Have the Christmas You Have

For all my lovely friends who struggle at Christmas time, I want to offer this phrase:
Have the Christmas You Have.

Christmas is a time of joy and laughter and tradition. It’s also a time of sadness, depression, loneliness, frustration, conflict, guilt, comparison…and every other possible emotion or experience.

Just as every day is different for every person, every holiday season is experienced differently. Some are full of met expectations, some actually exceeding our wildest dreams, others seem as though their events were scheduled by the committee over at Murphy’s Law application center–where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. And sometimes there isn’t a whole lot we can do to move ourselves from the last category up the list.

In my own circles this holiday season are those struggling with anxiety and depression, some grieving the loss of loved ones, some worried about their finances, some mourning the loss of dreams they had of Christmases celebrated with a house full of family, and still others who dread interacting with their relatives in gatherings they’d rather skip.

When you find yourself in one of those places and people wish you Merry Christmas, it can take all your reserved strength to respond with civility. Who is anyone to tell anyone else what to feel and how to experience life? I challenge any person who thinks they can give that direction to ponder what it might mean for those who’ve lost family members to suicide this year.


Just smile.

Merry Christmas.
Joy to the World.
Jingle Bell Rock.
Happy Holidays…

 

All can be a mocking reminder of pain to those who are hurting.

I don’t mean to say that those who have a merry Christmas should feel guilty or sad or on edge about offering holiday greetings. It is important, vitally important, for us to recognize that not everyone can be merry at Christmastime.

So if you are happy this Christmas season, great! Sing out! Smile loudly in public places! Wear the heck out of those ugly Christmas sweaters. Be the holiday spirit. Don a Santa Hat and make it rain for kids everywhere!

But if you are struggling, let me be the first to offer you permission to simply have the season you have. Experience each moment and know that if you are in difficult times, they don’t usually last forever. If you are grieving know that in time as you acknowledge that loss and work through your response, the pain will ease. If you are hurting, can you have a sliver of hope that the painful wound will heal?

Broken just 2 days before Christmas 2014.

 

Have the Christmas you have, and pass on the permission for others to walk through this season having the holidays they have as well!

Living each day, regardless of what comes our way.

ReFreshing

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Home Made Christmas

There are times and seasons in life that require more from us than what we think we are capable of giving. When stresses pile up. When bills beckon. When life seems to be stacked against us. It is all so very disheartening.

It can be even more challenging when all of these arrive just in time for Christmas. It is supposed to be a time for cheer, a time of extravagance, of gifts and toys and pleasures all around. These expectations leave so many feeling like they are on the edge of a party they aren’t worthy to enter.

If you find yourself at that place this Christmas season, longing to give gifts and celebrate at parties but you don’t have extra cash to spend or a kitchen with a double boiler with which you can candy coat the world, take heart. Here are some easy, and I do mean easy, and inexpensive (yippee!) ways to create a home-made Christmas on a budget.

Bonus! Two of the projects are recycled/upcycled so you get to feel good about saving the planet as well!

1. Cell Phone Pocket for Charging

Do you have an old pair of jeans lying around? Like maybe the ones in your closet that are 3 sizes too small and you always thought that someday you’d wear them again? Today is the day for sacrifice. Cut the back pocket carefully from the jeans extending that cut up and over the seam above the pocket before you get to the waistband. Then cut a little window just above the pocket and below the upper seam. It should look like this:

You can, if you want and are able, sew or glue a ribbon or edging around the cut edges to pretty it up, or just leave it raw.

You can, if you want and are able, glue or iron on some personalizing glitz to make the pocket sparkle, or just leave it natural.

The pocket works like the images below, slip your phone in and hang the phone from the charger plug. It is handy for travel when outlets may not be near a shelf and you don’t want your phone lying on the floor.

2. Flannel or Fleece Scarf

Flannel and fleece are awesome because they don’t fray terribly so you can get away with no sew projects that have rough edges. If you can cut a relatively straight line and you have $2.50 to spend on a fleece throw from Walmart, you have enough for several gifts this season.

Walmart has these fleece throws for $2.50

They measure 50 inches by 60 inches. they have an edging sewn around the whole throw and you can either trim that off first, or simply cut the edges off that you prefer. If you have a ruler, pull it out. If you don’t have a ruler, hang tight, we’ll fold and cut instead.

Measure in 10 inch sections, or if you are feeling generous, 15 inch sections. Snip the edge of the blanket to mark 6 10 inch scarves, or 4 15 inch scarves.  Fold the blanket at the mark and cut the length of the fold. If you don’t have a ruler, simply fold the blanket in half, cut the length of the fold. Fold the two pieces in half again and cut the length of the fold. Voila!

If you really want to make it fancy, trim edging from all sides and cut 1 inch fringe along the bottom and top edges.

Ok, t-shirt repurposing time!

4. Make a Bag or a Scarf from a T-shirt

You can do this simple, two cut scarf in about 3 minutes.

This no-sew scarf takes less than five minutes to make! Great way to repurpose a t-shirt!

Just lay the t-shirt flat. Cut a straight line across the entire t-shirt, front and back, from one underarm to the other. Then cut off the bottom hem of the shirt. Pull the shirt to cause the edges to curl and you are done!

To make a bag, follow these easy steps, top to bottom first column, then top to bottom second column.

#DIY: No Sew Handbag Out of Your Old T-Shirt

Turn t-shirt inside out.
Lay t-shirt flat, like the first picture. Cut off the hem.
Fold t-shirt in half and cut the sleeves off just inside the seam.
Still folded, cut the neck from the t-shirt just inside the seam.
Gather the bottom of the shirt and tie it super tight with the hem piece you just removed.
Turn the bag right side out and Ta-Da! new tote bag!

There are just four of the low to no cost gift ideas you can make at home with little time and just a pair of scissors!

I hope you have a blessed Christmas season.
I hope you give yourself and others grace for the difficulties that come at the most inconvenient times.
I hope you find ways to celebrate that don’t break your budget and still allow you to join in the holiday fun!

Low cost ideas, little energy input, and the joy of giving!
ReFreshing

 

You’re Doing It WRONG!

I read another one today, a mommy blogger who mixes all the perfect things together like fashion modeling and Jesus, telling all the leggin’s-clad, stained XL t-shirt-wearing, run down moms exactly how much we are all failing.

It totally worked.

Now I am going to LOVE every minute of motherhood.
Now, I am going to cook only homemade, organic, gluten-free food for my family.
Now I am going to finally BE that Proverbs 31 woman! (Let’s ignore for a moment that this woman never existed as a single entity, and that if she did she had domestic help.)

NOPE!

Reality–these posts tick me off.
Reality–I am blogging right now in my pajamas.
Reality–posts all about how women are doing it wrong when it comes to marriage, family, parenting, and all-things-domestic really only serve to grind women’s faces into the dirt while heaping more responsibility for unachievable perfection onto their already overwhelmed shoulders. (Check out the length of that sentence! I think a little of my personal feeling on this is coming through here.)

Can we bring it down a notch, please?

Modern life is hard. I realize that is such a #firstworldproblems kind of statement, but let’s examine the truth for a moment:

*300 years ago it was enough to keep your children alive and marry them off at 13 or send them to be an apprentice.
*150 years ago it was enough to make sure they finished the local school course which ended around 8th grade.
*50 years ago it was enough to see that your children were individual people (thanks Dr. Spock).
*Today, you have to know your child’s unique personality, temperament, love language, and spirit animal. You have to scrapbook/photo-blog every second of their life. You have to make sure they play a sport, play an instrument, and have sufficient playdates. You have to make sure they are challenged, but not too much; given grace, but still develop grit; have firm schedules and boundaries with enough flexibility to make their own decisions once they leave home–which may be never if the economy doesn’t rebound or if you chose the industrially farmed broccoli instead of organic.

What we all really need right now is another blog telling us how we are failing and ruining our children’s lives, not to mention tearing down our houses with our own hands like that foolish woman in Proverbs.

I want to say something to you, caregiver of small humans:
If you grew a human in your body, delivered them into the world, I recognize that you care about them. If you drove to the hospital or flew across the globe to pick them up and take them home, you want good things for them. If you wept and worried through fertility treatments, surrogacy, adoption, supported your partner as they grew a small human inside of them, I see that you would do anything to love them until you can’t breathe–they are so beautiful.

I also see the heaps of laundry, the piles of dishes, the disaster of a playroom, the incessant bickering, the insomnia, the teething, the talking back, the full-blown fits in the middle of Target. I see you tired and overwhelmed by all the demands. I see you struggling to realize that you shine at 6 month-old baby care, but suck at embracing the Kindergarten stage. We all have our sweet spots, maybe one of those super organized mom-bloggers could make a spreadsheet and then I would raise your 2 year-old and you could have my 11 year-old until the next phase hits and we could all trade again.

Parenting is hard. We don’t need someone telling us all the ways we are falling short, we need cheerleaders for those beautiful moments where we do smile at our children and mean it when we say, “I love you, sweetie, have a good day!”

You may not know that I have my own checklist for parenting success. I blogged about it last year, but I will condense it for you here:
1. Don’t kill them.
2. Do your best–whatever your best looks like in this moment.
3. Love them.
4. Trust God–if you are going to be a parent, you need a higher power.
5. Everything else can be worked out in therapy.

So if you didn’t score a perfect 10 this morning, don’t beat yourself up. Grab a cup of coffee, fold 5 minutes worth of laundry, call a friend and invite them to bring their kids to distract your kids so you can have grown up conversation. Give yourself some grace, it’ll go a long way toward your ability to offer grace to your kids as well.

Anne of Green Gables once said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?

Grace for ourselves and others on this parenting journey.
ReFreshing

My Red Glasses

I wear them everywhere, in fact I wear them so much it has become how friends of mine find me in a crowd. I wear them on my head and they serve a great function of keeping my hair out of my face or calming that one unruly curl that wants to go in its own direction. More than a fashion statement, my red sunglasses with sparkly hearts on the earpieces are a vital and necessary part of my migraine coping system.

What many who see me and many who know me well would never suspect is that my red glasses have a secret super-power.

They are my light shield.

Light is such a great thing, it helps us see by bouncing off of things in our path and gives us pleasure in revealing different hues of paint splotched on canvas in breathtaking works of art. But light is also my nemesis.

I have chronic migraine. There are very few days when I am completely symptom free, most of my hours are dominated by either prodrome symptoms or postdrome symptoms, with migraine attacks in the middle.

My triggers are many and varied, which makes it difficult to anticipate or avoid them. Here is a partial list:
flashing/strobing light
changes in barometric pressure
change in sleep patterns
over-scheduling
food additives
food combinations
too much sugar
too much caffeine
not enough caffeine
Mondays…just kidding, but sometimes it is hard to pin down the cause.

The strategy is to avoid as many of these triggers as possible while still living a semblance of a normal life with a job, a spouse, and three beautiful children. I exercise to increase endorphin levels which helps lessen my symptoms. I try to sleep at regular times, but I also struggle with insomnia. I keep my schedule at a bare minimum whenever possible so that if something unexpected arises I will be able to absorb it without immediate breakdown. I avoid rich desserts and high-sugar foods, but I crave sweets hardcore when I am headed toward an attack. I keep my caffeine consumption at a steady level, and regularly go completely off of caffeine for periods of time in order to prevent a dependency on it to function.

Some triggers I simply cannot avoid. I live in northeast Kansas. We have weather systems that roll through regularly that send me to bed with fatigue, dizziness, and a complete inability to keep a thought in my head. I am a mom and a pastor, which means there are times that people need me that don’t fit nicely into my schedule. Sometimes I do too much. Especially on days when I feel good.

And sometimes I eat the pizza anyway, because life is short and what is one more migraine when I am going to have one later anyway?

But I digress. I was talking about my glasses. My red sunglasses that hold my hair so nicely and go with everything I wear, who possess a secret super-power. They cover my eyes when the sun is too bright on a cloudy day. They cover my eyes when someone installed a ceiling fan under a light and I have to stay in that space but want to avoid the instant nausea and dizziness. They cover my eyes when the light is the wrong frequency or has a short and blinks randomly. They are my shield against pain when I have a migraine but I have to function anyway.

Fun, cute, fierce, and one of the many coping mechanisms that make my life with chronic migraine just that much more bearable.

Coping where I can.
Honestly.
ReFreshing

A beautiful dress

This was at the top of my soon to be 9-year-old daughter’s birthday list.
“A buetaful dress” to be more precise.

My rough and tumble tom boy.
My sweet and sometimes spastic child who can’t always find herself in space.
My awkward, lovely, frustrating, cherished girl.

She wants a beautiful dress.

It makes me misty-eyed because it reminds me that at the center of herself she just wants to be loved. She longs to be appreciated and celebrated.

It is hard to remember this when she won’t brush her long red curly hair.
It is hard to remember when I have to ask her six times to stay out of her brother’s personal space.
It is hard to remember when everything about her is and always has been loud and sharp and on the move.

But she is almost always in a skirt and tights, and she loves to make bracelets.
Why wouldn’t she want a beautiful dress?

Why is it so hard for me, as her mother, to see this tender heart longing to be seen?

Am I too busy?
Have I fallen into the rut of seeing only her challenges?
Whatever the cause, I am awake and aware of her today.

Because she wants a beautiful dress.

God, open my eyes to see the heart in each of my children that cries out to be loved, cherished, seen and understood. Give me awareness of my own tendency to walk through life so busy that I miss the quieter call to love these precious gifts.
Amen

Awareness, beauty, gratitude–
Ingredients for a ReFreshing Life

**I wrote this post over a year ago and set it aside. It jumped out at me today, tugging again at my heart.

Don’t Kill Them, & 4 Other Essential Parenting Rules

My 5 Simple Rules for Parenting

When my first child was born, I read the books and followed the developmental charts like they were blueprints for a nuclear power plant. I didn’t want anything to explode, and knew that if something went wrong it would be a) the most terrible-awful-horrible thing ever, and b) as the mother, it would all be my fault. 13 years and two more kids down the line, I can tell you that children are way less fragile and more resilient than we could have imagined when we drove them home from the hospital at 15 miles per hour.

Everywhere you turn someone else is telling you what you absolutely have to do in order to raise healthy, happy children. They’ll scream, threaten, cajole, and manipulate your emotions to get you to follow their advice. We all want the best for our kids, right? So why is it that many of the opinions we hear completely contradict each other?

My years of experience and seeing my kids survive (so far) have brought me to a place of simplicity when it comes to parenthood. Feel free to investigate all of the parenting options out there, but I’ve boiled my personal rules of parenting down to just 5.

Parenting Rule #1: Don’t Kill Them

This is a vital piece of advice if you want them to live to adulthood. This includes things like feeding, clothing, and providing for their obvious physical needs. It also covers the very real temptation that might arise around the age of “I can do it myself” and re-emerge when the eye-rolling starts. Take a deep breath. If you don’t kill them, they will probably grow up and have children who also go through these maddening stages. Don’t we all want to see that day?

Parenting Rule #2: Do Your Best

Mismatched socks on their feet, their clothes wrinkled, and you don’t know if that jacket has been cleaned since they dripped ice cream on it last month? If that is the best you can do today, great. They are covered, and trust me their teacher has seen worse. Some days my best includes locking the bathroom door with the fan on so that I can’t hear them when they whine at me outside the door. Five minutes of solitude in the toilet just might help you follow Rule #1. You aren’t going to be parent of the year every minute of every day. Give yourself a break and just determine to do your best with what you have.

Parenting Rule #3: Love Them

I know you might be thinking this rule should probably be #1, but realistically I think not killing them wins for purely practical reasons. Love your kids. Love them sticky or clean. Love them hair combed or with rats nests. Love them with their precious gifts of art you couldn’t decipher if you were a master of cryptology. “Is that a dog? Oh, it’s mommy. Thanks, sweetie.” Just love them. Love covers over a multitude of parenting mishaps, and it will most likely help them not become psychopaths. It’s true.

Parenting Rule #4: Trust God

There are so many things in your children’s lives that you have absolutely no control over. You can’t keep them from every danger, or every bully, or every dumb idea they might decide to try out while your back is turned. If you are going to raise children, you need a higher power.

Parenting Rule #5: Everything Else Can Be Worked Out in Therapy

You know that all parenting theory is just that, theory. Someone has a good idea, it looks great on paper, but then in practice it just doesn’t work for your child. Besides, look at how much has changed in the years since you were a youngster. Could we ever have predicted that our kids wouldn’t know how to dial a phone? (I mean a real phone, selecting Grandma from the contacts list does not count.) So much will continue to change in our world, society, and in the understanding of young minds. You are bound to mess up. Besides, therapists are nice people and we should want to support their industry.

As parents we are under so much pressure to be perfect, but none of us were raised by perfect parents. (If you write to tell me your parents were perfect, I don’t know if we can be friends.) All of us are here, walking around as (mostly) productive members of society. Give yourself a break from perfection based on someone else’s theories. You will be a more peaceful parent, and your kids will need less therapy. That’s a win-win situation in my book!

Keeping it simple
ReFreshing!

An open heart in the face of grief

Pregnant women experience spotting all the time, and everything turns out fine. The voice of denial did it’s best to keep panic at bay. I struggled through prayers of bargaining, and anger at my body for the biggest betrayal I’d ever experienced. All the stages of grief cycled again and again, but I always came back to denial in those early days.

Not denial of facts, but denying myself the experience of emotions I was sure would overwhelm me. My heart was locked down tight.

What else could I do? I had just announced to my church elder board that I was pregnant the week before. I had responsibilities at church on Sunday. My family of three was headed out of state on Monday to our Pastor’s Retreat, which I still felt strange attending as just an associate pastor.

I didn’t have time to fall apart. I didn’t want to feel all the pain, and loss, and grief. Other people needed me to be strong. And it felt as though God wasn’t answering my prayers. I wasn’t particularly interested in anything He had to say, either, so I guess it was mutual.

The bleeding continued as I packed the car, as I preached in church, as we took family pictures of all things. One of the Elders, a woman, noticed something was wrong and asked me if I had lost the baby. I nodded. She cried. I didn’t.

We went to our Pastor’s Retreat, I pasted on a half-smile and determined not to talk to anyone about anything serious. Keep it light. Skim the surface. Bury it deep.

I’m not sure why it was that I wandered out into the common area during our free time. Husband and toddler napping, I thought I would try to journal a bit. As I sat, a woman I’d never met struck up a conversation. I don’t know how it happened, but I told her everything. Not sure what to expect, I certainly didn’t think she’d tell me that she had also suffered pregnancy loss, three times.

It was a comfort, knowing I was not alone, that life really could continue. When I went back to my journal, there was a prompt in my spirit that I needed to grieve. I desperately did not want to do any such thing. The impression was unmistakable “If you do not grieve this loss, you claim that it had no value.”

When we value things and lose them, we grieve. We may not like it, but that is the way life is. By refusing to grieve, we deny that what was lost had value. By refusing to be affected, we deny that what was lost had any impact on our existence. I could not allow that. This tiny life had lived for such a brief time, the only impact it could have was on me. I would not rob this life of meaning.

So I grieved. I opened the doors of my heart and let the pain in, and let the pain out.

And it was worth every tear, and sob, and sigh.

Brené Brown says that we cannot selectively numb our pain. When we shut down we shut out everything, including joy. It is better to live with an open heart and some pain than to live without pain and also without joy.

This pregnancy loss happened in May of 2005. I had a subsequent loss in August of 2005, and another over Memorial Day weekend 2011. Each loss was its own journey through pain, acceptance, and healing. I had to choose every time to open my heart and feel the loss when by my own habit and nature I would have avoided and stuffed those feelings down deep.

If you are experiencing grief, or if you never gave yourself permission to grieve a secret loss, give yourself permission to open your heart. You will not heal with it closed off, and you will find that joy is dulled and life loses it’s color. It will hurt. But it will not hurt forever, at least not with the same sting.

I still feel sad when I think of the losses we experienced, of wanted babies. It does not overwhelm me, though, with tidal force waves of grief. I have walked on, and I have delivered two healthy babies since that first loss, for a total of three. I have had 6 pregnancies, and 3 live births.

Not everyone’s story ends like mine. I have a beautiful friend who is expecting baby number 8 in June, she has her own stories of loss. I have a brave and wonderful friend who, unable to conceive, has chosen adoption. I know families who have chosen not to have children, those who have chosen adoption over producing biological children, and those who are still charting their course. Wherever you are on this journey of life and family, I hope you choose to walk bravely forward with an open heart. You may experience loss and grief, but you will also encounter moments of exquisite joy that you may have otherwise missed.

An Open Heart
ReFreshing