Tuesday, January 1, 2013
I was so excited during the weeks leading up to Christmas: decorating our little apartment, wrapping presents, baking goodies, reading Christmas stories each night, watching our favorite Christmas movies... I love it all.
The kids got out of school a few days before Christmas and I couldn't be happier. This year has been really crazy. Driving 4 kids to 4 different schools each morning has been insane... I can't seem to get anything accomplished, so I was really looking forward to the break. Just to chill and not drive everywhere all day and tell my kids a thousand times, "Time to get up, let's go, get in the car, we're going to be late, do your homework, go to bed!"
We live in the center of town where it's considered "walking distance" to all of the schools, so there are no buses to pick up my two older kids. Just to catch you up -- we sold our house and moved into an apartment the end of June. 1000 square feet, 6 people, 3 cats, yeah. But it's a actually good thing. We're building a house and it's supposed to be finished by March 1st, so I can almost see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Anyway, this is our first move in 9 years. I was really comfortable where we were. I knew everyone in our neighborhood and ward (church group). It was home. Exciting as the thought of building a new house may be, it has been quite an adjustment for all of us. We've been attending our new ward since we moved.
The new ward is nice enough, but it's new. I've really tried to get to know people and yet, I look around and I feel like I hardly know anyone. We went to church the Sunday before Christmas and I was just feeling so sad. Walking into sacrament meeting, I felt like a total stranger. We sat down and saw so many people -- most of whom we didn't know, families that came to visit other ward members -- I had no idea who was who for that matter.
Anyway, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself... feeling sad that we moved... missing our old ward and neighborhood and friends... feeling very alone and hoping our Christmas break would be happy and relaxing. I've decided that moving is sort of like losing someone you love. Things will never be the same. You see or hear something that reminds you of your lost loved one or your old neighborhood and a flood of memories come back. It can be so overwhelming you feel like you will burst and no one really truly understands how you feel. No matter how wonderful your life is now, there's still something missing. Something that can never be replaced. It's a new "normal".
Sunday was bittersweet. New friends and cheerful smiles, a beautiful Christmas program -- but those familiar faces I've known for so long, those knowing smiles I'd come to rely on, the Christmas programs our ward did, the inside jokes, the special connections, and touching stories that bound us together for 9 years -- it just wasn't the same. That Sunday I couldn't figure out for the life of me why I chose to walk away from all of that. Familiar. Comfortable. Easy. My heart ached to go back, but really, there's no going back. Ever. It will never be the same. I look in the windows of our old home and see warm lights and happy smiles... but it's a new family. That life is gone.
I sound crazy. I know! We chose to leave. We felt like it was time to move on and bring our family closer together for many different reasons. We're so excited about our new house. REALLY. This year, however, I've truly realized it doesn't matter where you live. It matters what's inside you and what you do together as a family WHEREVER you live.
So after sacrament, I had agreed to substitute in nursery with the 3 year olds. I have to admit, I wasn't really looking forward to it. Since moving, I've been asked to sub in Primary (children's classes) a lot. It feels like every Sunday I'm there I'm substituting. I know I could say no, but that's just not me. I know they need help. Anyway, I feel like I haven't gotten to meet very many ladies in our ward because I never get to go to Relief Society. Blah blah blah, whine whine whine, I know. Nine years is a long time. I got really comfortable in our old ward. I knew everyone and everyone knew me. It's just going to take some time.
Nursery ended up being wonderful. The other lady helping in the nursery was so nice and friendly -- it means a lot. The children were adorable. We got to take them into Primary with the older kids for awhile to help them adjust since they would no longer be in nursery starting in January. They were so nervous. They didn't even know me and they held my hand so tight. A few of them had tears in their eyes and told me they wanted to go back to the nursery.
Everyone in the Primary was so excited to have the little nursery kids there. They were so friendly and they had fun songs and games for them -- but the nursery kids were afraid. They wanted something familiar and comfortable and easy. I knew just how they felt! My heart filled with love for these sweet little children. The rest of my Sunday was filled with serving and giving and understanding -- I wasn't feeling sorry for myself anymore. Substituting in nursery that day had been a gift just for me. A tender mercy from a kind and loving Heavenly Father. I loved nursery so much I offered to substitute the following Sunday! :)
Christmas was absolutely magical for me this year. I woke up on Christmas Eve feeling kind of depressed and stressed and blah. Not really sure why -- just a lot going on. I was wishing we could be with family -- we visited our parents for Thanksgiving and decided we would stay home for Christmas. It was snowing like crazy -- I was bummed thinking about our house that is waiting to be shingled and how many more weeks the storm will set us back. I was stressed -- Zeke and I were trying to deal with various issues with our children and it's just very emotionally draining and hard not to wallow in it sometimes. I was tired -- I remember curling up with the family to watch "Elf" around noon and I fell asleep for a bit. I hardly ever sleep in the middle of the day. Not sounding very magical, is it?
Okay, as a family, we like to pick someone to do the "12 days of Christmas" for each year. If I remember, I'll do a blog post about what we actually do -- it's very inexpensive and really fun. Anyway, the person we chose was someone we didn't know very well -- a man who lives by our apartment. He lives alone and well, all six of us wanted him to be the one for various reasons. So that was definitely a great experience -- anonymously leaving treats and gifts on his doorstep each night for eleven nights. We hoped it would bring him some Christmas cheer.
Christmas Eve was the last day. On this day, we all go as a family and introduce ourselves and give the final treat. I was still feeling blah and it was still snowing. We bundled up around 3pm and trudged over to his apartment. He was SO thrilled to finally learn who had been leaving all of the treats. We had met him previously this fall so it was fun to chat and get to know him better. It was then I noticed a little bit of happy creep into my heart, a little less blah -- I was thinking about someone else besides myself.
Directly in front of his apartment is a narrow alleyway on a fairly steep hill. By this time, the snow was at least 6 inches deep and there were no snow plows in sight on Christmas Eve. We ran back over to our apartment, bundled up a little more, grabbed our sleds, and raced back to the alley. It was awesome! The alley was great: not too fast, not too bumpy, and all to ourselves. It was then I realized I was smiling and laughing AND that I had been for quite awhile.
The man we had just visited came outside and visited some more while we sledded and watched the kids. He told us more about him -- both his parents had passed away, he was divorced twice, and his kids were grown and married and really didn't visit him much. It's almost as hard for me to type that sentence as it was for me to hear him say it. I can still see his face and the ache I felt in my heart. I wish I could tell you more about him, but I don't want to get too personal.
We had a really good visit and I just knew we needed to invite him over for Christmas Day to eat dinner with us. I looked at Zeke and I knew he was thinking the same thing. So we did. He said he might come. He was invited to his brother's house a couple hours away, but with the storm he wasn't sure if he wanted to travel that far. We encouraged him to come over and hang out with us.
We came in from sledding way past dark and I seriously felt like a little kid again. I can't remember the last time I've felt quite that way. It was truly magical! What a simple thing -- taking treats to a neighbor and spontaneously going sledding on an empty street. Later, we opened our traditional Christmas Eve present (or two or three -- thanks Grandmas and Grandpas!) The kids were excited about their presents, but they kept mentioning how much fun it had been to go sledding and how excited they were to have our new friend over for dinner the next day.
We read the account of the Savior's birth from the Bible and somehow got the kids in bed (notice I didn't say ASLEEP). Christmas morning came bright and early as Beck woke up at 5am wanting to know "did he come? did Santa come?" I think we got everyone up and ready to go around 6am. We opened presents and it was crazy. (I'll save that story for another day.) Anyway... it was mostly good.
After breakfast, I started fixing our Christmas Dinner. We planned to eat at 3pm and there was lots to do. Everyone pitched in and at 2:55, the table was set and ready, so I went to the bathroom to freshen up a bit before dinner. While I was in the bathroom I heard the doorbell ring. A wave of butterflies surged through my stomach -- he's here! I wasn't sure if he would really come. I was nervous, but excited.
We had a great dinner. He was so grateful and kind. He was really interesting to talk to and the conversation just seemed to flow. He kept complimenting our children on their good manners (what the? yeah, it was a truly magical day in many ways). He stayed for a few hours and I felt like it was one of THE best Christmases I've ever had. We talked a lot about our beliefs and membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He is also a member of our Church.
My heart ached for all that he has been through and all that he is going through. Suddenly, my "trials" and "troubles" seemed so incredibly trivial and even foolish and shameful. I tried to empathize with him, but I found myself flailing over every word I'd try to say. He was so happy just to have someone to spend Christmas with and I felt ashamed for feeling so crowded and overwhelmed with my little family sometimes. He has so many health problems and I felt so grateful to realize how healthy we really are and what a blessing that is.
Without any fancy presents, parties, or plans, and basically a "stranger" at our table, I felt closer to the Savior this Christmas than any other Christmas I can recall. I felt His love for me and my sweet little family. I felt His love for this kind man. I felt JOY. I don't know how to describe it, but joy is different from happiness. It is more than happy. It floods your entire mind and body with peace and fulfillment and hope and love. It's the true Spirit of Christmas.
This feeling set the mood for our family. Again, this is not like other Christmases. We're usually all sick and fighting most of the time. We have been SO blessed for Zeke to have two weeks vacation from work. It's been so cold and it has snowed so much, we haven't really gone anywhere. Quite simply, we have spent time together. The clock has literally come to a stop and it has been the most wonderful Christmas, here in this tiny apartment.
Just being together. No plans, no running around, no expectations, no fevers, no doctor visits, no alarm clocks, no homework, no schedules: just playing, cooking, eating, watching movies, building with Legos, taking pictures, laughing, playing video games and board games, singing, dancing, thinking, talking, reading, napping, cuddling, living, being. There is no price tag on the gifts I have received.