We just returned from our Christmas celebration after a 5 hour drive through a relatively torrential December downpour. There were moments of white knuckles and at least two incidences of a second or two of uncontrolled hydroplaning - which was kinda fun - in a one-horse-open-sleigh kinda way.
As in years of recent past, we stayed at the Homewood Suites in New Brighton, Minnesota. It is a pretty nice hotel and their suites have a kitchenette and separate living areas that makes it quite comfortable.
On the evening we arrived, we spent some time with my sister in-law, Jane and her two girls. We always used to stay with them during holiday stays, so our kids grew up together. Part of our evening was spent going through Jane's scrapbooks of a few of our family vacation trips together. Two of the trips were spent with three of us siblings and our families. We saw Colorado, South Dakota and Pennsylvania. It was a blast going back through some of the things we had forgotten about on those trips. Some of the sketchy 3 star motels that were blatantly mis-reviewed and shouldv'e been two stars or less!
Then, last night we continued our tradition of going to Christmas Eve service at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis. The church is majestic and beautiful empty. Fill it with choirs of children, middle schoolers and adults and you have a transcendent experience. As usual I was a mess by the second chorus of Silent Night. So choked up I couldn't sing. It just means so much to me to be able to share that place and that music and that experience with my kids, my sister in-law, her daughters and the spirit of my brother Rob on Christmas Eve. It is one of the high points of every Christmas.
After church we crossed town to Woodbury where we had the gift exchange at my niece's apartment complex party room. It was our first year not at my sister Jane's house, and we were all a little apprehensive about how it would go.
It was perfect!
Santa managed to make an appearance for a bit. We snapped a bunch of family pictures with him and somewhere along the line, my niece's boyfriend managed to propose to her. He got down on one knee and did the surprise thing. It was a cool moment and we all celebrated it with hugs, congratulations and champagne.
After the gift exchange, people started to clear out - always a time of melancholy for me. I am such a sucker for family and I felt we were just getting started and, here it was, time to go. I had some great laughs with Tom, Jane, Mom and Paul as well as my nieces and nephews. For all of the commercialism and hustle and bustle of the season, this is really what it boils down to for me. We could all just get together for food and drinks and we would have just as much fun.
There were a few noticeable missing personalities. My sister Pat and her son Michael are sometimes home, but they are in California with her other kids. Also missing were my sister in-laws parents, Dwight and Carolyn. They are battling through some health issues with Carolyn and weren't up to making the trip. I missed chatting with them and I know they missed us too.
The whole experience is a reminder of how lucky we are to have each other. I feel the love of Christ in each of these relationships. He brought us together as a family and continues to see to it that we come together a couple of times a year to enjoy each other's company. I am blessed beyond measure and wish the same for you and your family.