Happy 2016, all!

Well, we finished out our 2015 well, I believe, and though I always say I’d like to keep up on the blog,  I realize I’m averaging one post every three months or so, my goal has always been once a week (hahahahahahaha), so we’ll see how it goes this year!

I’m starting off my Year of Blogging Regularly (again..hahahahaha) with some thoughts on Christmas.

I have very strong and fond memories of Christmas with my family in Suriname during my childhood. At the end of November, I recall the excitement rising, as the trees and lights went up around the city, Christmas music wafted through every store, and events were planned. Our home was always one of the first to have up the decorations, as my father was a superb decorator and loved Christmas. We always had a huge pile of gifts under the tree, and a big delicious Christmas dinner, and it just always felt so happy and peaceful. The Christmas service at our church was warm and joyful, as we celebrated Christ’s birth together. And of course, following Christmas was New Year’s, which in Suriname was also a holiday that was highly celebrated.

So, since leaving home and striking it out on my own, Christmas has always been the one time of year that I strive to recreate those memories wherever I am, sometimes with better results than others. I recall a couple of Christmases in college where I was able to go home and it was amazing, one Christmas in college where I visited a friend’s family in Alaska and made some strong friendships, but spent Christmas day shivering and sick with a cold, Christmases in Taiwan figuring out how to celebrate a holiday that made me so homesick when I had to work on Christmas Day and was figuring out life in general in a foreign country.

And now I have a family of my own, with a tiny daughter, who while she won’t remember these early Christmases of her life, has made me really think about the memories I want her to have and traditions I’d like to start with her. Last year, I spent Christmas day at home with my tiny newborn, as Aaron had to work, and it didn’t feel very special, warm, or joyful at all. I struggled with homesickness and isolation, as I tried to remember that Christmas isn’t about gifts, a beautiful home, parties, or food. I tried to have joy in celebrating Jesus’ birth, but I was wallowing too deep in feelings of self-pity to turn my focus on anything else.

I also remember last year, deciding that now that I had my own home, I wanted to host an annual dinner party, and invite some friends who also were far away from their families at this time of year, to bless them and share with them the joyful Christmas feeling that I so desperately was trying to hold on to.  Other friends helped bring food too, we exchanged some gifts, and though it was a beautiful party, I still struggled with feeling sorry for myself because my family was so far away and I felt so alone.

This year, I did the typical Christmas planning and purchasing of gifts for Aaron, Anna, family and friends afar, and friends in Taiwan. I went to Ikea and bought some new decorations. I strategically placed our tiny Christmas tree on a table out of Anna’s (now 14 months) reach, and reach she did, but she could not touch the tree (mommy win!). I put up lights, I bought some essential oils to make my house smell Christmassy, and I thought long and hard about what I wanted my daughter to remember about our Christmases as a family.

Of course it’s fun to receive gifts, eat good food, and spend time with family and friends. But I know those aren’t the things that should make Christmas so joyful. Of course my highest hope for Anna is that she grows to understand God’s love for her, His gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, her need for a savior, and that she places her faith in Jesus and trusts Him with her whole heart. I hope that I can make future Christmases more about Jesus and less about our beautiful home, gifts, and food. I’d like to teach her that because we’ve been given the greatest gift of all in Jesus, that’s why we like to bless others with gifts to show them love. I’d like to find opportunities for service to place the focus on loving others the way Jesus loved us. I don’t want Christmas to turn into a “what am going to get this year?” kind of thing for her.

Though she did receive way too many gifts (mostly stuff I’d picked up for her throughout the year, then I rotated her old toys out on Christmas day), I’m already thinking about how I can make next year different, when she’ll be able to understand things just a little bit more. I want Christmas to be about celebrating Jesus and loving others.

I did have another Christmas dinner party this year, and was reminded the day before (when I was doing my typical stress out over the food and perfection of my home), why I was hosting this dinner party. Was it to show off my home? Was it to let everyone know how well I can cook? Was it to get gifts? No, none of those things. I wanted to bless our friends with a warm, inviting, comfortable environment, to enjoy food and fun and togetherness when we’re all so far from our families, and just show them love, because God has so loved and blessed our family.

So I sighed a little sigh when some of my dishes didn’t turn out just right, shrugged, and put them on the table anyway, remembering that it wasn’t about the food. I reminded myself not to worry about what people thought, or the dirty dishes, the crumbs on the floor, and just relax and enjoy this time with friends. And it was great! I had so much fun!

In summary, I’m learning what I want to focus on during these holidays, how I can teach Anna and raise her to make Jesus her focus, not only on Christmas but every day of the year. It’s kind of hard because she’s only 1 and barely understands “come here!”, but I do see her learning new things every day, even if it’s just how a door opens and closes or how to spear a french fry on a fork. She watches Aaron and I. Are we making Jesus our focus? Because what we do is what she will learn. Yikes!!

Christmas this year (oh wait — last year!! Happy New Year!) was beautiful. We did go a little overboard on gifts as I’m prone to do, but I didn’t feel depressed or lonely or homesick. And I think the more I learn to place the focus of the holidays on sharing the love of Jesus with others, as I try to teach Anna to be kind and generous and loving as well, Christmas in our home will grow to be a beautiful time of sharing and blessing, as we celebrate the greatest gift of all. I hope.

On a side note, a couple of weeks before Christmas, is my birthday. And this year (again -LAST YEAR! Happy New Year!!) Aaron planned a tiny surprise party for me, the first surprise party I think I’ve ever had! Good job, Aaron. I jumped out of my skin. I learned later that it took him THREE WEEKS of planning, cutting out letters for the happy birthday banner, making designer party hats for all the guests, doing all this after I went to bed at night. I got a good one!

Well, I hope you all had a joyful Christmas as well, and I will do my best to keep posting throughout the year. Thanks for reading!