Christmas 2011: A Year in Review

Despite my best intentions, Christmas cards did NOT make it in the mail this year. For the record, I also did not manage to bake a single batch of Christmas cookies. Which is why it’s a good thing that there are TWELVE days of Christmas. But I digress.

This year has been a year unlike any other. It all started, appropriately enough, last Christmas, when in an unguarded moment, brought on by tremendous career and family upheaval, Craig turned to me and said, “If you find a job you like, we’ll move.”

I didn’t need to be told twice. (I’ll spare you the details, except to say that as far as I’m concerned, “family business” is an oxymoron.) In fact, I had already been looking locally, and had applied to a number of church jobs for which I was reasonably qualified. The highlight was showing up for one interview, only to be told, “We knew we weren’t going to hire you – but we just had to meet you after reading your resume.”

Have you ever been in a place where you were desperately seeking God’s will for your life, and nothing – nothing at all – was happening? I knew God had heard my prayers for deliverance; I also knew he had a plan for our lives, and that he understood the stress my husband was under.  I knew all these things . . . and yet, it grew harder and harder to trust as one job interview after another resulted in . . . nothing. After six months, including a few tenuous inquiries at a couple of publishing houses in the area, I was still jobless. “What does God WANT from me?” I asked my pastor, who had been praying for me as well. “I know exactly what you mean, Heidi,” he replied. “I often feel that way myself.”

Then, as if on cue, God threw our lives into hyperdrive. One day a friend mentioned to me that Ascension Press was looking for an editorial director. And next thing I knew, I had a job offer. Ten days later, I packed my car and moved to West Chester, PA. Within weeks, the kids and dog had joined me (Craig, it was decided, needed to stay until Christmas to give his work adequate time to transition to the new IT guy). Also with us was Andrew, the kids’ favorite sitter, who at nineteen was ready for an adventure away from home. (The kids alternately refer to him as “our new brother” and “the manny.” Andrew is an aspiring chef who spends his days while the kids are at school riding the train and checking out local eating establishments, and his nights dreaming up new taste treats for us.) This job has been such a great fit for me; I tell people I won the “job lottery.” In reality, it was simply a matter of waiting patiently for God to orchestrate all the details in his perfect time.

Of course, a few pieces still need to fall into place. We are still in something of a holding pattern, thanks to Craig’s boss, who convinced Craig it was his duty to stay on until they were good and ready to let him go. As I’m sure you can imagine, this has been hard on the kids (hasn’t done great things for our marriage, either). But I’ve come to realize that sometimes love means taking a step back, finding one’s own center, and letting the other person work things out for himself. (Or herself.) I also understand, for the first time in my life, why some seemingly successful marriages appear to suddenly unravel at the seams.  Finally, I’ve come to understand that marriage can be a lot like a warm woolen security blanket: Sometimes all you can do is hold on, and pray for the storm to pass. As the skies grow darker and the wind blows stronger, you keep holding, knowing that if you grope with both hands, the wind may soon carry it way.

I am grateful beyond words for all the people who have extended themselves for us this year: my parents, who have made several visits from Georgia just to make sure we got packed and settled, as well as friends in Michigan (especially the Phelps, Hook, and Tucker families and good friends Denise and Lilian) and here in PA (especially my new coworkers) who have reached out to us again and again. On our last weekend in Michigan, we had a little barbecue at a local park, with close to 50 people in attendance. As I looked over all their faces, I was so thankful for the wonderful people God had brought into our lives over the past eighteen years. It was hard to think of starting over . . . especially for Christopher and Sarah, who were leaving behind not only good friends but a brother and sister as well. Even so, we knew God was leading us to a new adventure. And that one day, we would get to enjoy it together.

In the meantime, we have settled in for the long haul. Christopher, 11, is in middle school this year, and for the first time ever is on the honor roll. His science project this year will be to prove which brand of deodorant is most flammable. (His idea, not mine.) He will be confirmed at our new parish, St. Joseph Parish in Downingtown, on March 1, 2012. His new passion this year is Beyblades. He misses his friends, but has picked up a couple of good friends here and was recently asked to his first dance (yikes).

Sarah, 9 going on 16, is in fourth grade. She and I went to see her friend Grace perform in the “Nutcracker 1776” at her friend’s school. I think we need to get Sarah back in a tutu. She continues to love to draw and change her clothes a dozen times a day. I suspect she has a future in fashion design.

This year Craig and the kids spent 10 days over Christmas break in West Palm Beach with Craig’s parents (I didn’t have vacation time, but I flew down for the weekend). Craig’s dad has stage-four lung cancer (he’s a non-smoker), so we wanted to make a few more memories with and for Craig’s parents. We then spent Christmas weekend with my parents in Georgia, who opened their home to three out of four daughters and their families for the holiday. We decorated gingerbread houses, tried to stay out of the way of the four dogs, and had a lovely time. Craig and I are home now, and he will be with us until January 7. My Christmas wish is that this time next year, the transition to our new life here will be complete.

Wishing you and yours the brightest and best of Christmas blessings this year.

When a Soldier Comes Home for Christmas: A Mother’s Confession

This week the “Mebane Enterprise” posted a touching article about my nephew, Ryan Redner, who with his wife and daughter Bella (whom he adopted when he married her mom) made a surprise visit to my sister’s home this year for Christmas. You can read the article here.

On the second page, my sister wrote a special “Letter to the Editor,” which she gave me permission to adapt here.

There’s a commercial on the air right now for a certain brand of coffee. A young man comes home for Christmas where he is greeted by his anxiously awaiting sister. He hands her a gift, and she takes the bow off and plants it on his chest with a quiet declaration: “You’re my present this year.” It makes me cry. Every single time.

This is the time of year that my husband asks what I want for Christmas. As in years past, his look implores me to give him a specific list of easily identifiable objects that one might obtain from any reasonably stocked store within the first ten feet of the entrance. And as in years past, I tell him I don’t want anything — and he shorts, “Yeah, right.”

What my husband doesn’t know is that this year I mean it. Nothing could possibly compare with what is already headed my way: Our son Ryan along with his wife Misty and daughter Bella. If my husband knew that they were coming, he’d feel just the way I do. But you see … he doesn’t know yet. Ryan’s arrival is a closely guarded surprise. Which makes my Christmas just a little more magical.

The calendar says it’s December 20, but I’ve been celebrating Christmas for weeks already, ever since I heard the magic words, “Yeah, we’re coming home. But only for a few days.” A few days? Santa’s reindeer never flew so high as the cloud I was on after hearing the news. Baking, cleaning, decorating . . . Christmas was in full throttle with the help of our daughter, Holly.

A seasoned military friend cautioned me against getting too excited. He knows that in the military, plans can fall apart at the last minute. They have before. As always, his caution falls on deaf ears. My boy is coming home, and it’s time to celebrate.

It’s been nearly a year since we’ve seen our son. When Ryan frst announced his intention to join the Army, I was torn between apprehension, pride, and a sense of loss. My baby had grown up. I learned rather quickly that this was the permanent state of emotion for an Army mom. While recruits are given basic training, there is no such luxury for Army moms. Once they deploy, you breathe in and out and go about your day. You stop watching the news and avoid some movies altogether.

Holidays and birthdays? You just get through them, somehow. You send packages. You wait. When they return from deployment, you wait some more. Particularly if your soldier is also a husband and father. Army moms take a back seat to Army wives, as they should. But that doesn’t mean we like it.

Ryan completed his first tour of Iraq in November 2009, and arrived back at Fort Hood the day before Thanksgiving this past year. Sergeatn Redner faces his second deployment to Iraq sometime between January 31 and February 9, 2011.

And although I know there are long days of waiting ahead, for us in North Carolina and for his wife and young daughter in Texas, I also know this Christmas is one I’ll never forget. For a few precious days, Sergeant Redner will be simply “Ryan” again, and I will just be “Mom.” I plan to spend a lot of time freezing his crooked grin in my memory, taking in the sound of my granddaughter’s giggles, and spend time reacquainting myself with my extraordinary daughter-in-law.

Ryan, you all are my present this year, and you’re more than I could ever ask for. And I’ll bet, for once, your Daddy will agree that I’m right.

Now that you’ve read this, I hope you will join me in a prayer for peace. May God grant that the war will come to a timely end!

“‘Tis the Season of Christmas”

A couple of years ago I was asked to write something for St. Andrew’s upcoming post-Christmas pageant, a fundraiser that benefits the St. Louis Boy’s Center. In writing up this little ditty, I came across a number of intriguing customs and details about Christmas around the world that I wanted to share with you today . . . While my family and I enjoy one more day on the beach in West Palm Beach!



‘Tis the season of Christmas,

And since the Word became Man,

Every nation and culture

Has told the story most grand.


Posadas[i] and crèches and szopkes[ii] abound,

And carolers make music[iii], heard all the world ‘round.

In Ghana[iv] and Holland[v], Belize and Brazil[vi]

All gather together with joy and good will.


In the islands[vii], the most festive carols are played

With singers and dancers in bright masquerade.

In Egyptian legend, a large cherry tree[viii]

Bent low to feed the dear Lord’s family.


In England[ix], the “Holly” and “Ivy” entwine[x]

As they worship the wonderful Child divine.[xi]

In Russia, a miserly old woman[xii] brings

To children the gifts[xiii] she kept from the Three Kings[xiv]!


Near the City of David, a star from the east[xv]

Still beckons to you, both the greatest and least[xvi].

In China, paper lanterns all beckon and gleam,[xvii]

In Japan, feast on cakes with strawberries and cream.


Down under, Australia spells joy “barbecue”

As Saint Nick comes riding a large kangaroo.[xviii]

And here in the States, land of plenty and more,

We stop from our labors, bow down, and adore.[xix]


The angels[xx], ethereal; the shepherds[xxi], so lowly.

The Mother, so gentle; the Infant, so holy.

And as ornate Wise Men in tribute bend down,[xxii]

“O Come, All Ye Faithful,” to Bethlehem Town!


Copyright 2008 by Heidi Hess Saxton

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