Last year we decided to celebrate Christmas a little differently....with a renewed purpose (I wrote about it here). I really need to be intentional about things, otherwise time just quickly passes by along with all of my "plans." This year it's been more of a challenge to plan intentionally with all of the changes in our life, but we are trying....and really, these are the best memories!
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1. Decorating - We're one of those families that decorates the day after Thanksgiving....we just can't wait. The kids were SO excited this year. I decided to start a new tradition since we have to wait until Luke wakes up in the afternoon to start decorating. We spent all morning making Christmas crafts which the kids then used to decorate their rooms. The loved it and worked way more diligently than I ever expected......
We had a bunch of extra lights from who knows where so Luke helped each of them put them in their rooms too.....anyone who stepped foot in the house was likely dragged to see their rooms....
Every year is so much fun, and each of the past two years has allowed us to watch a child experience this for the first time.....such a joy! Last year Levi was so obsessed with the tree, it was as if he saw it for the first time each day. This year was Keira's turn to oohhh and ahhh and hear the memories from each ornament.....
2. Gifts for Jesus - One thing I love about homeschooling is how we can incorporate this into our school days. Just like last year, we sat down and brainstormed ways we could give gifts to Jesus this year since it's His birthday we're celebrating. I tried not to give much direction at first but with Caleb's four year old wandering mind and the communication barrier with Keira, I realized that some examples were needed. They were so cute, so sincere.....and once they seemed to understand, they were excited!
Keira has an incredibly giving heart.....it's something she does constantly. Using her shekels (Awana money) to buy gifts for Caleb and others....using her allowance to buy gifts for friends and family....giving away her own things because it's someone's birthday or she just wants to make them smile. I've been trying to teach this concept to Caleb for the past couple of years, so seeing his sister be so giving is really helping to reinforce this for him. So the first gift was something unplanned, which I've realized is sometimes even better! The two of them could not have been more eager and excited to go through their toys and pick out things that they could give to two little boys across an ocean who had to leave most of their toys...and really everything....behind. I was so proud of them. They realize they have so much....way more than they need....and they weren't hesitant to give some of it away. (Of course they are not always this way! We have our share of me me me struggles!) They were excited last week as we put together the finishing touches, trying to remember each family member and sealed up the box, ready to go.
The giving started to catch on....when we'd go to a store and Caleb would see the person ringing the bell, collecting money, he'd ask to give something......."I helped them!" he said, so proud. It really doesn't take much.
We had decided to make some Christmas cards and put together a small gift for someone without a family. This obviously hits close to home for our girl, and though we did not have anyone in particular in mind, we talked about nursing homes where people are sometimes forgotten and lonely. They took great care in making their cards and were excited to give them. I found a nearby nursing home, not really sure how this was going to work.....Levi brought the small gift, Caleb and Keira held their cards proudly. "Um, hi....the kids made these cards and have a small gift....we don't know anyone here, but were wondering if there is someone here without a family....." I hadn't really thought this through and wondered if barging in unexpected was the best idea. The woman went off to find out and the kids started to look nervous. She told us to follow her and led us to a woman sitting alone, drinking coffee. "This is Shirley," she told us. And to Shirley she said...."See, there is a God!" She explained that just the day before Shirley had been saying there was no Christmas for her....no one for her. Now I'm holding back tears, trying to introduce myself and my children and translate for Keira. I could not have been more proud of my children in that moment, nor more in awe of God.....I had just looked up a place to go that morning, piled the kids in the car and hoped we'd find someone to give these to. He knew. The kids gave their cards and pointed out the details....Levi gave the gift that he'd tried to open twice and eagerly watched her open it. A worker helped her to put on the bracelet and we told her how pretty it looked. She was very quiet, but so thankful. Keira said she was crying a little.....Levi gave her a hug and kiss and she did the same to him. Caleb gave a hug and they all wished her a Merry Christmas. They wished everyone they saw a Merry Christmas as we left.....and received so many smiles. It was so quick.....just a few minutes......but I wonder what an impact they left. And I have not stopped thinking about Shirley. In the car as we drove away Keira said she was a little sad......I know her heart went out to this woman. I know she understood. She told me she wanted to make more things for her and bring them soon. She told me she liked Shirley. Me too, I said....me too. I think we need to adopt Shirley....and I'm excited for our next visit. And as I reflect, I remember this gift was supposed to be for Jesus....and yet I feel like I'm the one receiving.
After we left the nursing home we made our way to the Providence Rescue Mission. We had been making piles of things we really did not need so that we could give them to people who do. Clothes, shoes, jewelry, toys, etc. I'll be honest, we almost always have a pile.....but it's usually of things we just don't want, or have outgrown. I felt like we needed to take this a step further, so we tried to find things that were new....or gently used, that we like and use but really could live without. It felt more like a gift this way....more like we were actually getting the point....there was some level of sacrifice. I don't remember where Keira and Levi were at the time, but as I piled everything by the door, Caleb asked what I was doing. When I reminded him about the items he ran to the play room and told me he had to find some more things to give. "This is the give away pile right here" he told me seriously. They're never too young! We've made many trips to the mission throughout all of our adoption yard sales, and we've never had the experience we did this time. The kids helped to carry the bags inside and the gentleman inside asked if they'd been here before. I explained that Keira hadn't so he gave us a little tour. It was so sweet for them to really see how this place helps so many people. To see how the things they gave would be used and given to others. They looked around in awe. And again...I think we received more than we gave.
My mom started a new tradition with the kids this year too.....making boxes for Samaritans Purse....to go to a child in need. She spent time with each of them, explaining how it works and what the purpose is. They chose a gender and then went shopping for them....picking out what they thought that child would like. Again they were SO excited about it. And this year they added an option of sending them to Ukraine, and to Ukraine they went! Keira wrote in Russian in her card.....I can't help but wonder what that child thought when they opened their box.
Finally was their Christmas morning gift to Jesus. We did this last year and weren't sure if we'd come up with a new idea or do it again. But two weeks ago in school just so happened to be "G" week....and the curriculum we're using had chosen to go with "Goat" for the theme. I ordered some goat related books from the library, totally random. One was titled Beatrice's Goat.....I hadn't read it in advance - no time for that - so as I started to read it and realized it was about a family in Africa who had received a goat from a family far away (much like we did last year with our Christmas gifts from Gospel for Asia) I decided to deviate from our daily plans and use it to really explain the whole concept. Basically, some people from far away had kindly given a goat to a family.....and through the story, you see how it changes their lives. One goat. A whole families life changed forever. It took a long time to explain each page, but I know that even Caleb understood in a whole new way. It was such a great way for them to understand how such a gift could really make an impact.....rather than just clicking "buy" on a chick or bunny on Christmas morning. They asked several times when they were going to pick which gift they'd buy for a family. On christmas morning I laid out the pages from the catalog that they could choose from. Bunnies, chickens, blankets, mosquito nets, bibles etc. Levi picked the chickens right away - a chance for a family to earn a steady living selling eggs or chicks......and Caleb the rabbits - animals that will quickly multiply, providing meat and more bunnies to sell for income. Keira had talked about buying animals for people this entire month. But as she looked at each page, she changed her mind......the bibles, she said. "Levi chickens, good, Caleb bunnies, good.....I think bibles.....want people know God."
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3. Celebrating - There are so many fun ways to celebrate Christmas, in addition to decorating and our gifts for Jesus. Each year we find new ways to make memories and add to our family traditions. This year we went to our first Live Nativity....and it was beautiful! It was in Newport which is a bit of a hike for us, but it made it so special. Just traveling over the bridges was a thrill for the kids (they literally thanked us for this as if it was part of the surprise!). It was a perfect, clear night.....cold, but beautiful.
Live animals made it so much fun....and so much more real. Children's voices singing, candles and stars lighting up the clear night sky, and so many people gathered in silence.....it really just made me stop and reflect.....
We continued our celebrating with our annual drive around to see the various lights....this year we stopped at two homes where you could get out and walk through the "exhibit." Pretty elaborate. The kids were thrilled! Reading Christmas stories, devotionals and acting out the events of Jesus birth with our play nativity scene......watching our "Why Do We Call It Christmas DVD" and reading our "God Gave Us Christmas" book. Christmas Eve service, time with family and friends....."What God Wants for Christmas" activity.....and trying as we celebrate in each way to keep the focus on Him.
Starting our Christmas morning together reading the account of Jesus birth and acting it out with our nativity scene.....
We stuck to our three gifts for each child again this year....explaining each (a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh gift) as we went. We gave them their "practical/myrhh" gift first, thinking they wouldn't be too excited about them. But as our family grows and we travel to visit friends, we figure these will come in handy. They.Loved.Them. All they wanted to do was open them up and play with them, and that's just what they did. They went to get pillows and animals they sleep with and everything. All other presents on hold....they were having a blast! They begged us to let them sleep in them - Keira even slept on the floor in hers that night....so silly.
They loved their gold gifts, something for each of them that we knew they'd love, and we will venture to Legoland Discovery Center in MA for their "experiential/frankincense" gift. It's so much fun to watch their joy and excitement....a gift in itself.
I'm so thankful for my sweet, ever growing family! We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas!