Beauty Through Ashes, Part 1
I was going to post about our last few weeks all at once, but it got to be very long and I thought it might be better to break it into three parts and give myself a few days between parts.
Grandma Lila died June 9, 2014.
Even though we all knew it was coming, it was kind of a shock that it actually happened. For one thing, when we brought Grandma home from the hospital, it looked for all the world like she only had a few days left with us. She was nearly unresponsive, wasn't eating or drinking anything, and was doing steadily worse by the day.
Then she bounced back. She was more herself than she'd ever been, clear-headed and rational and wanting to eat. We could still tell she wasn't really on the road to recovery, but for a week or so there we were honestly doubting the doctor's opinion and even began making plans how to help her get better for a time.Things did go downhill from there. First there was a kind of happy delirium in which Grandma acted like a happily intoxicated person most of the time but was pretty clearly not rational. This continued for about two months until suddenly a week before she died she became very, very sad. I think some part of her knew she wasn't going to get better and that she didn't feel well but she wasn't really able to express those things anymore because her mind had become very much like that of a little child. She compared herself to Abigail all the time, spoke "baby talk" and had a list of needs that was pretty simple: "Squatch my back!", "I'm hungry", "I want to get up" and "take me to the bathroom" became her nearly constant litany. What became difficult about this the last week was that she became desperate about those things and didn't recognize when they were being given to her. She would say, "I want water! I want water!" and would continue asking like that even with the water in her hand or even on a sponge in her mouth. She didn't seem to be able to understand that she had been given what she required because I think she knew she needed something else but couldn't really identify what.
I have always had difficulty with what I saw especially in Hospice situations as the tendency to tranquilize a dying person right into death. I have a different perspective now that might help any other "me" kind of people reading: when we finally made a decision to begin giving Grandma stronger tranquilizers, we did it because of her desperation and how badly she was feeling. It was like watching someone in great pain only she wasn't really in pain. Her mind wasn't able to tell her what was going on. Causing her to become sleepy gave her relief much like giving pain killer would and while it felt a little wrong to do in some ways since we knew we weren't going to have many more days with her, her last few days were much more peaceful than the week that had gone before. Her last drowsy conversation with Ben went something like this:
Ben: "Hi Grandma. How are you feeling? Would you like the windows open?"
Grandma: "Yes...I'd like that."
Ben, after opening the windows and then stroking Grandma's head a little: "There, Lila. We're taking good care of you."
Grandma: "You sure are..."
Ben: "I love you, Grandma Lila."
Grandma: "I love you too, Ben..."
The next night Ben was up most of the night with her since she kept crying and calling for help. We couldn't tell what was wrong, but we did notice she was having a much harder time breathing since her skin was getting bluer and we were giving her oxygen for the first time. By morning, she didn't seem able to talk anymore and we gave her some medicine hoping to help her breathe easier. She eventually fell asleep to me reading Abigail stories while I sat next to her and never woke again. She slept all day and we could tell her time was very short since her breathing became very rapid and shallow and her color kept getting duskier even though we had the oxygen up as high as it could go. She was still much more peaceful than she had been all week, no longer trying to climb out of bed or making frantic requests we couldn't grant.
Later in the afternoon, I called the Hospice nurse and told her that I didn't think Grandma had much time and asked if they wanted to come by or if there was anything they needed done for their benefit, since they arrange calling people and taking care of things after someone dies. The nurse on call was a lady we'd seen once before and really liked and she came out to the house around 5:00 to see Grandma and assess what was going on. She told us that Grandma's heart was still pretty strong considering the condition she was in and that her breathing was at what was considered a normal rate with no pauses, so we were probably looking at being up that night with her but she agreed Grandma did not have much time with us. Mom called Jenny and told her what was going on and Jenny decided to stop here on the way home from work and I started the barbecue since it was time for dinner and it looked like we'd better feed everyone since it was going to be a long night.
It was a beautiful warm summery evening and we had all the windows open in the house since we don't have air conditioning yet. Jenny arrived and came in and rubbed Grandma's head and said hello to her even though Grandma was sleeping. Mom and the nurse and I were going to clean Grandma a little since she was having some issues with her insides and we wanted her to be as comfortable as possible, so Jenny took Abigail for a walk on the path in the backyard we call "Lila Boulevard" since we built it to easily get Grandma back and forth from our house to Mom and Dad's. As the weather had gotten warmer and the dandelions bloomed, Ben taught Abigail to pick them and bring them to Grandma, since in her delirious state she would make a big deal about the "pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty flowers" that "the little girl with the curly hair" brought her - she would even make up little songs about it. When Jenny and Abigail came back, Abigail ran to me with a dandelion held out proudly. I thought she had brought it for me, but Abigail pointed to Grandma's bed and said, "Wa-wa?"
"You want me to give this to Grandma Lila?" I asked her.
"I do," she said - lately if you ask her a question she wants to answer "yes" to, she says "I do".
"Grandma's sleeping right now, but I'll put it right here on her lap so she'll see it when she opens her eyes," I told Abigail.
Then I went and got Abigail some raisins. Our family was all sitting in Grandma's new bright room with the windows open, since we had kind of gathered together to hear what the nurse would have to say. We were chatting about how Grandma's last year has been, since earlier in the day Mom had been keeping her company and putting pictures in an album from the past year and it had been amazing all the things Grandma had gotten to do and participate in. Suddenly Jenny said, "You know, Grandma's head has been moving with every breath but it's not moving now. Is she breathing?"
I looked at Grandma, who didn't really look any differently than she had all day and said, "Um...I think so. Maybe her breathing has just gotten more shallow?"
But after a few more seconds, I realized I really couldn't see any sign of Grandma breathing. I got up off the floor where I'd been sitting and feeding Abigail raisins and went over to Grandma and put my hand on her chest. I couldn't feel her breathing, but I thought I could feel her heart beating. The nurse came back in the room from having made a phone call and I looked up at her and said, "I can't tell if Grandma is breathing but I think I feel her heart."
The nurse came and put her stethoscope on Grandma's chest and listened for a little while, then looked at me and shook her head a little. "I can't hear anything," she said quietly. "She's gone."
So Grandma left us on a warm summer evening with her whole family sitting around her visiting and talking about her life of the past year while her great-granddaughter who had never lived in a house without her laid on the floor by her bed humming and peacefully eating raisins after having brought a dandelion in especially for her. It was the kind of way a lot of people might ask to die if we were given the chance to make that request.
People have asked me over the past few weeks what I thought of Grandma's view on death and if she believed she would be with God someday when she died. I was never really able to tell exactly what Grandma thought, partly because she wasn't necessarily clear-headed enough to discuss it due to medications and forgetfulness issues and partly because I just wasn't able to really tell what she thought. I know she was very afraid to die, mostly because I think she was afraid it was going to hurt. Honestly, in the end I don't think it did. Most days Ben would ask her how she was doing and she would cheerfully say, "Oh, pretty good!" which is better than she usually said when she was actually in better health.
Whatever Lila thought, however, I do know God loved Lila very much and gave her some pretty incredible blessings in her life, especially in the part of her life I was present for. As we realized months ago when we realized Grandma was "dying", a person actually lives right up to the second they die. The question always is...what kind of life are they living right up until that second?
Grandma lived a special and comfortable life full of things and people she loved right until the second she left us. That was evidence of how much God loves her. Not only was her life very blessed with good things, but there were also bad things she was always afraid of that never came to pass. She always thought she was going to get cancer or that she would have another heart attack - she was terrified of those things. She was also afraid of being put in an institution somewhere until she died. One of the reasons she came to live with us in the first place was because our family decided together that we would do whatever we could to fulfill one of her most firmly-held wishes: to never, ever end up in a nursing home. That became one of our goals, that whatever we had to do to care for her, we would strive to do from home. In the moment that Grandma died, for me there was an incredible sense of peace because together our family had accomplished something good we had set out to do and we had not failed. It was like finishing a race for everyone and that meant we could all rest when Grandma rested. We were privileged to be given to each other and we were given the strength not to abandon each other.
So in a few seconds on the evening of June 9th as we sat together peacefully talking around Lila's bed, the number of days God had given her - a little over 91 years - came to a very gentle and quiet end.
Dad had visited the farmer's market a few days earlier and brought back some rhubarb with the request for a pie and I had made it the day before forgetting Dad was leaving overnight for a fishing trip. I hadn't had enough rhubarb for a straight-up rhubarb pie, so I used strawberries from the freezer and made a strawberry-rhubarb pie instead, then saved the whole pie when I realized Dad wasn't going to be there to eat it. Over the course of the day Grandma died, Mom happened to hear on the radio that June 9th was National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and we had gotten a chuckle out of the fact we just happened to have one to share. After we had gone through all the formal things that had to be done after Grandma's death, like disposing of her medication and signing paperwork and making various other arrangements, we took the pie next door and sat on the patio together sharing pie and ice cream and talking about Grandma and Grandpa. Sort of like people would do after a funeral when there's a meal and people are no longer crying. Mom says this is probably going to be a new tradition, where we have strawberry-rhubarb pie on National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day and remember Grandma Lila dying so quietly and peacefully that beautiful June evening in 2014.
As a tradition remembering the end of someone's life goes, I think Grandma Lila would've liked that one. She surely did enjoy her ice cream, especially the last few months of her life.
Sleep well, Grandma Lila. We love you.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
I learned these verses seven years ago when I made it a project to memorize the book of James. They're actually James' first words after his greeting, which leads me to believe James was writing to some people having a tough time. Of course, "tough time" is relative - what these guys were dealing with was on a scale of "tough" I've probably never even imagined in my lifetime. Hebrew believers in Yeshua of Nazareth as the Messiah were being harassed on a scale that we have a hard time identifying with, being kicked out of congregations they didn't want to leave, imprisoned by those who claimed the title of "holy" and losing families, homes and livelihoods.
James, the son of Joseph and Mary and one of Jesus' younger brothers, looked at the situation and said, "You know what, guys? This is good for us! Consider this time a joy because it's an opportunity for us to become what God made us to be."
There is a school of thought which says that true faith in God doesn't really strive for anything, that all we need to do is rest contentedly wherever we are and God will just cover everything in our characters he doesn't like so he doesn't see it anymore. Whenever I hear this, I'm reminded of James with his reminder to be "steadfast". Being steadfast is not an easy resting all the time. Our faith - our conviction of the truth that God is good - gets tested all the time. It can get very tempting to start thinking that while God is in control, he doesn't always have our good in mind. The Israelites ran into this out in the desert when they got scared by the lack of food and water and said, "Weren't there enough graves in Egypt that you had to drag us out into the desert to die out here?"
They believed God was there, they just weren't so sure they believed God is actually good.
One of the hardest things for any believer to do is to keep giving up our idea of good and trusting that what God is doing is truly good. To remain steadfast despite whatever circumstances are going on.
For me, it's been a rough time on the grandmother front. Two of my four grandmas (biological and in-law) are dying and my situation is such that I can't be with one of them much. Another is really struggling and my family is stretched right now trying to figure out how best to care for her from day to day. The grandma who is doing well is a bit neglected with all the drama going on with the others and we know time with her is just as precious, but we aren't able to see her anywhere near as much as we'd like. There are a lot of times when I'm wanting to ask, "Lord, why does this all have to happen at the same time?"
If I were planning my idea of "good", this wouldn't necessarily be it. But if I remain steadfast in my conviction that God is good and all he does is good, I know this is the case even now. This is one way God is, among other things, encouraging me to grow the character to be "perfect and complete, not lacking in anything". He's not doing it for me, but he's certainly giving me the chance to do it. To remain steadfast. To not get discouraged.
As a Grandma Lila update: we continue to wait with her and do our best to keep her peaceful and comfortable. We had a doctor pay us a visit this week and explain a lot of what we were seeing that was confusing. The most interesting thing is that Grandma's mind has changed quite a bit. For the first week, she was nearly unresponsive, but then she had a week of being extraordinarily clear-headed and able to converse and reason at normal speed - which was amazing because I've never known her in that capacity - but now she isn't usually rational like most people would be. Now's she had a week where she hasn't been unresponsive, but she hasn't been clear-headed either.
Actually, as we enter the fourth week since bringing her home from the hospital, the closest way to describe her usual frame of mind these days is like someone who's getting a little whiskey all the time with the chocolate ice cream she so enjoys tasting. Apparently as a person's mind begins closing off everything but it's most important functions, their awareness changes and their mind no longer perceives accurately what's going on around it, sort of like what happens when a person drinks a lot of alcohol. Just as when a person drinks, it's not as if the actual personality of a person changes but their inhibitions go away. So what is inside is plainly visible because the person no longer has the capability or desire of masking it. In Grandma's case, she pretty much says whatever she's thinking all the time and clowns around happily saying things like, "Mm, this lemonade is pink ambrosia!" Sometimes she gets very sad and weepy for no apparent reason, but most of the time the last several days she's just been like...well, a very happy drunk. Or at least the way happy drunks are portrayed in movies.
Mom and Dad Turner have been here faithfully every day in the afternoon and evening, while Ben, Elizabeth and I do the morning and nighttime shift. The usual roles are: Mom being in charge of keeping Grandma company (she's the one Grandma really wants there most, so just being here makes a huge difference in taking care of what Grandma wants) and finding new musicals for Grandma to watch; Ben being in charge of medicine and gets up at night if Grandma calls; and I've got cleaning and bandaging and general personal care (and Abigail). Dad and Elizabeth are the support team and fill in with all different things, including meals and cleaning and Abigail entertaining when the rest of us are doing Grandma care (like baths). Ben's sister Jenny comes by often and entertains Grandma and Abigail, often at the same time.
One of the things that's happened with my other grandma who's struggling is that she came down with a stomach virus from the assisted living home where she'd moved to and my mom caught it, which meant for the safety of several fragile people my family has been quarantined until further notice. Elizabeth happened to be the sister staying here (Anna and Elizabeth have been taking turns) when this happened, so as she was outside the quarantine she is here with us for the duration. We've been enjoying her presence quite a bit, especially as she is using the opportunity to try out some very tasty Pinterest recipes that would be tougher to make on the scale of my family's size and tastes. Yesterday, for instance, we had poached salmon with spiced cream sauce, red potatoes and roasted lemon green beans. This is gourmet on normal occasions, but lately our dinners have degenerated quite a bit and that makes this kind of thing extra special.
And so we continue to wait...
Since Grandma Lila has first lived with us, I've become aware of a unique quirk of her philosophy and belief that I don't think I've ever encountered quite so strongly before. She is very deeply aware of the difference between those of her blood and "everyone else" who isn't.
To her, while a person may be very fond of adopted children or in-laws, they exist on a slightly removed plane from those of her blood. It's such a basic understanding that even as she's gradually forgetting so many things that used to be second-nature to her, she remembers this. There are those who are blood-related to her and those who aren't; and those who aren't blood can never be family. Not really.
It took me a long time to put my finger on why this was disturbing to me. There was the obvious reason that I wasn't blood and Grandma just doesn't quite believe I'm a member of her family. I was not, am not, and probably will never be a granddaughter in her mind. This is partly due to the difficulty of not being able to remember who I actually am. But it's partly because I'm not blood and that's that.
There was more to it, though. I've finally realized what it is: I believe in adoption. I believe there is something much greater and stronger than simple relationship through blood, as powerful as that is.
I believe it's possible to become family with people I wasn't born blood-related to. I deeply believe that although I wasn't born one of God's Chosen People, I can be adopted into God's family as seamlessly as if I really was blood of their blood. Without this belief, this hope, it would be a pretty depressing thing to read the Bible. I would always be cut off from really being able to take part in God's promises to those he calls "my people". This doesn't mean I think I'm actually a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because I've just decided I am - it means that I believe I've been grafted in to the family of his promise "you will be my people and I will be your God" just like any person who has faith in him.
Adoption is a thing that if done correctly is an amazing outgrowth of love. Love creating a family that isn't bound together by blood at all - a family that didn't have to be one, but chose to be one. The love of a parent for a natural-born child is a pretty spectacular thing; but true love of adopted family is extraordinary. Even supernatural. You're biologically geared to love flesh of your flesh. Not so much someone who doesn't originally belong to you at all. The bindings this kind of love can create can often be stronger than the love of a biological relative, though: that's been proved over and over. Ask military men about the bond between people in combat situations, for example. As Proverbs says, "There is a friend who is closer than a brother"; and Jesus, "Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for his friends."
Marriage is a kind of adoption: a decision to become one person and to have lives bound together that otherwise would be totally separate, a decision that another person's family is going to become yours and your children will be part of them as well as part of the family you grew up.
If those who weren't family can't actually fully become family, then there's not much point to a marriage, in my mind. My family would always be closer than the husband I live with and I would always want to be with them rather than here. How terrible would it be if Ben and his family could never measure up to my family in my mind, so I always held them a little further away than my family? I bet you've seen that happen in some marriages before. It's devastating to everyone involved.
But God created marriage to be good. He said it was good for a man and woman to leave their parents and "cleave" to each other. To stick to each other, to become true family as if bound by the closest ties blood could create. He's enabled us to love those who were never born of our blood just as tightly and completely as if we had always been together.
I know he's done it because he made us to be like him. And God himself tells us the spirit is stronger than the flesh. Love is stronger than blood, not contingent on it.
Obviously, this has been quite a month. I didn't realize I'd left things this long! I have a new slideshow up on the Abigail tab.
After another relapse on Abigail's part, we are finally well aside from some various allergy-related problems now that we have some beautiful warm weather. We did end up going to a doctor for Abby's ears after she was up crying in pain all night and it turns out we most likely had RSV, which explains why we got so sick. When my brother Jonathan got RSV at Abigail's age, he was in the hospital for three weeks. Abigail didn't even get an ear infection; although Ben did and had his eardrum rupture - he's just now able to hear mostly out of that ear again. Yikes.
I've pretty much been waiting three months to reach the three-month mark, because it's usually at this point that many things get a lot easier. Babies and parents both learn a lot in that time. Babies usually have their digestive systems develop a lot better by three months and learn to sleep through the night, among other things. I'm happy to report that Abigail's now sleeping for about seven hours at a stretch at night, then eats and goes back to sleep for another three hours or so. Ten hours is a really nice night, folks. Plus, at three months Abby is starting to find things interesting besides just being walked around, so she can be entertained for ten or fifteen minutes trying to reach for the toy hanging on her carseat, for instance. And she laughed at peek-a-boo for the first time this morning. Which is good. What do you do with a little person who doesn't get the concept of a game yet?
Unfortunately, she hasn't grown out of her digestive issues completely yet. She can now handle me having some peanuts, but any dairy at all - and because it's the casein in the dairy, it means even sodium caseinate that's an additive in a lot of food - causes three days of crying and her little stomach gurgling uncomfortably every time she eats. It makes me nervous to eat away from home where I can't read labels because I always wonder what I'm accidentally going to eat without knowing it and have Abigail pay the price for days. Since I'm not dairy-intolerant myself, I don't get any stomachache or other warning. It's a little taste of what it would be like to have a serious allergy myself; and I'm glad I don't actually have it, so I won't have to be so very careful the rest of my life.
Thankfully almond milk turns out to be quite good, actually, and it makes a great substitute in baking so I can still make some good stuff like muffins and my favorite raisin bread. Also thankfully, I'm not doing a gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, soy-free, corn-free, peanut-free diet. If you have a kid with really severe allergies, that's what you'd get; and I think that pretty much means celery sticks and plain chicken for a long time. Good for the waistline...but boy, it'd get boring!
In other news, lots of work has gone on behind the scenes to prepare for our addition. We have an amended building permit now posted in the window and we're pretty firmly expecting to start excavating Tuesday - though this could always be changed, having a date to start is new and exciting. Ben and I have been working around the yard the past couple of days, cleaning things and getting stuff out of the way and moving the little peach tree a little further back so it's in a more convenient location...and also a little more out of harm's way when the big machinery comes through.
We had a little surprise pop up in the middle of our yard - the round circle garden that was so totally full of weeds last year that we pulled everything out sprouted a whole crop of tulips this spring. Apparently, they must've been choked by the weeds but sprang right up once they were exposed to sun and water. It's been a serendipitous occurrence; and it's entertained Grandma Lila for weeks as she sits at the breakfast table and looks out at their progress. I'm probably going to go cut all the flowers tomorrow so they don't get crushed; they're completely in the middle of everything and there's certainly no point making machines drive all over the yard to avoid a few flowers. But I'd like them to finish blooming on our kitchen table if they can't stay in the yard.
Ben and I have been attempting to put some order back into life so we can get things done. Abigail definitely slows us up, but we've been gradually taking care of things one at a time and venturing out of the house on little outings. We went to the library a few weeks ago and came home with a DVD collection of Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. We watched one episode every evening after Abigail was in bed for the night (usually around 10:00) and got kind of hooked. It's not that all the jobs are really that dirty, but the show focuses on all the small tasks that people make their living at in order to keep what we know as "civilized society" functioning. One of the amazing byproducts of watching this show is that we're starting to look at our surroundings and say, "huh...I wonder who maintains all those lights on the side of the freeway and what it takes to do that job" or "I wonder what it's like carting produce around to all the grocery stores and making sure it stays fresh and getting rid of rotten stuff". There are literally thousands of seemingly small jobs that people spend their lifetime doing that we never notice because it all goes into maintaining the infrastructure we've built up and are familiar with.
I will caution that it's definitely not a show for the little guys. There are some fairly graphic bits involving breeding farm animals (yep, that's definitely a dirty job) and an awful lot of tasks involving what Mike always calls "poo". And I have to say, if I didn't already not eat pork, I'm not sure I could now.
All in all, this month has gone by really fast and I'm starting to see some light at the end of the adjust-to-the-new-baby tunnel. There may even begin to be time to sit and write more often again soon.
Then again...there's always construction!
Grandma and Abigail both came down with a cold this week at exactly the same time.
We've been more or less living like germaphobic hermits since Grandma came to live with us since we knew any kind of virus was likely to be pretty hard on her. Adding a brand-new baby to the mix only made us more careful, but no matter how careful we were, we finally picked something up after nearly 18 months. We're not exactly sure how we got this particular virus since we've been that careful, but somehow both the people we wanted to protect the most got sick. In some respects, I'm pretty grateful they got sick at the same time because I have no idea how we would've been able to keep one from getting the other sick if they hadn't gotten it together. Likewise, I'm thankful Ben and I have stayed healthy this long because it would've been a REALLY long week otherwise.
Sometime in the blur of walking Abigail and being up at night shooing Grandma into a steamy bathroom so she could breathe, I remembered a song I like to sing that I learned from my mom. It's called "I Am A Servant" and it's about a person waiting to see how God is going to use them to serve him since the person was made to be a servant and wants God to choose him/her for a task. In many ways, I've been serving my entire adult life, but not as I am serving now.
Now, don't get me wrong: this is not something to be upset about or resentful of. In our current culture, we don't like to be in a position where anyone can call us servants. Even people whose professional job it is to serve people don't literally call themselves "servants" but "servers", "waiters/waitresses", "flight attendants", "hostesses", and lots of other names. I think because perhaps we view being a servant a lot like being a slave (which isn't a bad thing either, in the correct context - being a slave to righteousness, for example) and we love our freedom in this country. Being a servant or a slave is something we're too proud to be.
There are times I don't like feeling like a servant either. Having to lay down what I want for what other people want doesn't come easily or naturally. I don't get excited about getting out of bed at 3 am to shepherd Grandma into the bathroom, convince her she's not dying, talk her into drinking water, putting Vicks on her, then going back to my room to suction a very unhappy Abigail's nose so she can breathe so she can nurse. I would say this wasn't something I volunteered for...except I did. When I sang that song, I meant it. I wanted - and I still want - to serve God the way he planned. And he planned me to serve here.
I've heard people say God called them to do much more romantic-sounding things, like starting new churches or going to China to run an underground Bible-distribution system or running an orphanage in Haiti. But I suspect they feel pretty much the same way I do when I'm up at 3 in the morning. They say, "What am I doing here again?" and then they remember, "Oh yes...I'm here because I asked God to send me where he wanted me. And this is where I want to be. And it will even feel a lot better when the sun comes up."
I am pleased to report that this is true: things are much better by the time the sun comes up; and last night I didn't even get up at all. I think we might just have survived this one. I'm also pleased to report that Ben's purchase of a new pacifier was approved by Abigail, which allowed her to take a nice long nap during the afternoon for the first time in a week yesterday. Much as I love her, I prefer her to sleep when she's not feeling good. My back gets pretty tired after a day of walking back and forth in the living room - I could probably draw a map of all the boards in the layout of our wood floor by now!
Now if Ben and I can just stay healthy...
There have been moments the past few weeks when I get a sudden feeling of panic that says, "Life is never going to be normal again!"
It's a very disconcerting feeling. I have to remind myself that things don't feel normal when they've changed and feelings are not only not reality, they change quickly. It didn't feel normal at first to live in any of the houses I've moved to, either, but after a while they all came to feel like home. Those all-important three months aren't up yet, which means I need to stay patient, keep doing what needs to be done every day, and wait for "feelings" to wake up to what is now a new normal: there's a baby in the house and routines have changed.
Every time Abby decides to cry for an hour at bedtime (seriously, she is a slow learner!), I wonder how strange and disorienting everything must feel to her. If life seems a little strange and abnormal to me, it's a complete and total change for her. I'm at least used to my surroundings, know what's going on, am familiar with all the people around me...and am used to breathing and eating, for goodness' sake. For Abigail, until five weeks ago she had never really been able to see anything, had never eaten, had never breathed, and didn't even know what it was like to stretch out without walls around her.
The amazing thing is how fast she adapts, all things considered. On Friday, she even began to smile at me in recognition. Five weeks ago, she didn't recognize my face when she saw it, though we'd been the closest of companions for almost ten months.
Of course, she might just be smiling because when I'm around she usually gets fed. This girl gets her enjoyment of food from both sides of the family and her waistline shows the effects. I weighed her for the first time in a few weeks and she's now coming in around 12 pounds (I say "around" because that was two days ago and I'm guessing she's gained even over that time). This means she's rapidly turning into a dumpling with a head, but that's okay. She turns out to be a kid who wants to move and that means as soon as she can crawl, she'll slim down quickly. For the moment, though, she's what Ben calls "a milk junkie" and she looks it. I notice I've switched from calling her "Peanut" to calling her "my little butterball", but since she's still smiling at me I guess she probably forgives the nickname.
In spite of my feeling that everything still isn't normal, certain things are gradually falling back into place. I'm getting the laundry done much more promptly, I've been cooking dinner again, we've gone to church and gotten our grocery shopping done, and Ben and I have gotten a little better at getting Grandma and Abigail taken care of in the morning. It does take us a while to get everything moving, though. I'm often not able to get to making breakfast for us until 10:30 or so, which often makes me feel like half the day's over before we've even gotten started. I'd really like to get us back to getting Grandma's breakfast out at the usual 9:00 and ours either with it or before it, as it used to be before the advent of Abby.
People keep asking us if we're getting any sleep, a question they seem to find deeply amusing though I can't figure out what exactly is so funny about parents of young infants getting a little sleep-deprived - that's a condition that brings sympathy under any other circumstances. We're sleeping pretty well at night and have the kind of schedule that's allowing us to sleep in; but somehow I'm tired a lot anyway. I think Ben is faring pretty well because he's usually sleeping through any midnight-Abigail-nursings, but his back has been sore lately and I think he's actually not getting as deep a sleep as usual. Still, he's wide awake into his usual evening hours while I have to take a nap in the afternoon to stay up with him - and naps and I have not really been on speaking terms since I was Abigail's age. I've wanted to follow the advice to sleep when Abby does, but I notice that I'm having trouble doing so - when she's taking naps it seems like I need to be making Grandma's lunch or answering the phone or getting dinner or so on and so forth. Another thing that I'll hopefully either figure out how to make routine or just won't need for long enough to get that far!
Grandma is still doing really well, and thankfully she really doesn't hear Abigail crying all that much. When she does, she still thinks Abby is in a terrible state and as her mother I should either be doing something about it or letting Grandma hold her so she can make Abigail quiet. This is a little tricky for me, since Grandma has some trouble holding onto Abigail when she's crying (why do babies always squirm when they cry, I wonder?) so I can't really hand Abby off to Grandma and take a break for a bit but have to pretty much stay right there so I can take Abby back when she gets to be too much of a handful after a minute or two. Grandma is pretty firmly convinced that she has the ability to make Abigail be quiet even if I can't, though, which makes for a delicate diplomatic situation. I really appreciate her help - and she's been doing all kinds of stuff like keeping an eye out for laundry that needs folding that I haven't gotten to yet - but how do you explain to your grandmother that if a mother can't get her baby to be quiet, it's probably going to be pretty tough for anyone else to?
Ah well. As I said, thankfully Grandma actually isn't hearing Abby when she cries most of the time. Especially at night when Grandma doesn't wear her hearing aids...
And Grandma says, "I just love that baby so much!"
I say, "Me too, Grandma."
"I bet you do," she says back.
We have this conversation about once a day. Not a bad thing to repeat over and over, eh?
I certainly didn't guess we'd actually go to 40 weeks, but Peanut and I are still completely connected buddies. I got a little excited yesterday morning when I was kept from sleeping at 3:00 in the morning by strong contractions occurring every ten minutes...then every seven minutes after a while...then five...
And then they quit. It's been over 24 hours since they quit and I'm back to feeling not much activity at all except from Peanut trying to find somewhere he can stretch out.
I had false labor once before a few weeks ago, but I was starting to get a little excited this time because I did what I could to test labor (hot shower, moving around, drinking lots of water, etc.) and continued getting very regular contractions anyway.
Oh well. Even false labor does SOMETHING, even if it's just to make all my muscles nice and strong and practiced for the real thing.
In the meantime, our house is very clean. I even pulled the moldy caulk off our bathtub and re-caulked it the other day, one of those small projects that's been bugging me and I just haven't gotten to until now. I guess people call this "nesting", but I tend to think it's more like I'm just hanging around waiting, I can't do anything outside (not even shovel snow, one of my favorite winter activities...), I can't really go anywhere, and I get bored sitting around in a chair all day. My siblings will attest that this kind of project-hunting is not unusual behavior for Lauren-who-is-bored. And it's not going to extremes, either. I have yet to scrub and mop the garage floor. Though that could be possibly because the water would freeze if I tried it. Hm.
We've pretty much continued just staying quietly home with occasional trips to the grocery store. Our freezers are definitely stocked, both with meals and with ingredients for meals; and I made various cookies and some sweet bread for having around in case of visitors. Unfortunately, when I'm bored (and I haven't thought of a project to do) I start cooking. I tried out a recipe for cinnamon rolls the other day that was terrific, though I made half a batch and forgot to cut the milk amount in half, so I had to do some serious amendments to the dough just to get it to roll out. I gave one pan of them to my brother Aaron - who faithfully calls me every day and who has done all kinds of special things like coming over with lunch and taking care of little projects we didn't necessarily have the tools or pieces for - and there is another pan for my brother-in-law Benjamin, who also has done a bunch of special things like bring his cordless drill in and put up the shelf in our kitchen for our little appliances that we've been procrastinating about for a while. We had just enough left over for us to have some for dessert and give some to Mom and Dad next door, which is good. I do not need three pans of cinnamon rolls sitting over here calling my name.
Ben ordered two over-the-toilet cabinets for our bathroom and Grandma's bathroom and spent a few evenings putting them together and installing them. They look great, but I'm still in the process of figuring out what to put in them that makes sense rather than loading them with odds and ends and turning them essentially into junk drawers. I think ours is pretty much going to be holding books and extra towels, while Grandma's will hold the stuff currently in tubs on the bathroom floor like the cream for the sore on her foot and the lotion she uses after showering and so on.
We also have done a lot of talking, discussing things like what God's actual old and new covenants are (they seem to be the same covenant but sealed in different ways: ultimately, we believe the covenant is "You shall love the Lord your God and obey him; and if you do, you will be his people and he will be your God and his commands will be written on your hearts"), reading books like "The Secrets of Golgotha" (which was an absolutely fascinating book, though not nearly as sensational as the title might suggest), discussing how to make ethical insurance claims (Ben had his first meeting with an insurance adjuster due to a business computer job involving a power surge), and watching Deep Space Nine episodes. Yes, I know the last doesn't really seem to fit the others, but...we're strange that way.
We read somewhere that babies who hear their father's voice reasonably often do tend to respond to their father as well as their mother at birth. With all the talking Ben and I do, this baby ought to know Ben just fine by now. It's funny because if Ben leans over and talks right to the baby, the little guy definitely responds. He turns his head and moves his hands and stirs around even if he wasn't doing much beforehand. I'm very pleased about that. Babies should know their fathers!
All in all, right now our world is pretty quiet and secluded, which makes it a little tougher than usual to think of something to write about. It's been kind of the same routine since Christmas and I figure not much is going to change until after the waiting-for-birth process is over. Grandma asks almost every night, "Do you think the baby will be born tonight?" She's pretty convinced she's just going to wake up one morning and there'll be a baby here without her knowing it's coming. I guess that's how all her sisters and her brother were born and she often remembers her childhood clearer than anything else these days. She says her mother never would say when a due date was and people didn't talk about other people being pregnant - she remembers asking her mom one day, "Mother, how come sometimes you're thin and other times you're fat?" and her mother laughed but didn't answer her.
I'm relieved that Grandma consistently remembers there IS a new baby coming these days. Up until a few weeks ago she was still shocked every few days to discover that I was expecting. Now it seems to have really sunk in and she has even been rubbing my stomach and saying, "Yes, there's a baby in there!" In some ways, it must be really odd for her because she hasn't lived in a house with a new baby on the way for many, many years and she's still fuzzy on how she's related to us a lot. I went through the whole birth kit with her and showed her all the different stuff we'd had to collect and she was very fascinated because she never saw that kind of thing when her mom was having babies and when she had Mom, she just went to the hospital where they drugged her enough that she doesn't remember the birth at all. I think part of her would like to be around for this baby to be born, but she's probably going to be next door for that bit since she's going to need someone who can give her a hand with things and make sure she gets her meals and remembers her medicine and so on and I'm not sure I'd trust me and Ben with that responsibility during the labor and delivery.
One interesting thing is that people ask me all the time how I'm feeling and I'm having a ha.rd time figuring out how to answer that. No one needs a catalogue of all the oddball little things going on that make me feel generally not quite up to my usual par, and in the long run I'm having a pretty complaint-free pregnancy anyway; but it seems a little boring to just say, "Fine" all the time. I am fine. But I also have pins and needles constantly in the tips of my right fingers, rolling over in bed actually hurts, breathing and swallowing don't feel exactly normal, I'm experiencing heartburn for the first time in my life, and for some reason I can put my left sock on just fine but it actually hurts to bend in a way that allows me to put my right sock on. Plus my ankles swell up unpredictably, my legs get twitchy when I'm tired, I can't figure out how to carry a laundry basket properly, getting into the car is a really ungraceful procedure that I have to hold my breath to accomplish, and the baby has a stubborn fascination for keeping his knees and his feet pushing on a nerve in my ribs so that I often get a sudden sharp pain that makes me jump.
Now, would you really want someone downloading all that to you when you wanted to know how they were doing?
Of course not. And like I said, if you look at that list, it's all picky little stuff that's dumb to complain about anyway. But it does end up making me feel not quite myself most of the time even if essentially...I'm fine! Just ultimately really looking forward to the baby being outside rather than in. Even if being outside includes feeding, changing, and walking a no-longer-silent Peanut.
So that's what's going on over here. I'm really, really hoping to post some more exciting news soon. Wouldn't it just figure if after thinking the whole nine months that we'd have an early baby, we'd have a late one after all? I remember being really scared at nine weeks that we were losing this baby and asking God very fervently to please let us hang on to this one. I'm sure he's sort of gently chuckling about that right now...
I think everyone's kind of worried that we're just going to suddenly announce the birth of our baby one day without any prior warning. Jenny called Kim today and the first thing Kim wanted to know was whether there was any news to tell.
I'd really like to set everyone's mind at ease and say we'll let people know as faithfully as we can given time constraints (not sure even the most excited want a call at 3 a.m. to say labor has begun...). The actual due date is still a few weeks away (January 31), but after the big Make-Sure-All-Is-Ready visit by Eileen the midwife this week, it looks like we might be coming up on a slightly earlier birthday for Peanut. His little head is all settled in a good position ready to go and he's far enough down that his chances of flipping breech are a lot slimmer than they used to be. I also have some physical things going on that indicate we're pretty close now. And I've had so many contractions that my muscles ought to be marathon ready at this point - seriously, I had no idea I was going to do quite this much practicing ahead of time, but I'm thankful for it because moms who do this much practicing usually have nice smooth fast labors. Hey, I can be optimistic, right?
Over the past week, I've had so many people tell me what days the baby can or can't be born on that I'm a little confused myself - someone needs to create a calendar for me so I know which days it's okay to go ahead and get on with things. My extended family has some type of betting system going on in which everyone has picked a day they expect the baby to be born on - as far as I can tell, from here until February 1st, every day is covered so someone is going to win something.
If anyone's interested, I'll put my candy bar on the 16th. Just for the fun of it.
Everything around here is very quiet and sleepy for the most part. I haven't had a lot of energy, so I get a few important things done every day and then spend a lot of time with my feet up. Grandma has learned to transfer herself on one leg from wheelchair to regular chair to toilet to bed, etc., so I take care of getting her medicine and meals and making her bed and coaching her now and then when she forgets which side to position the wheelchair on to get into her easy chair. We had a consultation last week with the orthopedic surgeon and it looks like Grandma may be doing this for a very long time, perhaps the rest of her life, in order to preserve the hip joint that's thinning around the spacer that connects her hip to her leg. We are investigating the possibility that she might need to get the joint replaced altogether, but it's a tough decision to make because right now things are very tolerable and doing the surgery would be extremely rough. The question is whether keeping Grandma from walking will preserve the joint long enough for her to have a peaceful and relatively pain-free life to the end of her days or if she'll have the joint break down in a few years and cause a pretty catastrophic situation.
The orthopedic surgeon, by the way, does not think Grandma really has a broken hip but says it's very difficult to tell and to keep her off that foot until the beginning of February just to be safe. Grandma herself still is not suffering pain unless she starts thinking about her hip having a problem; and even then, it appears what pain she's suffering is now coming from the joint and muscle stiffness that accompanies not actively using that leg. If we do her exercises with her, the aching gets much better. Ben is a good physical therapist.
He's also a good coach. He's been telling me every day that he's looking forward to this baby's birth and he thinks it's going to be a very special and enjoyable thing and he has every confidence that I'm going to handle it just fine. I haven't felt terribly jittery or anything about the upcoming birth, but I appreciate every one of the times Ben tells me, "This is going to be an amazing thing we're going to do and you're going to handle it wonderfully. You were made to and I absolutely believe you will." He is also patiently putting up with me waking him up by snoring at night (this is extremely embarrassing - I've always been a very quiet sleeper) and having a lot of dinners that are essentially soup and sandwiches and he sits and reads to me when I take baths at night to get sore muscles to ease up.
Yep, it's a pretty rough life around here these past few weeks. We're just waiting and staying close to home and hopefully avoiding the outbreak of norovirus in the area (yikes...that'd be no fun to get right now!). We had a surprise delivery of a dumpster to our driveway because of a project my family is doing a few streets away: our garage and basement are free of construction debris for the first time in a year and that was our big excitement of the week.
So for all of you betting and waiting along with us, know that currently there's nothing much going on and we will most certainly let you know as soon as we can if something is.
Off The Path
If anyone's curious about where we plan to stash a baby around here given the limited bedroom space, here's our solution: a mini co-sleeper.
It's kind of funny because when I do a quick check on what a 36-week-old baby looks like, there are these lists of things new moms should be doing to prepare for their new baby and the top priorities seem to be preparing the nursery and getting ready for a hospital stay...and I'm not doing either one.
We did, however, carefully choose a bed that would fit next to ours in the little space in our bedroom. It's a cousin to the average pack-n-play, with a complicated fold process that allows it to be stowed away in a package about the size of violin case, but it has a mattress raised high enough to keep us from having to reach down into it, sides that lower and lock into place to make it a miniature extension of our bed, and a nice big storage space underneath so we even have dresser/diaper space.
Oddly enough, this little bed encapsulates a small facet of the solution-finding our chosen life has led us into. We're keeping everything as simple and no-nonsense as we can, both for reasons of limited space and because this baby can't occupy the same place in our life as many first-time parents expect their first child to inhabit. There are a lot of other things going on and the baby has to fit into them rather than having us rearrange life so we can fit into the "now we're parents" role. We knew this would be the case when we both chose to have Grandma Lila come live with us and then to allow ourselves to have children when it happened rather than trying to determine when the best time would be. But every so often I'm reminded of what an odd path we've taken and preparing for this baby definitely has had it's moments of making me feel like a stranger in a strange place. I've spent most of my life being weird, so that's nothing new; but right now we're doing something so different I don't even know anyone else who's trying it: we're taking care of Grandma near the end of her life at the same time as we're laying the foundation for the rest of our life together and getting ready to care for a child at the absolute beginning of his or her life.
It definitely makes for an odd mix of decisions. The bookmarks on my computer might just reflect how odd: links to hospital bed mattresses are sharing space with links to potential lighting plans (for the addition) and other links to birth kit supply websites and Amazon listings for strollers. Health links describing hiatal hernia and advanced osteoporosis are right on top of one leading to a "calculate your due date" site. Our calendar has an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss ramifications of a deteriorating osteoporotic hip a few days from a midwife home visit. I've learned to manage chronic skin-breakdown sores at the same time I was figuring out how to get over morning sickness. We got an education about the health effects of Vicodin and prenatal vitamins within the same few weeks. Ben is preparing for life as a new dad by getting up several times a night with Grandma (though we haven't quite gotten the get-up-three-times-and-still-get-up-on-time-in-the-morning part down smoothly yet).
Sometimes I take a step back and look at this and shake my head in wonder. Of all the ways I would've predicted an early marriage and family to be functioning, in my wildest dreams I probably would've never pictured what is actually occurring.
In those wildest imaginings, I probably should've factored in one very, very important point: when God places us in a carefully-chosen life circumstance and we respond by actively looking to see what kind of work he has laid out for us, the results are often really surprising. Sometimes what presents itself to our hands to do is so unorthodox and yet so obviously right we have to blink and say, "Huh. So that's what we're supposed to do when we grow up." In our case, we were given the opportunity to begin our marriage while caring for Grandma Lila and then immediately given a child as well.
A good friend told us back when we were first considering entering this life that when we really seek what is good, it's often as if we get led straight off the familiar path of life into a forest of trees where there isn't even a track, let alone a path. The only thing that can keep a person on a course like that is love, because otherwise wandering through the trees gets pretty bewildering at times. Well, love and faith, which is the conviction of the truth. In this case, love for God and each other and for our families - especially Grandma - and the conviction there is a way through the trees even if we can't see it. So when we sit here scratching our heads over what we should do concerning where to put a new baby's crib, for instance, or how we should best manage Grandma's broken hip when I can't lift her without pulling all my stomach muscles, we remember that we walked off the familiar path because of love and faith...and trust that God is not going to put something in front of us to do that we can't manage.
I posted the picture of the baby's crib to show that there was a solution - and an easy one - to the problem of not having a nursery space to set up a crib. It would be a lot more complicated to post pictures showing how we're currently handling the broken-hip situation or how we'll go about caring for Grandma and a new baby, but those solutions are there too. Even the ones we haven't discovered yet are still there waiting to be found. Because we walked off the path into these trees knowing there was no way we could NOT take hold of the things God so clearly laid out for us to do and God has abundantly blessed that decision. We don't love Grandma any less than we did a year ago - in fact, we love her much more and we now have actions to back the words we said before she lived here. We don't love our baby any less than we would if all we had to do right now was prepare for his or her arrival - in fact, we love him or her much more because we're even more aware of the blessing we've been given. Our marriage isn't struggling because we've had to try to figure out a whole series of unusual circumstances: it's being knit together in a unique way we certainly couldn't have ever planned. While we certainly have encountered situations that were confusing or exasperating or even just plain weird (and we don't always know what to do about them), our life over the past year has been both interesting and highly blessed and we're looking forward to the next.
So if you were to ask me my blessing for the whole year, I think the best way I could put it would be this way: we walked off the beaten path trusting it was a good thing to do and we could find answers to the challenges put before us. And it's been a pretty amazing experience. This is something to hang onto next time something comes up we're not sure how to handle. It's something we believed would happen; and it's something we believe is going to continue happening.
It has been a very long and eventful couple of weeks.
To start with, in a weird deja vu development, Grandma Lila again has a fractured hip. Last year at this time we were just bringing her home from assisted living to deal with recovery from another fracture to a different part of the same exact joint. That was a very rough couple of weeks for a variety of reasons and the actual physical caring for Grandma is much easier this time around. For one thing, it appears the pain medicine she already takes for her neuropathy is covering whatever pain there might be from the fracture - one of our hardest tasks has actually been convincing her that she can't stand or walk on the leg because to her mind, it's fine.
The very sobering part of this news, however, is that Grandma apparently fractured her hip by doing...nothing at all that should've broken anything. Apparently the bone around the old spacer in her right hip is growing so fragile that it broke just from the strain of walking on it. This could very well mean that Grandma will no longer be walking any distance at all, walker or no walker. We knew when we brought Grandma home that this was an almost inevitable development, but it's a little shocking to have it happen so soon. We are still hopeful that this isn't the case, of course, but it's hard not to draw that conclusion given the circumstances surrounding this latest fracture. We have an appointment with the orthopedic doctor who gave us such good advice last year and we'll know more after that. In the meantime, we're being well-prepared for our imminently arriving newborn by getting up several times a night for a half-hour to help Grandma to the bathroom and back. I told Ben last night that I'm very hopeful the bell Grandma rings to tell us she needs help will wake the baby up too so we can get them on the same schedule - otherwise we are going to be even more sleep-deprived than the average new parent!
I'm also down to five weeks left before the estimated due date and the midwife tells us that the baby is already engaged and it's her opinion he/she "is either going to come early or you're going to need a bigger body" as the baby is pretty well taking up all available room. I'm beginning to be pretty uncomfortable most of the time and am starting to look forward to having the baby outside rather than inside, lack of sleep or no. I'm disgusted to note I didn't inherit my mom's genes as much as I'd hoped and my feet and ankles are definitely swelling if I spend longer than a half-hour standing on them.
All of that being a prelude to what I feel is a very important and difficult-to-phrase blog post.
Last year, with all the hustle and bustle of our wedding closely followed by moving Grandma, it somehow was not apparent that Ben and I had decided to not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. This year things have been much more settled (fracture notwithstanding) and it came to Mom Turner's attention we were not decorating for Christmas. When she began asking why and discovered we were actually avoiding Christmas, it caused a lot of hurt feelings (including from Grandma Lila, who gave me a pretty sharp scolding about it the other day). Because it was hard on Mom, she began discussing the situation with others close and the result is a lot of people don't quite know how to approach Christmas with us this year. A dear neighbor brought us the beautiful wreath she'd purchased as a Christmas gift for us and asked humbly if we would be offended by it, for instance, and another close relative was very concerned about bothering us by sending us a Christmas card.
We are very touched by and appreciative of the concern, but we're a little distressed that we've caused so much upset, so here is our best explanation of what we think of Christmas and how we're approaching it for the time being.
We've been spending a lot of time considering what it means to have good things get mixed with bad and what that ultimately does to the good thing. In the case of Christmas, Christians a long time ago essentially took a very pagan holiday and rather than cancelling it altogether, decided to attempt redeeming it by turning the focus from having a big wild party to celebrating the birth of Jesus our Savior.
Good thing: celebrating Jesus' birth instead of having wild drunken revelries in honor of Saturn.
Bad thing: bringing methods of worshiping other gods into the worship of the One True God.
Now, as Grandma Lila has repeatedly pointed out to us, "we don't worship those things!" She's correct. We no longer bring pine trees in from the woods as symbols of fertility and put sacrifices under them to the wood-gods. We just don't. A Christmas tree in today's family living room is not being worshiped as a god.
The problem is, the whole reason for bringing it in comes from the worship of a pagan god.
One of the biggest questions Ben and I have asked ourselves when it comes to deciding how our family is going to work is pretty simple: "Do we know if this makes God happy or not?"
Sometimes we have to guess based on things God has said and done even if he never specifically addressed the situation we're looking at (homeschooling is an example of this). Other times, God is pretty clear about what he thinks (as in the case of the Sabbath). When it comes to Christmas, the thing God said that sticks in our mind is pretty straightforward: he said to his special people, "Don't you worship me in the same way the heathens worship their gods - that's completely disgusting to me!"
Deuteronomy 12:29-31 (ESV)
29“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land,30take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. [emphasis mine]
There are more and harsher verses, but this all by itself is pretty strong evidence of what God thinks: don't add the worship of a not-god to the worship of the real God. And bringing in a Christmas tree as part of the celebration or worship of God - commemorating his Son's birth - sounds like something God would not be too thrilled about. So after considering this, our conscience begins deeply troubling us when we look at combining the pagan traditions with the celebration of Jesus' birth. Which we came to find out didn't even occur in December, let alone on the 25th, so in a weird sort of way it would almost be easier for us to consider Christmas if Jesus were left out of it altogether since he doesn't seem to belong there in the first place. This, however, is a whole sticky matter in and of itself. There are many, many opinions on this subject and all sides get pretty touchy.
Now, the tricky thing about Christmas is that there are two parts to it. There is the religious/philosophical aspect (which is the basis for why we're not decorating); and there is the simple family get-together aspect. The time we spend with our family is very precious to us and we believe it is precious to God as well. The Christmas cards that come in the mail with letters and photos of our friends and family are special and we look forward to them. It is true, as one friend we know puts it, that if we really love our family we should show it other times than just at Christmas; but it's also true that it's very hurtful to our family to absent ourselves at a time they are used to the family being together.
We also have Grandma Lila living with us in our home and she is both very offended and hurt by the suggestion we are not doing Christmas. She has absolutely made it clear that we can do whatever weird thing we're doing but she is NOT going to give up her Christmas tree or the other elements of the Christmas celebration that we were troubled about. Because she is our grandmother and is our authority, it isn't our place to determine this for her and we have done our best to honor her wishes in this respect, including putting her small tree up in her room and putting her Christmas CDs on while she's sitting in the living room and other such things.
The truth is, we don't think anyone celebrating Christmas is evil for doing so, just as we don't believe those who do not rest on the Sabbath are evil. The only reason doing or not doing those things means anything at all has to do with how we want to relate to God. A person has to be convicted of what God wants them to do or they will be acting out of empty tradition, from a sense of obligation to rules rather than out of a love for God. Doing anything without a conviction of the truth can be much more harmful than not.
We believe that there are things we can do to please or displease God and we are doing our best to understand those things for ourselves and for our children out of gratefulness for the life God has given us and the chance we have to be in the relationship with him that kids have with their daddy. Most of us actually will take some pretty extraordinary steps to get a pleased smile of approval and the comfort of knowing our parents here on Earth are happy with us. We want to have that same closeness with the Father who made us, so if there is a suggestion that something makes him happy or sad we want to be alert for it just like we would be for our dads here on Earth. This is why it wasn't difficult for us to give up a Christmas tree once we reached the conclusion that it was something God didn't want us to do.
So to please the Father who made us, we are attempting to remove the mixed-in pagan elements from worship of him; and to please our parents on Earth, we want to be available to spend the special time with them and enjoy their company and take pleasure in being together. There will be many more Christmas days for Mom to take photos of the babies growing up and us standing around the table before dinner and all the small things families do when they have deliberately set aside the time to spend together. We are not going to be sitting around the whole day thinking about how bad it is we have to be there. We do not have to have a Christmas tree or have the kids sit on Santa's lap or have exactly the same beliefs and traditions to share that specific time. And we are not going to be offended by those we love who do.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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