Closing Out 2010 (Part 2)

Aloha!  While New Englanders are digging out and enjoying the beauty of God’s creation in the magic of freshly fallen snow, we’re experiencing His creation in a whole different way.  We knew we weren’t in Bedford when we wakened this morning, tossed off the covers—which consisted of a thin white sheet—and stepped outside in shorts and a sleeveless top to take a run.  The sunrise was our reward for getting up early.

The first morning sunrise over the Kailua-Kona coastline was a fabulous start to our day.
Backing up: early on Friday morning, Dec. 10, we flew to St. Louis for our annual visit with Grant and Emily Williams and their daughters.  Though never long enough, we’re grateful for each moment with them.  We’re always so impressed with the Christlikeness of this family.

This was an extra special year as we joined them in the “rite of passage” celebration of Meegan’s 13th birthday.  Inspired by my book Raising a Trailblazer: Rite-of-Passage Trail Markers for your Set-Apart Teens, the Williams family used it as a template for their celebration. Their home was filled with family friends who are journeying with them through life and it was a beautifully done and very meaningful event.  We were so honored to be a part of it.  The celebration dominated the weekend in a wonderful way and though snowy weather which arrived Sunday morning briefly threatened our flight home, with mixed feelings, we were able to make it home that night (or early morning.)

First things first: Mister Paul makes his world famous chocolate chip cookies soon after arriving.

Grant Williams listens as Paul gives his tribute to Meegan.

Home from St. Louis briefly, in the next four days, we lived like crazy people as we finished preparing for Christmas (which meant lots of sewing, a little shopping, lots of baking, wrapping, mailing, delivering, etc.), did lots of counseling, and wrapped up our two Patriots studies.  The wives’ study concluded on Wednesday with a baking session during which we set a record, turning out ten Almond Puff Pastry Christmas wreaths in about an hour.  The women then caught me completely by surprise by tributing me!  Each brought me a gift which represented what I meant to them.  I was totally blown away—and deeply touched.  As I reflected on how reticent I was to lead the group when Betsy Hasselbeck invited me to do so back in the spring, listening to the women express how God had met them through the study was very confirming and affirming.  Driving from Attleboro to Bedford after saying tearful good-byes to an extremely special group of women, I was filled with humble gratitude for God’s faithfulness.

All smiles around the Almond Puff Pastry wreath—before we devoured it!

Another very special part of the morning was having Betsy Hasselbeck showcase 13 beautifully and uniquely wrapped gifts.  We have  admired her gift of creating beauty all fall as we’ve watched her turn a simple snack of fruit and bagels into an almost too-lovely-to-eat presentation.  She can make any ordinary anything extraordinary, so by popular request from the women, she demo’d beautifully and creatively wrapped gifts which elicited ooh’s and ahh’s from everyone.  Very inspirational!

Betsy shows us how to make an adorable presentation of a gift for a child’s birthday.

And here are all 13 gifts she wrapped!  She amazed everyone with her talent.

Thursday night, Dec. 16th, we concluded our 11th season of working with the Pats’ couples’ study.  This has been an exceptional year in many ways as God has filled the gaps left from last year’s group (a number of whom either retired or were traded).  We’ve had five new couples this year who have brought enthusiasm and commitment to the study, and, joined with six veteran couples, we’ve had a great group.  Our grand finale was hosted by Doug and Julie Macrae, who along with the chef from Il Capriccio, Richie Barron, fed us like kings and provided a warm, welcoming, and fun video arcade that resides in the Macraes’ basement.  We enjoyed eating, reading the Christmas story, sharing our favorite Christmas traditions, and the camaraderie which has grown among us these past three months.  It was a wonderful and fitting wrap-up for the year.

And that was it—what got done was done.  I flew to San Diego the next morning to spend four days with my parents and siblings en route to a Sacramento-based Christmas.  It was truly wonderful to be there and to finally lend a hand to help my parents get more settled.  The time was a good mix of work and play.  One of the “play” highlights was a family get-together hosted by my sister Sue and her husband Ed.  After a yummy dinner, we gathered in the family room and “jammed” on the piano, trumpet, and slide trombone a medley of Christmas songs.  I’m not sure there’s anything my dad enjoys more than these such moments, and it was a joy to see him enthusiastically singing and clapping to songs long ago stored in his memory bank.  It was a great evening.

My brother-in-law Ed on trumpet, nephew Frankie on slide trombone, and nephew Chris as the human music stand, lead the way for a festive Christmas sing-along.

My parents are getting more at home in San Diego and are especially grateful to have three daughters living close by.

Once again, the days seemed to evaporate (even though the record-setting rainfall did not!), and before I knew it, I was bound to Sacramento to help grandson Brandon celebrate his first Christmas.

A baby changes everything.

That thought was not lost on us as we delighted in every moment with Brandon—and concurrently reflected on the Baby who really did change everything.  I was once again struck with how easy it is to let everything else go that would compete with devotion to Brandon—and yet how easy it is to shortchange my devotion to the Christ Child in the “tyranny of the urgent.”  I’m not proud of that, and re-ordering my priorities is on my list of new year resolutions.

Brandon is 4 months old today (Dec. 29) and is on a trajectory of growth that foreshadows a possible career in the NFL.  He’s 17# and 26.5#...and very, very strong.  He’s also very easy to get along with.  Quite honestly, he’s spoiling his parents.  :)  And grandparents.  

It was pure joy to spend 4 days together with Kari, Gabe, Lisa, and Brandon in Sacramento.  Though we all missed Julie terribly, she elected to spend Christmas in Mbale, Uganda, with her fiance Derek, taking advantage of her only almost-3-week break from physical therapy school.  She had all of our support.

The Christmas season continues to be my favorite time of year.  I love the decorations, the food, the music, the giving, the colors, the traditions, the warmth, the gatherings.  I love connecting with people via cards, letters, calls, and photos, and catching up annually on ones dear but not near.  I love having an excuse to sew and to bake once-a-year specialties, like gingerbread houses.  I love to remember Christmases gone by, which hold so many sweet memories.

I love that no matter what traditions are created in a given year or are upheld year by year,  the focus on the Christ Child is consistently central and really is the only thing that matters.  Christmas can happen without the gifts, the decorations, the foods, and the gatherings—but it couldn’t happen without the birth of Baby Jesus, who was born to die.  I love reading and hearing read the scriptural account found in Luke 2 of His birth.  I love singing “O Holy Night” with the passion fitting the dramatic musical score framing those powerful words. 

And this year, as I did 30 years ago when our firstborn was 7 months old on her first Christmas, I loved holding a little baby who reminded me that the incarnate Jesus was very, very human as He came into the world in like manner.  That Mary fed him, burped him, changed him, comforted him, rocked him, and held him.  That she loved Him, prayed for Him, and treasured Him.  That her world would never be the same because of that little babe.

We are most deeply grateful that our children have embraced the message of the manger and are living their lives dedicated to Him.  No other gift will ever compete with that.

Gabe reads the Christmas story to Brandon, who’s clearly paying attention!

All dressed up—and off to church we go for the BOSS Christmas Eve service held Dec. 23.

At BOSS, we were thrilled to reconnect with Alton and Danielle Green, cream-of-the-crop family camp staffers.
John and Marilyn Nugent drove over from San Francisco to continue our long-standing tradition of joining us for a Christmas celebration.

We joined Gabe’s parents at their home for Christmas Eve and attended a great service at their home church.  An extended family celebration followed that, with great food and fun fellowship.  Christmas day was spent with Gabe’s grandparents and the whole extended Garcia family and that was also delightful.  Their tradition of having a huevos rancheros brunch is one we’d happily adopt.  The food was fabulous.  Lots of gift opening, eating, talking, and laughing filled out the day before we directed the gingerbread house building party for Gabe’s nieces and nephews.  There was an amazing degree of civility in the process which produced 4 houses and lots of happy children.  

Home from Christmas Eve service, we grab a quick photo before the guests arrive for a lasagne dinner made by Gabe’s mom.
Christmas day at Gabe’s grandparents’ house:  4 generations of Garcias:  Kari, Debbie, Grandma, and Brandon.

The gingerbread house professionals conduct a workshop as Christmas day wraps up.  The tradition continues!
Auntie Lisa couldn’t get enough of Brandon during her short Christmas vacation.  

Back to Kari and Gabe’s for yet another Christmas celebration, and a chance to wear our matching jammies. Historically I’ve made matching p.j.’s for the girls, but since Brandon is a boy, we expanded to include the menfolk this year (much to their delight, I’m sure!)  All were good sports. 

Grandpa, Kari, and Brandon model their Christmas jammies...
...while Lisa models her new Patriots sweatshirt.

All too quickly, gifts were unwrapped, food was eaten, and Christmas 2010 became part of history.  The airport runs began the day after Christmas as Lisa returned to VA to tend to the needs of her athletes.  A bunch of digital photos are the only tangible reminders of what had consumed the month of December.
Thankfully, it doesn’t end there.  The story of Christmas is  just the beginning of God’s plan of redemption, which culminates at Easter, with the death and resurrection of the Christ Child.

As we close out 2010, though it’s an end in some ways, it is really just a continuation of a journey towards the heart of God.  We don’t know what 2011 will hold, but we confidently know Who holds it.  Just as the Baby from Bethlehem changed history over 2,000 years ago, He is still changing history today.  O come let us adore Him!