Saturday, December 24, 2011

december 24th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read the Advent Devotion
Today, help Mom and Dad pack up the car and enjoy the drive...
Laughing all the way!"

We are taking our Christmas over the river and through the woods this year.
I had planned today to be a packing, traveling, doing kind-of-day, so I was surprised with the gift of a quiet, contemplative morning.  

The sun was not even up when I smelled coffee brewing.  I came down stars to the softest music, candles lit, tree glowing and my sweet husband reading by the fire.  We sat in the stillness, the pause, between yesterday's grand celebration and tomorrow's big plans.

I am looking forward to our quaint Christmas in the country.
But the anticipation, the waiting, the planning, and the new traditions we have started this year make me just a little sad that it is almost over.

I have NEVER said that about the holidays before.

May you find the quietest moment this Christmas Eve to savor the thrill of anticipation.

december 23rd

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion.  
Take notice of all your blessings today.
Try to count them."

We had "Grammy Christmas" today.  It is the climax of the holiday season for the kids.  So many cousins.  So much food. Too many presents to count.  We watched a movie of our Christmas together 12 years together.  We watched a movie of our Christmas together 2 years ago. They all add up to something pretty wonderful.  

I have been so busy years past trying to make it through the holidays that I have missed being IN them.

It was this day last year that was Granny Black's last day on earth.  Maybe we felt that this year.  I am not sure what it was.  But there was an awareness that what we have today, this moment and all the moments that we've shared up to this time, equals something very special.

Merry Grammy Christmas to YOU!

december 22nd

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion and tonight, as a family, 
read The Night Before Christmas"

december 21st

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion!
After you have done that ask Mom about our plans for the day."

december 20th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion 
send an email to someone who has been a good friend to you."

december 19th

In the Advent Calendar Today: 

"Read today's Advent Devotion.
At dinner tonight with ALL FOUR of your Grandparents, 
tell each of them about a lesson they have taught you."

december 18th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion. 
As a family, talk about where you see God's Spirit in your world."

Friday, December 23, 2011

december 17th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion.  
Tonight we will make eggnog and hot chocolate 
and play games by the fire."

It takes so much planning to pull off Christmas morning.  Sometimes I forget that the best moments are the  ones that just happen.  We had an "express Christmas" with my family last night.

We packed my (new!) car with presents.  Used a Groupon for a dozen cupcakes.  Did FaceTime with my brother's family in Texas. And topped off the night with dinner at a mexican restaurant.  

We shared a moment that all of us will remember forever. I was smiling for days remembering our time together.

It doesn't have to be complicated.
It doesn't have to cost anything.
It doesn't have to be on the calendar for months.

My son summed the evening up when he said, 
"I had my expectations really low for this night and I am having the best time!"

Tonight, we did make hot chocolate (with the packages of Starbuck's salted caramel and the magic of the Cocomotion).  We lit the fire.  We played our Christmas music.  

My daughter won Clue on her first turn.
My husband kicked our tail in Yatzee.
I was thrilled that my kids were finally old enough to play 16 rounds of Count Down.

 Our expectations took a vacation for a couple of days and we were free to enjoy each other.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

december 16th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion and put a surprise in the mailbox for our mailman."

I is a common courtesy to give a gift to your postman/woman/person.  But in years past, that has always been just one more thing on my list that I never get to.   One of my friends told me that the person who delivered her paper left an address so she would know where to send Christmas tips.  This is the kind of obligation that makes me bristle.  My mailman has never done that.  

And it is in these 8/9 days till Christmas that I start to feel the pressure that I have been not so successful at warding off with my sacred Christmas plans.

Even though all the presents are bought and wrapped, suddenly my children change their minds about what they want from Santa. Even details like their favorite color change.  

Remember our Advent Mission to deliver dog treats?

Well, one of those neighbor's delivered a special gift to my daughter to thank her.  

My daughter said,

"This is the best gift I have ever received."

Yes, she is known to be dramatic.  And the sweet gift of candy and a teddy bear figurine, while wonderful, could not be the BEST gift, right?  

She further explained, "What I mean is that all the gifts I get someone is supposed to get me (because I am their daughter/granddaughter/cousin/niece), but when someone gives you a gift that you do not deserve and they don't even know you...that is the gift that means the world to you."

Today, notice the gifts that no one was "obligated" to give to you and receive them with joy.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

december 15th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion and 
Go to the Library!
Deliver a treat to our favorite librarian."

My love for the library, well, there are not enough words.  I love books.  I love free books.  I love used books. I love reading them.  I love listening to them.  I love sharing them. I love returning a big stack and checking out an even bigger stack.  And I love our librarian.

He knows us by name.  He changes due dates for our lost cds and missing books.  He knows when books are waiting for us.  He knows when we are waiting for particular books.  It all just feels so very Mayberry-ish.

Our stop by the grocery store to get Sir Librarian a gift was not so dear.  My daughter became quite attached to a gift tin that was too small for the treats we had already found.  I chose another container that she did not love and would not let her change the treat to fit in the tin.  Does this seem harsh?  I just wanted to get out of the store and move on with our day.  She quite firmly told me that this was supposed to be from HER and that it was NOT. As if this was all a giant deception we were pulling over on our library friend.

I went into robot-mom mode and smiled blankly through the check-out line.  This is not who I want to be.  Not at Christmas-time.  Not at any time.  

Good thing we were headed to the library to stock up on books to fill the hours of quality time we have ahead of us.

A few of our finds:

The Cricket in Time Square by George Seldon
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
Blast from the Past by Meg Cabot
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

May you find something to snuggle up and read as you recover from the stress of holiday shopping.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

december 14th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's devotion and then go on a hunt for change around the house and in the car.
Deliver it to the Salvation Army bell ringer."

Sometimes I amuse myself with my grand plans.

Ok, so it doesn't sound like a grand plan. But you know, there are days when the smallest things feel daunting.  

This was the last day of school.  And we have worked really hard to get here.  We were wiped out.  All of us.  I had no energy to inspire the kids to go on a scavenger hunt. I took a bath and was in my pajamas before the sun went down.  The kids played way too many video games and I spent too much time on Pinterest.  

We ate dinner in shifts and then I made cookies.  They were really delicious.  Everyone else in my house is in their own space right now.  I am listening to my White Christmas Pandora station.  
It seemed a good time to read today's Advent Devotion:

Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" ~John 1:22

Who are you?
What do you say about yourself?

In business, parenting, updating my fb status, figuring out how to tweet, finding my place at church, even pinning "my style"...I am constantly trying to answer those questions.
And some days it's nice to stop.

Sometime soon we will collect our spare change.  We will deliver it to the jolly ones who diligently ring that bell outside of Kroger.  And we will feel a little pleased with ourselves for sharing the tiniest bit of our abundance.  

But tonight, I will find rest from trying to figure out what I am supposed to give.  I will take a break from answering all the questions about who I am.  And for today, I will practice what it means to just be.

May you know you are loved. Just for being.

december 13th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion and after school deliver a treat to Dad at his office.
Tell him something you really value about him."

So, I wasn't prepared for school ending at 9:45 am (because of exams).
I did not anticipate the adrenaline that someone must have injected into my children in their sleep.
I can't believe I still have 12 more days of this ahead of me.

Peace on Earth.
Goodwill toward men.
I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

Who am I kidding?  I can't.  Sometimes you just run out and today I am out.

The kids are in good spirits. 
They loved delivering "jr. cheeseburgers with ketchup only" to their dad.
Their letters were full of things they noticed, but you don't think kids do.
Like how much they appreciate all the work my husband has been doing to get a new car.

As the day wore on, they could also clearly sense that I was in need of a break.
While I was writing, they both got all up in my space and said, 
"Mom, I think you need to leave early for work today and treat yourself to a little me time.''

Of course, they really just wanted my computer for themselves. But I took their advice and gave myself a break.  I tossed a book into my purse and found my way to a warm restaurant to snuggle into for a couple of hours of mindless alone time. 

May you find peace today and goodwill toward (wo)man. 
Treat yourself to some well-needed "me time". 

december 12th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion and go shopping for the Ramey boys.
Try to find gifts that can easily be tucked into Todd and Laura's suitcases."

I met a lady at the gym today whose husband lost his job last year.  
She said, "This wasn't the life we planned for."

A friend recently received a terrifying diagnosis. "We are sad and scared," she confesses.

Another family close to our hearts waits and waits and waits for the arrival of their 3 boys from Haiti.  "The big question we always get is, 'so when do you get your boys?' We wish we had an answer to that" (ibelieveinyou).

These were the musings of my morning, when I read today's devotion:

"by paths they have not known, I will guide them" Isaiah 42:16.

How comforting to know that when we fall, scrape ourselves, trip in the dark, bump into a tree, doubt ourselves and God...we are being guided through it all.

"There is a light.  No matter how dark it may become, there is a radiance that will not be denied, that cannot be ignored" (followthestar).

May you know the light, feel it's warmth, on every step of your path today.

Monday, December 12, 2011

december 11th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Look up Isaiah 61:4 in our big white Bible.
What does this mean to you?
Today, think of a way you could show your brother/sister
how important they are to you."

It feels like my kids are never home at the same time. Even though I had to work last night, I attempted an early family dinner because I wanted us to have some place of connection before everyone got into the busy week ahead of us.

With less than 30 minutes to have some quality family time, I was a little tense.
Rushing my daughter downstairs after her shower, impatiently asking my son to get drinks for everyone, and just generally irritated in the direction of my husband.

Because, dang-it, we were going to connect tonight.

I caught myself, took a deep breath, tried to listen to their conversation. I smiled and laughed at their stories, stealing glances at the clock as I counted down how many minutes we had to "relax and enjoy" each other.

We had a good 10 minutes to spare and that is when I said, "Hey guys, want to move over by the fire and do our advent devotion together?"

Even though I am usually a stickler about everyone cleaning up their own plates, I was saying, "Just leave your plate there. come on, let's get going." My daughter still had spaghetti hanging from her mouth as I pulled her over to the living room.

Are you sensing this is not going to be good?

Well, you are right.

The translation of the verse from Isaiah in our big white Bible just confused the kids. While I was trying to get them off their heads and sit properly on the couch, they got in a pillow fight. So, I get louder and louder trying to tell them what I think "binding up the broken-hearted" means. While my husband is trying to figure out if he should read the verse himself or yell at the kids or pour me a drink.

In the middle of the madness, I stand up and say good-bye.
It seemed the most gracious thing to do.
I grabbed my keys, went downstairs, and off to church to teach a class on happy marriage.

Two hours later, I came home to two kids tucked in bed and a cute husband sitting by the fire with his eggnog listening to christmas music.

I hugged the kids good-night.
Enjoyed a quiet evening with my man.
No one said, "I am so sorry about the way we acted."
"Mom, why are you such a freak?"

I have a new understanding of why it is important to "say grace" whenever two or more are gathered, especially at dinner time.

Let us whisper "grace" into our own hearts and the ears of those who are kind enough to share their homes, meals and lives with us, even when we act like a freak.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

december 10th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Read the Advent Devotion and then look for an opportunity to show kindness or appreciation for someone throughout your day."

We had a packed morning beginning with a swim meet and everyone was moving in different directions the rest of the day. Today's advent mission had to be something the kids could do on their own.

I read the devotion on my iphone during some of the down time at the meet.

"Peace. One definition of peace is “normal.” It is the state that is without war and without violence. I am not sure I would claim it as normal. I look around and what I normally see is stress, anxiety, worry, and chaos. People running from one activity to the next, working on a paper and project, and studying for a test — this seems to be normal...
Can we decide that our new normal is PEACE?"

All I had to do was look around the giant middle school event and see the stress, anxiety, worry and chaos that surrounded me. As well as courage, excitement and the thrill of the competition. We watched friends and family cheer on the winners and celebrate the last guy to complete his laps. In the midst of all that chaos there was a sweet sweet spirit.

As my son climbed out of the water of his last race, he found out that he had been disqualified for not touching the side with both hands. We said we were really proud of him anyway. Even though he was bummed, he was also relieved to be warm and to be done, so we quickly walked out to the car to move on with our full day.

When we were driving I started thinking about the Advent Mission: to show someone kindness. I asked B if he had a chance to do that at the meet. He said he cheered on his friends but he didn't say or do anything thinking about who needed kindness.

I asked him what he would think about offering himself kindness for being disqualified.
He thought that was a great idea.

Our own anxious hearts are desperate for kindness.

Today, let us see our anxiety, worry, chaos, and stress as exhausted, confused, and overwhelmed parts of us.

Give yourselves the same kindness and aprecitation that you would give to someone else who was working so hard on your behalf. Especially during the Holidays!

december 9th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Want to go grocery shopping today? Neither do I. Today, let's show some appreciation to the people who help us at the store all of the time. When we get our groceries, we will deliver a gift."

It might not seem life changing to you, but when one of my friends introduced me to online grocery shopping, food changed for me and my family. I don't know if I just can't handle the stress of choosing between 34 versions of everything on my list or if that my list is just another piece of paper I can't find when I need it, if I bothered to write one...for these reasons and so many more, I LOVE Harris Teeter's Express Lane.

I can place my order online in less than 20 minutes. I am usually sitting in my kitchen, so I can look at my fridge and pantry to see what I do and don't need. I pull into the lovely drive through, push a button, say my name and a beautiful human brings out my sorted and bagged food, placing it right in my trunk.

So, all this to say, a gift to our grocery-store friend was a gift of deep appreciation for all the ways she has helped us this year.

After I got the kids from school, we went shopping for a few gifts and found a big mug gift with chocolate, hot chocolate and cookies in it. It was not our usual helper, but we were happy just the same to share a gift of Christmas with her.

As soon as my daughter handed the gift to her saying, "Merry Christmas!"
The woman said, "I will make sure and get this to the woman who is regularly here."

She shut the trunk and moved on quickly, so I trusted the gift was going to go to whoever needed a little treat this day.

This is a common theme in my life these days (The Widow's Mite/The Artist's Courage):
We offer our gifts and then we release them.

What joy to imagine the things that what we choose, create and share with another might have a purpose beyond our vision and plans.

Friday, December 9, 2011

december 8th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"It is my turn to give: Order anything you want at Sonic after school today."

I forgot to write that they should read the Advent Devotion as well. But after they opened up box #8, they went straight to the computer and I heard the now familiar music of follow the star.

On the drive to school I asked them what the devotion was about.

B (my 12 year old) : Mom, it was freaky. It was about God burning up the earth and heaven. Even the people in heaven are going to get burned up.

Me: Where was the scripture from?

B: Probably Revelations.

Me: Oh.
(thinking...this doesn't seem very Christmasy at all.)

The verse was actually from 2Peter. It is about holiness and godliness and waiting. And blazing fires.

We didn't ever make it to Sonic. For reasons connected to bad attitudes.

So, shall we call it a bad advent day? A day when God's word does not make sense. A day when we miss out on new good things because we are so angry that everything isn't going our way.

As one of my dear friends says, "It all belongs."

What else do I really have to offer God, but all of me? Today that includes my bad attitude, my disappointments, and my mistakes. Only when all of me is offered can I appreciate and receive the gift of being unconditionally welcomed and comforted by the One who is holy.

"On this Advent road, the star lights our path with hope and comfort."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

december 7th

In the Advent Calendar Today:

"Have a family advent time this morning or this evening.
The first week of advent is over.
What do you think so far?
Is it better to give than receive?"

Reflections on Today's Devotion:

Today is a day of giving thanks for those who paved the way for us, just like John did for Jesus.
Even Jesus had someone pave the way for him.
Another example of humility.
WE need each other.

Not having a car this week has been a gift for me on many levels.
I have spent more hours in the car than anywhere else since August.
As a result of car issues, I have had 3 days at my home sweet home.
Some of our friends let us borrow their car.
Another friend drove me around town.
A teacher drove my son to play practice.
My mom did the after school crazy car schedule for me.
I am very aware of my "neediness" these days.

While I am intentional this advent season, to encourage my children to give, it seems the lesson for me is in learning to receive.
It is new for me to welcome my own neediness.
In welcoming my need (as a blessing, not a curse)
I can graciously receive the gifts that my dear friends and family share with me.

So, is it better to give than to receive? There are precious gifts in both packages, the ones we thoughtfully place in the hands of others and the ones that are wrapped especially for us.

May you receive the joy of both giving and receiving Christmas.

december 6th

In the Advent Calendar today:

"Read today's devotion and then leave the house early to eat breakfast at Starbuck's. Remember to get your teacher's treats and tip your Barista generously!"

As a result of being a one car family, all four of us drove together this morning. It felt so old fashioned. Amazed at how fast my kids got ready.

Our time at Starbuck's was the perfect way to begin the day because both kids had their first finals. They had put in a lot of studying and been under a lot of stress. (I hate the idea of stress and kids, but such is life.) They bought cinnamon rolls for their teachers. Learned how to tip at a coffee shop (and they learned what Barista means.)

We dropped them off at school with big tests ahead of them and big smiles on their faces.

Hopefully, we will get to the devotion this evening. It is finally sinking in for me that I am the one who needs these devotions. They may or may not settle into my kids hearts, but they are helping me tremendously. I will receive them as my gift of sanity and simplicity. Surely my kids will notice and appreciate that gift of Christmas!

Monday, December 5, 2011

december 5th

In the Advent Calendar today:

"Think of how much your teachers do for you every day.
Write a letter to one who you are especially thankful for.
Tomorrow morning deliver it with a treat from Starbuck's
Don't forget to read today's advent devotion."

Because of school we didn't get to the advent calendar/devotion until tonight.
Nights like tonight remind me of why I have not tried to do something like this in a while.

The kids were hysterical.
We tried to get them to refocus.
We asked for their thoughts.
They told us about a girl at school who just got her braces off.
And showed us pictures they discovered while looking up the Bible verse.
They thought they were the funniest people ever.
And could not stop laughing.

I am really proud of both my husband and myself.
Because we laughed with them.
We looked at the pictures.
We let go of our agenda.
We let ourselves appreciate what was sacred about this night.
And sent the kids to bed early.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

december 4th

In the Advent Calendar today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion online and then make packages of the dog treats to deliver to our neighbor-pups."

The kids spent the night with their grandparents last night, so they did not open the calendar until they got home this evening. It was a good thing, too, because I had to change it.

We have been having car problems. Not just with one car, but both. This meant I was at home all day and would not be able to take them on the errand required for the activity I originally planned behind door #4. We were only able to make the dog treats yesterday, not deliver them (they were supposed to sit out overnight), so I decided to make delivery today's advent mission.

It is amazing how much you can do when you are stuck at home. At first, I was only frustrated with what I would not be able to do, including run by the store. It ended up to be such a gift, to sit at home and see all I already have. I found dinner ingredients behind some ice cream in the freezer. The gift tags to finish wrapping presents were made from index cards and old ribbon instead of the cute ones I planned on getting from target. And the mission today was simply to walk outside our front door share the gifts we had already finished that were setting on our kitchen counter .

The scripture in the devotion today begins,
"Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God..." (Isaiah 40:1)


How can we experience it deeply?
How can we offer it genuinely and generously?

Sit. Still. Breathe. Look around at what you have. From the precise spot you are in this very moment. You don't have to drive anywhere to find it. You don't have to accomplish anything to get it. Right here is the only place Comfort ever promises to be.

Comfort, O Comfort.

I felt it today...

as I scrounged around for dinner ingredients,
as I hung the last ornament,
as I yelled at my kids to stop fighting over the computer,
as we tried to figure out our car situation,
as I listened to my daughter read the devotion to our family,
as I bickered with my husband,
as I sit here now, with everyone else in bed
and only the christmas lights to keep me company.

Comfort, O you my friends, right where you are.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

december 3rd

In the Advent Calendar today:

"Today, after reading the Advent Meditation
Let's show some love to our neighbor dogs!
We will make homemade dog treats-apple cinnamon."

Both kids loved today's mission. They were so excited to dig in and cook up these treats. We used the last apple in our fruit bowl in this recipe. While my daughter was chopping it up, I asked the kids about the devotion today. My son re-read it to us. The advent devotion today talks about loving the church the way God loves us.

I asked them if they knew what a church is?

My daughter said, "It is a place where people gather to worship."

Then I said, "Who is the church?"

She said, "All the people who gather to worship."

I said, "So when we love others, we are actually worshiping God. Actually, when we honor anything in creation we worshiping God, even the dogs in our neighborhood."

She took in a deep breath and said, "O my gosh, Mom! Do you know what I just realized? I am worshipping God all of the time."

I said, "I can't believe we are putting a juicy Honey Crisp Apple in these dog treats."

Avery said, "Mom, we are worshipping GOD. Don't you think He deserves a delicious apple?"

Watch and wait. When I am looking, I can see that the real gifts of Christmas always come at the perfect time.

Friday, December 2, 2011

december 2nd

In the Advent Calendar today:

"Read today's Advent Devotion online and then look up Acts 20:35 in the Bible.
~Why do you think the Bible says it is better to give then receive?
~Do you really believe that is true?"

The devotion today read that because of God's grace,
we are not lacking anything while we wait (1 Cor. 1:3-7).

We partially decorated our Christmas tree. And then it was time to go to bed. I looked at the tree this morning and thought, there's another thing I need to finish before I can set back and enjoy the holidays. I think it is my favorite Christmas tree we have ever had. It is tall and proud, well-lit and quite unaffected by it's spaces without ornaments. The devotion today reminds me that just because something is unfinished, it doesn't mean that it is incomplete.

So far, the theme of this time in Advent is waiting and giving. When we make a choice to give while we sit in the space between wanting and getting, we realize what we have. We notice the completeness of God's grace. We notice the spaces in other people's lives. We notice that we are not alone on this journey of waiting. There is comfort and companionship here.

My 12 year old had school this morning, my 10 year old did not. My son woke up my daughter 3 hours before her preferred waking time so that they could open the advent calendar together. I don't yet know what she thought of today (other than she is still a little ticked for not getting tiny treats in there) because she quickly returned to her snug bed. But when I asked him about the message today, he said it was about giving being better than getting.

He said, "It really is better because it just feels so good when someone likes what you got for them. But, I am a kid so it is hard for me to really BELIEVE that."

It's not just a kid thing thing, though. Over the years I have waited for many things, believing that only when I had them, I could be complete: the new house, the healthy baby, the parent to make it through surgery okay, the bank to not overdraft, the house to be clean, the book to be published, the debt to be paid off...

What better lesson to teach my children then that life is about waiting, about not always having all of our expectations fulfilled? That in the space of expectation, the lack of everything we want, grace is found.

You have no idea how much I am dying to go buy a bunch of tiny things for my daughter today. I am questioning my own plan. But I will wait in the discomfort of the incompletion (as I sip my coffee and relish the incompleteness of my Christmas tree) and trust that the gift of grace will find it's way in my home.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

december 1st

Inside the Advent Calendar today:

"Have you ever wondered why this is called an advent calendar?
(Your latin class will help you figure it out and so will Wikipedia :)
Light a candle and read today's advent message
using the Devotional Link in our bookmark bar."

The scripture was Mark 13:35-37.

It was about keeping awake.

I asked the kids what they thought that meant. Did it mean Jesus doesn't want us to sleep? They thought He was saying to stay awake so you don't miss Him.

I like that. Not missing out on sleep, of course. But staying aware, above the stress and shopping lists, the decorating and the cooking, so that I don't miss the presence of God working in and through my world.

When my son was telling my husband about what we read, he said, "We read about staying awake to God and not letting ourselves be distracted by commercialism." (huh.)

My daughter said, "So are we going to get any candy today? Any presents?"

I said, "You did get a present."

And I mean it. It is always hard to do to the thing for my kids that may not be the next dream come true moment for them. But their lives are pretty dreamy. An opportunity to teach my children about the things nearest and dearest to my heart is a gift of christmas that I can easily forget to share with them when I am busy trying to make all their Christmas morning wishes come true.

a sacred December

It's hard to find tiny things to fit in our Advent Calendar. And, although I love the idea of little treasures to count down until Christmas, along with Happy the Elf hiding cleverly each day, and the chocolate calendar count down, and the lego calendar, and the 3 adorable Playmobil calendars, just becomes too much.

In years past, we have had candy, christmas book titles, little stamps, little ornaments, notes that led them to different pre-christmas presents like luggage for a trip or pajamas.

This Christmas my kids are 10 and 12 years old. I decided this was a good year to use the Advent Calendar to help us as a family find the sacred in this holiday. As I last posted, it is a struggle for me to not lose myself, my patience, my joy in this season of expectation.

One thing we will be doing is visiting this website each morning: followingthestar.
I will post each day what the kid's find in the advent calendar and how it all works out.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Expectations

The word of the day:

expectation, noun.

1. the act of expecting or state of being expected; anticipation.

Ex. the expectation of a good harvest.

(SYN) hope.

2. something expected or looked forward to.

expr. expectations, good reasons for expecting something; prospects.

Ex. He has expectations of money from a rich uncle.

Here I am, going along in my little world of growth and grace, and then SLAM-right into the great wall of expectations. All of my heart's freedom, strength, and anticipation turn on me and suddenly, I am the one people are looking to with expectations. This is my 13th year of playing Santa and being Christmas Morning Mama. I feel like the only way to get through it is to hold my breath, click on one more link that drains my credit card, and dream of January.

But, I absolutely cannot stand any season of my life to go to waste. How can I access peace of mind while rushing through department stores with "Peace on earth. Good will to men" playing in the background? If there is any truth I know, it is that true love, joy, peace, patience, etc. have no power at all if they are delicately balanced on my circumstances.

Giving and receiving gifts has become an obligation for me. Without all of the materialism and commercialism (and probably some more isms I don't even know about), finding a present that is a tiny representation of how I feel about someone is a precious opportunity. Opening my heart to receive what someone has thoughtfully chosen for me with graciousness is a lesson. To give and receive, not from a place of meeting expectations, but of sharing the smallest piece of God's goodness, is just about the most appealing thing I could be doing with my life right now.

So, Christmas, I've got something to say to you:

You will not steal my joy, you cannot have my peace. I will not even let you try my patience.

For the rest of these December days, I will be open to discovering and sharing the real gifts I have been given, and my heart and my hands will be open to receiving them.

(I wrote this 4 years ago on My Messy Sanctuary, but it is my Christmas devotion every year.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Manic Monday: do you have time for a story?

Do you have time for a story?

My amazing friend asked me this question when I dropped by her house for just a few minutes yesterday morning. Of course, I did not really have the time. I made the time. Because Christina's stories are always worth the time.

Her question made me think how many days I rush through, even the really fun fabulous days of summer, without paying attention to the story it is telling me.

Other days, the story that needs to be told will not wait for me to finish writing my grocery list. It won't even wait for me to get dressed for the day. It demands to be told RIGHT NOW.

This is my first Manic Monday in many many weeks. Today was the day I was going to finally get to just a few things on my Manic list. I was on my back porch, drinking my coffee, still in my jammies, relishing one of the last long mornings of the season, when my daughter ran out to tell me that she needed my help. Her hamster, Lily, was missing.

Please note the picture above. See how there is a place for my daughter to play? An area of uncovered carpet. No. That space was not there this morning. Not a smidge of carpet in sight. Just a lot of dolls, stuffed animals, clothes, and tiny treasures for a cute chubby orange hamster to hide and crawl over and under for hours upon hours.

My son and I ran upstairs to help Avery. We locked ourselves in the bedroom, hoping to trap Lily in one space. Being the mother of the year that I am, I started to solve this problem by blaming my daughter for her messy room and her desire to have a hamster in the first place. Thankfully, I remembered my reading from More Language of Letting Go yesterday. Melody Beattie said that when we have problems, we often spend our energy on blaming ourselves and others for those problems instead of using the energy we have to solve the problem. (Thanks, Melody!) Because I was mad.

We all decided to work together to solve this problem. Which meant we had to clean up that room. We stayed focused, got all those toys off the floor. Once in a while we spied Lily's adorable face and all three of us humans, on our hands and knees, chased her all around the room. We cautiously moved furniture as not to crush that little beast. We tried to create barricades. She was unstoppable. Uncatchable.

After an hour and a half, we just had to leave the room. Avery thought to put Lily's cage on the floor and put some food all around it. With a hope and a prayer, we closed the door and went to Sam's to get some groceries.

The entire day, I had to live with the fact that there was a hamster running free in my house and there was nothing I could do but wait...wait for it to go back to it's house, wait for it to run into bed with me, wait for it to be dead in the toilet.

After HOURS of comforting a little girl who at 10 already suffers from all of the fear, pain and regret of a mom who failed her little one, I finally heard a glimmer of hope in Avery's voice as she called down to that she heard a noise in the back of her closet.

We tiptoed into her room, slowly and carefully pulling everything out of there. That little critter is so fast and squrimy. We could not catch her...but look where she caught herself:

Inside the candy claw machine. Seriously the best place anyone could be!

She threw quite a fit while we got her back into her actually cage, which included peeing all over me. She initially escaped because she has figured out how to use her little body to push up the side of the cage. We have now duct taped her cage closed. It is all so exhausting.

I really wanted to write a status update about our adventures with Lily today. But I didn't want to make my story as few words as possible. Would I have liked this story to fit into 140 charters or less? Yes. Yes, I would. But real stories aren't head lines. They are filled with blame and frustration, thrills and fears. They take hours and days and weeks and years to tell themselves. I want to make time for the stories my life has to tell.

And I want to hear your's too.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Manic Monday: what do I really value?

All of the natural routines and norms of my life fly out my car window in the summer. There seems to be a party every night. A quick trip here and there. Repacking before even having a chance to unpack. Can't figure out when to buy groceries because they are going bad while we hop and skip around town meeting friends, swimming, staying out as late as possible.

Going to the gym?
Paying bills?
Planning meals?

That all seems SO last season.

Do you remember that summer between 9th and 10th grade? When the boys turned into large, low voice creatures? It was only 3 short months and they morphed into another human all together.

Growth spurts, hormonal shifts, late night conversations that change your life. I think that is what summer is all about. A break away from all routine that can provide us with new insight into ourselves, into our desires and, for me, a fresh perspective on the life I am living.

I have created this life. Some of it intentionally and more than I care to admit, quite a bit of it I created passively. Letting things creep into my life that are not me. And they have taken over. I have beautiful shelves and storage spaces in my house full of things that don't matter to me. And yet there is no place left for those things I value. I find them in stacks and piles, underneath the recycling. (The recycling that never gets recycled.)

Tuesday, June 21st at 9:30, we will be hosting the PLAYshop that is based on Chapter 4 in Unwritten Travels: Your Travel Guide. It could not come at a better time for me. This summer, my values are shifting as I learn more who I really am. This season of life requires a different focus on some values that have been dormant for a while.

Won't you join us?

To register for the PlayShops email us at include your name, email, mailing address, phone number, and the session number(s) you want to attend. Each session has a 5 person minimum and a 12 person maximum.
Payment must be received in order to hold your place.

Click HERE to send your payment for your PlayShop. Click on the PLAY tab and you will click on the note that says "Reserve your spot."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Summer PLAYshops

Session Four – Why do you waffle and waver?
Why aren’t you "fulfilled?"
Why do you have conflicts with others?
Tuesday June 21, 2011
9:30-12 AM
Cost: $55 (includes themed snack and supplies)
Location: The Mooreland House, Brentwood TN
(directions will be sent with registration confirmation)

Life is full of tough choices.
When you become intentional about your values you can begin to live in harmony with who you are created to be. In this PlayShop you will identify the personal rules you live by and the rules you have for others. You will take a look at your personal compass and see how it is directing your life.

Session Five – Where did you come from?
Where do you want to go from here?
Tuesday August 23rd, 2011
9:30-12 AM
Cost: $55 (includes themed snack and supplies)
Location: The Mooreland House, Brentwood TN
(directions will be sent with registration confirmation)

Your past does not have to define you, but it is where your story begins. If you try to get through life with out an appreciation for the entire experience of your background, you will stop your own growth and pass on the same story to the generations that come after you. In this PlayShop you will determine how your past has prepared you for your present and decide what legacy you want to leave. Today is someone’s yesterday. Examine your beginning to see how it impacts your now. Redeem it for your future.

To register for the PlayShops email us at include your name, email, mailing address, phone number, and the session number(s) you want to attend. Each session has a 5 person minimum and a 12 person maximum.
Payment must be received in order to hold your place.

Click HERE to send your payment for your PlayShop. Click on the PLAY tab and you will click on the note that says "Reserve your spot."

We cannot wait to get started on all the fun with you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Soul-Searching PLAYshop

Where is my purse? Where are my keys? Where is that water bottle I just had in my hand?

We have to search for what is urgent.
If we can’t find our keys, we can’t go to work; so we search.

We even search when we don’t really know we are doing it.

We listen to a report on the news about an issue.

We search our hearts and our minds instinctively to decide how we feel about that.

At Playshop session three, we searched.

We searched for ways that we could connect with our Spirits. We searched inside to begin to find out what we believe about spiritual things. It may not seem like an urgent thing. You can go about your day with out doing it. But whether we realize it or not, we are instinctively searching our souls throughout the day. Those decisions we make about the issues are tied to what we believe about God. The messages we are telling ourselves about ourselves are tied to what we believe about who we are created to be. Soul searching is urgent.

Those of us who have begun the search can promise you that.

And speaking of promises, you may just remember some that you have forgotten, and you may just be surprised to see how some of the promises of your heart are beginning to come true as you live in the truth you come to know in the Spirit.

We also painted.

We stopped our minds from racing with thoughts of our to-do lists even if only for a minute or two. We learned from each other. We left with new tools to use so that we can begin to listen to something other than the surface static that tends to fill our minds.

We had fun.

Who says searching has to be boring?

Remember going to slumber parties and having scavenger hunts. Playshop session three is like that. It’s like a slumber party for a few hours where you go on a scavenger hunt to find items that are inside you. Everybody wins, and everyone ends up with a prize.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Manic Monday: the mom list

Is your brain as full as mine? I know it is.

We wake up with that list already running ahead of us. We have insane ideas of how much a human can actually accomplish in a day. We have the things to do and the things we thought we were going to do, but they rarely factor in time and energy for realizing our car is out of gas, or someone suddenly needs to be dropped off on the other side of town, or we are out of an essential ingredient for dinner.

So, while I am navigating my days and the many many unplanned needs that come up throughout a day, I am wondering if you can imagine what my brain does with the small bits of information that come out of my little people's mouths all day every day?


Mom, I need index cards for Thursday.

Mom, pizza day is Tuesday, I need money.

Mom, I don't have any socks that fit me.

Mom, you promised Michaela would get to sleep over this year and the year is almost over!

Mom, when are you going to pay me for that job I did last week (or last month or last year)?

I really care about my kids. I also know that these little things are really important. So I listen and I nod my head and I say to them, "Okay. I'll get to that." But the problem is that there is NO ROOM left in my brain to actually retain that information. I promise, it is not for a lack of caring, it is for a lack of brain space.

Thankfully, my refrigerator has some space on it. A few months ago, we created the mom list. At the top it says,


Then, the kids (who have all sorts of extra brain room) are responsible for writing these things down on that list.

My job is to check in with that list every week and get those things accomplished. I can't tell you how helpful this is.

1. My kids don't have to repeat the request (again and again and again) in hopes that it finally makes it to my memory.

2. Getting these things done is really not that hard, and usually it is only one or two errands that otherwise would have been several trips if I took requests one at a time.

3. It makes my kids responsible for what they can manage (they have to get it to the list).

4. It makes me do a little check in every week with what they are needing. Sometimes those needs are physical, but sometimes those needs reflect something else. Like asking for a date with me or with their dad.

You might be wondering, but what about those things that don't come up until the night before? These are some things I ask myself:

~Is it a reasonable request and something I can run to the store or borrow from a neighbor RIGHT NOW?

~Is this REALLY going to be the worst thing in the world for my child to not have index cards or buy something at the bake sale tomorrow?

~Is my child at an age where it is time to begin learning the simple lesson of, "If I forget something, Mom will not always be able to magically make it all happen."

Eating a bologna sandwich rolled up on a hot dog bun while everyone else is eating pizza will not shatter my child's self-esteem. And it won't shatter your child's either. We all have limitations of time, money and energy. Being a mom is not about making your child's life easy, but about helping your child learn the skills for managing life when everything doesn't go as planned.

When my kids are throwing these requests out to me while I am on the phone or navigating directions while driving, it is easy to miss what they are really trying to communicate. There is a new security now offered to my kids. Now they know that even though I can't get to it right this second, I will get to it eventually, or maybe they will find another solution in the meantime.

It is a good lesson for them and for me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Manic Money: my secret relationship

I'm a user.

I run through my days, my errands, my meals and swipe my card at every stop. "Would you like your receipt?" the clerk or machine always asks.

"No," I say
and sometimes I admit to them my reason why,
"Because if I don't keep the receipt it doesn't seem like I've really spent the money."

While we have an idea of a budget and we have most of our bills set up on auto pay from our account, for the most part, I have chosen to remain in denial about money.

I use it of course. I spend it on all the things I need and want. All the things that must be purchased to run this home, this family, this life.

"Denial is a defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence" (from Wikipedia).

My first step in getting honest about my relationship with money has been a simple one. I now ask for a receipt for everything I purchase. I not only look at the total but I allow it to find access to my brain. That's it. Nothing major. Just a nod of acknowledgement at this resource I depend on all of the time.

Today, I went through all of my receipts. Not for the purpose of balancing my checking account (I am not THAT serious yet!), but for getting a visual picture of not only how I spend my money, but how I spend my time and my energy.

Just a few of the uncomfortable facts that have kept me in denial about money:

1. Money is a limited commodity and sometimes there may not even be enough for my needs, much less my wants.

2. Meeting someones expectation especially when it comes to birthdays and holidays is often more important to me than paying that overdue medical bill.

3. My anxiety over not having enough space, time, understanding or MONEY finds a little relief in purchasing something that symbolizes comfort to me.

This secret relationship is a deep and complicated one.

How can I hate money and love what it gives me?

How can money be important to me and at the same time not be controlled by it?

How can I be a responsible "user" and not be stressed out all of the time about where it is going and that there never seems to be enough?

There are more questions that answers so far. But I am hoping that if I start respecting money, it might show me some respect right back (by not flying out of my bank account).

Monday, April 4, 2011

Manic Monday: grocery shopping

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.
~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

I wish I felt a little more like Pavarotti when it came to food. I wonder if he made the meal plans, did the grocery shopping, carried the food into the house, put all the groceries away. Then cooked, served and cleaned up all of these meals he enjoyed so much.

Of course, I LOVE eating. If it is really good food. But I don't often make really good food. So mostly when I do love eating it is because I was eating out. somewhere. else.

When a week gets started before I have made it to the grocery store, our family ends up eating out meal after meal after meal. Which means we all enjoy the food, but our bank account does NOT.
Wow, it adds up fast!

So, today's Manic Monday Mission was to plan some delicious and healthy meals, buy the groceries and actually cook the food that I buy. It sounds simple enough, doesn't it? So, why is it so hard? Because meals get lost or preempted by everything else on my to-do. And it is a big thing to get lost, because everyone (including myself) is always hungry.

I have a few sources that help me:

Harris Teeter Express Lane
Do you know about drive-thru grocery shopping? If you hate grocery shopping (like me) or you just don't have the time to go to the store (or you would rather spend the time you do have horse-back riding, reading, or napping), you can place your orders online and pick them up for a $5 fee. This service has CHANGED my life. Go buy it. Go try it. Do it. Now.

Cook Your Meals the Lazy Way
I found this cook book in a clearance bin for $3.97 several years ago and it still remains one of my favorite recipe books. In fact, tonight I made the Cauliflower Curry (with chicken instead of pork) and it was yum. There are so many recipes I go back to in the book. They are always simple, tasty and the writers are quite funny.

Quick Pork Curry with Cauliflower

2 medium onions
3 T. oil
4-6 cloves garlic (pressed)
1lb. pork cubes
1/4 c. curry paste
1 head cauliflower
3 c. water
1 beef stock cube
2T. tomato paste

1. chop the onion
2. heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. add onions and garlic. cook until brown.
3. add pork and brown, stir in curry paste.
4. break the cauliflower directly into the pot. add water, stock cube and tomato paste. raise the heat and bring to boil.
5. cover loosely, lower heat and cook for 20 minutes. serve with white rice.

Some other fun food books that I found at the library this week:

1. Relax, It's Only Dinner
by Cheryl Merser
She wrote this for people just like me, who get a little freaked out at cooking dinner every night and crazy freaked out at having company for dinner. Ms. Merser is also very funny and cares only about making good food without much of a fuss. I got some really great ideas from this clever book.

2. the art of eating in: how I learned to stop spending and love the store
by Cathy Erway
This is a story of a woman who lived in New York and stopped eating out and began cooking food for herself and her friends for every meal (something unheard of in NY where there are some apartments that don't even have kitchens). Although she includes some recipes, the most enjoyable part of the book for me was hearing how differently she had to think, plan and socialize in order to eat in.

So, for this week, all is good in our refrigerator and pantry. It really is one of the nicest things in life when there is food in the house and dinner on the stove. Even if I am the one who gets it there.