Category Archives: Holidays

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.


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.



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


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.

The Most Seemingly Perfect Days With the Most Seemingly Imperfect People

No one could be more imperfect than the members of my immediate family.  The people that I live with–that I breathe in and out with right there beside me for all my days–are the ones I know the best. And the more deeply you know a person, the more imperfections you see.

There’s no better example of this phenomenon than on a family vacation. It’s a time of togetherness and closeness that’s much more lengthy than the brief moments squeezed in to everyday life and hustle. With space to breathe and be and rest together comes up-close looks at each other.

I see one child’s insecurities and dramatic flairs on a whole new level. I see one child’s impulsive decisions and annoying habits. I see one child’s OCD tendencies trying to dominate the schedule. We’ve all got our things. Our quirks and our weaknesses that are a big part of us. When you put all that together times five people, it’s called family.

But just as I start to decide our teenager can’t stand being with us based on the vibes I’m getting, she reaches out and holds dad’s hand. And in that moment, everything imperfect fades away.

holdinghandsI am in the most perfect moment with the most imperfect people.

When we’re tired and we’ve disagreed on where, when and what to eat. When the children are drinking out of all the straws and once and you’re just waiting for them to spill. And then a child prays the most appreciative and heart-felt prayer before dinner…

drinksI am in the most perfect moment with the most imperfect people.

When I say “Let’s take a selfie to remember this day!”, and I look back at my phone to find this, I literally fight back tears.

famBecause I am in the most perfect moment with the most imperfect people.

The beautiful thing is that love covers imperfections.  Love wins out over tendencies and quirks. Love will not be overcome by the grouchy, hangry or OCD family members in my midst. Love means that when you are with your people, they are free to be their most imperfect selves. And your days, or at least many of the moments, will feel quite perfect.

Esqueleto the Christmas Tree

This is the story of our 2016 Christmas tree. It took a while for me to be able to tell you this story because it kept evolving.  Our tree has transitioned over the last several week through many phases. But now I believe he is complete, and I’ve been able to fully embrace and accept that this IS my very crazy and a bit ridiculous Christmas tree.

If you need to be caught up, we have a tradition of velptreery odd trees and tree selection. Read about previous trees here and how my family likes weird Christmas trees.  This year’s events started back before Thanksgiving with Lydia campaigning for a Christmas tree built  of shelves. She’s adorable, but she couldn’t really convince anyone but maybe  her daddy. So we moved on.

The day after Thanksgiving, Nathan took us all out to look for a tree. Somehow we came back with this.  It hung in the carpo9e408e0a-745d-4400-9069-feb5b8b4d247rt so Nathan could “do some trimming”. He envisioned hanging it upside down in the house. There was also talk of it spinning on a motor. I can’t even. It sounded like a lofty goal for a giant and super ugly tree. It hung here several days while I parked elsewhere. And then I said Please take this tree away. There is no hope for it in my life. Remember that one of our Christmas tree rules is that mom has veto power.

One evening in a desperate attempt to just get some sorta tree going in our house, Abby sent the boys out to just get a regular-ish looking tree that was near the front gate of our driveway. They went, in the dark, and came back with this.


I need you to understand that just to the right of the tree, being completely hidden, is our piano. This tree was much bigger, much WIDER than our piano. About 8 feet wide to be exact. Abby said that it looked much bigger than she was remembering.  We rearranged the whole living room to accommodate this ginormous tree.


We let Sam do some trimming, which ended up being pretty bad. This tree was going from worse to worser. Sidenote- the day after bringing this tree inside, we drove in the driveway and Abby said, “Hey guys, THAT was the tree I was talking about.” Yea, it was still planted firmly in the ground. A few evenings later after staring at this thing for a while, I made a special “dinner ’round the coffee table” to get everyone excited about decorating this tree.

0ed6ea38-2217-4dea-9d90-68893c8d65d1That ended up being super fun, but in the end no one decorated the tree. At all. Still boxes piled everywhere and a naked tree. It’s like no one even knew what to do with this thing.

And then the real crazy started. While I was gone one evening with Sam and Abby, Nathan and Lydia cut all the greenery off the tree. All. The. Greenery. Yes, that’s what I said. They added our HUGE and very non-proportional star to the top and let some lights hang down. I came home to find this.


So yea. In the daylight, it looked much worse. They named it Esqueleto. This means skeleton in Spanish, but is also a reference to the movie Nacho Libre.



At this point, I was a little perplexed. But fd993609-5e04-463f-b6eb-837ef85c396ethey were wearing me down. I couldn’t imagine after allwe’d been through having to start over with a new tree. So I decided to play their game. While everyone was at school, I painted the tree green.

And then the next day, I hung only the gold and maroon balls on it. I put all the rest of the ornaments and boxes back in the closet so that no one could get to them. There just didn’t seem to be a place for them with this tree.


And so in the end, we got this. I sit and write you from beside the light of this strange, minimalist, unusual tree. It’s not what I would have ever chosen. It took me a while to be okay with it at all. But it’s the story of how my family works. There are some social norms about appearances, how things “should” be, and conforming to certain standards that are just really not important. Sometimes my family really challenges me and reminds me of this. Life is more fun if you can just relax, and especially around the holidays.

Even if it means having a Christmas tree that is only bare branches.


Merry Christmas from Esqueleto and the Payne family.img_5596