The longing for a festive big family gathering had already been met, so it wasn't at all a let down this year for Christmas to be simple. While we didn't quite get through all of our advent stories, I did borrow an inspiration and pulled together 25 candles for the dining room table. (Remember the visitors we almost had in October? They were the push I needed to unearth the living/dining room from the lingering visitation paraphernalia.) We ate the evening meals in there for the bulk of December. The kids loved the change of location and lighting the number of candles to correlate with the date...leading up to the anticipation of the 25th. The center candle holder was purchased from an art shop on our honeymoon, projecting to the cross.
It was a day of worshipful focus, yummy food, family and excited kids with a few gifts.
Sophie finally got to change out her birthday earrings with her new selection. That and hand-me-down doll accessories made for one very happy girl.
The girls actually shared some of the doll accessories.
Amelia, historically our tom boy, also received her first special doll. She loves it because of the tie to her Moms.
I mentioned that Amelia's colorful shoes had been trumped already. Her new five finger ones are the best solution to date for meeting her sensory needs while keeping her feet protected. I would previously catch this child shoeless in all kinds of unsavory places, as she sheds her shoes reflexively so her soles can feel the ground (very high pain and temperature tolerance!). I think she likes looking different too.
The boys didn't have long awaited items on a wish list but did enjoy anything with wheels. This tow truck was purchased at a ministry fundraiser months back (and I was still able to find it come Christmas!!!). Love that.
And Caleb finally got his very own big boy footie pj's.
I fell into my historical role of over planning and stayed up way too late making Pioneer Woman Cinnamon Rolls, two different casseroles for breakfast and lasagna for the later meal. That was after a last minute Pintrest-inspired crafty gift making, fun photo bookmarks.
We had a great nap on Christmas in preparation for packing.
I had joked that we might need to do something unconventional to meet my Christmas expectations, in light of anticipated insufficient energy to pull off an "event". Well, the event (actually events) happened and we still went on a winter beach trip. This was a first of sorts for us, not historically a financial or logistical priority. Vacations in the past were either to visit family or Jason holding down the fort with Lydia while extended family and I took off with the kids who would more benefit from an adventure. Building core family dynamics was the longing for on this trip and that's what happened.
We declined our invitation to the Fragile Kids Breakfast with Santa this season. While it was a helpful bridge last year, to remain connected to our identity as Lydia's family, it doesn't fit anymore. Our sponsors had extended an open ended offer to revisit their beach condo as a couple or a family. (This is the same place Jason and I went for a respite trip right after Lydia's last hospitalization.) It honestly didn't appeal to be isolated together this past year. Now it's time in our healing for 2012 to be rebuilding this family into a team. What better place to start than away from our physical trappings? With two more clear weeks on the calendar after Christmas we put in our reservation request.
With games, movies and all meals in tow, we took off. Our only expense was gas! It was low on stress and high on interaction.
The first two days were freezing cold but we still braved the beach and heated pool a little.
We took a day trip to my brother's new home. His family was recently relocated from NM to FL with the Air Force. It was a great time of fellowship, including even a chance for the parents to play cards while 5 of our combined 6 children napped simultaneously! It rained our whole way back to the condo due to a warm front moving in. The next morning Jason and Amelia walked down the beach until they found a fabulous playground, a must to return to with the whole lot of us.
Jason was the "bad guy" firing Frisbees onto the ships. Remember we have girls. Pirate ship in itself isn't enough. They like drama.
It was quite a walk though. Amelia spotted her brother on the way back for as long as she could. Melted my heart.
Each day we successfully played, managed conflicts, had quiet time, fixed meals together and other cooperative chores. Having packed a smaller percentage of our belongings meant less endurance needed on all parts to successfully accomplish our missions, be it straighten the condo or fold and put away clean clothes.
The depictions of all the typical beach adventures do represent treasures but I place even more value on the setting devoid of overwhelming household maintenance and individual distractions for the adults. This made it easy (unavoidable) to parent more consistently and intentionally. The play and the focus sturdied up relationships and expectations which had been weakened in the intensity of grief.
Our last night was topped off with New Year's Eve 8pm fireworks visible from our 17th floor balcony.
We came back home refreshed and motivated from glimpses of better teamwork and more responsive kids. It's going to be a long process but we were given new visions of the beautiful possibilities that we once knew. This is certainly something we'd love for you to pray with us about. Survival mode was understandable but it is no longer an acceptable lifestyle. I asked months ago where the line was between grace to grieve and permission to sin. We're there when it comes to being engaged spouses and parents. We're not "all better" but if we don't start fighting against the natural tendency the rut is going to get even more overwhelmingly deep. It's time to press forward to being informed by grief rather than defined by it, not because of the date on the calendar but because of where we are in our healing. We finally have been restored a measure of resources and this is where we are investing.
I am thankful for fresh evidence that God isn't finished with us yet, reminders that He will persevere with our transformation into His likeness until we are complete. It's exciting and a great comfort as a mother to think that Lydia has already arrived in her sanctification. Thank you Lord for loving her and us more than we can imagine.