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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Yearly Thoughts

I still have a paper calendar and
I'm looking over the goals I set for last year.
Happy New Year!  Mr. Wonderful and I were comparing some of the differences between 2015 and 2016 this morning: No soccer coaching this season is a big change!

It's natural at this moment of calendar change to note what else has changed in life.  I savor the review of the past year and note some things that are working well and some that are not.  Budgets, exercise, schedules and more need to be tweaked. I strive for little changes that may add up to big results because it just feels less daunting for me.  Often, I use the first six week of any year to really assess my goals and shift the trajectory so that by my birthday in February, I'm on track for success (and sometimes even have a head start!).

Mr. Wonderful feels like 2016 will be a year of change, but I'm not so convinced.  Often, I don't have much of a pause during the "in between week," but this year it has been calm and quiet with time for yearly thoughts.  My thoughts about the coming year proved very accurate one year ago.  I'm less certain about what to expect in the next twelve months.

My quick superlative thoughts? (I'm not thinking too hard, just throwing out what comes to mind)

  • Best Memory: When my son was baptized and seeing his faith grow
  • Worst Event: Two car crashes in three days
  • Hardest Challenge: Navigating middle school with my son
  • Greatest Tip: Remember the dogs are just dogs and not stress so much
  • Deepest Disappointment: Missing my children's first visit at Disney
  • Unexpected Surprise: Visit from former sister in law
  • Best Decision: To love Mr. Wonderful everyday
  • Must Keep Doing: Meal Planning
  • Must Stop Doing: Browsing online shops (sales are too tempting)
  • Can't Wait to Start: Grilling Out!
  • Don't Want to, But Doing it Anyway: Visiting Allergist
  • Do More: Hiking with Husband
  • Do Less: Criticizing (even internally)
May you be blessed and joyful in 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Turning the Pages

The time between Christmas and New Year's is most often filled with travel and activities with my children.  This year my travels are done, my children are vacationing with their dad and it is just Mr. Wonderful and I home alone.

Last week I made my way with three children (who were hyped up on Christmas Crazy, out-of-school-Psychosis and sugar madness) to the Midwest to spend time with my family.  We were all able to worship together which was a rare treat.  The children were thrilled to continue Christmas traditions of sugar cookies, gingerbread men, stories and Christmas bingo.  They had a blast with their cousins.  My sister and I took another day trip to visit our grandparents, which was extra special.  We are rich in family heritage and tradition and it did my heart well to be with my people.  

We arrive back in Tennessee on Christmas Eve, Eve and the excitement continued to build.  After a quick trip to the grocery store, we settled in for the holiday routine: Stockings hung, cookies for Santa, Candlelight Christmas service, Christmas Eve feasting, stories in bed, up early for stocking surprises, opening gifts, brunch, lots of playtime and laughter, full bellies and napping.  Then, everything went instantly quiet as our children dispersed with their other parents to continue celebrating.  It's always so hard.

Mr. Wonderful and I give each other space to process the recurring loss, and then use the time to reconnect.  It's always bittersweet, but I'm so thankful that we find the sweetness, even in the bitter moments.  We have spent time cleaning up the remains of a joyful holiday and began un-decorating our home.  We are talking about things 2016 may hold for our family and remembering the highlights of 2015.  I'm journaling, planning and reading and savoring time to do so without interruption.  

My usual post-Christmas frenzy is so much more relaxed, and it feels right and intentional to be thoughtful.  What are your thoughts during this in-between?  Do you make New Year's resolutions, goals or plans?

The children will all be back in the house on New Year's Eve, so we're sliding toward the end of our quiet season.  Happy New Year!  

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Dark Days of December

Not every memory of December is a joyful treasure.

I'm learning to hold the darkness as a pointer toward the light.  The actual physical darkness is a challenge that I can overcome with adequate time in the sunshine, but the soul darkness often creeps in when I least expect it.  Illness. Separation from family.  Disappointment in relationships.  Lack of money for gifts, lack of finances for necessities. Pain of a child.  Unsolved problems.  Unfulfilled dreams.  Unresolved conflict.  Fear, stress, sadness.  These tug our hearts into un-merry territory.

I have enjoyed a season where I was able to let go of my holiday-expectations, and it was truly peaceful and joyful, even amidst the difficult and sad.  I've learned to allow my grief and discomfort to live alongside my joy.  For so long I believed that joy was only possible in the absence of all fear, sadness, disappointing.  What an awakening it has been to allow full expression of the melancholy to live alongside the merry.  Acknowledging one doesn't discount the other, as this article to skillfully describes.

If you find yourself edging a bit toward the melancholy or struggling to find sense of our abundance while others lack so much, accept the full weight of your thoughts and feelings.  It's a challenge for me to reconcile the greater world's view of Christmas next to the American commercialized version (wonderfully described here: O Holy Night).

But I will take my daughter to Christmas Tea and my son ice skating downtown.  We will enjoy an amazing Christmas concert and silly holiday movies.  We will decorate our home and wrap gifts, though fewer this year than in years past.  Along with this, we will hand out "Helping Bags" to the homeless people who we pass on our way to church, and take the time to invite them to come along with us (no one has accepted that offer, yet).  I have been more intentional to shop in ways that may contribute to welfare of those seeking to improve their lives: Mercy House, Ethical Chocolate, Scarves.  I sent something special to a single mom who may not have others that think to purchase for her.  We acknowledged our often-overlooked traffic officer at school and tried to overtip a waitress.  We don't get it all right, but we are trying to notice those who may be overlooked this season.


By the end of the month, I will have attended concerts and funerals, traveled through seven states by car, visited with family and missed others.  We will open gifts and we will pray for those without.  It's a lot of highs and lows all jumbled together.  No wonder December often leaves me overwhelmed and a bit undone!  Yet daily, I find peace within through remembering the promise -

Free vintage postcard images:
I hope your December brings much joy, deep peace and hope fulfilled that you may have never expected.  If you find yourself dealing with darkness when you expected only light, don't be afraid to allow that full expression.  Merry Christmas, and much joy to you and yours!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Modern Family Holiday Helps

From dealing with your ex to embracing new traditions, Christmas time brings out the wonderful and the woeful.  I hope that you find a way to cast your gaze on the goodness that abounds in this season and let go of the frustrations that drag you down.  The calendar can get a crazy and finances may turn into a fiasco.  Try to notice the many points of light and joy, even in the hectic times.  Capture some precious memories while running through the holiday paces.

It's okay if not every ornament makes it to your tree this year.  If you don't have time to put the lights outside, that's alright, I skipped it, too, but we really enjoyed a trip to the local light show.  I'm not sure when we might do our holiday baking, but we have enjoyed seasonal candy treats.  The memories are the moments more than the activities.  It not just one day that makes the season, the longing and shuffle are part the tradition.

So take pictures with the decor that makes it up this year.  Record the Christmas concert and holiday recitals.  Enjoy some extra fine dining or just store-bought dessert.  Whatever works is okay - you're doing a great job, Mom!  Most of all, remember the simple first Christmas and take peace in knowing that all our troubles are the reason Christ came.  Reach out to help someone, if you are able, and reach of and ask for help, if you need it.  I'm grateful to have been in both positions.

Holiday Tips for StepMoms

Holiday Survival Guide

Let Go of Expectations This Season

Blending Traditions and Schedules

From Me on The Blog:

Traditions in Our Blended Family

The Christmas Magic is YOU!
The Christmas Magic is Christ

Home Alone at Christmas

Holidays Without Your Children

It's Better This Year

He Came for this, He came for me

Saturday, December 5, 2015

My Evolving Idea of Holidays After Divorce

We have all held those visions of holidays that rival Norman Rockwell and Hallmark.  Once, I thought I could create that perfect experience and I thought it all had to culminate on the exact calendar day.  I over-extended myself (financially, emotionally, physically) to craft Pinterest-Perfect birthday parties, Thanksgiving feasts, Easter mornings.  Naturally, Christmas should be THE culmination of all my efforts.  But, even early-on, I realized that wasn't reality.  The real magic of Christmas is in the reality of it all.

When you divorce and then co-parent, there are divided holidays.  The horror of it is real and for me it is one of the more enduring pains of separation.  At first, if the children were not with me for a holiday, I kind of just tried to ignore it.  I think it was a form of denial and a way of pretending that I wasn't sad to be without them on a special day.  That first Christmas as a single mother was a minor disaster, although the children do not remember it that way at all.

The first Thanksgiving that they spent without me, we shared some "Thankfulness-es," but I did't do much to celebrate.  I feasted with my parents, but the children and I didn't have a feast together that year.  I didn't ask much about what they did with their dad.

Now I am much more ready to acknowledge that holidays - especially Christmas! - are much more than one day events.

This year, when one child asked if we could have a "Thanksgiving Dinner at Home,"  I happily obliged.  So on Black Friday, I was grocery shopping and then spent all Saturday in the kitchen preparing a Thanksgiving feast for our blended family that Saturday evening.  Our college-girl was home, the children came back from their father's house, all of our people were together.  It was worth the extra effort and the coordination of multiple schedules.  We were able to keep traditions, we made memories together, we laughed and shared and cleaned up before launching into Christmas decorating mode.  We were a real family - imperfect, scattered and breathless from the bustle, but family.

One of the traditions that I began during my single mom days was to open an Advent Calendar window each day as we read thoughtful verses about Christ.  It has become the defining tradition of our family Christmas and we do it regardless of all other schedule conflicts and challenges.  I used to get so upset about the days we missed when the children went to their father's house, but now we just pick right up and keep moving forward.

More and more I see that it is the 'spirit' of a holiday that makes it special - why did I ever think the calendar date mattered?  Gathering with family, partaking of traditions, celebrating life lived together - these are the things that count and will be remembered.  We try to open our eyes to the real magic of Christmas.

How do you handle holiday events?  Has the Thanksgiving table ever been empty?  Will you be alone this Christmas?

Monday, November 23, 2015


This week we will have another quiet Thanksgiving Day.  Divorce alters traditional family celebrations forever and spending big days without some of those you love the oat is one of the most enduring markers of a divided family.  Holidays will never be the same.  My children requested a Thanksgiving celebration at home this year, and so we will enjoy a feast on Saturday along with traditional holiday decorating.  Mr. Wonderful and I have reservations for lunch on Thursday.  Thanksgiving is such a family-focused holiday that I struggle against the sadness.  I'm glad I'll have Saturday and Christmas to uplift my spirit.

Yesterday at church, I was sharing our Thanksgiving plans with a fellow solo-mom.  I mistakenly assumed that she might understand the challenge of celebrating without the presence of your child.  "I haven't ever had a holiday without *Kaley, I just can't imagine." she said.  I just nodded, but I felt even more isolated and less understood.

I'm very conscious of many blessings I have been given.  It's so easy to notice what I don't have and long for more: time with my children, clothes in the closet, updated furniture, modern conveniences, etc.  These thoughts are very me-focused, and I am practicing looking outward.  The news displays clear evidence that I have so very much and am rich in material goods.  My family and children reflect how deeply I am blessed in relationships.  Mr. Wonderful is such a tangible presence of understanding, partnership and love.  The comfort of knowing he "gets it" is so monumental.  The very fact that we have walked similar hardships bonds us more closely together.  Those I love most are healthy and cared for.  It's hard to ask for more.

And so it is with most things.  If we look, we can find the blessing even in what is negative.  We miss our one who went away to university this year.  Yet we are so grateful for her intelligence and what she is learning, experiencing and the way she is growing.  Middle school has been so challenging and yet my son has matured and is stretching himself.  When I practice gratefulness, my perspective shifts and I feel so rich.  Let's be intentional about noticing the blessings.  It's a practice of perspective that has the power to change your life.

*name changed for privacy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

How to Stay Calm When Your Ex Pushes Your Buttons

There is a reason that you and the father of your children are "Exes" and not still a couple.  Because you were once close enough to make a baby together, he is close enough to know the things that get under your skin.  The patterns have probably long been in place for you to react to certain topics or to become emotional under certain circumstances.  But you have the power to stay calm when your ex pushes those buttons.  You do not have to go down the path of reacting.

During the process of our separation and divorce, it was my mantra to Keep it Classy.  You get to keep your dignity and maintain composure, even when it's emotionally stressful.  Employ calming practices and prep in advance for any necessary comebacks.  Keep these principles in mind:

- Don't talk "business" at family gatherings, school events or sporting events.  Save it for a quick call, email or whatever form of communication works best for your parenting dynamic.

- A little distance is healthy.  He doesn't need to know all your plans and thoughts, so remember it is okay to not include him in the decisions that do not affect his time with the children.

- Keep the past behind you and beware of becoming immediately defensive.  Ask yourself if this situation is worth the emotional expense that conflict will bring.

- Before you respond, smile.  This will force you to pause for a beat and communicate good will.  It may even signal a cheeky understanding that he is trying to manipulate the interaction, but you are still in control.

- Be Consistent.

- Keep trying.

- Determine to be a grown up and never make your child or teen choose between you and your ex.

- Commit to emotional integrity and determine to live by your values, even in a challenging relationship.

You are only responsible for yourself.  If a conversation begins to deteriorate, simply walk away.  Detach.  Disengage.  Depart.  You've got this!  Then call a supportive friend and hash out the crazy.

I hope this Thanksgiving season finds you counting blessings.  Look for them - they are out there!  I'm grateful for any who come here to read.  I'd love to hear from you through this season.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Before & After

On the day of my divorce, I burned personal
letters and cards that no longer had value because I deemed
the words insincere and irrelevant to my future.  
I was driving through the mountains on a road I hadn't traveled on in about three years.  Prior to that, I was there often.  It was a short ten minutes from my previous home, and yet now there is a more direct route to the mountains that I take.  Being back on this road, once so familiar and routine, now felt uncertain and I lost my bearings.  I missed a turn.  I couldn't remember the way to a landmark.  I was disoriented.  I felt unsure of myself in a place where once I was the expert.

That is often how I feel about the circumstances in my life.  Once, I felt so sure, so certain that each next step was the right one.  I professed faith, and yet every decision was made with my own calculation and prediction.  I could not have imagined how completely life has shifted from that time "before" the divorce that was final five years ago this week.  I remember how completely disoriented and unsure I felt about my future.  Filing for divorce was the greatest act of faith I had taken up to that point in my life.  I well-remember the sense that God was asking me to choose Him and let go of trying to gain security in a man who struggled with his own issues.

Even years later, I still grieve that ideal family that I spent my early life imagining.  I never considered that it might not remain intact.  My younger-woman-self could not believe that the man I chose might not always choose me.  I didn't realize how significantly that choice would affect the children, even under the best of circumstances.

Naively, I thought that the removal of my ex-husband from our home would remove his influence from my life.  I had been told that I was trading one kind of problems for another kind of problems, but now I understand what that means as it plays out in daily life:

  • I don't wonder about who my husband is with, I worry about who is sharing time with my children.
  • I don't stress about impressing my family at holidays, I stress about holidays without some of my favorite people.
  • I don't argue over how to spend our income, I worry over whether child support will always be paid.

Anger doesn't end after divorce.  Hurt doesn't disappear.  My experience as a parent is radically transformed, as is the experience of childhood by the little ones exposed to two homes.  Divorce is the doorway that ends one kind of family, but opens into another kind.  The new life provides much more control over my personal life, and much less control over the lives of my children.  That was explained to me, but I didn't understand it until I lived it firsthand.  It is a humbling and difficult challenge.

And yet, the life during and after divorce has been my most rich living thus far.  I looked around and discovered a whole different tribe of people who were there for me.  I saw with my own eyes how the Lord provides and comforts.  I experience the peace of living in truth at home and elsewhere.  I am more confident in Him than I could have been without the painful journey of divorce.

Mr. Wonderful and I snuck up to the mountains last weekend.
We are headed back tomorrow.
Sometimes I feel disconnected from the person I was before.  I miss the sense of history to share with my spouse.  At the same time, I feel so much more free to be my true self that I can hardly remember the sense of uncertainty, fear and bondage in which I lived for so many years.  I am loved more wholly and more sacrificially by a man who demonstrates with his life, not just his words, that he is committed to me.

The exact season which I feared may destroy me, is the very moment when I witnessed the greatest of miracles.  Surely, five years ago I could not predict where life has brought me.  How I wonder what the next five years might hold?  As I was then, I am confident that God goes before me and my children,.  He will work His way for good and I rest in His security.

I am not the person I was before.  I am not only this life that is after.

 I am before and after. 

Have you experienced any before & after events in life?

Other times I written about my divorce experience:

It's Good, But It's Not The Same (and that's okay)
One Year Later
Is Divorce Wrong?
The "Christian Divorce Advocate"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mom Selfies

When is the last time you were so joyful that you burst into uninhibited laughter or a smile?

Everyday, I fight for a little bit of time for just me.  Sometimes I use that time to go to bed early or read.  Often I get outdoors alone and run or walk in our gorgeous natural landscape.  Rarely, I indulge in a movie or Netflix.  But I've learned to fight for it because for years I lost me in the survival mode of motherhood and wifedom.  

Motherhood is a high and noble calling - I think there may be none greater.  Yet it is only one role in our lives and in order to serve well, we must nourish ourselves, too.  It's easy to overlook self and sacrifice all for others, but that is not healthy nor required.  We aren't doing any favors when we neglect our people's most valuable resource - Mom!
A dose of nature always brings me joy!
In light of this, I would like to see a movement for more Mom Selfies.  Just you - no children, no friends or partners - just mom.  It can be a moment when you feel great or when you feel defeated.  Maybe the only self care you get is your time brushing your teeth, but even that can be embraced.  Let's do better.  Let's work to find what kindles the spark in our eyes...we recognize it in our children, and you are just as worthy of that kind of joy.  

On Facebook or Instagram, Twitter or wherever you like to share, tag #MomSelfie or #MomCare so we can celebrate with you.  Just do it for fun!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Life Lately

We've been busy with extended family for the past couple of weeks.  We're grateful for lot of people who love us well.


If it looks like all this blended-family-ness is bliss, let me assure you that it is not.  This week has included frustrating schedules, difficult sleeping arrangements (house with 9 people and three dogs is not conducive to relaxation), tight deadlines, a toddler-like tantrum and quite a bit of sass.  Middle school is still creating anxiety, budgets are still tight and there are many things that pull us in different directions.  So, yes, we truly are "Far From Flawless!" But we are still appreciating all the good and trusting that the difficult will be used to grow and mature us.  And I love the special relationships witnessed in these photos!

How do you take a moment to remember the blessings in the middle of the challenges?