Its the morning before Christmas Eve. My kids call it “Christmas Adam”. We’re tucked away with friends in Houston, Texas. They have an area in their home they aren’t currently using (two bedrooms, TV/sitting room, and full bath!) that we have conveniently taken over for the week as Christmas approaches. I’m feeling blessed.
They have children the same ages as our children and even Miss B has a little friend to play with for Christmas. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my favorite holiday! Our nights have been much later since arriving here than we’ve ever had before. The younger generation has the unique ability to stay up until the wee hours of the morning before finally giving up and heading to bed. Although I have to admit that if you were at the local Walmart at 2:30am this morning you would have seen both Jake and I and our hostess with carts full of the necessary ingredients for the upcoming holiday meals as well as last minute gifts. Jake and I haven’t been at Walmart at 2:30am since we were 18 years old and working the overnight shift at the Cedar City, Utah Walmart!
Christmas is my favorite season. I love the sights and sounds and smells. I love that we turn our mind toward Christ’s birth and the miracles that accompany such a wondrous event. I love the spirit of Christmas. I look forward to decorating our tree every year. I love the planning of the parties and the preparation of the food. I love carols and wrapping and the Christmas Eve routine we’ve had for years. I love our live nativity and tootadoos and The Night Before Christmas. I love sitting with Jake in front of our lit tree long after our children have gone to bed as we survey the overfilled stockings and glistening gifts below the branches. I love hearing our children scurry in the early hours of Christmas as they wonder at the tree filled with gifts and explore their stockings. I love pretending to be asleep when they all come in with their stocking gifts in tow to wake us. Christmastime makes me giddy.
This year has been a bit different. We’ve had to work at incorporating Christmas in. We deliberately search for Christmas lights. Miss B adores them and exclaims at each and every bulb. We hung some decorations, and made sure to get a tree. Our tree this year is blue (could it be any other color?) and Miss B and Sam-a-lam were the decorators. At first I thought we would dispose of the tree once Christmas was over, but now I think it will become a feature in our home each year to remind us of this Christmas.
Sam and B also made candy cane reindeer and wrote letters to Santa. Christmas shopping was done almost entirely on Amazon.com and sent ahead to our friends’ home. It will be a light but sentimental Christmas morning. We’ve had less thought for ourselves and more for our family and friends. We’ve sought out meaningful gifts for them. And another year passes without a Christmas card or letter to send to friends. I suppose our blog will have to do.
Yesterday was Christmas Sunday, one of my favorite days of the year. We didn’t have special Christmas clothing, just the clothes we wear every Sunday. But we attended with friends that we care about and the Spirit was strong. I watched as my boys performed their priesthood duties. Jacob blessed the sacrament in his deep, thoughtful voice and Joshua helped pass it to the congregation. As I watched them both, I couldn’t help but be filled with joy and love and pride.
And then the program started. You never know what the Christmas Sunday program will be at church. But this year, in this ward, they did my favorite thing. The story of Christ’s birth from Luke Chapter 2 was read aloud and as a congregation we sang the accompanying carols.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
I first turned and whispered to Jake how excited I was that this would be our Christmas program this year. We would be able to sing glorious hosannas, peace on earth, good will to men. I love singing the Christmas carols.
Then I turned and looked down the pew and caught Jacob’s eye. He smiled at me and turned back to sing.
My mind raced to next Christmas when he will not be with our family. He’ll be in the Czech Republic serving a mission and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. And I realized that this Christmas Sunday would be our last together for at least two years and probably more after that.
A few tears fell and I motioned to Josh to get me a tissue from the podium (we were sitting on the front row). But it wasn’t long before I was full on crying. Not a soft cry… but a gasping for air, snot running out of my nose… kind of cry. I’m going to miss Jacob so much.
A few things you might not know about the youth who serve missions for our church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).
1. Missions are voluntary.
2. The missionaries pay for their mission themselves. It is not paid for by the church. It currently costs $400 a month or $9600 for a 24 month mission.
3. The missionaries do not chose where they serve. They are assigned to labor in a specific geographic location. Currently there are 405 different missions all over the world and 80,000 missionaries currently serving.
4. Often they will be called to serve in an area where they do not know the language. They are sent to a missionary training center and spend two months learning the language before being sent out to the field. They rely heavily on the Spirit to help them learn the language and communicate with those they are teaching.
5. Young men can leave as early as 18 years old and serve for 24 months. Young women can leave as early as 19 years old and serve for 18 months.
6. While they are gone they spend their time in service to the Lord. They teach others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They do not date, go to the movies, listen to the radio, or watch television. Their focus is on service.
7. They have one day a week as a preparation day for the rest of the week. This is the day they do laundry, shop for food, write letters home, etc.
8. They can email letters home once a week, but they only call home twice a year. On Mother’s Day and Christmas Day.
9. For those who serve, there is nothing else they would rather be doing. They sacrifice those two years, but know that it will be worth it.
I continued to cry through the entire Christmas program. I sang when I could, but tears continually slid down my face. The emotions of my mother’s heart had overwhelmed me. The sadness of Jacob’s impending departure, and yet being so incredibly proud of him for his decision and knowing he is doing just what he should.
Our firstborn is an incredible young man. Those who know him would agree.
During the Christmas program I wondered what I could do over the next 6 weeks to store up every moment we have with him, because two years without seeing him is a long time. By the end I realized that I have 18 years worth of moments with him to cherish and be thankful for. The years we’ve spent homeschooling, the adventures and the travel. But even more important, all the little moments. The late night conversations, the family dinners, the books we’ve read together, the songs we’ve sung, and the hugs we’ve shared. I have all of those.
Jake and I spent an hour this morning talking with him. We talked about his mission, his friends, his life’s goals and dreams. We cried and we laughed and it was cathartic to my soul. Two years is a long time, but like all things – it will be over before we know it. (Remind me of that along the way, will you?)
*image thanks to Blue Lily Photography!