But on Christmas Day, we had just about the perfect day. For real. I don't think I could have asked for better.
The night before, we'd been singing around the piano and spontaneously decided to overflow to our neighbors by taking some hymns, rendered in our non-award-winning family choir of voices, to their doorsteps. To have our neighbors joyfully singing along to "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!' and smiling ear to ear with us? Kind of an ineffable moment.
Then we got the kids to bed (they taped their homemade-by-themselves felt stockings to the piano, inspired by that wonderful chapter in Little House on the Prairie wherein Mr. Edwards fords an icy creek to make sure Laura and Mary get tin cups! and candy canes! and a whole shiny new penny all their own! in their stockings.) Tim and I did last-minute prep, including my last-minute decisive failure at finishing a sewing project for him. We fell into bed, exhausted.
I woke up the next morning to the sounds of excited murmurs from the kids' room. I could hear the crinkling of wrappers as they rejoiced over the Series 9 Lego Mystery Minifigures (not due out until January, but mysteriously obtained by Yours Truly, Ninja Mom Extraordinaire) they'd found in their felt stockings. I sat up in bed, opened up my Bible to that day's reading, and there before my eyes was the following verse:
"If you then, being evil [i.e. sinful and imperfect], know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!"
Awesome. There I was, buzzing with anticipation. I'd made conscious efforts all month to direct my children's focus off of themselves, off of what they might receive, and onto the joy of giving to others. But today, it was time for them to receive (and give to each other). In my limited human wisdom, I'd chosen, and helped them choose, things that they wanted or needed, things they wished for but would also be good for them. :-) And in that moment, with the verse in front of me, I saw so clearly that that feeling I had was simply a shadow of my Father's heart toward all of us. As a line from one of my favorite hymns says:
"Out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again." And that includes the very best gift He gives: Himself. The One who came in a manger to be our true food. The only expectation that never disappoints. When He's the center, seems the stuff around the circumference can sometimes end up pretty shiny as well.
Anyway, we opened gifts. (Our friend Nathan, staying with us, surprised us with a few as well.)
Each of them received one nice gift that was purposefully wrapped in a trash bag. Later, we talked about how some of God's best gifts for us don't look so appealing on the outside. Sometimes we can't appreciate them at first or second glance. (Our family is dealing with a few current and future transitions, and let's just say that all the kids see right now is the trash bags, so to speak.)
We enjoyed a sumptuous brunch, reading together 'round the table.
We played board games -- I always include at least one new game for the family.
We read new books ... and some of us fell asleep.
We only left the house (aside from walking the dog) to go inaugurate a new tradition with some friends: Family Kickball! Thanks, Leslee, for the inspiration!
The temperature dropped about twenty degrees while we played, so we had to hurry inside for hot drinks and Apples to Apples.
Then we came home and made homemade pizza and watched It's a Wonderful Life.
Because you know what? It really is.