Friday, December 30, 2011

An Unexpected Gift

What not to do at Christmas:

1. Plan too many projects that must be completed before the big day.
2. Plan too many activities that keep you running from event to event.
3. Plan a big holiday dinner with over-tired, over-stimulated children as guests.
4. Find your father who has been missing for 54 years.

This was an exceptionally difficult Christmas. There were some beautiful, meaningful moments--driving around looking at lights with Fred and the girls, the concert at church, our candlelit devotions in the morning, seeing the girls' joy with their gifts and receiving lovely handmade gifts from each of them. But overall, the holidays were stressful this year. And then, a most unexpected gift landed in my lap--the gift of a father. And I'm still asking if this is really a gift or something else.

My parents split when I was a little girl. I never heard from my father again. Was it his choice to never pursue me? Or my mom's choice to prohibit him from finding me? Who knows. And does it matter? I've been curious about him off and on through the years but I assumed I'd never know anything about him.

Right before Christmas I heard from my sons that their dad was researching his own family tree. For whatever reason, he left his tree and decided to go in a different direction and research mine. I think he wanted to give this information as a gift to the boys. He asked one of them what my original maiden name was. (I was adopted by my step-father.) Now here is the eerie part: Years and years ago my mother gave me a silver rattle and silver cup that belonged to my birth father when he was a baby. I still have the cup but the rattle has been long forgotten and lost. At the same time that the boys gave their dad my name and he did a little research, he discovered this rattle on his daughter's dresser. Where did she get it, he asked. She told him she found it at the bottom of his toolbox. He examined it and saw my father's initials and birthdate. He made the connection to recently discovered information he'd found. He asked my oldest son if he wanted him to contact his grandfather. Yes. So he called the home of my father, far away on the other side of the country. The rattle gave him an opening.

Two days before Christmas one of my boys tells me this story. I am shocked, and buried memories and emotions surface. At this point, the boys' dad has only talked to my father's wife, but they decide on a good time to have a phone conversation with my father--Christmas Eve. So he calls my father and supposedly has a long, interesting conversation. (All info is coming to me second hand from my sons.) My father says he never knew where I was all those years. He is interested in finding out about his daughter and grandsons. He is old. There may not be much time.

So I am planning Christmas with all this turmoil swirling inside. I can't concentrate on anything. I can't sleep. Where is God in all this? (For He is in everything.) The boys and I collect some pictures and information to mail to my father, their grandfather. I find an old picture of a young man holding a blonde giggling child on his lap. His arms are tight around her in an embrace and he is kissing her cheek. Father and daughter.

Christmas is over and there is time to contemplate all these things. I have no illusions of a grand reunion. I would just like a little information to fill in the blanks. Maybe some medical history. Maybe my father really doesn't care after all these years or maybe he wonders if I'm after something. Maybe this is the end of it. And that's okay.

When the girls and I were looking through the box of old pictures, I found several of my grandmother, the woman who adopted my mother when she was a tiny girl. No, she is not my biological grandmother. But she is the one I loved and the grandmother who loved me. I tell my girls that blood doesn't matter. This is my "real" grandmother and nothing will change that. Arielle says, "She's pretty." Liana says, "She looks so kind, just like my own grandma." They are right. She was the best grandma a little girl could have.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


The moonlight washes across the face of my beautiful daughter when I come to kiss her good-night. She says she loves to fall asleep looking up at the moon full in the sky. She can see it through her blinds. "Put your head right here on my pillow, Mom, and you can see it." I remember her first sentence at fifteen months. We stood on our front porch wondering at the moon that night. She said, "Look! Moon, big, high, sky!" And I wondered at this baby so taken with the heavens.

The same moon, the same house, the same child. But time has changed the people here. I grow old; Arielle grows up. I feel so blessed--so incredibly blessed--that I had the opportunity to nurture this girl through her childhood. I was chosen to be her mother! Of all the mothers of the world... What a privilege! Arielle will continue to grow apart and away from me. It's the plan. But she will always be my precious daughter and I will always be her mother and the moon will rise full through all the seasons of our lives.

Of course, I have another equally treasured daughter who might read this and say, "What about me?" Liana, I will tell your story at another time.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas Weekend

Despite my failures, God continues to bless. What a beautiful weekend! Saturday we busied ourselves with housework and projects. I've learned to thank God for TIME to clean. I don't like doing it, but I like a clean house. Fred was given a restaurant gift card for his birthday, so he treated us all to Olive Garden! We don't often go out to eat, so it is a special occasion. Olive Garden has gluten-free pasta and all that salad! It was very cold outside, but cozy inside this bustling restaurant on a Christmasy Saturday night. Afterwards we drove through winding streets on the way home to see the houses all lit up while listening to Christmas music on the radio. We passed through the old neighborhood where the boys grew up, bringing ghosts of memories as I remembered people who lived here long ago. My next-door neighbor who lost her son in Afghanistan a couple of years ago has her house adorned in twinkling lights. We were glad to see that. Hope lives on.

At home the girls and I played a rousing game of Quiddler in front of the fire. Driving around looking at the lovely (and cheesy) decorations people set up, listening to the meaningful (and silly) Christmas songs, playing games on a cold winter night: these are our traditions. Are we missing the true meaning of Christmas, as some might say? I don't think so. Our traditions remind us of God's goodness in past years as we do all over again the things we've enjoyed before. They give us hope that we will continue them next year and beyond. And when we are gone, our children will carry on these traditions.

Our family was asked to light the Advent candle in front of the church on Sunday. Oh, the turmoil for the girls in deciding on an outfit, and how would they do their hair? I reminded them that all their friends will be in their Sunday school classes and would not see them. Still, it was exciting and a little scary for them to stand before the throngs of people watching. These same two girls a few years ago sang a duet in front of hundreds on Christmas Eve. What happened to them, that innocence lost? This morning we were up front about one minute total, so it really wasn't too traumatic. With the girls dressed up and lighted trees surrounding us, we had the perfect opportunity for a Christmas photo. So here it is. Long gone are the days of my babies posing at the Sears portrait studio. (So sad...)

One of our best family traditions is to attend the concert at our church each year. This is definitely not a "holiday concert" but a Christmas concert. Through music and the word the message is clear: God's son was born to die in order to save the world. Crazy, huh? So, in spite of our fun traditions, we remember what Christmas is really about. Carl Trueman writing on church services this time of the year:

"It is foolishness and a stumbling block. Foolishness, because the very idea of the sovereign creator and ruler of the universe being born of a teenage virgin in a stable in a tiny nation of no account at the far end of the Mediterranean is utterly ridiculous. Indeed, one might say that it looks very much like proof that God cannot exist -- at least, that is, God built according to our specifications and requirements. An offence because I do not need salvation, especially salvation brought by a pre-modern peasant's child in some backward place nobody would otherwise ever have heard of." As we proclaim the message of Christmas, we should not attempt to "make Christianity look sophisticated or moral as the world understand these things. Least of all is it stand-up comedy designed to entertain those who might otherwise seek their fun elsewhere. Its agenda, especially at Christmas, is not to be determined by unbelief or what the hipsters in the Village will tolerate or what the brain's trust at MIT think is plausible."

I stand on what I know to be true. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." (Romans 1:16)

Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I have a disorder of mind and spirit. It's called "I-can't-be-bothered." The older I get the more I like to seclude myself from others and just stay home. I can explain this by saying I'm overwhelmed with all I have to do. That's why I don't teach Sunday school or cook for Alpha anymore. That's why I didn't want to serve the staff lunch or go into the city and do a work project last summer. Our family was asked to light the Advent candle at the morning service next week and my response (in my mind) was that I can't be bothered. Why us? Ask another family. (We will be doing it, however.) So when someone at church asked if I was going to the Women's Christmas Brunch, I said no, I wasn't planning to go. Why not? Well, I can't be bothered. I want to stay home on Saturday morning. I didn't say that, of course. Later, I thought I would invite a friend of mine and if she wanted to go, I would go. She said yes. Thank you, Helen!

It was a wonderful morning! Each year women volunteer to decorate a table, bringing their own special china and table settings and creating a centerpiece. I am definitely not creative enough to do this, but I so much enjoyed walking through the room seeing their beautiful artwork during the "Tour of Tables." Music played and the mood was festive. Then we had a lovely lunch, heard a speaker, played a silly game (Helen won!) and sang Christmas carols together at the end. A highlight was when I was able to introduce Helen to a single mom who has been blessed by Helen's generosity for years as she has shared her daughters' outgrown clothes with this mom who also has little girls. These two had never met and I was so glad to see them together for the first time. More than anything, this morning meant I was able to spend time with my friend and catch up with her. How can we be too busy for people we care so much about?

Helen says she knows how to decorate and we decided to do our own table next year! What about "I-can't-be-bothered"? Well, I'd forgotten that when women get together like this, there is joy. There is healing in connecting with other women, each of us with our own stories of happy times and heartbreak. We need each other.

I've just figured out what my real problem is, this sickness I have. It's called selfishness. We are not meant to live in seclusion and hoard our lives to ourselves. I hope to do better.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Five Best Toys of All Time

At this time of the year, we're always looking for great toys. Someone e-mailed this to me. Check it out! (Mothers of boys, young and old, will especially appreciate it.)

"So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time." Jonathan Liu

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Liana is learning to write different types of essays and she had an assignment. I asked her to write a narrative on anything that happened last week. Those days were loaded with many bits of kindling to spark her imagination. But my creative daughter couldn't think of a single thing to write about--so she said.

Our whole family loves this joyous, crazy, hectic season. An old Andy William's song started playing in my head when I started to write this, "It's the most wonderful time of the year...there'll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones are near..." That comes from the 24/7 Christmas music on the radio. We listen to the old songs over and over everytime we're in the car. It marks the beginning of all the excitement and we love it.

Our week began in rainy Gettysburg. The day after we got back, the girls and I, along with Lana, headed to church to cook and serve the staff luncheon. Fred volunteered us. At first I was not happy about this. The day before Thanksgiving? What was he thinking? Like I have nothing else to do that day. But I saw how much this meant to him, so I decided to serve with joy. I wasn't feeling joyful at first, but I chose to change my attitude. And it was fun with all of us together. Many people gathered at church that day to decorate for Christmas, making it a festive day. So Liana could have written about that.

The next day was Thanksgiving. We were anxiously awaiting Dominic and Stacia's arrival from DC. Arielle and Liana LOVE having them here. They constantly watched out the front window and finally announced, "They're here!" Then the rest of the family came over and we prepared to partake of our feast. As usual, I asked the kids to reflect on the past year and give thanks for their blessings. We had two weddings in the family and a baby is on the way! Much to be thankful for! Joy abounded as I listened to their testimonies. What changes this year brought.

Black Friday. It's a tradition. We all headed to the most crowded, crazy mall around. Not to shop, but to walk around and join the masses as they buy, buy, buy. The prices were good, no doubt. But for us, we just like to go and soak up the atmosphere. We always check out Santa. Since Arielle was a baby, the very same Santa has been at this mall. We always say he is the "real" Santa. He's old and kind and has a real white beard. Every year we sigh in relief when we see that he has returned. But this year, no! He was not there! Arielle was dismayed. "He's dead!" I assured her that maybe he just wasn't up to being Santa this year. (I heard he lives in Florida and returns each winter for his Santa stint.) But she was not convinced. It was sad to see this different man sitting in place of the "real" Santa. We don't like changes at Christmas.

At the mall, we sampled peppermint bark and walked around the kitchen store full of items no one really needs. Fred and Dominic waited in line forever at Starbucks, but we enjoyed people watching. We got free See's candy samples and when Fred shared his with an employee outside of Penney's, she jumped with excitement bragging to her co-workers that she is "special." Dominic and Arielle played Wii on a big screen, and then we went home for turkey leftovers.

Dominic wanted to go to a thrift store to donate a trunkful of goods he brought from home in his rented car. We found one right down the street and had a great time looking over other people's junk. The parking lot was packed there too because there was a 50 percent off sale. We found some great old videos to watch on our family nights. Stacia bought some cute little jewelry for the girls. Back home we had a rousing game of Apples to Apples. Good times with my family. I am so grateful. Liana has plenty to write about.

But the weekend wasn't over! Dominic and Stacia left on Saturday. It's always sad to see them go. Then we prepared for Arielle's birthday. She's beyond the age of little girl parties and she's happy with a gathering of family. Once again the big kids filled the house. Nick brought his little ones and I think Arielle enjoyed playing with them most of all. Arielle is Laci's special person and Arielle adores her in return. Lana, Mattie and Liana delighted in playing with their little toys. Liana is so imaginative that she can entertain the little girls for hours. Deacon kept us hopping with his constant motion. Damien and Gretchen gave us a slide show of their wedding pictures and we relived that special day. The conversation was rich and deep. A friend told me when her grown kids get together, the talk is so shallow. Not here. We've never lacked passion, that's for sure! Sometimes it heats up a little too much but my kids are fierce in their love for each other and that cools the fire.

So Liana had plenty to write about. In words we can acknowledge all we've been given and pause to give thanks. That's why I write.

"I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord..." Psalm 69:30, 31.

Another week of the Christmas holiday begins. We're grateful for yet one more trip to the tree farm with the girls.