Children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one's youth. Blessed are they whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. ~Psalm 127:3-5

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Finding Hope at the End of a Difficult Year

It’s such a busy time of year.  The Advent season has begun and as usual, the hustle of this end-of-the- year celebration is upon us.  And as usual, I didn’t plan activities and events that would help us to acknowledge the spirit of the season and prepare to commemorate the coming of Jesus. We’ve hardly done anything at all.  In November of last year, I wrote this post, lamenting the fact that I always have a hard time getting ready to “get ready,” and how difficult it always is for me.  Yet, somehow, this year, it’s been more of a slow start than ever.  It's been a difficult year and I guess the spirit of the season has been lost somewhere in the midst of our trials.

Usually by now our house would be decorated, I would’ve made a couple dozen cookies, some shopping would be done, plans to get together with family would be completely finalized, and the anticipation of celebrating the birth of Christ would hang in the air.  Christmas-themed books would be wrapped and in a pile under the tree for one child to choose from each night to unwrap and have read during family prayer time before bed.  Our Advent calendar would be up, an Advent wreath displayed and crafty activities a regular part of our homeschooling days.  But this year, it’s been slow-going.  We got our tree over a week later than we normally do.  I haven’t baked any cookies.  I haven’t wrapped the books.  Family plans are still not finalized on either side.  I didn’t even put up our calendar until yesterday.  I did hang lights in the house for the kids yesterday afternoon, but we aren’t going to hang lights on the outside this year.  No wreath has been lit. Only a few crafty things have been done, such as decorating a gingerbread house.

I always feel like I don’t do enough and this year has been no different.  Especially because our efforts have been meek and our attitudes not as joyful.  I have been trying really hard to do things, no matter how difficult it is for me to pull myself out of the funk I’ve found myself in over the past few months.  I want our children to have good memories of their childhood, to learn about Jesus and faith and the real meaning of the Advent season through our efforts to celebrate these things appropriately.  I don’t want to be one of those women who run themselves ragged trying to do it all.  But I would like to somehow do more.

I want to enjoy the season, though. I don’t want to be rushed to get things done and be so caught up in the frenzy of event and activity planning, gift-giving, cookie baking, that I forget to cherish the moments with my family.  We don’t ever put a huge emphasis on the gifts.  I think it’s a tragedy when people do that.  The focus shouldn’t be the craziness of the season, and I have been guilty of that in the past myself.  Last year, I wrote this post, in which I shared my thoughts about the season and how difficult it was for me to remember the importance of it, which isn’t shopping or baking or gifts.

This year has been a difficult one.  Our business has been a lot slower than last year.  We’ve faced extra bills we didn’t plan on.  There have been some health problems.  I have had some really dark days within myself which were completely unexplainable.  Our relationship has had some ups and downs.   But we’ve also had some good happenings to point out.  We had our fifth child, Jeremiah, in September.  We welcomed a new nephew into the family in November.  We found out we’ll be welcoming yet another niece or nephew sometime next year.  We were able to renovate an area in our house to make extra space for our ever-growing family.   As I take inventory of all the struggles we’ve had, and all the blessings that have come through those struggles or in spite of them, I am reminded of one of the main themes of the Advent season: Hope.

A ladybug visits Angelina at the tree farm - a blessing
Last week, when we went to get our Christmas tree, it was an unseasonable 65 degrees or so.  We didn’t even need light jackets.  Our kids traipsed up and down the hills, through the clusters of Frasier Firs and Colorado Spruces, searching out the perfect tree.  We hid in the trees, played games, ran from imaginary bears, took pictures.  Off in the distance we could hear the faint blast of shot guns, as this is hunting season.  We marched to one side of the tree farm, then to the other.  Finally, at the front of the farm, close to the road, we spotted our tree.  A beautiful Douglas fir alone on the top of the hill.  In my typical indecisiveness, I walked through the rows on the hill below “just to be sure,” and then we realized that that cute little Fir on top of the hill was it.  The one.

We stood in front of it to take a picture as is our tradition.  Then Aidan and his daddy got to work cutting it down.  For the past two years, Aidan (now 6.5) has helped his daddy with this.  It’s something he gets very excited about and those few moments of bonding over that tree is something I know he’ll cherish for the rest of his life, and hopefully will only be one of many amazing childhood memories he will make with his dad; memories he can look back on, find comfort in, feel joy from.
The day we went to get our tree, Joe made a spur-of-the-moment decision to also take us down to Gettysburg and let the kids run around the battlefields because our backyard is so small and it would be time spent together, away from our home – a place which has been the center of more and more stress these days.  We didn’t end up at the battlefields but instead, the 52 acre recreation park near the heart of Gettysburg.  During our time there, I had a sense of urgency to enjoy our time together.  To really allow the slow start to the season sink in.  To find joy in the small stuff.  To be thankful for the struggles we’ve faced throughout the year which caused such a slow beginning.

A homemade Faith ornament adorns our tree
We let the kids play at one of the 3 playgrounds for a little bit and then we took a walk around the path that meanders through the entire park.  The kids made a game out of stopping at each one of the fitness stations along the trail to take a shot at the challenges there.  We stopped at the amphitheater and danced on the stage like lunatics.  We stood on the bridge and threw twigs in the stream, anxiously awaiting their slow float to the other side.   At times, as the three older kids ran ahead of us on the path, squealing and laughing and pushing the smaller two in the stroller, Joe and I found ourselves several paces behind, semi-alone, fingers entwined, taking in their joy, the warm air, the stillness of the moments.  Squirrels danced through the trees along the path, crunching leaves and kicking up twigs, making the children pause long enough to look and wonder at the sounds. Allowing us time to breathe in their innocence and curiosity. Allowing us the luxury to forget our trials of the past year for a time.

Our list of blessings, including homeschool, the birth of Jeremiah, and Mass

As I fight to climb outside of myself and enjoy the season as well as its slow start, I am reminded that in each struggle there is a blessing, if we only look hard enough.  That is where Hope is born.  That is what keeps our Faith alive: the good that comes through- or in spite of- the bad.

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