Saturday, December 26, 2009

Family Memories

Christmas is always a big part of my family's traditions. Growing up, we were pretty poor. As I entered middle school it was no different - in fact, financially speaking it was worse.

However, despite all of that, Christmas was and still is my favorite holiday. My mom, grandma, and aunts would all begin baking and cooking days in advance. Once school was out, Matt, Meg and I would all spend the days playing and decorating our house with homemade decorations. Especially, once I taught them how to make snowflakes. We would set up our Christmas tree and Mom would let us decorate the tree. Of course, after we fell asleep she'd fix it so it was a little less lopsided, since we tended to put too many ornaments in areas and had thick patches in some places and bare patches in others. Regardless of all that, though we still enjoyed Christmas, the movies, the music, and if we were really lucky that year - playing in the snow.

We'd go outside and play in the snow for what seemed like hours when we were young, but looking back I realized we weren't out as long as we thought. We'd come in one at a time to defrost, this usually included crawling under the covers with Mom in her heated water bed and snuggling up next to her to warm our frozen appendages. Looking back now, she took it all in stride and didn't complain. Sometimes, she would ask us "Who is that?" and of course, we answered with "me". It became a game we would play. Kind of like the game she made up where she would ask us how we got so cute? When we were little we didn't know the answer, but as we learned more and more in school our answers became cuter and eventually, Meg told her, "DNA Mom, DNA."

No matter how poor we were though, Mom always baked goodies and cooked what seemed like huge amounts of food. Our house would begin to smell of Christmas. But I think our favorite part of Christmas was when our cousins would come because it meant new playmates. It also meant that we were that much closer to Christmas day itself. So as the time drew closer and closer, Matt, Meg and I would await eagerly for our cousins to arrive with food, their bodies, and more importantly, more presents. As I got older it became less about the presents and more about spending time together. But lately I've been thinking a lot about presents and what I think I loved the most. So here are a few of my favorite things:

1. When I was in middle school, Mom found or had made the neatest pillow. It wasn't very big, but it had the best poem on it about, "I love you so my daughter and I never cease to pray that God will guide and keep you in His love, each and every day. . ." There is more to it, but that's what I remember of it. It was lost 10 years ago or so when I was away in Sicily. I would love to find it or one like it to give to each of my girls.

2. A coat - a few years ago, I needed a coat very badly. And I do mean very badly. My coats had fallen apart and I had gained weight after having Elizabeth and so when Chris thought I wasn't paying any attention, he ran back to a store where I spotted a coat I liked and he bought it. Now I know he meant to keep it a secret, but if you know my husband, you know he cannot keep a secret.

3. This is last, but certainly not least - the year Chris and I had begun dating we had a good Christmas. Sarah's mom had finally allowed her to come and stay for Christmas after Chris talked to her. A few days after Christmas we drove up to Iowa and met Chris' dad and on the way home, I suspected that something was up. I also knew that if I was incorrect, I would be devastated, so I told myself to not get my hopes up. Although, all signs pointed to the fact that Chris planned to ask me to marry him officially - with a ring. As luck would have it, I was correct. Dec. 30th, Chris asked me to marry him and gave me the most beautiful ring. It may not seem like much to other people - or those who place importance on size and carat, etc . . . but it was then and still is today one of my most prized possessions. I love that ring, because he worked long and hard to find and pay for it.

Sadly, as we've grown up the cousins have moved away and so getting together has become a little more difficult - especially since Aunt Chris and Uncle Frank are far away. I would love for us to all have a large Christmas again like we used to every four years when they would come home on furlough. It would be a huge gathering now with three sisters, their children and their children's families, but it would be wonderful. We used to have so much fun visiting with each other and playing games and laughing.

My final favorite memory - at least for this entry, is Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve we would all gather around after a day spent playing, talking and eating; we would begin to sing Christmas songs and Uncle Ed would read the Christmas story and pray. It may not seem like much, but it was our tradition and it seemed magical to me somehow. It was nice to open presents, sure but it wasn't the best part of Christmas. I don't have any of the gifts I got as a child left, they've been misplaced or stolen over the years or broken if they were the best tea mugs ever (Mom, made those too- or at least she painted them for us), I don't even have my Barry Manilow tapes anymore. But those memories - those never leave me and I think my life is all the better for them.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year my friends and family.

Maureen Koeppel

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Santa Dilemma

Santa Claus: To Be or Not to Be
As anyone who is a parent knows, at some point, no matter how much you fight it, your children begin to talk about Santa Claus. Lizzie started talking about him a few years ago. This wouldn't pose a problem per se, except for this. We don't promote Santa Claus - since he isn't really the reason for Christmas. For several years now we have not purchased gifts from Santa for her and yet she still holds on to the dream.
Of course, it doesn't help us that other "Santa's elves" help him out mysteriously. For example: Last year she desperately wanted a Nutcracker. A few days after Christmas, one showed up with a note of apology from Santa telling her he had been very busy and that his elf had to help him out a bit. While this note was adorable, at the same time, it has perpetuated the belief in Santa Claus.
Now I love the idea of Santa Claus - especially, since Santa Claus was a real person. Nicholas was a man who helped the less fortunate and gave them gifts since God had blessed his life so richly. Sadly, this made him an outlaw in his home country - since it was against the law to help people then (this is according to Veggie Tales - so take it with a grain of salt okay). Oddly, no matter how many times we have watched this lovely dvd, it does not seem to sink into her head. This is where my problem comes in.
Last night, I took Lizzie to CiCi's so we could aid her school in it's fundraising goals. We try to support her school whenever possible (within reason of course). After eating terrible pizza I took Lizzie to the mall and she HAD to see Santa Claus. I like that the kids can see him and yet you don't have to pay to have your picture taken with him if you prefer to save your money. So Lizzie went and sat on his knee and told him her wish - she wants a robot boy so she can grow up to work on robots when she gets older. Can you tell she is obsessed with Astroboy? I had to remove Astroboy from our Netflix Instant Play because I watched some of it and it was very violent. As if my autistic daughter who is very imaginative needs to see that - no thank you. We are still dealing with the aftermath from her watching Coraline. Oy vey.
Here was my dilemma - Do I purchase the toy robot she wants and allow her to remain unscathed and delusional for another year. Or do I let her learn the hard way that there really isn't a Santa Claus? The truth is, I believed in Santa Claus when I was little and my parents got me a present from Santa each year until I no longer believed in him. But Chris and I decided to neither encourage nor discourage Santa Claus. After all, it was only a matter of time before Elizabeth went off to school and her peers informed her about him. And after sleeping on it, this is what I decided to do. . .
I sat down with Elizabeth and we talked about how Santa Claus was a real person a long time ago. However, he was dead and unlike Jesus he didn't come to life again after 3 days (a concept she still hasn't quite figured out - she can say it, but I don't think it's fully made the connection in the brain yet). I told her that St. Nicholas/Santa Claus was a very good man who did many things to help others and that it was okay to like St. Nick/Santa Claus. But Santa didn't really bring toys to children and that he is not the reason we celebrate Christmas. So we won't make cookies for Santa - however, we will make a cake for baby Jesus and we will make cookies and mail them to Daddy. I'm not sure if this helped her or if it even worked, but for now we'll wait and see.
It's amazing how when our children are little life is so easy to fix. There is no problem too big that cheerios can't solve or a kiss to a booboo can't help. Mommmy and Daddy have all the answers and are the smartest people on earth. Then as they grow up, their problems become much more difficult, their ouchies are in their hearts and on the outside. But the outside wounds from falling down are much easier to help than the wounds to the heart. Sigh, and I have many more of these to look forward to - and today I just don't know if I am completely up to the challenge. But as Scarlet would say, "I'll think about that tomorrow."
Have a good week and a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

He Is The Reason!

As a little girl growing up in the Oklahoma City area, I loved Christmas. Every year Mom would load us up in the station wagon and we'd drive over to Ski Island and ooh and aaah over the Christmas lights that the people there put up for others to enjoy. Today I still load up my girls in the minivan and we go driving around and look at the beautiful lights and listen to Christmas music. Sadly, this year there are fewer houses putting up displays.

However, I have noticed a sad trend as I drove around a few days ago. I had Lizzie, Beka and Kiernan Trotter with me and we drove to the east side of Wichita and I realized that with a few exceptions that there were very few homes that had Nativity scenes up. I saw many Santa's and Frosty's and other beautiful displays put up, but it seemed to richer the area where we drove the less likely we were to see anything that resembled Christianity. I did notice one home with a beautiful display that showed various versions of the Star of David - so Happy Hanukkah to them and kudos for boldly sharing their choice of faith. However, I also noticed that the area where I live and the poorer areas had more nativity scenes up.

This got me to thinking and explaining to Kiernan as we talked about why we saw so few homes with a Nativiy scene up. We talked about how sad it was because it's true, the more money you have the less you rely on God. I talked to her about how Jesus told us that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle (a gate in Jerusalem, not a real eye of a needle - or so it is speculated) than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. We talked about how when you have a lot of money, that you don't seem to think you need to rely on God as much. It also got us noticing and looking for the Christ child even more as we drove around.

I would love to tell you that we saw Him in front of many homes, but alas we did not. That doesn't mean He isn't in the homes without lights up, but I thought it said a lot about the state of our country. I think it shows that as a country we have lost our way, we have turned our back on God. I also wonder if after this, if we will see revival happen in our country. I wonder if we will find more people coming to church because they don't know where else to turn.

When you have exhausted all of your resources, do you turn to God? Or do you turn to him from the start? If you put up a lights display what would you want your lights to say about you? Would you boldly put lights up declaring, "He is the Reason for the Season?" Or would you hide him in your home with a Nativity scene? I'm not trying to point fingers, I am just offering some food for thought. How proud of Christ are you? In a world that promotes the art of political correctness, are you willing to be politically incorrect? Would you stand boldly and proudly proclaim Him?

Merry Christmas everyone and God Bless your week.

Maureen Koeppel