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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?