Christmas Past

Its a very first world problem, but Christmas makes me extra sensitive to what I've been going through all year. You know kind of like God should miraculously make up for all the trials I endured by dropping off a large sack of gifts. Oh wait that's Santa. But I still tend to feel that way, rational or no. I was reminded by Facebook a couple of days ago about a Christmas our family went through a few years ago and I had somehow forgotten. Other than last year's holiday, this one was definitely a tough one.

It was December 2009. We had just planted a church and had a baby. Our family car, the only one that could fit all eight of us, had broken down and we couldn't afford the repairs. All of our family was out of town for the holidays and we didn't have any money for gifts. Nada dinero. My in laws had blessed us with a trip to the beach for Christmas so we packed up the borrowed church van and filled it up with the kids and their stuff and the food we bought with my husband's bonus from work. I prayed in a pitiful way that God would provide some means for me to buy just a few gifts for my babies and set my mind and heart to looking for ways that God had blessed us throughout the year.

We ended up receiving a $75 gift card for the mall in Myrtle Beach that somehow miraculously stretched into enough gifts for 6 kids and filled stockings. We made our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, walked on the beach, and just enjoyed one another's company. Our apartment was located on the 12th floor and unit 25, room 1225. God's gift to us, this simple Christmas. One where He showed us that it wasn't about the stuff. One where He taught this momma that He cared about her desires for her children.


A Year

It is amazing the difference one year can make. Things are always going wrong and going right and surprising us and boring us to tears. But, there are those times where its as if the clouds part and the sun shines through and the spotlight is centered on my heart and it all blurs. I become oh so reminiscent and gloppy. Last year this Christmas was one of the hardest and loneliest we've ever had. We had won some fights and lost a few and all just felt so raw and exposed. Even the little ones felt it and none of the family was in town so it was unsettlingly quiet and even though we pushed through the old family traditions we just felt hollow.

This year has been a rough one and we've grown a lot and moved forward but this Christmas its gonna be different. My house is gonna be full of loud, full of running kids and laughing grandparents and mommies just trying to keep track of everybody's shoes and socks. Its gonna be crazy and messy and so wonderfully the opposite of last year's solemnity.

Christmas is one of those parts of the year where the regular motions of life make a side step and we intentionally glance around and look closer at what we hold right here in our two hands. Mountain tops or valley lows we are in this together and it feels like family.


A Rare Vintage

A good marriage is a lot of work. When I was first married, I had my list of things I wanted my marriage to look like, things I wasn't ever going to do, and things I wanted to make sure and invest in. The crazy thing is that I thought that if I did this and that and this, that somehow things would be smooth sailing, cuz, hey we were in Love. For the most part, I knew that it was going to be work, but work that I was going to enjoy doing. You know like that chore that you just love and its not really a hardship. I never knew that at times it was going to be more like chopping onions. No matter what tricks you try out, there's still gonna be some tears.

The result that I'm looking at today still blows my mind. I love this man more than I ever thought was possible. There have been some major detours on the way. There have been buckets of tears. There have been angry nights with our backs to each other. But the cool thing is that we have shaped each other. We have bumped up against one another enough times to have rubbed off a little bit. We are not who we were, forever contaminated by living and loving all these years.

So many people stop working when they encounter resistance. Instead of pushing harder, they give up. You can't go through life quitting and expect to have anything of value to show for your years of work. Hard work isn't bad work, its something to be proud of.


Take it Easy...

Knowing that I'm not the only one, I have been doing a lot of thinking about the things that really matter. You know, like how many presents I put under the tree, how immaculately decorated my house is for Christmas, how many new cookie recipes I can try.

Between Pinterest and all the decorating, cooking, parenting, good wife advice, etc. blogs out there I get lost. There is always something out there that can leave me feeling like I haven't done enough. Make your own laundry detergent and give your family a natural way to clean clothes while saving money on the budget. Bake cookies for my children's lunches. Sew my own curtains. Raise chickens. Create memories with my children through awesome read aloud times. The list is endless.

All this fitting in to my 24 hours. I have a full time job outside of my home. I have six children, two are in college which is actually more work than I thought it would be, two are teenage girls, I don't even have to explain what work is entailed in that, and two are under 10 years old. Between reminding people to brush their teeth and hair and making sure homework is done, I feel like there are few times I'm not ordering people around. Its like being the captain of a ship in a storm, "You there, look lively and batten down those hatches! You, strike the mainsail!" And then it all ends with a story, and a prayer, and a kiss good night as we all separate for a good nights sleep to get up and do it all over again.

I lay in bed many a night thinking about all the things we're not doing and I'm gonna go ahead and blame it on what I let influence me. The requirements of a mommy are enough without adding in structured play time and a reading list for the next 12 years of development. Its a battle to not feel guilty.

So, I'm trying hard to let things go. Relax. Breathe. Take a step back and think, is this really important? Would anybody notice if I didn't do it that way? Instead of gulping up life and running off to the next event, I'm gonna take my time and chew for a minute, savoring the day that has been gifted to me.



I'm not a stranger to grief, or the unhappy surprises that life brings. But what I truly am struck by is the way that I approach it. Something happens, sickness, an accident, a death, a betrayal, and while I'm raw and torn apart on the inside, the rest of me keeps up with the motions of life. I don't run off crying or gasping for breath. Instead I find myself riding out the shock that swells up like waves and threatens to knock me off my feet. I keep going. The casual observer, aka anyone other than my mom, would think I was just fine and yet, no.

This Monday, my littlest girl was on her way to visit the Battleship North Carolina on a field trip with her class when the van she was traveling in hydroplaned and they ended up in a ditch. None of the children were hurt seriously, and they were calmed by kind people stopping and covering them with blankets and coats and umbrellas before being whisked off to the emergency room in a nearby hospital.

My baby was fine. A bump on the head and a sore back, that's all...

And when I got word of the accident, I didn't freak, I didn't scream or gasp or run to my car to rescue her. I absorbed. I went numb and my heart did somersaults and I pictured my sweet girl scared and yet miraculously unharmed. When I was finally able to make it to see her, the tears broke through and my relief poured out as I held my girl in my arms and saw her with my own eyes and heard her laugh full of childish joy. My mind struggles to not stray into thoughts of what could have happened and truly embrace the miracle that is right now.

So while I hate the way my "self" responds to these traumas and bumps on the road, I must acknowledge that there is a peace that passes all understanding that my spirit is tapping into. And at the same time respecting the fragility of the lives that meander past me all day. The monotony of everyday life that when threatened becomes so much sweeter.




Absolutely nothing was going right...

The kids were fighting in a silent, sullen, obnoxious kind of way. It was warm outside and we were trying to pick out a Christmas tree. Flip flops and shorts were the attire of choice. But here we were traipsing through the forest of trees, carrying this fog of dissatisfaction and regret around with us like a sweatshirt tied around our waists. My babies, some still lost in the moment oblivious to the strife and others making the most of it because that's their nature. And then there's me and dad. We know what's going on and we're so sad and angry and disappointed all at the same time. But we agreed on a beautiful evergreen and brought it home and made it our own. It stands proudly covered with memories of all the Christmases before.

Sometimes I get weary in building toward this goal, this vision we have had for all these many moons since we fell in love and started a family. Sometimes I wish life wasn't so stinking hard most of the time. I wish that the amount of effort we've put into this thing would show up every once in awhile. And it spreads out beyond my house, to my job and my church and my life in general.

This flip flops and shorts in winter just seems trying to me. It feels out of sorts and a lot like my heart right now. I'm oh so tired of the complaints, the disappointed people, myself included,  and I'm searching for the center of "what really matters." Christmas trees and complainers aside, what remains? There's no gimmick, no trick to this. Its heart centered and its important.

When everything seems topsy turvy and the waves are crashing overhead and I'm not even sure what I'm doing right now is gonna matter in eternity I have to cling to Him. He sets things right and gives me a center and a focus and a place to set my gaze to walk the rest of this craziness out.


Parenting Debrief

Raising kids is tough work. Nobody has ever told me anything different. I love it and I hate it. It makes me crazy and it brings me life.

But right now, the man and I are in this crazy in between where we have a couple of adults, still depending on us. Fledglings, if you will, in this world. Then there are a couple of teenaged girls right at their heels, God help us. And finally, we have two tiny people who we are learning more and more about how we still don't know all there is to know about this whole parenting thing.

The older ones are at that place where they want to "help" us to be better parents. You know, giving us advice and constructive criticism. I cannot lie, it hurts. I remember doing the same thing to my own momma and if you're reading this mom, hear me, "I'm sorry." They only mean well as they reflect back on their own childhoods and through the lens of their own perception, point out what has produced the person they are now. The crazy thing that I didn't realize when I was sitting in their place, and what they don't even glimpse now is this: I'm still growing too. Until I die, I plan on growing and maturing and trying new things. There were even nights when I couldn't sleep and they were sleeping on the couch or at a friend's house and I would go and lay in each of their beds and pray that God would show me what it was like to be a kid in "my" house. That He would help me to be the kind of momma that they needed.

I realize that as parents we have an enormous responsibility to help to mold these individuals that God has placed in our care. I'm having to learn to give myself a break. Pray and work is an awesome motto when it comes to raising babies up. There will always be critics, there will also be kudos.

At the end, its not gonna really matter if we made it to Disney World, or made from scratch every one of their birthday cakes, or regulated their screen time properly. If they fear God and seek to do His Will, that's all this mom could possibly ask for.
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