Saturday, December 08, 2012

Christmas is Coming!! Advent is Here!!

It's a different kind of Christmas here for a lot of reasons...Santa and the reindeer have been packed away in a box labeled "Childhood Memories", the kids are maturing and that changes everything a little.  While I will miss it, I find that I am ready for the next phase just as they are.  We always struggle financially this time of year, as detailing work falls off for Dominick due to holiday spending and weather, and ski traffic at the airport has yet to begin.  This year is a little rougher than others, but we are blessed in countless ways and we all know it.  What really touches my heart is how the kids all really "get it".  It appears that we have really gotten to that place as we have had to necessarily downgrade Christmas a little more with each passing year.  Somehow though, it doesn't really feel that way at all, as writing this alone has helped me swim in gratitude for a little while for how wealthy we are!!

As we talked about Christmas plans over Thanksgiving weekend, and we explained that things would be tight, my heart was filled as they all sat around the table saying things like, "Christmas is about decorating Mr. Miller's tree!", "We have to go to the Christmas concert!" and "I don't care about the gifts, I just want cookies! Oh yea...and to decorate really cool outside.".  Angela quietly said, "The best part of Christmas for me is Christmas Eve, I love going to church with the music and the candles.  It'll be Miss Janet's last one, so it'll be sad and special."

So we decorated, spending an entire afternoon and evening putting up lights and the tree, Joshie got the privilege of setting up the family creche so lovingly handcrafted by my own grandpa.  The girls claimed rights to the tree, and as they approach their third Christmas home it was especially sweet to see their delight as they carefully looked at each ornament, tradition settling in around them like a  warm winter coat as they exclaimed over and over again... "I love this ornament!", and "Remember this one?".  The first time, it was all new.  The second time, it was familiar.  The third time, it became tradition :-)

The boys were busily working outside on their very favorite part of the season...outdoor lights!!  One of these days, I am going to surprise them and buy some super cool stuff to set up...maybe those reindeer with bobbing heads, or a big ol' Santa for the rooftop.  Matthew, in particular, gets such joy out of this project since he took it over 3 or 4 years ago.  Dominick and I have found such satisfaction as we watch the growing relationship between Kenny and Matthew.  They've always gotten along well, and love each other a lot, but what has subtly changed as they have matured is the incredible teamwork they exhibit these days.

We actually talked a little about it when they came in for a drink, and I asked if they had noticed what a really strong ability they have developed to do larger projects together...and do them well.  They both looked at me, grinned, and shrugged their shoulders in a typically masculine way, which made me laugh out loud.  Then Kenny admitted, "I used to get mad at Matthew when he tried to help me understand things or see where I was having problems...I thought he was bossing me around.  I just wouldn't listen to him, even though he wasn't really being bossy.  When we figured out what some of my brain problems were, I think I realized I might  learn more if I listened to him.  I guess I realized he was really just trying to help all along, but I was too much of a kid to know that."  Matt added, "But Kenny is good at the things I'm not.  He can talk to anybody, and I don't like to as much.  And if I am honest, he works harder than I do...or maybe just faster at some things."  then, it cracked me up when he turned to Kenny and said, "Come on, let's stop all this girlie talk and go finish our manly job!"...and off they went, laughing like crazy at their own joke.

Matt's taller, so he gets the areas Kenny can't reach.

You have no idea the amount of debate and measuring that went on to get this silly garland around poles in a satisfactory manner!

Deep, deep concentration.  
You'd think we had one of those houses decorated with enough lights to be confused with a runway.

Kenny...posing as supervisor!

Christmas is about traditions, no doubt, and for us one tradition is baking cookies for our Women's Union annual "Cookie Walk".  Our Women's Union has helped all our church kids with camp scholarships year after year, and for our family it has literally made church camp possible.  We are so grateful for their help, and these women sell a TON of cookies each year, so we spent a day making as many as we could manage to support their efforts.  I helped, but this year, for the most part, they did it all themselves.  Even better, at the end of the day, I had yet to open my mouth when they all started cleaning up, so I wasn't stuck trying to get cookie dough off counter tops, scraping cookie sheets, or sweeping flour up off the floor for a week afterward.  They even mopped!!  And the cookies...well...they were excellent!  Some of the magic happened while I was away at lunch, enjoying the company of a dear friend who was visiting and won't be returning for several months.  How wonderfully strange it was to come home and open the screen door to find myself awash in the scent of home made cookies, ones that I had almost nothing to do with!! Sitting on the stool at the counter, munching on a little of each kind of cookie I was handed, I couldn't help but think to myself, "OK, so this growing older thing with the kids ain't half bad!!".

Teamwork!!  Boys together, girls together...but it doesn't always work out that way.  Just so happened to on this day.  

The girls were more creative this year, making sugar peppermint cookies dipped half in white chocolate, and then coated with crushed peppermint.  Yummy and pretty!  Olesya loves pretzels and whipped out her recipe book (Gotta love that girl!  How fortunate to have a daughter who is all  I am not!), and they created chocolate dipped pretzel rods with sprinkles.  They turned out to look super cute!  Angela spent much of the morning working on decorating gingerbread men.

Ahhhh...Mom, do you recognize this???  THE family secret recipe (that, and spam casserole...I know I am causing many of you to gag with that one.)  This is the ancient family recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, which the boys made a double batch of.  Turns out they loved it too and asked to make more later this month!  One thing I dearly love is coming across anything with my mom's perfect handwriting on it.  She tried for years to work with mine, but it was hopeless.  Oh well, at least I am a fairly speedy typist!

Josh...recognizing the value of The Recipe!!!
He really is a man of a thousand faces, isn't he? Haha!

Christmas is music, and on the spur of the moment we attended a jazz Christmas concert at the local Methodist church which we all thoroughly enjoyed, and we are looking forward to the annual Big Christmas Concert (That's what we call it) this weekend.  We will be taking along our adopted Grandpa George, who is currently wheelchair bound.  That too is our tradition, one we treasure and without it Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas.

But Christmas is really about giving, and it is not really about the gifts at all, despite what our Black Friday marketers might lead us to believe.  We have realized for quite awhile now that, as a family, we are not doing much in the way of outward ministry.  Finding something to do that will allow a younger family member to be engaged in is a little difficult, but I have been keeping my eyes open.  We bandied about several ideas, many of which wouldn't work if we wanted Josh to be a part of it. Then I read a desperate plea online from our local food bank, Sharing Ministries and I discovered that they have had volunteers as young as 4 years old.  This is a ministry our church has supported for quite awhile.  After running it by the kids, we went by last week to submit our applications, and this past Monday was our first day.  While I knew we might be able to fill a need for manual labor, I had no idea what wonderful ways volunteering in this setting might touch our own lives.

We ended up spending 4 1/2 hours there, unloading trucks, sorting and shelving food, culling through produce and discarding items that were too rotten to salvage.  We filled coolers, packed boxes, mopped floors and sorted eggs.  Whew!  We were one tired crew by the time we left!  We had a long talk over lunch, sharing our impressions.  All the kids were quite touched to realize just how many hungry people there are in our small community, and all of them said they came away more grateful for what we have. As we pulled up for our first shift, we saw folks standing in line outside the front door, waiting for their turn to go in and get their box for the month.  We couldn't miss the fact that two older women were in line, one who traveled there on her scooter and another who had a walker to rely on.  While we were there, we filled no less than 60 boxes for individuals...and that was for one day only.

What I hadn't expected was what a great experience it will be for other reasons than being humbled and moved to action.  While there our kids interacted with kids from our local charter high school...students who are a little rough around the edges and struggling to graduate.  We spent an hour or so working side by side with profoundly developmentally disabled youth who are brought in every Monday to work doing small sorting jobs.  There were retired seniors and middle aged moms, and a local man we have all seen multiple times riding his bike...with both his prosthetic arms, all giving of their time to see to it that folks in Montrose don't go to bed hungry.

Our conversation drifted to talking about disabilities and how people are treated when they look or act different.  A couple of the kids admitted to feeling a little uncomfortable because they didn't know how to respond when one of the boys kept coming over to them and touching them, grabbing things from their hands, etc. so we discussed strategies for handling that.  Matthew went to help make a delivery at a local soup kitchen that also assists the homeless, and came back telling us all about that facility as well.  We also talked about the cycle of poverty, and how hard it is to break out of...and how little most people really understand about it.

Interesting conversation arose about our own family, and how much (or how little) it would take for us to be in the same situation.  I can see that we may need to do a much deeper study about poverty and its causes, as there were a lot of great questions generated, especially when I stumbled upon a Facebook post that showed how many full time hours per week it would take to pay for an average apartment if you worked at minimum wage.

This map reflected every state in the US, and what a shock it was for them to see that in Colorado it took 85 hours a week of labor at minimum wage just to afford a standard 2 bedroom apartment.  I was able to quickly see that this volunteer opportunity will turn into much, much more than simply us helping sort grocery items.  We will be volunteering there every Monday morning from now on, not just for the holiday season, and we are already looking forward to our next shift.

So we have already celebrated Christmas in all the ways that count!!  Music, laughter, evenings with beloved friends, decorating, giving in ways that we can...those ARE Christmas!  Earlier today, we all talked about Christmas Eve, when we will share dinner with friends who are family to us, and attend church where Angela's heart will obviously be filled.  We all told Dominick that we were spending Christmas Day with him at work, and I could tell it really touched him.  We have had one particular employee who has literally seen us through the adoptions of every one of our children, and worked unselfishly every Christmas so Dominick could be home with his young kids as her's was older and past that stage.  It is now our turn to give to her the gift of the day off.  What was the best about it though, was that as we were talking, the kids all were so excited about working on Christmas so that we could still all be truly together as a family.  As of last year, when we went down to work part of the day, it may become our new tradition, as Santa fades, new experiences replace it.

With all of this hustle and bustle of the season, it can be hard to just stop.  Being intentional about what Christmas looks and feels like has been a slow, gradual process for our family...and we aren't done yet.  I am finding that as we put aside concerns about gobs of gifts, we are all enjoying the season in countless more ways.  One thing we are doing to help that is making this weekend Sacred Time. It is our last weekend together without Dominick working for four very long months, so we are going to spend time together without interference other than ones we desire.  How I miss him when we scramble through winter.  We always seem to emerge in spring, hesitating as we look at one another and literally say almost every year, "Hey, I know you!!".

Maybe that is what we find ourselves doing at this time of year, waking up for just a moment to say to Jesus, "Hey, I know you!", then when the lights are tucked away back in boxes, and the stale old fruitcake remains have been finally discarded, we tuck Jesus away in a metaphorical box and wait to pull him out again next year sometime after Thanksgiving.  Sort of like the Elf on the Shelf.  This year, I want to make sure that Jesus remains unpacked all year long, that I don't personally relegate him to the storage shed.  

Here's wishing each of you a Christmas season filled with all the important things... and those important "things" are not really "things" at all, but are instead your own personal Sacred Moments.  That's what's really important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So well said. We love hearing how the kids describe what they like about the traditions. It is especially heartwarming when one of the girls mentions something new that will be tradition. How very precious for them! And for us, after yearning for them so many Christmases.
Miss Jane