Friday, November 22, 2013

Our Boys' First Christmas

The day after Thanksgiving is usually our big day to decorate the house for Christmas, but with there being only three weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, and seeing that our three new boys from Bulgaria have been asking about Christmas. ever. since. they. arrived in June, we’re breaking tradition and getting it all up this weekend….yep at the same time as having Thanksgiving AND Hanukkah decorations up…a very flavorful house! We’ll have a mixture of Fall linens and wreaths, a beautiful menorah and Star of David lights, topped off by a Christmas tree and all the goodies that go along with it.  Some may call it tacky…but we call it “lots of different types of beauty all mixed together!”
 Just noticed the tin whistles in the vase!

It’s been so much fun sharing holiday activities with Steven, Benjamin, and Josiah.  Everything is new for them….baking and decorating cookies, making cinnamon ornaments, learning the words to Christmas carols, watching as little by little the house gets transformed for different holidays, etc.

We just discovered that Steven LOVES, I mean is PASSIONATE about, to the point of TEARS, sacred choir/boys choir, cathedral-type music.  I played one of my favorite Christmas Carols CDs the other night…..a 1984 recording by the Westminster Abbey choir…..and Steven was enraptured. (LISTEN HERE)
 (One more thing he and I have in common!)  The girls love it too and it’s become our “go to” music while doing stuff around the house….the kids even fall asleep to it.
I’ve been seeing a lot of Facebook posts and blogs lately, encouraging Christians to put Christ back in Christmas. I enjoy reading the blogs because I always get some good ideas from moms who want the holiday to be sacred for their children…not just about getting stuff.  The funny thing is that ever since I was a child I recall my parents having the same conversation: “All this spending money on presents doesn’t seem right.  It doesn’t seem to be the way that Jesus would want us to celebrate his birth.” And as a parent, I’ve struggled with the same thing over the years.  Only, my “excuse” has always been that my kids are adopted and never experienced getting presents, etc. etc.  It seems we all feel uncomfortable about it but can’t seem to get out of the rut. Steven recently commented that he thinks he will get a LOT of things for Christmas this year. Now, in terms of what he is used to, I guess he will get a lot of gifts this year.….but we don’t want him looking at Christmas as the holiday for him to get lots of “stuff.” But how to get the kids’ eyes off of presents and onto really appreciating the enormous gift Christ gave us by leaving his throne and coming to earth?

When we research the origins of Christmas we find that Christ wasn’t fully IN Christmas to start with.  The holiday was started by the Catholic Church in a way that would “assimilate” the Roman pagans into Christianity.  (Same thing goes for how praying to, or “talking to,” saints and Mary started.) The Roman pagans loved to celebrate, and their big holiday, Saturnalia, was celebrated from December 17-23 in honor of the “god” Saturn. (some celebrated until the 25th)  It was such an explicitly ungodly holiday and included drunk people singing naked in the streets, visiting door to door, poor people being forced to give gifts to the emperor, child sacrifices, rape, murder, eating human shaped biscuits, etc. When the Catholic Church decreed December 25th to be Jesus’ birth, they were likely trying to find a way to usurp this wicked celebratory week for something more God honoring.  They wanted to turn the people’s attention away from Saturnalia’s traditions and toward the entry of Christ into the world.  And I think that over time they were mostly successful in doing this…..BUT the holiday season has never taken on a fully spiritual significance in many societies around the world.

In regards to “keeping Christ in Christmas” here's how some  non-believers look at our holiday.
Non-Christian Perspective on Christmas’ Origins
Jewish Perspective on Christmas’ Origins:

So, does the fact that there are pagan traditions tied to Christmas mean that Christians shouldn’t celebrate it?  I know several families who take this stance…. some of our closest friends and family members do not.  But for me, I don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  The Catholic Church may have made errors by allowing pagan customs to creep into Christianity in order to appeal to the masses and “convert” them to Christianity.  BUT starting a worldwide tradition that honors the birth of Christ is pretty awesome.  Think of it…..GOD, the Son, left his throne in heaven, clothed himself with humanity, took on the form of a man (a microscopic human being to start with) all for one purpose… die for the sins of mankind.  Talk about the ultimate humiliation, which God entered into with all his heart of love for us!  I can’t think of a greater reason to celebrate, and I’m so glad that the holiday was started, regardless of the fact that it had some awful traditions associated with it.

We enjoy celebrating the traditional aspects Christmas, but we know  that Saturnalia is still around, and that there are probably associated spiritual forces working against society….luring it toward excessiveness, self-centeredness, child worship, materialism, etc. If we really want to usurp this holiday from its pagan roots and make it fully God-honoring, then we best do it intentionally….not just “hoping” we can have the discipline to buy a few less presents this year and making sure we read the Christmas story to our kids.

One way we share with our children the majesty of Christ coming to earth is by filling our home with music that has rich lyrics and a sacred feel.  There is something touching to the soul about some of the carols and choir music out there.  In September, I gave our children each a booklet of Christmas carols for us to learn together.  Every few days we open our booklets and the younger kids color the pictures while the older ones go over vocabulary and discuss the meaning of the songs.  We always start the music in September so they have time to learn the words. The girls and Steven particularly love the Christmas music. Yesterday, David was trying to talk to Steven  during one of the songs, and Steven, in between phrases, quickly answered, "I'm singing!"  It was llike, "Hark, the herald angels sing. I'm singing! Glory to the new born king." lol

We explain to our kids how the story of Santa Claus came to be, and we also explain how the holiday started and about some of the pagan roots, etc.  We stress that celebrating the birth of our Lord is such a blessing, and that even though December 25th isn’t the real day Jesus was born, since the rest of the world is remembering his birth on this day, we are joining along (We already talked about his birth in September….as many scholars believe he was actually born in the Fall during one of the Jewish feasts—particularly the Feast of Tabernacles). And we frequently comment, “Guys, isn’t it just amazing that GOD, the Son, himself left his Heavenly throne and humbled himself to take on the form of a tiny grow up as a man….all for the purpose of sharing the good news of God’s love and salvation with all mankind, and to die to pay the penalty for the sins of the world!!?”  Our kids can tell that we are very excited about this! We have a beautiful nativity set that we set up over the fireplace for the visual reminder of the beauty (perhaps not physical, but definitely spiritual) of that blessed night.  And the kids really like watching movies of the Christmas story….The Nativity is one of their favorites!  We don’t have a problem with the cute Rudolf or Elf movies…but they definitely are on the periphery.

All the extra traditional stuff we do, like making gingerbread cookies, decorating the house with trees and ornaments, watching Christmas movies, etc. are ways to reinforce, using the senses, the specialness of this Holy Day.  Little children (and ones who don’t understand English that well) may not fully appreciate the significance of the Savior coming to the earth, but they enjoy the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and feel of all the special family activities reserved for this time of year….and they know that it is “something big” we are celebrating.  As they grow older they will better appreciate what the Lord has done for them and hopefully have many fond family memories as well. I know our boys (and all of our children)  are having so much fun with the little things we are doing together.

As for gifts, I’m thankful, in a sense, that slow business is forcing us to scale back and not make presents the highlight of the day. We came up with a couple of ideas that are inexpensive  and that our children will benefit from and be excited about.  For the boys we purchased two used junior drum sets from Craigslist, along with a Learn to Drum DVD.  All five of them LOVE playing the drums and I know will get great use out of these.  They will be stationed in the garage/game room, and I hope they won't be incredibly annoying to those of us in the house!  For the girls, I am even more excited.  Norman is making a portable hardwood floor space for our girls to tap dance on in their room.  They already have tap shoes and love to copy Shirley Temple in her movies.  So with this floor and a Learn to Tap DVD they will be good to go.

I love the idea I’ve read in other people’s blogs—that their children only get three gifts each—since that’s all Jesus got.  So, between some Legos, art supplies, bows and arrows, games, etc. each of our children will have three packages to open.  And stocking stuffers will be given on the eight days of Hanukkah…to give them some fun things to do throughout December. It might still sound like a lot, but for us, this is a trend in the right direction and it forces us to be creative and make the true purpose of the holiday come alive for our family.

Here are some pictures of the kids’ excited faces making cookies.  (Norman laughed and told me, "You tell the people how the pagans used to make human shaped biscuits and now you're showing them our gingerbread boys! lol) They are so eager to put up the Christmas tree, I don’t know how I'll manage with all those hands wanting to get in the way.  Yes, I'll admit, I’m one of those who likes the “perfect” looking tree rather than the obviously child decorated tree.  But here’s my plan….let them put up all the ornaments…..give them lots of praise……let them enjoy looking at it with cocoa and a Christmas movie……and then send them to bed and rearrange the whole thing. (This is what the adult daughter is for….bringing the Starbucks and helping fix the tree!!!) Will update with pictures soon:)


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Discontentment Creeping In

Contentment is a big theme in our house.  We are always stressing with our children how it blesses God for us to have a heart that is content.  I love what Paul says in Philippians 4:12:  “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Because we talk about this regularly, we don’t have picky eaters, there isn't much moping or complaining, and we have overall very happy children.  But without my even realizing it, a spirit of discontentment came over ME within the last several weeks.  I thought of it as “sadness” or “disappointment for my children” but finally I saw it for what it really was.

I guess it was two things that led to this attitude.  First, closing our pool down in October.  And second…..the Duggars.  Yep, that sweet-hearted, absolutely perfect family of 19 or 20, or however many kids they have now.  Our family’s main income source comes from real estate—my husband has been in the business for over 11 years now, and though it’s had it’s ups and downs, it’s always covered the bills.  But in the last few months business has been extremely slow and we’ve had to tighten our belt in every area.  So this meant  not visiting fun places with the kids all summer…..but what did I need with fun places when I had three brand new boys and the blessing of an in-ground swimming pool?  I can probably count on one hand the number of days over the summer and early Fall that we did NOT enjoy our pool.  And I felt that taking the kids places would be over-stimulating for them anyway….better to nestle down at home, spend quality time together, find a comfortable routine, etc.

Well… the pool is closed.  And we got rid of our satellite television.  Got a Roku box and Netflix and we are good to go.  The kids discovered the show “19 Kids and Counting” after hearing about it from my sister-in-law.  And they LOVE it!  It’s basically the only thing my girls and I watch now—episode by episode.  It’s hard to find a family more conservative than we are, but here we have it….and it’s a nice reinforcement to our children why we have some of the values we do, such as dressing modestly, home schooling, helping around the house, etc.

That is all well and good, and all 20 of them are really growing on me (they still only have 18 kids in the episodes we are watching).  But have you ever noticed how many places the Duggars GO?!  I mean, they rent hockey rinks and play “broom ball,” they go to creation museums, and ostrich farms, rock climbing, laser tag, camping, bowling, mining for gold, Washington DC, New York City, horseback riding….and on and on it goes.  My kids are always like, “Mommy, they go EVERYWHERE!” And little by little, I start thinking, “Hmmmm, it would be really nice if we could take our new boys to Stone Mountain…..or the zoo…..or horseback riding……or Lego Land…..or mining for gold…..or to the kangaroo preservation……or if we could rejoin Lifetime Fitness.”  And that little idea blossoms into a little “sadness” that we can’t afford to “go places” right now.  And that little “sadness” blossoms into “I just feel so disappointed that my kids have to stay home and “miss out” on the great activities that other children get to experience.”

Last night I couldn’t sleep after being woken up by my son in the middle of the night, so I finally got out of bed and started searching the Internet for some “cheap” family activities.  Haha—there isn’t anything cheap for nine people!  Let’s see—with discount tickets, we can all go to Stone Mountain for ONE day for $180 + tax.  Lego Land is a bit better at around $112 +tax.  Lifetime Fitness would now be $216 per month, or we could join the Gwinnett County Indoor pools for $480. For $250 we could all go and watch a two hour Medieval Times show with dinner.  I found out that the Kangaroo Conservation center is now closed to the public, so I don’t have to cry over that one...... It seems with the $25 per ticket prices, they just couldn’t get enough people to make it worth their while.  Atlanta has SO MANY fun activities unattainable for an average-income family of nine.  I didn’t even bother looking up the Coca Cola Factory or Aquarium.  The more prices I looked up, the more depressed I got.

But thankfully, the Holy Spirit got a hold of me.  I rebuked myself  and realized this is nothing more than a spirit of discontentment.  What do I have to complain about?  We have plenty of space in our home, a pool, an air hockey table, a pool table, a trampoline!!”  And if I want to go places, why not go to places that are FREE… a public playground or a state park….but here I am whining because I can’t take them to the expensive places. Why not drive to Amicalola Falls and walk up the FREE 604 steps to the top! (yes, I’m totally saying “yuck” to that one too) We have some awesome playgrounds close to our home….why not take the kids there instead of telling them to go play in the backyard.  We have like 50 bicycles taking up one-third of our front porch…..why not go out riding as a family instead of always making excuses as to why I can’t go and ride with them right now? Or just stay home, for goodness sake, and pull out some board games and play around the dining room table (something we have yet to do!) or make some gingerbread cookies….I mean, Fall started September 22nd and I keep reading the same gingerbread man story to my son and I keep asking him what he thinks is going to happen when we bake our own gingerbread man…..only, I still haven’t gotten around to baking one!!!

Well, you get the point….I had to smack that discontentment right out of my heart and repent and tell the Lord how thankful I am for ALL that he has RICHLY blessed us with.  Today, as soon as we finished our school work, we packed the kids into the van (that our church BLESSED us with, by the way!) and headed for a nearby park.  When we got there, it was closed for renovations, so we decided, instead, to go to a really HUGE playground just a little further away.  The kids LOVED this place!  They played for over three hours and when we left they asked if we could always come back to this playground because there are so many maze-like structures and so much to do. And while I was there I met two other home-school moms and struck up a conversation with them (something I NEVER do because I am too reserved to approach total strangers).  And do you know, one of the moms, after hearing about our adoptions, told me that just last night she and her husband were talking about adopting a child from foster care, but that they had major concerns about how it would affect their family.  All three of us were like, “Wow, God must have brought us together to have this conversation!”

So, thank you GOD!  I am back to having a Philippians 4:12 mindset and looking forward to the memories I can start making with my the park....with family and costs necessary.  I am bound and determined to make gingerbread boy cookies the day after writing this post, so I hope someone will keep me accountable!! We are very excited to have my parents coming down here from PA for Thanksgiving......the kids adore their grandparents!  And we are also looking forward to going up there after Christmas to see the whole gang--especially my daughter and 8-month-old grand-daughter who is the most adorable baby girl in the world!  And my wonderful sister, whom my kids call Lor Lor....and her four precious niece and nephews.....can't wait to see them all!  There's just one tiny little extra thing that I'm hoping for....that there will be snow up in PA when we visit! Because I hate to admit this, but  if I have one more snow-less winter, I'm going to be struggling with that Philippians passage all over again!!!  But then again, there's always Snow Mountain......for "only" $28 per person.... for one day! LOL

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