Ever since writing my last post a few months ago, the word thankful has been on my heart. Over these last weeks and months, I have been continually reminded of all I have to be thankful for and I guess through the process of just living out daily life, Charlie and I have realised that we are indeed right where we need to be, on English shores, at this moment in our lives. Everything could change in the future, with California calling, but for now, we’ve been renewed with a sense of contentment and purpose in where we are presently. For new vision and perspective to keep giving this life everything we’ve got, I am thankful.
In mid-November, one of Anna’s homework assignments was to visit our local war memorial in the middle of our town in preparation for the annual Remembrance Sunday. It always falls near to the American holiday, Veteran’s Day, and it is a huge commemoration to honour so many who lost their lives fighting to preserve freedom for Great Britain and Europe. In just our little town alone, the memorial lists the names of 103 men who bravely lost their lives in World War I or II. All across British towns and cities, you can find similar memorials of men and women who believed in preserving society’s freedom, and I can’t help but get emotional at the thought of so many young people being sent off never to return again. Laurence Binyon’s famous words, also engraved on the memorial, express such a timeless, beautiful remembrance, “They shall not grow old, As we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them. Nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.” For their bravery and courage, I am thankful for them all.
During World War II Charlie’s grandad Tom served in the British army, stationed in North Africa and the Middle East. He was a young husband in his early twenties, like so many others, that quickly went from normal everyday life to the harsh and brutal reality of fighting in a war. Meanwhile Charlie’s nan, Vera, fought her own battles at home, giving birth to and raising their firstborn son, Tony and facing daily bombing raids living in South London. I look at Anna being five years of age and I cannot even begin to comprehend the heartache of Vera raising a son on her own and Tom missing the birth and all the first milestones of his eldest child. Seven long years of service and grandad Tom had amazingly survived, contributing to the end of WWII. For their sacrifices, heartache, and survival, I am thankful for Grandad Tom and Nanny Vera.
I was missing home and family this year at American Thanksgiving, so God chose to bless me with my cousin, Annette and her family visiting London. We hosted a Thanksgiving meal and enjoyed reconnecting and meeting her lovely children. It was wonderful to see her, as the last time I saw her was at our wedding eight years ago. Her son, who I remember as a baby, is now all grown up and I finally got to meet her lovely two girls. For surprise visits and family time, I am so thankful.
Anna was initially disappointed this year at her role as a shepherd in the school nativity. She’d been an angel the last two years and so I think her lack of enthusiasm was more because she wanted to wear shiny wings and golden tinsel instead of plain, boring shepherd attire. In the end, I was trying to explain to her that she should feel honoured to play the part of a shepherd, because God deemed them so special that He chose to tell them the good news of Jesus’s birth first. She finally embraced her role and was my cute little shepherd, learning to enjoy the value of her part in the wonderful story. For the humility of the shepherds and God’s love showed to very ordinary people like me, I am thankful.
One of my favourite Christmas movies growing up was A Muppets Christmas Carol. Somehow mixing Charles Dickens’ classic story with Jim Henson’s puppet creativity really worked and the lesson of generosity and kindness to all never gets old. I love baking at any time of the year but Christmas inspires me to go the extra mile. Any December gathering is an opportunity to share a homemade treat. While I love to give out my baked goods and Christmas cards, it is also really fun to receive unexpected surprises. We received two wonderful boxes of unexpected goodies from my parents, including all kinds of gifts but the best part of opening the boxes was feeling the love that was put into them. It’s not about the things but rather the care and kindness shared. Although I’m an only child, my children are blessed to have a good handful of my friends (aunties) who like to spoil them! One of my sweet friends purchased unexpected gift vouchers for some wonderful dressing up clothes! And another auntie sent through some beautiful customised gifts. Perhaps the best item of this whole season was a Christmas card received completely by surprise. It was so remarkable because I haven’t met this person yet. There are physical and emotional miles between us but God’s love is breaking through for the first time. For the never ending hope and wonder that Jesus brings in life, I am very thankful.
This Christmas season, I felt so on top of everything. Tree up and decorated – tick box, gingerbread house assembled and frosted – tick box, and we had lots of lovely Christmas festivities, starting after Thanksgiving. My checklist was going splendidly…. all until Charlie came down with the flu last week. The poor guy was genuinely ill in bed for days and Luke then contracted the sickness. Sadly we missed all the Christmas services and get togethers in the days leading up to Christmas. At times, it felt frustrating and disappointing to be the healthy one taking care of my husband and boy while trying to spend time with Anna who managed to stay well too. I think Mary must have felt some frustration and disappointment at giving birth in Bethlehem, not in a cosy inn but a run down stable instead. She must have had thoughts like, “It wasn’t meant to be like this!” And, “Why is this happening to me?” Yet in the midst of me asking the “why question,” there was a choice of acceptance. A stable wasn’t an ideal place for birthing baby Jesus but it was the only place available and equally so, having two of us completely ill before Christmas was less than ideal, but it was out of my control and acceptance was all I could do. Both my guys are now nearly recovered and I trust that God’s redeeming and restorative love will allow us to make the most of the next days together. For keeping me healthy and strong enough to take care of my family and learning to embrace life’s interruptions with more flexibility and positivity, I am thankful.
Anna and Luke have the best lives at the fun ages of five and two. They love a good play session of getting their play swords out and fighting the dragon or Captain Hook (Daddy)! Their imaginative world of fun takes us on aeroplane rides regularly, spaceships, and sees the biggest towers being built by blocks. Their play often involves the loudest giggles and squeals…. and making LOTS of mess. Anna loves her dolls and Luke has fun with his trains. Their world is simplistic and hearing them playing together is just precious. I’d like to think their enjoyment of life and infectious laughter could be captured and stored up for always. For my untidy house, that allows my children to express themselves and have their imaginations soar with creativity and laughter, in a loving and happy place, I am thankful.
Christmas is such a special time as we celebrate the Saviour’s birth in so many special ways, yet I have always found it a bit odd that we focus so much on giving gifts to each other when it’s really Jesus’s birthday we are celebrating. What can I give to Him? The last verse of the Christmas carol, In The Bleak Midwinter by poet Christina Rossetti and put to music by Gustav Holst, puts it well: “What can I give Him, Poor as I am? – If I were a Shepherd I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man I would do my part, – Yet what I can I give Him, – Give my heart.” For the simplicity of the true Christmas story, the opportunity and wonder that is so often missed, my heart is thankful.