Happy New Year from the ranch where we spent the holidays trying to keep our house and our spirits warm against the chilling sub-zero temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, Hettinger, North Dakota, a small town on our southwestern boarder, reached -45 degrees — and it may have been the coldest recorded temperature on Earth that day.
The coldest recorded temperature on Earth, right in my home state. I’m not sure that’s a record anyone wants, but here we are.
And here we are on the other side of the holidays and one whole month into being parents of two kids.
And this morning we’re back to the real world after spending the holidays together, keeping up the traditions of pancakes and church on Christmas Eve, and presents and prime rib on Christmas morning at the ranch despite the fact that my parents were spending their holiday in a hospital hundreds of miles away.
Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I know. Now I know what that feels like, a lesson I’ve taken from all of the hard times we’ve endured as a family along the way, suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in the story. And that compassion, I’m coming to realize, can be the gift we take from the hard stuff.
Just a few minutes ago I got off the phone with my little sister who took the trip to see mom and dad in Minneapolis. In a miraculous gift to us, dad was released from ICU before Christmas and after a pivotal procedure, is showing some signs of coming out on the other side of this thing. So we could breathe a sigh of relief and truly smile and laugh as we watched our kids take in the magic of the season.
After lukewarm feelings about present unwrapping at my in-law’s the weekend before, Edie woke up looking and acting like the epitome of a kid on Christmas morning.
My little sister’s husband was working over the holiday, so she spent the night at our house with her baby daughter and we got to sip mimosa, eat caramel rolls and sit on the living room floor helping them unwrap gifts. It was everything we needed and watching Edie snuggle her new sister and help her younger cousin was everything magic can be to adults who sometimes forget that it exists.
My older sister and nephew joined us later and we spent the rest of the day making appetizers, watching the kids play with their new toys and trying not to screw up Christmas dinner, which we did, sort of, but I blame it on my husband’s newfound obsession with his Traeger grill. But it didn’t matter really and it was sort of fitting that supper was just slightly off, a reflection of how we felt about the quiet day spent being grateful and worried and hunkered down and hopeful in the face of a new year.
That you can’t predict it is the greatest gift and torment this life hands us. I look at my new daughter’s face this morning and there are no truer words to describe what I’m feeling about life, on January 2nd, stepping over into what we all refer to as a fresh start.
I’m not so sure about that. Even with this new life in my arms, I don’t feel fresh. To feel fresh I think I’d have to feel less worn. But I’m not sure I want to feel any other way right now. The sleeplessness means I have a new baby, a second child, one I could never even bring myself to imagine…and a toddler with a plugged nose and a newfound refusal to sleep whose existence changed everything. And this worry I carry for the wellbeing of my parents means they’re still here with us for another day, and God willing, another new year.
And so I’ll take it. I’ll take what I know to be true for now and be grateful that this year, as each year before, has made me braver, and stronger instead of scared and hard.
Bravery and compassion. Let that be my gift for the years to come.
Coming Home: Finding compassion is the gift given to us in hard times
Published December 24, 2017
Christmas is here. The weatherman on the news this morning is warning us of the impending winter storm, the kind that will blow cold arctic air in from Canada and give us a gift of a white and freezing holiday.
My husband will come home from work tonight after the sun has set and make little tweaks to the tractors and pickups, making sure they’re ready to feed the cattle and plow through the snow banks for the rest of the season. Typically he and Dad would be making plans together to prepare for the snow, but Dad has the bigger task before him of fighting for his life in an ICU in Minneapolis.
And I can’t help but think this holiday, as I wrap presents and struggle to form Santa cookies from the store bought, refrigerated dough so that Edie can slowly and meticulously place an entire bottle of sprinkles on one cookie, what a charmed life we’ve been living here.
The holidays, especially Christmas, can be a hard time for so many people. It was for us for many years before the babies came, because it was a small reminder of the absence of the thing we wanted most. But we were the lucky ones, always grateful for our family and that, because we live so close, we were usually able to be together.
This year my parents will be spending Christmas in a hospital in another state and we will be here at the ranch with their grandchildren celebrating and missing them. It’s a reality that reminds me of the hard things in our lives that we’ve lived through — job losses, baby losses, career fails, health scares and near misses — that have set me back on my heels, forced me to catch my breath and had me declaring out loud, “So that’s what it feels like.”
It’s a simple phrase, but one that is meaningful to me, especially in the toughest of moments. But I declare it. I say it out loud and with intention because it reminds me that through the hardest struggles, if I can find no meaning, no rhyme or reason for the pain, at least the experience will foster in me a newfound compassion for others who have or may find themselves suffering the same fate.
Up until this point in our lives I couldn’t imagine what it might feel like to spend Christmas with my family anywhere but together, safe and sound. Now I’m suddenly so aware that, sadly, we’re not alone in that sort of story.
And I don’t know what to do with that awareness except to show gratitude for the moments we’re given and for a supportive and loving community that has been there for us in numerous ways.
And I can pass on the generosity and compassion in ways that might help families in similar situations, because now we know what to do.
Now we know what it feels like.