One of my joys is finding unique ways to celebrate people I love, such as making a special cake for friends, organizing surprise parties, or planning wacky practical jokes. This interest plays out in my family. I love searching for effective ways to remember and celebrate who we are.
Rituals have long intrigued me; they even became a central theme in my graduate studies. Perhaps as a missionary and a mom of four, I’m drawn to rituals because of the need for continuity in this overseas lifestyle. With our extended families being a world away, we need to find our own ways of providing security and creating home. In addition, because our four children are all adopted, I especially desire to give them a strong foundation for feeling special and unique. I’ve found various rituals that help providing grounding for our family (perhaps as much for me as for our children!).
Each of our children’s stories of birth and adoption is precious and unique. There was pain and trauma involved, but redemption as well. When we received each child, we bought a simple journal and have done our best to write the story of their early days. I’ve also attached some of the email announcements and other correspondence we sent out as well as some of my own journaling about the process.
Around the start of each year, my husband and I try to set aside a few hours to write in each of their books. We write about memorable events or funny things the child has said, character traits we have seen, and blessings for their future as we watch them growing up.
I recently pulled out the books because one of my daughters kept asking me what her first words were (funny how I forget so easily!). We laughed and laughed over some of her early antics as I read them aloud! Then she asked me, “Mommy, would you still have remembered that every night I needed you to close the curtains, turn on the bathroom light and turn off the hall light if it hadn’t been written in that book?” No. Absolutely not! Two kids and a lot of life later and I just don’t remember these details. Thankfully, some of these early memories at least are in these books.
We’ve also had a “guest writer” or two. When my sister Beth visited us once, I asked her to write her impressions in the book of each of the children at that stage in their lives. I know some day they will treasure their books, which have been lovingly handwritten over the years by those who love them most in the world.
Newsletter and Christmas card books
I have clear-file books for each of our children and update the books with a copy of all of our newsletters and the annual Christmas card we send out. Later, they will be able to go back through their own newsletter notebook and read their parents’ perspective of our family history.
Christmas card collage
Do you get a lot of family photo Christmas cards from loved ones overseas? I often take all of photo cards and cut out just the faces and bodies of our family and friends, layer them on a large poster board, and hang it up. Our kids have fun pointing out people from far away who they remember.
I don’t have time for scrapbooking, but I do try to create a simple US$30 digital photobook most years. I also do smaller ones after major trips to the US or big experiences like a move. It’s also a great way to help us remember our loved ones who live far away. Affiliate companies with Facebook and Instagram have now made it easy to create photobooks from your social-media postings.
This tradition started with my own mom when I was little in my birthplace of Rhodesia. On the night of each child’s birthday, they have a special mom time when I tuck them in and tell them their birth and adoption stories. As they have gotten older, I have included more information each year. They always look forward to this sweet time, as do I. It is often a chance, as we lay there in the dark and snuggle, for them to ask questions that maybe are harder to ask at other times.
Letters to Jesus
We began a new tradition several years ago. On New Year’s Eve, we gather and each one writes a short note to Jesus. The letter serves as a prayer, asking him for help in an area of our lives where we need help this next year. This past year, one child asked for more self-control; another for patience, and our youngest asked for help not to be so afraid. We then sit in a circle and share our notes, and the person on the left prays for the person who just shared. This last year it was so sweet to see even our five-year-old praying for his big sister.
When we put away the Christmas decorations, we put our notes in our own Christmas stockings and pack them away till next year. It is fun to read our notes from the past year as we decorate for Christmas and realize how God has been at work in our hearts.
Ten year journal
This ritual is one I made up. One of my favorite gifts over the years has been to give girlfriends a ten year journal. Available in most major stationery stores across Japan (especially near the end of the year), these journals have 365 pages, each with space for ten entries. In that space, I write down one significant memory, challenge, or triumph of that day. That allows me to keep records for a decade.
At first, I didn’t think I’d be able to write an entry every night, but I’ve been doing it for 11 years now! I finished my first book last year, and now when I write in my new book, I often go back and read about the same day in my previous book. It’s amazing to read short snippets about your life on one day over the past several years.
I also use this to:
- check for annual or past occurrences, such as when we usually pull out the winter clothes and heaters, when we had our first snow storm, when we bought our mini-van;
- record my one word and Bible verse for that upcoming year;
- keep track of gifts we’ve given;
- keep track of my weight over the years (for better or worse!);
- keep track of all of our family illnesses, shots, etc.
Through doing this I recently recognized an important pattern—our oldest son gets strep throat every year. I’d never realized that before, in the midst of six of us getting sick at different times.
Last year, my sister gave us special journals that are shared between mom and daughter (we have one for each of our two daughters). There are pages and pages of questions and spaces to share and ask questions. My daughters and I this year have really enjoyed writing on a page and leaving it on the other’s bed for her to comment and write in. I’ve found it a great way to find out what they are really thinking and to share in ways that we can’t otherwise. There are numerous versions available online.
Long before we had any children, God put a verse on my heart as his promise to my husband and me: “Your children around the table will be like shoots from an olive tree.” (Psalm 128:3 CJB). At the time, I had written next to that verse in my Bible, “God, can this be true for us?” Since those days of struggling with infertility, God has blessed us tremendously with four amazing olive shoots (we named our second daughter Olivia to remember his promise-keeping). It’s a joy to find ways to remember and celebrate God’s faithfulness to our family.
Each of our families and God’s work in our lives overseas is unique and has God’s special handprint on it. Let’s continue to find ways to celebrate and ritualize all he is doing.
Sue Plumb Takamoto and her husband Eric, missionaries with Asian Access, live in Ishinomaki, Japan and are partnering with Be One. Parenting their four children, church planting, and leading the Nozomi Project give many opportunities for creating new rituals.