a quiet Christmas

My husband, two daughters, and I will be having a quiet Christmas this year.  It’s the first year where we will not be traveling back to the midwest to see family, nor will any family be traveling out to see us.  (My brother talked about coming in a week, but considering that he hasn’t bought his ticket yet, I’m not holding my breath.)  We also didn’t have any family around for Thanksgiving, so we are in the midst of a family-less holiday season.

Today it’s starting to hit me.  This Christmas is going to be different from any Christmas I’ve ever had.  All the little things that have come to mean Christmas to me won’t be there.  Yes, there will still be Jesus and Christmas services, and yes, we will still have a tree and presents, but beyond that — it’s all liable to change.  For me growing up, Christmas always involved lots of family visiting.  Plus, there were children’s Christmas services on Christmas Eve (Lyd’s Christmas services is Dec. 14), candlelight Christmas Eve services late at night (we don’t do one here, and JJ and I can’t go to one because who would babysit for us?).  There were choir concerts to attend (we have those out here for sure, but we haven’t found a way to get to one because of the babysitting again, and the ones we have gone to in the past just weren’t up to the standards set by the good midwestern Lutheran choirs that we were used to), homes of church shut-in’s to go caroling at (we don’t have a church choir this year, and we only have 3 shut-in’s and they’re all 45 minutes apart – in good traffic).  Plus this year our church is not doing midweek Advent services; I am completely in agreement that JJ should not do them given our church’s situation and his own current workload.  It’s one thing that is pretty easily dropped.  I know all that, but I miss them nonetheless.

And, it’s going to be just JJ and the girls and I for Christmas.  That’s it.

I was in real danger of feeling sorry for myself this evening, as JJ and the girls and I drove around looking at Christmas lights after eating out at our favorite local Mexican restaurant for supper.  I was focusing solely on me, and focusing on everything that I wasn’t going to have.

But then, Lyd’s enthusiasm for all the Christmas lights that she was seeing brought me back to the present.  I am my daughters’ momma.  My job, my priviledge is to make Christmas for my girls.  I realize now how HARD my mother worked every Christmas, how TIRED she got, making sure that Christmas and everything that went with it happened at our home.  I know now how much I took for granted growing up.  Honestly, I really want my mother to come and take over Christmas again.  I don’t want to be the one in charge.  I want someone else to do it.

But, the title of this blog is “not finished yet,” right?  I know that God is doing what he needs to do in me to help me to grow up.  I see proof of it every single day of my life.  Not a day goes by where I don’t see God’s hand in something, something I can see helping me to grow up.  And part of being the Momma is learning to focus on others.  To be the giver.  To make Christmas for others.  And, hopefully, in doing so, to find my own joy.

Moreover, Lyd and Curious J don’t have the expectations for Christmas that I have.  They are essentially blank slates (although Lyd does want to help decorate the house, since she remembers what it looked like last year).  I dare not burden them with my feelings of loss and feelings of “something’s missing” at Christmas.  As far as they are concerned, nothing is missing!  Momma and Daddy are both here, there will be presents, and there will be a tree!  What more do they want?

So, over the next three weeks, I’m going to do my best to focus on making Christmas special for my girls, especially for Lyd, who is now old enough to remember last Christmas.  Hopefully in focusing on them, and in not focusing on what I won’t have this Christmas, I will still be able to find joy and happiness … and peace.

Maybe in all this, I can re-discover the baby in the manger, too.  Perhaps with all the Christmas extras stripped away, I’ll be able to better focus on what Christmas is really about.  Hopefully I can help my girls focus on that, too.

——-

On a cheerier tone, JJ and I are planning to do things we’ve never done before this Christmas, such as going up to San Francisco and seeing the big tree in Union Square, as well as seeing SF all decorated for the holidays.  We hear there’s an ice skating rink in Union Square; maybe we’ll visit that.  Who knows?  With no family committments, our options are all open.

Plus, I plan on making and decorating some cookies together with Lyd.  Perhaps JJ can even get in on the fun a bit, too.  He hasn’t had to travel at all this month (so nice!), and with no mid-week Advent services, perhaps we can squeeze in some Christmas-y moments together as a family.  I do have some standard Christmas cookies that I make every year, and having those around will help things seem Christmas-y.

I’m not going to decorate the house very much this year, simply because Curious J will tear it all to pieces.  She’s into everything.  Sigh.  But, I decided we will do a tree.  I couldn’t have Christmas without a tree.  Decorating it is always fun.  I’ve decided that this is the year for non-breakable ornaments on the tree!

And this weekend is Lyd’s first Dance Festival.  Her little Kinderdance group is doing a dance called “Snowflakes and Winter Wind.”  Lyd is a snowflake.  JJ and I will be going to her performances Saturday night and Sunday night.  Should be fun!

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a sister is a forever friend

I cannot tell you how pleased I am to see my two daughters becoming friends.

Lyd delights in making her little sister laugh, and JJ and I love watching them play together, although sometimes I have to reign Lyd in a bit when she starts getting too rough with Curious J.  Not that J ever minds, however.  She giggles regardless, which Lyd uses as an excuse to continue playing rough with her.  (Sometimes, it’s almost like they’re two boys! 🙂 )

Last night it got a little TOO rough at one point, Lyd was told to stop, she ignored us and continued playing roughly, then the baby got hurt, so JJ and I stepped in.  After first dealing with her refusal to obey, I then talked with Lyd about different ways she could play with her sister that wouldn’t involve such physical play.  I gave her some ideas, and then we tried them out on Curious J, who enjoyed them.  It was a good mommy/daughter teachable moment.

Later on after dark, due to the lovely warm weather we are having, JJ and I were outside toasting marshmallows over our small Weber grill (JJ grilled us steaks for supper – yum!), and the girls were running around on our front lawn dirtpatch, with J running after Lyd, and Lyd hamming it up for her sister.  The full moon was shining brilliantly without a cloud in the sky, there was no breeze, the lights of the cities were twinkling on the hills, and my daughters couldn’t take their eyes off each other as they ran and laughed together.

I watched them, and I felt so incredibly grateful that they are already well on their way to establishing a wonderful, lifelong sister-friendship.  I make sure to remind Lyd on a regular basis that she and Curious J will always be friends, that they won’t always like everything the other one does, but that they will always love each other and will be best friends for the rest of their lives.  Lyd nods her head and parrots back what I say, and I think it’s starting to sink in.  And Curious J adores and emulates her big sister as much as possible.  It is just so heartwarming to see.

I’m am SO glad that Curious J is a girl.  I know I would have been happy if she had been a boy; it would have been a wonderful blessing, too.  But I am SO glad that she’s a girl.  I never had a sister, and as I got into high school and college and saw the relationship that fellow girl-friends had with their sisters, I often wished that I had been blessed with a sister, too.  Once I gave birth to Lyd, I knew that I wanted my next baby to be a girl, so that I could give her a sister.  Not just a sibling, but a sister, so that my girls would have the forever friend with which I was never blessed.

After Lyd was born, as I tried and tried to get pregnant, I first despaired that it would ever happen, and once it finally did happen and I found out my baby was a girl, I worried that with four years of age separating them, they would not be very close growing up.  But, like most worries in life, those were needless.  Everything is working out just fine.  My girls are already becoming fast friends, even with 4 years separating them.  My unashamed conditioning Lyd to see her baby sister as a forever friend seems to be having a positive effect, and Curious J is already looking up to her sister.  She truly laughs more at Lyd’s antics than at JJ and me combined!

I’m so thankful that they will always have each other.

the gifts my Grandma left me

A few days ago, I called my Grandma Violet.  I hadn’t talked to her since we left Wisconsin, and my father recently told me that her health is continuing to decline.  (For those of you who are newer to my blog, my Grandma has been in hospice care for almost a year suffering from congestive heart failure.  Her body is extremely weak and fragile, but her mind is as sharp as ever.  She can still play cards and do crossword puzzles with the best of them! 🙂 )

Last weekend, her house was “pillaged” by her children and grandchildren.  It was a planned event; Grandma is not going to be able to move back home, and her house needs to be prepared for a new occupant.  When I was there in August, I was told to take home whatever I wanted, so I chose some kitchen mementos, a butter dish, a sugar bowl (we needed one), pictures of the girls that I had given her, and some books, including some devotional books.  So over the weekend, other family members came and took what they wanted, while the rest is being sorted through to give to charity.  I guess there’s still some bigger items left along with some smaller stuff to go through, but Grandma was not a packrat, and she only had a small house, so it’s not too bad.  (Not like what JJ and I are going to have to deal with someday when we have to go through OUR parents’ homes!  We are dreading that day, let me tell you!)

As Grandma and I talked about her home being essentially dismantled, she mentioned how her daughters found a scrapbook of cards from her 25th wedding anniversary party.  Apparently as Grandma looked through these old cards, she couldn’t even remember who some of the people were.  She suggested that her daughters throw that scrapbook out, as she remarked that all cards get thrown out sooner or later.  I was reminded of MY wedding cards, my wedding cards that, 8 years later, are STILL packed into a big gift bag and sitting in an upstairs closet.  I have meant to do something with them all these years, but as of yet, nothing has changed.  When I shared this with Grandma, she emphatically said, “Throw them out!”  Really, Grandma? I replied.  She then said:

“Emily, if I can leave you with one piece of advice, it’s to throw it out!  No matter how nice those cards or other things are, they’re going to get thrown away sooner or later.  You might as well do it sooner and not wait for someone else to have to do it down the line later.”

Honest to goodness, those were as close to her exact words as I can remember.  Well then!  I have always greatly respected my Grandma’s opinion, and that respect has only increased in my adulthood.  So, as I pondered her words, and thought about the boxes of old Christmas cards that sit upstairs (that I’m going to DO something with!  Someday!  Really!), and other items from my past that I don’t use but can’t seem to let go of, I’m realizing the wisdom in her words.  Plus it’s kind of Zen/Feng Shui, too (although, not that THAT matters!) to get rid of stuff and create serene living spaces, free of clutter.  JJ is certainly interested in “clutter-free living” lately.  If he really wants to get something done, he drives down the hill to our local library, where he can spread out on an empty table and work uninterrupted.  He’s been after me to de-clutter the house, something with which I struggle.  Old habits die hard, but I’ve also been too tired for the past 2 years to do much of that, but The Time Is Coming.  Baby J’s sleep IS going to improve; I am taking steps to make that happen.  And once everyone’s sleeping well again?  The de-cluttering will begin!

—–

The night after this conversation with Grandma, I couldn’t fall asleep.  I was thinking about her advice, and how she said that if she left me with nothing else but this, remember to “Throw it out!”  As I pondered other things she had left me, I remembered how she has said that she doesn’t understand why God has kept her here on earth so long.  She’s literally almost died about 3 times in the past 4 years, and yet every time, she’s rallied and gotten better again.  Why IS God keeping her here?  Is it just to pass on wise words like these to me and other people?  Or is there a bigger lesson?

And then, it hit me.  My Grandma is a living example of trusting in God, no matter what the circumstances.  I can’t IMAGINE being in her shoes, being in hospice care for almost a year, essentially waiting to die.  Because, you see, while I’m not scared of death (I know I’m going to heaven), I AM scared of dying.  Humans were never created to die.  But thanks to Adam and Eve eating from the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden so long ago, now we die.  My mortality has been making an impression on me over the past few years, and thinking about Grandma’s dying has made me … uncomfortable.  It’s weird to think that she IS dying, right before my eyes.

But, over these past years, even from 2000 miles away, I have seen her strength and her trust in God.  She trusts that His timing is right, and until then, she is happy and content with her life circumstances.  Her money is gone, her home is dismantled, her funeral arrangements are settled, even her casket is chosen!  But still, she is happy and content, eager to hear about the lives of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and even able to make jokes about her own death.  We visited Wisconsin while I was pregnant with Baby J, and when Grandma asked if we knew what we were going to name the baby, we said that we did, but that we weren’t sharing the name with anyone.  Grandma promply responded with a twinkle in her eye, “Well, you have to tell ME!  I might be DEAD before the baby arrives!”  Everyone laughed, and I responded that no, we were NOT telling her — that way she would have to stay alive long enough to see the baby born.  Well, here Baby J is almost a year old, and Grandma is still here.  She’s made other jokes about dying, too, and those humorous moments have shown her total ease with the status of her life.  She definitely looks forward to being in heaven and free from the constraints of her tired body, but whether she lives or dies, she is at peace.

Grandma’s complete trust in Jesus as her Savior, her total contentment with whatever her life circumstance, her equal acceptance of both suffering and joy, her willingness to roll with the changes that life sends her way — THAT is truly her greatest gift to me, and the gift that I will carry forever in my heart.  I can honestly say (albeit with tears in my eyes as I type) that I am no longer as scared of dying as I was a few years ago thanks to the gift that my Grandma has given me in fearlessly dying as a trusting child of God.  That gift means the world to me, more than any material thing I took from her home.  I will be grateful to her the rest of my life for that gift, and I pray that I can pass that gift on to my children and grandchildren, too.

(And, Grandma, I promise I will throw out those old cards!)

a different kind of wisdom

I read A LOT of blogs, mostly mommy-blogs.  (Probably too many, but that’s a confession for a different day.)  It seems that most bloggers today have a liberal slant to them, and the mommy-blogs that I read are no different.  (And if they’re not liberals, then they’re religious fundamentalists, which are a whole ‘nother ball of wax.  I think I need to browse in some new places.  But again, I digress.)  I have had a hard time finding true conservative mommy blogs.

Despite the differences that a liberal vs. conservative mindset creates, I’m always amazed at how many commonalities I find when I read mommy blogs.  Raising children is always difficult, always a challenge, and always requires the best creative efforts of the mother.  I find so much encouragement reading these blogs; they make me feel like I’m not in this parenting experience alone.  There are other moms having the same struggles that I am, doing their best to raise respectful, considerate, thought-full children while also trying to let their innate personalities and unique differences shine through.

And then comes The Post where I realize — this woman is pro-choice.  Or a liberal.  Or supports Hillary Clinton.  And my first reaction used to be one of feeling let-down, a disappointment that “now we can’t be friends because we’re not as similar as I thought!”  I feel almost as if I should now feel guilty for reading this blog, because “This gal is a LIBERAL!”  But nowadays, while I still feel a twinge of disappointment when I realize that an enjoyable blog is written by a liberal, it doesn’t bother me that much anymore.  And THIS (that it doesn’t bother me that much anymore) is a big change for me.

You see, I used to feel like people who were liberals and/or Democrats and/or pro-choice were nothing but loonies or evil schemers or buffoons who only had selfish interests at heart.  (Perhaps I listened to too much Rush Limbaugh growing up? 🙂 )  But I don’t think that anymore.  I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, the heart of Liberal Land on the Left Coast, and, not surprisingly, many of my friends here are liberals.  I read blogs, of which most are written by liberals.  All of that exposure, while it has NOT made me a liberal, has given me an understanding of How the Other Half Lives, insight that I never experienced while growing up in the Midwest in the conservative, Lutheran family.  Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking my upbringing.  Not at all!  I am thankful to God every single day of my life for my upbringing and my family.  And if the Lord wills it, I would love to move back to the Midwest someday to give my girls a similar upbringing.  But my Midwest, conservative, Lutheran upbringing was not one that exposed me to lots of different points of view.

But, in the Lord’s wisdom, he’s placed me and my husband and my girls here for now.  Placed us here in one of (if not THE) the most politically liberal places in the country.  God does everything with a purpose, and by his grace, every so often, I feel as if I get a glimpse of why I’m here.  You see, there’s nothing like understanding How the Other Side Lives to help you develop compassion for them and ultimately know how best to share your own values and beliefs with them in a way that they will understand.  Because they’re not all loonies or evil schemers or buffons.  The vast majority are good people who are trying to raise their families well just like me.  They only want the best for their children, especially in politics.  They honestly believe that their politics would create the best country in which us and our children could live.  And I can appreciate that, I can respect that, even while I disagree with the methods they espouse.  I believe this appreciation and respect will only serve me well in the future, not only in my role as mother, but also as a pastor’s wife and as a friend.

It’s easy to criticize people who hold different views than you, or at least to make fun of them and dismiss their views as “uneducated” or “not thought through” or “biased.”  But it takes a different kind of wisdom to listen to those views and try to see what would cause a person to hold those views.  Only when we know WHY someone holds a certain position can we ever hope to be able to change their mind.  Whether in politics or parenting or religion or anything in between, understanding the reasons behind actions and beliefs are imperative if we ever hope to be able to change those actions and beliefs.

I feel like I am learning that kind of wisdom from living here.  I hope I can pass that wisdom on to my daughters, as well as passing on to them my Lutheran, conservative, Midwestern values.  I guess God thinks I’m up to the task, or he wouldn’t have placed our family here.

familial inspiration

One of the best parts of our trip to Wisconsin was the time we got to spend with my Grandma Violet.  She is now living in a Hospice House, and she will stay there until the angels come to take her home.  During the 48 hours that we spent in her hometown in central Wisconsin, we visited her 3 times, and I even got an extra visit in with her by myself.  It was wonderful to talk and visit with her, and her sage advice that she gave me continues to buoy me up, despite my sadness about leaving my family behind in Wisconsin.

Being around my family was such an inspiration for me.  When I was growing up, my father’s side of the family got together frequently for birthdays, anniversaries, and “big” ocassions like that, but they also often got together just because they enjoyed being together and because they could.  JJ, the girls and I had the fun of attending a number of family get-togethers while we were in WI, and being around my family again reminded me of what I’m missing by being out in California.  My Grandma Violet had 4 children, 14 grandchildren, and so far is up to 25 great-grandchildren, not including one great-grandchild already waiting for us in heaven, another great-grandchild currently in the process of being adopted from Ethiopia, and one great-grandchild still a bun in the oven, due in December.  Perhaps that’s not as big as some families, but that’s still pretty impressive.  And when we’re all together — well, it gets pretty loud … and fun!

Being around my family, especially my parents, aunts and uncles, was inspirational to me.  They are all examples of mature Christians who have lived through various difficulties and hardships, yet are still able to find ways to serve their families and others while remaining cheerful and positive about the future.  That’s a powerful example to witness, especially for someone who’s been struggling with feeling overwhelmed and anxious.  Yesterday as I went about my tasks, I felt as if I were somehow channeling their example.  I tried not to be overwhelmed, but instead to keep focused on the task at hand with a cheerful attitude.  Despite being so far away from WI, having their example fresh in my mind made them not seem quite so far away.  I hope I can continue to channel that positive energy today.  It made the yesterday go a little easier mentally, and I think it also helped me to not be anxious.

It also helps to remember that most likely, someday we will move back to Wisconsin, and I will be close to my family once again.  Don’t get me wrong: I love our life in California, and I have made many wonderful (and hopefully lifelong) friends.  My job here is great and likely unmatch-able in WI, and I love being close to Whole Foods!  Yet there’s no substitute for family, and it will be good to someday be back in Wisconsin, too.  But until then, I am happy to be where I am, knowing that God wants us here for a reason and that his plan for my life is perfect.  In my less than 48 hours back in California, I can already see blessings from being here.  We are exactly where we need to be, and God is taking care of all of us in his own perfect way.

the baby now

Baby J is at such a lovely stage right now.  She sits up beautifully, and rarely falls over.  If she does fall over, it’s usually because she’s trying to get at something out of her reach, or because she’s so excited she just loses her balance.  She also has finally figured out how to crawl forwards; for the previous month she only could crawl backwards.  However, she hasn’t yet figured out how to crawl quickly, so I can leave her alone for a bit without worrying too much.  She is extremely happy and sociable, and she is so excited anytime a family member comes into the room.  Her sleeping has taken a huge turn for the better, and now her naps and nighttime sleep are a joy.  It’s true: sleep begets sleep, and the regular sleep has made such a difference for her.  She was always a fairly even-tempered baby, but she’s just sweeter then ever these days.

I’ve been enjoying my time with her at swimming lessons.  Starting in a week, she and I are going to take a Mommy & Me swimming class concurrent with Lyd’s swimming class, which should be a lot of fun.  But for now, we (and all the other parents and siblings) sit on the side of the pool, in the shade, while we watch Lyd (and about 30 other kids) have their various group lessons at different spots in the pools.  Today Baby J and I sat with our broad-brimmed hats on our heads, watching the activity around us.  We shared drinks out of my water bottle, and J chewed happily on her toy keys.  I felt so content and at peace, and that feeling brought to mind how long of a path it was to get to this point.  I waited and tried so long to have a baby after Lyd was born, crying a lot of tears and shelling out a lot of money for acupunture, herbs, vitamins, and books along the way.  I’m not sorry that things worked out the way they did, because I learned so much, knowledge that I’ve been able to share with others, and I absolutely know that God sent Baby J at just the right time.  But it was a long road to this point, and it was nice to sit back and marvel at how far I’ve come.  And marvel at how Baby J has grown.  And what a delight she is.  🙂

So tonight, as I put her to bed, nursing her as I always do, I sang her the same hymns that I sing to her every night, the same hymns that I sang to Lyd at this age, and the same hymns she asks me to sing to her when she is sick or scared in the night, and it just all felt — right.  Tonight Baby J fell asleep in my arms, something that doesn’t always happen.  Rocking her, singing to her, feeling the warm summer breeze blow through the window, watching the remnants of a gorgeous sunset fade away …  Life is good.  God is good.  I wouldn’t change a thing.

(But then, once in a while, I also think about the baby that I lost two years ago.  The little someone that I never got to meet.  Because I know that if I hadn’t gone through the heartbreak of losing that baby, I wouldn’t have Baby J now.  Would I have changed that, if I could have?  All I can do is care for the baby now as tenderly and lovingly as I can, knowing that life is fragile, and to get to be alive at all is a precious thing.)