Sunday, December 30, 2012

how christmas comes...and goes.

i am always amazed at how christmas comes.  fast and furious, for sure.  but also with the greatest anticipation.  i think we are all kind of wired with tremendous expectation for this blessed holiday, this once a year event.  i know i am.  i would bet good money, most of you are, too.  we expect much. not necessarily gifts or things,  but something miraculous to happen:  everything to go smoothly, serenely, perfectly.  even when we tell ourselves and our family members we have no expectation, secretly, somehow, we do.  and i'm not just talking about the kids, adults, we expect things as well.  on christmas, anything is possible and everything has great potential.  it just does, and there is almost no way to escape that little kernel of hope deep inside each one of us -- that little nugget of "just maybe..."

if we keep our eyes on the birth of Jesus, we know it is exactly that -- possible. potential. incredible.  full with hope and holiness. our highest expectation met and surpassed. the present of perfection:  a Savior, come.

but, we are living in a worldly world, and, on occasion, it rubs off on us.  okay, i'll speak for myself, it rubs off on me.   and if you haven't been able to tell by now,  i want my world picture perfect thank you very much. i want a bow on every gift and a deliciously cooked roast in the oven. i want a full, live, sweetly smelling tree and a warm, brightly glowing fire.  i want a clean house and happy children.  i want cookies to bake and everything to fit. peace and harmony and the scotch tape to be where i last left it.  i want cozy pajamas and cooperative kiddos.  i want a helpful husband and a gentle dusting of snow.  lights which twinkle outdoors and a puppy who doesn't tinkle indoors.  i want it all.  especially at christmas.

and i have to tell you, it feels like we've had it all this week.  all of those things happened (well, to some extent, they happened.  maybe not the clean house, okay, definitely not the clean house, but the rest of it came close).  we surprised the kids with a new puppy on christmas morning.  oh, the absolute rejoicing of it all! connor (and i'm not kidding) burst into tears.  the kind of tears where he had his face in his hands sobbing with joy.  all five of them were over the moon.  (if you have never surprised your children with a christmas morning puppy, i highly recommend it --one of my all time highs to date). there are almost no words to express the utter thrill of that moment when she entered in her red bow and fluffy brown coat.  miss minnetonka or "minne" is a delight. she's a puppy, no doubt, but a real darling little girl and getting along beautifully.  i'm sure i'll have more to write on this large, newfoundland pup in the future.

so christmas came with a lot of joy this year. our first christmas in minnesota has given our family many wonderful moments and memories:  my oldest son, on the lake, trying out his new ice fishing gear before we had even eaten our christmas brunch.  a new puppy curled up at our feet.  kids ice skating out the window while i prepared christmas dinner. cinnamon punch chilling and my husband singing as he attempted to restore order to the house.  roast in the oven, candles in the window and snow gently falling. you know, the typical norman rockwell stuff.

but, as is always the case, christmas came bearing a few not so pretty and polite presents as well.  the two oldest kids were sick with the flu the weekend before, and i came down with it christmas night. both christmas trees are as dead as dead can be. the poinsettia plants are drooping and the strands of garland are brittle and breaking.  the new puppy has pottied a time or two in the house, a toy has broken and some things didn't fit.  it seems more snow's been tracked indoors than out. we've had a few spills, some dishes dropped and a dangerous sled ride. the kids have argued.  even the parents have argued.  we ran out of sweet tea, water bottles and almost out of milk. bella's also had a heck of cough and cold, making her not the most agreeable 4 year old this week.  i bruised my tailbone trying to play both photographer and figure skater out on the ice and my helpful husband had to hit the grocery store too many times because his wife just can't make a complete list no matter how hard she tries.  the laundry is piled high and the cereal boxes are growing alarmingly low.  i'm probably in need of a doctor and some antibiotics....i'm at least in dire need of a housekeeper and a spa day.   but still...

right now as i write this a few nights after christmas, i am sitting here (puppy at my feet) and am feeling ridiculously blessed.  even though i'm still slightly feverish and have to stop and wipe my nose every other sentence, i feel blessed.  content.  wednesday night my three oldest kids had five friends fly in from atlanta to stay with us for this week.  five mcnatt kids plus five more kids!  let's see, that would bring the kid count to a grand total of 10!  ten kids under our roof this christmas week and it has been the best thing ever.  i mean i would have certainly chosen a better time to get sick, but regardless, christmas has just kept coming this year.  there really is no earthly gift my kids could have gotten that would rival the arrival of 5 best buddies from back home hanging out with them.  and the past few days have proved that true many times over.  i've never seen so many socks and shoes and snow pants and hats and gloves and boots in one place in my life.  i've never seen so many pancakes and cookies and slices of pizza disappear so quickly.  but despite the mess and the chaos and the kids in every corner of the house, we are all continuing to christmas.

~our christmas 2012 snapshot~
{five friends arriving. kids embracing. four wheel driving. fires blazing. presents unwrapping. bedroom sharing. evergreen crumbling. children rejoicing. cookies quickly disappearing. hot chocolate making. soup simmering. snow boots, ice skates and  gloves a wearing. scarves and hats and thermal underwear everywhere. mattresses on the floor. jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table. leftover roast beef sandwiches. sledding. skating. skiing. snowboarding. treks across the frozen lake. island exploring. minne cuddling. the flu. 2 am bedtimes. 5 am risings (new puppy schedule). bedrooms in disaster. hockey sticks. big breakfasts. good books. smart wool socks. dripping noses and red cheeks. sparkling eyes. late night movies. girls giggling. iphones and instagram. breakfasts and lunches and dinners blending.  words with friends. guitar playing. kids laughing. pictures snapping. puppy barking. north and south friends meeting.temperatures freezing. dishwasher constantly running. woman constantly cooking. someone always eating. games playing. snow falling. family praying. stories telling. hearts filling. christmas break enjoying. memories making.}

it's clearly been a wonderful week of christmas in the mcnatt home, but as the dear ones depart and christmas begins to give her goodbyes,  my hope is that each of you has also experienced a rich week of blessing .  that you've been surrounded with good friends and great family. maybe you haven't trekked across a frozen lake or played with a large-pawed, newfoundland puppy, but, my prayer is that you, too, have had some time to rest up and, above all else, to remember the Christ-child and the full perfection only He can bring.   i am pretty certain, no matter how hard any of us have tried to control the coming of our christmas, we are all now watching it go with a little bit of chaos and a little bit of mess left behind.  because that's how it comes... and that's how it leaves.  holy and hopeful...beautiful and blessed...wild and wonderful.  messy and miraculous. christmas.

heading out to snowboard and ski for the day
the four to explore minnesota.
crossing the ice to crane island (with lots of caution and instruction).
hangout spot in the evening.

minne's favorite spot!
beautiful girls.  beautiful friends.
more beautiful girls...and eli.
everyone loved to nap with minne
best potty-trainer ever!
heading out for a trek across the lake

first time on ice skates for bella!
a little pond or lake hockey (thanks mrs. larkin and piche family for sticks and skates!)
the whole crew!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

christmas cards and shattered things...

what do christmas cards and shattered windows have in common?  nothing.  absolutely nothing.  or at least that's what i thought last week.

christmas cards. just saying those two words together makes me smile. you too? yep, i thought so! i love getting them. studying the pictures ...seeing the changed faces...the growing kids...the captured history. it is pure pleasure for me to sit down in the evening, a fire at my feet and a stack of cards in my lap. i pour over your letters and catch up on your news, relishing, savoring, downright gobbling up the bits and pieces of your lives.  really, i have no idea who started this tradition, but i am so glad someone thought it up and i'm so glad we busy, crazy, technology-captivated people continue it. in a strange way, i think the cards mean more now days in our new world of immediate communication than ever before. we can send the same message in a text or an email, but it's not really the same, is it? it's not the same as seeing a card or two each day in our mailbox or sitting fireside with words and photos from old friends.

i mean, i know sometimes it's okay to miss a year here or there, but most of us come back to this great, december tradition. no one is ever sad to see an extra card or two mixed into the pile of bills at the end of the day. it is this little assurance that we are connected to people -- real people -- no matter where they live or how we've changed.  we want to connect.  we want to touch base and celebrate in this one season of christmas, the many seasons of our life.

i delight in the process. i do. i am one of those who enjoys planning the card and typing her letter.  sure, some years i barely get it done or i blast it out in my busy-ness -- some years i fit it in between dinner and dishes. but i enjoy it, nonetheless. my family has learned to accept this christmas season obsession. they've learned to smile for the camera and assist with the stamping and stuffing of envelopes. they understood, years ago, it is a task non-negotiable.

this december, as usual, it was all hands on deck. over the course of several evenings, sarah and connor stuffed letters and cards, attached address labels and affixed stamps. perfect jobs for a 4th and 7th grader. and i am pleased to inform you that, this year, bella was promoted to chief-envelope-licker.  she licked most of the envelopes and pressed them closed.  at one point, i insisted she go get a drink of water, she's not quite 30 pounds yet, and i feared she'd just dry up and blow away with the amount of moisture each envelope required. i wish i had taken pictures of the kids helping. i'd have posted them RIGHT HERE. but, we were in process and there was sort of a deadline, and believe it or not, for once, i didn't think to photograph something.

connor has been a little concerned that since we had moved, we wouldn't receive a single card this year. he knew it was important that we send ours out early so people had our new address. he's been bugging me about it since before thanksgiving. that's just how my little guy is wired. in fact, that's the story i begin our christmas letter with. "mom, do you think we'll get any cards this year? i mean, do people even know we've moved?"

we didn't really get our letter out early -- no surprise to me. but, still, it was sent in a somewhat respectable time. there have been some years where they didn't get out before the holiday...and i have to tell you, that's perfectly okay too. there's this one dear family who i have known since i was a young girl,  and they send their card sometime in the first week of february -- every year. and i think that's absolutely brilliant!

i want you to know though, your cards came with a little something extra this year. not just bella's cute little lips kissing the envelopes closed. but there's a story of sorts with their sending.

we were on our way to bella's ballet class and at the last minute, i thought to throw in the box of cards and drop them off at the post office on my way. the roads were clear and dry and the day was sunny. i loaded my ballerina and my box of cards into the car and off we went. bella behind me in her car seat with ballet bun and pink leotard. christmas cards cheerfully on the seat beside me. blue skies and bright sun above.  bella and i sang along to christmas carols and everything felt perfect. christmas time perfect. just the way this woman likes it.

and because i can never pass up the opportunity to accomplish an errand via the "drive-thru" i decided to do just that: drive up to the drop off boxes and throw in the remaining cards.  fast and efficient, it would give me five extra minutes to stop at starbucks.  but fast and efficient turned quickly into mini-disaster and messy.   my words will not be able to fully do justice to what occurred at that mailbox last thursday, but it went something like this.  i pulled up. hit a small patch of ice on an incline. and my yukon xl began to slide sideways. in fact, it slid sideways on the ice and slammed right into the mailboxes. and because the mail shoot is up high on those boxes (for quick dropping, of course) that high shoot smacked my rear side window.  it not only smacked it, but it shattered into a zillion pieces, sounding just like a gunshot. i was stunned.  absolutely stunned.  i was only dropping off christmas cards.  happy, lovely, friendly christmas cards.  how in the world did i just end up with a shattered back window on a sunny, blue-skied day? we were on our way to ballet class -- pink leotard and tiny ballerina in my back seat.  this shattered back window just didn't fit the picture. it didn't fit the christmas-time perfect.

you can't tell, but the entire window is shattered in tiny, tiny pieces...
i pulled away and watched the lady behind me pull up and do exactly the same thing in her mini van.  (her window fared better though). as i maneuvered my suv away from the post office and into a nearby parking spot the movement caused the window to implode even further. the mid-section gave way and glass began to fall inside and outside the vehicle. it was the craziest thing ever.  remember, i was dropping off christmas cards on the way to ballet. the yukon looked like it had just driven through a war zone, not a holiday post office. bella and i were both pretty shaken up. none of it made sense. and how in the world was i supposed to call my husband and explain what had just happened? i wasn't even sure what had happened exactly. "umm honey... i was mailing our christmas cards and the back window kinda broke...ah, yeah."

oh these things do happen though. even in the midst of all this merry and in the midst of all this holiday hooray-ing...broken windows occur.  broken things happen. broken people shatter. things don't make sense.  there isn't really any good explanation.  after hearing about the loss of precious life in connecticut, we certainly have felt like that this past week, haven't we?  my broken window was nothing. we got if fixed the next day and we'll forget about it by next month.  but there are other broken bits to this december of 2012. there are other things which don't fit into our perfect christmas card picture. other awful things which have snuffed out the twinkling lights and stolen the comfort and joy. somehow we think december should be immune from the devastation and disaster of our broken world.  somehow we believe this holy month should put all things horrible on hold. but we've been tragically reminded this year, that there is no immunity. there is no hiatus. there is no pause from great pain -- at least not on this earth. oh, the unbelievable grief of it all.

and here we are just days before celebrating the birth of the Holy Christ-Child...and though we may not have our cards mailed or our lives perfect or our hard questions answered, we can have hope.  it is this very season which gives us the gift of hope.  we have hope when we keep our eyes not on the magic of christmas, but fixed on the manger of the Christ-Child.  the magic blows up and disappears with the broken pieces of living.  candy canes and christmas cards mean nothing when children are buried the week before christmas. but the manger means everything. the manger produced a perfect Savior.  and it is that same Savior who will come again and redeem this broken, broken, broken world. and though i cannot begin to understand or explain what happened in connecticut last week, i am certain, we are all more desperate for real hope than ever before.

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~ psalm 147:3

and that, my friends, is really the only message worth mailing this year. glossy photos and clever letters are kind of nice to read fireside on a cold winter evening, but the only thing truly worth remembering is the Hope of Heaven, come to us as a baby, lying in a manger.

"Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “And this will be the sign to you: 
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  ~ luke 2:10-12

the perfect babe. swaddled as an infant. broken as a man. resurrected as a redeemer.
and, someday, returning as a King. the only message of hope. our only hope.  hope.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

* * *

shattered window or not, we made it to ballet that day.  i wanted to close this piece with a few sweet pictures i snapped just an hour, or so, after my run in with the mailbox.  
a little beauty after brokenness.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

room, or no room?

i wish my mom could hear them.  for the past month or so, my two teenagers have been walking around the house with occasional bursts of song -- the hallelujah chorus to be exact. "and He shall reign forever and ev-----er..." emily an alto and tyler a tenor. (though he tells me he's getting closer all the time to a bass - ha!)  one spontaneously begins and the other joins in -- at the dinner table, from their bedrooms, out in the garage -- i hear them. i wish my mom could too.  she's in ohio, but every time they start singing, i think about how much she would love the sound of her grandchildren's voices mixing together in her very favorite christmas music.  and, not to mention, it's impressive.  i mean this isn't jingle bells's handel's messiah.  pretty serious stuff.

now, i have to tell you, they didn't just learn it on their own...not for the fun of it.  they attend a high school which has this brilliant practice in place:  an all school choir.  this is different than choir class.  every monday morning around 10:30 the entire school -teachers and staff included - stop what they are doing and gather together to sing in the commons area.  isn't that the coolest idea ever?  when i heard that during the application process, i was like, "wow. awesome. so cool."  my kids have other interests than school choir, but i love the fact that they get a little piece of it regardless.  this tuesday night they will perform the hallelujah chorus at their high school christmas concert.  i truly can't wait, but i know i'll be wishing my mom could be there with us.

with five school aged kids in our house at christmas time, there is much music.  it's honestly one of my favorite things about this season -- all the singing and reciting and practicing of lines.  sarah's 7th grade class will sing in a special christmas chapel this coming week. she's been letting out her own occasional "ding dong merrily on high, in heav'n the bells are ringing!" and just a few days ago, we all gathered to watch bella's preschool program.  a slew of 4 year olds up on a stage singing "fear not, fear not, don't be afraid..."  what an amazing message for all of us.  i mean we were cracking up watching them.  they couldn't have been cuter (or more unfocused) up there waving wildly at parents and calling out loudly to friends.  looking up at the lights and down at the risers.  twirling hair and sparkly dresses. each kid was doing his own thing.  at one point, bella caught the eye of her sister who was apparently laughing too hard in the pew, and she began to yell (into the microphone, mind you) "stop it sarah! stop it!"  shortly after that little episode an unruly boy began to act up in the row behind bella -- she wasted no time turning around to give him a piece of her mind.  when she was finished with her scolding, she faced forward once again and told all of us with hands on her hips, "holden is not singing right!"  oh my.  the program was short,  that was probably a good thing.  but my goodness, it was so darn cute. we all piled back into our car on that - 4 degree night. cold weather outside, but warm with the joy of it all.

and then there was connor's christmas program.  he got to be in the K-4 christmas musical this year.  the 4th graders at chapel hill academy, being the oldest, get the big parts, of course,  and connor was to play joseph.  it wasn't the lead.  but he had a lot of lines and who doesn't want to be joseph, the father of baby Jesus, right?  connor took his part seriously.  he practiced those lines every single day, learning them all on his own.  i heard him up in his room.  i caught him in front of the bathroom mirror.  they boy was all in.  the performance was called "the first leon."  leon (noel spelled backward) was a boy who didn't get a real part in the christmas pageant.  (the whole thing was a play within a play).  instead he was cast as the lowly understudy to the lowly innkeeper.  he had only one line to learn, "no room."  and since anything is possible in the world of childrens' musicals, the innkeeper did, in fact, get sick and, understudy leon had to step in.  and that's where it all got good.  connor, up on stage as joseph, with his sweet mary looking for a room in bethlehem. you know the story: "in those days caesar augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken..." joseph and his betrothed, headed to the city of david on a donkey.  except in this version leon, now playing the role of innkeeper, is the one waiting for them. and when the kindergartners, dressed up as stable animals, wise men and angels were finished singing,  joseph and mary come across the stage to the innkeeper.  leon, in his big moment,  confidently delivers his one line, "no room."  because that's just how the story goes,  right?  joseph though, decided to press a little harder, "but don't you know mr. innkeeper, that this woman is carrying the savior, the son of God, the savior of the world?" we never talk about that part, do we?  did joseph plead, insist, beg or barter?  we don't really know.  but in this version he did and leon was right there with joseph.  in fact, he broke from the script and changed the whole outcome of the bethlehem story when he exclaimed, "wait!  you can have my room!"  after delivering this unusual and unexpected line, leon began his solo...

"you can have my room, Jesus.   
you're always welcome here, Jesus.  
i won't turn you away to a cattle stall.
you can have my room, Jesus.  
you can have it all."

leon, the understudy, understood what it meant to be on the outside looking in.  he understood what it felt like when there was no room.  no room in the circle of friends, no room at the popular lunch table, no room in the christmas pageant, no room for leon.  and just like that, he changed the story line,  declaring there WAS room for the little Lord Jesus.  there IS room in his heart.  "you can have my room!" he announced.

that might not be the traditional outcome of the bethlehem story.  but that's the message God wants us to have this christmas season:  there is room.  my little joseph and the unpredictable, innkeeper leon, didn't change the course of history in their 4th grade play at chapel hill this year, but they certainly pulled at the strings of this mama's heart. i have to give connor credit, he had prepared me. weeks ago, he explained "mom, when leon begins to sing his solo ... that's when you're supposed to cry... mr. zink said all the mom's will cry at that part."  i, have to tell you, i would have nailed my cue even if connor hadn't given me a heads up.

it was a sweet play.  the angels sang brightly.  the shepherds were darling.  the scene changes went smoothly.  and the message hit home. for days afterward, i continued to think about that one little line, "no room."  we have felt a little bit like that on our entrance into minnesota.  would there be room?  would there be room for our big, chaotic family?  would people welcome us into their church and school and community?  would there be room in the friend group or at the lunch table for a junior girl...a freshman boy...a 7th grader... a 4th grader...for bella?  we kind of wondered as we came.  we didn't travel by donkey.  we didn't come to be counted.  i am absolutely not "with child" and we sure as heck don't have anything too holy going on in our home most days, but we, too, have met some leons along the way.  men and women and children who have told us through their words and actions, "there's room." there's room for the mcnatts in minnesota.  

and so this christmas time, which could be quite difficult as we are far away from so many loved ones, somehow still feels warm.  we have snow piled so high you'd be amazed and temperatures so low you'd be appalled, but we are warm.  warm with the welcome and room in the hearts of so many here who have let us in to their lives.  who have shown us the love of Jesus making room in their schedules and circles and days for our family. 

i'm relating this to us, because it's what i tend to do, but don't miss the real message here in this piece.  it's not really about room for the mcnatts,  it's about room in our hearts for the Lord Jesus.  is there room in your heart for the sweet babe of bethlehem this christmas season?  when we, like leon, offer up our room, our lives, our is the sweetest song we will ever sing.
"you can have my room, Jesus.   
you're always welcome here, Jesus.  
i won't turn you away to a cattle stall.
you can have my room, Jesus.  
you can have it all."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

please send christmas cards to narnia

it's what we'd been waiting for.

friday afternoon, while i was sitting in bible study at my friend julie's house, the flakes began to fall.  they fell and they fell and they fell.  in fact, the snow continued to fall until  sometime early monday morning -- well over a foot of snow, maybe close to two feet. at some point, we stopped counting inches.

and all of a sudden we walked through the coat closet to the other side.   like we went to sleep in minnesota and woke up in narnia.   our home, our yard, the lake, the streets...everything completely covered in deep white. transformed.  magnificently transformed.

always a sucker for fairytale settings, i was struck with the intense beauty. breathtaking.

my kids and husband, struck with only the intense fun, were dressed and out on the hill above the lake in a flash.  hour after hour.  sledding and sliding and sloshing through it all, like it might disappear in a day.  this is minnesota, kids, with temperatures in the teens, the snow doesn't melt.  at least not this month.  maybe not for months....

i won't stop too long on that thought, but will instead drink in the gift God has given: a world of white.  a clean transforming.  what we want.  desire.  crave.  sled rides are fun, but a reminder of God's complete covering...

and like in any beautiful transformation, pictures are worth much more than my words.

cooper loves every flake of it!

seems like something out of storybook, doesn't it?  that's how we've felt all week.  how brilliant is God thinking up something THIS magnificent.  i mean really.  just look at that sky....

what wasn't very story-bookish though, was waking my children on monday morning and explaining to them that school was not cancelled.  they argued with me.  they couldn't quite believe we had all of THAT in our front yard and yet it was business as usual in rugged minnesota.  they stomped around the house outraged at the injustice, not to mention insanity, of it all.  their indignation quickly turning into bewilderment.  "i can't believe this" they continued to say over breakfast and boots and backpacks.  "i really can't believe they expect us to go to school." 

i posted the following picture on facebook for those of you who had encountered my children this week.  if you didn't understand their dazed and confused look...this picture might help shed some light.   it at least made me laugh.  from the south to the north, God is stretching.  mcnatt aren't in kansas anymore...