Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas On Purpose.

I honestly don't know anyone who loves Christmas more than I do.

As long as I can remember, I have appreciated the sacredness. The magic. The feeling. And contrary to what people say, the appreciation and anticipation I feel about the month of December doesn't lessen as I age. If anything, it strengthens.

I love the shopping. The crowds (which says alot coming from someone who is slightly crowd-phobic). The colors. The bustle. The parties. The full calendar. The music. The sappy Hallmark movies. The wrapping. The baking. The eating. Santa. Creating Ellie the Elf's mischief. The look on Abi's face as we get closer to the big day.

All of it.

With each passing year, I see my time with my children getting shorter and shorter. When I was at "home" for Thanksgiving (North Alabama), I thought about how when my grandparents were providing Christmas for my parents and their siblings, they didn't yet fathom the time when they would wake up childless on Christmas morning, their offspring scattered all over the map, snug in their own homes, creating their own traditions.

Without them.

No, when you're a parent of small children, you are up to your eyeballs in class parties, Santa's lap visits, wishlists, and holiday shopping meltdowns. You start off with great intentions, but before you know it, crisis management itself steals December from your hands and it's January 2nd... And you feel like you missed it all.

I am all about doing living on purpose. If you follow my blog at all, you know I look for deliberate moments to teach my children in. Do I hit every moment? Nope. Do I try to? Nope. But I have learned that if I will find what I am looking for. So as best as I can, and as my energy allows, I look for opportunities to parent on purpose. Which brings me to Christmas.

My childhood is PLASTERED in good memories of Christmastime. I cannot remember one single bad Christmas... not even the year I remember lying on the couch with a stomach virus as there was some fun church party I was missing. Know why? My mom made Christmas something that was so tangible, so real, you could touch it everywhere. We didn't have alot of money. In fact, I didn't know how poor we were until I look back now. No telling how long they saved in order to get me that boombox that year, or that leather jacket I just had to have in 1991... But honestly, that's not what stands out in my mind. Know what does?

A lit tree, with colored lights because colored lights are my favorite.

Cookie crumbs from Santa's snack on Christmas Eve.

Chewed carrot crumbles on the driveway Christmas morning.

Mom attending every single school party, baked yummies in hand, until I was in highschool.

Christmas music wafting through the house all the time.

Watching the original Grinch and claymation Rudolph with my dad.

Sitting in the kitchen with Mom while she did what she does best.

Our kids are unfortunately becoming desensitized to simplicity. They prefer gadgets to board games. They'd rather text us than talk to us. They had rather see the movie than read the book. This is the age we live in. And there's parts of it that's ok. However, if we want our children to look back on Christmases with smiles on their faces, we have to make it so... ON PURPOSE. I have decided to outline a few ideas for you, one for every day of the month, so you can get back to the warm fuzzy feeling that is Christmas, and duplicate it in your kiddos. This isn't in any way to box you in, but to spur your creativity on to think outside the box. Some ideas will take an evening, and some only 5-10 minutes. Feel free to switch the days around, and feel free to omit and change what you wish.

DEC 1- Bake cookies. Together. Even if it's the pre-made pull apart kind. Pour milk and eat them all. Easy.

DEC 2- Visit a local park that's lit up. Even if it's cold. Play on the playground equipment. (Yep, you- an adult. **GASP**)

DEC 3- Write a card/email/letter to a soldier. www.letterstosoldiers.org

DEC 4- Turn off all the lights except your tree lights and play hide and go seek.

DEC 5- Watch "Elf" on USA channel, tonight at 6 PM EST. (Yes, I just recommended TV)

DEC 6- Hang candy canes all over your house while the kids are at school. On bookshelves, the tree, light fixtures, curtain rods, door frames... a prize goes to the person who finds the most as soon as they all get home from school.

DEC 7- "Christmas With a Capital C" movie at FB Church. Not local? Go to church somewhere. That's Christmasy all year. :-)

DEC 8- Make everyone wear a Santa hat from the time they get home until they go to bed. If you catch them without it on, they have to eat a slice of fruitcake.

DEC 9- All night Christmas movie marathon. ABC Family or Hallmark movies, pizza, soda, and then later egg nog and popcorn. Until everyone's asleep.

DEC 10- If you're in Lake County, FL, come to hayride and bonfire at FB Church's new property. If not, take a walk through a Christmas tree farm as a family. Breathe it all in. These smells will be gone in just a month.

DEC 11- After church, let your lunch settle and take your nap. Then, line the fam up for a chocolate milk relay. Divide into two teams. Everyone gets a straw. Pour two giant glasses or pitchers of chocolate milk. When the Christmas music starts, the first person runs and starts drinking with his/her straw. When you yell SWITCH, the player runs back and tags the next person proceeds. First team to finish their milk wins. Not enough players for teams? Have a contest, one-on-one to see who can drink his or her milk the fastest! BRAIN FREEZE!

DEC 12- Red and green dinner night. Be creative, but all foods must be Christmas colors.

DEC 13- The Twelve Days of Christmas begins today! Find as many variations of the song as possible and play it until your family pulls their hair out.

DEC 14- Santa Beard! Put Vaseline on a player's face. Then see how quickly you can put cotton balls all over the place and make the coolest beard ever.

DEC 15- Write a letter to Santa. Each person. Even your grumpiest teenager. And mail them to the North Pole.

DEC 16- Go to the library and check out at least 3-4 children's books on Christmas. Tonight, read them outloud. Then, read the REAL Christmas story, from Luke. Compare the fiction ones to the real one. What's hard to believe about each story, even the real one?

DEC 17- Put everyone's names in a bowl. Draw names. Give every person a dollar (plus tax). Go to the Dollar Tree. (Do this in shifts if you need to, to keep the secret). Each person buys for the person whose name they drew. The gift must be something that represents that person's place in the family. Like: "I bought you these Sour Patch Kids candies because sometimes you're grumpy, but inside you're really sweet." Or "I bought you this box of Band-Aids because you always make me feel better." Go home and each person wrap their gift. Put under the tree.

DEC 18- One week until the big day! Decide as a family to do an outreach together at some point this week. Sit down and discuss ideas like: cookies to police station, a plate of Christmas dinner to a shut-in, reading the Christmas story in a nursing home, or Christmas caroling around the neighborhood. Put it in ink on the calendar for a day this week. Leave space in whatever day you choose to bless people who cannot really "bless you back". (This is not to be confused with tomorrow's activity...)

DEC 19- Bake cookies and treats for special people in your lives and take them to them as thank yous. Leave some in your mailbox for mail delivery person, take to your child's pediatrician and dentist, and drop off some to your child's teacher at church. Nothing says "thank you" like something from your kitchen.

DEC 20- No TV tonight. Just Christmas music and board games. No overhead lights, either. Tree lights and candles. Just because.

DEC 21- The Polar Express comes on tonight at 8:30 EST. Seriously? Don't miss it. Everyone wears pajamas. Not optional.

DEC 22- Walk around your neighborhood and look at Christmas lights. No one lit up on your street? Walk anyway, and pray for each house, outloud. Take turns. Speak blessings on each residence. May feel weird at first. And if it's too weird to "pray," just say "I hope the people in that house are healthy all year." Or, "I believe the people in the blue house will get the new roof they've been needing this year." Speak blessings!

DEC 23- Getting CLOSE! Tonight, make everyone a cup of hot chocolate. Sit in a circle and play the ABC game. "This year, I was thankful for Allison. She's a good friend." Next person- "This year, I was thankful for the new Baby." If you have older kids/teens, do it the more challenging way, where each person repeats everything they have heard, adding their letter to the roster. For instance, the person with "E" as to remember what A,B,C,and D said before adding their E.

DEC 24- Christmas EVE! So many fun things to do. For starters, go to breakfast together as a family. Open your dollar gifts from each other. Find a church service to attend. Have communion together as a family. Watch "It's a Wonderful Life," tonight at 8:00 EST on NBC. Drive around and look at lights one more time. Somehow, they'll look differently after tonight.

DEC 25- The BIG DAY! Before presents are torn into, pray together as a family and thank God for His abundance in your lives this year. Draw attention to the fact that without His Gift, today would be just another winter day. After the demolishing of gift wrap, employ little hands to clean up before toyfest begins. Eat breakfast. Play. Be a kid all day long. Laugh. Snort. Take photos, both by camera and in your heart. Referee the fights. Let them "not" share their new toy, just for today. Through the day, take time to gather each precious face in your hands and look into their eyes and speak love into them. Send them to bed. Sit down. Breathe.

And enjoy the ride.

Merry Christmas, Moms. Merry Christmas, Dads. Make it count. All of it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

To My **gulp** Daughter In Law.

I get it now.

My nephew has paved the way for how I will feel raising a son. He's practically my "other" child. He tears at my heart and just the sight of him- just the sound of his name- can literally make my heart warm instantly. I am totally smitten with admiration for his giant, chocolate eyes, his luscious bottom lip that I kiss every time I hold him, and his signature mean face. He's my buddy. And right now, his mom, his Gia, his Grammy, his Bug (me)... well, we're the ladies in his life. But one day, his hand won't quite fit inside mine anymore. He won't light up at the sound of my voice, nor will he give me those tiny snuggles when he's sleepy. He won't crawl at lightning speed into my arms when he wants to be held. In fact, he won't want me to hold him at all.

He'll find another girl whose heart she'll give to him. And he will take it and cherish it all his life.

The even BIGGER problem here is that if I can't imagine sharing Legend with another woman (I hate sharing him with his grandmas, I admit it...), how in the WORLD will I give my SON to a woman to take care of?

Right now, as I write this, Walker is wadded up in a ball above my bellybutton, making me feel a little less than comfy at the moment. Earlier, he was doing the moonwalk. Before that, the Ally McBeal baby dance. He's a joyful little man.

And right now, I am completely, totally, and literally his world.

I can hold him all to myself, not yet having to share him with his grabbing Aunt Lori, his smoochy Gia, or his smothering big sister Abi. He's all mine. His daddy provided his blood, and I supply everything else. His food, his shelter, his warmth, his comfort. But the day is soon (not soon enough) approaching that I will usher his body into the world that's a little colder than my womb, and I will share him with loved ones, friends, and a world that is waiting for his arrival.

But that's not the big deal.

One day, I will have to share him with HER.

More than likely, somewhere on this planet, there's a mom who is carrying her. Or maybe she just gave birth to her. Maybe their family is close by... perhaps I pass them in Target. Or maybe they are overseas somewhere, speaking a foreign language. Regardless, she exists, or soon will exist, and the Maker Himself has arranged for my son's path to cross with hers. He has planted the seed in Walker's heart even now, that her beauty will catch his eye, her laugh his ear. And though I know how the story ends, and I know my son will be happy all his days as a result of this arrangement by Majesty...

I don't like her right now.

I want this young lady to know exactly what this mama thinks about her. So here it is.

Dear Young Woman Who Has Stolen My Son's Heart,

I know you. Well, let me rephrase that. I know OF you. I'm a girl too... a little worn around the edges, more so than you are. Probably older than your own mom. Probably a little more outspoken. And definitely more aware of the gift I'm giving you than you are at this point.

See, I know the cost of his life. I waited to see his heartbeat on the screen for seven years. Seven. Long. Years. I dreamed of him a million times, in black and white at first... then sepia tones... and then in vivid technicolor. I know what it's like to pine for him before he was even formed. I loved him passionately first. And I will love him until my heart beats for its final time.

I am carrying him in my womb right now, but that doesn't matter. In my mind's eye, he is strong, stinky, and slightly obnoxious, the way every man is. He comes from a long line of men. Not boys. Not pushovers. Men. Manly, strong, wise, and gentle men. So though he's the length of a zucchini and the weight of a pack of hamburger meat, he's my big, strong, strapping boy.

By the time you read this, his dad and I will have nursed him through infancy, first steps, skinned knees from bicycle accidents, banged up lips from playing ball, and sat through 25,321 hours of sports events. We will have made him chaperone for his older sister's social shenanigans, set up countless tents in our living room, and asked him endless times if he is wearing deodorant. No telling how many gallons of milk we've purchased, how many large pizzas have been delivered, and how many dozens of cookies I've had waiting on him when he got home from school.

We loved him first. I KNEW him first.

I know exactly how many freckles are on his face. I know every birthmark. I know the story behind every scar that he wears like badges. I remember every Christmas gift, every birthday party, and every time he slept somewhere besides under my roof. He needed ME when his heart was broken the first time. He needed ME when his laundry was piled up in his closet floor. He needed ME when he had a fever and hurt all over.

But it's come to my attention, now he needs YOU. Ugh.

I also know that I have prayed for you since his gender was revealed. That you would be a woman of virtue and integrity. That you would know the incredible worth that was placed on your life by Holiness before your conception. That you would dress so to catch my son's heart first, and THEN his eye. That you would be being trained to raise your children to know God, simply by watching your life. That you would be a living, breathing example of femininity and grace. That you would be able to manage your household with skill. That you would know when to put your foot down to my hardheaded son, and know when to submit to his leadership.

But mostly, I've prayed you will love Jesus Christ. And that from that love, you could love my boy with your mind, body, and soul.

My boy has been given the best example he could ever have on this side of eternity to pattern his life by. His father is a daddy. He has loved me so well for many years and guided me through many gray times. He is tough, he is strong, he is handsome, and he is rugged. But he is tender, he is gentle, he is meek, and he is loving. Perfect? No. But close enough for my heart. My boy has seen his parents work it out and work it through. He has seen dedication and the sacredness of a marriage covenant. If nothing else was given to him, I promise you he knows how to be committed to you for all his life.

If you're the one, we're going to be in each other's lives for the rest of mine. I don't know your own family situation. I pray you're intimately close to your mom. But if not, I look forward to having the opportunity of being a mom to you over time. Here's what I can promise you.

I will not be perfect.

I will tick you off sometimes.

I will not intrude into your personal lives, though I will mumble to myself when you're not listening.

However, if you give me a platform into your life- if I earn that from you- I will do my best to guide you and educate you like a mom-in-law should.

I will defend you, trying my best not to believe my boy first. I'm aware there's two sides to every story.

I will be the best grandma that's ever lived.

If he ever loses his mind and puts his hands on you in anger, I will break his bones into a million pieces, no hesitation.

I will pray for you every single day of my life.

If you need me, I will be wherever you are in the length of time it takes my plane to get there.

What I expect from you. It's alot simpler, your part.

Love my boy. The best you can. Nothing more, nothing less is needed.

So, there you go, love. At this point, I still don't like you very much.

But my heart already loves you.