Tag Archives: christ

Christmas comes to a Close…

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Whew, we made it!

Navigating the holidays is tough on a “typical” year, but we anticipated this year to be more challenging than others, given the added dynamics of a third child with a trauma history joining the family and the triggers that always seem to occur this time of year.

But even with the heightened emotions we managed to find joy and peace despite some hard moments.

Often the “story behind the story” isn’t fully shared. Sometimes that is due to us protecting our boys’ stories. Sometimes it is because our most profound moments are simply to sacred to share. Sometimes the backstory is just too vast and complicated to explain, leaving me to simply omit rather than try to share. Sometimes the changing of tides is so abrupt that I find that before I can share the story of one moment the story has changed.

And if I am being honest…

Sometimes I am simply too emotionally drained to think deep, find the blessings in the darkness, or share the lesson that is hidden within the trial…

And on those days, I tend to remain quiet or keep my blog focused on the shallower moments of living.

But a comment made by a friend made me realize that that our silence has been perceived as ease or insincerity, and that perception isn’t fair to my boys who have been in survival mode this past month, to my older kids who sacrificed cherished traditions and the attention of their parents for the mental well-being of their brothers, or to other adoptive families who feel so alone in the darkness of trauma while everyone around them is enjoying the magic of the Christmas season.

The month of December was filled with many happy moments and special memory making experiences, but those moments are not the only experiences seared into our memory banks as we look back on the holidays of 2018.

Amid the cookie decorating and caroling there were fists being punched through the drywall of bedroom walls, and sleepless nights with children too fearful to close their eyes and face the demons that appear in their nightmares. There were shouts of anger and declarations of, “You are not my real mom! You stole me from my real family!” There were tears of anguish over lost loved ones and expressions of fear that this will all be taken away. There were many unkind words shouted in the heat of anger. We dealt with suicidal ideation, attempts to physically injure family members, and more than one trip to Western Psych for a child to be evaluated.

Those moments aren’t the ones I focused on this past month as I blogged about our Christmas season. I chose to focus on the lighter moments of the journey. I realize now that in doing so perhaps I did a disservice to my children who had to journey the magical season of Christmas through the minefield of trauma. I never meant to imply it was smooth, easy, or without struggle…

I only meant to testify that joy can be found in the darkest of days,

 And despite the struggles that permeated our Christmas season (and will likely always permeate our Christmas season) …

We chose joy.

We chose laughter.

We chose forgiveness.

We chose family.

We chose hope.

We chose connection.

We chose LOVE…

Unconditional, no-strings-attached, LOVE.

And the rewards of that choice were precious and holy.

Now that we have left December behind and have stepped into the New Year, the heightened emotions of Christmas have deescalated and we are looking forward to the normalcy of life that returns in January. I am so proud of my children’s resiliency and selfless choice to stay, to love, to lean into the hard moments and trust God’s purpose in the struggle. I am proud to be raising kids that have the capacity to find joy in the imperfect moments and embrace change with an open heart. I love that they love so unselfishly and keep choosing to do so even when love isn’t easy.

This Christmas was filled with many fun experiences but those were merely the tchotchkes that dotted the bigger picture.

Our Christmas season had less to do with what we did, and more to do with what we chose to be, through the grace and mercy of a great God.

This Christmas we embraced the true reason for the season and in doing so felt the love of Christ more profoundly than ever.

Now that December has passed, we say:

“Welcome 2019,

We are so glad to see you!”

Fighting our way through the Holidays

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Let me begin with this great little gem I found online,

Written by a fellow mother raising children with a diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder, commonly referred to as RAD, she has rewritten a classic Christmas favorite to reflect our reality…

Ah, my friends, Listen to the song of my people…

“‘Twas the night before Christmas

and I had it bad, thanks to the chaos from

dealing with RAD

The stockings were ripped from the mantle and strewn

in sad tattered heaps all around the whole room

The children were screaming and fighting and clawing

The littlest one on the dog’s leg was gnawing

Hubby in his pj’s, the cat in my lap,

we’d escaped to the den for an urgent nightcap

When all of a sudden, there arose such a clatter

I put down my gin to see what was the matter

Away to the doorway I flew like a flash

to the family room now I made a mad dash

The moon through the window

and lights from the tree

showed me a scene that I didn’t want to see

For what to my tired bleary eyes did appear

but a nightmare unfolding, the worst one this year

The guinea pig shrieked as he hung from the tree

by the ribbon they’d wrapped ‘round his little belly

A furry white ornament, angry and kicking

while the littlest one now her nose busy picking

The next-oldest one I saw swing from a bough

while the short middle child through the room he did plow

Armed with a hockey stick, the little despot

broke a lamp, then a window, and hit me in the butt

Wildly swinging while onward he came

he screamed like a madman and called us all names

“Hey nose-picking poophead!” he shrieked at the baby

“you bit the dog, now she’s given you rabies!

And you’re such a moron, up there in the tree,

you’re just a baboon-bum, a stupid monkey!”

Our 15-year-old daughter, whom we’d left in charge

screamed at her siblings as Christmas loomed large

“You filthy urchins!” she shrieked next to my ear

“It’s just about midnight and Christmas is near!

I’m sick of you all!” she ranted and raved

“You act just like you were brought up in a cave

with badgers and bobcats, and wolverines, too!

Well, guess what’s going to happen to you!

I’m calling Santa! His name’s in my phone

You’ll be on the bad list, and then you’ll all moan!

You’ll pout and you’ll cry and get nothing at all,

while I’ll get the presents! They’ll be wall-to-wall!”

What happened next, I sure could see coming

the savages attacked, and the eldest went running

But before I could gather my wits and step in

to prevent mass murder, a deplorable sin

up on the roof, there arose a commotion

like battleships fighting it out on the ocean

An explosion that made the entire house rock

and down the chimney my next-eldest fell with a squawk

Dressed in a hoodie now covered in ashes

designer jeans ripped-up and brimming with gashes

One shoe was ruined and the other one missing

His glasses were cracked, and the cat ran off hissing

His eyes, they were huge as he looked wildly around

then out of the fireplace he came with a bound

“Everyone run!” he screamed, ignoring my ire

“I blew up the fake Santa, now the house is on fire!”

The kids all ran shrieking, not waiting for me

as I cut the poor guinea pig down from the tree

The shenanigans done really stuck in my craw

but I ran, shoving guinea pig down in my bra

He did not enjoy the wild bumpy ride

as he squeaked and he clawed, but I kept him inside

The kids were all shivering out in the yard

My eldest corralled them, wouldn’t let down her guard

As I yelled for my husband and started back in,

he emerged with our bottle of Tanqueray gin

We sipped and we slugged and we stared like zombies

as the sirens, they wailed, and the neighbors looked pleased

The dog and the cat had escaped without fail

they ran like the devil was hot on their tails

The fire was soon out, the house it was saved

yet I still had to deal with my clan, so depraved

But first to my bed, where I dropped like a stone

inserted my earplugs and turned off my phone

As I crawled ‘neath the covers, whimpering and sore

exhausted and beaten, and yet I still swore

that when Christmas is over, I’ll do it, you’ll see

Our family is headed to RAD therapy!”

It is only funny because it’s true! 

The true test of whether you are raising your own little “RAD-ish” is if you find yourself with tears running down your legs from laughing too hard!

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A few days ago I had the opportunity to take part in an interview for an adoption newsletter. The article was penned for the purpose of helping families with older foster children navigate the unique challenges of the Christmas season. As I considered what lessons we have learned after 6 years of Christmases with our kids from hard places, I thought first about the reasons why the Christmas season gets so ugly around our home…

Here are 7 possible “WHYs” behind the holiday struggle:

#1:  They feel unworthy.

Abandonment or the perception of abandonment in children who have been adopted  can lead to a deep sense of shame. This may make them feel as if they are unworthy of love, unworthy of having good things happen to them, unworthy of gifts or attention. With that entrenched feeling of being unworthy of truly feeling happy, sabotaging behaviors can begin to emerge. They may sabotage so that they can force what they see as inevitable disappointment. If their parent then responds in anger to their sabotaging behavior, it only further validates their belief that they are unlovable.

#2: They find themselves triggered.

During the holidays, triggers are everywhere. Smells, sights, sounds, memories of the past… the holidays can be a minefield to navigate. These triggers can cause a fight, flight or freeze response.

#3: Excitement and anxiety can feel the same in their little bodies.

Butterflies in the stomach, quickening of breathing rate, a loudly thumping heart, sweating, and trouble sleeping are the same body responses whether you are feeling excited or nervous. When your child feels those body sensations, it can bring memories of times of stress when they felt that way due to anxiety and fear.

#4: They are overwhelmed with the weight of expectations.

When a child believes that he will fall short of the expectations placed on him, he may decide to just quickly blow things up to get it over with. The stress that come with anticipating the disappointment they may cause can be overwhelming.

#5: They can’t handle the increased family connections.

For children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, Christmas can be a nightmare because during the holiday season relationships are usually the focus and there is more emphasis put on family togetherness and unity. This feels like a threat to kids who are putting protective walls up when it comes to family relationships.

#6: They are overcome with grief.

Holidays have so many things that can magnify grief, sadness and loss.

#7: They are focused on self-preservation and protection.

Attempting to protect their heart from further disappointment, a child who has experienced early trauma will put walls up and push others away. With everything being magnified during the holidays, those walls have a tendency to go higher and that pushing away can turn to an aggressive shove (literally or figuratively).

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Knowing the possible reasons behind the struggle somehow makes the struggle slightly more manageable, or at least makes it feel a little less cruel and personal. It can help us to develop feelings of empathy rather than the resentment and defeat that can penetrate our hearts when the behaviors are all directed at the adoptive mother simply because she is the primary nurturer in the family…AKA “Mortal Enemy #1.”

Knowing the “WHY” then allows us to implement the “HOW TOs” as a family, and successfully navigate the minefield known as the holiday season.

Here are some of the tried and true strategies I shared during the interview: 

Adjust Expectations-

This is by far the greatest determining factor of whether the holidays will bring joy or disappointment, and it is a lesson that was only learned through a lot of mistakes and failings on our part. I think the holidays can sometimes bring a heightened level of anxiety as we feel the pressure of turning December into a Hallmark channel movie. Our expectations increase as we make plans for a magical Christmas season. I think this pressure is one most Moms can relate to, but those who find themselves opening their homes to children who have not been able to experience the normal childhood magic of Christmas, due to heartbreaking beginnings, might find this pressure increased 10 fold. In an effort to make up for a lost childhood, we increase the Christmas magic factor by 100 and rather than a comfortable sprinkling of Christmas joy, we hit our kiddos with a fire hose blast of Christmas Spirit. What began with such loving intentions very often cannot be received in the same spirit.

For kids whose “normal” is chaos and conflict, the overabundance of cheer, connection, traditions and loving gestures may feel more like an itchy wool sweater than that “warm blanket hug” you were going for. I know this to be true for one of our adoptions treasures specifically. Holidays and birthdays are sure triggers for the most challenging of his behaviors and every special family tradition and gesture of love is met with efforts to sabotage and push away the family. This is a tough pill to swallow as a parent. But the reality is: my December is filled with more chaos than joy (at least the Hallmark version of Christmas joy) but if I can set aside my pre-conceived ideas of what a happy holiday season should look like and accept more time will be spent on the trauma therapist’s couch than on Santa’s lap, I can face our new normal with joyful acceptance.

Prepare for the Inevitable- 

This is another HUGE one! I have learned with my kids that is it never a question of “if,” but rather a question of “when.” I know that December will be fraught with meltdowns, broken decorations, holes in the drywall, sleepless nights, self-harming thoughts, suicidal ideation, sabotaging behaviors including coming out of my room to find purchased Christmas presents ripped open and destroyed, or all the Christmas cookies that were baked, gorged on and consumed in the 5 minutes I was out of the room. I know December will probably bring more than one trip to Western Psych., many angry chants of “I hate you!” and more tears than giggles as my kids mourn the families that have failed them. I know more that one night will be spent staying up long past midnight as I hold one of my crying biological children as they struggle with resentment towards a hurting sibling who responds with cruelty to every kind gesture, and inevitably by the 31st of the month I will be so emotionally drained and physically exhausted by the heightened levels in our home for the last 30 days, that I will close out the year with a bout of the flu.

I say this not from a place of pessimism or self pity, but from a place of experience and realistic expectations. If I can enter the month anticipating the patterns that I have seen in the past, then I can be prepared for the inevitable and respond in a more measured and loving way, rather than responding with anger and frustration. I have learned to keep presents hidden and have emergency spares set aside for sibling or teacher gifts that are destroyed in anger. I have learned to keep my bedroom locked with all my most precious items safely tucked away until the heighten season of Christmas is over. I am more diligent with door alarms and security cameras, and I don’t leave my emotionally heightened children alone with siblings or any of the animals, knowing that their ability to make good choices is compromised when they are in fight, flight or freeze mode. I make allowances. I give second chances. I ALWAYS have a plan B figured out. I prepare for the worst so that when it comes it is manageable and hopefully all can make it through the crisis fairly unscathed.

Find Joy in this Season of Life…even if it is not Ideal-

This one is so hard but so important. It took me a while to figure this one out and even longer for me to accept it and embrace it with joyful acceptance. It requires a surrender of self to God’s plan. It means letting go of what Christmas pasts might of looked like and accept that for this season of temper tantrums the good china will be put away and paper plates will showcase Christmas dinner. It may mean the days of large Christmas parties are put on hold for a few years and December evenings are spent watching movies and going to bed early. If the smells of a Christmas dinner trigger your hurting kiddos, then Christmas dinner may have to be Chinese take-out for a few years.

But regardless of what this season of Christmas looks like, the joy of Christmas can be found in the absurd and unorthodox…because the joy is born from love of family.

Last Sunday some of our kids were in crisis. We were at the end of ourselves and I wept tears of defeat after a week of challenges. My magical Christmas season was dissolving before my eyes as words of hate and anger filled the house rather than songs of goodwill. Everyone was hurting. All were grieving. Relationships were crumbling and it was time for emergency triage. We were suffering from blood loss after some major war injuries and we made a judgement call to meet the needs of our hurting children and find joy in our journey even though it wasn’t “ideal.” Everyone was sent to their rooms to put on PJs and we declared it a relationship recovery day. We spent the day praying as a family, watching videos of the birth of Christ, making family memories as we decorated sugar cookies and played games. We served each other and others and ended our day by turning off all the lights, except for the Christmas tree, and participating in a time of worship as we watched a silent Christmas lesson and allowed the spirit of Christmas…the spirit of Christ…to permeate our home and our hearts.

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Here is link to the Silent Christmas Lesson we watched as a family:

Was it what an ideal December Sabbath would have looked like five years ago?

No.

But it was exactly what was needed that day, in this season of life.

See the Need/Meet the Need-

Some of our long-time readers might remember a blog post I wrote a few years ago about a strategy we use in our home when our boys are emotionally heightened. It is a strategy we continue to use today and one I shared in the interview…

I am speaking of the McCleery holiday nerf wars!

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Entering the Christmas season with expectations that the next four weeks will be fraught with conflict and chaos, we make sure we enter the holiday season armed with tools and strategies to meet our kids’ emotional needs before the explosions occur. This takes preparation and awareness of what your kiddos’ triggers are and what coping skills are most effective for each of them. Knowing this, I am able to make sure we have the tools in place prior to the need. I load up on dollar store stress balls, fidget toys, bouncy balls, etc. but the #1 tool for managing my boys’ need for conflict and chaos during the Christmas season is nerf battles. By giving them a healthy and connecting way to escalate they are able to have their emotional need for chaos met in an emotionally healthy way.

Kids who come from an abusive situations have a different brain chemistry than a child who has never lived in the turbulent, high stress environment of an abusive home. As a result they become accustomed, from a very young age, to a constant surge of adrenaline as they live in “fight or flight mode,” never knowing when the next strike will come.

To feel calm they need that adrenaline release, so our job is to find ways to meet that need in a healthy, happy, PARENT LED way.

Our favorite strategy: family nerf battles!

So, with the tree twinkling in the background we have engaged in frequent, much-needed nerf battles so that our struggling kiddos could have their emotional needs met. As we neared the holiday season we made sure the guns were collected and placed in a basket in the corner and that our nerf bullet supply was replenished, for just a time as this:

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Remember the Reason for the Season-

This is by far the strategy I have found to be most affecting. Remembering the reason for the season allows us to regain perspective and adjust our expectations. It allows us to find joy in imperfection. It is important to remember that this time of year isn’t about the traditions, the decorations, the perfect tree, the delicious dinner, the ideal reactions to perfectly wrapped gifts…

It is about love.

It has been from the very beginning.

There was nothing “ideal” about that first Christmas…

There was poverty.

There was homelessness.

There was filth and pain and rejection as a young husband, a simple man with little worldly offerings, begged for a place for his wife to give birth.

A young woman, heavy with child, with no place to lay her head, brought her baby into the world in a place of dirt and filth.

There was no family surrounding her, no words of support from anyone other than her husband.

The only sounds accompanying her moans of pain were the baaing and bleating of farm animals.

There was nothing “ideal” or “Hallmark” about that first Christmas, and yet it was perfect. Not because of where they were, or what they wore, or what they ate, or who was there, or because of the gifts that were given.

It was perfect because it was born of sacrifice.

It was born of redemption.

It was born of faith.

IT WAS BORN OF LOVE!

That is what Christ offers each of us.

That is what He offers our hurting children.

That is what He offers our hurting world.

That is the key to navigating the holidays with children from hard places…

Nothing matters except this:

Let it be born of love and the rest will fall into place.

Merry Christmas

The Heart of Effective Teaching

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woman_pulling_out_hairI recently took part in a discussion regarding the keys to effective teaching. This was a discussion that took part in a church environment with youth and adults participating together. The premise was good. The discussion revolved around how we can be better teachers but also how we be better students. The responses were abundant as both spiritual and practical suggestions were offered by those who are “in the trenches.” I found some suggestions on point and others left me cringing, because in their words I heard myself a few years ago. As comments were made about teens eating during the lesson, kids not walking reverently through the halls, teens not being present and ready to learn, and off topic discussions among students resulting in teachers not being able to get through their lessons, I heard my own frustrations being voiced from callings past.

It is hard. I sympathize with the struggles of teaching kids and teens (and even adults) in church classes, in public school, in our own homes. I get it. It is exhausting and often thankless.

I get it. I live it.

But in listening to some of the comments about the unruly and irreverent behavior problems I found myself biting my tongue, feeling the need to offer a dose of reality but struggling to put a voice to my thoughts.

I cringe when I heard some of these comments because they hit so close to home. I was that teacher that simply didn’t get it. I was blessed with three easy kids that are a teacher’s dream. They sit still, they come prepared, that don’t disrupt. I had little patience for those troublesome kids that made my time teaching a lesson more challenging than it needed to be. I felt disrespected and felt my time wasn’t valued. I felt that their parents had obviously failed in some manner to have created such “disrespectful heathens,” and found myself pridefully whispering under my breath, “My child would never…”

Then I discovered the hard truth:

The ease of my first three were not a reflection on my parenting, but rather a reflection on a life that wasn’t as challenging as some of the other students’ lives in my class.

When we adopted two boys whose lives were filled with early childhood challenges I realized that parenting these two, teaching these two, was a much more accurate reality for most children than the childhood of my first three.

But this was a lesson I only learned through this journey. So I understand when comments are made about expectations for the children in a class, because I was there not too long ago, but I found myself wanting to offer a dose of reality to the discussion:

Behind every behavior is an internal struggle trying to be voiced.

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You see a child being disruptive in class. I see a child who can’t read and is fearful of being put on the spot.

You see a child rudely leaving your class and wandering the halls. I see a child who is physically unable to sit still for 3 hours.

You see back row chatting happening when they should be sitting quiet. I see a child who needs to be heard.

You see a child who disrespectfully shows up to church in wrinkled and dirty clothes. I see a child who has nothing else to wear.

You see a child sneaking food or lying. I see a child who fears another meal might not be there.

You see a child who isn’t trying… who isn’t following through on assignments. I see a child who has MUCH BIGGER issues. Who is just trying to survive.

You see a child who always shows up late. I see a family working hard to be there at all.

You see noise and chaos. I see a child comfortable with their environment who has finally learned to trust.

You see wiggles and disobedience. I see a child who is over-stimulated.

You see a sullen, uninterested, defiant child. I see a child who doesn’t believe you love them.

I am still learning. It is still a daily challenge. As a “rule minder” by nature…as someone who find comfort in the black and white judgements in life,  I am still learning to accept that the world is a messy medley of grey.

I agree that as teachers we are working toward a certain standard of achievement, respect, learning, and reverence, but we must loving embrace the reality that what those things look like on one child are not how they appear on another. These standards are moving targets, always evolving. The goal should be improvement not perfection, because what reverence looks like on one child in this season of their life isn’t what it looks like on another child. That is the reality.

We are all on a journey, with the same destination as our goal, but we are all on very different stretches of the same road, so to expect a group of children to walk together side by side isn’t reality.

So what is the answer? Do we as teachers simply throw up our hands, give up, drop all goals or standards of behavior?

No, of course not.

We pray. We pray for each child by name, petitioning help from our Heavenly Father for wisdom and guidance, inspiration and patience beyond our own.

We listen for the guidance of the Holy Ghost. The Lord knows of each child’s circumstances, hidden struggles, and challenges and He will inspire us to know these things if we humbly set aside our own agenda and preconceived notions and devote ourselves to doing HIS work…praying, “Lord, I am merely Thy servant. Use me as Thou would. Thy will be done.”

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And then we love. We follow the example of Jesus Christ and we love.

We love people right where they are at

rather than work to make them more loveable.

You want to change the dynamic of your classroom? You want better behavior and more respect? You want children who are engaged and interested in the message you have to share? The answer is simple, as one seasoned mom and teacher shared, “Love them. Just love them. Once they know you truly love them then the rest falls into place.”

Because the reality is:

Your students won’t care how much you know,

until they know how much you care.

I will now step off my soapbox and exit stage left…

Please forgive my rant.  🙂

There’s No Place like home for the Holidays…Part 1

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From the time I was a young girl, my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.

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 December 24th everyone woke and got right to work. There is a lot of work that goes into preparing the farm animals for our absence and moving all the Christmas supplies to Ohio for two days. There are stockings to pack, animals to feed, appetizers to pack in the cooler, and gifts to load in the trailer. There were too many people and too many bags to drive one vehicle so Toby drove his truck, pulling his trailer, while Grace drove my car. It was her longest driving stint since she passed her permit test and although she had to drive unfamiliar roads in Christmas traffic she did a beautiful job getting us safely to the Homestead in just under 3 hours.

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 When we arrived we greeted Uncle Travis, who was visiting from Texas, and G.G. (my grandma) who was visiting from Florida. The only thing that would have made the holidays even better is if my sister and her family could have joined us from Michigan.

When we arrived, G.G. had a surprise for Ozzie. She had finished knitting his stocking. He now has a personalized stocking to match the rest of the family’s stockings. It is a special gift that my grandmother has blessed all the family members with. She has knit dozens and dozens of Christmas stockings over the years as new spouses have married into the family, new babies have been born and little boys have been adopted.

It made the adoption feel all the more official as Ozzie held his new stocking.

As I took the photo I reflected on God’s hand in our lives. Last year God brought Ozzie into our lives when we volunteered to take Ozzie and his sister in for Christmas. They had no place to go. It was a special Christmas as we were able to be part of something blessed and holy. Who would have thought, 12 months later, that little boy would be our son and our family would be +1. It is humbling to see how much life can change over the course of a year.

Ozzie was also reflecting on the previous year when he said, “This year I have my own family.”

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Ozzie and G.G.

For dinner on Christmas Eve it is our tradition is to have appetizers. It adds to the festive, fun atmosphere to eat on our laps and enjoy dips and treats instead of a sit down meal.

The Christmas eve spread...YUM!

The Christmas eve spread…YUM!

Like the Christmas eves of my childhood, the kids all received new Christmas PJs.

Posing for G.G.

Posing for G.G.

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On Christmas eve the kids have also continued the tradition of putting on a play or a variety show for the adults’ entertainment. This year the big kids did a selection of songs from the movie “Frozen” hoping the good vibes would bring snow. (No such luck. It was in the 50’s and muddy.)

"Love is an open door."

“Love is an open door.”

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There was also our traditional “white elephant” gag gift exchange and family games. This year we had fun playing “Heads up.”

Playing "Heads Up!"

Playing “Heads Up!”

Brothers :)

Brothers 🙂

The real magic of the evening, however, happened in the humble surroundings of hay and animals. There in the darkness of the night, we gathered in the barn, that was lit only with luminaries, lanterns and the glow of the tree, and my father read to us the story of Christ’s birth.

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It was dusty, and damp, and…Holy.

For a moment we stepped away from the pile of presents and the shine of tinsel and we returned to where the story all began…

In a simple stable,

with family gathered,

and animals around.

After reading the Christmas story my parents shared with the kids the legend of the animals and the magic that happens each Christmas Eve at midnight….

The Night The Animals Talked

“In the frosty mountains and on the snowy fields of Norway, there is a legend that draws children to all kinds to stables and stalls throughout the country on each Christmas Eve night. They are hoping to hear a miracle. They are waiting to hear the animals talk.

Over 2,000 years ago, Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. This was no abandoned place, but was a working stable, filled with animals of all kinds. Into these humble surroundings, encircled by the innocent creatures of God, the Savior of man came into the world.

Now according to legend, at least, Christ’s birth occurred at exactly midnight. Inside the stable, the animals watched in wonder as the new-born babe was lovingly wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger. Suddenly, God gave voice to the animals and immediately they began to praise God for the miracle they had just seen. This went on for several minutes and, just before the entrance of the shepherds — who had hurried to the stable because angels had told them the Christ had been born there — the animals again fell silent. The only humans who had heard them were Mary, Joseph and, of course, the Christ child.

The legend of the talking animals persists to this day in Scandinavia. And every Christmas Eve, wide-eyed children creep into stables just before midnight to hear the animals praise God for the wondrous birth of His Son. Of course, adults scoff at this. “Old wives tales,” they grump. “Those children should be home in bed, not out in the cold waiting for the family cow to preach a sermon.”

But the children know — or at least believe — that animals really do praise God at midnight every Christmas Eve. And who of us — those who believe in an all-powerful God — can say that it really doesn’t happen.”

 (by: Ed Price)

We then read from the book, Manger, which is a compiled series of poems written in the voices of the animals that were there for Christ’s birth, on that holy night. We passed the book around, as we sat on the hay, each taking a turn to read an animal’s poem.

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Rusty had somebody reading over his shoulder 🙂

Then we tucked in the animals and said good night. The kids talked of sneaking back out at midnight to listen at the barn door. 🙂

 

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 It was then time for bed. Santa’s cookies we placed on a plate, a cup of eggnog at its side, and reindeer food was tossed in the air in anticipation of Rudolph’s arrival.

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Magic reindeer food!

The little ones were then tucked into bed so that the real magic could begin.