Saturday, January 01, 2005

Christmas 1999

Again the Yuletide season has arrived. The sparkling red and green candles are back on the family kitchen table. The scent of the fresh pine tree again fills the living room. Small white lights sparkle throughout the house. Christmas carols (sung with great singers’ license) create cheerful noise. And although every year holds anticipation and excitement during this time, I’d like to think that this year is extra special. We are celebrating two thousand years of Jesus. Two thousand years of God’s faithfulness. Two thousand years since the glorious and miraculous day when the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Two thousand years that have seen tremendous change, but have left unchanged the majesty of this Jesus. With the significance of these two thousand years a moment of reflection has arrived. A reflection concerning life, life’s purposes, goals, and dreams. Wherever this contemplation may lead, it brings me once more to consider the special aspects of family life in this past year.

Nineteen ninety-nine has been a year of change for me. I have begun to experience “the world”. My thoughts and beliefs have been challenged at the local community college; things of seemingly trivial importance have become issues for fascinating arguments. With my attention diverted toward the art of study and all that it entails, in the moments I spend with my family I’ve noticed things that I never saw before. I have a new appreciation for the innocence of childhood that I observe daily at home, combined with the joy, fun, and laughter of youthful life on the farm. To these treasured observations I turn to celebrate the miracle of life and family.

Bentley Farm has been termed by my mom, “kids’ paradise”. My family members just about live in the fields, pastures, and barns of this place. Why? Isaac would answer that, “Work needs to be done.” Good reason. But this work does not end. Nathaniel and Henry (our friend, “the farmer”) will just finish fixing the horse fence, and Dad, Isaac and Luke the oxen fence, when the heifers will decide that their fence needs attention and break out of their confinement. Or, three acres of hay will be raked and the weather man predicts rain, so everything else is dropped (i.e. sleep and food) and ten members of the Angell family are riding around the hot hay wagon keeping up family spirit chanting, “Families that mow together, grow together, Rake together, stake together, Hay together, stay together, Bentley Farm is our tether! Rah, Rah!”. Or, and animal will decide to get sick and Biology 101 arrives in the back field with Dr. Achan, surrounded by a host of Angells, helping the distressed bovine.

When the animals are so generous as to stay healthy and in the fence there is still much to be accomplished. The oxen need to be “worked” daily. If you saw this you might not consider it work, for Isaac and all participants are definitely having fun. A big black tire is rigged up to the oxen to hold kids from all various angels, and by choice o f the day Isaac is either riding on his oxen or standing next to them yelling, “Gee!, Haw!”. Caleb who is insistent on asserting that “me a farm boy”, trails behind every farm activity that he is allowed. My sweet sisters, Rebecca and Hannah, are faithful helpers to their brothers. They load and carry buckets of grain, run errands for all the necessary farm equipment, and provide an atmosphere of happiness with their giggles. Jacob’s mischievous smile and extremely inquisitive nature add a vibrant dynamic to any activity.

After the cow has been milked and the daily farm chores are completed, there are projects. Luke has succeeded in recruiting willing workers (the best of which is the family’s young friend, Patrick) to pour cement, hammer boards, and place windows in an old building so that he can have a place to put his long awaited chickens. Then there is the neighbor’s shed that needs to built and the firewood that has to be hauled in from somewhere in the woods. But when the work of the farm is done (or sometimes not done) there is always time for some more fun.

My brothers and sisters are very concerned that life be “old-fashioned”. Thus, much recreation is spent in the great outdoors. Sledding down the farm hills is a thrilling pastime. The more family members on one Flexible Flyer, the faster and scarier the ride. So it is with bicycling. The more kids that can fit on one bike, the better. It doesn’t have quite the same speed effect as piling onto the Flexible Flyer but it makes for a cozy ride; we have succeeded in getting six children on one tandem bicycle. Intense rounds of Pictionary (that illustrate the extent of our artistic ability) occur on various evenings as a fun family pressure cooker. Evenings out at weekly programs in a local Christian youth program are also a cause of excitement for many of us.

Our family does do school, in case in you wonder is we had time for “education”. But when the house is your school everything kinds of blends together. School time is an interesting part of the day because one teacher (dear Mom) for five school aged kids from Isaac to Jacob and two pre-school kids (Rebecca and Caleb) never seems like enough. But that is all right because we have some real student teachers who help their younger siblings with their school work.

The most treasured thing about our life together as a family is not the activities that we engage in but the relationships that we have with each other. These are strengthened in one-one times – such as 5:30 am walks with Mom, duo-sibling laundry sorting sessions, or toy tractor parking contests. But perhaps most important is the time we share as a family, all ten of us, every morning and evening. This time is spent singing together, praying with each other, reading aloud classic (and sometimes not so classic) literary works, and meditating on the Scriptures. One prayer that Caleb offered in his two-year old language during this time was particularly insightful into the young mind, “Dada go to work, Rara go to college, Mama go to party.”

In reality, while Mom does enjoy evenings out with friends, she more often is at home cooking, cleaning and going above and beyond the call of duty teaching and loving her children. Her “hats” are numerous beyond counting, but is just about sums it up to say that she is truly everything a mom can be to her family. When Dad is not practicing law, he is often at the farm working on various projects with my siblings. When he is at home he likes to play music with the children and ruff-house with my siblings, transforming the home front momentarily into a zoo. He often takes breaks from his work, chores and kids to be with his best friend, Mom. He took a special retreat this summer with her to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary.

These reflections of the joy and happiness of family life I share in remembrance of the amazing glory that the Bethlehem babe brought into this world two millennia ago. May hour heart too, be filled with this joy, so that together we can sing with the angels of long ago, “Glory to God!”

Merry Christmas, Sarah E. Angell