Love In Action: Christmas For An Almost Three Year Old

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?”
Bob Hope

“Christmas, my child, is love in action.”
Dale Evans Rogers

It’s that time of year again. Like clockwork, the tree is up the day after Thanksgiving, since I already completed my Black Friday shopping from the comfort of my couch on Thursday. The candles are in the window, the decorations dispersed. It’s Christmas Time again!

We’ve been a bit slack with Advent this year. While Ellie was super-excited when we pulled out our Adornaments from Family Life from the Christmas box, the season has been too busy, and it’s been hard to remember to sit down and learn and re-learn about what this season is really about. Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that we have like five spare minutes every night between supper, feeding the sometimes-cranky-one, baths, dishes, bedtime…it never ends. But try we do, and learn we do…despite our failures and likely misplaced priorities.

And of course, Ellie has to be involved in everything. The eagerness of children never ceases to amaze me.

She helps make Christmas cookies, helps decorate, helps shop and choose presents, is Queen-of-the-tape as she helps wrap Christmas presents. She sits enthralled as we read through every Adornament and carefully places each representation of who He is on the tree. In every way possible, that eager little child is involved.

But I love that for her, Christmas is not about Santa. It’s not even really about the presents. When she goes to Story Hour and hears about Santa he’s really more of an addition to Christmas than Christmas itself for her. We have chosen not to embrace the tale of Mr. Clause, and as she grows and learns I couldn’t appreciate this decision more.

When Santa was mentioned in a book that we were reading together she said to me “Santa just doesn’t bring people presents, Mommy and Daddy do.” At which point I was able to reinforce that Mommy and Daddy give her presents as we remember that Jesus was the best present anyone ever got, and that we give presents to help us remember and celebrate that Jesus was born into this world for us. Her stocking is already filled, and she has helped fill everyone else’s stocking. And when she asks why we do this, I remind her again…this time of year we give each other gifts to remind us of the best gift of all. With every little adapted tradition we remind her what Christmas is really about. And though she is only almost-three, she really is getting it.

While we were wrapping presents one day, she decided that we needed a present for Jesus. So she went and got some K-cups, created a cardboard container of sorts, and proceeded to wrap them securely with tape.

Lots and lots of tape.

And she put this little gift underneath our Christmas tree.

Talk about melting your heart. That is what Christmas is about right there. Simple gifts, given from a heart filled with much love. And at almost-three she understands.

Because Christmas is not about the lights. It’s not about the tree. It’s not about the presents, or stockings, or decorations. It’s about Jesus, and remembering the love that he showed us; it’s about realizing the gift that He was when he was born on this earth. And the ultimate gift that his life was: forgiveness.

It’s about your almost-three-year-old carrying around the book This Is The Star and showing everyone the picture in the book of baby Jesus. And getting really upset when you tell her that Jesus was born in a sort of barn, and likely surrounded by animals.

And while the lights, trees, presents, stockings and traditions themselves are not ‘bad’, it’s so easy to get lost in the repetition year after year. But you can pull yourself back to reality and use these things to help remind you what Christmas is really about.

Little children have a way of helping us remember the important things in life.

And just like that, there you are. In the middle of Walmart conversing with your child about Jesus, and how much He loves us…amidst all the Christmas trees, elves, Clauses, and ornaments…and it just feels so right. And all the complications and pressures of the yuletide season seem to just fade away. No matter how much it surrounds us, the way the world chooses to remember the birth of our Savior does not need to dictate how we choose to remember; only we can make that choice.

And so my dear children…I hope that you always remember these lessons learned in your childhood. Christmas is not complicated. It actually is quite simple. Christmas is love. Love born to us thousands of years ago. Love that continues to love. Christmas truly is love in action.

It’s Your Turn To Smell the Baby’s Butt: On Parenting and Committment

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“Mothers can forgive anything! Tell me all, and be sure that I will never let you go, though the whole world should turn from you.”
Louisa May Alcott, Jo’s Boys

“No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education.”
Plato

Children. To those who don’t have them they are serene, perfect little faces on a Christmas card or Picture People portrait. And while children might have perfect moment, like us, they really are far from perfect.

And their imperfection allows for some interesting adventures that a mother or father would rather not embark upon.

Yet we do it anyways. We bring our children into the world and raise them through all of its uncertainty and chaos. Here’s a high-five or pat-on-the-back to all the parents who are doing their best to love and teach their children…because really, who has time to raise their glass in any sort of toast, ’cause when you’re holding the baby in one arm there is a good chance that they might grab your glass of wine and try to drink from it themselves. A high-five is definitely the safer route.

And for all of those who do not have children…well, you’re honestly missing out.

Yes, parenting is sure an adventure. Perhaps it is the most exciting, thrilling, exhilarating,important, interesting, terrifying, and fulfilling adventure you may ever embark upon in your lifetime. And what a responsibility parents have! Plato really hit the nail on the head when he references the commitment that parenting is.

It’s being committed to finding which of your children is emitting that awful smell from their body. No, that was definitly NOT a fart. The stench is lingering way too long. So off you go picking up the baby and smelling his cute little bum, ’cause when you are a parent, little bums are cute. It’s not him so you begin to freak out that you potty-trained child might have had an accident..no maybe it was a fart. So you cautiously peak down her backside only to stick your thumb into ACTUAL POOP only to quickly withdraw it and start demanding the march of -oh-my-word-you-just-pooped…anti-biotics-nasty-poop- and-its-all-over-your-butt-get-to-the-bathroom-now up the stairs and to the bathroom where your almost three year old is freaking out because she pooped, not on the toilet, and you STILL have it on your thumb. Yes, parenting is a commitment. It’s being committed to taking care of your children and wiping poop off your potty-trained children’s bums even though you are missing the latest episode of The Voice.

It’s being committed to making sure that everyone gets fed and actually eats. Which often likely appears like a circus to anyone who happens to be watching you. The baby starts off in the highchair…you take a bite of your food, give him a bite, repeat like twenty-five times. At the same time, you are talking to your husband while also bribing your almost three year old to eat her food if she wants any snacks. The baby starts screaming. You put him on your lab while continuing to finish your food, which is now a good foot away from you so that the baby cannot reach it. Hopefully it’s not soup. But somehow that little angel grabs your plate, sticks his fingers into whatever-it-is-you-managed-to-cook and proceeds to splatter it all over him and you. Your other child thinks this is funny and proceeds to imitate the baby and also ends up with food splattered and spread all over her head.

Looks like everyone needs a bath. Yes, being a parent means committing to never eating a normal meal again until, well I’m guessing until those little dears grow up and move out. Of course, then normal might feel abnormal…so will it ever really be normal again?

Being a parent is walking around your house and noticing the stickers that your child loving has placed because she is “decorating”. Or walking into a store with said stickers on your butt because she decided to decorate you, and you don’t notice until you go to bed at night and find them on your pants. Well, I probably made someone at the story laugh anyways.

Being a parent is being committed to watching anything with a somewhat interesting rating or title until at least after 8 PM. And that’s only if bedtime goes as planned. Which never happens. So really it’s like 9 PM, so you only have time for a short show instead of a movie  because you also have to  be in bed and sleeping by ten since your children wake  up all night long and you have to be awake enough tor drive to work in the morning. Oh the sacrifices. At least there is coffee. Unless you’re also breastfeeding and your baby is sensitive to caffeine.

Being a parent is knowing all of the songs that Sofia the First sings. It is also driving down the road without your children and finding yourself singing along to these songs for a good ten minutes before you realize that you don’t have your kids and could be listening to grown-up songs. Eh, who cares…Frozen songs are pretty fun to sing even when your kids aren’t with you.

Commitment to parenting means being peed on, pooped on, a walking-talking tissue for your boogery children, never saying anything that remotely resembles a bad word. It’s getting your kids bathed and dressed and running out of time to do the same for  yourself. It’s reading stories and playing games instead of going out with your friends. It’s never being alone again, or if you are it’s thinking about your kids most of the time you’re not with them; which really is like never being alone. It’s working hard to live as an example. To provide love and support. To forgive them when they need forgiveness. To teach them, guide them, pray for them. Commitment to parenting means doing these things all of the time.

Parenting is hard. Parenting is an ongoing sacrifice. But you’ll never regret it.

Parenting is also sitting back on the couch with your husband and looking…just looking (while also simultaneously listening to MasterChef) at your beautiful children now that everyone is clean an poop free. And they’re really just the most beautiful thing in the world. And they notice you staring at them and just smile at you…and you know they love you.

Parenting is the joy you feel when your oldest wants to pray before you start eating. I’m doing it right…they’re catching on. All the hard work is paying off…in that one simple prayer. “Thank you Jesus for our food, and monkey and blankey. Amen”

Parenting is watching your children splash each other in the tub. And being thankful that you have a tub and clean water to bathe them in.

Parenting is seeing those stickers all over your house and smiling inside because the intent to help “decorate” was so innocent and sweet.

Parenting is looking at your sleeping child and thinking of the day that really isn’t far off when they will be old and too big to really hold in your arms.

Like the book Love You Forever. Now that I have children I finally understand this book. And whenever I read it, even to my students at school, I get tears in my eyes. Those little beings join you in this world and often turn in upside down. You spend so much time cleaning up their messes and working to ensure that they turn into a somewhat normal person. But its also those times that you spend rocking them and holding them, telling them that you’ll love them forever…no matter what. And knowing that someday they might be the ones rocking you, and whispering how much they love you in your ear.

No, you will never regret being a parent.

And so Ellie and Kreade. I want to thank you for being the reason for the greatest and best adventures of my life. And through all of these adventures please remember…I’ll love  you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my babies you’ll be.

A Christmas Letter ~ 2014

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
Isaiah 9:6

What. A. Year.

Really that short description sums up our year. Honestly it doesn’t seem as if the year should already be drawing to a close. I feel as if it has just started…and yet time flies, so they say. At this point, I surely agree. It is amazing just what journeys you embark on in a years time. Each year  you start out full of hope and promise for the “wonderful” year to come…and I’m not saying that you get let down by what the year really turns out to be…but it usually is not how you imagine it. But who can know the plans that the Lord has in store for them?

Certainly not me. In fact, my plans pretty much never turn out in any way that resembles what the Lord has in store for us.

January found us preparing for baby boy…mister K.A. Stenersen. I was working teaching preschool while Ellie spent her days with her aunt and grandmother. Klayton was busily working framing, and I was slammed with taking classes to finish up my bachelor’s degree. Ellie turned two in January and we celebrated with a Minnie Mouse birthday; pink and purple tutu and all. And while things were going along quite well throughout the remainder of the winter and into the spring I cannot say that our lives were fully experiencing the plans the Lord has for us or the peace that He brings. Klayton really did not want to be working in construction, but reality deemed otherwise and left this as the only choice. I was tired of being pregnant…having contractions for nearly two months with no getting anywhere basically has ruined the small bit of the enjoyment-of-being-pregnant that I had. Probably the only one who was experiencing the Lord’s plan and living in His peace was Ellie…but she is two so what else would you really expect?

But some things take time. Even the Lord’s plans.

Finally, a week past my due date we discovered that I had been leaking fluid and I was induced…at 6 o’clock on Monday…right before April 1st. Great. Looks like this baby is going to be an April Fool’s day baby, much to mamma’s displeasure. Sure enough on April 1, 2014 Kreade Aksel Stenersen was born into this world.

And every semblance of peace was sucked from our lives.

The irony is, Kreade’s middle name , Aksel, means ‘the father is peace’ in Hebrew.

It has been an interesting, long, stressful, depressing, full-of-crying eight months. Right from the beginning Kreade was a challenge. He vomited TONS, which resulted in changes of clothes for him, me, and cleaning for the couch and floor surrounding us. A 7 pound baby shouldn’t vomit THAT much. He lost a pound in the first week and wasn’t gaining very well. There were concerns about his stomach because of the not gaining and vomiting. And still he cried. All. The. Time. At one of his doctor appointments our doctor asked Ellie what she thought about her baby brother, her reply: “him just cries.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. Her coping method was to loudly start singing “Let It Go” or “Thrive” whenever his cries turned to screams, which was pretty much all the time. Sometimes I just cried along with him. We spent  most of the summer rocking on the porch, or around the house or yard bouncing and shushing baby brother. It is hard to form an attachment to a baby that cries all of the time. He would hardly let Klayton, never mind any one else, hold him.

This was certainly not the baby that I had planned. But God’s plans are not mine…so we lived on.

My sister was married in the end of May and Ellie was quite an adorable flower girl in her white and burlap tutu dress. Although she never made it up the aisle and Klayton missed the ceremony because we was walking around trying to calm two crying children. Ellie recovered enough to enjoy the reception and take some beautiful pictures!

Amidst the cries and screams we somehow communicated enough to allow us the opportunity to purchase a camper trailer…only a week after Klayton was able to buy a truck!

Ok, so I guess some of God’s plans are the same as mine. There is no other way that this plan worked out except from the will of God as the camper was quite a deal. And though Kreade still insisted on being held and sushed by only me, he loves to be outside, so we spent many wonderful weekends camping. My mom and sisters were even able to join us in Maine for our 4th of July trip! Ellie fell in love with camping, as we knew she would since she loved tenting last year. At night she would pray “thank you for our camper, and ours truck, and Pa and Nina’s camper and Pa and Nina’s truck, and ‘Turk and Heidi’s camper and Jax’s truck”… It was great to be able to go camping with family and cousins and friends.

As August wore on and came to a close our world was filled with anything but peace. Klayton was without a non-construction job and I was going back to work and Kreade still wasn’t taking a bottle. Again, Ellie was the only one that seemed to be doing half-way good.

But some things take time. Even the Lord’s plans.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. And just like that His plan’s come together. Days before I went back to work Klayton found a job that offered basically everything that we were looking for. And less than five minutes away from home at that! Kreade started taking a bottle and we found a babysitter that is really good with him and his needs. Kreade began improving…and slowly the tears and screaming subsided. He even began to allow other people to hold him. And finally we all started to form an attached relationship with him. It wasn’t until he was about 6 and 1/2 months old that he seemed to turn into a “normal” baby and spent more time smiling and being happyish rather than crying. He no longer vomits or spits up, and his horrifically loud burps have diminished. I guess it just took a while for his poor little digestive system to fully develop. I look back at those colick filled months and wonder how we ever survived.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger; In all our trials born to be our friend. He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. Kreade was definitely not the baby that any of us wanted or imagined, but we loved him nonetheless. And through those colick filled times he was there giving us just what we needed in order to get through.

Yes, it was a long summer. Filled with uncertainty and desire for things to be different. But our plans are not the Lord’s. And sometimes you have to experience not-so-fun things in order to be ready to accept the plans that He has for you. Though I would rather that Klayton found a job before summer and Kreade stop crying before he was nearly 7 months old I definitely learned a lot through those times.

Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Love is holding a crying baby even though he keeps crying. Or the four of us walking up and down the road a hundred times because it makes the crying baby stop crying. Love is singing songs to try to drown out the cries, or shaking the car seat as you’re driving down the road to try and prevent the baby from crying. It’s packing the camper in the thirty minutes that the baby actually sleeps and toting around 15 pounds in a front pack while lifting a two year old onto the uneven bars at open gym.

But the key here isn’t the love that filled our year, it’s the peace. Because amidst the circumstances that were anything but peaceful I can truly say that our hearts were at peace.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever, His power and glory evermore proclaim. 

So this year many things took place. Kreade was born…Ellie was potty-trained…we had several trips to the doctor for UTI’s and ear infections…Ellie took part in the end-of-year gymnastics show…Klayton got a truck…we all got a camper…Klayton got a great job…I went back to work…Kreade started taking a bottle…Ellie moved up to the preschool gymnastics class…I completed my bachelor’s degree in psychology…we almost sold our house…we had fantastic camping trips…Kreade stopped crying all the time… And though this year was filled to the brim with events and circumstances the thing that is most obvious to me is the peace.

Because even though the world around you is chaotic and stressful, there is One who can fill your heart with peace.

“…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

This year, we pray that you feel the peace that only He provides and join us as we praise His name forevermore.

In His Love,

Klayton, Alicia, Azrielle, & Kreade