Friday, December 28, 2007

Merry Christmas

Whew! For all my worrying, we really did have a nice Christmas! It was a bit surprising, but we managed to pull out a nice Christmas eve evening, as well. Christmas eve day started a bit rocky - the kids were fighting, got in trouble with daddy, etc. Somehow, I organized them to do a bit of cleaning in the afternoon, using lots of "this is your last opportunity to show Santa what great helpers you are" for prompting. And when that didn't work, "Santa still has time to turn the sleigh around...". I forget how well it works. Usually I use "Santa motivation" for a good 2-3 weeks before Christmas, but I forgot this year. Anyway, the kids grumbled at first, but soon got into the cleaning. We stayed busy after that - TJ helped me make dinner, then we went caroling to all the neighbors. The caroling is an important family tradition for me, and I wanted the kids to learn to love it too. We came home, read the Christmas story from the bible, opened one present, and then the kids went to bed, where they actually stayed. Amazing.
I wrapped the last 5 or 6 presents, and started putting Emma's doll bed together. It needed a canopy, pillow, and quilt. A couple who lives in the area made both the bed, and a doll wardrobe - perfect for the clothes my mom made for my doll (which is now Emma's). The bed is large enough for 2 dolls, probably about 24 inches long and tall (the canopy part). Painted white with lavendar and green flower detailing (handpainted!). The wardrobe is similar. I was so tickled by how well it turned out! I used 4 long strips of lavendar sheer material, doubled and tied together at the top and gathered at each post. Found some cute purple fleece with ballerinas on it for a pillow and blanket (just added some satin blanket trim around the edges). It was quick! I was in bed shortly after midnight - has to be a Christmas record! The kids slept in until shortly after 8am, and loved their gifts. No one cried because they didn't get what they wanted. It didn't feel like there was too much or too little. And best of all, no plastic toys with the wire twist ties holding them securely to the packaging. (Well, ok, there was one game with those (*&^ ties, but we didn't open it until the day after Christmas). My neighbor, Diane, came over and borrowed our oven as hers went kaput on Christmas eve (right before baking cookies for Santa). It was nice to see her and chat a bit. I relaxed in the bean bag and read a couple of books sent to TJ and I, while Tracy and the kids played outside and built a fire. Everthing felt peaceful. We remembered the people we loved who were struggling with illness or other problems (in fact one of these good friends visited Christmas evening), but it didn't shake that feeling that all was good and right with the world. What a blessing.
Wishing you and your families the same peace, and a blessed new year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Religion and Politics

OK, new territory for me. I am generally not good at political dialogues, but here you go. Politics and Religion - separate and distinct? Or impossible to separate?

So, I'm religiously inclined, Mormon by birth and practice. I've been following Mitt's campaign with some interest. I've heard many comments about how, no matter his qualifications, or his personal morality, people won't vote for him because he is Mormon. In fact, last week he "reinvented" a JFK speech about religion and politics that sounded quite good from the sound bites I caught on the radio. Romney's message was this - he wasn't taking orders from the LDS Church, he would work for the good of the nation as a whole. Yet, some of the media were upset that he didn't delve into Mormon theology. Why would he? He's not running for president of BYU. He's not bidding for apostleship.
Granted, our faith is often misunderstood, and has some fantastic claims and practices. One columnist I read noted that all faiths do. Politics is not the place to lay out your most private and personal ideas about faith and God for public scrutiny. But is it possible to truly separate religion and politics? If so, is it advisable?

Separately but related - the Golden Compass, and the turmoil surrounding the movie release. This book is the first in a trilogy of books written by a self-described athiest. Per my sister, they were first released in the UK as books for adults. They were then given new child-friendly covers and some new titles, and marketed in the US for kids. My sister has read all three books, I have read the first. I've also received many different e-mails warning me that the reading of this book or the viewing of this movie will ultimately corrupt my children, as it is the author's intent to turn children away from a belief in God.

So, in our very free country, is there true freedom of religion? Do we tend to fall for age old thinking that to protect the tender souls of our children we need to aggressively ban anything dissimilar to our own religious ideology? I vote for religious freedom. I am wary of warnings that seem to come without some balance and discussion. Don't vote for Mitt, he's one of those Mormons. Don't read this book, it will corrupt your children.
I guess it's because I don't like people to tell me what or how to think. That is my job - the job of parent, to filter through all the media (books, movies and games, etc.) to find out what is most appropriate for my children. Likewise, it's my job as a citizen to vote for someone who I think is most capable and qualified. Let me do my job. Let me exercise my freedom.

With regard to Mitt, shouldn't the question be more individualized? What does this particular mormon bring to the table? Does he have the integrity and the ability and the appropriate plan for the future? That's where I'd like to see the discussion move.
As to the books/movie - I find the themes are too dark for my taste. My sister loved the books and plans to see the movie, but considers both to be for adults because of the content. But, she's not afraid that her spirituality will be warped upon viewing the movie. She's open to alternative views of religion and spirituality.

So, if you have more e-mails warning me away from Golden Compass, please don't send them. I'm not interested.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas thoughts

It's been a bit blue here today. I'm sure the cloudy, rainy weather may have something to do with it, but for Christmas, it's been a little bit less than cheery. It's been an unusually difficult Autumn among our tight-knit military community. I've already written about the broken arm saga, and the break-ins. I think I've even mentioned our friends' daughter with the aggressive brain tumor. I spoke with her on the phone today, and went by to drop off a basket of lighthearted reading for her boys. Played with Sarah, hairless from the chemo, but walking and talking and doing so well in spite of the horrible tricks her own body is playing. The poor baby can't get a break. There are indications the tumor may be metasticizing. Her parents have been told the prognosis is worse than poor. We have other friends going through severe marital problems; a friend who recently miscarried. Granted, much of this trauma isn't even really ours. Tracy and I love each other and our doing well. Our children have seasonal sniffles but are otherwise healthy and strong. But we feel for our friends. Tracy lost two classmates from Ft. Riley last Christmas Day - killed when their vehicle struck an IED. We wondered how their families might be holding up now, faced with the anniversary of their deaths (coming at what is supposed to be such a joyous time). And on a much less serious note - I've been under the weather too, for about a month now. I'm struggling to recouperate and get appropriate treatment.
So, here we are at Christmas, with all the expectations to make THIS Christmas special - the first one we'll celebrate together since Tracy returned from Iraq. And we are so relieved and grateful. He is home with all his limbs, without the mental anguish of PTSD. The children are doing unbelievably well at school and in their activities. We have wonderful friends and family and are so blessed. But this year it seems like trama and tragedy are walking hand in hand with our gratitude. Is this the way it's supposed to be? Is this what happens once you live so long (and we are getting on in years) - that the beloved holidays serve as reminders of people loved and lost, of the trauma of those who struggle with illness and trials?
I really don't know. Of course, the life of our Savior was no picnic either, not even the circumstances surrounding his birth. Who would better understand our frustration at not being able to get the health care we need than a man whose parents were turned away from every Inn? Who would better understand the pain of our friends struggling in their marriages than a man who was betrayed by his own friend. And who could possibly understand the feelings of those who have lost babies, or spouses, or who are watching their child die - than someone who bled from every pore and gave up His own life for those He loved.
Maybe I'm looking at the whole holiday joy thing backwards. Tracy and I are adults now, and maybe it is not for us to return to the untried, naive wonderment that makes up the joy of Christmases past. I love the passage from Isaiah - Chapter 53: "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and aquainted with grief....Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Maybe the hope we cling to at Christmas time is the healing power of Him whose birth we celebrate. So, this season, I pray that He who has endured all and suffered all will be with us, to heal us all.