Thursday, January 21

Word of the Year: Love Well



Hi Friends,

I promised that I'd let you know what my "word of the year" was and why I chose it, so here it is!

Before I begin,  some of you have no idea what I'm talking about, this "word of the year" stuff. In summary,  in lieu of or addition to your more traditional resolutions, some folks like to pick a word (or two!) that serves as an overarching theme for the year.

Intentional, focused, grace, happy, strong, balance, and commitment are all great examples. Something motivational. Overarching. Something that  has meaning for you, not just defining one small area of your life, but the bigger whole.

In fact, there is an entire blog devoted to this idea called "My One Word" (I just found it this morning) where the writer explains this growing movement and offers a huge list of words and quotes to help you choose your own.

Like some of you, I can find myself discouraged by the many New Years resolutions that I set, and my seeming inability to follow through.  Because of this the simplicity of choosing just one word to  focus on really appealed to me.

That's not to say I didn't also jot down other resolutions.

Ahem..."Organize my house."

Yup. That one. In 2011. 2012. 2013. 2014. 2015...2016.

I must be a sucker for punishment.

(I will say, I have made slow and steady progress. The reality is that organizing a home with five people, 3 of whom are just learning what "pick up" even means, can feel like a herculean effort.
The other reality is that some people are just naturally gifted in this area. And maybe don't feel so ADD-ish in their attempts to organize...I wish I were one of those people.

My sister, Katie. My friend, Carla. Other friends too...Sarah E., Dana H., Danielle.  You ladies know who you are. Can I come over for some housekeeping lessons, please?!

I always joke with Scott that those friend's houses (the gifted organizational types) always feel like "big people houses" when I visit them. Ours feels more like a dorm room most of the time. The whole house...one big messy dorm!

We like to use the phrases zoo, barn, and circus to describe it on other days.

But, I digress....)

So, I did set some goals for the year. Lots of them actually. If I get around to it I'll summarize and share some of those with you next week, but I also picked my word/theme for the year. The two words I will hinge my heart on when all of my other resolutions are going to...ahem...Honolulu in a hand basket.

My theme for 2016 is...Love Well.

Love, on it's own, sounded too...simple. Mushy, maybe? Certainly too vague.

Love well, on the other hand.

It seemed to capture everything I really want my life to be about. Even on the days when I feel like I'm failing miserably.

I want to love my children well and this means being intentional. It means listening. It means putting aside my agenda and playing with them more often than I naturally do. It means notes in lunch boxes, snuggles on the couch, words of affirmation telling them how great they are. It also means discipline...sometimes. And tough conversations at other times. It means teaching them how to be responsible and develop discipline and self-motivation in their own lives. It means being actively engaged and continuing to do these things even when I'm dog tired.

I want to love my husband well. This means a lot of things that don't always happen in the midst of our hectic days either. Telling him I'm thankful for him, that I love him, and that I'm super glad we get to do this thing called life together. Maybe an unexpected gift. Maybe a note. Maybe asking him what he'd like to do on some random day and gifting him the time to just go and do it...no questions asked or time limits given. Little things mean a lot when it comes to your relationship with your husband...I want to remember that, and more importantly I want to follow through.

Love well...my extended family, neighbors, friends, church acquaintances...the ones I know well, and the ones I could take the time to get to know better.

The reality is that "loving well" usually means slowing down. It means making relationships a priority over task lists.

I feel like I used to love well...before I had kids. At that point, especially after we had our third little one, I got so bogged down by the seeming non-ending to-do list that I stopped being intentional about things outside of our immediate family life.  At some point, as parents, we often find ourselves so consumed with loving our families well (or last least meeting their needs) and figuring out how to balance "it all" that those outside our immediate family circle are forced to take a back seat. And, to some degree, that is ok,  even normal- for a while. But eventually, you must re-connect, re-engage, start looking outside of your immediate circle a  little bit at a time.

I want to recast my vision. I'm ready to re-engage in the wider world and try to spread a little bit of love in more places than just my home. I want to be an example of loving others well, so that my children see what that means. I want us to love others well as a family as often as possible and when the opportunity arises.

 "Above all," Peter says, "love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins."  
(1 Peter 4:8).

The mommy version might say, "love each other deeply because love covers your cranky days, impatient moments, mishaps with words, ignoring your neighbor, being angry at the DMV lady, and all other foibles as a mom."

Not that we should ever use love as an excuse, ("I can be cranky now and love them later!"), but I'm quite thankful that my love for my children is hopefully making a bigger impact that my mistakes, because, well...big confession here--I am human. I do get tired and impatient and cranky. I'm a female...ahem...with occasional (errr, monthly) PMS.

Thank heaven (literally!) that love is bigger than all of that!

So go forth and love well.

Pick a word for the year, or share the one you've already decided on.

Set some New Years resolutions, but hold them loosely with arms open wide if you are parenting little children whose needs and demands often usurp our best intentions when it comes to goals and resolutions.

And choose to be ok with it all.






P.S. My super creative and talented friend Traci, who also recently re-designed my blog, created my  word logo for the year. If you have a blog and want a word button, she can create one for you too! Visit her at www.tracimichele.com.  More specifically, her post about creating word buttons can be found here.






Wednesday, January 6

Happy 2016: A Year of Adventure (Isn't Life Always an Adventure with Kids?!)

Happy New Year Friends!

I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas, some good vacation time, and a great New Years celebration.

We had our share of colds, coughs and even a bout of strep throat (the hubby, 2 days before Christmas!), but we've all come out the other end and are excited for the possibilities that a new year holds.

We took the kids out for the first time this New Year's Eve, which was fun. In some ways it felt like it marked the beginning of a new era.  We've bid adieu to the adult only parties (for a while anyway), and have exchanged them for confetti poppers, plastic necklaces, sparkling cider and Doritos. We gave our oldest daughter the green light to stay up until the ball drop, which she has been itching to do for years and made plans to drive into the city for dinner and some First Night stuff and then head back home for snacks and t.v.

Our Dinosaur BBQ dinner fit the bill with the kids-- Aubrey managed to spill her lemonade all over the floor, then a glass of water twenty minutes later.   I sopped up both spills with a copious number of napkins which accrued in a heaping pile at the foot of our table, while apologizing to the wait staff for the mess.

I laughed at the nuttiness of it all, and about how we have become "those" people with the kids at the table in restaurants (which is why we don't go out to eat out very often these days).  I mean, if I were a waitress I'd run if I saw us. Fortunately, our waitress was six months pregnant with her first child and seemed amused by the whole thing.

Is this what I have coming? she asked.

Uh-huh.

 After that we headed over to the convention center where we were entertained by Jeff Musial, the animal guy, and then endured a rather odd routine by a self-proclaimed contortionist and comedian who must have gathered inspiration from Napoleon Dynamite. The guy plunged himself through a toilet seat, made bad, racist jokes and while some of it was funny, many moments left Scott and I cringing and wondering how we ended up there. Aubrey rode one carnival ride, the girls ran through a "Ninja Warrior" obstacle course, and we all left relatively entertained.

By all accounts it was a successful New Year's celebration. I went to bed at 12:01 with Ava proclaiming to 'not be tired'. I told her she could stay up for a few more minutes if she wanted to help dad clean up the kitchen, which she readily agreed too (nice move, right?!). Ella, unfortunately had a terrible cough, and while we had originally told her she could stay up, we pleaded with her to go to bed at 11 so she could get some rest.

Aubrey at Dinosaur BBQ

We rolled in the New Year with homemade crowns from Dollar General!

Welcome to the midnight club! 
Yes, I let this go off in my living room...while we re-watched the ball drop with Ella on New Years morning! 
(For some reason my captions aren't showing up. So, this was, from top to bottom, Aubrey at Dinosaur BBQ, Ava in our homemade Dollar General 2016 crowns (lol!), Ava- the newest member of the midnight club, and the hilarious mess after I allowed a confetti popper in my living room on New Years Day!)

I haven't had the time to contemplate 2015 the way I would like to...you know, with a hot cup of coffee and lots of uninterrupted time to sit with a pen and a journal and just scribble thoughts till my  hearts content.

I haven't even really had time to solidify any resolutions for 2016, though I did settle on a "word" for the year, which I will tell you about next week since this post has already gotten rather long (and I'm trying to wrap it up with sick kiddos at home!).

Oddly enough, we have some pretty big deal family trips planned for 2016-- one for a wedding in England and one to visit some very good friends who all happen to live in Salt Lake City by a matter of coincidence.

So, if you catch one of the girls in the next few weeks and ask them what they would like to do in 2016 this is what they will tell you...

1. "Get my ears pierced."  That would be Ella who we promised could pierce her ears on her 7th birthday...it's a milestone in the Littlewood household, and one that she has patiently waited for.  Scott is not a fan of those mall ear piercing kiosks (which is where we took Ava, and where they pierced her ears unevenly!), and so she will be getting them pierced at a local tattoo studio owned by my cousin. I told Ella she will be the only 7 year old I have ever met to have her ears pieced in a tattoo studio. You can tell by the gleam in her eyes that it all suits her just fine, and might fit her far better than some mall kiosk with a dirty teddy bear anyway.

2. "Go to England."

Yes, England, the country. Not New England the regional area where Scott and I lived for a while.

Yes, England...like international flight with three children who don't have passports yet, one of whom will not quite be 3. Haha. I pity the people next to us on the plane.

Alas, my brother in law (the hubby's twin) is getting married to a lovely British girl who hails from the London area in early April. We toyed with the idea of leaving the kids in the States and just heading over by ourselves, but struggled to figured out a reasonable babysitting option because his mother, who is usually our overnight, Mary Poppins, babysitter extraordinaire will be in England for the wedding. And, while I do have family here... it's a long story and in the end it was either I stay home with the kids, which for a very long while seemed  like the safest, most logical and reasonable option, or we all just go.

Scott was always a fan of us all going.

I was like...no, that's crazy...but, yes, we should...but, not I can't, I hate flying...but, yes, we need to live life not in fear, but with faith...but no, but yes...but no, but yes...

Finally, and this is kind of how we make many of our decisions (like when we were deciding whether to have a third child, for example!), in a moment of "yes" we took the plunge and, in this case, bought the tickets. In that other case, well, you know.

3. "Go to Utah."

A very good friend of Scott's moved to Salt Lake City with his wife and three kids years ago. They've kept in touch and Scott has always wanted to head out there, but we just haven't had the chance. Well, this year, some good friends of ours from here moved there-- these friends have 4 young kids and were looking at the only Christian school in the Salt Lake City area, where our other friends kids happen to go. They all connected and now we get pictures of our old Boston friends with our more recent Buffalo friends all hanging out. Seeing as we love the outdoors, and love both of these families it seemed like a "must do" kind of trip, and while we already have one big trip on the books waiting a year to visit our friends in Utah seems far to far away...so...

We're going to embrace the adventure of it all.

And while "adventure" is not my "word"  for the year, I'm beginning to think that it should be.

The reality is that my family didn't do a whole lot when I was growing up. Money was an issue, for one, but my parents have also lived within very limited means emotionally their whole lives. That is a whole other story entirely, and not one that I'm going to venture into here, but at the end of the day I want my kids to embrace their lives with eyes wide open. I want them to see new people, places, and things. I don't want them to live safe lives out of fear, or safe thinking, but to embrace curiosity, and have the confidence to explore new places and ideas.

Now that I think about it, that might be "resolution" enough for one year, but the reality is that I, of course, have all sorts of writing and reading ideas up my sleeve as well. I probably won't be able to tackle as many of them as I'd like, but I'm going to keep jotting them down, keeping them fresh and kicking them around. I refuse to allow life to become so monotonous that "adventure" seems like a bad word.

I look forward to sharing my other "word of the year" with you later this week, and keeping you up to date on all of the other shenanigans going on in the Littlewood household.

Until then, drop a comment or thought about any adventures you are hoping to go on this year, particularly with kids in toe.

Here's to the crazy adventure of 2016!






P.S. For the record, I'm posting this 3 days after I wrote it because the babe got sick (double ear and bronchial infection), and then our oldest has been home with me for two days with severe congestion, and a sore throat.The hubs was out of town for two days (back home tonight), and I'm popping massive numbers of vitamins in an attempt to stay healthy.  I've snuck away to re-read this quickly and make any corrections I can find, but apologize for any egregious typos (I'm sure there are many!).  That's about how the cookie crumbles around here these days!



Wednesday, December 16

A Vision of Hope: Christ at Christmas

                                        


Here is what I've been thinking about lately...

We need a savior as much, no, maybe more today, than ever before.

We need hope. We need vision. We need truth. Solid, concrete, black and white truth to plant our feet on.

We don't need another politician spouting off extreme ideas to the left or to the right. We don't need another national news anchor asking questions of another "expert" who is trying to form our ideas of what is right or wrong, in their opinion. We don't need another agenda pushing us towards hatred, or some preconceived idea of safety, or what real acceptance means.

While I can't speak for all of you, I know I don't need one more person yelling, tweeting, shouting, blasting, writing, proclaiming, arguing, or debating their truth, all while trying to mold mine.

I want my truth to be founded in something stronger than that. Something more solid. I want my truth to have history, grit and foundation. I want it to be founded on principles that have stood the test of time.  I need something to plant my feet on that doesn't waver with the wind, or some big personality with an agenda who is trying to appease the popular opinion for votes or ratings.

In this crazy, backwards, confusing culture, I am drawing closer and closer to the one and only thing that has made a difference in my life...my faith in Christ. The crazier and more chaotic the world gets, the clearer my vision becomes. With so many voices overwhelming my mind, I need to focus on just one.

And that is what Christmas is all about.

That we are not left alone in the mess, but that Jesus has stepped into with us. More than 2,000 years ago he came as a baby and has been here ever since.

I'm thankful for that because on most days some part of my life is pretty messy.

On the best days, it's just my house...oh could I show you some pictures of that.

On other days it's my heart...my response to people around me, my insecurities about life and direction, my inability to consistently be the woman I want to be, my confusion about how to raise my kids in this culture, or how to just love that difficult neighbor down the street or parent at our child's school.

On all days, it's the world around me, and everything in it that can so easily overwhelm.

But, we do have hope. We can have vision. Truth, real truth, is right at our fingertips. They are all just a prayer away...a prayer sent as a simple invitation to Christ that he is welcomed into your mess.

I know, I know! Inviting someone into the mess seems a little...audacious! We've been taught that we're supposed to clean up the house, ourselves, our attitude, our mess...before we invite others in.

But Jesus, fortunately,  is the countercultural, upside down answer to your deepest questions...He hasn't been doing things the way they were supposed to be done since the moment he arrived.

If your Christmas season is feeling frenzied and chaotic, if you are feeling distracted, discouraged or overwhelmed, if you feel like you've wanted to experience the Advent season in a deeper way, but are feeling like you've failed to do so, it's not too late! There are still 9 days until Christmas and many options for digging deeper.

Start with a simple prayer of invitation, asking Christ to be present in your Christmas preparations and your day to day. Ask him to show you how to go deeper and love better.

You can follow up with a re-reading of  the story of Jesus birth, The Birth of Jesus, Luke 2:1-20 just to help freshen your perspective and center yourself spiritually.

Lastly, there are hundreds of great articles online and devotional books you can buy that help us to slow down and refocus on what really matters...Here are three great articles that I found just this morning to get you started:

What Kind of Christmas Do you Want this Year, by Julie Hildebrand --this article is from the site (in) Courage, a great website for Christian women full of daily inspiration from some great writers.

Free Advent Devotional from Billy Graham-- A free, downloadable advent devotional. The intention was to use this once a week for the four weeks of advent leading up to the celebration of Christ's birth, but I say hey, we have more than 5 days between now and Christmas so it's not to late to start!

Christmas, A Personal Promise  a scripturally based reminder from Reverend Charles Stanley about the promises of Christmas. This website InTouch.org is a great resource all year round and is a place I often turn to for a good devotional or article when I need encouragement or good Biblical perspective. Their ministry also sends a free monthly devotional book that you can sign up to receive and that is very well written.


"Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means 'God with us'." Matthew 1:23










Saturday, November 14

Our Thankfulness Tree and Other Family Ramblings

It's a cold, gray and gusty day here in Buffalo. The kind that reminds you that dinners on the patio are a far, far thing of the past, and that mother nature is blowing her big breaths of wind to bid adieu to more temperate fall days and usher forth our blustery winters.

Brrrr.

But, I have a warm cup of coffee in my hands, nowhere to go and am looking forward to the girls getting off the school bus in just a few minutes. We're laying low tonight-- putting away laundry, putting a bookshelf together, and just hanging out in all of its unplanned glory.


We have the usual items on the agenda for the weekend; gymnastics, one of the girls has a birthday party, Ella has rehearsal for her Nutcracker performance.  Scott and I are going to a fundraiser tomorrow night for an amazing local organization that is raising awareness and money to build wells for clean drinking water in Sierra Leone, Africa. If you have the time, and have not heard about them, you should check them out online and support their efforts (www.letthemlol.com). It's really an incredible story, down to the husband and wife who started it all in the midst of their own crazy family life (they have 4 children!) and how they just keeping moving and shaking to create big changes one small town at a time in Africa.

It's also mid-November (how did that happen?!), which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. I love Thanksgiving for all that it is, and all that it is not. It is a sweet time to be even more intentional than usual about talking to our children about being grateful, about practicing gratitude, about intentionally speaking about our blessings. I also love Thanksgiving because there is not a ton of fanfare and hoopla leading up to it. There are no crazy lights to put up, or extra reasons to shop (except for cranberry sauce and stuffing mix or unless you're one of those crazy black Friday people, which I am very much not!). For the most part it is a relatively low key holiday-- a time to enjoy some good old fashion comfort food and hang out with our families.

Each year we try to practice gratitude around the dinner table in one way or another. In years past I've created a thankfulness tree out of construction paper and have taped it to the glass door next to our kitchen table. Here is a photo of one of our Thankfulness trees from years past...

In the last couple of years, I've gathered all the leaves afterwards, put them together in a  little collage and have laminated it. This way we have a thankfulness record for years to come.

Last year's tree. I must say, I'm quite thankful there is no   s...n...o... (I can't even say it out loud!)
on the ground yet this year! 

This year I decided to try something simpler...it required sticks (that Aubrey and I collected), a vase (that I had in the basement), and a leaf template that I found online (I'm sorry, I can't find the website right now! But, if you look "Thankfulness Tree" up in Pinterest or Google, you'll find lots of ideas/templates!).

Here is our 2016 Thankfulness Tree...






We try to fill out one leaf a day with the things we are grateful for. My favorite response this week is that Aubrey has learned quite quickly that "Jesus" is a good answer for just about any question. So cute! Yesterday at dinner I said, "Aubrey, your turn, what are you thankful for?"

"Jesus!" she said with a huge grin on her face, like she had just answered the jackpot question correctly.

Which, I guess, she kind of had (;


Hoping to share a few more thankfulness posts with you before the month is out.