Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from the Williams Family!

Oh my! It's been a long time since I've posted anything here. The below update explains a bit why. I can't believe my last blog post was from China just before meeting Ella. That day seems a lifetime away. I honestly can't remember what it is like not having this precious girl as my daughter.

I hope to start blogging regularly again in the new year. I never intended to take such a long break--there are so many thoughts I want to record so I don't forget these very special days in our family. But we've been through a season in which I just needed to put down the phone, step away from the computer, and try to convince 6 kids and a husband that they had my undivided attention.

Merry Christmas from our family! Below is a photo and letter sent to some of our friends (the cards are still en route--these days that's how we roll). I've never written a typical Christmas letter and this one colors outside the lines more than ever--but it still sums up our thoughts from the year that has passed and our hopes for the one ahead. Much love to you all! We hope you had a beautiful day celebrating His birth!

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy holidays! Not trying to be politically correct—just covering my bases in case you get this card during another holiday like Valentine’s Day/Easter. We were spread too thin to get a Christmas greeting out last year and seem to be coming close this year. Since one of the highlights of our season is getting your cards, I was determined to rejoin the human race with photographical proof that we’re alive and semiconscious.

Let’s just be honest here. The last thing you have time to read is a two-page update on our family. And thanks to social media, you have probably seen more photos of my kids in the past year than you have documented from your entire childhood. So I’m going to forego the whole Christmas letter format and give you some info you can really use. I get the “six kids, how do you do it?” question from time to time. Not really in a tone of awe, but more along the lines of wanting a glimpse of our 8 headed family behind the freak show curtain. The following is not really helpful advice—these are more like metaphoric extension cords when there’s not enough time or energy to do it right and plug directly into the wall. Isn’t pretty but will keep the lights on.

1. Drink Coffee. I know I’m a millennium late to the game on this one, but I just this past year resorted to caffeine consumption in hot beverage form. Coffee is now my performance enhancing drug of choice and my Keurig has become my companion. She hums at me in a “we can do this!” sort a way each morning. I don’t bother with fancy mugs—I just let it drip directly into my mouth like a waterfall in one of those commercials for exotic vacations. Without Katie Keurig (had to name her), I’d spend most of my days looking like an extra from The Walking Dead.

2. Utilize gift bags. These gems are an invention right up there with electricity. I can’t tell you how much time and money I save each holiday with these. To maximize their benefit you must reuse them. Don’t judge my teen son if you see a pic posted of him with an Elmo gift bag. We have just learned to double dip into nostalgia and frugality. A few years ago we did have to retire a couple Hannah Montana gift bags after an inappropriate Miley Cyrus display at the VMAs. Just didn’t seem right to have her singing just a few feet away from the nativity scene. The downside to these bags is that it makes it very easy for curious kids to peek at presents before Christmas. Thus I keep the real gifts hidden till Christmas Eve filling the bags with decoys. It’s easy to spot the cheating children—they will whisper to each other: “Hey sis, I think money must be tight this year because I’m getting a pack of toilet paper for Christmas.” Sibling responds, “Lucky! I’m getting hemorrhoid medication!” You will not believe the gratitude on Christmas morning to find their gifts didn’t come from the personal hygiene aisle.

3. Don’t look at Pinterest after December 15st. Don’t attempt a family craft after December 20th. Don’t try a new recipe when the guests are arriving in two hours. Just trust me on this one.

4. Always wear festive attire. The holidays are stressful. And sometimes that means we don’t display our best selves. But if you have a momentary slip of the tongue, the whole experience can be softened if we “don we now our gay apparel, fa la la fa la la la la.” Example: let’s just say your Christmas tree falls for the 4th time this year and every last treasured ornament—little handprints done at preschool and baby’s first Christmas keepsakes—all of them are smashed to bits. And in that moment (and this is purely hypothetical) you start screaming, “overpriced, fire hazard!” while dragging O Christmas tree to the curb a couple weeks early. You see, the observing children will need therapy for that one. But let’s just say this all happens while mom is wearing reindeer antlers and a shirt with Olaf that says, “I love warm hugs”, then the whole incident becomes a hysterical retelling for many years to come.

5. Delegate the dirty work to the older kiddos. Every so often someone comes up with some really fun and clever way to add just one more impossible task to my to-do list. The latest one has been Elf on the Shelf. And so, I succumbed to the pressure and one year our elf mysteriously appeared. She truly was a delight—her antics were along the lines of nibbling on sugar cookies and making a heart with mini-marshmallows. But then my kids would report that our elf wasn’t fun—other elves were dumping out powdered sugar all over the kitchen and making snow angels in the mess. Yet another was perched upon the potty fishing for Cheerios. And so I explained that perhaps our elf knew that mom cleaned up after six other really messy elves all day long and just couldn’t handle one more thing. From that day forward, any Christmas creation/tradition/program involving creativity or clean-up has been passed along to the older kiddos. And I must admit this arrangement has taken a load off. And speaking of loads . . .

6. Invest in 3M temporary hooks. These are awesome for hammer/nail challenged folks like me who in the past had so many botched attempts at picture hanging that my walls looked like I had used them for target practice with a machine gun. I think what is appealing about them is the word COMMAND on the label—this mom loves the power promised on this packaging. (Well done, 3M marketing people!) And so I have invested in an army of hooks and hung every stocking/wreath/garland on them. The only problem is that these little guys have weight limitations and I have a tendency to overload. This year as I watched my hooks fall to the ground in synchronized fashion, I couldn’t help but think how much they reminded me of myself. Trying to pile on as much as possible but always coming so dangerously close to snapping at any minute. So before you say yes to anything, check the weight limitations that you . . . I mean, these hooks can carry.

7. Don’t compare your family to the ones in the Christmas photos. The awesome thing about these one-dimensional documents is they hide the whining, the bribery, the tears over not wanting to wear a red sweater vest. Today’s family photos may look like they were taken for an album cover but thank God no one can hear the sound track of our lives on a regular basis. We are all sinners raising sinners. Believing the lie that you are the only mom with flaws and yours is the only family who needs forgiveness will ruin the season that celebrates the redemptive gift of God’s Son.

Speaking of family, Olivia is enjoying her senior year at Providence Christian Academy and looking ahead to college next year (still deciding where). She’s having a full year of football, basketball, and competition cheer and loves singing on the worship team each week at school. Ava finished her time at Perimeter Christian School and is now enjoying her freshman year at Providence. She is also cheering and busy with musical theater—always seems to be rehearsing or auditioning for something. She got to be Sharpay in a production of High School Musical last summer and had a lot of fun being a sassy blonde. Both girls are in Providence’s production of Beauty and the Beast in January. I can’t wait to see them on stage together for the first and last times. Sniff, sniff.

Daniel is in the 6th grade at Perimeter—he traded his soccer cleats for running shoes and had a great fall on the school’s cross country team. His real love is running track and we look forward to watching him this spring. Brady has had a busy year of baseball, football, and basketball. He’s in the 3rd grade at Perimeter and has already claimed that this is the best year of his life. He has a precious teacher and group of friends, he got to see Derek Jeter play in one of his last games at Yankee stadium (Brad, his dad, and both boys took a trip to NYC in the fall), and watched Georgia Tech beat Georgia in a nail-biter of a game. These two sweet boys are truly the best brothers I know—they are so tolerant of being sandwiched between two sets of sisters.

The dynamic duo in the family is Victoria and Ella—some days they are Thelma and Louise, other days they are Lucy and Ethel, always they think they are Anna and Elsa. They love each other so fully and so sweetly—they think they are twins and insist on dressing alike. They are both encouragers—I often get a round of applause for going to the bathroom all by myself—and really look out for each other. Every time I take Ella to the doctor, she always asks for a lollipop and a sticker for little sister, too. Not sure about the saying that kids keep you young but these two sure keep us laughing. I think the highlights of their year were going to Disney World and getting to be flower girls in their grandmother’s wedding.

I feel like I’m short-changing all six to canvas the year so superficially—they are all growing into such fine young men and women and I am just so very proud to be their mom. The only other big news in our lives is that we finished building our new home. Probably a bit ambitious for a couple who depends on plastic hooks to display their decorations, but thus far it hasn’t collapsed. (Please note our new address—the USPS has forwarded all your cards this year but won’t next year.) Although we miss our old neighbors terribly, we are grateful to be much closer to our kids’ schools and have more room for our family. And this year Brad took on the job of being the Athletic Director at Perimeter Christian School and is having such fun being in the same building all day with our boys and working closely with the awesome staff and parents at the school.

8. Let go of the things that are bringing you stress or taking too much time. Thanks to a little movie called “Frozen”, the song “Let It Go” has been played/sung almost daily at our house. It seems pretty fitting because last year I started tossing things overboard that weren’t absolutely necessary to give me time to hold onto the seven who really needed me. Last Christmas Ella was newly home—she has been a precious ray of sunshine from the moment she was placed in our arms in China. Although she is about the size of a tater tot, the weight of what she carried was not. This took me by surprise because I thought I was a veteran adoptive mama. But Daniel’s first year home was different. The weight of what he carried from his past was probably greater, yet he chose to hold onto it—trusting us came gradual . . . letting go of his burden eventual. But Ella clung to us tightly and frantically. At first I thought it was immediate attachment but soon realized she was just clinging to me out of relief of being held and fear of being abandoned. When I would take a shower, she would sit outside the bathroom door and cry until I could hold her again. When I went to the grocery store alone, I would have to talk to her on my cell phone so she could hear my voice. Victoria who was not normally a clingy child decided that if Ella needed mom 24/7 then she did too. For the past year I’ve had two little girls hanging on to my legs like a cowboy wearing chaps. They are both doing so well now it’s almost hard to remember how dependent they were last year. God has been gracious.

9. Spend time in a place that will give you perspective. I will never forget the first time I visited Daniel’s orphanage—I returned home Thanksgiving week and proceeded on my annual Black Friday shopping. After spending a week in a dorm of 100+ small children who didn’t have blankets, I found myself at Target watching people grab for the last whatever. I couldn’t help but think: “We are all idiots.” I was ashamed that I had become so oblivious to the needs of others. Because of Ella’s medical needs we spend a lot of time at our children’s hospital and in physical therapy--I can’t tell you how that has changed my perspective on life. On those days I get frustrated because I have a million things to do and we are sitting in a waiting area for more tests and scans, I see a family with a critically ill child just hoping they make it through the holidays. On those days that I feel unqualified to have a child with medical needs, but then I see my sweet treasure on the examining table being brave and feel just in awe that I get to be the mommy of this tremendously resilient little girl. You want to meet a group who is really cherishing this season of hope? Visit the cancer wing of a children’s hospital. (We love you Kylie and the Myers family!) How grateful I am to have a front row seat of perspective just about the time my vision seems to have focused only on me.

10. Celebrate the season by bearing one another’s burdens. The main reason I wanted to send not just a card but a letter this year was to say thank you to so many who have helped lighten our burdens. You have carried our grief in past years and lightened our load in recent ones. We’ve been so grateful for the welcome you have given Ella, for the meals when she first came home, for the help when she had her surgery, and the support throughout the year. I’m truly humbled by the support we have had with our church family, school families, community family, and especially our extended family. I think this time of year more than ever I appreciate that gift.

I’m not sure why this time that is supposed to celebrate joy and peace becomes such a time of stress and chaos. I know I am often to blame as I find myself once again trying to put too much on hooks that are artificial, man-made, and temporary. But we know first-hand that the burden of busy doesn’t even compare to the burden of broken. I guess that is why I can’t just stop at the celebration of a baby in a manger where hope was born . . . I must also worship at the foot of the cross where our burdens were borne. And there is my Lord nailed to the cross—permanently scarred, eternally redemptive—bearing the weight of my burden, carrying the weight of the world, displaying the weight of His glory.

So our wish for you this Christmas season and the coming year is for you to be blessed by things that can’t be contained in a gift bag, may your cup of coffee and your joy overflow, and may you celebrate the only One who can carry the weight of it all.

With Much Love from the Williams Family
Kathie, Brad, Olivia, Ava, Daniel, Brady, Ella, and Victoria