November and the winter months that follow are always a difficult time for me. The anniversary of my mom's passing and the short daylight hours make me long for spring and new beginnings. And those heavy thoughts were somewhat multiplied this year with sad news that two of my sisters have friends who lost spouses in the past few weeks, both due to cancer. Both have young children. One has a blog where friends wrote about her battle with cancer, and now a celebration of her life. If you're interested, check that out here.
December turned out to be a very busy month, much more so than I anticipated. The first weekend, we visited dear friends in Kirksville. It's always a mixed blessing to go back. We want to visit everyone, but it's next to impossible to have meaningful visits when they're so short and rushed. For those we did see, thanks for your flexibility as we generally dropped in unannounced, whenever Sam and Eva's naps and eating times would permit. For those we missed, especially Michele's good friends from Kirksville Middle School, we hope to see you sometime soon.
Once we returned home, I found myself in a hole at work and spent the rest of the month digging out. That meant numerous hours away from home, very little family time, and extra stress on Michele as she took care of Sam & Eva by herself for two straight weeks. I arrived home very late, after Sam & Eva were asleep, and often left before they were awake. Twice I worked all night. When you’re in the middle of a mess like that, I don’t know what the short-term solution is. Long-term, our goal is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. But in the short-term, we just tried to keep our heads above water and survive.
We only made it to church once, but somehow the message stuck with me all month. The topic was "Giving Presence". Wordplays like that can often make me cringe. But our pastor has a way of sharing ideas in a laid-back, entertaining manner that gets right to the point without being preachy. This idea of "Giving Presence" is something we all know: Christmas should not be about the presents, rather it's about the time ("presence") we spend with each other. It was also a call to spend less of our money on ourselves and donate more to those who are truly in need. Here's an excellent video from a group called Advent Conspiracy that summarizes it well:
With thoughts of the Advent Conspiracy in mind, Michele spent several hours this season making some meaningful presents. For me, she made two photo frames using cardboard and wrapping paper. One has Sam's name in cut-out letters and the other has Eva's. I was wanting some sort of frame to hang on my door at work and (hopefully) insert new photos every week to entertain my co-workers. These are perfect. Now I just have to do my part!
The other meaningful gift Michele pulled together was baking dozens of cookies for her family and organizing them in Christmas tins. Special thanks to my sister Ann and her boyfriend Matt for spending a few days with us and helping bake! Unfortunately, the gift exchange with Michele's family got a little crazy, as the younger kids were super excited to open presents. So Michele missed personally giving the cookies to her brothers Forrest and Jonathan and her sister Aimee. But hopefully they're enjoying them at least half as much as Michele enjoyed baking them!
Right now I'm enjoying giving lots of "presence" to our little family. I'll post new photos soon...