Have you ever done something with your family, and then immediately realized it was going to become "a thing"? Our New Year's Eve tradition evolved from what I originally thought might be a one time event, but the kids decided it was going to be formally declared a Tradition with a capital "T". In fact, we even took our Tradition on the road with us last year, packing fondue pots to go along with us when we spent the holidays with our dear friends! This year, the plan was altered a bit, but ultimately it turned out precisely how the Spirit wanted it to be.
As the new year approached, Olesya was sick and had been for days, and in fact is still fighting off a nasty cough. We also had plans to serve dinner on New Year's Eve to the homeless along with members of our former congregation, and at the last minute we decided to move our celebration to New Year's Day, which thrilled Josh as he then went to spend the night at his best friend's house and enjoyed their gathering, too. However, we all ended up helping to feed 47 people that night, and we all agreed it was a wonderful way to spend the evening if we weren't going to do our "usual" activities.
I also think it was a strong reminder of how blessed our family is, but additionally, that there is far less separating us from others than we think there is. Truthfully, what separates us is our own reluctance to connect with others because we think they are so different than we are. I gave an older gentleman a hug after his third helping because he said that was the only other thing he could think of that he really and truly needed, and I thought about how every human being needs connection. The kids are all unafraid of being in these settings now, as we have done so regularly throughout their childhood, and their kindness towards others touches me, but it is their ability to "see" others and not judge that matters most. After all, they too were once "homeless" and "familyless", though few would look at them and realize this. Some of us have been spiritually homeless and familyless, too, and that also leads to an understanding of a different sort of poverty that isn't always as obvious with outward appearances. Relationship and being known is at the heart of our deepest longings as humans.
New Year's Day we prepared everything for our evening Fondue Feast! We do it once a year only, and it makes for a lovely and leisurely way to spend time around the table together. This year was no exception and we all enjoyed it very much. Though this might seem like the "main course", so to speak, of our tradition, but in fact, it is merely the appetizer.
The main course is what happens next, at the kids' insistence, and it is when we figuratively throw the doors wide open, and invite God to the table. Lights are lowered, candles are lit, and hearts are shared.
One at a time, we spoke, being present to one another as we answered the questions, "How did you change and what did you learn in 2017?", and "What are your hopes for growth for 2018?" This is not a time for restating accomplishments or bragging about about achievements, this is more about who we are not what we do.
This sacred place, this kitchen table of ours, looks nothing like an alter, nor is it surrounded by paraments or stained glass, but be that as it may, it is a Sanctuary in all the ways it can possibly be. That is due to the faithfulness of those who gather here, not just us, but friends throughout the years who have brought their own sacred selves to share with us, too, and our family has been changed for the better because of it.
Three hours of quiet conversation ensued, as one by one, sons and daughters, mother and father all revealed what the past year had been like for them as they lit their own personal candle. Then, every family member spoke about what they had also seen in terms of growth and change for that person. It was as beautiful as can be, having each person lifted up one by one, encouraged to become ever more of their real selves, having their progress as people growing in character and courage lifted up before the entire family. Dreams for the future were acknowledged and affirmed. Our little geeky squad offered quotes repeatedly to make their points, from St. Augustine to Aristotle to Solzhenitsyn to FDR to Tolstoy (and no, they were not all offered by Matthew!) Over and over, authenticity and out of the box thinking was praised, as many declared that they grew in the ability to stop caring as much what others thought and live the life they felt called to live.
One highlight was when Matt pointed out that he recalled two years ago our family having a heart to heart conversation with Olesya, and about how none of us felt we really knew her and how closed up she was. He praised how much she had grown in this area, and we all agreed that there was a new openness to her, and that not a single one of us could say that about her any longer! Such an impressive amount of work on prying open a heart that was long scared to put itself at risk. This is a family filled with overcoming in all sort of ways.
We sipped on sparkling cider out of dollar store champagne classes, and time stood still. one by one, each candle was lit that joined our first candle signifying our family as a whole, and the light shined brighter and brighter. No one glanced at the clock, everyone was offered the gift of time to gather their thoughts and express them gently. It was powerful, it was meaningful, it was sacred in every sense of the word.
This little family of ours...so different, so "weird" as declared by some, so counter cultural. We don't match in any way if one looks through eyes solely grounded in the world. Yet we match, oh man, do we match beautifully. There are connecting strands that tie each of us to one another. It has nothing to do with biology, or race, or nation of origin. It has to do with faith, heart and intellect. It has to do with choosing to love one another deeply, fervently, and forever.
And we will do that in 2018, and beyond. We will each continue to grow steadily, to pursue interests, and to always, always offer love, both within our family, and to every person we encounter.
We don't know how to be any other way...and that is what really matters.