I still haven't even downloaded photos, much less edited or resized any. Maybe tomorrow when the house is relatively empty. I don't have a lot of great photos this year anyway--besides my big belly making me rather lazy, my two year old crawling on me a lot, my auto-focus not working, etc, etc, most of my photos are. . .eh. But I'll get there.
But we had an awesome Christmas. Santa was good to the kids, cousins were good to the kids, and grandparents were good to the kids. Dylan may not need any presents for his birthday. More about all the fun later--we've really been enjoying having cousins here (well, Kylie, Dylan and Keilana have really been enjoying the cousins, and Doug and I have been very much enjoying the company of Jen and Paul--we hope they'll come visit us again even though we kept them up til 5am talking).
And I have lots of things I want to write about for the first time in some time, so hopefully I'll get some time to quietly sort out my thoughts and get to that, too. Stay tuned. . . .
Its been strange getting into "Christmas mode" this year: usually, Christmas time kind of sneaks up on me; this year, I was ready months ago to just get to Christmas already. And then when it was actually time to start thinking about Christmas, so many things had so rapidly become complicated (or it was rapidly revealed how complicated they were) that my mind and emotions have been all over the map.
Yet, in preparing with the kids, I've been more on top of things than usual--we have ended our day each evening with a scripture related in some way to the Savior's birth, or to his actions/mission while on the earth, and then a prayer. I've done a couple of Family Home Evenings where all the kids actually paid attention most of the time! We've worked on being patient and kind to each other. In the midst of the troubles and difficulties, our home has truly been a refuge. Although too many personal connections remain at the end of the day to leave the stress of work completely at work, Doug has been very good at leaving it to the side when he is with his family: he comes home and, rather than unload his stress on the kids or just sit in front of the TV to unwind (either of which would be pretty understandable), he pours his energy into playing with the kids, and they all end up in a heap on our bed, or leaping over couches and tables as they wrestle with daddy and act like the adorable, hilarious little monsters that they are. Even though having a family adds to the stress of every problem, I have never been more grateful for the relief that a happy family provides from the rest of life's worries.
I was remembering perhaps the most unhappy Christmas I've ever experienced. Eleven years ago, just shy of week before Christmas a young man who was a close friend to both of my brothers took his own life. Needless to say, it was tough to feel much like celebrating anything. His memorial was just two days before Christmas, and though I liked the young man (he was by far the friendliest of my brothers' friends relative to me), I hadn't been close to him. My brothers' hurt, however, was abundantly apparent and it was hard not to ache for them in such a horrible loss. I didn't really feel like doing Christmas at all--life just seemed too ugly at the moment to be festive about anything.
On Christmas Eve, my older sister was talking to a relative about something--I honestly can't remember who it was or what the conversation was about--and I heard her refer to my brother and I as "the twins". I loved being a twin, but for much of my childhood I had resented that tag, feeling as though I never had my own name. But suddenly, hearing her use that phrase at that moment brought me back to the good in life--I suddenly remembered that I belonged somewhere, at a moment when I think we all felt a bit like we were drifting. I was one of the "twins", a part of a wonderful and loving family. I was born as one of two to be one of seven, seven wonderful people I was so blessed to have as part of my life. And I looked around at all the other relatives in our home that Christmas Eve, and remembered how many people there were in my life that loved me, that I loved. That was reason enough to celebrate.
Our absurdly large (as it was added to nearly every year for almost 20 years) homemade clay nativity was set up on the end table next to where I sat. At the center was the one truly lovely piece, the first one my father ever made, starting our tradition: Mary, holding her child. Into my head came Isaiah's words: "Unto us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . . ." That little boy was sent not just to Mary, but to all of us. We celebrate his birth because he brought with him the promise of redemption from sin and error, and of comfort for all pain and hurt. Elder Maxwell, who battled several rounds of very painful cancer, once said, "If the only kind of pain he felt were mine, he loves us more than we know." I needed to be reminded that whatever pain we might feel, particularly under such difficult circumstances as those, where so many questions remain unanswered, there is a remedy. The sting will dull, and there is one who promises peace. There is one who offers rest unto our souls, however heavy the burden we carry may be.
This Christmas has not been nearly so difficult as that one more than a decade ago, but it certainly has had its challenges. But even as times and circumstances in our lives change, eternal principles do not. Whatever difficulties or challenges we face--professionally, physically, mentally, or emotionally--he knows our need and can fill it. Whatever the trials in our lives, we look to his birth as a time to celebrate because the life he led offered us all so much.
The baby in the stable of Bethlehem became the Savior of Gesthemane and Calvary. He walked the most difficult path and lived the loneliest life ever lived so that our path might be easier, our burden lighter, and so that, no matter what trials lie in our path, we might never walk alone. All that he asks in return, to truly show our discipleship, is that we "love one another". Even when its hard. I'm trying to remember that.
I always miss my Grandma the most at Christmas. That's when the nostalgic happiness that accompanies my many, many memories of her turns into a bit of an ache. She's been gone for six years now, but so many of my happiest childhood memories, and happiest Christmas memories, period, involve her. I would snuggle up on her couch in a quilt and watch her large collection of Christmas movies. Michael and I would always help her put up and decorate the tree (which in her mind was never complete until Michael had set up the train), and ooh and ahh over the cleverness of the Christmas tree stand that our Grandpa had made out of horseshoes, for a moment "remembering" with her a man we never knew here and yet held fondly in our hearts. We'd pin her little elves to her drapes, hang candy canes just about anywhere they would stay, and carefully put up her ornaments, most of which were much older than we were. She loved Christmas so very much, and was a great gift-giver; every year she swore that she wasn't going to do presents because "there are just too many this year" and every year her little red Toyota would be loaded up with gifts as she made her rounds to the houses of her children and grandchildren.
Of the many stories I heard her tell and retell, one that was always one of my favorites, and certainly one of hers, was the Christmas present she got when she was four. She remembered it being a long winter, because it seemed like her Mom had been in bed a lot. All she wanted for Christmas was a baby doll. On Christmas Eve, her dad emerged from her parents' bedroom, proclaiming, "Here's your baby doll!" and handed her her present: her baby sister, Verna.
I think I loved that story so much because it meant something to me. I spent a lot of hours playing on Verna's carpet, building various things out of Lincoln Logs with my brother, or learning to play various card games at her table. They were the best of friends, and such a wonderful balance. Grandma was all about firmness, determination, being tough. Verna has always been a bit softer, a more accommodating type of personality. I loved going places with the two of them and watching them have fun together.
This year, Grandma's "baby sister" is 90
I wish I could be there to wish her a happy birthday, but a card will have to do. My grandma was born in June of 1916, and Verna was born in December of 1920. Keilana was born in June of 2004 and Kylie arrived in December of 2008. So far, my girls are great friends. I hope I can say as much when they're in their 80s.
Though nothing will ever, ever pass "O Holy Night" on my list of favorite Christmas songs (aside from perhaps Handel's Messiah, is there a more stirring, moving song, anywhere?), "The Little Drummer Boy" is a close second for me.
Perhaps because I am somewhat prone to feelings of smallness or inadequacy, the story of a little boy with nothing but a drum has always resonated with me. Here is this young man, brought before, not just a king, but the king, told to bring his "finest gifts". He feels that he has no gift fit for such a recipient--he is poor and young and has nothing. Nothing but a drum. And its not a piano or a harp or a flute, or some other instrument we generally associate with reverent or worshipful music--nope, this guy is carrying around a snare. And yet he plays his best, offering the only thing he has to give, with all his heart. And then the Christ smiles at him. That's a beautiful, moving story.
It is sometimes easier to recognize other people's gifts than it is to see the value in our own. But the Lord knows us, through and through, inside and out. He knows our capacities, potential, and our limitations. He knows, even better than we do, exactly what we have to offer. Even the simplest gift, no matter how inadequate it may seem to us, is pleasing to him so long as it is offered with a sincere desire to serve and "honor him". We can sit there worrying about how we look next to others with their gifts of gold and expensive ointments, or we can stand confidently and "play [our] best for him". If we do that, I do believe that He smiles at us--that he is pleased and grateful for our efforts. If the Lord is pleased with the gifts we offer, our pride should not stand in the way of us being pleased with them ourselves. He values the devotion and efforts of the girl quietly scribbling in a notebook in the corner just as much as he values the gregarious fellow who's always putting together the best programs and parties.
No one, not even the most righteous and talented and blessed among us, will ever come close to repaying even a fraction of the gift we all were given: "Unto a us a child is born; unto us a son is given. . ." That's what we celebrate. That's why we buy presents and make cookies and decorate trees. Because the Father gave his son, and the son gave his life. Without that, every other gift would be meaningless. With it, every faithful effort is sanctified. In the shadow of the Ultimate Gift, every other gift seems so small. But by faithful exercise of our agency and gifts, we very slowly (line upon line, precept upon precept), work towards eternal exaltation, and a chance to bless countless lives further, to bestow gifts of eternal value. We each have to start somewhere, even if we're too poor and inexperienced to offer anything but a pleasant beat on our little drum.
One of my favorite renditions of this particular song:
The other day, a friend said, "I keep forgetting you're pregnant." That's the third or fourth time someone has said that to me in the last few weeks. And I keep sort of having that problem myself. There's been so much going on the last few months, and this seems to be the laziest baby ever, so I keep "forgetting" a bit myself. Suddenly I'm going to have a baby around here and it will catch me by surprise. So I thought this might help me remember:
(Sorry about the weird picture. I was too lazy to use a real camera, and then Kylie started pulling on my legs while I was taking it).
Today I'm 28 weeks, so exactly 12 weeks til my due date and 14 weeks til the day we plan on inducing (due dates tend to be somewhat meaningless in my longer-than-average-gestation family). I realized when I looked at the big version of this picture that it looks like I'm sticking my belly out, when in fact I just can't stand up much straighter and actually be comfortable. Its been pretty easy for the most part, other than the annoying and ever-present fatigue. She's sitting a lot lower than Kylie did, which means I already waddle quite a bit, but at least she's not poking into my ribs and decreasing my lung capacity yet.
My midwife is awesome and very low-key, and I've been grateful for that: I've only been in for three appointments so far and don't have another one until after Christmas. It is SO tedious to go to the doctor (especially when you have to leave town and consequently block out an entire afternoon to do so), so when I have no history of complications, personally or in my family, and its the fourth baby and seems to be going smoothly, she just has been really relaxed about everything. I'm so glad that a friend recommended her when I got pregnant with Kylie--she's a great find.
So three months to go! Wish us luck--Kylie LOVES babies, but I'm pretty certain she's going to have a hard time with another little girl overthrowing her reign as baby of the house.