Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It Feels Like Christmas

A part of childhood we'll always remember
It is the summer of the soul in December
Yes, when you do your best for love it feels like Christmas

I realize Halloween is still 5 days away and that means Thanksgiving is a month away which means Christmas is two months away. That being said, I'm already in the Christmas spirit. It might've started when I first spied the Christmas fabric on display at Jo-Ann's. Or when I dragged Katie with me to buy some of said Christmas fabric at Jo-Ann's. This was in late August or early September. I can't remember exactly. I've been just itching for Christmas this year.

Which is unusual for me but not new. I used to love Christmas. I suppose all children do, despite the depressing existence of young boy Scrooge. What kid doesn't get ants in their pants for Santa Claus and presents and looking at Christmas lights? The coming of Christmas also meant the coming of my birthday. Born just two weeks before Christmas I would get birthday cake with a side of Christmas cookies. My mom was great at making birthdays special. She made Ace of Cakes style cakes before anyone had ever heard of Duff and his Baltimore bakery. We'd have a gaggle of little girls over for games and gifts and cake and cookies. And my excitement would only grow as Christmas drew ever nearer.

I remember decorating the Christmas tree and listening to Manheim Steamroller. One of our traditions was opening a new ornament the night we decorated the tree. Sometimes Mom hand-made our ornaments, other times they were store bought. She kept lists for both Adam and I so we'd know in the future who gave us particular ornaments and how old we were. It's those very same ornaments that hang on my Christmas tree now.

While we were away at school our house would change into a winter wonderland. A collection of Santa music boxes in display in the barristers, a Christmas village would appear complete with puffy angel hair snow, we'd each get our own little tree to decorate. Our collection of Christmas books would appear. My parents bought me a new The Night Before Christmas every year for my birthday; the one holiday birthday gift I'd tolerate. I now have those Santa music boxes and I pair them with my Night Before Christmas books. Memories re-gifted, in a way.

Some years I would get to arrange the nativity set. I couldn't understand why the donkey or sheep couldn't lay in the the loft. When the other, more sensible, people in my family tried to explain that a donkey or a sheep could not climb a ladder, I told them I didn't care. And the donkey, or the sheep, stayed in the loft, defying all reason.

There was magic in our holidays. Our basement functioned as a family room where we'd watch movies and play with toys. Every year, as a family, we'd watch White Christmas and when we'd come back upstairs to get ready for'd be snowing. My family, cute as we were, would sing together at Christmas eve services. The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy, Have a Super-Duper Christmas, and my favorite Do You Hear What I Hear? My mom was the night wind, I was the little lamb, my brother was the shepherd boy, and my dad, of course, was the mighty king. We were adorable.

We were always in the Christmas pageants. I was an angel one year, my brother was a prophet (Isaiah, I think). Church was a big part of our holidays. Services at our own church, at our grandparents' church, my great-uncle was a minister so some years we'd go to his church, too. There was always talk of Jesus and the manger, of Mary and Joseph, of shepherds and wise men. Jesus was never lost in the tinsel and twinkle lights. Somehow He was infused into everything. The music, the traditions, the memories.

We'd have our own little family Christmas--Dad, Mom, Adam, and me--and then a day or so before Christmas we'd pile in our mini-van and go over the river and threw the woods, and we'd be comin' round the mountain, to grandmother's house. Adam and I were the only grandchildren, and let's face it, Christmas is much more fun with little ones, so we were a teensy the holidays. Grammy, PapPap, my aunt and uncles filled the living room with gifts. Literally. Every year the tide of gifts would get nearer and nearer to the dining room, encroaching on all the furniture, threatening to overtake the Christmas tree.

Of course, all of this changed rather drastically as my growing up crashed with my parents' divorce. I remember feeling as if the spell had been broken, no matter how hard we tried to paste it all back together. Some years were good, others were not. I wouldn't say I lost my excitement entirely...I just had a feeling of loss lingering in the background. I think this was inevitable and I think we all had a similar feeling.

Eventually Christmas became about keeping the peace and pleasing other people. The magic was lost and Jesus was somehow missing from the equation. I couldn't seem to find Him in the gifts or the tree or the cookies. But I eventually started my own traditions. There are certain books I try to read every year, The Birth by Gene Edwards for one. I like to read the Christmas scriptures, especially on Christmas eve as midnight approaches. Charlie Brown Christmas has become a family favorite--I'm Sally and Adam is Charlie, we call each other every year when it's on--and when Linus recites Luke 2, I find Him. He's there. He always was. He was in the magic, and He was there when the magic was broken.

He's there this year when the magic is stirring again.

Our first year of marriage felt a bit like this year. Curtis and I decided early on to do Christmas just us. I baked so many kinds of cookies and was excited to do the shopping. I decorated my own house for the very first time. We fought about the Christmas tree (the first one we bought fell over but magically none of my precious ornaments broke). I made a huge Christmas feast. It was everything a first Christmas should be.

Then the next couple years we rushed here and there to try to squeeze it all in and work around other people's plans. The magic left again like pulling Santa's beard off.

I'm not sure when, from where, or why the Christmas magic comes. I think it's about the spirit of a person, their attitude. When all I could think about is what used to be or what couldn't be anymore...there's no chance for magic to stir. When Christmas became about agendas and rushing and people-pleasing, there's no chance for the magic to stir. When Christmas becomes about getting what you want and holding your ground, there's no chance for the magic to stir.

But when Christmas is about joy, regardless of where you are or if the Christmas tree falls over, there's a chance. When Christmas is about celebration, simplicity, and relationships, there's a chance. When Christmas is really about Jesus, when He's not stuffed into a stocking buried beneath the presents and the angel hair snow, there's a chance.

I have no issues with mixing the secular with the religious at Christmas. What's wrong with sprinkling some reindeer feed on your yard after reading the Christmas story? What's wrong with writing letters to Santa, after thanking God for all that He's given us? What's wrong with believing in Father Christmas, as long as we truly believe, save our souls believe, in Jesus Christ? I think there's supposed to be whimsy, fantasy, and the whisper of magic on every winter wind. It's only when tradition overtakes meaning, when cash registers drown out the angel chorus, when hurrying rushes the Christmas story into a one-hour Christmas eve service, that the magic of the season is really lost. It's only when we lose Jesus that we really lose Christmas.

It's in the singing of a street corner choir
It's going home and getting warm by the fire
It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Those Two Little Pink Lines

September was a Friday morning...I was just about a week overdue, if you know what I mean. And I'd thought about taking one of those dastardly pregnancy tests but frankly I'd seen too many negative results to really stomach another one. I had considered asking God for a sign, like a dream, but then I decided that every time in my life I'd tried to rely on signs that it never worked. I'm far too good at tricking signs into appearing where God never intended them to be.

But I had a dream. It was exactly what I'd almost asked for. God has a sense of humor.

So a couple days later I decided to just take the stupid test and get all the disappointment over with for the month. The sooner I had an answer the sooner I could move on. I dipped the stick and set the timer for 3 minutes and walked away. When I came back, holding my breath...I couldn't believe my eyes. Two lines.

So I asked Curtis, who was busy making me breakfast, how many lines he thought their were. He told me two, and we just looked at each other stunned.

Now...don't get me wrong...I was excited. I was thankful, I was praising God in my heart somewhere. But mostly I suddenly and thoroughly felt gripped with fear. I don't think I've ever experienced fear quite like that before in my life. As we told our closest friends and family members and they all celebrated, I felt a little numb. Grateful but numb.

This lasted several days until I finally gave way to my emotions. In the shower (I seem to do a lot of emoting in the shower, actually) I broke down and I sobbed. It's been years since I cried like that. And I told God, don't get me wrong, I'm amazed at what you've done here, and I so want to glorify you but there's this huge BUT in my way. BUT what if you take the baby back? BUT what if something happens? BUT what if this breaks my heart and I'm worse off than before?

I've had two fears all my life. 1) That I wouldn't be able to have children and 2) That even if I could get pregnant that I wouldn't be able to stay pregnant. There's plenty of familial evidence to support both fears; these are not ungrounded. Clearly fear number one was well-founded, but once that was shoved out of the way it was time for fear number two to take over.

God heard the cries of my heart and instead of taking them as a sign of disbelief in His power, He took them as an opportunity to love on me so much and restore my trust in His goodness. I can only imagine the tenderness in His eyes as He looked on His daughter so afraid and uncertain. God is so good.

The following Sunday was September 11th which proved to be highly emotional for a lot of people. There was a big altar call and I felt the tug to come forward. I knew what it was that I had to lay there on the altar of the Lord.  I knelt at our altar, face to face with the Almighty, and I knew that the only way to conquer the fear of losing my baby was to give my baby to God willingly. So I did. I figuratively but very truly placed this little life that I've wanted for so long on the altar, much like Abraham putting his beloved son Isaac on the altar all those thousands of years ago. I told God, and meant it, that no matter what He chose to do with that little life that I would praise Him anyway. That I would still insist in His goodness, even in my pain. I didn't promise that I wouldn't be angry or devastated, but that I would still see His goodness and mercy.

We came home from church, planning on a lazy afternoon with the dogs before youth group started. But we found Shiloh, sick, actually dying we would later find out. As Shiloh's situation went from bad to worse to hopeless in just a few short hours I remember thinking, crying out, that I'd just given God my baby, why was He taking my dog, my best friend, my ruff? I don't know. Maybe Shiloh was that sacrificial lamb that God provided Abraham with so he wouldn't have to give up Isaac. Maybe I had to give up something. Or maybe it was just Shiloh's time to leave us. I'll never know for sure.

A few days later I was driving from my office where I work in the morning to the library to grab a few books before heading out to the school where I work in the afternoon. I'd wanted to hear Gungor's song 'Beautiful Things' ever since I saw those two pink lines (more on that in this post ). But I hadn't. Until that day. And as I drove to the library the song came on KLOVE and I praised God, both in song and for the song. But God never does a little when He could do a lot. I came out of the library, started driving toward the school and Matt Hammit's new song 'All of Me' came on the radio.

He's the lead singer of Sanctus Real and we'd seen them in concert about a month before. Matt performed this song that he'd written about his baby boy Bowen who was born with only half a heart. The song is about the moment when Matt realized that giving his baby only half his heart, half his love, in an attempt to save himself from loss and pain wouldn't help anything. The only choice was to recklessly love him, no matter the ultimate pain or cost.

So here I am, driving down the road with tears just streaming down my cheeks. Confronted face to face with myself in music. Which is truly more important--guarding myself from potential pain or falling completely in love with this little miracle? Which would God have me do? One meant living in that horrible grip of fear, going back and forth from the altar, giving up my baby and then snatching 'him' back. The other meant living in a joyful celebration, not ignorant of the danger, but not crippled by its threat. That song has become my anthem, my chorus, my motto. I want to embrace every moment of this journey because I can't have it back or do it over. And if it all comes crashing down on me...God is still good. He will still give me air to breathe and command my lungs to suck it in, even if that's all I can do.

It's been about a month now since all this has taken place. We've had our first appointment and ultrasound. We got to see 'his' little hands and feet, complete with ten toes! We think we're having a boy, that's the general consensus among family and friends, too. There's just something about those pictures that says 'boy'. But we'll be thrilled and overjoyed no matter what. We are already thrilled. The morning sickness (which is really all-day sickness...what a ridiculous misnomer) and fatigue have been a struggle. I'm already in maternity pants...I don't quite have a belly but I'm getting bigger all the time. But I refuse to complain about weight gain or outgrowing my clothes. Or any of it really. I've wanted this for far too long to spend nine months whining about how awful it is. I can't do much for my baby yet, take vitamins, rest and eat, but I can endure the symptoms with a joyful heart..perhaps a merry heart...and in that way already love, nurture, and cherish my little one.

God is good. He is the God of impossibilities. He takes what cannot be done and makes it do-able. He took my broken body and barren womb and filled it with life. He took my fearful, fretful heart and filled it with love and joy. Only God can do these things.

If you haven't heard 'All of Me' I've provided a music video here on this post. It is such a beautiful song for any parent. I'm learning more every day how being a parent will change everything...require me to love far more than I ever have and give more than I ever knew I could. And its worth it all. Just like the song so beautifully says.

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