Our family loves traditions. Birthday breakfasts with each child on their special day, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and hot chocolate on Thanksgiving evening, a meal at the local Chinese buffet on the last day of school -- big or small (and almost always including food), those family customs, help us celebrate and mark the passing of days and years within our home.
This year of shutdowns and social limitations changed all of that. I'm sure it did for you as well. I tried to recreate the experiences at home and with my own cooking. Although it wasn't quite the same, it did force us to be creative. For instance, our three oldest served us a delicious home-cooked dinner on our back porch bistro for our 15th anniversary and we organized a family "drive-by parade" complete with cardboard vehicles and underage drivers to celebrate my husband's completion of his doctorate. I guess you could say we created new memories in a very odd year.
One of our traditions started with our oldest's first Christmas. We had just moved to a new ministry and a couple from our church blessed us by sharing with us some of the places and experiences offered to us in our new area of the country.* That December they drove us to a city about an hour away to a section of a neighborhood renamed just for the holiday season. Candy Cane Lane is an explosion of twinkling lights, inflatable snowmen, and vintage nativity sets. We loved it and knew we wanted to head back the next year. Slowly, it developed into a non-negotiable tradition of the season. We leave home just as the afternoon sun begins to dim, drive to Panera for soup and bread, and swing by Starbucks for coffee and hot chocolate to enjoy with the lights.
I can scroll through the annual pictures at Candy Cane Lane to see how each child has grown, how our family has grown in number, or how we have added a few extra wrinkles under our eyes from year to year. There have been years especially during pregnancy or after difficult months that our tradition has almost felt like a chore. I was silently grumpy wishing I were home in bed instead of trudging up an icy sidewalk. (Local friends: yes, we get out and walk)
That brings me to last week. It was not Candy Cane Lane week. In fact, we happened to be driving by on our way to another new Christmas experience when I saw the notification on my phone. Our state is essentially shutting down once again. All K-12 sports are paused, gatherings are once again limited to ten people, and all indoor dining has been prohibited.
As a family we began processing what that meant for us. What would be cancelled now? No basketball for our oldest. No Christmas Eve services. More strangeness to end 2020.
From the back seat, our middle son declared, "Oh no! That means no Panera before Candy Cane Lane too!" That was true. We all agreed that eating take-out soup in a mini-van isn't quite the same cozy experience as eating inside. In a quick change of plans, we turned around and included that special stop in our activities for that night.
As we sat next to the warm Panera fireplace on a random Thursday evening, and I watched my kids guzzle down their favorite soup, it hit me. Over the years, I have stressed over creating the perfect tradition experience, yet neglected the people experiencing the tradition. This year has been packed with cancelled plans, strange online event replacements, and plenty of disappointment, yet God has been faithful. He has given our busy family more opportunity for rest and connection than ever before. We have been forced to slow down and enjoy one another without the distraction of "experience." Perhaps this is a lesson that He wanted me to learn before my children are completely grown.
We will still head to Candy Cane Lane at some point this season, and will still get our hot drinks from the drive thru at Starbucks, but I plan to look at the "messed up" tradition with different eyes. The yearly patterns in of our home are not ends in themselves. Traditions are simply tools to be used to mark and then deeply cherish the passing of time and God's faithfulness in our families. I'm sure a few more disappointing or bizarre things will occur before the end of 2020, but I'm clinging to the fact that God promises to continue writing his beautiful story of redemption in our family, our church, and world.
*Side note: I am so thankful that this couple took us under their wing that first year or two here at our ministry. We experienced farm markets, amusement parks, and hunting and eating wild turkey. It made us feel at home more quickly than navigating our own way around our new rural area. If you are currently at a church with a new(ish) pastor, he and his family could benefit from something similar! Just an idea!
A few things before closing out this year:
*This will be my final post for 2020 (there were so many, I know!). I have have been working on a project behind the scenes that should be ready in early 2021. I am praying that it will be a blessing to my local church family as well as any other readers here!
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*Finally, Merry Christmas from our family to yours!