Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve, one of my favorite days of the year.

Maybe it’s the anticipation. I’ve always been one that finds the build up to the thing is almost as exciting as the actual event. Maybe it’s also been that I’ve always been kind of a low-key kind of a person, and Christmas Eve is the quieter part of Christmas time.

Silent night by candlelight.

Christmas Eve has always felt more holy, somehow, than the day when all the wrapping paper comes flying off.

More unassuming.

More hopeful.

We’re still battling illness, though I think we’re nearing the end of it. The night before last, Greystoke slept more peacefully on top of me than usual. I remember thinking that he felt awfully warm, but it was an awfully warm night, we’ve had a lot of those lately.

But by the time we woke up, I became suspicious. An under arm temperature reading confirmed it: 100.9.

The most stressful time to be a working mom, especially a working mom without any sick leave, is cold and flu season. It’s even harder now that I have 3 kids for the thing to cycle through. It worked out nicely that The Dude had his fevers at the end of last week, but of course that set up Greystoke to get sick on a work day.

We’re very fortunate to have grandparents who step up to the plate, shuffle the kids around, and take care of them so that I could go to work. If we didn’t have them, I highly doubt I’d be able to work at all. We’d be eating some serious government cheese.

Or JT would be working 100 days a week.

He actually just finished up 11 days in a row as it is.

Merry Christmas.

But anyway, we all survived it somehow, though Greystoke woke me up in a panic last night with the sound of the croup, and that is a scary sound coming out of your baby.

. And now we’re here. And, I can’t believe it, but I finally feel ready.

I remember distinctly that last year it hit me as we walked down Verbenia street. You wouldn’t think the commercialism of gaudily lit up houses would bring Christ closer to the center of my heart, but you know what? It did.

Probably it was the manger scenes. Three of them in fact. God can even speak through a blow up baby Jesus. That is how awesome our God is.

God is in beauty. I’ve always found him in the outdoors. I’ve always found him in the wild, and last year I found him in a jungle of Christmas lights.

This year it was different.

I’ve been stressed. Like, really really stressed. By the mountain of laundry that overflows out of the unused baby crib every 3 days, and the food and dirt all over the floor, and all of the pieces of our home that are falling apart, and the whiney 3 year old who always wants to be held,

and the little 7 month old who crumbles when I walk out of his sight to use the bathroom, or try to set him in his bed 5 minutes at night so that I can lay in a less awkward position, and the 6 year old who has recently decided to shake his fist at everyone when there is a minor glitch in any of his intricately thought out plans.

Quiet times are anything but quiet lately, and I have been so overwhelmed that I haven’t been blocking out the time and making it happen.

So a few days ago, that’s what I did. Because I was too tired to know where I start, I turned on the Roku and found a Calvary Chapel church service, and sat down to write. I always pray better when I write my prayers. My brain is weird that way, probably and hopefully reversible cognitive changes from 6 years of sleep deprivation combined with my genetic tendency to be an absent minded professor anyway.

I love that no matter how far away you start to feel from God, no matter how distracted you become- all you have to sit down, open your heart, and clear your mind to Him, and He is there in an instant.

It’s funny how we wander, and why. Just the pride of our self sufficient hearts.

For me, for whatever reason, it is usually some form of: “you’re not going to provide what I need, so I am just going to have to drink another cup of coffee and try to do it myself.” It’s always insidious, and very rarely intentional. And there is always some deep down feeling of hurt and misjudgment at the root of it. A “maybe you don’t really love me.”

Sometimes it’s a “why should you really love me?’

It’s a misunderstanding of the very character of God.

But each day is a new beginning. And Christmas returned to my heart that morning, on the carpet, as The Dude sat near me with his still-sleepy sick eyes and asked me over and over again, quite fretfully, if “the kings killed baby Jesus”. I am not sure where he heard that, but he has been very concerned about it.

And Aquaman turned his Legos into 5 different vehicles, while occasionally pausing to look at the screen and say “I KNOW that already.”

 and Greystoke ate his Noah’s Ark toy and smiled like Christmas morning, because Mommy was actually sitting on the floor beside him instead of running all over the house like a chicken with her head cut off.

And Jesus came in close and whispered: “you are not alone.” And “it’s ok to rest.” And “I love you. I am very pleased with you.”

 There’s a verse that, in the past few days since my heart has slowed to the song of my Savior again, keeps popping up in my studies, and in sermons:

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit.”

Zechariah 4:6

I never really thought of it as a Christmas verse, but this year it has become my Christmas verse. What greater summary of a Savior who emerges as a newborn. To a teenage girl, separated from her family, giving birth for the first time- inside of a barn.

I know a lot of people who hate the Little Drummer Boy song, and I guess the pa rum pa pum pum parts do get a little on my nerves too. But  if you take out all those drum cadence fillers, the drummer boy sings my heart this Christmas.

“Little baby, I am a poor boy too.

I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give a King.

Shall I play for You on my drum?

Mary nodded, the ox and lamb kept time.

Then He smiled at me.”

It would be kind of weird to play a drum song for a newborn, and I don’t really recommend it.

I also doubt the ox and lamb would start acting like metronomes, or that brand new baby Jesus did much else but sleep and eat, and probably, contrary to the Away in a Manger song, cry- because I don’t think it’s sinful for a newborn baby to cry.

But I love remembering that Jesus came as a poor boy.

Because God didn’t need to give him a lot of material wealth to accomplish His purposes, and that means that my boys have everything they need too.

And I often can’t help but think that the meagre offering of my life, of my worship, is unfit to bring to Him. Why would it possibly matter?

 But when I offer it anyway…

He smiles at me.

And if that’s not a Merry Christmas, I don’t know what is.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Christmas Spirit

It was driving down the highway on Monday, listening to the Vienna Boys Choir sing "Noel" in between the shrieks of my always-happy-except-in-the-car 7 month old while self-medicating on the Holiday M&Ms I bought to try to coerce The Dude into sucking down his prednisone Rx that I realized it...
I am having trouble getting into the Christmas Spirit this year.

It's crazy because theoretically this is supposed to be a really magical year for us, Christmas-wise. What with this happy little baby who sits in one place and marvels at the lights, and a 3 year old who barely remembers the year before, and a 6 year old that is just starting to be able to do the fun stuff.

And it's not like we're crazy busy doing holiday stuff.
We threw in the towel and decided not to do Christmas cards this year.
Mostly because they'd probably turn out like this:

And I made an extra special effort to have almost all of our holiday shopping done by Thanksgiving this year, like I usually do, so that we could just enjoy the wonder of the month of December.
I wrote out a calendar of December and all of the special things we would do each day, like we always do each year.

And then I lost it, like I do every year.
And who am I kidding anyway? By the time I get home from work each day I am surrounded by pure mass chaos, and we're really just hunkering down in survival mode...not exactly basking in the wonder of candlelight Christmas baths. (What was I thinking?)
The past several years we have gotten 25 Christmas books and wrapped one up for each day of December, along with a slip of paper listing the things we would do that day.
But last year, the books became a hassle. The boys were always fighting, and didn't feel like reading when we opened them. And didn't hear a word I said when I told them what fun we would have. And sometimes life got too crazy and we didn't have time to do it, and I didn't feel good about that.
So this year, I wanted to be more laid back about the whole thing. And I'm glad I did. The last thing I need in my life now is more pressure, but still.
It isn't the craziness of the holidays that has me so stressed out, though I suppose the pressure of upcoming school parties isn't helping.
It's just the pace of everyday life right now, and that bothers me. How can I continue at this pace, I find myself wondering? And then, I spend even more time wondering how I CAN'T.
This week, my twin sister found out that her 3rd round of fertility treatments didn't work. And I was surprised to find myself crumbling.
I know that twin sympathy pain is probably all a hoax, but I felt every twinge of hopefulness with her this round.
I have no idea at all how she must be feeling, and yet I know exactly what she went through.
Infertility hurts, and it hurts a lot of people. But this isn't just any people. This is my twin sister, and my best friend.
I've known her heart as long as I can remember, and her heart is to be a mother.
We played with dolls long after everyone else our age had stopped. We both knew we would be mothers. And mostly mothers.
And while I can vaguely remember going through phases like wanting to be a veterinarian when I grew up, I don't remember my sister ever mentioning anything at all.
She's grown up, and she's done a lot of things. She's been to lots of school. She's been a coach, and a substitute teacher, and a nanny and now she's a physical therapy assistant who works brutal hours doing a brutal amount of work, all while struggling with the daily pain of arthritis, and I know she does all of that well.
She's been an amazing aunt to my 3 boys. Flying in soon after each of their births, and for birthday parties, and Christmases.
She was meant to be a mother.
So we've been praying and hoping with her, and when the news came that this round, which seemed the most hopeful yet, had once again failed...something broke inside of me, for the first time in a while.
The Dude found me crying in the kitchen. "What's the matter, mom?" He asked, looking totally spooked out. I got down next to him to try to explain, but before I could open my mouth, he said "Hey! is my bagel ready?"
And I laighed and wiped my eyes and spread some butter on it.
Later, after dropping off The Dude at school, Greystoke and I wandered through Walmart looking for a Christmas tree stand, because somehow the 2 that we had last year have disappeared.
And the carols played, and the decorations were everywhere, but inside all I felt was...hollow. Hopeless, even surrounded by all those reminders of hope.
I know in my head that there is hope. For all of these hopeless things. But sometimes the sorrow and the pain and the can be a little blinding.
Work is increasingly difficult, and someone seems to have moved my cheese, and that is becoming hard to take. I have been at job #1 for 8 years, and I'm pretty sure I thought that's where I'd always be. But there have been drastic changes in the way things are run, and the services we provide, and they are only getting worse. As if trying to squeeze everything I need to do into the 2 days that I can manage to work wasn't hard enough, we are now asked to do the impossible every day anyway. We are down to a skeleton crew, and vacancies stay open for months because the pay and the hassle of it don't add up.

I arrive to work, usually a few minutes late, hit the ground running, and don't stop until I'm heading out the door for mass kid pickups. I hurry through pumping and even pumping once a day extra on my days off, I m too stressed to make enough, and this week bought my first case of formula ever. Which might not sound like such a big deal, but it's always how I consoled myself as a working mom. At least you can still provide your milk.
But I can't. Even though I am also still nursing the little guy all night long.
Our schedules are packed with the everyday, and I feel out of breath almost all the time.
And the worst part is I am finally realizing that it's only going to get crazier. As the boys get older, there will be even more running, and even more working, and all I really want- what I really really want somehow is time.
I am pretty sure that if I didn't have to work, I'd be ready to have another baby.
I'm crazy, I know.
But I love these guys, and I'd love one more.
But that is not the hand we have been dealt. And anyway, I'm sure everyone would love to have one more...if they just had more money, or more patience, more of this or more of that.
But that is life, In the end, there are limitations.
Aquaman got the Principle's award for good character last week. Meaning that he demonstrates trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, caring, fairness, and citizenship daily in his classroom.
I was proud of him, but not surprised.
And as I watch him each morning, marching into the world, so big now, but still so small, I am struck with the sense of my own responsibility. Somehow I must continue to march this fine line of providing food for his mouth, and opportunities in life without missing the most important moments of jut being available to him. Not always rushing out the door to the next thing.
Today, The Dude had to stay home from school, because he's sick. For 2 weeks he has been coughing and asking to be carried everywhere, and Saturday night he suddenly started coughing the wheezy cough. To the doctor for albuterol and prednisone. By the next day he had a full blown nasty cold, and last night he had a fever,
So today I couldn't work, and I don't feel guilty about letting him watch Charlie Brown Christmas Time again from his bed on my phone, and so that is what he is doing for the next hour until time to pick up big brother.

And me? Well, I'm just sitting here trying to reconcile it all. The parades and the bounce houses, and the trains, and the Christmas lights.
The infertility, and the endless labor, and the hopelessness, and the limitations.

When the Vienna Boys' Choir stopped singing Noel and I realized how many Holiday M&Ms I had eaten, the "Christmas Shoes" song came on.
And I knew I was having some sort of hormonal partial weaning crisis, when I dissolved into a puddle of tears over the whole thing.
Maybe it was the way the boy was wearing old worn clothes, and how I struggle with watching my sons in their thrift shop clothes that don't fit quite right next to the wealthy beach side kids whose brand new raincoats have their names on them.

Or maybe it was the way that the boy called his mom "Mama", like my sweet Aquaman still does. How he just knew his Mama would want to look pretty for Jesus, and how I know Aquaman would know the same thing, because he has this special way of looking like he's not listening when he's really breathing in every word.
But it doesn't really matter, because the next song that came on reminded me how all these feelings make perfect sense. Why even though Christmas brings Joy to the World, it's normal to struggle with a new depth of loneliness and emptiness beforehand.
"Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, 
And ransom captive Israel, 
That mourns in lonely exile here 
Until the Son of God appear. "

The haunting strains in minor key met my tense and overstimulated heart where it was.
In the silence of God.
There's a reason God was silent those years just before He sent His son.
The silence reinforces the emptiness, It calls us to something deeper.
It helps us open our eyes.
"Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel."
So I'm going out into the busyness again.
Stepping out into the impossible hopelessness of it all.
Looking for joy slipping into the unexpected places, in sorrowful chords that fall like rain around me.
It's Christmas. And there is joy in all of these unknowns. Because there is one great known,
He is here.
Emmanuel cared enough to come.