Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Three Simple Questions

Where are my thoughts today?

Am I stressing over preparations, schedules, kids, work?

Where is my focus?


Is it inward or am I striving to be a light?

What is the condition of my heart?


Am I taking the time to cultivate relationships with others?

I've been asking myself these three questions every morning before I rustle the sheets and exit the covers. In the time between my eyes starting to flutter open and the pulling on of my sneakers, I'm working on being heart intentional.

I've found that it's not enough lately to simply pray before I rise...my thoughts are too scattered with the day scrolling behind my lids.

I have to give it all to Him...


He knows my needs, my plans, my hopes.  He was there first. He created and gave me this beautiful life that I am so very privileged to experience. I do not take that lightly.  I do sometimes lack in the remembrance of giving it all back to Him.  I tend to take and hold on tightly, rather than releasing when the time comes... In the asking of three simple questions, I remember...It's not mine. It is His. He came to have a relationship with me. 


I pause in wonder...


He came as a baby to poor parents. He was born in a manger, full of stinky, loud animals. He was human. He knows what this world holds and how we think, feel, and react.  He came as a baby...because HE loves us.

His heart was intentional, His thoughts were for us, His focus was on a weary, dark world. 


He came at Christmas.


It's about the coming. The showing up. The willingness to be used.  That is what I'm hearing when I ask myself those three questions.

What do you hear when you ask yourself questions such as these? How are you preparing your heart for Christmas?


"Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; 
he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you:  You will find 
a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger..."
Luke 2: 11-12 NIV













Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finding the Merry


Congratulations...

The winner of the David Crowder Band "Oh for Joy" album is Kristin Smith.

I loved hearing all about your favorite carols and songs for this season; it seems that for all of us, music is both a heart and memory aid.

.   .   .   .

It's been a crazy few weeks around here. The prof has been travelling and doing a ton of project work  which translates to I've been going it alone since he went to Spain in October; hopefully  this will change in the next few weeks so he may actually enjoy the holiday. I've been searching for a new dance studio for the chicks loooong story where their hearts as well as there feet will find joy. Christmas decisions, shopping, ordering, wrapping and then sending have been a solo experience USPS is a super fun place to stand in line for an hour. Add all of this to the normal homeschooling, wife/mother duties, bill paying and house maintaining and I've not felt a whole lot like myself lately. I've not felt very merry.


All that said, I know I'm not alone. Most women experience pieces of all the above during Christmas. Single, married, kids or not, we feel responsible for making sure the merry is in the Christmas. 


We expect too much of ourselves.


We watched our mothers pull it all together seemingly with small effort. The homemade cookies, beautifully decorated fresh-cut tree, lights on every outdoor bush.


I'm not that mother.  Neither was my mother, although she did do most of those things very well and appeared to be so to the outside world.


My mom baked and decorated well into the early hours of the day. Everything was from scratch. She was our room mother, painting ornaments with Santa faces for our classmates and organizing elaborate parties back in the day when public school allowed them. Our tree was perfect. Every light just so. The exterior of our little home was inviting and well lit and no bulb needed replacing.  But inside?  We were on edge and it wasn't something out of a Hallmark channel movie. My parents were often at each other, the dog ate any and all toys we left on the floor and the peed by the door when she didn't get enough attention, and sometimes it took four tries to get the homemade pie crust right.

I work at NOT replicating my Christmas memories for my children. 


My goal here in the nest is to create some merry.


Instead of baking I head to our local spot for goodies. I'm sure the mixer will get pulled out at some point in the near future for a batch of shortbread cookie making, but until the schedule clears I'm not going to stress about perfection and home-baked goodness. If I stay up trying to be the one who always gets it done, I'm half the mother/wife/teacher I need to be in the morning. I've learned that downtime is as important, if not more so, than confectionery goodness. I can pay a bit more to create that for our family.

I ordered almost all of the gifts online this year. There was no perusing of the shelves or walking miles from the car to the store. I didn't do it. I did miss being out and having comparison choices in front of me, but the whole find, order, arrive at the door concept was incredibly attractive. Note to self: purchase cookies for the poor postman who keeps running up to my door and ringing the bell to announce the arrival of gifts.


My girls lament the fact that we've not decorated outdoors. I usually hang roping garland strung with lights the length of the wrap-around porch. Sigh. On this one, I feel a bit bad, but when given the choice between three hours spent on outdoor decorating and that same period being used for catching up on history with the grace girl, it's history any day of the week. We've got an incredibly challenging curriculum in Omnibus 1 -- The Odyssey  and the complete Narnia series are on tap this month. It takes time and patience, and those are two things I'd rather give to my babe than the lights and evergreen boughs.

All that being said, our home was full decorated by mid-November. We've enjoyed Christmas cookies, lights hung on garland which hangs from the banister, a lovely tree, and plenty of carols and cocoa.  I work on making memories with my babes that will last, that are free from stressed undertones and harsh words. I've work on putting the merry back in Christmas, even it means that some of the what's traditionally included looks to be missing this year.

But that which seems to be missing? It's all in the eye of the beholder.


I encourage you to find some merry and stop lamenting the missing...to figure out traditions that work for you and your family...to give up a little perfect and find a lot of joy.


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Carols

Music is a HUGE part of our home. My Little Bit hums and sings and twitters everywhere she goes and in all she does...much to the dismay of her older sister. I sang to the chicks in the womb, we play tunes constantly, and both girls have a strong affinity for the piano.  Silent Night?  Not in our home. Smirk.

With it being the Christmas season, we've changed up our playlists and found new favorites for the Pandora stations. I've always felt that Bing, Frank, and Judy do it best with the classics, but this year we've expanded our repertoire outside of the norms to include David  Crowder Band's new album, Oh For Joy. It is honestly the best Christmas album I've heard in ages. Seeing as it's Christmas, and giving is so much better than receiving, I'll be gifting an iTunes copy of the album if you leave a comment below by midnight on December 10th.  I know hearing it will be good for your heart, your spirit, your joy levels.

My all time favorite carol is Oh Holy Night. All. Time. Favorite. Here's DCB doing it justice:





What are some of your favorite carols and songs? 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Satin Ribbon

The tree comes out the weekend after my birthday, usually going up amid shouts and cheers for our boys in blue as I carefully unwrap precious ornaments given decades ago.

The small pieces of cloth, glass, metal, and wood are treasures in our home; Each piece gave me pause.

I stood, remembering the friend who so lovingly stitched our "Yard of the Month" ornament while we were in the Navy together.  Those years when the grace girl was toddling around and I was ripping out bushes and changing landscaping in officer housing...giving attention to something that stayed done for more than four minutes with an active babe in the house. It was the three of us, a time where work didn't come home with the man because it was classified and our nights and weekends were all ours to shower our girl with stories and play and attention.

Then came the block "M" for the years of the PhD and little bit joining us...the hospital she was born in bearing the same title as the University where her daddy studied, taught, and did research. The place where she spent weeks in the NICU and the place we still support with our hearts on autumnal Saturdays.

The glass heart caught my eye and it caused a deep breath, knowing it was on her tree too, we each had one, tying us together.

 A littler lower sits the log cabin cloth, quilted by my gram's hand years ago, playing a song and reminding me of all that was good in her.

I gazed at the faces of my babes in frames scattered round the tree, with two shoes, four years apart, hung on the horizontal and remembered how we searched high and low to find that very same ornament for little bit's first Christmas.

I found Cinderella, nestled in the branches, gently twirling her skirt and recalled the year we went to Disney World and all a chubby cheeked three year old wanted to do was go and visit "Cinder-hella". She was almost cherubic in her look then, a look long past as she's now reaching my cheekbone and sharing my shoes.  But that year? She loved princesses, the ornament, and the replica of Cinderella's Castle she received as a gift.

Front and center went joy and the ballet slippers. One for each of my chicks. Full of spirit and grace and laughter.

I thought the tree was finished. I thought it had everything it needed on it this year.

Until tonight...

....When a most treasured and appreciated package arrived on my porch.  A new ornament from a new friend...one I've actually been blessed with hugging in real life.  Across the miles, she included me in her extended family Christmas tradition.  Her beautiful script flowing across the front of her card, my eyes all welly, I bounded down the stairs, grabbed a hook, and finished our tree.

A simple satin ribbon sets it apart from the others, but I think it looks like it's always been there, don't you? It made me think about the ways in which we hold our memories and how they are triggered. How sight and tradition are such powerful parts of our story.

I'm so thankful for friends, new and old. For hearts that stretch across state lines and hug ours in unexpected and appreciated ways. For emails that share openly. For prayer requests.  For girls who nestle in the hallows. For the first flakes of snow that made their appearance on the way home from tumbling class...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

"The secret to joy is to keep seeking God when we struggle to see where He is."
-Ann Voskamp



Sometimes, the easy thing to do is give up.

...to stop trying.

....to stop caring.

...to stop doing.

We struggle to find Him in the places that are shadowy. We don't look closely; we merely glance,  then sigh in frustration at our seeming night blindness.

In the dark, we shut our eyes, squinting them tightly against any light that may peek under the lids. 

A bright that desires to come in, that steals under cracks and corners and shows as a sliver and reflection in places where we try to hide from it.

Light that warms, heals, brings rest to the weary soul.

It's in the struggle that we find out who we are, what we're made of, who He's making of us in the glorious mess we've made of ourselves. 

In the struggle we find that it's not as much about seeing Him as it is the knowing Him.  

It's about finding light in reflection.

In the shadows.

Our God is right there with us in dark as well as bright.

It is all about having eyes that open in the dark and gaze through the fog, seeking the clear view just beyond our grasp.

That's where the joy is.

It's in eyes wide open on the journey.



Grateful for....

eyes that open so very wide