Category Archives: Holidays

The Emotional Magnifying Glass of the Holidays

There’s something that happens during this most wonderful time of the year.

To the same degree that it is wonderful, it can feel terrible.

Emotion is magnified in December. The highs are higher. The same hot cocoa you drink in February feels warmer and more magical and soothing during the month of December in a Christmas tree mug while you’re wearing an ugly Christmas sweater.

There’s something about the connection with family, traditions, and the environment of warmth created by lights and music and all things lovely. It allows us to experience and connect with out emotions like no other time of the year.

Now this is the part where things get ugly. Because the emotional magnifying glass doesn’t just enlarge the happy emotions. The lows are lower. All the feelings of pain and heartache and grief are that much deeper as well.

If you’ve lost someone recently, you know this well. You know that your heart aches more this time of year. But even if you’ve lost someone years ago, and even if the loss wasn’t near Christmas, you’ll probably find that your heart aches a bit more in this season of the year.

Perhaps it’s because we see so much that looks like happiness and joy and love and contentment. Because when you are observing glimpses of others experiencing the highest of highs, your lows seem especially significant in contrast.

Beyond those who miss someone, there are those suffering in physical pain or with health issues. There are those in limbo who don’t know what the outcome of an illness will be. This year I’m dealing with some lingering physical pain, so I am able to understand this just a little bit. Ongoing physical pain is such a strong reminder of this broken world and our mortal bodies. There is nothing you can do to take away this reminder. And yet, we expect people to just be happy because we want to be happy.

There’s a place I go in December that’s not by my own choosing. Sometimes a Christmas carol will remind me of my grandmother and how much I miss her. Some yearly traditions become connected in my mind with particular people that are no longer here. And often, when I see others around me hurting and dealing with their own hard-to-face emotional magnification, my heart breaks with them. I can’t help it. I go there and feel heavy and brokenhearted.

When I land there, it’s hard to come back from. And then the sadness turns to guilt as I beat myself up for feeling dark feelings during the most wonderful time of the year.

I would imagine that almost all of you have some type of grief or experience that pulls at you in a strong way and can make you heavyhearted this time of year. Maybe you miss a family member that you spent most Christmases with. Maybe you are longing for a child that was never born into this world and thinking about what age they would have been this Christmas. Or maybe like me, you take on the pain of those around you in this season in a way that makes it feel like your own.

I don’t have lots of answers to this emotional magnification except to recognize it. Give yourself and the people in your life permission to feel hard things in deep spaces in this season. Quit trying to make everything wonderful and merry all the time. Don’t try to sugar-sprinkle-coat their pain or fix it with extra Christmas presents.

But at the same time, don’t stay there. And don’t allow yourself or the people you love to live permanently in the heaviness of grief during December. Don’t think that those around you who are hurting would rather be left alone. Make sure there are glimpses of joy and light and happiness. Sure, give them space, but not all the time.

Be attentive and in tune to the people around you.

Whether you’re making cookies and happy memories or just sitting with them in the pain as they stare at the Christmas tree. Keep people from suffering alone, and share in whatever joyful moments and “high highs” there are to experience.

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Third Tree’s A Charm

Every year our family has an unusual Christmas tree. If you’re new here, find more links at the bottom of this post to catch you up.

It’s taken quite a long while for me to write down our Christmas tree story this year. I guess that’s because we just got the tree decorated on December 21. We brought the tree in on December 16 and it stood bare until a few days later. I can never remember doing it this late and never want to do so again. But now to tell you the story before Christmas has come and gone.

TREE HUNTING

We voted back on Thanksgiving break for our tree after walking out in the woods together and pointing out trees, taking photos and discussing them together. We had a clear winner and Nathan cut down the tree and hung it in the carport and sprayed it off to dry as he usually does. And then it sat a few days.

Well, while it hung outside, there started to be rumblings. By rumblings I mean talks of other trees.  Sam didn’t like the tree and didn’t vote for it and argued that his opinion should be valued more because this is his senior year. Abby argued that she actually didn’t want to vote for that tree and had tried to change her mind but we wouldn’t let her. All the while the tree took up a parking spot in our carport. (insert my eye roll here.)

ENTER TREE #2

A bit later Sam had a burst of teenage emotion and ranted for a while about the tree and his senior year and blah blah blah. Next thing we knew, he asked for the keys to the four wheeler. He went outside and found the tree that he had liked the most in the beginning. He cut it down himself, tied it to the four-wheeler, and brought it back. He hung it in the carport beside its friend. And there they both sat. Now taking up more prime real estate in my carport.

WHEN MAMA ISN’T HAPPY

I felt torn. I don’t like it when everyone isn’t happy and it makes me really unhappy. Meanwhile there was no tree in my house shining twinkly lights over me early in the morning.

Finally on Monday morning, December 16, I stayed home for a few hours and wrapped presents. Recounting to my husband that there was no tree to put them under, I then proceeded to have an emotional breakdown about the Christmas tree. Nathan decided he was done. He said he would go get the tree I had liked best and bring it in the house. And off he went.

We always spray off our trees to keep our allergy people from having trouble. Well, on this cold morning, he sprayed that tree off. But we knew we couldn’t leave it outside to dry. We had to get that guy in the house and make it a done deal while they were at school or the kids would try to negotiate when they got home.

So Nathan pulled this soaking wet tree through my living room, soaking the rug and dribbling wet pine needles all through the house. I had to hold the tree steady and balance it while Nathan bolted it in with pieces of wood to brace it and serve as a stand. I stood under that wet tree in my sopping wet socks as the tree above dripped cold water all over me.

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THE “BETTER TOGETHER” TREE

The end result was a big mess but also a big tree. About 14 or 15 feet to be exact. Not at all a “perfect shape”. But a full tree. And the secret to making it full? It’s actually two trees. Our Christmas tree is two trees. Two trees that grew together side by side and have branches intertwined among each other. One tree is much smaller and shorter, but its branches are what balances out the overall look and makes the Christmas tree full.

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The reason I liked this tree is because it actually represents something to me. It’s our “better together” tree. I’ve shared some how I’ve been learning and practicing in my personal life as well as in my work to function and live more interdependently with others. To collaborate more. To quit trying to be the full package.

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And this Christmas tree demonstrates that and reminds me. Not one tree was the full package by itself. Either one alone wouldn’t make a good Christmas tree. But together they are beautiful. They compliment each other to have all that is needed to be a great tree. To be what they are supposed to be.

The kids were fine with it. They came around and were happy enough with the tree. Finally, as it was still bare, I told my son to at least put lights on it and then do whatever they wanted as far as ornaments and that I was putting the rest of the boxes away at the end of the day. And so they threw on lights and added a few ornaments. (They were very selective about what ornaments they chose and I didn’t even get involved.) And then I just put away all the rest of the boxes and let it be what it is.

I like the idea of having a tree that reflects and represents life. This has been such a different year for me. I’ve wanted to write words lately but I haven’t had them. I haven’t been able to articulate a lot of my feelings. Honestly I’ve shed quite a few tears this year over Christmas trees and decorating and everyone’s opinions on the subject. I’m not sure exactly why, but that’s what happened. My mind has just been living in a weird space. So ending up with a tree in the living room and one that I am happy with was a really good thing.

So we finally have a tree.  It’s different and a little wacky, which reflects us well as in the past years. This year I exercised my given veto-power over the entire Christmas tree process for the first time.

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As I sit in my living room early in the morning to wrap my mind around the day, I am comforted by the glow of the lights shining down on me from 14 feet above.

Read about our past Christmas trees here:

My Family Likes Weird Christmas Trees

Christmas Tree Shelf 2017

Christmas Tree Esquelito 2016

2015 Christmas Tree Story

2015 Decorating Chubby

My Thanksgiving Without Me

This year I hosted Thanksgiving for the first time. There were 18 people around my table. Family from both sides, dear friends, and people we literally just met. No joke.

This has been quite a year for me, and it was significant and overwhelming to stop the whirlwind of life and focus on all that I am thankful for. A few weeks ago I just decided what I wanted to propose for Thanksgiving. I checked with the key matriarchs, and they were on board with Thanksgiving at our house. So we went with it.

I’ve never had a Thanksgiving that meant as much to me as this one. My perspective this year is so incredibly different than ever before. First of all, cancer. The way it has changed me and changed my family. I don’t fully, and I barely partially understand it yet. The way I feel being on “the other side” is still strange and unfamiliar. But all of my  close relationships feel a little different.  We show more grace and love each other with a new lens.

My mom is in the thick of her cancer journey. There are so many things I haven’t been able to do for her, but I wanted to give her this Thanksgiving with little effort on her part. That was something I knew I could do.

We set a big table and I delegated most of the tasks and Thanksgiving felt easy and right. Nathan had both of his grandmothers here, and we both had our parents with us. We had our very dearest friends that have become family with us this year for Thanksgiving also. With all that we’ve been through together, it felt so right for this season.

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And then we had a precious girl celebrating Thanksgiving with all new people for the first time. A girl who has, at least for this season and space of time, become my fourth child in my world and in my heart. Though I have known her for less than two months, God prepared our hearts to parent her for this season and equipped us with the tools, provisions and other people to do this. It’s something miraculous and beyond my understanding, and a responsibility I don’t take lightly. Having her in the mix of Thanksgiving represented so much for all of us.

But wait, there’s more. Yet another place was set at the table just the day before Thanksgiving. A visitor came for the day on Wednesday. He was a nice guy and it turned out that he didn’t have family anywhere near to be with for Thanksgiving. So we invited this young man that we’d just met into our home to stay the night and share Thanksgiving with all of us.

Friends, life this year has changed me. I’m the gal who sets the table a week in advance and has the meal mapped out and is unhappy with people trying to rock the boat. I’m the one who doesn’t like “uncomfortable” or “being flexible” or changing the plans. I don’t love meeting new people and being spontaneous and all the problems that come with it.

But life, and this year, and oh so much love that’s been demonstrated to me. And somehow this year on Thanksgiving, I just wasn’t the same person. The “me” that I speak of wasn’t here anymore. She’s faded into the background. The things that matter and the things I feel I can do well have risen to the surface, and I’ve  chosen to focus just on doing those things.

This year I went with the flow, I allowed plans to change, and I waited until the last minute to finish all the things so that I could enjoy camping with my family the days before Thanksgiving. I was able to do this because I have people. I don’t do things alone anymore. A beautiful team of people pulled together and just created Thanksgiving in my home with ease. I had an entire crew of maybe eight participants involved in cleaning, rearranging, cooking, and finishing building a table. I literally made one dessert and green beans to contribute to the meal I “hosted”, and that was all.

Loving people has never felt easier. This year Thanksgiving made sense, and it wasn’t hard, and it was so beautiful that I cried at least 8 times in the 24 hours that followed because of all the feelings. I am so thankful for every person around this table and for what I have learned through each relationship.

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My First Advent: A Recap

This was my first year to celebrate Advent. It is not something that has been a part of my tradition or religious background in the past.

This year some friends introduced me to an advent study For All by Sacred Holidays. It was a workbook with a session to study each day for the three weeks leading up to Christmas. I decided quickly that I wanted, that I needed to do this. And having a group of friends to debrief the study with was also very helpful.

I got so excited about Advent that I began studying on my own. As I did the introduction to my Advent study in preparation, God begin speaking to me about how I could share during Advent with others who might also not be familiar with this practice. I suddenly had an idea to do a series of Advent videos each Sunday during the season. (links at the bottom)

So Advent became for me something pretty significant. Not only was I committed to carving out time each day to do my personal study book, but I was also creating a video each week to share with others. It was such a good motivator for me to study and really listen to what God was saying during this season.

Several things stand out to me that I learned during this time. I saw parallels between Christ’s first and second coming that I had never considered before. I learned to see peace as “completeness”, and Christ as the completer of all things. I saw how the prophets Anna and Simeon got to see Christ because they were anxiously waiting and anticipating and looking for him.  So many parts of the birth story stood out to me in new ways this year.

I also learned a lot personally in this journey. To navigate technology more independently. To be more flexible in my planning and be comfortable with sometimes working down to the wire.  To trust God to use me, sometimes in spite of myself. That even things you really want to do can sometimes feel very hard in the moment, but you must persevere.

It’s a bit sad that Advent and the Christmas season are over. But I will try to hold some of that anticipation and expectation for Christ’s return in my heart for all year.

Links to Advent Videos:

Advent Intro & Resources

Advent Week 1: Hope

Advent Week 2: Peace

Advent Week 3: Joy

Advent Week 4: Love

Christmas Decorating Brilliance

In recent years, my teenagers seem to be less interested in Christmas decorating. “Putting out the decorations” usually means that they help for five minutes and then sit around drinking cocoa and eating cookies while I do the rest. It’s not my favorite thing for that reason. But this year we did something so smart!

A friend and I decided to join forces this year to combat the disinterested teenagers and the overwhelmingness that decorating can be for moms. We made it new and fresh again.

So we planned a Christmas decorating extravaganza weekend. We sent an invitation to our kids. We decorated at my house Saturday afternoon and her house Sunday afternoon. We put our two party planner Pinterest daughters in charge of snacks. They went shopping together and bought all the stuff and then the kids made the snacks together for both days.

So just as we got into my boxes on Saturday, I started to panic. That is when my friend jumped in to action and got it done. Here’s my favorite part of the day: my technically minded and traditional son collaborating with her creativity and eye.  They got my railing done while I was wandering around trying to figure out where to begin.

The kids had so much fun together. Decorating with friends was less boring. They helped each other decorate the little trees for their bedrooms and loved that too.

We also shared items we found. A couple of decorations from my house went to hers and visa versa. It was a fun weekend. The end result was two decorated houses and a lot of happy kids and two happy mamas.

Everything is more fun with friends. We found this was a way to maintain tradition but bring a freshness and excitement that we could all get behind. (And did I mention…this let the dads off the hook complete?)

Christmas Tree Shelf 2017

Every year we have a weird Christmas tree. It has been the source of much of my writing. I’ll include links at the bottom of this post in case you need to catch up.

This year we spent some time negotiating the tree decision over Thanksgiving break. In the end, we decided to go with an idea that Lydia had actually last year that didn’t make the cut. A shelf tree.

Nathan and Lydia, and then Nathan and Abby, spent several hours building circular shelves of varying sizes. They actually used the center of our last year’s tree as the center pole. They painted it green by combining all the random green paints they found in our house. And so stands our shelf tree.

I definitely didn’t love it. It actually reminds me of something from Dr. Seuss. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t look like a tree. And where to hang ornaments?

So we decided to staple branches on to it to give it some dimension. Then the kids added a few ornaments. And one present.

 

It ended up like this. I still didn’t love it.  Actually I had to put a cute tree outside by my swing to help distract me from this eye sore and allow me to just let it be whatever it was going to be.

We hit a low point when people starting putting their dishes on the big empty shelves of the tree. Really, people. This is just my life.

I decided it would at least look better with gifts. And I believe it does. It’s still not a tree in my mind, but it’s something festive. And no less than I would expect from my family.

Our Christmas tree is much more a reflection of our entire family than it is of me. My children and husband are creative and out-of-the-box and oh so much fun. They plan and scheme and discuss and compromise and work together each year on our Christmas tree. They stretch me and my preconceived ideas about Christmas in a good way. There are other parts of Christmas that will reflect me, but I’ve given this area over to them.  I made the decision that this is okay and that it’s how I want it to be.

Esqueleto the Christmas Tree

A Christmas Tree Story

Decorating Chubby

My Family Likes Weird Christmas Trees

In Between: A Letter to my Daughter on her 11th Birthday

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Dear Lydia,

I don’t know how my youngest is now in the thick of being a preteen. In my mind and in the minds of so many around us, you should still be “Baby Lydia”, the baby of our little world and community, loved and doted on and adored by all the big brothers and sisters who have taken you into their hearts along the way.

I love your confidence. You can most of the time not just because of your talent or ability, but because of your confidence. I’ve been amazed to see all that you can do. You are teaching me how confidence influences success.

And what about when you don’t succeed? You are okay. If your project flops or when you discover you can’t dance, you laugh it off. You enter many more contests than you win. You are a brave girl who gives your all whether you win or lose.

You are a preteen, and I’ve seen that be tough. Your brother and sister are ahead of you in teen land, but you’re not there yet. Being the baby of the family, you and I both want to hold onto your little girl world as much as we want you to catch your brother and sister. But you’re stuck in the middle.

In between women and girl clothes.
In between kids meals and adult entrees.
In between cuddling stuffed animals and wanting a phone.
In between a little girl and a woman.

While you are struggling in between, I see the changes. I see how your face still lights up, but I am not the one making it do so nearly as often. I see the way you feel when I don’t understand you, or when you are annoyed.

I think of what our relationship will go through over the next few years and I pray for the strength to be the mom you need. I pray that we can always talk, and that God will help me to understand you so that I can love you well through the hard seasons of growing up.

I pray that you will keep being you. You express yourself all over the place without holding back. You always seem to go for it—enter the contest, wear the thing, sing the song. Some people lose that in middle school, but I pray you won’t because I see that the world is a better place when you go for it.

I pray that you’ll always sing the song God gives you with the joy and confidence that you started at age 3. That the harsh world won’t take that gift away from you or from any of us.  That you’ll continue to be the friend that others need, whose heart is broken for others around you and will refuse to leave them out.

Happy birthday Lyd. I love you.