I love Christmas traditions! Which is somewhat of a strange thing for me to say because I typically get bored quickly with any sort of repetition. Probably being that it is only one time a year, the traditions don’t have time to become dull to me. I also find that as I get older and am raising my own family, more and more traditions become appealing to me (even if for nothing more than bringing my family together and creating memories). My parents were good at creating memories (especially around Christmas) and I hope my children will be able to say the same about Sarah and me. Some examples of things our family does during December are as follows:
It all starts with picking out the “perfect” Christmas tree shortly after Thanksgiving (this way it can be fully dead by the time Christmas arrives). Then we decorate our house (inside and out) listening to Christmas music. Sarah likes white lights, but I am a fan of colored twinkling lights. She usually wins with the more visible parts of the house and my lights get relegated to the kids treehouse in the backyard (it’s for the kids of course!). We also like to do fun things like look at Christmas lights; watch staple Christmas movies; make cookies and other unhealthy treats like cheese straws and toffee; make drinks like apple cider, lots of home roasted coffee, and egg nog; give to others as a family (including letting the kids pick out presents for friends and family at the Dollar Tree and also pick out things like donating a chicken through an organization like World Vision for a family to have eggs); make a year in review photo book; go to a Christmas Eve service at our church; eat Christmas Eve dinner at Waffle House; have friends and family over for waffles on Christmas morning (yes that’s two waffle meals in a row for most of us, but I usually go for something healthy like the Texas cheesesteak at WH); and eat a steak dinner on Christmas night. This year our family started a new (but ancient) tradition of lighting the advent candles at dinner each night during December and reading in the Bible about who Jesus is. Amazingly enough, Jack (5 yr old) can now tell you 25 names for Jesus with very little assistance, and Will (3 yr old) isn’t too far behind!
The picture at the top of this post is of the traditional candle lighting and singing Silent Night at A Highlands Christmas. This year Pastor Chris spoke about things we need to silence in our lives or remove from our lives to get rid of the chaos that so easily keeps us from hearing God speaking to us. Sarah and I both had the initial thought that if only our three young boys could be silent (even if only occasionally) we could have some peace around our home! While there is certainly some truth to that and we both need to do a better job honoring a Sabbath day and even occasionally getting some quiet time away from the house (particularly Sarah who is home all day, every day), I began to process how fortunate we truly are! We have three amazing, healthy, and fun kids! And I am sure one day Sarah and I will wish we could have the toddler induced noise and chaos back (if only for a little while). It can be incredibly nerve racking now but it is only a phase and hopefully the time invested in them now will reap blessings far down the road.
This picture especially made me stop and take notice because it bears the name of my oldest son along with items that all my sons have taken interest in (watching Curious George has been a very very veerry rote tradition at our home since Jack was very small, in fact we just read a Curious George book this afternoon). It also made me think back to the near drowning experience that Jack had at the lake when he was two years old. Jack and I had been camping and as I was packing up some of the last items he fell off the dock without me hearing or seeing him. I had only had my eye off of him for a minute and when I turned around he wasn’t there and didn’t answer when I called. I looked out and saw the top of his head and his little hand just above the water at the end of the dock. Thankfully, I was able to get him out before he tried to take in a breath. This experience was probably more traumatic for me than it was for him.
So, as we sang Silent Night at church this year, I was reminded to make the most of these days, our family traditions, and even the stressful noisy moments of daily life no matter how mundane (as I am typing this Jack and Josh are singing loudly and Will is fueling up with M&Ms for the grand finale). God revealed to me in this moment that I need to focus on the things that matter and not get so overwhelmed by the things that do not. I have known for some time that this was a problem that I needed to work on, but God was revealing that I need to be intentional in my responses to the stressful moments. For someone who likes order, this is very difficult! So, if you have read this far, I need your help holding me accountable in this. We may not have very much silence or lack of messes in our house right now, but we can choose to enjoy the time we have together.
At the same time there are so many families that are celebrating their first Christmas without the presence of a loved one this year, whether that is a child (like the ones in Connecticut), or a spouse or parent (like our dear friends, the Kempfers). Sadly, at some point, those days will come for all of us and apart from the eternal peace that comes from Christ there is no way to prepare for the heartache that comes along with that. Even with an eternal perspective it still isn’t easy. So, for all those who are hurting this Christmas, my prayer is that you can “sleep in HEAVENLY peace”.