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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Prepare Him Room"


I hope you will visit the page I created to stay focused on a Joyful Holiday (even when life is far from perfect!)

I know many people (and all the stores) already have their Christmas decor out in force and are fully into the holiday mode.  I love this season.  But our home isn't there yet, and we will gradually put out the decorations as our schedules and energy levels allow.  The first thing I have to do, it clear out spaces previously filled with harvest decor and make space for our holiday gear.  It's certainly going to be a full and busy season.  Time is even more scarce when children move between homes, so I treasure what we have.

Even as the mantle and the home are prepared for the holiday, I want to prepare my heart.  Some questions I use, and you may want ask yourself this year:

- Is there room in my day for Christ to change my schedule?
- Will my attitude be frantic or settled?  
- What can I do to foster peace?
- How may I shift my focus to gratitude, even when there are painful times?
- Am I creating expectations that will lead to disappointment?
- What will be my measure of a 'good' holiday?

There is no end to the options of festive events, cute crafts and traditions that will compete for our attention. I will have to choose what gets my favor, I will have to be intentional with my Christmas.  Let's view this not as a limitation, but as a gift to select what matters over the noise.  I will have the courage to say no to budget busters and energy drains.

Most importantly, I'm making room for the true reason we celebrate.  Sometimes I seek the spectacular, but where I'm most moved is in the simple and the lovely.  Listen to the words of the carols, they are glorious.  Read with a child.  Show up for the chaotic school event.  Give with meaning.  Capture the memories.  Let Christ flow through each interaction and trust this season will hold gifts we didn't even know we wanted. It's time for a new standard.

What are ways you are preparing room for the true meaning of Christmas in your heart and home?  I'd love to hear!






Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What if My Only Aim for the Holiday Season is Peace?


Don't miss the page I created to stay focused on a Joyful Holiday (even when life is far from perfect!)


Every year, my tendency is to dream of grande holiday plans and romanticized ideas about how the season will unfold.  Then I start blocking out time on the calendar and getting a bit more realistic.  Quickly it becomes clear that I will not accomplish everything I hoped could be done. 

This year, I'm starting off by declaring that my goal for this holiday season is peace.  Peace with my family, my schedule, my finances, my savior and my own heart.  Yes, I'm still making lists and checking them twice.  I will likely be a bit ragged from all the hustle and bustle.  But most of all, I long for peace. 

Our world is so full of chaos and conflict that the need for peace is more tangible than ever.  Blended family carry the additional stress and angst of navigating emotionally charged days and holidays.  I've realized now that I can feel both joy and sadness together, and that is alright.

My hope and aim for the season of 2017 is for my heart peaceful, joyful & genuinely happy.  I'm praying the same for my children.  No guilt, no manipulation, no bitterness.  It's just not worth it.  There will be sad moments, yes.  There will be longing, it's always mixed into second-family life.  I will allow these feelings, but I won't allow them to dominate or control my holiday season, or that of my children and step children.  Already, they pay the brunt of the price for our shortcomings. 

Here's how I'm seeking peace:

  • less on the calendar and more downtime
  • real connections and one-on-one time with the individuals in my family
  • spiritual renewal as we focus on the Advent of Christ 
  • simple traditions 
  • fostering family relationships
  • sticking to a budget and celebrating what we already have
  • prioritizing my marriage 
  • making time for silliness and fun - these childhood days are waning.
Peace. I crave it and want to be intentional about seeking it.  How will you seek and prepare for peace this year? 


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A New Standard for Good Day

This day did not unfold quite as I thought: nothing went wrong, everything just took longer than I planned, and I already planned with margin.  But at the end of the day, I kept feeling a nagging thought because I didn't get to exercise, something that is a priority for me and one the things I do for myself.  My inner dialogue was churning because I didn't get my "list" checked through.


It wasn't healthy, and borderlined on obsession, so I paused to ask God about my discomfort.  Almost immediately, he comforted me with the reminder that I had accomplished all that He required for that day.  This was a fresh message to me, as I find myself in an unusually busy season that I didn't quite anticipate.

"Did I complete all that God asks of me?"

When I evaluated my day according to this standard, I felt peace come over me and realized my priorities had, in fact, been right that day.  When I filter my to-do list through the question of what God's list is for me, that's where I find true fulfillment.  Did I seek Him throughout my day?  Did I care for my family well?  Did I communicate love to my husband and others?  Did I work diligently? Did I do what I am able and let go of the rest?

When the answer to these things is yes, then I can rest in the knowledge that I've accomplished what He has for me - even when my own goals aren't completed.  This readjustment brings me freedom and peace and I hope is reminder to you, as well.  We can't do it all, but let's do all with intention.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Holiday Stress Starts Early in Step Families

Christmas is nine weeks from today - nine!  Already, our calendar is filling up so quickly and it feels like a snowball gaining momentum right through New Year's Day.  I was commenting to a friend recently that October feels like the new December!


To make the most of this holiday, I am deciding right now what is most important, before it gets crazy.  Every family feels the mounting of activity as Thanksgiving and Christmas approach.  The demand on time, energy and finances grows rapidly during this season, leaving room for tension when we long for peace even more than during other seasons.  Expectations can leave us feeling as if we will never measure up to the commercialized standard.


Making cookies is a family tradition so
I put it on the calendar!
Among blended families, the stress starts early.  We have multiple calendars to coordinate, trade-offs of time and and special days without the people most precious to us.  There is grief woven through the losses that take place when your own child leaves your home to go to another during a season where time is already so limited.

When your time with family is in short supply, you must make the most of every minute and for that, you must plan ahead.  Start now.

First, make a list of all the things you want to do with your family.  Decide when everyone will be together and when it will work for only certain the members of the family  to participate.  Now, put a star next to the items that are priorities.  The truth is that you will not have time for all that you wish to do.  Be wise about what is important.

Then establish the day-to-day schedule with the other home or homes.  We have two other homes that affect our blended family and had the first discussion regarding holiday schedules in September.  Overlap this with college calendars and school vacation calendar.  This way, you know what kind of time will be available.

Next, block out travel days where you will be traveling.  Are you visiting family?  Taking a quick trip while on school holiday? 

Now, fill in established church, school and club party or volunteer dates.

Finally, you can see the times where you will actually be able to plan activities and events together.  I know it feels small, and it's okay at this point if you need to go back and set some boundaries around those squares on your calendar. 

I like to have a one-on-one date with each
child during the season. This guy usually
loves to go ice skating.
Make sure you get the greatest return for your time: Is your daughter going to value your presence at her class Christmas party or a one-on-one mani/pedi date?  Will your son remember the money spent on another lego set or a wonder-filled train ride?  We must budget our time in the same way that we balance our money.

Keep in mind, kids and teens want a voice in their own calendar.  Be wary of over-scheduling and build margin into your season.  Don't allow every night to be a late night, or the mood of the season will deteriorate.  You can't control what happens in the other home, but you can provide structure and calm in your environment that will support the best holiday season yet.

Set your season for success and lower the stress with thoughtful planning, early communication, and intentional practices.  I'm walking through this myself and working to have balance while making meaningful memories.  How are you approaching the holidays?  I'd love to hear from you!

Related: When You Are Apart From Your Children at Christmas

Monday, October 16, 2017

When the News Is Too Heavy

I cannot spend too much time watching the news these days.  Even the reporting feels controversial and debative.  There is shock, then sadness, then perhaps frustration or anger.  What do we do?  I'm not in a position to make a big donation to hurricane relief or to comfort families grieving from unwarranted violence.  I don't have the ideal policy that would unite us all.  I see the problems and don't have solutions for them, so sometimes I want to hide from the unfolding of more real life drama.  But this renders me ineffective and isolated from our world - I don't feel right in that position either.

So, I'm trying to find what feels right.  I trust our church to steward my investments well, and to be the front line for many in need. I prioritize giving at church and to those I know have need, even when they aren't asking.  Especially when they aren't asking.  These are places where I feel like I can make a tangible difference.

I can smile in the car pick up line and bring the traffic director something cold to drink. I can send a note to thank a teacher or welcome the new faculty member to our school.  I can support their efforts to improve our community on the front lines in our Title 1 schools.

It's tempting to drift into fear and despair, or worse to become numb and cold to others' pain. Recently Jennifer Rothschild said:

When we are confronted with a circumstance that challenges us, we have two choices. We can say to our souls, “Soul, you might as well get depressed, fall into despair, and give in to your worst impulse.” Or we can say to our souls, “Soul, you might as well have hope, believe in something good happening, and place your expectation in the goodness of God.”

God does not leave us without hope.  I love the reminder that we do not have to succumb to the darkness of our world because the Light of Christ is ever with those who are living with Him as their compass.

I can't bury my head in the sand and ignore the devastation around our world, but I can pay special attention to the points in my daily life where I have the ability to make a difference.

Friday, September 29, 2017

If You Could Change One Thing...

As women, we all have that invisible list that we carry in the back of our minds about what we would change about ourselves, if we could.  It seems to be a running tab that changes somewhat through the seasons of life.  Once, larger eyes were on my list, now I'd choose skinny thighs.  In one season I longed for more time at home with children, in another more financial stability, in another less conflict in family life.  No matter the issues, there is always something I would change.

I'm sure it is the same for you.  Perhaps a larger home or bank account, maybe a smaller waistline?  Sometimes it just gets frustrating because I hear all kinds of background noise in my mind about what I wish was different, but don't truly move in the direction of making a real change.  When I see everything that I wish to change, nothing actually does. We cannot be perfect, but we can be better.

So, maybe it would be best to identify one thing that I can change and make steps in that direction.  I will never have truly skinny thighs, but I can eat healthier and keep them strong.  I doubt I will have enough money to pay outright for college, but I can save something.  I don't like feeling distant from someone close to me, so what I can I change?  I can't force connection overnight, but I can be intentional about investing in time together.  What is the one thing I can do to change something that feels too heavy to keep carrying as an "if" and would feel lighter just by starting to make the change?

We are changing seasons and in my part of the US, we enjoy a distinct (and beautiful) autumn.  Like the leaves and the light, I decided to take 30 days in September and focus on changing ONE thing.  Guess what?  I saw success, even moreso than my goal.  I am surprised, quite pleasantly so, and more convinced than ever that change is possible.  At the beginning of my attempt, I wrote in my journal that I was afraid: That it would work. That I couldn't keep up the discipline.  That even if I did the work, change wouldn't happen.  That I would miss my old way and not stick to it.

I had several goals in my mind for changes that I wanted to make, but only committed to the one in September.  I'm going to continue doing what worked as it has become real and easier now.  But I'm adding in something else that I've wanted to change.  Once again, I'm a little scared, and little intimidated, but also very encouraged by what has worked and where I've seen success.  My confidence is growing and I'm seeing the benefits of constant improvement.

So, here's to changing your dialogue from the one thing you would change to the ONE thing are doing to move toward the change you desire.  You can do it!

Ideas for Change:

  • Need to get more sleep? Try setting a bedtime.
  • Want to exercise more? Commit to walking/jogging one mile each day.
  • Looking to begin tithing? Write that check first.
  • Hoping for closer friends? Ask one friend a week to meet up.
Sometimes a little more or a little less is all it takes to move toward lasting change.  I love to hear your ideas and if you're going to go for it!





Friday, September 22, 2017

A Note to the Suddenly Separated

I am so sorry for the turmoil that brought you to this place of separation.  I have been where you are and I know it’s bad.  But you are going to live through it.  I don’t know the circumstances that lead you to separating from you husband – whether it was his choice, yours, or mutual – and I don’t need to know unless you need to share.  In that case, I will be understanding and confidential.



I remember when my husband and I separated, it was one of the most challenging times of my life.  The grief was crippling and almost overwhelmed me.  You may feel this way, too:

  • You are disoriented.  What of the past is real?  You will doubt your own judgement and view all your past shared experiences through the lens of what is happening now.  Eventually, you will readjust your perspective and be able to accept what you didn’t know or couldn’t comprehend then.
  • There is no immediate resolution.  This marriage may be healed and reconciliation may mean this is just a season in the overall story of your life.  The union may dissolve and forever change the trajectory of your path.  You just don’t know, cannot know, and the uncertainty is terrifying.  In the middle of this unknown outcome is where you will learn to truly live in the moment.
  • All of the sudden, every decision feels huge.  Every single choice feels like one that will have enormous ramifications and it is just overwhelming.  Slow down.  You don’t have to make life changing decisions while in the middle of such strong emotions.  Let yourself process truth, consider consequences and make wise decision.  Avoid reactions and focus on intention.
  • Your instinct is to isolate and harden your heart against anything that might hurt you or offer false hope.  It’s natural to become cynical, yet you must fight that tendency if you desire to be open to joy.  When you numb yourself to the hard parts of life, you are also numb to the wonder and goodness.  A frozen heart may feel safe, but it will never satisfy.  For a moment, feeling frozen is a blessing but for the long term, it will just leave you cold.  Find safe people who can be supportive during this time.
In the middle of all the turmoil and upheaval that can be hard to make sense of, I want you to remember two things:

Don’t worry about normal.  You are in a season of transition.  Embrace that.  Whatever the outcome of your current circumstance, your life will be forever changed.  This is not a bad thing, even though it can be frightening.  Change is what moves us forward.  Let go of the pressure to solve this right now and rest in the fact that you are becoming more of who you are created to be, even in this.  Trust the process.  Trust yourself.

You are not alone.  I am praying that God reminds you of all the ways He is with you and goes before you in this season.  It’s so hard, but things will get better.  Good things can come from this season only if you keep moving toward the future, even when you don’t know what that looks like.  Choose the next best thing for today and trust God to reveal when He knows that you’re ready for more.  

Dear friend who is newly separated, you're on my mind and in my heart.