Monday, December 23

How to Be Calm and Carry On (Two Days Before Christmas)!

Hi Sweet Friends,

How are you today? How are you holding up?

Today is Monday, December 23rd and that means so many things. So. Many. Things.

I'm a highly sensitive person with a measure of ADD (legitimately on both of those things), so this time of year can leave me extra overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted if I'm not intentional about making space for my soul to breathe-- even small spaces, brief pauses, little moments-- they can all make a big difference. A difference in my perspective, in my ability to manage the details, in my ability to be present and intentional for the people that I love.

All of this rushing, shopping, wrapping, gifting, decorating, baking, errand running-- much of it is good, and done with the best intentions, but sometimes I feel (in that still small space in my spirit where God speaks to me) that it has gotten excessive and often causes us to place expectations on ourselves that we were never intended to carry.

While I'm not exactly sure how Jesus would want us to celebrate his birthday if he were here, right now, walking on the earth in human form, I can tell you it wouldn't require us to do all of the things we are doing.

As a matter of fact, when I sat down to write this post this morning I had created a list of "10 Ways to Keep Calm and Carry On Two Days Before Christmas". It was a good list. It had great suggestions on it--  like praying, and being silent. Like going for a walk and enlisting help from your family. I was going to suggest journaling and lowering your expectations.

I still believe that all of those things are important.

But, as I sat down to write this post this post and asked myself the question, How would Jesus want me to celebrate his birthday? what came to mind was the story of Martha and Mary.

At the Home of Martha and Mary 
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary,who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”   (Luke 10:38-NIV)


Did you read verse 40? "But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!"  

Martha was DISTRACTED by all the PREPARATIONS.

Like all of my preparations? Christmas preparations? Preparations for a day meant to celebrate Jesus, but that has become about so many other things.

Sweet friends, I'm not saying we shouldn't work hard over these next few days, or that we should stop everything and be lazy. I'm also not saying that we shouldn't buy gifts, and decorate and bake cookies and go shopping. Those are all good things. They are all sweet things.   Celebrations can be beautiful moments of fellowship, and love expressed. They create memories and sweet moments of fun between friends and family-- the sweetest gifts that life offers.

But, when we have become so distracted by all of the preparations that we have stopped making time to sit at Jesus feet, then we've lost sight of the true meaning of Christmas. 

What is that Jesus say to lovely Martha, who is hosting a party for Jesus in her home? She wasn't wrong in her desire to do the work necessary to be a good hostess-- she simply wanted everything to be perfect for him (I would have too!!).  But this is what Jesus says:
"Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-- or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her."


Only one thing is needed.

I could have given you my "10 Ways to Find Calm in the Chaos at Christmas" list and it might have helped you find some peace.  As I said earlier, making space for prayer was on that list. But, what Jesus is saying here is even more don't need a list of 10 only need to know one.

We're having a party for Jesus in our homes, and while there is so much that could be done, there is only one thing that is needed.

He simply wants us to spend time with Him. To point our children towards him. To set our hearts and minds on things above, and make space to just be with Him.

I can promise you I won't do this perfectly over the next few days. I can guarantee there will be moments when I will get overwhelmed by all that is left to do-- all that my kids are hoping I'll do (decorate gingerbread houses, bake cookies (we haven't made one yet!), wrap gifts, etc. etc. etc.), but I can also promise you that I will be meditating on these words. I'm writing them on a post it note and at the top of my to-do list for today...

Few things are needed-- indeed only one...

Hugs to you all. I hope you have a blessed, peaceful and very merry Christmas, and that you find time to rest at Jesus feet...even for just a few moments at a time.

Tuesday, December 10

What I Learned in the Quiet of a Local Inn Two Weeks Before Christmas

If you're anything like me, and I have a feeling at least some of you are, then you may have found yourself smack dab in the middle of the Christmas planning/shopping/party/school concert/decorating/cookie making season with everything going whirly twirly all around you while you try to hold it all together (and wondering if you're ready!).

I don't mean hold it together like you're going to lose it and have a meltdown at any given moment (though that happens sometimes when the hormones are flying high and there is I just mean you're hoping you remember to send the wrapped book for the book exchange in with your six your old on the right day, and the lemonade for your 12 year old for her party on another day, and that you don't forget to send the gumdrops and smarties you promised to the 1st grade teacher for the gingerbread houses, and you're secretly hoping that everyone has a Christmas-y looking dress (and tights!) in their closets that actually fit...just in case you need it. And that's just the tip of the proverbial Christmas-with-kids iceberg.

Last week was full, full, full of fun, fun, fun, but left not enough time at home, which means my house is now a mess, mess, MESS!

We went from Thanksgiving celebrations, to visiting  friends in Saratoga Springs (a 4 hour drive for us), to Nutcracker rehearsal and performance week, with piano lessons and a chorus concert thrown in for good measure.

I took this picture of my bed to send to one of my friends who confided in me that she kept moving her laundry from her bed (where she promised herself she was going to put it away everyday) to the floor (when it was time to sleep), and then back to the bed again (the next day when the fresh promise of a new day assured her that certainly this was the day that it was going to get done!) and then back to the floor (so she could sleep again)...over and over again.

I wanted to assure her that she wasn't alone, nor was she abnormal. Or, at least if she is abnormal than she's not alone in her abnormal-ness because at least one other momma (me!) is right there with her.

I'm not sure what this all means...that we all need to slow down (probably), or perhaps just embrace the moments because these memories with our kids are formed in such a short period of time-- time that passes very quickly-- and so it is an ebb and flow of doing (concerts, visiting friends, performances, school events) and being (trying to find time to recoup at home, and be together as a family without rushing here, there and everywhere, and finding some time to breathe).

It can be a tricky balance to find sometimes, but it's the only way forward.

In an effort to find some quiet space I booked a one night stay at a local bed and breakfast last night. I told Scott that I needed some quiet- 24 hours worth of quiet- to process what the last few weeks have held, and prepare myself for the next few weeks to come.

Even though I felt guilty leaving the house two weeks before Christmas, and saying no to several requests yesterday and today...the time...the quiet was exactly what I needed.

I was actually signed up to do Centers in Aubrey's 1st grade class this morning, but didn't realize it until Sunday night after I booked the hotel room. As awful as I felt about it, I knew that this was my only chance to get away for weeks to come and that I needed to prioritize it. After several unsuccessful attempts to find another parent to fill in for me, I ended up sending a very honest apology note to her teacher explaining that I couldn't come in this morning.

I only tell you that because I know, as moms, we often struggle with disappointing people and saying "No", but sometimes-- to make quiet space for your soul-- it's the very thing you have to do.

So  many of us struggle to make space for our souls to rest. We feel guilty or indulgent for even thinking about a night away. Last year, when I did a similar overnight at a hotel and told my mom about it she told me that that she wished she had done the very same thing for herself when I was younger...that she could have used a night away.

I wish I could go back in time and make that happen for her...I think it would have nurtured things in her soul that desperately needed nurturing.

As I sat in that quiet room last night and this morning I thought about a lot of things. I brought books, and journals, calendars, post-it notes, and school papers that needed to be read. There was a lot I needed to do for life, but what I needed more than anything was the quiet. And my Bible.

I needed to breathe, and pray, and breathe and pray some more...I needed to ask God to quiet my mind and my heart so I could see clearly through the fog of busy family life. 

I've been reading through the book of Luke this month (Did you know there are 24 chapters in the book of Luke, so if you read one each day you will read the entire story of Jesus' life by Christmas) and was moved by these words, "But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed" (Luke 5:16).

If Jesus needed to withdraw to lonely places to connect with his Heavenly Father, how much more do we need to do the same?

I'm not sure what that looks like for you this month, or during this season of life. Perhaps it means turning a cartoon on for your kiddos in the middle of the day and committing that time to prayer, and journaling. Perhaps it means giving yourself permission to head out one night this week to Starbucks with your Bible, and a journal and the bazillion thoughts in your head.

Perhaps it means you drive to a park some night this week, or on Saturday, and simply sit in your minivan and read (I love my minivan quiet times!). Maybe you can actually sneak away for a night this week or next (I give you permission if you can make the logistics happen with your husband or extended family members!) to a hotel or bed and breakfast-- to a lonely place-- and just alone with your thoughts, with your prayers, with God. It may be the best gift you give to yourself all month.

I found it ironic, that just weeks before Christmas I ended up looking for space at a small local Inn (Asa Ransom House in Clarence)-- it reminded me, in some ways of Joesph and Mary.  Even more ironically, my room had a view that looked over the back wooded yard and down onto a small house/cottage (built years ago by the owner of the Inn). Next to that cottage, set right in front of a small pond was a hand built wooden nativity scene where Mary and Joseph looked down on baby Jesus in the stillness and quiet of the night.

I can't quite explain the peace I felt when I saw the nativity and how it reaffirmed what the Holy Spirit had been speaking into my soul for days...that in the middle of the mostly busy, but sometimes quiet moments of this month, but in actuality, every day of the year--God is with us. He is with you, and me, and very much present in our lives if we slow down to notice.

This past Saturday I wrote this at the top of my calendar for the week, "Emmanuel...God with us."

I knew I needed to see those words every day. To intentionally remember why we are celebrating this Advent season.

I don't have any quick tips to simplify your hustle and bustle this month, nor am I going to tell you to do one more thing. The only thing I will say is that stopping ALL.THE.THINGS. just for a few moments, may be the best gift of all.

Hugs to you all.

Monday, November 25

Giving Yourself Grace in the Middle of the Holidays- A Thanksgiving Post (#4)

Ah, friends. How is it the end of November already?


Earlier today, while I was at Panera,  an older woman stopped to ask me the time. I was sitting at a table eating lunch and writing this post so my computer was open. I looked at the clock, then looked up at her,  "2:21," I said.

"Oh my goodness!" she exclaimed, eyes wide like she was late for something, "Time waits for no one!"

I smiled, "No. No it doesn't."

She rushed off on her way, seemingly shocked that the day was going so fast. I continued writing this post, pondering how the last month has gone by so fast. This month, last month, the month before that...

Wasn't it just the 4th of July? I swear we were just waving sparklers and eating Doritos beneath a cascading fireworks display?

But, alas, here we are, playing bumper carts at the grocery store as we pick up recipe items for stuffing and green bean casserole, while reckoning with the fact that it's the last week of November, which means Christmas is also RIGHT. AROUND. THE. CORNER!!!

I have really enjoyed writing about gratitude and thanksgiving in this space this month. This is my 4th and final post on the topic and the act of writing these posts, if nothing else, has awakened my own heart and mind to the necessity of practicing gratitude not just in the month of November, but as a regular part of my life. All. Year. Round.

For me, this more intentional gratitude practice came at a good time- the days have been getting shorter with the dark coming early. It's getting cold in the Northeast and between the shorter days and the colder weather I often want to just curl up in a ball and hibernate. I've struggled with seasonal affective issues for years, and feel like I'm still recovering from last winter. I hate the term "seasonal affective disorder" (SAD) because "disorder" carries a lot of negative connotations, and the complexities that contribute to SAD are deep and wide. It's a different recipe for each person that has to do with hormones, serotonin levels, biological sensitivities, season of life, etc. etc. etc. However, the struggles are real and I've been feeling tired and less chipper than I'd like.

While I may write more about SAD at another time, you can hop on over to Sarah Geringer's blog to read some best practices for combating SAD--she has a great 4-part series on it that she's currently re-running on her website. As for me, I just dug my Verilux light lamp out of the basement and sat in front of it while sipping coffee for 25 minutes earlier today (yes, yes, I actually do this! If you're feeling blue, c'mon over. I'll make you a latte on our espresso machine and we can both sit in front of the lamp together!)

All that to say, I am thankful for sunshine and blue skies today. I am thankful for the week that lies ahead and the chance to get together with family and friends. I am thankful for our church and the fellowship we experience there every week. For the series our pastor has been teaching  on Thanks-Living, which is a term I hadn't heard before, but have been thinking a lot about over the last few weeks.

May we all find ways to carry our gratitude from this month of November, where we are reminded in extra measure to practice saying "thanks", into the other 11 months. May we all find ways to increase our own thanks living each and every day...all year round.

I have to tell you, my "plans" to practice gratitude with the entire family have not gone quite as I had hoped.  I had the quotes written down, bought several books, had a list of scriptures I was going to write on our chalkboard, and all sorts of ideas for mealtime talks.

It all seemed so grand and sweet and do-able in my mind.

We do have a handful of thankfulness items written on leaves and taped to our gratitude tree.  I did write one of the  four verses that I jotted down up on our chalkboard-- it's been there for two weeks now. I'm hoping someone else in the house has actually noticed it. I've read a couple of books about giving thanks with Aubrey and we took cranberry sauce and apple pie to a "Friends-Giving" celebration (which is always one of our favorite events of November).

That's all good, right?

I can sometimes be hard on myself when the grand plans are quickly reduced to much smaller plans, and haphazard conversations at the dinner table  are squeezed in in between arguing about who gets the ketchup first and how someone is annoyed that someone else is chewing too loudly.

But, I realized this week, that as the kids are getting older and we continue to live our full and sometimes admittedly too busy lives, that we're not always going to be able to teach our kids about things like gratitude, or God's grace, or the deep meaning of praise and thankfulness in picturesque conversations at a Hallmark ready dinner table.

That doesn't mean we don't still point them in the right direction. I've posted quotes around the house, have hung "thankful" signs and banners in the kitchen, and have kicked up conversations about these things in the car and sometimes at dinner. I've done my best to do what I could do this month. Sometimes our plans intersect with this thing called life, and we need to give ourselves enormous grace when the outcome is not quite as planned.

I also realized that the most important thing that I could do this month was to practice deeper gratitude in my own life-- to make myself a more grateful person.  I've done this by writing down the things I'm thankful for in my journal (and sometimes online), by integrating more praise into my prayer times, and by deepening my own understanding of gratitude. Ultimately, we are our children's greatest example, so even when our grand plans for family meals, and conversations don't play out the way we dreamed they would, we can continue to set an example of what we're preaching (and planning!) in our own lives.

I encourage you to be the example-setter this week. Be grateful while you're running errands,  and buying dinner groceries, and helping your child clean their very, very, VERY messy bedroom (Ok, maybe that was me on Saturday night, and I wasn't so grateful about it and said a lot of grumpy things about messes. I've since asked for forgiveness and am changing my grumbling ways and promise to be more joyful the next time I enter said bedroom!).

I encourage you also to give yourself grace when your best laid plans for grand Pinterest holiday crafts, devotionals, and family gathering ideas don't go quite as you were hoping they would.

It's normal. I promise. It doesn't mean you're a bad mom. I double promise. And you're still teaching your children wonderful, beautiful things in the middle of it all.

I promise.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Now our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name 
1 Chronicles 29:13

Monday, November 18

Practicing Gratitude, Week 3: Being Grateful for the Little Things

It's been a full and busy week in our house. All the normal stuff. You know how that goes, right?  Sometimes, when you’re a family of five the normal stuff can feel a little like a 5-ring circus—full, colorful, and noisy, with a little bit of chaos and mess thrown in for good measure. 
I’ve had bronchitis, which has slowed me down a bit, and then Ella got sick later in the week and was home with me on Friday. I only share all of this with you to let you know that if your own life feels a little bit like a circus, well, you’re not alone. We’re eating popcorn and peanuts and wondering which end is up some days too.
#metoo #parentingiscrazysometimes
As I was thinking about gratitude and what it looks like to continuously practice being grateful in the middle of IT ALL (and we all have our own IT ALL), I decided to pull one of my favorite books on thankfulness and gratitude off the bookshelf and re-read some of the underlined passages.
One Thousand Gifts has virtually become a classic in the Christian book world, and for good reason. Ann Voskamp's profound ability to explore the mundane in search of the beauty and blessings that go unseen around us every day is the poignant reminder that so many of us need. A reminder to stop, look, listen, notice and praise God for the bazillion blessings that are right in front of us, even when our days feel a little bit like…well, the circus.

I opened the book to a section in Chapter 4 where Ann talks about how fast time  seems  to fly when we are adulting and parenting and trying to take care of all of the things we need to take care of. She talks about her longing to slow time down. To just BE in the moment. 
Yes. Yes. Yes.
             “I speak it to God,” she says. “I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see, time to read and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded, pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done—yesterday. 
            …I just want time to do my one life well.  
                A soap bubble bursts next to my skin.”
Ahh, yes.  Me too, Ann. Me too. 
Ann goes on to do what Ann does so well—she tells us how that gorgeous little soap bubble made her pause to ponder the wonders of the world. How a soap bubble made her stop and remember God. How it pulled her out of her hurried, cranky pace to be able to BE in the moment.  
Isn’t that what we all want? Time to do our one life well. And, isn’t it so true? When we start to feel hurried, rushed, and like it’s all going too fast we get cranky and maybe a little bit ungrateful, whether we mean to or not. Not the kind of ungrateful where we’re complaining about life: Just the kind of ungrateful where we’ve gotten too busy to stop and intentionally be grateful for life. To stop and praise God for this life He’s given us. 

If any of this is resonating with you, you should grab One Thousands Gifts and read Chapter 4 this week, because I wish I could share ALL of the words with you here. They’re beautiful words dripping with truth. 
[As a matter of fact, if you don't have a copy, and leave a comment at the end of this post, I will pick one lovely comment leaving reader and send you a copy of One Thousand Gifts in the mail.]
Voskamp goes on to say this:
“The wonder right in the middle of the sink. Looking for it like this. I lay the palm under water and I raise my  hand with the membrane of a life span of moments. In the light, the sheerness of bubble shimmers. Bands of garnet, cobalt, flowing luminous. 
I see through to the pattern. I see. The way my life, vapor is shaping. I hadn’t noticed. 
It’s #362. 
362. Suds…all color in sun. 
That’s my answer to time. 
Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all of my attention, I slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I Live fully in the moment…Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time’s river slows, slows, slows.”
As I read her words it dawned on me that as I’ve been counting my own blessings this month, and finding that the counting of the blessings brings about a kind of peace I wasn’t expecting, that that peace comes from the pause…the slowing down of time…the stopping to notice details that we so often rush by.
I guess the wise teachers that coined the phrase “stop and smell the flowers” were on to something. It’s in the stopping that the seeing begins. It’s in the seeing that the heart grows bigger with gratitude. And it’s in those moments that a much longed for peace settles into the soul, even if it's only for a few minutes before the kids come tumbling through the door, boots and hats covered in snow and we’re on to the next thing.
But, maybe there is a way to more present in that next thing too…to be thankful for their gloriously flushed faces and pink cheeks. To remember for a moment the joy of playing outside in cold snow (rather than complain out it as I enjoy doing in my old age!).
I know this is all easier said than done. Believe me, I KNOW.
But heres to trying.
Trying to slow down to notice this week.
Trying to be in the moment.
Trying to count our thousands of blessings. Blessings as small as soap bubbles and flushed pink cheeks.

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite Psalms of Thanksgiving:

Psalm 100 
A psalm. For giving thanks.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs. 
Know that the Lord is God.
It is He who made us, and we are his 
we  are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 
Enter his gates with Thanksgiving
And his courts with praise; 
Give thanks to him and praise his name. 
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations. 

And a quote…
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.”     (Melody Beattie)