Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Love Song of Christmas

"It's more blessed to give than to receive."
Acts 20:35

This time of year, it's the motto you take in with every sappy Christmas movie, story, and song you encounter.
The motto you wish you would see etched on every grinch-like face you encounter at the mall, whirling through the stores with bags in hand oblivious to the cheery songs and lights and trees and giant ornament balls.

But it was in Target yesterday, smiling faintly at those people while I collected the last minute details of Christmas- cheap flashlights, soft peppermint balls, and black dry erase markers to stuff into stockings (seriously, these are all going to make my boys' Christmas!), but feeling this heavy inadequate feeling gnawing at my bones, that I realized receiving has to be the first step in all of this.

I'm feeling pretty tapped out this year.
Not all financially, though my husband certainly brought me back to reality earlier this week after an emotionally (on my part only) pregnancy-hormone driven conversation about what we're going to do when we have 3 children to juggle while I am at work by describing us as the "working poor".

Physically, even only at exactly 22 weeks, I am beginning to feel the stretch of my limitations. My lumbosacral joint aches every night. I have to better mentally plan my house cleaning so that trips up and down the stairs aren't quite so frequent, and my evenings walks with The Dude have slowed considerably. Sleep has become something I daydream about, especially on work days when I know I won't get much.

But mental energy is at its lowest point. I find myself shrugging my shoulders at others' seemingly endless stream of multi-tasking.

I simply can't keep the balls in the air. I can keep 20. But the 500 that seem to be expected of me, I've stopped trying to catch them.

And that's hard. There's a tendency to withdraw into oneself and nurse your own inadequacy. I am quite sure that is not the answer.

We've been constant recipients: of help, of money, of things, and of mercy, and there is no earthly way to repay. Sometimes the debt of it all feels so terribly heavy.

Until I remember that, while giving is what we are made to believe Christmas is all about: the most important thing of all about Christmas is our humble reception of it.

Not our demanding this Gift, not our expecting it. But our seeing it. Seeing our unworthiness of it. But our being able to see past our dirty and lowly selves that refuse it. That self-centered tendency to tell Him to just keep going to someone with more resources. Someone smarter, or wealthier, or with more energy. Seeing instead of ourselves, the Giver. Wrapped in strips of cloth. God with us. Tiny hands that will stretch out and save this lost and hopeless world. And accepting it. Taking it, and drinking it, and even rolling around in it, basking in it. Not because we deserve it, but because we absolutely don't. Because there's no way we could repay Him, and it would be an insult to even try.

When I looked at those faces around me in Target, I realized that the frowns and ramming shopping carts are not because people aren't giving, or because all they want is to get. It's because they're afraid to receive. Or too proud, or too confused.

Some days, I see some of those same things in myself.

So this Christmas, I am making it my goal to fully receive Him again. Not to look for what meagre and meaningless ways I can repay Him, but to just smile at Him. The way Aquaman did after JT broke down and gave the boys their consignment shop Christmas presents he picked out for them a couple days early. To just stop, mid-play, full of the energy of the Gift, look Him in the eye and say "thank You for this. I love this." (I am pretty sure JT came close to crying. I know I did.)

Thank You for Life. That means more than all of these destined-to-break toys that we fill up our lives with. Thank You for Death, that made this Life possible.

Thank You that You don't ask us to repay You, or even that we write You a formal thank you card, but that we just share our Hope with those vacant and angry stares in the checkout lines of our lives (and please help me to be so filled up with this Hope that it can't help but spill out of me).

Thank You that the widow's mite means more to You than the giving of vast riches. That giving isn't measured in dollars or cents or hours. That it's our hearts You're really after this Christmas. Thank You for coming as a baby, because no one is scared or intimidated by a newborn baby, and You made yourself as vulnerable as possible for us.

Thank You that you came to a "working poor" family. To show us that You value everyone, and that You don't need our help to accomplish Your purposes.

My heart is leaking Christmas carols this Christmas Eve morning. It's filled with Joy to the World, and Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel. It's filled with the words of my favorite Christmas song: It Came Upon A Midnight Clear:

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled,
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not,
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing."

In our townhouse, filled with little boy shrieks, literal noise very rarely hushes. But as my parenting years go by, I hear noise differently. Noisy laughter, noisy yells, even noisy tears, those are, to me- merely the sound of angels singing. Much more threatening are the noises inside of my own head, or the noises of the world that creep into the everyday and scream of my inadequacy.

We have suffered long in this noise. But it's needless suffering.

Listen: He's singing a love song.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Season

The Christmas season is fully upon us.

It snuck up on me this year, with a late thanksgiving, the excitement of our ultrasound, and the stress of trying to get the house back into some semblance of order after a 1st trimester of letting things slide.
We did the usual preparations, putting out the decorations, preparing our advent calandar, wrapping the Christmas books, and writing a list of the must-dos for this month.
But the must-dos shrunk for the first part of the month.

Many days, the boys haven't even made it through the whole morning Christmas book, so busy were they chattering, and tumbling over themselves (and me) and the first couple of weeks, that really frustrated me.

We've looked for ways to give, but when you have very little time and money, even looking to give can feel very overwhelming. I've found that the best way to give at this point in my life is not to go out looking but to wait for the opportunity to fall into my lap, and then seize into it, without thinking too much. Some things are best done intentionally. Others are just meant to happen.

Most of the Christmas gifts are bought, and many are already wrapped. We're not overdoing it. The boys are getting 2 presents each (one an identical $10 present that I tacked on as an impulse). We've really tried to stay within what is a pretty limited budget, with the pressure of summer's unpaid maternity leave and impending preschool and childcare costs looming in the fall.

And this week, the Christmas spirit has finally arrived.

The past few days, when our Christmas book was interrupted, I just shut it, and joined in the wrestling match. When the boys wanted to play with rocks instead of painting Christmas tree cards, I smiled and played with rocks with them.
We made peppermint scented candy cane playdough and a gingerbread loaf and I didn't worry about the mess.

We took a windy walk in the radio flyer, drinking apple cider, down the most lit up street in town, and I think that was when Christmas finally hit us. It's rare that we go out in the car after dark, even in the winter time, and the boys were mesmerized by all of the lit up houses we passed.
This was the first year that they've really gotten excited on our light walk too, especially Aquaman, pointing at everything, enthralled by it. There were at least 2 manger scenes too, which was really encouraging.

Aquaman struggles with the point of pretending Santa Claus. We have of course explained to him that he is not real, just something fun to pretend, but he is very black and white, and sees only truth and lies. It has been very hard to explain to him that it is the kids' at school's moms and dads who need to tell their kids that Santa is not real, NOT Aquaman. He has done his best to set every classmate straight. He simply can't bear to see them living a lie. ;)

That same candor has made him quite the evangelist as well. I just hope he can do it in a little less, ahem, Pharisee-like manner as he matures.

But even Aquaman had to accept the magical-ness of the lit up street, especially as we slowly circled back through in the car, and Linus's rendition of Luke 2 came through the radio. We all sat hushed almost all the way home (well, the Dude passed out, to be exact), and after I tucked in the Dude, and came down to spend a few minutes with Aquaman before he went to bed, he asked me to turn on more Christmas music. "Oh come, oh come Emmanuel" was on.

Our advent calandar this year has 1 Christmas verse in it each night, and we have been talking about them a lot. The one from the night before had been about "Emmanuel", God with us. He wanted to talk about it. What did it mean? And there was something so soft and unafraid and understanding in his eyes, for one of the first times when I talked about Jesus to him. When I told him how Jesus's birth was so special because He was God's way of showing us that God is not just some scary far-away powerful being, He is love and peace and joy to all of His people.

Aquaman just won a "Character Counts" award for showing respect at school, and respect is something he has always shown to God and Jesus. But that night, talking about Emmanuel, was one of the first times I've seen his gentle and affectionate side touched by Jesus. If that doesn't get a mother into the Christmas spirit, I don't know what will.

Yesterday, I found myself, as I sometimes do, getting ahead of myself- wondering- what will next fall be like? An extra child. More expenses from childcare, requiring more work. How will there be any time?
How will I be the mother that I want to be?

We don't really fit in any demographic. I'm not the working mother who enrolls their kids in every activity and experience they can. My kids are mostly going to have to be ok with a free education, and learning to swim and surf from mom and dad. I definitely don't fit in the make-everything-from-scratch bracket either. Given my limited time from working, if the choice is to make something or just spend time with my kids, I'm going to choose my kids every time.

Sometimes I feel like I've gotten in way over my head, and it's in those moments that I know that I am right where I am supposed to be. What matters is today, and today, everything is amazing. And God always always works out tomorrow. After all the worrying, yesterday afternoon we picked up Aquaman from school, and for the next 3 hours there was just nonstop giggling and playing and love, and my mommy heart knew that God was telling me: it was enough. I didn't know how we'd do it with Aquaman- until 2 weeks before his birth JT had a job with no benefits, and I had no choice but to work full-time.
I didn't know how we'd do it with The Dude. I worried about how much less attention Aquaman would get, and how we'd pay for preschool. Now I see that The Dude was one of the greatest gifts we could have given Aquaman, and that eating meat only a couple days a week to save money actually keeps you pretty lean and makes you feel pretty good too.
Emmanuel will provide as He always has.

Last night I had the privilege of rocking all 3 boys for about 10 minutes. Aquaman, who is now so independent and too-big-for-me so often during the day, all burrowed into one side of me. He has shown me how quickly it goes. And that whatever sacrifice I have to make to feel that I have invested as much of my time in them when they are small is not in vain.

I don't regret his toddlerhood. I felt like I did everything I could to be there for it. Yesterday, as I got down on the floor to play trains with The Dude while Aquaman was at school, I felt that same sense of peace.
I know God will make a way, if I am open to it, for me to make the most of whatever time I am given with our littlest boy as well.
And as he has divided the fish and loaves of our money, he will so divide the even more valuable doses of time and energy.
Aquaman soon went to his own bed, and I was left with The Dude and the little squirmy one inside of me, who seemed to be already asleep. I know I'll soon have to wean the rocking to sleep of my overgrown baby, but I'll miss those last few minutes before he goes to sleep. When he strokes my face and says "I wuvs ya Mommy. And you're cute. And I like your pretty mouth, and your tummy. Let me kiss it."

Today JT has to work again. Tomorrow he's off, and though we have 2 Christmas parties to attend, we might skip them both for a date since that also happens to be the time we could land a babysitter.

This morning I'm taking the boys to the mall. We packed a picnic of peanut butter, peppers, and bananas and might splurge on some ice cream. We won't have to wait in line for Santa, because they're both desperately afraid of him. We don't have any more presents to buy, just some goggles for Daddy because his just broke, so we can just watch the flurry, and look at the decorations, and thank God for these few moments we have to celebrate together.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

It's a.....

Third Musketeer!
"All for one, and one for all", I am going to have the incredible privilege of being surrounded by handsome men these next few years. And, in about 15 years...more girls than I can probably imagine. ;)

Our ultrasound was Tuesday. The days and weeks leading up to the big ultrasound always find me restless and impatient. This particular time, I had 2 separate nightmares in which the second they placed the Doppler on my abdomen, it was obvious that there were serious birth defects. It doesn't help that this was the first baby in which I skipped many many prenatal vitamins, ate horribly, and took medications during the first trimester because I felt so terrible.
To compound the climax of it all, on Monday night, just as we settled down to watch Charlie Brown Christmas, Aquaman landed squarely knees first on my uterus.
My stomach hurt all night, and I woke about every hour hoping for the reassurance of feeling the baby move, but he was oddly quiet.
By the time we arrived for our appointment at 9 am, I cannot describe the relief of seeing this little face on the screen. Of hearing the ultrasound tech say, reassuringly: "here I am Mommy. See? I'm ok."
I didn't care whether they even got a glimpse between his legs.

New life is always awe inspiring, but this particular time, I was blown away.
My little baby is 6 inches, and he is so intricately made.
The doctor started with his brain, magnified on the big screen to what he called "ridiculous proportions", meandered slowly down the spine, through the heart, all the way to the tips of his toes, which he kept neatly tucked underneath him., and then pronounced "from what we can see? Perfect."
All of the many things that can go wrong, and yet somehow, most of the time, all of those things line up perfectly, and new life emerges, soft and pliable and ready to grow. It's not chance.

I fell deeply in love with my son on Tuesday morning. As I watched the way he snuggled up close to the placenta, stroking and hugging it.
I fell even more deeply in love with My Creator, who made this little boy. Who protected him, when I felt I could not. Who thought of all of these great and wonderful things to bless His people with, just because He is good.

When the tech finally went looking for the gender, it only took a moment to discern that we were having our 3rd son. He wasn't shy.
Leading up to the ultrasound, I feared that, if it was a boy, there would be a flash of disappointment.
We are 99% sure that this is our grand finale, and most people hope to experience raising both genders.
But I can honestly say, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was not even a bit of it. All I felt was laughter, bubbling up from somewhere deep within me.

We are going to have so much fun.

They are going to be such good friends.

When I saw this picture I took at the zoo a couple weeks ago, before I knew what the future held, I immediately saw another face behind it. It was decidedly male.

I can't wait to see them all together.

I won't be missing out on anything by not having a daughter. I do feel pity for those women, decidedly girly, who end up with a house full of boys.
But I never really dreamed of doing little girl hair and painting fingernails.
When I was a child, one of my favorite books was "Little Men", not "Little Women".
I dreamed of having a houseful of boys.
I dreamed of mischief and action and sports and mud and raising men who loved the Lord.
I'm living my dream.

I didn't really count on how often they'd miss the toilet, or the pain of unexpected tackles, but those are the bonus side effects of living your dreams. There is no joy without a little pain.

This little guy will fit neatly into the group, and forever be "one of the McVicker boys."
Probably a bit less highly sensitive, shepherding and rule oriented than his oldest brother, probably not quite as hilarious and charming as the next oldest. Possibly not even having a shade of red or curl in his hair. But, I bet he'll be just as energetic, just as affectionate, and just as much fun.

Last night we had both sets of grandparents, his Aunt J and her friend M over to celebrate, and make our announcement. They brought a picture frame for the ultrasound picture, and this book:

I couldn't have said it better myself.