Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on Our Christmas

A Little Background

Admittedly, I'm not a big holiday person. I tend to get a bit annoyed by all the hype of every holiday. Everyone seems to get in such a tizzy... only to get expectations unmet. Now that we have children, we've been forced to rethink how we celebrate and not celebrate holidays. My first thought was to just leave out all the annoying things and leave in the few things we do like. My focus was more to push aspects away then to actually have much of a plan of what we would do.

Thanks to Two Square's posts on Advent, Doug and I started rethinking our vision of the Christmas season back in late November. Looking back, I realize how negative I had been to the whole Christmas thing. While we had a few of our own traditions in place, I mostly wanted it just breeze by. I tend to be the kind of person who enjoys being surprised by the fabulous moments hidden in the ordinary every day ones. That's a good thing I want to hold onto... but I also want to better embrace the special moments that can come amidst the special holidays and seasons throughout the year. I don't want to "throw the baby out with the bath water," so to speak.

Reflecting on this Year's Advent and Christmas

All that to say, as we near the end of our Christmas celebrating, I'm deeply thankful to proclaim that my vision of Christmas has been redeemed. In this post, I want to share some choices we made which, for us, led to so many sweet moments in our family. I also want to start a Christmas scrapbook- idea first gained from this lovely friend- to record all that we're learning and experiencing together as a family! I never before cared about such a thing. We end our time together so refreshed and so thankful!


So I will start here... this might be a bit long. I admit this post might be more for our family than for you or yours. I cherish this blog space as one to reflect and remember. For some reason I'm more apt to write here than in a journal... anyone else like that out there? And at the outset, I want to explain that while I want to write about what we did and why... in no way do I want to preach it as the best way for you or your family. We are absolutely still learning and next year might end up looking a bit differently. Lord, may no self-righteousness fall into these lines. Amen? Amen. Okay, let's get started.

The start of our Advent was much later than we anticipated. A horrible virus befell this home and had us out for the count, one by one, for close to 3 weeks. In some ways, I'm thankful it turned out this way. Ten days of Advent was a good first trial run for us... and it was good to not feel bound by a certain length. Although next year, we hope to try it a bit longer.

Last disclaimer... I came up with none of these ideas alone. Only a few of them are linked, but all of them I stole from somewhere. In that tradition, feel free to steal any of these yourself.

Here are a few things we did:

We were given the Fisher Price Nativity Set which we set up on a low table and let the kids play with. Nathan simply chewed on the characters and clunked them on the floor; Justin enjoyed holding each of them and beginning to play out parts of the Christmas story on his own. It was a big hit with both boys in their own ways.

We bought a second Nativity Set (with which we didn't allow play) to set up in the middle of our dining table. Every morning during Advent, we added another character of the Nativity. Justin really got into the anticipation of who/what would be there each morning. AND it gave us fodder for our Advent time each evening.

Also each morning, we cut a link in a homemade paper chain. Each link had a line to the Christmas story. (Doug wrote the story in ten lines... the same number of days we celebrated Advent.) We read the story to Justin, which usually corresponded somehow to the new character added in the nativity scene. We talked about it briefly and then taped it to a cabinet near our dining table. Each morning, we read the links already opened and then the new one for that day. The theory is that by Christmas, the kids will have the Christmas story learned. Justin didn't have it memorized, but it helped him be more and more aware of the various characters and pieces of the plot. The paper chain added another element of anticipation and was another activity we could participate in together as a family.

At mealtimes, we lit candles to make it feel a bit more special. We told Justin we were lighting candles because of Advent- special time, to help us prepare for Christmas, Jesus' birth day.

At dinnertime, we gathered all the Christmas pictures of friends and family we had received that day and prayed for them briefly. This idea is yet another one that I stole from a family at our church. Adding another anticipation element, we all looked forward to the pictures we would receive from the mailman each day... how many and who they were. It was encouraging to pray together as a family for all those special people. This practice got us praying, blessed the prayed-for ones, helped get our eyes on others during Christmas, and was a little link in the chain to help teach Justin how to pray. We then hung them on a picture hanger on a wall near the dining table.

For Advent time each evening, we sat on the couch together (just before bedtime, pj's on, blankies in hand-- which helped everyone settle) and BRIEFLY talked about the new thing on the table. We asked Justin what was new, then we talked about one simple fact about that thing. For instance, when we added Mary, we talked about how she was thankful to God for having her carry His Son Jesus in her belly. We then read a few pages of a children's Christmas book to highlight Mary. We then prayed very briefly about that. I made a very simple ornament of each night's focus... just copied a simple drawing I found in a book... and then we helped Justin hang it on the tree. (Note: The bulk of our other Christmas decorations and ornaments were already hung on our tree, which we bought, set up, and decorated at the beginning of December.)

Just before Christmas day, I had Justin do some simple "art projects," chalk and markers on paper, that I made into simple Christmas cards for neighbors. Justin and I delivered them... it was a fun and simple (no baking required!) way to connect with our neighbors, for Justin to be involved in caring for others, etc.

So to recap a typical Advent day... in the morning we put out a new piece of the nativity scene we had on the table. We cut a link in the Christmas story paper chain, read all the opened chain links, and then taped the newest link to a cabinet for visibility. At dinnertime, we prayed for the people for whom we received Christmas pictures that day. In the evening, we talked again about the new element of the nativity scene on the table, read a few pages from a Christmas story that related to the other parts of the day, and hung the newest ornament onto the tree... and we talked and prayed briefly about all of that.

Evaluation of our Advent Time
Advent time became a very special time for our family. It helped Doug and I by helping us reread and think through the Christmas story. We enjoyed the chance to talk and relearn the story and its truths. It was helpful to our own faith to be forced to explain these truths in simple ways. It was precious to see Justin get so excited about that time... as simple as it was.

Another thing I was struck by was how kid-friendly the Christmas story actually is. I know that might sound silly, but think about it... the star, all the animals, the long travelling everyone did, the presents, a Baby, etc. There really are many things kids can connect with and enjoy in this Story. Seeing anew through Justin's eyes helped Doug and me realize once again how special It is. And because of all these elements interesting to kids, it is really not hard to peak their interest.

Are there other Advent practices you especially enjoyed incorporating into your family? What did you do and how did it benefit your family?

Christmas Eve/ Day

Christmas Eve, we read some Scripture from the Christmas story... which was special and also ended up being hilarious. Doug and I exchanged the bulk of our presents Christmas Eve after the boys were in bed so that we could have our own little intimate time. We sipped on homemade apple cider- a previously held tradition of ours and had quiet time for Doug and me.

On Christmas morning, we presented Justin with the full nativity scene, which he was so stoked about. We cut the last link in the paper chain and read all our links. We made a chocolate pie (I used that recipe except I used real whipped cream- of course!), added candles to it, and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. We were all pretty excited to eat chocolate pie for dessert after breakfast. We then made Christmas cards for each other (another previously held tradition in our family)... very simple but fun. Then, we proceeded to the den where we opened the gifts and the stockings.

We had downplayed the whole present-thing through all of Advent, so Justin didn't wake up Christmas morning knowing we would open presents... that's why we were able to some other things before present-opening. However, I know as he gets older he will certainly pick up on this sooner. I'm not sure if we'll do this part differently or not in the future.

We limited ourselves to buying 3 smallish presents for the boys (+ a few small stocking stuffers)... in the tradition of the wise men's bringing 3 presents to Jesus. Another tradition that we stole, this was definitely more of an accountability for us. If I had the money, I would be tempted to buy the world for the boys. I don't have the money, but I would probably find a way to spend more than would be good for them or for our wallet. This limit was good for us... on Christmas morning, I had totally forgotten the other gifts I wanted to buy for them. And the boys of course were so content with their $7 car carrier and other small presents... and oh, all that wrapping paper. We talked about how we give gifts both because that was the wise men's response to Jesus's birth and also because God gave us the best gift of all by sending Jesus.

So Brett, to answer your question about how we balanced the Santa part of Christmas with the real Christmas story... the answer is that we didn't. We aren't crazy about a lot of the traditions surrounding Santa, so we just skipped them. It seemed too hard to us to have 2 different things going on that seemed to us so opposing. However, many people I respect practice the Santa traditions, so I would welcome them to comment on how they've been able to maintain that balance during their Christmas celebrations. This book might touch on this topic... but I haven't read it so I'm not sure.

Family Christmas Time
Advent time spilled into "Family Christmas Time," which started on Christmas day... where we continued to talk about Jesus, now focusing on celebrating, thanking God for the Gospel, and talking about the implications in our daily life- for instance, being thankful to God now for sending Jesus because He loves us, loving our neighbor, etc. We kept all our Christmas decorations up for a week after Christmas to help us all remember that we were still celebrating Christmas... drawing from the tradition of the "Twelve Days of Christmas."
I would love to hear ways you and/or your family celebrated Christmas together that were especially meaningful.

Regular Family Worship Time
We had not previously been doing any "family worship" or prayer time together, mostly because we really didn't know how to do that or if it was really necessary. Knowing our children are growing up in a ministry-as-vocation family, we wanted to be sensitive to the fact that they are around ministry a lot. We didn't want to stuff spiritual stuff down their throats. However, now we are realizing that it's our students who are involved in ministry, our children aren't directly a part of that... and aren't benefiting except by having fun at gatherings with our students occasionally. We now have vision for the importance of living out our spiritual lives as a family, not just as individuals. And there are ways to do that without stuffing it down their throats. We're excited to share with them really good news about who God is and what He has done/is doing for us. Practicing Advent and "Family Christmas Time" gave us a framework of how that time can look on a regular basis. Having to practice looking at one story in Scripture gave us the confidence and vision to look at others with our family. And it gave us fodder to draw from throughout the day when other things came up that reminded us of the Story. If you do some sort of "Family Worship" on a regular basis, we would love to hear what you do and how you do it.

Children's Christmas Books
We also invested in some children's Christmas books for the kids at the outset of the season.

One Shining Star: A Christmas Counting Book is a simple, fun book that focuses on all the characters of the Christmas story through counting... we recommend it for the youngest members of your bunch.

My First Story of Christmas was our favorite... a great simple story with all the important elements of the Christmas story, and well illustrated.

This is the Stable is a sing-songy well-written depiction of the Christmas. We appreciated that the characters were all nonwhite. It was a little lacking the emphasis on Jesus... so while we recommend it, we would also recommend having others to balance it.

Away in a Manger is a tiny board book with the famous song... a fun way to sing together. It's very cheap and we recommend it.

Both Missy and Two Square have recommended The Advent Book that we'll likely invest in next Christmas.

We would love to invest in more children's' Christmas books... do you have any recommendations?

Adult/Family Advent/Christmas Books
These are Advent/Christmas books we invested in for us:

Before and After Christmas has a Scripture verse, reflection, and family activity for each day of Advent and Christmas. While we didn't use this book verbatim, It helped us think of various ways to break up the Christmas story, symbols to focus on, etc. Many of the reflections were secular in nature and seemed a bit irrelevant to us to the Christmas story. Also, many of the family activities were for older children. However, we're thankful we invested in this book as it's full of ideas from which we can draw for years.

Jesse Tree Devotions This is another family Advent activity book. On the order of the "Jesse Tree" tradition (newly learned by us this year), each day has a reflection of an Old Testament person in the line of Jesse who was David's father - and therefore in the line of Jesus, or another significant story in the Old Testament that leads to the coming of the Messiah. The last few entries have people from the New Testament that relate to the Christmas story. Each day has a paper ornament of various symbols for kids to color and a paper "Jesse Tree" to glue it on. It seemed like a great way to pull all of Scripture together and a great family activity to do, another year. All the prophecy seemed a bit too complicated to translate to a toddler, so we saved it for another year. If anyone has used the Jesse Tree tradition with preschoolers, we'd love to hear how you kept it simple.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas includes lots of essays from various theologians and writers... some were amazing and some were very average. Does anyone have any adult reflection-type book on the Nativity they would recommend?

Thoughts for next year
I think we'll likely do the same things- focusing on different aspects of the nativity each day in various ways... maybe starting a little sooner- assuming we don't come down with awful viruses again next year! I found a very cheap and small Christmas wreathe at an after-Christmas sale. I think I'll use that for an Advent wreath either on our dining table or on the counter nearby. Two Square has a paragraph about this tradition here. If I get inspired with the creative bug, I also might make an Advent calendar like this really cool one. I also would like to include more Christmas songs/hymns into our preparations. Does anyone have any suggestions for Christmas song books or websites and how to include them in our Advent/Christmas practices? This post on Marshall's blog and the string of comments that accompanies it has a great list of Christmas Cd's. We'll use this to enlarge our Christmas CD collection next year.

Okay, I need to end this horrendously long post. Free blogger will probably send me a bill. Feel free to comment with further thoughts, answers to the above embedded questions, or further questions of your own.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Checking In

Several of my faithful commenters and lurkers have asked for more from MakingRoomForMore... so here are a few bullets from the last week or so.... lots of jumbled up thoughts and no good writing. But here you go...

We've been generally having quiet family time around here... as quiet as time can be with a 2 1/2 year old and a 1 yr old... and 2 talkative parents (we can't blame all the noise on the kids). I haven't been in the mood for blog-writing... just in the mood for being around home and in reading many of your blogs. We've enjoyed some bits of time with extended family last weekend and this weekend... and are also thankful we've had this week mostly to ourselves. We've loved the freedom to try out some new things and do them our way.

We infused lots of Advent practices into our Christmas experience... mostly thanks to TwoSquare for bringing up the topic. I'll do a post on that another day- if I'm in the mood and if there is interest. For now, suffice it to say for now that we really enjoyed/are still enjoying preparing and celebrating Christmas over the course of many weeks.

Christmas Eve night, we were talking about how Mary was thankful when God told her she would have God's son Jesus in her belly... Mary's being thankful was something Justin grabbed hold of the last few weeks. Doug explained how he was going to read "Mary's Magnificat..." (however you spell that) or Mary's Song. He started reading it... and Justin asked Doug to sing it since it was a song- a reasonable request. The next few minutes were hilarious. Precious Doug wanted to take Justin's request seriously and sing this VERY long song that has no tune that we know of, of course- it was a bit painful for him. I was laughing hard and trying not to wet myself, and trying not to let Justin know of my laughter.

Christmas day, Doug threw the Frisbee accidentally into Justin's face. Justin became scared of Doug and ran away, hiding behind my car! I comforted him and tried to explain that it was an accident, that Daddy didn't mean to hit him in the face with the Frisbee, but he wouldn't have any of it. Thankfully, he's moved on!

Nathan has decided the last few days that it's fun and curious to pull up in his bed... but when he gets there he gets really scared apparently, not knowing what to do with himself. He erupts in heavy crying. He did this several times throughout last night. We go in to comfort him and put him back down, only to have the situation repeated. Oh the fun. During the day, he has been the easy going guy, loving to play on his own and enjoying exploring all the toys. He's been into kissing lately... and we're all loving it. He's also gotten really fast and sly at poking Justin's eyes. He seems to come out of nowhere and nails him... getting Justin back for all the knocking over!

For those of you who receive our newsletters (all or most of you?) and read of my mishap with Doug's present... here's an update. I commissioned a friend/former student to do a drawing of Doug's favorite Christmas hymn, O Come O Come Emmanuel for his main Christmas present. I was very excited about it and this amazing artist finished it a couple weeks ago. Just before I was to pick it up, I realized his favorite song was really O Holy Night and was disgusted at my mistake... only to learn on Christmas Eve- when Doug and I exchanged our presents, that O Come O Come IS his favorite song after all... O Holy Night is a Close Second. So all is well after all!

Doug and I (he's off this week) have also been getting lots of house projects done. He's been itching to create... so he's been building a really cool frame out of old barn wood for his new drawing (above) and constructing a new coat rack out of that same old barn wood and a bunch of antique door knobs, casters, etc. Many afternoons, if you were to peer into our backyard, you'd see Justin with his tools spread out on his very own "work table..." copying the precise movements of his Daddy at his own work table. It's been so preciously cute! At this very moment, they are digging out a section of the backyard in preparation for Doug's newest project- a garden. Covered in dirt and sweat, I'm not sure which one is feeling more at home.

I've been in the organizing mode... cleaning out junk drawers (I think we have about 5 of those!) and the like. Today I just printed out my new free 2008 calendar for my Notebook.

Okay, I think I'll close up this random post. Happy celebrating, everyone!

Monday, December 10, 2007

My Mom is Coming

She'll leap through the door with smile, with giggle, with vision for the day, with energy of 500 acrobats, with new trucks for the boys, with dark chocolate m&m's.

My mom is coming.

Soon the counters will be cleared of dishes full of uneaten food.

My mom is coming.

The dishwasher will be emptied and refilled to the brim.

My mom is coming.

Fever-reducing medicines will be consolidated. Mail will be sorted. Late bills will be located. Bags of dirty diapers hurled to the outside can.

My mom is coming.

Jackets, trash, used tissues, water bottles, toys will be removed from my kitchen counters. Puzzle pieces will be reunited from under the entertainment center.

My mom is coming.

Diapers will be changed more quickly, the boys' rooms will be swept of dust balls.

My mom is coming.

The boys will be happier by her Teflon presence. They'll laugh more, cry less, their noses will probably even respond by drying up.

My mom is coming.

I'll get a nap, a cooked meal, hear about how I did this to her during days of old.

My mom is coming.

I'll run around less, sit more, get frustrated less, laugh more.

My mom is coming.

My mom is coming, my mom is coming, my mom is coming!!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Attractiveness of Living in My Own Whiny Head

I was inspired by dear friend Diane to take a few minutes of the grace of a dual nap time to write a bit of my mommy struggles today.

Like Diane shared in her post, I too am having a stretch of circumstancially crummy days. The boys collectively have had colds, snotty noses and eyes (lovely), croup, sleepless nights, sleepless naps, fussiness beyond measure, etc. We've watched more videos in this house the past 2 days then the last 6 months combined. And I'm paying the price with more fussiness.

There have been moments when I have risen to the occasion. With a heart full of compassion, I have embraced these sweet, tired, pitiful, and sickly boys. I've soaked in the snuggles, knowing these needy-Mommy moments won't last forever. I've sprinted to them in the middle of the night to assure the confused minds and wipe their salty tears. Moments when I've said "yes" to them more than I've said "no."

And there are the ugly moments. There are the moments when I'm more focused on myself and how they have ruined my plan for the day. Moments when I think of all the things I haven't been able to get done. Moments when I hang their disobedience in shame over their heads, not letting it go instantaneously as Christ does for me. When I speak to them with harsh tone and words.

And so, as nap time is once again interrupted with the coughs of a little boy, and now both, I realize that I'm at the end of my Mommy rope. My ability to serve unselfishly and with compassion is no longer here. It is now that I realize I've been serving with my own strength and not asking for and relying on the Lord for that ability to love these precious boys through me. I can repent of putting myself first, making an idol of my own comfort. I can ask the Lord to forgive and receive that never-ending forgiveness. I can choose to believe Him... and ask for Him to come and be the Lover through me.

So, why don't I? What is so attractive to me about staying in whiny, ME mode? Why don't I run towards the One who assures me time and time again that He is really present, really caring, really Sovereign, really unconditional in the giving of His love and strength?