Monday, December 29, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A blog post!

Friends and loved ones... the day of Christmas has come and gone, but I am still reveling in the season that is with us. As my dear friend, Kara, commented in her sermon yesterday, Christmas is not an episode - it's an ongoing event. And, as one who frantically scrambles to get it all together by Christmas morning, I'm glad to have these days to revel in the fact that though the Christ child has been born and laid in a Manger, God is still with us and we can still sit back and relax just a little before the Wise Men come to chase us back to work.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas were for me as they were for you - filled with too much. Too much awake time, too much preparing, too much stress over what was and wasn't getting done. For some reason, I am drawn like a lemming to a cliff to preach on the Sunday before Christmas. In years past, this has been somewhat catastrophic for my last-minute planning self, and the quick turn-around between 3-services-on-Christmas-Eve-wake-up-PRESENTS!-wait-there's-more-church-AAAAAAA has been too much. But this year, there was a slight and merciful gap between Sunday, Dec. 21 and WEDNESDAY, Dec. 24. I could not have been more grateful. I had two whole days to wrap, finalize presents, bake, and finish up some work stuff before lifting my candle high and singing the final stanza of "Silent Night."

You can see it coming, can't you?

Sunday, after worship, I headed home after Jackon's final dress rehearsal for the Los Posadas pageant, in which he played the world's most compliant and brilliant sheep. He behaved. He "baa"-ed on cue. He wore a croched hat with floppy ears. He was doe-eyed and lovely. But more on that to come. Once arriving home, I crashed. After days and weeks of wonderful parties and celebrations of all kinds, meeting Matt's colleagues and friends, deepening friendships with St. Markers, I was completely spent. I just needed the afternoon to sleep.

I woke up at 7:00 p.m.

On Monday, it hit me. Something was coming. I stayed home to wrap, rest, clean, and apparently wait for things to improve. And, they did. By evening, I was feeling a little better and terribly optimistic about all there was left to do before the morrow. Ah, the morrow.

You see, on that morrow, I awoke with the awareness that my throat was now playing host to a thousand colonae of the streptococcal bacteria, who were apparently celebrating the holidays by aiming their creme brulee torches at my vocal cords. Lovely.

I am not one to complain about pain or sickness, or ... childbirth, or whatever. But this was too much. I was brought to my knees and begged for drugs. Matt got me to the nearest clinic, and within seconds of walking through their doors, they swabbed my throat, diagnosed me, injected me with steroids, and gave me lidocaine to gargle. Unfortunately, some of it got on my lips, so any attempt to communicate turned me into a drooling, sloppy mess. Sexy, no? I walked out with a prescription for a festive holiday cocktail: more steroids, antibiotics, pain relievers. Strained with a lemon and shaken with ice, it's the perfect way to ring in the new year.

Needless to say, my two extra days of prep were robbed from me by the Colonists in my Throat. Jerks. I hate to be inhospitable, but really - they could have called first. This was so not a good time for me.

We wound up sending my mom and the boys to a hotel for the night, since the PA warned that I was super-contagious, and if you want to know one thing more awful than me with strep throat, well, there's not much more awful. I'm pathetic. So, we were in no hurry to expose anyone else.

The nice part came when the meds kicked in, the Colonists allowed some air to pass through my windpipe, and Matt and I sat in peace watching "The best of 90s music!" on VH1 in front of the tree. Judge not, friends. Judge not.

I think this brings me up to Christmas Eve, which arrived in a bit of a drug-induced haze and made me worry that I might miss more of the festivities than anticipated. But, by 4:00, Mom, the Superstar Sheep and I were at St. Mark and ready for the first of three services that night. It was glorious. Matt and Cooper arrived, and I was able to offer my piece of the service then sit down and just be a mom in the pew, looking eagerly for her boy.

Unfortunately, Cooper has not yet gotten the "be quiet in church" memo, and he sat in his pew for 35 minutes saying, "WHERE'S JACKSON? I WANNA SEE JACKSON! OH! HI JACKSON! HI! HI! THERE'S JACKSON!"

Adorable, right? Arguably... until he softened, paused, looked at us and said in his best stage whisper: "I PASSED GAS!"

The surrounding pews all turned to see what precocious little child might have made such a mighty proclamation. Yup. Preacher's Kid. There was actual chortling - and I'm not even sure what that is.

The service ended, and we celebrated with the cast and crew by drinking hot chocolate and eating our first ever churros. It was a raging success, and Rev. Jackie seemed quite pleased with how all of it went. I've not even mentioned the stunning solo by a six-year-old girl, who belted one of the traditional Los Posadas songs ("En el nombre del cielo os pido posada") as the children entered the sanctuary. It was so pure and earnest, so honest a gift that the whole room gasped when they heard her.

It was compelling to watch as Mary and Joseph traveled from inn to inn, facing rejection at each point until finally being pointed to a stable where the baby was laid in a manger. There, the children all turned themselves and knelt before baby Jesus. This was remarkable because no one had to tell them to do this. It was instinct - there was something to this thing lying in a manger, and they were perfectly willing to sing with full voice and watch and see. These were children of Christmas, bursting with anticipation and ready for fulfillment. It was a beautiful service.

Seeking grace and understanding (and not having any desire to commune my germs with the Holy Elements), I went home for the 7:00 service and actually put my children to bed on Christmas Eve, which is a luxury I've not been afforded in some time. I even worked a little nap in with them, and Matt and I headed out to the 11:00 p.m. service for our last bit of worship for the week.

It was, and always is, a gorgeous service. I love the Lessons and Carols Service each year - the history of our salvation from Genesis to John, our fall and God's continued pursual of us is a story so compelling that I don't know any other story to tell. The church was beautiful, and packed to the brim with worshippers of all sorts, who have come at this most inconvenient time to welcome and celebrate and bless the Christ Child. Phillip prayed... that man can pray. We sang. There were trumpets and brass and choirs and solos. We lifted our candles, and sang "Peace on Earth," and went forth into the world with Joy and Hope.

Matt and I returned to put the finishing touches on the big presentation for Christmas Morning. We have a super-tiny living room, but it was filled to the brim with delight and wonder for the boys. This year, our Christmas was sponsored by Pixar (apparently), and I'd spent some significant time collecting boxes of Incredibles and Toy Story hand-me-downs from strangers and friends alike (thank you, Craig's List). The "big gift" was the Pixar collection, and we supplemented with cars, dolls, costumes and a fair amount of candy canes. We tried not to over-do it, but it's hard when it's just so ... much... fun.

The boys were popping out of their pjs to get downstairs and tear into the goodness. We don't really talk up Santa Claus, so there's no myth floating around. But kids are kids, and they know when something's going to be good. And this Christmas morning really was good. We opened our stockings and presents with Mimi and Papa Dow, and ate the traditional Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls with homemade hot chocolate with gusto. Cooper looked like he'd never eaten anything more delicious, and actually took a break from the unwrapping madness to sit on the couch and just... eat.

Jackson's new prized possession is his Buzz Lightyear costume. I delighted in getting this for three reasons:

1. I knew he would love it. He's been asking for one since the big trip to Disneyland in November. It was a shoe-in of a success. Parenting paydirt.
2. I'm glad to encourage his imagination.
3. Cooper, who uses the letter "W" more liberally than it is intended to be used in the English language, calls this character "Buzz Wiper." I never, ever tire of hearing him say it.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful morning, and SANTA CLAUS actually came to our house to deliver a gift (NB: Top Photo).

I know, I know...I already said that we don't really "do" Santa. But, Matt apparently is meeting all the right people these days, and he managed to pull some strings and ... at noon on Christmas Day, a knock on our door produced Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and two reindeer bearing a toy car and the greatest fire truck EVER for the boys. They looked bewildered. Not only did we not *stress* Santa Claus, but we've gone so far as to say that Santa is pretend.

Then, he showed up. Here. With real toys!

I will never, ever get them to stop believing in Santa, and I think that they've fostered the right kind of attitude about it with this miraculous visit. It was good for the sake of good. It was giving and loving and holy and delightful. It was pure and happy and selfless.

Merry Christmas to all... I pray that the rest of your Christmas days are filled with light and hope and love.
Mandy, Matt, Jackson, Cooper and Edgar Beagle

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