Something we've been learning over and over again this year is that nothing is certain and few things are permanent. A year ago at this time, we were gearing up for a new baby in a place we were sure we'd be living for another decade or so. Our home was decorated with lights and homemade ornaments and banners of Christmas cheer. The whole house had a faint scent of cookies, cinnamon and savory dishes. Christmas music had been in our home since the end of October and throughout our minds and hearts was a great anticipation of the holiday season.
And as you well know, we acted and God acted and we reacted and so forth. Which brought us here.
This year, we had several factors keeping us from our traditional seasonal celebration of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Living in a borrowed home, with very few of our accouterments and the relative inability to decorate the way we are familiar, left us a little out of sorts by the time Thanksgiving rolled around. Another factor is that while we are free to entertain guests here, we don't feel comfortable doing it on a grand scale (like a formal holiday meal) out of respect of our home-owner roommate. Andy and I LOVE to entertain and have frequent guests, so this aspect of our holiday luster was also a bit dimmed. And finally, a factor that we could not have controlled no matter where in Wisconsin we lived: this was the first year in about a decade (according to my flawed memory) that we've had a BROWN Christmas. No snow to speak of the whole month of December.
It's hard to get "into the season" when the things that you normally surround yourself with are missing. But as we pondered our surroundings and watched as the nation geared up for that annual whirlwind of tinsel, spending and Fa La La La La, it was much easier for us to take the proverbial step back and really evaluate exactly what it was we missed so much.
In early December, we made the trek to Oshkosh's EAA Airventure Museum for their free Christmas celebration. The annual event was the first for our attendance and we couldn't have been happier. The kids love airplanes, especially Ethan, so the festively decorated grounds were truly magical for the older two. The photos here were taken with Andy's new work phone ... the iPhone. (So much for getting rid of "smart phones!") Below, Ethan and Elly stand at the top of the staircase leading down into the heart of the museum, in which full sized, once-flown airplanes are parked, suspended or jetting across the walls. There were lights and hundreds of people and competing Christmas choirs and cookies to completely overwhelm all five senses.
They couldn't believe they were actually able to sit in a real cock pit. We couldn't either, since this particular one had seen action in WWII.
As the evening wore on, we waited in line just like the rest of the good American families for a chance to have our kids sit on Santa's lap (who, by the way, showed up in a helicopter). We hadn't done this before, really. We randomly ran into a Santa at Piggly Wiggly during Elly's second year and we had her photo taken with him. She freaked out. It wasn't a cute photo. While waiting in line, it became more and more obvious to me that I was the only one in the family that was truly interested enough to wait a full 1.5 hours amongst other families. But we stayed to the end, despite all three kids having meltdowns at some point (though not simultaneously, thankfully). And then, after all the hype, when it was Elly and Ethan's turn to hop on Santa Pop, Elly absolutely froze and refused to move an inch forward. Ethan ran into his arms and I placed Liam up there, too. Elly just stared him down and wouldn't even talk about her fear (very unlike her).
The boys were pretty cute. The photo below shows Ethan just after being posed the question: "What do you want for Christmas?"
I think he said thoughtfully, "Ummm....a airplane..."
Liam just tolerated the visit, which lasted less than a minute.
Afterwards, Elly lamented her shock and awe of Santa with tears and regret. I assured her that we could write him a letter in which she expressed her Christmas wishes. That seemed to help.
By the end of the night, we were worn out and most of the festivities were drawing to a close anyway. While the night itself had been super special for our family, it got Andy and I questioning just how far we'd take this Santa bit when we're really trying to teach our kids what the meaning of Christmas is in our faith. It's a fine line, in my opinion and going out of our way to perpetuate the fantasy seemed to undermine the true meaning of the holiday. I know that Andy is personally against teaching them about Santa and while we sat and chatted with some friends over a Christmas dinner a few weeks later, it finally came out in the open. We had never actually talked about this subject before! It amazed us that something like this had never crossed our plates, but it made sense, too. Elly was finally at the age when things like this would make sense and her analytical mind asked a myriad of questions about the logistics of Santa and his world. In the answeringing was when we began to question how far we'd take this.
Elly loves Christmas. She loves decorating and carols and the colors and lights of Christmas. Santa seemed to be a natural fit in her aesthetic Yuletide world.
And this is where things got real for us.
Trees and decor and Santas aside, we realized that God was pushing us to find Truth in this commercialized madness our culture puts forth. We came to the realization that we had bought into the trappings of "Xmas" just as wholeheartedly as any person with any faith (or no faith) would have done. There was nothing in our home that would have differentiated our celebration from anyone else's. Even in previous years I've posted about our Christmas traditions and what we do every Thanksgiving and every Christmas in our small family unit.
Yet this year, here we sat, in a home that looked just like it did in the beginning of November and would look the same at the end of February: No wrapped gifts, no lights, not a single partridge in a pear tree.
Outside, the browning grass and dormant trees served up a constant reminder of personal ideals and how they might be shaken up this year: No snow.
Lest you think I'm playing the victim card, I must bring this full circle now. In the stripping of Andy's and my personal identifyers of "Christmas-as-we-know-it," God was able to effectively cast off our cultural Christmas and cause us to truly find what matters.
The birth of a tiny baby boy two millennium ago, with angelic fanfare and shepherd audience; a birth so moving and earth-shaking, people remember it world wide to this day. Our Savior has come. Emmanuel!
The week before Christmas, we got another reminder of what matters most. We learned that our 10 year old niece Maddie was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 bone cancer. Andy's whole family was turned upside down in a single moment and will be forever changed.
As we gathered together for the Sell family Christmas, it was a somber day with pockets of tears and pockets of laughter. The atmosphere was covered in solemn understanding of the adults and blissful glee amongst the cousins. We even attempted to get a photo of all of them sitting together, as shown below. Left to right, Maddie, Sammie, Ethan, Liam, Wyatt, Elly.
After that day, I pretty much didn't care one bit about our non-decorated house, the snow-less yard and the fact that most of our gifts were opened in other people's homes. All that stuff was just stuff. Before we learned about Maddie's cancer, I had this blog growing in my mind. But it was all wrong, all wrong. I didn't realize it, but I was going to take this issue of not having our Danny Kay "White Christmas" from a victim viewpoint ... sort of like we got robbed of something. I had completely missed the point. And I'm not saying this thing with Maddie happened so that I might change a silly blog post, but God's timing with things is infinitely out of our sphere of understanding and recognition. At any rate, I think I finally Got It.
It's family that matters. It's faith that matters. And most of all, as I learned this Advent season, God really only cares about where your heart is at. Do you know where your heart lies?
As we prepare to end this revolution of the Earth for 2011 and begin anew in 2012, I'm quite certain that the Sells will be much more focused on finding what matters most amongst the distractions of this world. And working together with all our might to help a little girl overcome the odds.
We love you Madelyn. Our prayers are with you every single day.