Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Traditions

It's that time again!  Christmas season has begun.  My Christmas countdown gives us 27 days to go.

As we work to prepare for this holiday, I have been giving a lot of thought towards traditions.  Christmas traditions have always meant so much to me.  Each little act that my family would do would help get me into the Christmas spirit.  There were some traditions from my childhood that I couldn't wait to continue on with my family.  One of these is decorating the tree.  We crank out the Christmas songs, fight with the strands of lights, wondering why only half the strand is working, the kids fight over who gets to put up the Christmas star, and we pull out the ornaments, remembering where and when we got each one, as we take turns hanging them on the tree.  Each year we let the kids pick out new ornaments for the tree.  We also try to get a new ornament from our travels.

I love seeing other people's Christmas trees.  Each family does this in a different way.  Some are like my family, you have a collection of mismatched ornaments that are meaningful in some way to you.  Some families have a tree theme, maybe you have many trees, all with different themes.  Some people have beautifully put together trees with ribbons and balls.  It's all wonderful, no matter how you choose to decorate.

One thing that I didn't anticipate in my youth was that as we get older, as new people are added into the mix, and as things change, traditions will need to be changed as well.  I don't fear change, generally, but messing with my traditions is something different all together.

This year marks the first time in my entire life that I am not sitting at my parents for Christmas dinner.  Our little family of five will be by ourselves this Christmas day and I don't even know what to do.  I tell the kids that we will develop new traditions, a new way of doing Christmas, but as of right now I do not know what that looks like.  I do know, as I have learned from experience, that I can not force new traditions on my kids.  There will be things we do, that I feel like the kids should love, but really I'm doing it more for me than them.

So, help me out friends!  What are somethings that your family does, or has done, that you love, that really put you in the spirit of Christmas?  How have you handled change to your Christmas routine?  How have you explained those changes to your children?

This holiday season will be full of change, full of memories, and full of new experiences, of that I am sure.

I'll leave you with a few pictures of our ornament collection.

Nativity star from Vatican City

Zach and mine's first ornament and Ryann's first ornament.

Penguin family I got when I knew our family was complete.

I love our little handmade ornaments!

I had a picture ornament made this year.  I love how it's nestled between
Iron Man and a bell from the Polar Express!

Zach and I received this little tree on our first Christmas as a married couple.  Zach's grandmother gave it to us as a gift and it has fit perfectly in every home we have shared together, 6 houses!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Growing pains

I'd like to tell you a story.  Before I begin, however, let me give you some background information.

We have been living in our new town, with Zach serving at his new church since the end of June.  In that time, there has been lots of changes and upheaval for our family.  Finding a routine for the kids and I to get in to has been a challenge, and continues to be more than four months into this new life.  Sundays have proven to be the most challenging part of finding our new normal.  There are three services that Zach must be at.  He leaves our house often before 7:00 on Sunday mornings.  Two services are held at one church, one right after the other, with the third being held at another church, in another town, more than twenty minutes away.  What is a preacher's wife and family to do?  Most weeks I try to make it to two of those services, one in each church, though there are times that I just don't have it in me to sit through two services with my three kids so I choose one.  Then of course, there's always the one service, the earliest one, that I have only been to a few times.

Now, on to the story and the purpose of this post:

Not too long ago the kids and I got up to go to the earliest service, the one we have only been to on occasion.  I sat in the front, with the three kids.  I tried to smile at those around me and most people wouldn't even meet my eye.  That's okay, it's early, most of these people have no clue who I am.  The kids are tired, cranky, hot and uncomfortable.  The youngest one is crawling all over me, fidgeting to stay awake, but really wanting to go to sleep.  We make it to the end of the service and I work on gathering the water bottles, church bag, my purse, and loose bulletins.  An older woman walks up to us, she's the first one to talk to us since we walked in the front door.  She goes right up to Noah, who has been upset because of something his sister did or said, and asks him why he didn't stand during the last song, saying, "Is there something wrong with you?"

Noah immediately backs away from her, this stranger whom he has never met.  My six year old has no idea how to respond to this question and chooses to say nothing instead.  The lady glances at me for the first time, asks if its our first visit here and then offers the kids some candy.  I left flabbergasted.  I managed to make it to my car before I broke down into tears.  I went home depressed and feeling like I am the worst mom alive, the worst preacher's wife, a failure.

Now, I understand that I am a sensitive person.  I also admit to reading into things, intentions that weren't ever there.  However, I also know that had I been a visitor I would never go back to that church because of how my kids and I were treated, because of how a few people made me feel, whatever their true intentions were.

I know a lot of my readers are church goers, many of you are leaders in your congregation.  I am begging you to think about how you treat young families, visitors, and anyone else.  Think about how you go about greeting people, how you handle those people who may be "doing it wrong."

I have written before about having kids in church (you can see those here and here).  It's hard, whether you have one or five.  We are trying to teach our kid how to behave in an environment that is often unforgiving of mistakes or missteps.  Our kids are expected to sit quietly, to understand the traditions and routines, to be still, and to be happy.  How are they expected to learn anything without messing up on occasion?

Let me tell you another story:

Another Sunday, and another service finds us once again sitting on the front row, belongings strewn about, but this time we are in another sanctuary, surrounded by different people.  My kids are happy and this creates a new set of challenges.  They want to play, they want to talk, they want to run up and give their daddy a hug.  Ryann, the three year old wants to dance to the music.  Her dress has a twirly skirt and that's amazing and doesn't everyone want to see?  I am exhausted, and frustrated, and once again feeling like I'm failing.  The end of the service comes and I try to gather my wits and belongings without crumbling.  An older woman comes up to me.  Great. Here we go again.  She puts a hand on my arm and says, "I want you to know that we love seeing your kids up here.  I know it can be frustrating for you, but we love it. You are doing a good job of handling them by yourself."

Friends, this is love.  This is what will bring people back, bring people into a relationship.  There was no judgement, just encouragement.

Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent who tries to bring their family to church is hard.  Young families today have so much vying for their attention and time.  Often both parents work full time jobs and Sundays may be the only time for families to spend together.  For them to come spend an hour or more at church is an achievement in itself.  It means they are there because they want to be, whatever reason that may be.  They will often want to keep their family together during that hour of worship, for good reason.  However, there's a good chance that their younger ones are still learning about what church is, and how to behave.  Their parents are likely still learning about how to best handle their little ones while figuring everything out.  Be kind. Be encouraging.  Be helpful.  Love.  Think about your words before you offer any kind of observation or "helpful" advice.  Think about how your words, whatever their intention, may sound to an overwhelmed mother or father.  Think about how your criticisms may sound to that visitor, who doesn't understand or know about "how we do things."  If we expect to have a church in thirty years, we need to practice loving and encouraging more, and criticizing less.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.