This Christmas season has been different from past Christmas seasons. Our usual traditions, timing, and routine have been adjusted to compensate for Toby’s absence and the struggles that have resulted from his absence. We have put off some of the Christmas activities that we usually participate in at the beginning of the month until the last moments so as to allow us to do them as a family.
Some activities we have scrapped all together simply because doing them without Daddy is too hard for the boys and results in heightened anxiety and hard behaviors.
The result of these adjustments, all put into place to help us all survive this challenging stretch, have resulted in a very different December. There has been less festivities and running about, and a lot more quiet, at-home moments as a family.
Initially I struggled with a Christmas season that didn’t align with my vision of what a happy Christmas build-up should look and feel like. I resented the fact that this last Christmas season with Grace home to participate in the four weeks of festivities were stolen from me because of the pressing need to address much harder and darker issues with my boys.
As we enter Gracie’s senior year I find myself looking at every holiday, activity and tradition with feelings of finality and thoughts of “the last one.” I know it is silly. It is not as though Grace is leaving forever but I recognize the shuttle shift that is occurring as the kids get older and closer to leaving the nest. Things are changing and although Grace will be home for Christmas next year, whether she chooses to live at home or venture far away for college, it will not be the same. As she steps into adulthood there will be additional responsibilities and pulls on her time that will keep her from participating in all the December festivities leading up to Christmas. Things will be different. And that is hard.
So I really wanted this Christmas season to be perfect.
I wanted to do it all…participating in and recreating the Christmas magic from the last 18 years of her life, one last time.
But that is not how this December has played out.
One could look at the past 2 months and declare them an utter catastrophe with challenges and heartbreak being the theme of the season, but God has taken our less than ideal holiday season and turned it into something deeper and more meaningful.
It is December 14th and not a gift has been purchased. There is no tree cut down and decorated. Christmas cookies have not been decorated and not a light hangs outside my home. In fact the only “to do” item on my Christmas list that has been marked off is the mailing of Christmas cards, a task that was expedited by the need to finish them by midnight one night to take advantage of a Shutterfly 50% off coupon.
One would think this season has been a failure of epic proportion, after all Christmas is only 10 days away, but the panic that would normally be consuming me is absent.
I feel completely at peace.
And it has nothing to do with what has been done or not done. In fact it has nothing to do with me at all. This peace comes from a presence more powerful than any Christmas magic I can create for my family. It is the presence of God. The need to surrender my grand plans because of unforeseen circumstances has resulted in a surrendering to God and His vision for our Christmas season.
It has been a holy Christmas season and quite reminiscent of Christmas three years ago when we opened our home to two young children who had no place to spend Christmas that year. Opening up our home to strangers that Christmas resulted in a Christmas that was imperfect, messy, noisy, and a bit uncomfortable. We had to give up our own vision for the holiday in order to make Christmas happen for those two children. We had to decide, much like that inn keeper in Bethlehem, if there was room in the inn and if we would find room for two strangers in our home.
But more than that…could we find room for them in our hearts?
Those two strangers were Ozzie and Zoey, and the result of saying “yes” and taking that leap of faith was the adoption of Ozzie. When we invited him into our home for Christmas we had no idea the work God was doing and the mountains He was moving to bring our lost son home.
This Christmas season has had a similar feel. Except when asked if we can find room in our hearts it wasn’t for a child, but for the Lord.
This December we have, as a family, been participating in the Light the World challenge and it has transformed our Christmas season and transformed our family.
It is a daily challenge found at:
This daily devotional offers a scripture and video reflecting on a trait of the Savior and then challenges us to follow the Savior’s example and serve in a similar way.
Some of the daily themes include:
“Jesus honored his parents and so can you.”
“Jesus prayed for others and so can you.”
“Jesus helped people to walk and so can you.”
It has been moving to see how this simple challenge of focusing daily on a trait of Jesus Christ, and following his example through acts of service, has changed our family and brought a sweetness and depth to our Christmas season.
Some of these acts of service have been small and individual with us coming together every evening to share with each other, and with Toby via the phone, what ways we honored Christ that day. While other acts of service were larger and organized by someone else.
These service activities have been extra fun for our family as we have been able to participate all together and experience the joy of service as a family. I am so grateful for the organizers that put together these larger service opportunities. I know the work that goes into these sort of events and it was such a joy to be able to simply show up and join in the effort.
Here are some opportunities the Lord has provided our family to #Light the World:
“Jesus helped others to see and so can you”
On this day one of the services suggested was to donate old eyeglasses that are no longer in use to those in need. Ozzie was so excited to be able to offer up two pairs of his old glasses that he brought with him when he moved in that are no longer the correct prescription for him.
“Jesus fed the hungry and so can you”
At co-op the kids have the opportunity once a month to help the church we meet at for co-op help set up food for the backpack program. This program sends two days worth of food home for children in need over the weekend when school breakfasts and lunches aren’t available. The backpacks are assembled on another day but the kids at co-op are able to sort and organize the food items for easy packing. On the first Wednesday of the month the kids were able to participate in this wonderful program that helps feed hungry children.
“Jesus ministered to children and so can you”
The opportunity to minister to children came through an event planned by the youth leaders at church for the young men and women to offer free babysitting for young families one evening in December. Parents were able to drop off their children for two hours and Christmas shop or enjoy a date night, while the youth volunteered their time to entertain the kids with activities, games and crafts.
Jesus taught us to clothe the naked”
Molly has been working on a personal project for the last few months that fell perfectly under this category of service. She has been making winter hats to donate to our local hospital for newborn babies. She has quite the pile ready to be dropped off at the hospital.
Jesus showed humility and so can you”
One suggestion under “Jesus showed humility and so can you” was to brag a little…about someone else! So as part of our evening devotional we played a fun game using a ball of yarn. For this game we stood in a circle. I started the game by tossing the ball of yarn to someone else while holding onto the end of the yarn. I then shared something I appreciated about that person. Then that person wrapped the yarn around a finger and tossed the ball of yarn to someone else in the circle until the finished result was a web of appreciation and gratitude for the other members of the family.
“Jesus lifted others burdens and so can you”
We had an awesome opportunity to participate in a special service activity last Friday that lifted the burdens of struggling moms and dads in the area when we attended a field trip in New Castle with our co-op at a Toys for Tots location. Here donations of toys and clothes are collected to fulfill wish cards for local children in need.
The activity was sponsored by Pa Cyber and was so much fun. For 3 hours we helped fill Christmas gift bags. The kids would get a wish card containing the age, sex, favorite color and needs/wishes of a child and then “shop” for them off the shelves of donations.
What a joyful challenge it was scouring the shelves to find the perfect toys for each child based on the wishes that their parents wrote down.
Tyler expressed the joy felt that day perfectly when he said, “It was like getting to be Santa’s elves.”
It was a gift to see my kids delight in bringing Christmas joy to unknown boys and girls. And getting to participate with friends made it even more fun.
It was a service project we hope to be involved in again next year!
The Light the World challenge has blessed our family.
I share these experiences not to glorify self but to glorify God and testify the transforming affect this inspired program has had on our family. I am grateful for the focused direction and creative suggestions of service ideas. I am grateful for the healing power that has come from looking outside ourselves and our individual trials and challenges to take notice of the greater needs that exist in the world around us. It has humbled me. It has made me more grateful. It has redirected my focus from self to others and given greater meaning to this Christmas season as our family focuses on the attributes of our Savior and the life he led.
I encourage all to give it a try.
Go out there and
Light the World!