It never goes as planned. Eventually, when it happens often enough, you learn to just roll with it.
Christmas is different this year. I am sure, in part, it is because the kids are growing older, however, there has been something disconnected and it continued into today. For the past two days, Matthew has been very sick. Yesterday he spent most of the day asleep, waking only for soup at lunch and then returning to a deep, fevered slumber. He has a bad virus that immediately went into his chest with a bad rattle. Today he was a little better, but still definitely not fully himself. Over dinner with friends, Josh started having an upset stomach and had to leave the table. He suddenly felt really lousy, and so we decided we would go to church tonight leaving Dominick and the two boys behind.
It felt weird, incomplete...sort of like this entire year has felt. Weird, disjointed, challenging, incomplete.
And yet, this evening, the Spirit still showed up, reassuring as always, just as it has been throughout a year fraught with the unknown.
Tonight, as we drove home over icy streets, quiet conversation turned to the service we had just left. We were blessed with special music from our retired choir director, whose musical gifts are extraordinary and whose uncanny ability to find the perfect selection for any moment is a blessing all by itself. Angela LOVED a song Miss Janet selected and sang, saying how appropriate it seemed. "What We All Want for Christmas is Peace" was very beautiful, and in a world where everyone seems to be fighting wars, be they literal or figurative, the desire for people to stop the anger and find common ground is genuine and heartfelt. Kenny said he most enjoyed the music after the service was over, saying Miss Janet always saves the best for last.
It was the homily that touched on not-so-old Christmas memories, and was the real hit of the evening. All three kids talked about how much it meant to them. Pastor Karen spoke about how love is always waiting to be born, and how it was born in the form of a baby that long ago Christmas night, but it waits to be born in every setting, in every heart. Wow, did that one trigger a lot for all of us. Angela said it was her favorite sermon to ever hear, and the conversation drifted toward how four years ago, in a frozen land halfway across the world, love was trying to be born in the hearts of our then soon-to-be daughters. A hush fell over the inside of the van as Angela quietly said, "And we almost lost it...I almost threw it all away."
What a precious moment to be able to say, "Angela, but that is what makes what Pastor Karen said that much more meaningful to you, and to me too! All of us in our family have known exactly what it is like to experience the truth of her words this night...that love IS always waiting to be born, even in the hardest of hearts, even when it is profoundly difficult to trust because your heart is broken. Love calls to us, love desires us, love yearns for us. We know it, we've walked with it, we have seen it born time and time again. For us, her words are alive and real, they aren't just words." She was quiet for a moment and then she said, "I never thought about it that way before. And love had to be born in Joshua, too, and Kenny, and Matt." and then I quickly added, "It had to be born in me, too, Angie. It is a different kind of love than what we are used to. God's love, the love that Jesus talked about and taught about, it is a totally different kind of love. It is that kind of love that allowed your Dad and I to return to you after you turned away from us, because we had been taught that love is waiting to be born. We trusted that, even though we were scared. It is that kind of love that allowed me to hang in there with Joshua when all he did was reject me over and over again, because love is waiting to be born and I have been taught that by my faith in what Jesus shared. Alone, without having learned that, I never could have made it."
Then Olesya chimed in, which in itself is a miracle because she rarely participates in conversations like this, "Mom, when you think about it, every single one of us in our family has lost a lot, has been hurt a lot, has had some really bad things happen to us...even you and Dad have suffered a lot. Maybe God was waiting for us all to find one another so love could be born in us together. Our family isn't perfect, but it is a place where love really has been born. I never really knew what love was until you and Dad brought us home. I never understood it at all. Now, I wonder how I can find something this awesome with my own family someday, because what we have is really special and I want this with my own husband and kids, too."
Kenny then said, "Well, you know Olesya, you have to give love for it to be born, and people need to know your heart. You are a very loving girl, and you are learning to be less afraid of showing yourself. I think someday you will have a lot of love in your own family, as long as you keep practicing with Mom and Dad, and all of us."
There was silence for a few moments, then Angela said, "I don't think I could ever live without this kind of love again. I didn't know what it was, and how much it can make you feel like a whole person. That was the very best sermon ever because it was so right. You know, Mom, sometimes I haven't really gotten Jesus, but tonight I think I really did for the first time. From the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I heard this little voice inside my heart telling me to be a better person, telling me to not do some bad things I was doing by not being kind to people and being a bully sometimes. I think tonight I get it that it was God trying to keep me open for love to be born inside me, even though I had never really had love before, God was keeping me in a place where I would still want it. Sometimes I think if you had come even three or four months later, it would have been too late and I would have stopped listening to that voice. It's like you saved me by coming when you did."
"No, honey, God was holding you the entire time...and would have kept on holding you.", I replied.
"Well, I am glad it was you and Dad who God sent. I can't even think about living with a different family. Your love is the best, and you have taught me so much."
Olesya chimed in, "Me too! Sometimes other parents would come to adopt, and I would want to be adopted too, but no one felt like they would be safe to be with, or that they were supposed to be ours. I remember I felt that way right away with you and Dad."
The conversation stopped as we pulled in the driveway, and saw the lights on inside. Our boys were waiting for us, all three of them, love waiting for us.
Inside, the warmth of the fire was welcoming on a cold winter's night. Dominick had placed the gifts around the tree, and we all gathered to open them. Tomorrow is a work day, as our tradition of working at the airport continues...depending upon who is well and able to go, so for the first time we decided to open all the gifts on Christmas Eve. It wasn't the same sort of gleeful excitement of years past, as younger versions of these Big Kids would giggle and tear into boxes, bows and paper strewn about the room as cries of delight were shared. What replaced it though was equally sweet, as slowly, one by one, presents were carefully unwrapped and explored. It was a more mature, deeper sort of experience than in years past, richer in its appreciation of the moment and the presence rather than the hectic ripping and squealing. I have to say, this was even nicer, perhaps, than the younger years.
The gifts from us were modest ones compared to what I know many teens get. Despite that fact, we must have been thanked 7 or 8 times for their gifts. Each got one moderately priced nicer gift...a Wii game for the girls, a Lego set for Kenny, a DVD of card tricks for Matt, a set of super hero action figures for Josh. There were some small, very inexpensive items...things like $8 blankets for each for staying snuggled up while watching TV, a comb and brush set for the girls plus a necklace each, a bigger blanket for Josh's bed which he asked for, and a plastic sword set for he and Matt to play with., while Kenny got a small pocket puzzle game. Grandma spoiled them with a beautiful carryon sized duffle bag for everyone in the family, and casino style games which we will all enjoy.
The fun part was seeing the joy they all took in watching the opening of the gift they had purchased for someone else. We did a drawing with everyone taking one name and buying a gift for that person. Having five siblings means it is too expensive for them all to buy everyone a gift, so aside from the Mom and Dad gifts, we draw names and then focus on getting one appropriate gift for that person. Each was so thoughtfully purchased...Joshie bought Olesya a beautiful pair of earrings to match a necklace she has...she was thrilled. He didn't quite have enough money for it, running $5 short, so a friend at church told him she would pitch in the $5 and he could come shovel snow for her to work it off, an offer he happily accepted. He was so excited to give Olesya her gift, he just knew she would love it, and she sure did! Angela got Matt a perfect Tshirt with a picture and saying on it. The picture was a glass half full and it said something like "50% water, 50% air...Technically, the glass is still full." Totally a Matt kind of literal humor.
Matthew drew my name and got me the coolest gift ever, which he clearly was excited about. He got me a 3 month subscription to an app that provides you unlimited access to over 100 magazines and back issues. He apologized for not getting me an entire year, but said it was more than he could afford. I laughed and told him he need not apologize, but he also need not expect to see my face for 3 months because I would be buried in cool reading!!! With a big grin, he told me, "Dad said you wouldn't like it, but I just knew you would!"...my son knows me well and has as great an appreciation as I do for the written word.
We have some awesome friends in our life, real friends, true friends...stand by through thick and thin friends. Their love has surrounded us from Day 1. The kids were blessed this year by several who thoughtfully got them each a little something or planned a special outing, including an anonymous card with a little cash in it for them to treat themselves to something. There was even a replacement wallet for poor Kenny, who lost his with $75 in it, a very, very hard lesson for him to learn as he continues to work on creating routines for himself so things like that don't happen. It was such a thoughtful thing to do, though, in recognizing his need and assisting him to replace a little of what his brain couldn't manage to hang on to. Josh was absolutely thrilled over another thoughtful little silly thing...when visiting his adopted Auntie Kim's house he has always loved playing with a jar she has of these plastic little bead things that have a battery operated votive-type light that shines through it. Simple, really, but he loves it. Auntie Kim didn't think it at all weird, and that was her Christmas gift to him, which is probably his nightlight tonight :-)
Tonight, we all felt rich, not because of the gifts, but because of what we all share together. Love was born here, among the chaos and messiness of real life. It is a love that is perfect, probably because it is NOT perfect. It doesn't have to look a certain way, it doesn't overlook the annoying things we all do, and like our craft efforts this year, it doesn't have to look like anyone else's...it's our love, the love gifted to us, born in us, and cherished deeply by all of us. It is a love we try to share with others, to embrace them in acceptance and include them in our odd, "Limited Edition" family. That sort of love doesn't come in a gilded package with some expensive present in it, but it is offered freely.
So, I am afraid we won't have adorable Christmas photos this year, with perfect outfits for Candlelight Service. Instead, this year, we have real life...sick kids, two thrown away craft attempts, a tight budget...all the things a wonderful life is really made of.
And believe me, it truly is a wonderful life!
Merry Christmas, from the Imperfect, Definitely Non-Pinterest Family! May Love be born in you!
Craft Project #3...if this doesn't work, we give up!
Well...it could be worse...at least it was made with love.
Repairing botched craft project #1
You could tell it was just going to be one of those holidays...
The boys made Monster Sugar Cookies, and Matt, who has always loved what Pastor Karen says prior to communion, grabbed one when I had the camera in hand (and Angela had a bite in her mouth!) and started saying..."Come, come whoever you are...worshipper, wandered, lover of leaving...ours is NOT a caravan of despair. Even if you have left your vows a thousand times, come..."
I have to think the Spirit appreciated communion with a Monster Sugar Cookie as much as anything else, as long as the Spirit is welcomed, that's all that really matters!