Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas traditions- Rylands style!

I have always been a fan of Christmas. 
I can't say that it's my favorite holiday, as that honor is reserved for Easter, but it is a close second.
The reasons may be obvious to some, but the older I get, the more I realize that there is no meaning, no purpose, no value to anything in this life without the coming, living, and dying of the Savior. 
So, while these two "religious" holidays have always been enjoyable to me, even as a child, they are now treasures that I want to cherish and share with my children.
I personally believe that "tradition" is important.  In most all contexts, especially family.  It is one of the things that makes "family" unique to other social settings or living arrangements.
With each passing month that our sons, Colin and Cameron, are in our home, I learn more and more how significant "traditions" can be.
Our boys brought with them Chinese traditions and I have tried to educate myself on those traditions, holidays and habits so that I can discern which ones can/should become a part of our family story here in the states.
This helps me to connect with the boys in some small way that makes up for, as much as we ever can, missing all those years of their lives.  It also, I believe, allows them to reconcile their previous "identity" with their new one as a Rylands, a son and brother. 
How often do we wrestle with our previous identity and attempt to reconcile it with (for those who are followers of Christ) our new identity in Him?  I sympathize a bit with my boys just realizing how challenging it can be when I have one foot in this world and another in the world to come.  Do you ever have those days when you forget where you truly belong and feel as if you don't know who you really are? 
In God's loving kindness, He gifted to each of us the Holy Spirit to guide and comfort us and to redirect us back to the Cross where our true identity is found.
For our adopted children, we celebrate that which is good from both cultures and begin to forge new traditions that are ones they can identify within their family. 
Not all of these efforts are monumental or particularly genius, but rather little things that continue to engrave their presence as Rylands into the fabric of our family. 
So we start with the Christmas tree.
Spending time together decorating the tree, talking about those ornaments that carry some special significance, sharing old family stories so that they will become part of the tapestry our older sons will one day reflect upon.

Cameron said this was his favorite ornament!
We made sure that while many of our ornaments are remembrances from Tommy's early years,
that Colin, Cameron and now Connor and Cooper have a personal presence on the tree too.


Another Rylands family "tradition", added only 2 years ago, is the reading of an advent story each night during our regular devotion time. 
We light the advent candles for each week that approches Christmas and listen while Tom, a naturally gifted orator, reads the story to us with the inevitable cliff hanger each night.
This year has been especially nice since both boys can now understand the lion's share of what's being said, unlike last year.
Colin has gotten into the habit of squeezing in behind Tom's reading chair to get close and see the pages as he reads.
Cameron likes to sprawl down on the carpet in front of the tree

and Tommy snuggles up into the recliner with Mom.
This nightly reading is a time that all of us look forward to in this season of advent.  A time to listen to the adventures of those in our storybook and how they demonstrate the excitement of our old testament ancestors as they waited for the coming of the Messiah.
Each night after the reading is done, the boys take turns blowing out the candles and off to bed they go.
Today, I was able to add yet another piece to the Christmas puzzle as we start to integrate our sons, old and new, into the tapestry of Christmas.
One night, as I wondered aimlessly through the pages of pinterest, I found the prettiest Christmas stockings. 
It got me thinking how much I would love to have new, matching stockings for all the boys.
Clearly, this was not a need. 
It was definitely a want.
  And, more than likely, only a want of mine, as I do live in a house full of boys, afterall!
Be that as it may, I daydreamed about having these beautiful Christmas stockings hung by the fireplace signifying that each one of our five boys "belonged" with us and had a special place.
Despite the fact that we are still fundraising and are so very far from our goal, and knowing that I could not even think of splurging on something so frivilous at this time, I asked some folks where they get their stockings, just to see what was out there and maybe hoping that some crazy amazing deal was lurking around the corner that would make this justifiable.
 (Yeah, I know YOU'VE never done that!)
Well, once again, God demonstrated that He cares about the desires of our hearts and even those things that are truly just "wants". 
Not long after I posted about Christmas stockings, an old friend from out of state, a second mama, once upon a time, offers to sew some stockings for my boys!
I was thrilled!  She even took the picture I had, the one from pinterest, and set out making these matching stockings for my clan, as a gift, no less!
It is always amazing to see God provide for our needs, but somedays, it is just so cool when he provides for those things that we don't need, those things that just make us happy!
But, our stocking story doesn't end there, oh no!
Realizing that we were going to get these cool stockings at no cost, I thought to myself...
Self?  Maybe, you could afford to get them embroidered with each boys' name?
Knowing a great friend of mine who does embroidery, I asked her if this was something she had the time to take on so close to Christmas.
Not only did she say yes, but once again, she offered this as a GIFT! 
My Christmas daydream of new stockings for the boys was actually going to materialize and without spending a dime!
This morning at church I finally got to see the finished product!  To say that I was pleased was a total understatement!

Not only did she get the boys' names on them, but their birth province too!
Just look at these!  They are so great looking!
Colin, born in Liaoning Province

Connor, born in Chongqing Province

Cameron, born in Hubei Province

Cooper, born in Hunan Province

Tommy, born in South Carolina, USA
I loved being able to hang these stockings today! Even though Connor and Cooper can not yet come home to us, and despite missing them even more at Christmas time, it was comforting to see their names, hanging at the fireplace along with our other boys. 
I am so thankful for this Christmas gift and I can't wait for the boys to see that they are already a part of us!
So even though we aren't all together for Christmas this year, we rejoice in the hope that comes from remembering the birth of Christ and as we yearn for our sons to be home, it makes me mindful that this sacrifice is nothing compared to the sacrifice made by our Heavenly Father to send his son away to pay a price that would allow each of us to live in spiritual purity before the Father.  Purity that is so undeserved, making his grace that much sweeter!
Merry Christmas all!
The Rylands


Dana said...

I love the new stockings! They are priceless. And my family started a new tradition this year by reading Jotham's Journey each night and lighting Advent candles. We love it too!

Elizabeth said...

Love the stockings! Love the embroidery! Love the traditions! I'm taking notes! :)

Maureen said...

I can not figure out how to email you, so I'm leaving this in the comments. Ever since your post about Cameron and his drawing, I have felt compelled (? not sure if that is the right word) to react to that post somehow. But nothing seemed right. Until today. My mom is turning 60 on Feb 10, Chinese New Year. Getting her gifts is hard. I would love to 'commission' Cameron to create a picture for her, and then I will donate a sum for Connor and Cooper's adoption. If this is not okay with you and Tom, please don't even mention it to him. But I really do feel lead to ask.

Joanna B said...

Love the stockings, and the traditions...we have a little one waiting for us in Changsha, too!
Found you on We Are Grafted In, can't wait to follow along!

The Rylands Family said...

Maureen, I would be glad to talk to you about this. You can email me at Thanks!