I think there's always this surreal feeling you get on Christmas Eve...it's like, "How did we get here already?" All this preparation and planning - and the time has finally come to bring it all to culmination. I think there's a bit of "bittersweetness" for me too - and certainly an internal dialogue telling myself, "Enjoy this, Steph - you've waited all year long for this time to come...don't let a moment go by when you are lost in the to-do list vs. just soaking it in".
One way to help make that happen is to go to a movie with the family. There's no, "Let's just get these sheets changed, or dishes loaded" when you are at a movie. Instead, it's "sit back and take it in" time. And, for our family, "CineMode" time- the name of the app you can turn on with Cinemark Theaters that shuts your phone up during movies and then gives you a reward if you've left it that way throughout the movie. That became the running joke during previews as we were telling the boys to go to "CineMode"....those two....they like to give their two cents about what they think of previews out loud.
We watched "Night of the Museum 3". I enjoyed it, more than the 2nd, but less than the first. There were a lot of laugh out loud moments, but it was a bit sad knowing this would be one of the final films we'd see Robin Williams in.
Our church does two afternoon Christmas Eve Services (3/4:30). In the past, we've attended with Mom and Dad and the Whites, but over the last couple of years, we've either been sick, or opted to attend the more formal Christmas Musical program with Mom and Dad and therefore skipped this. It also had a bit to do with who led the family-oriented Christmas Eve service. There was one unfortunate year a while ago in which a family led the program and the teenage son stood in front of the church and basically sneered during the singing. That was kind of a turn-off for us (though it never happened again), however, this year, upon finding out Dave Mertz and (newly engaged to Jacob Jacobson!!!!!) Ali Mertz were leading it, we decided we'd for sure attend. We also begged the Whites to go with us as we were all gung ho with the idea of seeing Whitley sing and dance to Christmas carols that they led us through. They were all about the idea and would have probably have attended anyway without our prompting.
We also had some other extra-special guests. The Natt family joined us! David had a shift to fulfill in his role as a police officer, but the rest of them came as we'd invited them the night before when passing out Neighbor Treats. I'm thrilled they said "Yes" - and ended up feeling like they'd come on a very great afternoon as a lot of special things unfolded throughout the service.
The first was, this. They asked the littler kids to come up on stage. Mikayla was willing to bring Whitley up, but Brayden was a little more reluctant, knowing that age 15 was well beyond the expected age to come up to the stage. However, he did it for Whitley. And, bless his heart - Dave actually acknowledged Brayden as a came up - "Hey 'B'!" "Good to see you!" "Bringing out your Harlow service, huh?!" We all hooted and hollered for him during the shout out. ;)
Whitley had a blast - I'll see what I can do to get more pics/video uploaded, but she totally got into the dancing and clapping up there. SO SWEET! My heart was so full and felt like it was melting into a pool all over just seeing her up there.
Now that I know what the final scene was, it's hard to not see this and know exactly what I'm looking at. But, at the time, it was a total mystery - almost looking like some genie appearing with smoke whisping on top in white. And, that was part of the verbal message from Ben. That through all the trials and struggles of this world, it's not God's love for us or His Master Plan that changes, but our perspective on it all.
And, then, Ben turned the picture over and the image became ABUNDANTLY CLEAR. WOW!!!!! Well done Mary....the two of you make such a powerful team leading our church! I felt like this visual and Ben's message were perfect - exactly what I'd want newcomers to hear regarding the Good News and what our church chooses to focus on.
The final special part of the evening was the opportunity for folks to be baptized. Spontaneously - they made it clear there were towels and dry clothes available so no one would have to go home wet! Between the two services, 26 people stepped forward (many unplanned) to proclaim their commitment publicly to follow Jesus. SO AWESOME!
After such a fun service (extra fun for Whitley - she spent the second half chasing her daddy and Mikayla in the lobby and up the stairs....woo hoo!!!!) - we headed back to our house for our traditional Papa's Pizza and Christmas Eve gift exchange (Part 1) with the Whites. Whitley actually struggled more than our kids in waiting until after the guys got the pizza and we ate to open presents. She kept bringing them to me to ask if they were hers or mine....
Poor Sydney got to put her "Thunder Shirt" on too, because Whitley and I got a little (thoughtlessly) carried away stomping on bubble wrap.
The other "Pre-present-opening" must is the obligatory family photo. Travis was able to make it happen fast this time around and the family did a great job cooperating.
FINALLY! Time to pass these babies out and start opening!!!
Can I just say how much fun it is to have a little one in the house again that is so absolutely swept away in the magic of it all? Don't get me wrong, my kids are still very swept away with opening presents, but there's not the same innocence and awe....
This present was an OSCAR THE OTTER flap book the Brayden gave to her - she LOVED it. Since Brayden is our "otter" and "Oscar" is the name he's always choosing to rename her stuffed animals, it was perfect!
I was surprising her by flipping the big flap open with a flourish - man, I'd missed this little girl in the six days since I'd seen her!
He looks unhappy, but this was something he really wanted - a Michael Jordan "Tune Squad" jersey from the movie "Space Jam". Talk about random! He just didn't want to take the picture.
Mikayla didn't have a problem though - these bunny jammies made her very happy.
And, from Mikayla to Whitley - those little moccasins to her right.
This was also among the Christmas Eve gifts. We gave it a try that night on my hair, and yes, actually, it did work. Strange contraption and I'm not sure if it's any quicker, but the curls stayed so well I didn't have to redo them Christmas morning.
Whitley got a pretend baking set from us which she seemed very pleased with.
Cozy Santa Socks...
They are opening a book I put together for them of the Instagram Pics we'd taken through the year. Whitely wasn't too impressed as I'd already gone through it with her when it had arrived the previous week.
This year will be Mikayla's first year playing LaCrosse - so she was so excited to get this.
Along with the baking set, we got her a picnic set - in which she was very determined to use to make herself a pretend sandwich.
Final pic of the evening - and I can't even remember what inspired that look from Mikayla. ;) Following this, we all parted ways before 8, and believe it or not, our whole family was in bed - with both kids already asleep by 8:30. I'm very thankful for that Christmas Eve tradition - because there's no time on Christmas Day to be sleepy or tired!