Friday, November 30, 2012

Making Christmas Memories That Matter

I have a tendency to be anxious.  This means that the scripture "Be anxious for nothing" is something I constantly remind myself of.

Christmastime seems to bring out some of the worst of these anxious tendencies, which is really so totally backwards from what it should be.  My 'need' to over-schedule and micromanage can really squash any Christmas cheer.  Ever heard the song "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year"?  Yeah, well it is really not if Mommy is getting a tension headache over how the garland hangs.

So last year, our first Christmas in our first house, I made a decision.  Christmas would be fun.  Most people probably don't need to make this a decision, but I did.  This meant a lot of little decisions that I had to hold myself to for the whole season.  Decisions like:

I do not have to do every fun Christmas craft or activity I see.  This will stress me out, which will stress the kids out.  And there are only so many foam Snowmen I can store in my attic.

I will not try to create 34 new traditions in hopes that generations to come will continue them.  But I can continue the few simple traditions that we have had for years now that mean the world to my kids- a sleepover under the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.  New jammies for the sleepover that will be opened on Christmas Eve.  Making a gingerbread house together.  Starting Christmas music as early as humanly possible.

I do not have to attend every event I am invited to.  I will choose to do the ones that mean the most to our family, like Christmas Eve services at church, or game night with my sister and her family.

Decorating the tree does not need to be stressful like it was in years past.  I will let the kids decorate the tree and it will look crazy but they will have a blast.

If John is not jumping up and down with joy at all the decorating, that is okay too.  That is not who John is, that is who I am.  If I try to make him into another me, this will lead to stress for him and stress for the entire family.  I have enough Christmas sparkle to make up for his quiet Christmas enjoyment.

I will not over-engage myself in the commercialism of Christmas.  I will make people and the birth of Christ the focus of my season.  I will look for ways to give, not receive.

Since I am being totally candid, I'll let you in on a little secret- these decisions were not made PRIOR to last Christmas, but as I saw ickiness and stress entering our holiday.  This year, I have a head start.  It already feels so much better.

Now, I hope you will excuse me as I allow myself to (calmly) go readjust a few ornaments on my wacky looking Christmas trees so they don't tip over...because my kids only decorate the front.  And heavily.  ;)

Someone (usually me or Philip) is guaranteed to choose dorkdom when it is time for pictures.  This time the kids both did.  And so cute too.  These lights are now haphazardly strewn across my favorite tree, full of 'memory' ornaments.  I love it!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Without John...

John was standing in the kitchen the other day and I said "You know what?  If I hadn't met you..." and I didn't even get to finish.  He interrupted me and said "Oh, you'd be WEIRD."

AHAHAHAHAHA.  Seriously though the ending of that statement was originally going to be "I would have either married someone else who had zero patience for me and murdered me violently or I would have ended up alone with 22 cats, and eventually when I died, it would be the smell emanating from my apartment that would let people know I had died.  Thanks for loving me and marrying me!"

Of course once he interrupted me, I felt like finishing it with, "You would have been an eternal college student, spending your free time alone in your parents basement playing video games."

Obviously I hold both of us in higher esteem than these pictures I am painting, and they are meant to be more humorous than true, but the point is- John and I are a good match, and I am so thankful for him.

Yesterday Philip was complaining about something John was making him do.  Philip came to me, outraged and said "You would NEVER make me do it this way, can you tell him not to?"

We sat down immediately and I told Philip in no uncertain terms- John and I are a team.  He will never be able to come to me and successfully ask me to disregard what John has told him or get me to disrespect him by undermining his authority.

John and I do not always agree about how to handle things but we do agree to back each other up.  Sometimes this means stepping out of the room and discussing why we have made the decision we are making.  This is not disrespect, this is smart parenting and coupledom (is that a word?).

I finished out the conversation with Philip by explaining to him why the differences between John and I make our relationship more interesting, and in many ways better, and how the differences between a lot of people are what give life variety and make it interesting.  I reminded him that trying to force someone to be like you or someone else will end badly.

So whether or not I would have had 22 cats or not is something I (thankfully) won't ever know, but I do know that I value John and cannot imagine navigating life without him.  He's my person.  :)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Photo Worthy

In our social media drenched society, it can be easy to lose yourself in 'interacting and sharing' on your phone, iPad, computer or other gadget, and lose your involvement in the people you share your life with.

It is also really easy to get caught up in putting out a certain image instead of focusing on living a quality life.  I was about to post a picture to Instagram the other day when a thought bubbled up inside of me.  "Am I living a beautiful life that I happen to take pictures of, or is my desire to take great pictures making a life that looks good a little less good?"

I love social media, and taking pictures of my kids.  I want them to have photos to share with their children and grandchildren.  But more than that, I want a genuine life that my kids can look back on and say I lived with them.  If I happen to capture that in a photograph, then I am happy.    I want it to be full of real joy and real experiences, nothing manufactured or wrapped up neatly solely for others to enjoy.

It is also important to remember that NOBODY has a perfect life, regardless of what you may see on Facebook.  I know so many moms like myself who are tired and overwhelmed and in reality not everything looks great all the time.  But there is enormous pressure for us to be 'on' all the time.  Our kids feel that pressure.  (Ironically, I wrote a great Facebook post about this once, I will have to find it...)

So, I am encouraged to put down the phone and camera a little bit more.  To be hands on and not worry about what other people will see or think or about what they do.  To live the best life I can live with my family.

Here are some quotes to finish off this entry:

"Don't compare your behind the scenes to someone else's highlight reel."

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

"I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction.  The world will have a generation of idiots."  (Attributed to Albert Einstein; though I cannot find a reliable source.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Sunny Disposition

Growing up, I was called Little Mary Sunshine more than once.  John calls me sparkly.  I was often asked "Are you really this happy all the time?"

Some people could see past it though, to the turmoil underneath it all.  It was there for a long time, and it is something I still struggle with on occasion.  Some people just have a sense of these things.  I have been told frequently over the years "You have to let people in.  You don't have to put on a smile all of the time.  People don't know what you need if you don't let them know."

God gives us community for so many reasons.  We all have something to give others, and we need to be prepared to receive from others in turn.  We should share our lives with the people closest to us.  If you don't let people in on your joy or your trials, you are missing out.  By no means do you or I have to go around spilling our difficulties on everyone we meet, but you will know who to talk to about what and when you should do it.

This is something I am learning to do.  It is not in my nature, and was not something that was nurtured in me.  I was taught that you keep things to yourself.  That you never want to be a bother to people, and that if you really ever let people know the real you, or your struggles, they won't love you and respect you.  So I learned to hide my problems.

In my desire not to 'bother' anyone with my problems, and by not opening myself up to be vulnerable to the people I trust and love, I had placed myself in a little box, isolated and disconnected.

I am learning to be more honest and open when something is wrong.  And I continue to be free in my smiles and laughing because that is the real me too.  I really was and am pretty happy most of the time.  It isn't a lack of problems, but I am naturally more likely than not to genuinely smile anyhow.  There really is more good than bad, and always something to be glad about.

Thankfully, there are many people in my life who love the smile and love the person behind it, problems and all.  And they encourage me and teach me and are here for me in good times and bad.  And that makes me ever so thankful.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Giving Thanks, Regardless

Having everything you want or need is not a prerequisite for thankfulness.  Thankfulness exists in all circumstances if it is something you are willing to make a non-negotiable priority in your life.  Whenever I start to get gloomy (it happens- life is not always easy), I make a point to name some of my blessings.  I do the same thing with the kids.  I want them to live a grateful life.  I believe this will assist them when they are adults in handling difficult times with grace.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Life With Dogs

Does anyone else lose all sense of intelligence and dignity when talking to dogs?  I don't even make sense.  Even my dogs think I am a lunatic.  But that is just the way I talk to them.  John isn't any better.  He isn't a mushy sort and when we first got them, I said to the dogs "Your Daddy lovses the fluffy wuppies so much, doesn't he?" and he looked at me like I had lost my mind.  He said "I don't love animals."

Fast forward a year and 'somehow' they end up curled up with him in bed sometimes, and 'somehow' if they don't rush to the door when he gets home, he gets sad and says "I don't like it when the dogs aren't available to greet me when I get home."

Dogs have made a really good life even better.  Every day is improved by having them to talk to, pet, take care of.  Who knew?

The dogs, wanting to take a ride.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Kinder Than Necessary

I found an old journal of mine the other day.  Reading through it was like reading through the thoughts of someone I didn't know.  I was young when I wrote it and that is part of it- I saw immaturity in the way I viewed people and situations, but what struck me the most was how much I did not like people.  I had unkind things to say about nearly everyone I met.

This isn't who I am now.  It is easy to forget what once was.  I wouldn't have ever said that I had been an unkind or mean person- but that is what I was.  Thank God that is no more and that I am growing and changing.  I will probably look back on today in ten years and not recognize myself.  I hope that is the case.  I want to be on a constant path of improvement as I get older.

On this journey I am on, I have a goal- be kind to everyone I meet.  Be lavish with compliments and conservative with criticisms.  It is much easier to do these things in person when you start in your mind and heart.  It also helps to spend time with people who don't treat others badly.

I read a quote recently which I will probably butcher- but here is the gist of it.  "People who judge me for my choices don't know the options I had to choose from."  I know that I have been in a position even recently where people could not understand the reasoning behind decisions I have made.  My hope is that when it comes down to things, people know me and know my heart and will trust my judgment without knowing all the details.  But do I extend this grace to others?  Not as much as I like.  This thought has been ringing in my mind a lot recently whenever I am tempted to jump to judgment of a person or a situation.  Another good one is "Be kinder than necessary- you never know the battle someone is fighting."  (Of course the argument could be made that it is necessary to be as kind as possible always, but the sentiment remains the same).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Helping Hand

Something I am purposing to do is letting the kids help me with various tasks around the house.  I don't mean their chores; John is a very tidy type of person (the kind of person I want to be and just am not) and has had them doing various age appropriate chores for a while now.

I mean baking cookies and fixing dinner, helping in the garden, etc.  These tasks are not easier with extra hands at their ages, but it is worth it to see the look of delight when Gracie is eating a cookie she helped make or Philip sees a flower bloom whose bulb he had gently placed in the dirt.

I never regret involving my kids in a project, but I have found that I am most frustrated and disappointed with myself as a parent at the close of days when I realize I have not shared my day with them; instead I rushed through the things I needed to do so that they would be 'done'.

I hope that I remember to allow my kids to give me a helping hand more often.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Family Connections

When I was growing up, a cousin sent out a newsletter a few times a year to keep extended family in touch.  I loved receiving this newsletter and writing my contribution.  I was sad to see it fall by the wayside.

Imagine my delight when I opened the mail today and found that the newsletter had been resurrected!  I want my children to know who they are connected to and what is happening in their lives. I love receiving mail and reading it with the kids.

My kids, by the way, are Philip and Gracie and they are 10 and 7.  They bring me so much joy.  John is my husband- steady and true and a wonderful person to be sharing my life with.

There is nothing on the planet more important to me than family.  I know that sounds trite; most people feel that way.  But I feel it so deeply.  I want to be with the people I love.  I enjoy being with my husband and children reading a good book together more than I would enjoy a night out at the movies with friends.  The fact that my family is spread coast to coast is hard for me.  My Dad is coming for Christmas and I am counting the days! I think about all of these people every day and make sure to tell stories of them to my kids.  Philip loves knowing that he is named for his grandfather and great grandfather. I love to look at old photo albums with the kids.  Philip looks just like my Dad when he was younger.  Gracie looks just like John. We use my great grandmother's butter dish.  These are the things that are important to me.

Our church family has moved beyond friendship to the status of family. I could call any one of the people at church at 1:00 am if I needed help.  I know they are here for us.  They love our kids, we love their kids.  We break bread together and laugh together and worship together.  I love it.  So many times I will be carrying something in my heart, and someone will come to me and say they felt they needed to talk to me.  There is usually a timely word of encouragement or correction.

Anyhow, this being my first real blog post, and having received the family newsletter this morning, I thought you should get to know the people that I love a little bit.  They are on my heart always!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I have noticed a trend in the things I think about recently (and how I view things that come along).  It is shifting.  I am growing; becoming someone with a softer heart.

I am on a journey to being the best mom, wife, friend, stranger that I can be.  I am not sure what exactly I will write about-who knows- a whole lot of nothings just might add up to something.

So here it is, my journey to a softer heart.