning to breathy discussions of weather and winter boot fashions.  I lapsed into quiet thoughtfulness as the odd sensation of sitting still enrobed me under the bulky black salon cape.  I don’t eschew birthdays.  Not yet, anyway.  I think God encourages us to keep them.

“Set up signposts, make landmarks” the Lord commanded in Jeremiah 31:21.  It is right to mark a place, a time, a thought.  It is good to go back, to remember.  To return.  Birthdays are useful for that.

A year ago at this time, I was pregnant with my fifth child.  I remember.

Three years ago, it was the first week I could bring my fourth new son home from the hospital after his first back and brain surgeries as a mewling infant.  Memories engraved.

Five years ago, I only had two children and thought people were crazy to have more because I missed sleeping though the night.  How times change.

Ten years ago, my young husband and I had just returned to college after spending our Christmas at a castle in the Alps.  Didn’t know how great we had it.

Thirteen years ago, we were newly married and living in our first apartment in the Midwest.  Everything we owned fit in our car.  Those days of small things.

Fourteen years ago, I spent my eighteenth birthday alone flying over the Atlantic to go to college in a different country where I didn’t know the language or any other person.  A defining moment.

Twenty years ago, I spent the day ice skating on the neighbor’s pond, breath hanging in frozen clouds around my head, dreaming of future and naive to my blissful childhood freedom.

Twenty seven years ago, I ran though my house dressed in a pink ballet tutu and sparkles and had a pink cake and remember blowing out the five candles and thinking, “this is the best day of my life!”

And it was.

They all were.

Each day piggy backed on top of the last.  Lessons learned.  Hard and good, growing times accumulated.  Some days were forgotten, some discipline didn’t stick, some history repeated itself.

But some days are worth marking.  It is good to remember.

Once upon a time, God routed the enemy before the Israelites in a glorious battle, back in the old days of documented history.  Samuel their leader marked the victory with a stone.  “Ebenezer”, he named it.  “Stone of help”.

It was just a rock.  Nothing unique.  But whenever men passed by this one on the road, it would help.  It helped them remember.  And then they would think back to that time God had won that impossible fight.  His arm had been strong on their behalf.  For a moment, they would pause.  They would stare off into the distance, hearing in memory the sounds of the fight on that hill.  They again felt the terror, knowing their hopeless situation.  And then they felt the swell of exhilaration at the miraculous salvation that had been their grace that day.  They bowed, briefly.  Thanks to their God.  The God of their help.  That little rock on the hill – it pointed them to the cornerstone of their salvation.  The real Ebenezer.

And then they turned, walked on.  They didn’t dwell there in the past, wishing for younger days, craving the adrenalin rush of battle.  It wasn’t a place to stay.  It was a landmark to point them in the right direction.  This way.  This way is right.  Thank your God, and journey on, knowing He who fights for you goes with you.  To the next landmark.  The next Ebenezer.

My year has been marked.  I went home with more product in my hair than I’d worn in the entire twelve months previous.  The house wasn’t clean.  There was still homeschooling to do.  And laundry.  The baby was hungry.  My son still had tubes and nurses and scars to attend to.  And they had made me a birthday cake.  They helped me blow out the candles.  Twice.  And I smiled as the baby fidgeted on my lap and the brothers squabbled over frosting.

At least my Ebenezer this year was chocolate.

It is good to remember.

A marked tree - in the Alps of Austria
A marked tree – in the Alps of Austria

Tales of Woe and Gingerbread

I’ve decided I’m not cut out to make gingerbread men.

Small house; small kitchen.

Small children; male, not-dainty, bulldozer-type children.

Sugar; red dye and sprinkles; and corn syrup.  And children who’ve been cloistered in the house for days.  DAYS.

Gingerbread is a recipe for trouble.

I tried to break out, briefly, in a desperate run to Walmart when grandma stopped by to watch the little ones.  The parking lot was full; the isles packed.  I made it as far as toothbrushes before my cell phone buzzed.  Grandma had gotten called in to work.  I left.  That was Saturday.  It is now Tuesday.  Christmas Eve.  It has been over a week since most of my children have been beyond the snowbanks around the house.  Ice-laden branches hang low.  The ground sparkles; white, pure, and deadly slick.  Looking through the clear cold morning; there are dark spots in the city around me.  No power.  No escaping.

That is, unless you work in retail.  My husband didn’t get any snow days, though his store lost power briefly yesterday too.  On a rare Daddy moment when he got home before the kids went to bed, the two year old asked him, “Daddy, do you live here?”

So as ice pelted down out side, the boys asked if we could make gingerbread men.  I did what any stressed, logical stay-at-home mom of boys two days before Christmas would do.  I said no.  We’re making gingerbread ninjas instead.

We pulled out the bowl and started to mix ingredients.  I dug around for the extra bag of flour and realized there wasn’t one.  We called grandma.  Yes, she was working nearby, but could run to the store quickly and grab a bag.  She arrived; the boys tore open the paper packaging to dump it into the big container as I cooked supper.  “Don’t play in the flour bucket!”  I hollered.  Too late.  Sigh.  It turned out to be bath night.

The next morning, I scrubbed oatmeal off the counter to make a space to roll out dough.  “Rolling pins make good weapons,” my seven year old commented mildly, wielding the wooden cylinder by its loose handle.  “Too bad we only have one.”

“Isn’t it, though.”  I responded.  We smoothed the dough.  The two year old begged to help from his disadvantaged point on the floor.  I alternated holding him with floury hands and letting him fuss, dejected, on the linoleum.  The four year old jumped up on the stool and smacked down cookie cutters in the center of the dough.  “No more room,” he announced.  “I’ll eat the edges.”  The six year old offered to help him.

IMG_2130

After a dozen, the baby woke, hungry.  I nursed him while the boys jockeyed for position on the stool.  A fine layer of flour made the kitchen almost as treacherous as the ice world outside.  “Look, Mom, I cut out some shapes with a knife!” the four year old announced.  The seven year old was schooling his little brother in the finer points of knife use.  I stopped nursing.

We ran into lunch time.  I slapped sandwiches together amidst the aroma of cinnamon and cloves.  The baby fussed.  My sister called to say she’d just gotten a new puppy and could they come by to introduce him to the boys?  My kids were ecstatic.  I scraped dried dough off the counter and dumped dishes in the sink.  Somewhere around the 10th cleanup of little puppy’s excitement on the rug, I decided we’d wait till the next day to attempt decorating.

IMG_2143

The next day, I took a deep breath, and pulled out the sprinkles.  The boys sat in earnest anticipation around the table.  They grabbed ginger ninjas, spooned on icing, and decorated with the gusto of a young boy.  Stuck inside.  For days.

“I know what happens when you get a lollipop near your eyelash,” my four year old announced.  “The same thing with frosting.”  He knows these things. I watched him lick his fingers, eyes closed, enraptured by the sugar.  Crash.  He fell off the chair.  I picked him up while he blubbered.  The two year old took the opportunity to dump all the red sprinkles on his plate.  There may have been a cookie underneath.  He didn’t seem too bothered by such details.

IMG_2146

The sugar started to kick in after a couple dozen, and interest waned.  The cookie ninjas were suddenly more occupied with fighting each other than being frosted.  The two year old got washed off and went to play legos with red-stained hands.  The four year old fell off his chair.  Again.  We discussed the rules of gravity and keeping your eyes open when licking cookies (yes, I had that conversation), and I made the official decision to dispense with gingerbread cookie making for the rest of the year.  Or maybe the rest of my life.  Either way.

IMG_2147
ninjabread cookie

Maybe next year, we’ll plan cookies without sprinkles.  There’s a thought.

Merry Christmas.

 

 

God Bless Us, Every One

IMG_2052

“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.

As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.  Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard.  He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.

from The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. 

IMG_0269

I sat by the computer Sunday as the first snowstorm covered my little world, and read an update from a missionary friend in faraway hot India.  Friends had just asked her help with a three day old baby in a nearby village.  He was born without lower arms or lower legs.  He is the fifth child in the family and they aren’t sure they will keep him.

My emotions swirled like the snow outside the window.  My older children played busily around me as I nursed the baby.  The two year old drove matchbox cars over my shoulder.  The house was a mess, true, but air warmed by the wood stove carried the scent of roasting chicken.  My husband was at work, but he would be home to say goodnight after earning his paycheck.  Coats and mittens dripped steamily by the fire, adding moisture to the air and giving reason for the rosy cheeks bent over Legos nearby.  Christmas cards and a list of cookies to bake were scattered across the table among flash cards.

That old adage tapped gently at my memory, “I felt sorry that I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”  We have our struggles, but the road even my young son must walk so falteringly in his braces is easy compared to the uphill battle that little infant almost-orphan on the other side of the world will face.

And I asked Him, not for the first time, or even the hundredth, “Why?”

Why would You have this baby be born in a third world country?”

Why to parents who might not keep him?”

Why would You make him be born like this at all?”

Why would You make a baby born to be ridiculed, rejected, misunderstood… Why would you make a baby born to hurt or even born to die?”

The baby on my own lap stirred and snuggled deeper.  The two year old  next to me picked up one of his feelingless feet with both hands to move it away from the baby’s head.  He reached over and silently patted his little brother’s ear.   A tear sprang to my eye at a sudden realization.  It was love.

That Love had already sent a Baby born to die.  He’d sent His only Son, His beloved, perfect Son, to a stark, cold, heartless world to have a body broken.  He’d given him a body born to bear the full brunt of the ravages of sin.  This one, this Lamb slain from the foundations of the world, was born to show his Father’s love to sin-damaged humanity.  Nails sliced through his own arms and legs, forcing his body hard against the rough cross.  And Love held him there.

Will this little baby boy, born so far from me but for whom I ache, know that he bears in his own body the marks of the Lord Jesus Himself?  Will he learn that someday he can be given a new body, hale and whole, to run and clap and dance, for all eternity long?  Will he boast that he is one of the few chosen to bear from birth the mark of his Savior?  Will he find the answer to his question, why?

I think about these babies often.  Physically crippled; is it so that their souls will be more whole?  Or mine?  Will I remember, on Christmas Day, WHO made lame beggars walk and blind men see?  And will I trust that He will do it again someday?

Someday I, too, will understand why He would show His love by sending these Tiny Tims among us.  Like Mr. Dickens said, it’ll be as good as gold – and better.

IMG_1323

Oh Shunt.

Today I went to Walmart three weeks before Christmas with my five children and a wheelchair.  It was a little bit tough.  Then, for perspective, I set up brain surgery for my two year old son.  For next week.  That was a little bit tougher.

This is shaping up to be one humdinger of a December.

Ever have those days when you really need good chocolate and all you have is a twice-melted cheap bar from Halloween?  From last year?  This month might be one of those days for me.

A diagnosis needing brain surgery doesn’t really surprise me.  It’s par for the course with a kid born with Spina Bifida, unfortunately.  Because their spinal column never fused closed in the early weeks of gestation, the spinal cord didn’t form in the right way and spinal fluid doesn’t stay in a closed system and can build up at the top or bottom.  Ben had a shunt put in about two weeks after he was born.  This tube diverts the excess fluid from putting pressure on his brain, and it can last for years with no problem.  But if the shunt stops working, and the neurosurgeon thinks it has, then the brain can be damaged.  We don’t want that.  So, brain surgery Tuesday.  A new shunt.  Yay.

IMG_0013
seriously?

In my more positive moments, there are good aspects.  For one thing, I’m a retail widow from November to the new year.  Few things can pull my husband away from managing the store during the busiest season of the year.  But brain surgery is one of those.  So, we’ll have some “quality” time together.  Also, it does make a lot of the frivolous parts of Christmas seem, well, frivolous.  “What, you didn’t make a tree skirt from scratch this year or crochet everyone a new stocking?!?”  “Yeah, I was too busy caring for my son during his brain surgery.”  Nobody argues with you.  And to top it all off, he needed a haircut anyway.

But in the darker, starker times, it is a little scary.  It is, after all, brain surgery.  A man I’ve spoken to twice in my life is going to get intimately familiar with the deep recesses of my precious son’s brain, an organ he admits we still don’t know much about.  And I’m supposed to let him.  The first time Ben got a shunt was one of the lowest points of my life.  It was emergency surgery.  I remember the terrible anguished cry my baby made when he woke up from sedation afterward.  It still makes me well up with tears.  My husband got so sick the night we went to the ER with the baby that as soon as I got home from the hospital with my convalescing infant, I turned around and took my husband to the ER for dehydration.  It was a tough moment in history.  And you know how history has a tendency to repeat itself.

IMG_2792

It’s not making Christmas easier.  I have shopping to do, gifts to make, cookies to bake, a house to make pinteresting (snort.)  I have homeschooling and mostly-single-parenting to soldier through until after the holidays calm down.  This is not all twinkly lights and mistletoe and breathy caroling.

But Christmas wasn’t designed to be easy.  It was designed to be significant.

God came down to Earth to an unwed teenage mother.  He didn’t have health insurance or food stamps.  He had a foster dad.  The stable wasn’t warm or smelling of cinnamon and pine needles.  It wasn’t sanitary; nobody washed their hands to cut his cord.  Blood stained the dirt floor.  Mary groaned, Baby squalled, Joseph probably freaked out and sheep nonchalantly did their business in the middle of the floor.  He came in the midst of political turmoil and governmental corruption.  He came to be hungry, dirty, and cold.  He came to be hurt, to be snubbed, to be misunderstood.

He came to be Immanuel.  God with us.

When Gabriel came to tell Mary to take a pregnancy test, he said, and I paraphrase, “Congratulations.  You are blessed among all women with a surprise pregnancy… Don’t be afraid.”

This blessing, this Christmas present for Mary, was going to be tough.  Super tough.  A blessing in the raw.  A gift with hard, sharp edges and no crinkly paper or soft bows.

But all she said was, “Ok.  This doesn’t make sense, but I’ll assume You’ve got this, Lord.  So we’re good.”

And He did, and the rest is history.  (Well, it’s also present and future, since that Baby is still alive and the part where He’s king forever hasn’t happened because forever takes a long time.)

Living these historic moments of my life is not easy.  They are raw and real.  They are on a whole different level than fun with gingerbread and sprinkles which I’ll have to vacuum into oblivion the next day anyway.  But these moments are necessary.  These moments are significant.

I guess Mary has the right idea.  “Ok, I don’t really get it, but I’ll assume you’ve got this God.  So we’re good.”

And having a husband who comes home with a box of fresh chocolates after his wife’s had a long December day isn’t a bad deal either.

IMG_1156

 

We appreciate your prayers.

The Grinch List

I have more children than money.  Their wants are grand, but their honest needs are few.  It’s the annual Christmas conundrum; get the kids something they will appreciate, use, and enjoy without breaking the bank or the overflowing toy cupboard.  My boys are still young, but there are a bunch of them now, so I’m beginning to see trends.  If you’re in a crunch like me, maybe these will help.  Honestly, a few of these probably will be under the tree at our house this year.

  • Bubble wrap.  This has got to be near the top of any list.  Instant gratification, the joy of destruction, minimal mess to clean afterward.  This is always a fought-over commodity in our house, usually of greater interest than the object it briefly protected within its voluptuous folds.
  • Ice.  This one never ceases to amaze me.  An ice cube will keep my kids busy for, well, minutes at least.  I just found Buzz Lightyear suspended, not unlike Han Solo in carbonite, in a block of it in my freezer.  When I showed the kids their forgotten prisoner, they delightedly spent the next 20 minutes chopping him free with a butter knife and distributing the cold pieces amongst each other like candy.  Icicles in winter, a chunk of it in a bowl in the summer, it’s even been known to float in the bathtub for a few minutes of terrorizing siblings, ice can’t be beat for price or cleanability.  A clear favorite.  Hehe.

    Ice. Ice, baby.
    Ice. Ice, baby.
  • Toilet paper tubes.  What’s better than this?  Having more than one, maybe.  A dozen salvaged from the recycling box will set my crew’s creative juices flowing.  Binoculars, telescopes, swords, matchbox car tunnels, puppets… And that’s just with the empty ones.  Ask any 18 month old what the most fun room of the house is, and he probably won’t tell you.  But actions speak louder than words.  In one corner, the flushable porcelain bowl beckons, simply reaching for the plunger sends mom into spasms which prove how precious that jewel must be, lots of sprayable bottles hide under the sink, and finally there’s that ultimate marvel of engineering enticingly suspended almost within reach – the toilet paper roll.  You don’t have to be potty trained to appreciate toilet paper.  A “double roll” can completely bury a persistent toddler if he works hard enough.  Or be used to measure the length of the house.  Or sop up a puddle (how did that get there, anyway?).  Or be a pillow.  Or blanket.  Or clothing.  Endless possibilities.                                                       IMG_1862
  • Boxes.  Akin to the tubes mentioned above, boxes can morph into dozens of props.  Refrigerator or washing machine boxes are of course just plain awesome.  But if mom doesn’t seem to want an elephant in the room, even a tissue box can be something.  They have been garages, monster feet (with or without tissues removed), treasure boxes, pet bug homes (even more rewarding if mom doesn’t know when she reaches in, expecting an innocuous tissue), tool chests, building blocks if you save enough, even bowls for cereal (hopefully without milk).                                                     IMG_1389
  • Magnets.  These are so much more than simply tools to hold artwork on the fridge.  In the first place, they can also hold things on the dishwasher, stove, washing machine, file cabinet, car, or assorted power tools left within reach.  A small one on either side of the ear is a quick and painless earring.  Taped onto matchbox cars, they are can drive up refrigerators.  A collection of them on a cookie sheet at the table, especially with a paper that has spaces to put them to count things, is great clean busywork for a toddler.  My two year old uses them during homeschool lessons regularly.  They are good fishing “hooks” for homemade indoor fishing trips off the side of the bunk beds (assuming you’re fishing for paper clip-clad fish).  There are probably endless uses for more creative people than me.  Take that as a challenge.
  • Pipe cleaners.  We don’t have pipes around the house, but we do have cleaners.  Wires are useful and great raw material for creating.  Cover them in fuzzy bright colors, and they’re suddenly kid attractors.  We make glasses, hooks, stick figure animals and people, and Christmas ornaments.  Watch the poky end, but other wise these keep my older guys engrossed for whole minutes of independent construction.
  • Sand/mud.  I personally prefer to keep this outside in the sand box, or better yet, at the beach, but my boys are not naturally respecters of such inhibiting boundaries.  Unless you’re far, far south of me, this probably wouldn’t be a good Christmas gift (unless you’re a far, far more relaxed and patient mother than I am).  With a good vacuum.  Obviously castles, moats, and mud pie come to mind, but good ole fashioned sand can also be used for construction sites, small fort building material, ammo when it isn’t snowball season, hands-on science, apparently even a public restroom for the local fauna.  Our sand box and adjoining mud pit get a lot of use.  Daily.  IMG_0278IMG_0292
  • Flour.  This also applies to rice, laundry soap, and anything in the kitchen that would leave a hand print.  I think the unconscious reason my two year old likes to “help” me in the kitchen is to utilize another outlet for mess.  He loves measuring cups of flour for bread.  He giggles with (manly, of course) glee when we pour a new bag of rice into the big container where I keep it.  He stirs the muffin batter with determination.  He has spent almost half an hour sifting though our homemade laundry mix (and came away from that mess with cleaner hands than before.  Not too shabby.)  He mixes with sheer abandon.  It’s pretty cute.  Older kids can often be coerced into kitchen work too, under the guise of messy play.  Try it.  You’ll like it.           IMG_1747
  • Spray bottles.  After they (ok, you) sweep up from the rice and flour, the fun doesn’t have to end.  My older kids have caught on to this, and can actually earn a quarter or two if they grab a spray bottle full of white vinegar and start swabbing down windows.  But my smaller, less monetarily-driven, guys still do it for free, usually just with water.  And if a spray bottle fight breaks out (as it is wont to do), then your floors, walls, and kids will be cleaner too.  In theory.
  • A baby brother.  I guess a sister might work too, though I’ve never tried it.  My kids have learned that a new little sibling can actually be fun.  Ok, not always, granted.  And they’re really not cheap playthings.  Ok, not at all.  But in our house, they come with the territory.  So my kids have learned to roll with it.  Babies make inappropriate sounds and get away with it, which always sends my kids into paroxysms of laughter.  They bubble, drool and spit.  Boys find that hilarious.  In public, big brothers get to show off baby brothers to doting strangers.  Once they get a few months old, babies smile at any brother who gets close enough to focus on.  It’s very rewarding.  They are often available to snuggle, to keep quiet company, or to draw out the mother hen instinct of a boy growing strong enough not just to destroy but to protect.  It’s quite beautiful.  Not something a toy from any store can really reveal.

13-DSC_3335

  • A puppy.  Hahahahahahahaha. Ha. No.  (Seriously.  We’re good.)

 

And Their Voice Was Heard

I met a man at the local farmer’s market who won’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

He always strikes up a conversation with me; I guess I’m an easy customer to remember with my five-strong brood of ducklings – one in a wheelchair – in tow.  He’s a Vietnam vet whose friend sells eggs and apples out of the back of his pickup.  He spent the summer good-naturedly harassing the customers, until his friend caught on and put him to work.  On Saturday, I ran up alone to quickly buy a dozen eggs.  The vegetable farmers were gone for the year, but cold wind whipped across the parking lot, chafing the few die-hard sellers of meat, bread, milk and eggs who remained.  The man saw me coming and greeted me with a small bag of apples.  Gratis.  “For the boys” he said, and held out the bag.  I thanked him, handing him money for a dozen extra large.  He counted quarters and asked about our Thanksgiving.  “Well, it clearly includes apple pie,” I gestured with the bag he’d given me.  “How about yours?”

“I don’t celebrate anymore.”  He replied in a matter-of-fact tone.  “My wife will head down to be with the kids, but I’ll stay home.  Haven’t done Thanksgiving since my parents died.  Just doesn’t seem right without them.”

“I’m sorry.”  I offered lamely.

“It’s been 16 years.  It’s just a day… ”

Perhaps there was more that I could not understand.  I have not been to war.  I have not loved and lost.  I am never even alone between children, a husband, and my God who loves me even in the dark times.  There must be pain and emptiness I can’t begin to imagine in his life.  I tried to process it.  Before me stood a man for whom nostalgia had no beauty.  The holiday was anathema; the past oppressed his present.  Memories were misery.

If the day is merely a nod to nostalgia and happy memories, than I guess I can’t blame him.  But I think it must be more than that…

IMG_1789
Priestly duties

Roughly seven centuries after the first Passover, King Hezekiah called the nation to keep it again. The country had ebbed and flowed in devotion. It had seen its golden age. It had seen civil war. Dramatic governing choices had affected every level of society. Leaders had come and gone. The temple was in disrepair, abused, scorned, disparaged. “Sanctify yourselves,” he commanded the priests who remained. “Carry out the rubbish from the holy place. Our fathers have done evil, turning their faces away from the dwelling place of the Lord. Therefore the wrath of the Lord fell upon Judah and Jerusalem, and He has given them up to trouble. Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the Lord. My sons, do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him.” (2 Chronicles 29).

IMG_2650

They did it.  They kept the feast.  They cleaned up.  They cleaned house.  They invited all the relatives, all the friends and strangers.  They killed the Passover lamb.  They ate.  They sang, they rejoiced, they blessed.  They kept the feast “with great gladness.”  There had been nothing like this in Jerusalem since the time of David and Solomon.  They feasted for seven days. When it was over, they were having such “great gladness” that they extended the celebration another seven days.  The whole assembly rejoiced together.

And their voice was heard; their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven.  (Verse 27).

It has been roughly four centuries since the first Thanksgiving.  The country has ebbed and flowed.  It has seen its golden age.  It has seen civil war.  Dramatic governing choices have affected all of society.  Leaders have come and gone.  Now the church is in disrepair, abused, scorned, disparaged.  But the priests are still here.  We can still heed the call to consecrate.  To clean up.  To keep the feast that memorializes our humble roots.  To remember.  To rejoice.

It wasn’t a quaint nod to nostalgia that made God turn His ear to their celebration.  It wasn’t memories of their recent past, which had seen both reform and terrible idolatry within the last few leaders.  It wasn’t an excuse to gorge on food, gossip, or even good fellowship.

It was a communal consecration.  It was resolve, strengthened by gathering together.  It was humble honesty, admitted.

It was joy, infectiously shared.

And it was heard by God.

That’s some party.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain the real reason I celebrate Thanksgiving to this man.  It’s not easy to communicate in words.  But I’ll likely see him again, with my little crew in camouflage strutting along brightly behind.  I hope, I pray, that our “great gladness” will affect him.  The Lord has chosen us, after all, to “stand before Him.”  And sanctified happiness is compelling.

Holy is the holiday sanctified by joy.

Remember our beginnings.  Renew our covenant.  Keep the feast.

IMG_0604
Rejoice!