...and then, getting closer to Christmas, I thought I would whip something up all quick-like, but the sewing machine broke. I'm sure it's an easy fix, just something about "tension" and tightening something or oiling something else, but I don't like machinery and that's why I'm a knitter (I never need tightened or oiled, thankyouverymuch). But knitting stockings is not fast work, so we were really at a loss...
...until Vin thought of this:
Why, yes, my friends - that is a hockey bag and a hipwader! Oh, classy dude! In all fairness, the man reads Cicero and quotes Churchill, Shakespeare, and various irreverent Johnny Cash songs...and we ended up using our hiking backpacks instead. Phew. That was a close one.
Andrey and Reagan finally experienced their first Christmas. Everything was new to them - why is there a tree in the house? Why are there little lights everywhere? Why are there presents under the silly tree, and why can't we open them? Normal weird Christmas stuff. Neither of them even recognized a picture of Santa, and as far as we can tell, they have never had any kind of Christmas before.
Everyone has their own odd traditions. We put little treats in the kids' stockings, like yogurt covered pretzels, peppered cashews, sesame candies, and way too much chocolate. We open stockings first, and dump the the treats into bowls to share for a snacky breakfast while gifts are opened.
Remove the dishes of sweets, add some chopped apples and nuts for a second course...though in retrospect we probably should've reversed the menu.
No one gets underwear in their stockings, but we always have boxes and boxes of tea, and the three smallest ones each got their own tea mug.
No underwear...but Reagan did get her own hairbrush, and it's clear that she was immediately suspicious of a holiday in which people give each other instruments of torture.
Several knit items are always called for, and one of these years I will get them all finished before 2am on Christmas Eve.
It is happy, simple, and warm. It's weird, though, too.
This year we had no big traditional meal either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We saw family both days, we missed other family both days, and it will never be like it used to be. Our little family has changed, our bigger family is changing, and it is not normal. It is out of the box and awkward and more than a little uncomfortable, like trying to get dressed in the dark when someone has turned all of your clothes inside out. The older kids ask questions and we pray and try to smile and give the best answers we can.
It's not so bad for us, though. We have other loved ones whose lives are completely flipped upside down, who are starting completely over, who are in a new place, who are spending Christmas in the hospital, or who are without a home entirely. This Christmas, this year, this place, isn't normal.
This isn't the way things are done. At the very least, we think the surface of things should be like a nice Christmas photo, pretty, posed, and stylish. Only quirky enough to be charming, but please, none of that messy realness that shows that things underneath are infected and painful and requiring intervention. It's just too unconventional.
But life happens and sometimes you don't have a choice between unconventional or inconvenient or heartbreakingly messy. He is here in the midst of it, and He made the holiday for you. He intimately knows the messy, awkward, and heartbreaking.
He was born in a rock shelter. Delivered by an unmarried teenager on a dirt floor, with a carpenter as a midwife. His first bed was a feeding trough. Adopted by a man who was not His biological father. Gossiped about His entire life, until finally sentenced to death on trumped-up charges by people unworthy to walk in His shadow.
Rose again, three days later. He walked out of that cave, alive.
He wrote the Book on unconventional living. In whatever kind of not-normal we are in, in all of the unknown, in all of the pain and strangeness, He is Emmanuel...God with us. With us.
There is nowhere we can go, or be taken, or suddenly find ourselves in, where He will not meet us. He is here, with us.
Where can we go from His Spirit?
Or where could we hide
that we could not be found by Him?
In marriage, divorce, or separation,
If I sleep in a hospital, at a friend's house,
in a different country, a shelter, or a new home,
He is there...
If I fly across the ocean or sail in ships,
even in the strangest places and most remote seas,
even there He leads me,
and He holds my hand.
- Psalm 139:7-10, my own impudent paraphrase
When all feels bleak and the world caves in around us and we have no idea what will happen tomorrow, He is there.
If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,"
even the darkness is not dark to You;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.
Psalm 139:11-12, ESV
Life will be irregular and excruciating and bizarre. He is here. Walking with us, making us uncommon. He will walk with us out of the cave, alive.