For 34 years I woke up on Christmas morning, shuffled to the living room and plopped down in a sea of presents and warmth and lots of family love. No matter how far away my current place in life may have had me living I always seemed to make it home… for 34 years.
Each year was unique in its own. Some years my dad read the Christmas story straight from the gospels. Some years we had cinnamon rolls in the oven, others it was a breakfast casserole. Some years my mom had a camcorder on her shoulder (one of those super-duper heavy ones that recorded on a full sized VHS that I have no idea where they might be now-a-days.) Some years the presents were big and flashy, others they were small and heartfelt and some years they came in the form of cards that let us know a donation was made in our name. For probably 15 years straight I would get a new Precious Moment's figurine (which was not so much fun as a kid but are probably worth a good bit of money now-a-days). And for the last 10 or so years, as us kids have moved on up there in age, our presents have turned from plastic toys and figurines to paper money where my mom and dad orchestrate elaborate hunts around the house to find our "prize". (This literally happened up until last year.) Some years the tree would be in the living room, other years in the family room, and others, when we up and moved down the street, a completely different house all together. And while the details of the scene may have been different year after year there were few things that never changed. Up until this year that is.
For the first time in 34 years I would sit in a living room on Christmas morning without my dad.
When I stood at my dad's graveside back in May, holding a paper with scribbled notes in my trembling fingers I told a story of how the Lord orchestrated a journey over the past few years preparing us in His ever so mysterious and perfect way for just this moment. He brought me back home just four years earlier (which was not part of my plan) because He knew I'd look back and cherish that time I was blessed to draw closer to my dad in a way I never had been before. And He grew our family by three in the matter of an 1/2 hour long lakeside wedding ceremony of my brothers back in the fall of 2012 because He knew we'd need the extra strength to hold us up. And he brought my precious nephew into this world the following summer because He knew we'd need to be reminded of "the goodness of the Lord" in a child's laughter. As I sat back down in the row of graveside folding chairs, fingers still trembling, my brother's 10 year old stepson beside me looked over and grabbed my hand.
From that day forward I can honestly say that my family has grown closer than I think we ever have been before. There is something about the dark, uncharted territory of grieving that draws you close to those beside you on the path out of sheer necessity I suppose. And as holidays and birthdays and the 29th of each month begins its approach we all seem to take a short, tight breath in unison in an effort to someway dull the pain. So after 34 Christmases sitting in my hometown living room on the morning December 25th we decided it was time for a change.
My family opted for a change of scenery all together and we booked a trip to snowy Colorado for the holidays. It was filled with skiing and snowmobiling and two-horse open sleigh rides and hot cider and fireside games of Uno and delicious food and lazy mornings and breathtaking views and lots and lots of snow. On this 35th Christmas morning I woke up, shuffled to the living room of our condo to join my family, exchanged a few small gifts around a tree and headed outside to capture some family photos in the Colorado gloriousness. I mean, you all know it wasn't quite as easy as that. There was a 2 1/2 hour long process of picking out and coordinating outfits (out of what we all packed in our 1 suitcase for the week), a frenzy of primping and hair teasing and baby chasing all while try to muffle the sighs of "some of us" that would have rather been skiing. Yes, even for a photographer herself a family photo session is challenging... Especially for a photographer. :) But in the end we all knew that ultimately capturing this little slice of a moment in time with family was oh-so-important because if we learned anything from 2014 is that things can change in the blink of an eye… and they'll never be the same again.
I miss my dad being in these pictures more than words can explain but I am so thankful for this family that God has given me on this planet right here, right now and that these are the folks I get to walk through this uncharted territory alongside. Merry Christmas, y'all!
If you happen to follow me on Instagram you may know of my journey to setting up this family photo shoot, which involved the exciting hunt for the perfect Colorado photographer, finding not one, not two, but three potentials and having them all be heading out of town for the holidays. Bummer. So I researched and bought myself a remote control shutter release for my camera (like this one here) and captured the above photo and a few below, before I handed off my camera to a willing family member. Win!
Even though the rest of the family began to freeze over and opted to head back the warmth of the condo and ski coats my lovely 13 year old niece decided to humor me a bit more and snap some creekside photos. I already knew that she was a lovely model but when I handed the camera over to her for some rarely ever seen portraits of yours-truly I discovered that she was quite the talented photographer herself. I think I have a photo assistant in the making. Thanks, Lexi!