Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saying goodbye and looking ahead

My aunt passed away on Christmas Eve, in the wee hours of the morning. My uncle held her close for countless hours, so sure each breath was her last and wanting to spend every last second with her in his arms. Her breath would whisper out, then stop and his tears would flow, only to be stopped by another breath, drawn anew. But she was gone, her body just didn't realize it yet. Finally, she breathed her last and her body was still.

We laid her to rest today. I've been to funerals before, a few for people quite close to me. I've lost all but one grandparent, and years ago I had to watch my husband bury his mother. Somehow I cried more tears today than I have ever cried over losing someone. I'm not sure why I was so overcome with emotion. I loved my aunt very much and I will miss her dearly. But she lived several hours away and I only saw her once or twice a year. I can't say we were close. Yet I shed so many tears today, my eyes are raw and my skin is blotchy.

Far more than for myself, I hurt for my uncle and their children. She was not yet 60 years old; she only lived to see her 59th birthday. So very, very young to have to say goodbye. Their children are only in their twenties; four people who had to say goodbye to their mother far too soon. I've seen the pain that causes; I lived through it with my husband. Every time I saw her husband bury his face in his hands, every gasp and sob I heard from my cousins, every tear they shed, sent a wave of grief through me. I was relieved that we chose to have my husband stay home with our kids; I wouldn't have wanted them to be upset, and would have kept my tears in today. It was good to let them go.

It sounds like such a cliche to say that you never know how much time you have, you need to be grateful, etc. But it is so very, very true. Our time here is so limited and we don't know when God will call us home.

Instead of making resolutions to eat better, or work out more or lose weight, I'm resolving this year to be more patient, more kind, more loving, and more nurturing to my family. I don't want my children to remember a mom who is grumpy, frustrated and out of sorts. I want us to forge good memories together; nurtured relationships, care and understanding.

I am not perfect and motherhood is messy and hard. But I will try harder. I will work to approach all things with love and care, devote myself to my relationships with my family and focus on love. Because In the end, love is all we really have.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Should Christmas be only for Christians?

Over the last couple of years, I've seen a sentiment amongst some of my fellow Christians that goes something like this:

"I wish non-Christians would just quit celebrating Christmas, since all they do is perpetuate consumerism and materialism, want me to quit saying "Merry Christmas" and take all the nativity scenes out of public places. They take one of the most important Christian holidays of the year and try to strip it of all true meaning and what we're left with is a whitewashed, meaningless, postmodern spend-fest."

Or something like that.

Since last year, when a friend of mine said something to the affect of the above on her Facebook page, I've thought about whether there should be some separation of Christian Christmas, and secular Christmas; or whether non-Christians should celebrate it at all. Should non-Christians, particularly the staunchly non-religious, leave our holiday alone? Should the solution to the "don't-say-Merry-Christmas-for-fear-of-offending-someone" attitude be to reclaim our holiday for ourselves, creating a marked separation between those who celebrate the birth of Christ in December and those who do not?

Personally, I say no. I don't think it would be better if non-Christians began to forgo the tree and lights and stories of Santa Claus; if they packed up their Elf on the Shelf and quit baking cookies and hanging up stockings.

Do many of the secular Christmas traditions and practices muddle our view of the real meaning of Christmas? Sure. Do I get annoyed at the idea of not telling people "Merry Christmas" because it might somehow offend someone? Yep. Is there far too much emphasis on the material side of Christmas? Probably. But I don't think the solution is to insist that Christmas is solely a Christian holiday and non-Christians ought to just leave it alone already. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater here.

In our culture, there is already a line drawn between Christians, and basically everyone else. Faith and the practice thereof is being pushed further and further into the margins, relegated to the corners of our lives, something not to be brought out except in certain company. The "us" versus "them" mentality is already too pervasive and threatens to create further divisions between those who believe and those who do not.

Rather than take back Christmas as a holiday not to be shared, why not graciously let the non-Christian partake in the feast of the birth of our Lord? Who knows what might come of the experience for some? Isn't it possible that a child might grow up celebrating even the most secularized version of Christmas, only to be curious someday as to where the holiday started? They might ask questions and it could be that maybe, just maybe, the magic and splendor of their Christmas celebrations will plant the tiniest of seeds in their heart. It could be one of many things that leads people to Jesus in the course of a lifetime, but an important one nonetheless.

This is not to say that I think people will grow up with the hustle and bustle and shopping and buying and spending and giving and it will somehow begin converting people en masse. But what if it opens the possibility, however small, for some?

I don't think the solution to rising secularism is to hunker down in our little church bubbles and insist the outside world stay out. I think if we, as Christians, begin pulling away from non-Christians, the divide between us will only grow wider and the opportunities to share our faith, even in the smallest of ways, will dwindle. Instead of perpetuating the us versus them mentality, let us lead by example, celebrating with our families and communities and model the true meaning of Christmas; let our actions carry our message to those around us. Who knows? You never know what small bit of kindness, what tiny bit of joy might touch someone's heart and Jesus only needs the tiniest crack in our soul to begin shining his light inside.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rounding up

Our best friends have two boys who are a few years older than our kids - 11 and 9. Well, technically I guess they are 11 1/2 and 9 1/2, since both have birthdays in April.

They stopped by this afternoon to bid farewell and wish us a Merry Christmas as they headed out to their week-long family Christmas a few hours away. Their oldest wandered in decked out in headphones, listening to something on his ipod. When it was time for them to go, their dad had to get his attention because, with his music playing, he didn't hear what was being said. The father made a comment along the lines of, "Yep, he's a teen."

No. No, he's not. Not quite. But his parents often refer to him that way, and I have to say, it drives me crazy.

He is on the threshold of that transition into the teenage years, standing on the brink of puberty. He's getting really tall, his shoes are almost as big as his dad's and he has his moments of "teen-ish" behavior.

But he still comes over and has nerf battles with my boys. He still builds things out of Legos and plays elaborate games of pretend. He still plays. I love that about him, and at 11 years old, he should.

I know that he's going to change. That there will come a time when he stops coming over to play with my boys, in favor of other things. There will come a time when girls aren't icky (they are firmly in the gross category, as are any movies or TV shows with kissing... ewwww!). There will come a time, all too soon, when he's moved beyond young childhood and entered the realm of his teenage years. I don't begrudge him that, nor am I in denial that he's getting older.

What bothers me is how often his parents, and I see other parents doing this too, how often they skip ahead in their language. They speak of him as if he's already 13 years old and sulking in a corner with his headphones, unreachable in his teenage angst. He's not. He's happy and fun and sociable and still so, so young. He's such a child and I fear that they are missing out on that; they're missing the last months of this phase of childhood in their eagerness for him to grow up.

Granted, as parents it is all too easy to succumb to that sentiment. We want to see our babies roll over, we encourage them to crawl, and we celebrate when they walk and say their first words. We delight in their growth, in their accomplishments and new skills. This doesn't end as they leave the baby and toddler years behind. We love to watch them learn and grow and try new things. All of that is wonderful, but there's a line that is crossed when the parents seem all too eager to jump ahead and place their child in the next phase before they are truly there.

A passing comment about him being a "teen" isn't the only thing that has prompted my musings on this topic. They, and other friends of mine, have said things that make me think they are watching their kids' childhoods go by with a sort of checklist, checking off the time and almost looking forward to its end. I doubt they would see it that way if confronted with the idea, but things they say still leave me with such an impression.

I guess I just don't know why people want to round up when it comes to their kids ages and stages. It gives the impression of being in a hurry to get this child-rearing business done, and that makes me a little sad. Enjoy each stage of their life for what it is and let it pass in its own time; they will be grown and gone all too soon.

One more day

My dad sent me a picture yesterday. In it, my ailing aunt is sitting up, smiling, surrounded by her husband and four children. A couple of days ago, it appeared her body was shutting down as the tumors in her brain pressed on precious nerves, inhibiting her body's ability to function. Yesterday, they removed the respirator, she woke up, ate breakfast, smiled and waved at her family, and took a nap. They are making preparations for her to return home - with in home medical care, but still home.

I'm rather stunned at this turn of events, but so, so grateful that she has a little more time with her family. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she could still spend Christmas with them, in their home? I pray for that blessing. I know it would mean so much to her family.

I don't know what this means; if she'll have one more day, or two, or five, or thirty. There's only so much of her left that can come through the haze of disease in her brain. She can't talk very much, if at all. I'm not sure how mobile she is. But she knows who people are, and she smiled at everyone who visited her. She waved at my dad and tried to say, "Hi." Blessedly, she isn't in pain and although it is difficult to know how much she truly understands, as her short term memory is very weak now, she's calm and doesn't seem to be in any discomfort.

Each day is a blessing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prayer for my aunt

My aunt is nearing the end. She was diagnosed with brain cancer not long ago and has deteriorated rapidly in the last few days. As far as I know, at this moment she is still in the ICU at the hospital near her home. Tonight, I pray for her and her family as they likely have to prepare to say goodbye. I can't be there with them, and somehow saying this prayer silently to myself didn't seem like enough. So although it isn't as if she, or any of her immediate family are going to read this, I felt that posting it and sending it out into the digital world was somehow more palpable than to simply pray silently tonight.

Heavenly Father,

Tonight we prepare to say goodbye to one of your beloved children. It is my sincerest hope and prayer that she is now hearing your voice, whispering her name, calling her home. She was not a religious woman, but I know she believed in you and believed in Jesus and I fervently pray that you will embrace her with your loving arms as she crosses into eternity. Please forgive her sins and accept her into your grace with your unending mercy. Please Lord, love her, comfort her and carry her home in peace.

Please be with her family, who will so desperately miss her. For her husband, her son and her daughters, I pray that they have peace and comfort during this difficult time. For my dad, and their sister, I pray for peace and healing. And for my dear, dear grandmother, I pray diligently Lord, that she will weather this tragedy and not give up her own spirit in the face of losing her daughter. I wish no one had to lose a child, ever, even when they are 85. Please Lord, please be with Grandma and help her through this sadness. Please lift her up and carry her along, for I fear she isn't strong enough to bear this burden. At least not alone.

Thank you for the time we had with Debbie. Thank you for her spirit, her laugh and her humor. She was loud and funny and opinionated and sometimes rash. She loved her children fiercely and endured much on her journey as a mother. It is a little hard to imagine a world without her in it, but thank you for creating such a lively and fun woman. She has touched many lives and there are so many who will miss her.

I ask these things in the name of Jesus Christ, your son. Amen.

Feeling raw

I'm feeling so emotionally raw this week. The shooting in Newtown last week started the avalanche, but other things this week have contributed, leaving me feeling wrung out and exhausted. The embarrassing part is that a piece of my emotional state today isn't even from anything real, but from a movie we watched last night that disturbed my dreams something awful.

In the wake of the terrible deaths of those innocents in Connecticut, our nation is grieving and there isn't much more I can say on the subject that hasn't already been said far more eloquently by people better than I. But I still have a lump in my throat when I think on it and looking at my own kindergartner, as well as my other children, leaves me feeling simultaneously so grateful that they are here with me, and irrationally afraid of something happening to them.

My aunt, who has been battling brain cancer, took a turn for the worse yesterday and is now in the ICU. I don't have any reliable details, as the phone calls we get are from different people in her immediate family and they seem to be interjecting their personal emotional state into the news; my uncle acts as if she will be home for Christmas, yet their daughters call crying and are sure the end is near. I'm not sure what is really happening, but being in the ICU is certainly not a good sign. I am so sad for her husband and children, and for my dad and grandma, that she might pass right at Christmastime.

My sister in law got in a minor car accident the other day, and although she was thankfully uninjured, her car was totaled. It has added a layer of anxiety to my week, even though it wasn't my accident or my car. She's about 10 years younger than my husband and I, and we've always tried to help take care of her in a sense. Things are coming together, she's already heard from her insurance company and things will be OK. But it was an emotional few days for her and I was feeling a bit of her pain and frustration as I did my best to help comfort her.

In light of all this, the absolute last movie I should have watched last night was "Seeking Friend for the End of the World." It is a sort of odd, rather dark and sad, comedy-ish movie. It isn't quite a drama, but not quite a comedy either, considering the sobering subject matter. Starring Steve Carrell of "The Office" fame, I thought it would have more humor than it actually did. In the film, humanity has just learned that an asteroid is going to collide with the Earth in three weeks time and it follows what happens to Steve Carrell's character and a woman he meets soon after the news breaks, played by Keira Knightly. They have some interesting, some strange, and some heartwarming adventures, but in the end, yeah... the asteroid hits. And this was no action movie filled with heroics and bombs to shove the thing off course, or showing bits of humanity saving each other and surviving. This was a love story and the final moments of the movie leave no doubt what becomes of the heroes of the story. Their end is rather poignant and very sad as they embrace. And, sorry if this totally spoils the movie for anyone reading, but they hear the huge boom of the asteroid hitting and realizing they have only seconds, and the sound sent such a rush of adrenaline through me, my heart was literally pounding for an hour. Definitely not a movie I should have watched just before bed.

My dreams last night were full of, well, they were yucky. I knew that would happen. I always have emotionally charged dreams when I watch a movie that affects me so deeply and last night was particularly bad. I woke once with the same heart pounding adrenaline rush that I'd experienced watching the movie and was up for much of the night because of it.

Silly, to be so worked up over a movie of all things. But this movie forces you to ponder the idea of what would you do, if you knew the world was really going to end. How would you spend your time? And how would you face your certain death?

It reminded me, as did the tragedy in Newtown and my aunt's illness, that sometimes the worst thing does happen. Sometimes that worst case scenario that you dread above all else - it happens. Anyone who has lost a loved one, or a child, or faced a terrible illness knows this. I've faced that worst case, or at least the almost worst case, and realized that it can happen. I survived, but it was a terrible time and changed my view of the world forever.

These are all sobering thoughts and I'm still struggling with the wash of emotions such thinking produces. There are spiritual lessons here for me, and I know it. I know that often what we feel is the worst case scenario is only the worst in our temporal, woldly life. I try to take comfort in the eternal, in the God who loves us so much that He sent Jesus to save us. But my wild imagination roars with the what ifs and fears of life, fears I dread so deeply I cannot even name them. And it is difficult right now for me to calm those fears with reality, and more importantly, with faith. But I am trying.

And I'm probably going to go watch Elf again to help cheer me up.

Monday, December 17, 2012

These things I can do

Even prior to the horrible shooting last week, I've been struggling lately with some of those big philosophical/spiritual questions that a lot of us wrestle with - What's my purpose? What does God want of me in this life? How can I use my life for God, and how do I know what that even means in a practical sense? And looking at the larger world, what kind of world am I raising my children in? How are we ever going to navigate the increasingly secular culture and what does it mean for our lives long term?

Big questions. The murders at Sandy Hook have done nothing but exacerbate my questioning, pitching the worst of our society in stark relief - a terrible moment in time that makes you want to scream. How could we have fallen this far? How much farther can we fall?

There are times that I feel like our society is on the brink of disaster. We are ancient Rome, so ignorant of our own impending disaster, we will be dumbfounded when the "barbarians" show up at our doorstep. We'll be looking around for our army, our protection, our Praetorian Guard and we will realize they are long gone. We stopped valuing them. We will look up and see that our society has eroded away and something else will wash over our shores to take our place, our great nation merely a blip in the history books of the future.

Sounds gloomy, doesn't it?

So what does one do in the face of such pessimism? I am not typically a pessimist, but it is hard not to look out at the world and wonder, what are we doing? Where are we headed? It doesn't look good.

What I am doing in the face of such dark thoughts is to turn inward, to my family. Perhaps that's what I should be doing anyway, and the events of the last week are simply redirecting my focus back where it should be. There isn't much I can do to solve the problems of the world. I am only one small, tiny person and there's only so much impact one tiny person can make.

But I can make sure our house is in order.

I can strive to be better at my vocation. I can strive to search for God each day, to seek out His will in my life and be the best example for my children that I can be. I can hope and pray and love and remember that my highest calling during this season of my life is to my family.

I take comfort in that. It feels as if it is something I can accomplish. I can love my children, and nurture them and care for them, and teach them. I can love my husband, and support him and care for him. I can nurture my family and nurture my relationship with God. These things I can do.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There isn't much else to say about today

There's no way for me not to connect what happened today with my own family, with my own children. This didn't happen to me, it isn't about me, and my sincere prayers are with the families who have been so devastated - especially to the mothers who won't be kissing and hugging their sweet babies tonight.

But there is something about finding similarity between yourself and a tragedy that make it all the more real, even though it happened to someone far away. I've felt that way before, and I feel it tonight.

My little kindergartner is sitting downstairs watching cartoons with his brother and sister. I can't even fathom losing him, or any of those precious babies down there. I know any mother would say the same of her children.

And as much as, intellectually, I realize that this was one incident among thousands of schools, and I don't believe that children in schools are generally unsafe, I can't help but feel glad that they are home with me right now. No, I can't protect them from every evil, and I don't really think they'd be in actual danger if they were at the school up the street. Logically, I know they'd be fine and the chances of something this horrible happening to us are minuscule. But logic isn't winning tonight. I'm just glad they are here, with me, and they are safe.

My heart aches for the families who are suffering so deeply tonight. May God be with them now and always.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worth remembering

Today wasn't an extraordinary day. It was a simple day, but in it's simplicity, worth remembering.

We started with our little preschool group and my daughter's exclamations of, "My preschool friends are coming!" were so sweet. I love our little preschool group we have going - we only meet a couple times a month, but it provides an hour or so that is dedicated to our littlest learners, something most of us homeschooling moms struggle with a bit, as so many of our activities and responsibilities revolve around our older kids. We painted paper plate wreaths, played with peppermint scented playdough (I felt so crafty making my own playdough!), listened to stories and played "freeze dance" to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." So fun.

Our friends said goodbye, and we had some lunch, followed by a chance for the kids to finish the movie they'd started watching last night. Disney movies on Netflix for the win! When that was done, we snuggled in together on the couch for a reading of the original story of Cinderella. We talked about how it was different from the movie (although that wasn't what they'd just watched, we did watch the Disney Cinderella not too long ago), and we were all interested to know her name in the Grimm's version is Isabella. I'd always thought it was just "Ella" and they tacked on the "cinder" to make Cinderella. My kids pointed out the lack of talking mice, and how the prince himself comes to try on her slipper, and recognizes her before he even puts the slipper on her foot. They loved how it ended, with Cinderella telling her jealous stepsisters that they are welcome to come visit her in the palace anytime, that there will always be a bed ready - the hearthstone next to the cinders.

We've been working on a fairy tale "book" that includes an art project for each story we read. I had the rather brilliant idea, if I do say so myself, to have the boys make pumpkin carriages out of some of our Halloween pumpkins (considering we had about 6 of them). Of course, I had that thought back in October and somehow it is now mid-December... Hmmmm, not sure how that happened. Luckily, we still had a couple pumpkins that were still intact.

The boys made these crazy, wonderful "mixed-media" pumpkins. I set out a random assortment of supplies and told them to make carriages, however they wanted. I just love what they came up with - they worked on them for nearly an hour, intently problem solving to find the best way to make wheels and windows, and my oldest even added horses and reigns, as well as a little drawing of Cinderella inside the carriage through one of the windows. My younger son's randomness shined through, with two "windows" including lots of foam stickers and a "cover" for the stem that didn't seem to have a real purpose, but it was the first thing he made. They were both very happy with their creations.

David, my recently-turned-8-year-old, has been wanting to make a sling shot for a while, and since it was not raining today (a rare occurrence this time of year around here), we decided a walk in the woods to hunt for a good stick was in order. Both boys found sticks, and we did our best to craft a couple of sling shots out of them, along with some elastic I'd saved (glad I saved it!), and electrical tape. They had a lot of fun trying them out in the backyard. It took more skill than I realized - I couldn't get a rock to go more than a few feet, but David hurled a few of them across the yard.

We finished up our day with playtime, dinner and a LOT of reading aloud. I'm literally a bit hoarse from reading so many books, but it was precious time and I'm more than happy to sacrifice my voice for it.

A good day, worth remembering.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Nutcracker

I've always loved the Nutcracker Ballet. I've been to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet's production of the Nutcracker several times, and it is so wonderful. The music is beautiful, and the expressiveness of the story played out in dance so lovely. The sets and costumes were designed by the amazing Maurice Sendak (of Where the Wild Things Are fame), giving the entire production an air of whimsy and magic that I have always loved.

Since we began having children, we've talked about how great it would be to take them to see the Nutcracker someday. My husband loves it too (and I feel ridiculously lucky to have a husband who enjoys the ballet), so it was something we've looked forward to for a long time.

Today we took all three of our kids to see it and it was just as magical as I'd hoped it would be.

My boys sat on the edges of their seats as the mice fought the toy soldiers. The cannon shot took them both by surprise. The giant mouse king was fascinating as ever and even they gasped a little when they saw the Nutcracker had changed into a prince. My daughter loved the character Clara, both as a girl and as the "ballet princess," as she called her. The ooh'ed and the snowflake dancers, and ahh'd at the sugar plumb fairies.

It was such a treat to sit with my kids and share something with them that I hold dear - and it actually played out as well as it could have. You know how it is with kids and expectations; they have a way of crushing your tightly held dreams with their chaotic reality. Yes, we had a couple stressful moments (that bell ringing to warn you intermission is winding down while you're still in the bathroom with a five year old who insists on taking 10 minutes to go "big potty" can definitely make the blood pressure rise a bit). But overall, they were so well behaved, they watched with rapt attention, and loved it.

We wound down the day by having dinner and dessert backwards (courtesy of my three year old who needed a potty stop and the closest bathroom happened to be at a Dairy Queen), and later watched Charlie Brown Christmas snuggled on the couch together.

Life with kids isn't all fun and games, but sometimes things fall into place just how you imagined. Today was one of those magical days.