Monday, December 07, 2015

That's Christmas to Me

The season is upon us, with Black Friday madness, climbing debt, and the anxiety of finding just the right gift so that our love is expressed perfectly to each recipient.

Christmas has been my least favorite time of the year.  It is a holiday that lost meaning long ago, and it is a time when I feel inadequate for all kinds of reasons.  I got too caught up in what I was not, and I let the cultural expectations of what was "normal" get under my skin and steal the season from me.  The Pinterest pressure to present the perfect home, baked goods, and handmade gifts was enough alone to make me feel lacking!  Those who know me well know how incredibly craft impaired I am, and have kindly suffered through my feeble attempts to help the kids offer some sort of handmade item for Christmas once in awhile, sweetly smiling at the lame gifts and silently forgiving me for foisting such Fails upon them :-)

The financial pressure grew with each passing year and each additional child, as Santa's pockets grew emptier, and my heart grew colder.  I tried to make it all have meaning, but it just wasn't working for me.

I recently realized that somehow, I have managed to change all of that.  Gradually, over time, our Pastor has led me to an understanding of the season that has helped me embrace it all far differently, and "saved" Christmas for me.  As I did a little online shopping this year, I realized that this is the first year I feel absolutely no guilt about not being able to have piles of presents under the tree as so many families will have.  In fact, I feel GOOD about it!

You see, for me, this time of year has become more about Advent than about "Christmas"... it is about all the things that are not featured in holiday advertising.  It is about a gentle time of year spent waiting for the arrival of Love in the form of a child.  In a practical sense, for our family it has shifted to be a time of appreciation of music, of spending time together enjoying local events, and a time of laughter over our decorating.  It has become low pressure and far more enjoyable than ever, and I really do credit the steady influence of the teachings of our beloved Pastor Karen for helping me see things differently.  Year after year, there was this little push to be counter cultural, which surprises me it took so long for me to embrace, considering we seem to be a bit counter cultural in all kinds of ways in this family!  I think this year I saw how we have "arrived" and will likely never be the same, thank goodness!!

So, with guilt eroded and carols playing, and Joshie singing Pentatonix's version of "Mary Did You Know?" for the 457th time, it was on to getting the house ready for the season!

Let the decorating begin!
Since setting up the holiday decorations is not really my favorite thing to do, it is wonderful to have kids who really enjoy it AND are old enough to take it over.

The tree we decorated 6 years ago in Kazakhstan while adopting the girls.

The world's most spoiled dog "helping" :-)

When did Matt start looking like a man?

Dominick doing some "decorating" of his own with alcohol shots put into beer mugs for the store.
And why, pray tell, does this still cause me to crack up?  Liquor and us... yea, right.  
No one will ever be able to tell me God doesn't have a sense of humor!!

Kenny, eager to begin putting ornaments on the tree.

A super sweet addition to our decorations, a village given to us by Auntie Kim last year!  Angela loves setting this up.

Josh helping Olesya with her "ensemble"... Haha!

Dressed for Success!
This girl has the sweetest, most generous heart. 
Can't help but think how blessed we are to be her mom and dad.

Setting up the creche made by my grandpa.  Watching Josh so gently handle it brought back memories of Christmas when I was a child, and every year this was the sole thing I wanted to do.  Part of me knew way back then what the holiday was really about, despite being in a non-religious family.  How I love that this item is still with us, being cared for and displayed each year.

And yes, he is still singing! 

Almost done!


One of the more powerful things we have experienced this year thus far was a soup supper and watching a film at church one evening this week, "What Would Jesus Buy?".  

The whole family went and enjoyed a sweet time of fellowship with a handful of others from church, but what was taken home from that was far more important.  Using humor to make a point about the commercialization of the holiday, as well as to highlight the unending need to feed the hole in our hearts with material goods and the "thrill of the chase" with over the top consumerism, I doubt we will ever forget the message of this film.  In what will perhaps be my favorite moment of the season this year, we all came home, and "debriefed" after the film.  

Candles flickering and the lit tree before us offering our only light, we all gathered in the living room to share our thoughts about the film.  There, in front of the fireplace snuggled in blankets  with bodies sprawled everywhere...Matt's feet in Olesya's lap and head on Angela's as Kenny burrowed in next to me... it was apparent how appalling some of what they saw was.  

Families were shown lying to spouses and maxxing out credit cards, kids were spoiled beyond our imaginations with gifts totalling easily $1000 each or more, and the fictional character of Reverend Billy calling attention to the absurdity of it all.  Matt pointed out that there were layers of messages in the film, all of which were important.  Angela was disgusted with a quick comment in the film by a woman who pointed to her diamond ring and said she loved it more than her husband.  Olesya couldn't believe the mounds of gifts some of the kids received and she pointed out how they didn't show much appreciation for any single item because none of it meant much at all in the long run.  But it was Josh who really touched us all when he said, "You know what I got from the film, Mom?  I got that we already 'got it', and I was so glad.  I didn't see us in that film at all.  You and Dad have already taught us what is important, and none of that stuff is important.  I am so glad you have never done that to us, because you really would have hurt us.  I am glad we have church, too, because it helps us keep our priorities straight.  I thought it was all just really, really sad.  We'll always be different because of you guys not doing that to us."

Wow.  Imagine your child being grateful you didn't give them a lot of presents so that you didn't "ruin" them, and having them really and truly mean it.  We are at this incredibly rewarding stage of parenting right now, where we are just beginning to really see the fruits of years of hard, hard work.  I can't tell you how dearly I am loving these teen years, and how often I was told that they would be the worst years of our lives with 4 kids virtually the same age.  I have always made it a point, particularly in front of the kids, of shoving such comments aside...I want our kids to hear what a blessing they are to Dominick and I, how very much we love being with them through every stage of their lives, and how dearly we love them.  

And capping off the season for me was being treated to lunch at a nice little restaurant by Angela, as we shared a little "date" together after visiting a craft show.  Yea, I know, "Cindy" and "craft show" don't belong in the same sentence together, but Angie wanted to go, so of course I wanted to go and spend time with her!  There at Daveto's, a little Italian place in the next town over, I sat across from my daughter and just drank in the sight of her.  6 years ago no one would have predicted where our relationship would be... so deeply connected, so very much in love with one another, so appreciative of all the other is.  As I shared at church yesterday, it was a life changing Advent for me  during that long, cold winter in Kazakhstan when I literally watched a heart aching to trust, yearning to reach out, and yet being unable to quite get there.  It was only the prayers of others and the teachings of Christ that kept me able to have an open heart after having it bruised so badly by an 11 year old terrified little girl.  How grateful I am for the birth of Jesus, whose example and teachings showed me the way to being a different person in the world.  Not perfect, not by a long shot, but overall, I hope a little different... and it led me to a life I never would have had.

Grabbing her debit card from her purse, Angela proudly out argued me and paid for lunch, and using it for the first time at a restaurant she turned to me to teach her how to calculate the tip and fill out the receipt.  I can't explain how even that silly little moment had meaning, a mom teaching her daughter some small financial skill.  It is something many might take for granted, but I seldom take a single moment with the girls for granted, as I realize it almost didn't happen.  And how they love me!  And how I love them!  And how GOOD God is!!!  This isn't some sort of half hearted love, this is the real deal, built through enormous challenge and connected soul deep with both girls.  Leaving the restaurant, her arm draped casually across my shoulder, she thanked me for letting her take me for lunch.  We leaned into one another, loving how we fit nestled together, laughing about nothing in particular, just enjoying simply being with each other.

And that, my friends, is Christmas to me.

1 comment:

B.A. said...

Your family is so amazing. My two adopted daughters have so much internal trauma that every holiday is holiday hell (to borrow from Cindy Bodie). We tried decorating the tree this weekend. 13 yr old stayed in her bedroom refusing to have anything to do with Christmas decorations. 9 yr old ramped up her RAD issues, smashing every breakable ornament she could get her hands on. I thought this year we might actually be able to make it. We kept everything low key, we stretched things out (got the tree one day, put the lights on the next, ornaments the next day) to try to reduce the pressure on them. But we will never have the memories or happiness that your family has.