Friday, December 28, 2012

light in the darkness

Our holiday weight loss plan was to take Sommer to a public place and let her put everything in her mouth, thus bringing home a violent stomach bug for Christmas. Okay, it wasn't exactly the "plan", but that is what happened.

The day before Christmas our littlest daughter awoke vomiting in the wee hours of the morning. Holding my baby while she heaved, 5, 6, 7 times, unable to tell me what hurt or when it was coming, has to be one of the more heartbreaking things I have done as a mother. We somehow survived the day, with the low moment being a severe code brown while both girls were in the tub.

The sickness passed and Sommer seemed to be feeling better. My family was given an informed account, but still wanted us to visit for Christmas. We all made it through a wonderful, celebratory Christmas morning and family-oriented Christmas afternoon. We stuffed ourselves for dinner. Then it hit. In a span of 30 minutes, Annike, Christian, and I were all down with the same violent virus. Merry Christmas to us!

This particular Christmas has been a strange one. It seems like darkness has been at work, doing its best to prevent us from seeing the Light. We witnessed more sadness than usual this December. A sadness that often felt like darkness. We have seen a young mother diagnosed with cancer. A young child sentenced to a lifelong disease. Friends experiencing unexplained health issues. A dark cloud of discontent and anger in people we have interactions with. And, of course, there is little that compares to the shadow cast upon December by the shooter in Newtown, Connecticut. How my heart hurts for the people in that town whose lives have been forever changed.

While I was up all that Christmas night, trying to sleep between episodes of our own dark illness, I grasped onto the truth that no amount of darkness will win out over the Light. My mind and spirit clung to immense thankfulness... for a good partner to help hold the children... for the knowledge that this would be over within 24 hours unlike the bad news that so many others had this season... for the still small voice that whispered for me to do laundry before this all happened readying many pairs of clean pjs... for my brave brave 4 year old... for a baby who slept through it all... for my mother who would help us and take care of us as only a mother will, highly contagious disease and all... for the strength I knew was not my own.

Through it all we must remember that the Light has already won. In a sleep-deprived, sick night comes the deepest kind of gratitude. Just like, out of a smelly stable came a royal King. From a humble baby in a manger came the Wisdom we have all be looking for. Through a cruel death came the world's Savior. In the face of all that is inexplicable, He is the Answer.

Excerpts from Isaiah chapter 9 (italics mine)
"Nevertheless there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress....
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest...
For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
And He will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end...
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this."

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

the nutcracker

On Sunday afternoon, we got to go on a special girls date. Annike, my mother, and I were invited by the Sugar Plum Fairy herself.

The Sugar Plum Fairy happens to be a good friend of our family's, a child I babysat regularly, and the flower girl from our wedding (which was clearly a while ago because look at what a lady she is now!). She personally invited us to Carmel's fantastic performance of the Nutcracker. What a treat! She was beautiful, with all of the poise and grace of an enchanted fairy.

Annike was enthralled. She couldn't take her eyes off the dancers. During every pause in the music she shouted in her high piping voice, "Now what?!" and "Where is the Nutcracker?!" and "When is he going to become a prince?!?" sending the audience around us into giggles. The enthusiasm was clear.

Prior to the show we joined a special group of little girls and mothers for a fancy tea in our winter best. It was complete with tiny sandwiches, a dessert buffet, and Annike's favorite "bubbly apple juice".  (Papa told her once that the apples in the orchard next door to us grow the apples that make the Martinelli's bubbly apple juice... to which she replied, "Are they growing bubbly apples?")

We were little princesses. The afternoon reminded me that every little girl should know that she is worthy of being celebrated. Since having Sommer I haven't taken much time to spend individual, undivided time with Annike. Dates like these will definitely be added to our annual priority list.

Of course, the day would not be complete without a reenactment of the ballet. Proper attire optional.

A little more work to do? Maybe. It is really hard to be a good ballerina with little sister in the way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

core values

Blogging has taken a backseat to Christmas this year, as it should. We are doing our best to celebrate Christmas in a meaningful way. A big part of that is simply being available to celebrate a little at a time throughout the entire month of December.

With most of the shopping out of the way (last post), celebrating a little at a time has spawned many spur-of-the-moment holiday a family portrait (fingerprints by all of us, antlers by Annike)

... and a wine-cork Christmas tree (no, we did not drink all of these bottles in December)

... and a few snowflakes suspended throughout our home.

In December we have also managed to squeeze in some holiday baking with the last of the fruit in the orchard. These green apples have ended in some delicious desserts.

Our healthy choice for December has been using the old Halloween candy for decorating the gingerbread house instead of for eating. The brilliance of this is simultaneously clearing out the cupboards to make room for all of the Christmas chocolate coming our way.

The Christmas tree looks a little different every year. After breaking a large handful of glass ornaments during the first hours of tree set-up, we made an attempt at toddler-proofing by putting it on top of an old table from the barn. Not a decorating strategy I want to repeat every year, but it seems to be doing the trick. We hung a few kid-friendly ornaments on the lower branches within Sommer's reach, but as I suspected, they have not remained on the tree.

Overall we have clearly been having a lot of fun because the kids are worn out...

Making Christmas meaningful for our children is always a challenge. Despite all efforts at downplaying the wrapped packages under the tree, Annike will tell you she is most excited about the presents she gets to open on Christmas day. How do you combat that?

We are trying to fight it with a few core Christmas values. Ours are:

  • Togetherness - Being together, being present while we are together, celebrating Christmas a little at a time in the moment with each other, celebrating one of the greatest gifts of the season which is these people in my life who I love so much.
  • Giving - This point will be hammered into them: We are giving, giving, giving,... the only way to counteract the "getting". We are giving gifts, giving crafts, giving sweet treats, all of our favorites will be given away. Whether you like it or not, small children, YOU WILL GIVE!
  • Anticipation - Advent is all about anticipating the coming of the Messiah. Children anticipate Christmas day the way that the ancient Jews anticipated their Savior. This parallel can makes it a little easier for these little people to understand the excitement of Jesus coming to earth. We can't wait to celebrate the best Gift of all! Preparing to receive that Gift is what December is all about.

And just when I fear the most important Message may be occluded by the bombardment of the consumer-based messages, Annike asks me an insightful question like "Why do we hang apples and snowmen on our Christmas tree if Christmas is about Jesus?"

Great question, honey. Let me think about that for a minute and come up with a wise response.