Hello dear friends,
It’s a gray, cold December afternoon here in Columbia. After a brisk walk to their grandparents’ for a fire pit and some back yard Advent projects, the kids and I have holed up at home, with new Christmas pj’s and soup and A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I’m going to be honest: I almost never, ever read the news. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, and not often on Instagram, so the way I find out about current events is typically from my husband or from blogs.
It’s not that I don’t care what’s going on in our country or in the world. But when it comes to current events, sometimes news and social media feel to me like a massive number of voices bombarding me, like the pulsing roar of a football game. It’s hard to strain my ears and discern what anyone’s actually saying in the midst of the deafening noise. It’s hard to know what’s really true and whom to believe, and what exactly, at the end of the day, I’m supposed to do about it.
But for whatever reason, recently I’ve heard two clear calls in my life that stand out from the noise. I’ve decided to lift my head and listen hard.
One is the book David put in my hands a couple of months ago, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond.
Another comes in the form of some of the bloggers I respect, who tell me this week that there is a crisis of epic proportions in Aleppo, Syria. There is terror and bombing and starvation. I won’t attempt to summarize this situation for you because Ann and Shannan are two people who have done it well.
I’ve been known to avoid educating myself about things that feel too painful, but with Evicted and with learning about the war in Syria, I decided not to toss aside the book for lighter reading or to quickly skip ahead to the next blog post. Instead, I wiped away tears and pressed on to the next chapter, clicked the next link and then the next that told me about the deprivation and horrors people are experiencing this December.
And here I’m sitting here in my favorite gold reading chair on a Friday afternoon, and I’m wondering what difference this knowledge makes in my life, other than to make me feel a bit guilty and very sad. While I know warmth and safety and a fully belly this Christmas, many know cold and fear and hunger.
How can I possibly have been born to such privilege? Why am I here right now and not there? What could I possibly do to help provide housing for America’s poor or peace for refugees of war-torn nations?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer yet.
It’s a question I’d like to explore in the coming weeks, but for now, trite as it may sound, it starts with a little paper ornament hung on our Christmas tree. It starts with standing there in the early-morning darkness of our living room, next to the sparkling white lights, looking at that heart-breaking photo and praying for people I don’t know — people across the world in Syria and people right here in my own country.
And there are others too — not just those in physical danger, but those for whom the holidays are a painful time of year. The friends who have lost loved ones. The friends who are sick in body or sick in spirit. The friends who want to be married and aren’t. The friends whose marriage is in tatters. The friends who are looking at a negative pregnancy test, again.
I won’t fool myself into thinking that hanging a print-out ornament changes anything or makes me a better person, I know it’s not even close to enough. But I guess it’s a very small way to say, “I won’t turn a blind eye. I will think of you. I will remember that I have much to be thankful for, and also that it’s not all about me and my family memories. I’ll remember that many people are sad right now.”
Don’t get me wrong, I will be very happy in the days to come. I will continue to delight in many aspects of our month, which I’ve already deemed my favorite December yet. I’ll enjoy wrapping gifts and making a third batch of fudge and listening to Christmas music from dawn ’til dusk. I’m so thankful that, as Shannan reminds us, “Gratitude and sorrow aren’t, as I once believed, mutually exclusive. They actually pair quite well together, one in each hand.”
The very heart of the Christmas story is both sorrow at the brokenness of our hearts and our world, and surging joy, at the victory of Christ.
I guess I’m just saying, in this very roundabout way, that I want to have eyes to see what’s real this Christmas and not what’s on Pinterest. I want to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. More than chasing after happiness, which is in the end very fleeting, I want to chase hard after Jesus, who is the hope for our weary world.
How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was full of people and lots of really yummy food.
Here’s what we’ve been up to lately!
Judah and Amelie had their first swim meet last weekend at USC. Judah has been swimming with Columbia Swimming for 15 months, and Amelie for nearly a year. We wanted them to have a good year under their belts before starting swim meets, and I feel like this is the perfect time.
They swam Saturday and Sunday: I’d say the first day was super overwhelming and a bit traumatic and we definitely had some tears, but the second day went way better. Navigating the crowds, noise, and constant commotion is not for the faint of heart. Amelie swam freestyle and backstroke, Judah swam freestyle, backstroke, and breast stroke.
We’re so proud of how hard they worked. Their next meet is December 10th in Rock Hill, SC, and they said they’re ready! We love our swim team!
We had a lovely Thanksgiving.
David took the kids hiking in the morning so I could bake (baking in a quiet house is one of my favorite things in the world), then we had a pot-luck dinner at Barb’s (my sister-in-law’s mom). I love that we do holidays with my family, Shari’s family, and David’s family. It keeps things simple!
After dinner Judah, Owen, and Amelie read Psalm 100 and we all sang a couple of hymns. Then, we broke out the dessert and poker (because what goes better together than family worship, pie, and poker?).
This is the first year in forever that I took ONE measly photo on Thanksgiving, but I guess you could say I was enjoying myself so much that I forgot!
On Friday some friends that we lived in India with came for an overnight visit. They’re in the States for a few months, and it was so, so good to see them — it’s been nearly three years. They got to meet Gabe and Noah. Our big kids got to reconnect. It took them about an hour, and then they chattered non-stop as if they’d never been apart.
We drank coffee and wine, ate chocolate pecan pie with mounds of whipped cream, and hiked and had a fire pit. We talked about ministry and homeschooling and travel and cooking. The kids played outside a whole lot. Seeing them was good for my very soul.
I’d never trade our life here in Columbia, but I miss our friends.
Finally, a very sweet couple from church gave David and I an overnight at Whispering Willows, a B&B about 20 miles north of Columbia. We packed up and headed out Sunday after church. We stopped for coffee and then a leisurely dinner downtown, then drove to the B&B. It was a truly wonderful getaway, so good for our marriage.
And now it’s Tuesday and nearly December already!
Can you believe it?
I’m very thankful we resisted decorating for Christmas until this week and have that tradition to look forward to (although I have not resisted turning on the Christmas music). The kids and I started an Advent unit in our homeschool for the first time, and we are loving it.
David’s parents hosted our family 4th of July pot-luck celebration this year. We had some very tasty food and drinks and topped the evening off with fireworks. Steve and Linda’s backyard is a wonderland of fun, even in 98-degree heat, and Steve’s addition of a 30-foot tether-ball game was a big hit, no pun intended. A great time was had by all!
Happy Easter! He is Risen!
This was our very last “first holiday” together as a family of six! And that made it extra special. We had a wonderful weekend with our church and family. My parents came over last week to do their tradition egg-dying with the kids. The boys loved it so much that Noah burst into loud tears when we told him it was time to clean up. Also by that point his hands were completely dyed blue.
Our Easter Saturday tradition (since Sunday is a work day for David), is homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, followed by a scavenger hunt for the kids’ gift. I scored big at the Tot Trade consignment sale and found a huge Playmobil fort for Gabe and Judah to share. Ams got a play teacher’s kit, and Noah his first light saber!
Later that afternoon we had a church-wide Easter egg hunt and cook-out at Steve and Linda’s, which was a big success despite an almost-steady drizzle.
And yesterday we celebrated with our two church services, and Easter dinner later on at Shari’s mom’s (Mimi’s) house. One thing we love about our little Columbia community is doing holidays together as one big family: David’s folks, my folks, and our sister-in-law Shari’s! The kids get a passel of grandparents among them. I feel so blessed by all the help and support we have.
And now . . . Spring Break!
After a year and a half of working hard on our house and yard, we agreed to take 2015 off of major projects. And we did! Well, 2016 couldn’t even begin before David was back to work. Our tree guy and his crew drove a trailer into our yard at 8:30 New Year’s Eve morning, so we celebrated Noah’s third birthday to the tune of saws and crashes and lots of cigarette smoke. The boys were captivated.
Then David and I may or may not have
fled left town overnight for a wedding, while his parents stayed with our kids and oversaw the rest of the tree process. Thanks, Steve and Linda!!
If you remember, we’d already removed eight pine trees back in 2014, but before you label us the neighborhood tree killers, please hear me out. Of the three we took out this time around, one was dead and was dangerously close to the play house, one was basically a huge weed, and one (nice big oak, sigh) was smack in the middle of our driveway. We removed the oak to make way for — wait for it — our master bedroom addition!
That’s right, friends! If all goes as planned I will be getting my second bathroom this year! And a new bedroom! And a walk-in closet! Okay, that’s enough exclamation points. But you understand my excitement, right?
We had plans drawn up for a 400 square-foot addition, which will turn our house from a three bedroom/one bathroom into a four bedroom/two bathroom. We’ll grow from 1,500 square feet to 1,900. Judah and Amie will get their own bedrooms! Hooray! We also plan to do some landscaping in the backyard, so it looks like I’ll have some good motivation this year to be outside more.
I know it’s going to be a lot of work and upheaval, between decision-making and noise and a little DIY and a period of time having a hole in our house, but I just think about extra space and a second bathroom and I feel like we can get through anything. I warned our sweet next-door neighbor about the coming craziness and she said, “You can do anything you want to your house as long as you don’t move!” We love our neighbors and hope they still love us after the commotion.
Thank you, Steve and David, for spending your New Year’s Day moving logs to the backyard for firewood. The kids love exploring the wood piles and getting covered in wood-shavings and sap, and Judah and Amie announced, “We’re survivors of the wild!” We ended out New Year’s Face-timing our Pennsylvania family, eating one last chocolate pecan pie, and setting off some fireworks. Perfect. Bring on the house project!