Thursday, December 30, 2010

Home for Christmas

Remember celebrating Christmas as a kid? You were full of excitement and expectation as you heard the Christmas story, or as you opened your gifts or traveled to see family. This year, that is exactly how I felt.

Decorating the Christmas tree was one of my favorite Christmas memories. Mom would put on a cassette tape of Kenny Rogers Christmas music or another country artist from long ago. We'd all get our own boxes of ornaments out of the closet, and for the next hour or so, the living room was a complete disaster with boxes and tissue paper.  But we were all singing, laughing and telling stories. Most of the ornaments have a special meaning or a story that leads us all to reminisce about the past. The tree would capture our attention with its splendor for the rest of the evening and weeks to come. 

The stockings were hung on the fireplace, the glass miniature village was set up on the piano, the Santa collection was put out on the bookcase, the nativity set up on the stereo—every surface was decorated! It was wonderful! 

Although I haven't been home to take part in this tradition in several years, this year I did get to see the results. And Mom didn't leave anything out! Our home was just as I had remembered, filled with Christmas joy and warmth. I had missed that feeling of being "home" for Christmas very much. For the past 5 years I hadn't been able to go to my parent's house for Christmas; I had normally just flown to Minneapolis since my mom's family lived near there. So, this was a very special trip in that sense. 

Christmas Eve was incredible. We had a huge feast for dinner and all went to church for the Christmas Eve service. We came home and gathered around the Christmas tree and opened our gifts from one another. (Once again, I hadn't done this with my whole family in 5 years!) I loved seeing the faces of my siblings as they unwrapped their gifts we had gotten them. I had worked really hard to get them each something they would absolutely love (and I almost succeeded)! It was a very joyful day.

Christmas day and the rest of that weekend was filled with seeing extended family. Christmas day we drove to Minneapolis and had Christmas dinner with my Mom's side of the family. I believe there were 25 of us or so (almost everyone made it!)

My Family: Molly, Me, Chris, Ryan, Betsy, John
Dad, Great Aunt Sylvia, and Mom

On Monday we were able to spend a few hours with my cousin Mary and her family. She and her husband, Bruce, had twins last August.  We all had a blast passing those babies around and catching up with Mary and Bruce. Maria and Darin didn't seem to mind having eight new people to play with. Once again, it was an evening filled with joy!

I can't say the entire trip was stress-free, but we were blessed with great traveling weather and a lot of time together as a family. I am so blessed to have a close family! It was so wonderful to be home for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pay it forward . . . even if its hard

You've heard that phrase before, haven't you? "Pay it forward." The idea is that when someone does something good to or for you, you do something good to or for someone else and the cycle continues. The blessings keep getting passed on. It looks and sounds beautiful. There was even a really great movie made about it called "Pay it Forward" with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt.

Chris and I have been housed by many people in the past. We have often talked about our desire to pay that type of hospitality forward. When we were first looking for an apartment in San Francisco we looked into getting a two-bedroom just so we'd have the space to share. That ended up not being an option due to the cost of living in this city, but the idea and hope of helping others have never left us.

December 1st was our first opportunity to pay it forward. Mary, who I've mentioned before (and should tell you that I'm not using her real name), found herself in a situation where she didn't have a place to live. Her sublease had ended and she couldn't find an apartment close to school that fit in her budget in time. About two weeks before she needed to move, I told her that if she hadn't found a place in time, she could stay with us for a few weeks.

We knew it would be hard to share our one-bedroom apartment with the three of us, but we felt like we needed to offer what we had.  I could tell, even as we helped her move her stuff to our place that it was going to be even harder than we imagined. I could tell almost immediately that for the next two weeks, I would not be having things done my way. My flesh was waging a war against my spirit from day one.

It started with our pre-arranged time to pick her up not working out (after we got there) because she was dying her hair red. An hour and half later, we were finally home and fell into bed. Over the last two weeks, I have come to realize there are very few things I have in common with a 21 year old (my sister and other family members being the exception!). This makes me feel old in a sense, but also very glad I am no longer 21!

It's strange to think I am at an age where I can be somewhat of a mentor to someone that's 21 years old. I don't think I have a lot of life experience to pass on, but I do! Especially in being new to a city like San Francisco, finding housing and looking for work. This past year has been filled with life lessons I can pass on.

But I also have much to learn. Hospitality, which I had hoped would be one of my talents, is in fact a challenge sometimes. I really want to get better at hosting people in my home. I also need to work on being flexible with my time and space and sharing both with others.

This has also been an interesting couple of weeks for our marriage. As the stress of deadlines hits hard for Chris at work, we find that we aren't really able to just chill out together in our normal living space. The stress just seems builds up. There is also this strange feeling I have sometimes that is completely new to me as a wife. I think it's a protective instinct that comes when there may be a threat to my husband's eyes. I'm not used to that in my own home.

I'm sure others have experienced struggles with opening their home to others. (I hope Chris and I didn't cause too much trouble for those that have helped us.) And it's still a desire of mine to be able to help others in this way, but after this experience, I think I would do it a little differently. It was definitely more difficult than I thought it would be.