25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 25

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Open the present!

This is the day! It is finally here! It’s Christmas. We have read the history of Jesus’ birth. The coffee pot brews cup after cup while adults wipe sleep from their puffy eyes and children bounce around the tree waiting for the present master to hand them a gift. All too soon, after a flurry of paper, the gifts sit in neat stacks beside the tree. Opened. Ooed and Ahhed over and then set aside.

Hmmm. Isn’t that we do with Jesus? Set up the nativity scene for a month. Gaze at it under twinkle lights or if you are fortunate, go watch a live performance of one (I was an angel in one once, man was I cold, but, best time ever). Keep Christmas Christian we chant. Kind of silly, huh? I can only keep it for me. I choose to have Christ in Christmas or not. I can set him aside or have a greater revelation of Him year after year, I can pray to have the eyes of my understanding opened. Open the present.

By having the eyes of your heart flooded with light, so that you can know and understand the hope to which He has called you, and how rich is His glorious inheritance in the saints (His set-apart ones),

And [so that you can know and understand] what is the immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power in and for us who believe, as demonstrated in the working of His mighty strength,

Which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His [own] right hand in the heavenly [places],

 Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named [above every title that can be conferred], not only in this age and in this world, but also in the age and the world which are to come.- Ephesians 1:18-21

He is present. We each have the opportunity to have our hearts flooded with light, to know the unlimited and surpassing greatness of His power.  As we celebrate Christ taking authority and setting up dominion in this world, let us practice it. Not put it in pile to be played with in a theology debate next Christmas. Join in the joy and  don’t set the gift aside!

Merry Christmas!

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 24

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Celebrate the EVE..

One of my fondest childhood memories is midnight mass. Sitting in the choir loft with my mama and  listening to her beautiful voice and hearing the gospel readings. It made the night seem so much shorter. After mass, my sister and I giggled in her bedroom for hours (my poor mama)! Then a few short hours later, it was Christmas morning.

But, oh the EVE.Such a short word for such a long day. What seems like a few hours to adults can seem like years to children. Tomorrow is the day that everyone is waiting for. It is THE DAY. We pound that into their little heads. Wonderful things happen on Christmas. Jesus is born. We read the Christmas history in Luke 2. We open presents.

The best remedy? Do something. Celebrate the day.

  • Play a game.or two.
  • Go outside for a walk.
  • Make a special meal.
  • Get out a puzzle.
  • Go visit a nursing home.
  • Go caroling in your neighborhood.
  • Have kids exchange gifts with their siblings.
  • Open the Christmas pajamas.
  • Do a craft.
  • Re-enact the Christmas story

Celebrate the EVE!

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 23

51695-img_0058Tip 23- It had better not be perfect!

Every year when the kids and I were putting up the Christmas tree, my Spock-like tendencies came out. Every candle had to be perfectly spaced. The ribbons had to be equal distance apart.  All the lights had to be white and homemade ornaments had to go on the back side of the tree. I wish I could go back and time and change those practices. I cannot. But, you can learn from my mistakes. Part of my habit was personality. Part perfectionism. I wanted the tree to be perfect. I’m not sure who the tree was being perfect for. It wasn’t for the kids. They would rather have popcorn and homemade ornaments. Colored lights. They wanted colored lights.

The problem with perfect? It doesn’t help children. It leaves them wanting. It makes them feel as if they don’t measure up. The last thing a child from a hard place needs is the expectation of perfectionism. They are wrapped in control that leaves them in manipulation mode. To add perfectionism to that ballgame spells disaster. Instead we need flexibility. Fun. Willingness to bend. Willingness to bend down and see where they are and join them.

“in the Christian story God descends to reascend. He comes down from heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still, if embryologists are right, to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and seabed of the Nature He has created. But He goes down to come up again and bring the whole ruined world up with Him.”

Kids who have come from traumatic beginnings or kids who have just had a hard day need us to descend to their depths in order to help them reascend into joy. This is the Christ-like Christmas act. This is not perfect. It is messy. It is not self serving. It is bowing down to serve. It is paper chains strung across the living room. It is flour all over the flour when baking. It is globs of shapeless cookies with mountains of icing. It is sloppily wrapped gifts with half a yard of tape around them. It is falling asleep on the floor under the Christmas tree with a child who pops out of bed like a batch of popcorn. It is joy in imperfection. Bend down to bring those in your world up with you.

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25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 22

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Watch the dead time.

“When is everyone coming?” is a question I hear often before Christmas or “what are we going to do today?’ While I have a list a mile long of what I need to do (not all Christmas related because life goes on) and presents to wrap to boot my answer is usually stilted or short, “We are not going anywhere today!” or “I have a bunch of stuff to do!” My doing sometimes creates dead time for children. Dead time has no purpose.

Waiting. Remember the waiting? Yes, it seems to be more intense the closer it is to Christmas. Kids are on break. There are long hours for them and much preparation for us Moms. Family coming to town means we need to clean, shop and plan. We Moms sneak away to wrap presents. And for kids this is sometimes dead time. It can create havoc. It creates whiny kids wondering what is coming next and if it is EVER going to happen.

Christmas doesn’t have to be condensed to one day and if it is, it can be a let down. All that dead time for this? All that waiting for this? Dad’s too tired on Christmas Eve to play. Mom is ready for a nap after Christmas dinner?

It’s tough, I know. Grownups are tired. Kids are wired.

Try to fill the dead time with short activities during the day. Give the kids some Christmas jobs.

  • wrapping a present or two
  • helping with baking
  • cleaning
  • get the board games out before company comes and play a few warm-up rounds
  • have them run errands with you and TALK and LISTEN
  • purchase a few easy meals that are a special treat and have the kids help make them
  • help them make home made gifts

Turn the dead time into life skill time. Before long the children will be adults. Prepare them by training them in participation now!

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 21

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Christmas has needs.

I paced back and forth at the front of the house where large windows looked out over the front yard and the mailbox. The mailbox- what had been a symbol of Christmas cards and good news had become my worst enemy. I dreaded the mailman coming bringing bills and more bills, and yet I watched, waited, worried. When the mail truck pulled up to my box, I hid behind the curtains, afraid he would see me and hand deliver bills that said, “FINAL NOTICE”. I imagined him shaking his head in pity me as he saw the stack of bills.

I’ve lived there, deep in the pit of need where my prayers were only about my lack: Mortgage payments. Groceries. Presents. How do you have a silent night when your mind is full of the need? Of worry? Of the reality of the barrenness of now? I’m not going to tell you how to shop smarter or spend less (there are plenty of great blogs and books about that). The truth is you cannot shop smarter with nothing. It is not a great deal if you have nothing.

Almost eight years ago, we moved to our current home and still owned a home in another city.It sat on the market for a year and a half. We paid two mortgages for that length of time. A few years before that we lost our family owned business. We ate through our savings, our kids college funds and put the rest of our money into a house that the downturn in the market swallowed up. We went from being middle class to on the edge of homeless.

I don’t share this info often because I don’t enjoy pity parties anymore. I’m not inviting you to one. I do, however enjoy empathy parties with a healthy dose of encouragement. That is what this post is for. Encouragement. I have talked to many, adoptive families over the years and all of them have something in common- after the adoption comes the Job syndrome. Sometimes it’s years down the road. Sometimes, just months or days. It can come in different packages, loss of heath for parent or child, loss of finances, behavior issues, trouble attaching,_________(fill in the blank). The Job syndrome is a whole book in itself, I’ll keep it brief your sake, you get the picture, right?

Christmas has needs. It needs us to step outside of our every day stress and receive it. That is difficult to do when we are full of worry and the wight of the world on our shoulders. So, how do we except the gift of Christmas when we cannot buy our children the gifts we want to? Or buy the groceries we need to make the traditional dinner? How do we meet Christ in the morning when we are so weighed down and depressed we cannot get out of bed? How do we celebrate when our children from hard places have had every trigger activated and are out of control?

1. Accept your now.

You may not be where you want to be financially or physically, just remember a healthy part of getting on the right path is enjoying something in your now that you can remember later. Play games with your kids. Cut own snowflakes. Sing Christmas carols. Make gifts.  Watch for points of connection and behaviors you want to encourage. Mention them aloud to your children. Before you know it, you will have a parcel full of wonderful memories. The kids won’t remember the lean years as much as they remember the celebration.

2. Prepare for your future now.

I’m not talking about getting a financial plan. Those are great, but the bottom can fall out of those too. Ask me. I know. I’m talking about your heart. If you believe your child will always struggle or always make things a struggle then it will become reality. Instead, look for pinpricks of light and believe that God is doing a great work in the child that He put in your care. Instead of thinking that your Christmases will always be full of lack and need, focus on the blessings you have. Thank the Father for them. Often. Keep a list or a thankful tree (it doesn’t have to be November to do this). This is heart preparation for the future blessings. It makes things well with your soul.

3. Rest in HIM.

I can’t say this often enough. I do say it often because the Lord leads me to verses often that hi-light REST. His rest is not the same as ours. It’s not vegging in front of the TV ignoring the  issues, it’s digging deep into His word. It’s dialoguing with Him. Tell Him your concerns.Don’t just make requests. When you do, trust Him to supply. He will. The Christmas that was the most lean for us financially, friends of mine gave me gifts for my children that were perfect for them. We didn’t spend lots of money. We didn’t have it. We did celebrate. I bet if you asked my kids if they remember a ‘bad’ Christmas, they would say “NO!”. The great thing about the need of Christmas is –

“You don’t have to make Christmas…..You can rest in Christ…..You can breathe easy in Christ.”- Ann Voskamp

Christmas needs us to rest in Christ.

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 20

51695-img_0058Tip 20- Don’t expect your children to understand the true meaning of Christmas.

Daughter Ania and I hopped into the car after an evening of Christmas shopping at Ikea. Sirri decided to send us in circles before putting on the the interstate and gave us a three hour drive time for our one and a half hour trip. Was that her idea of a joke? Half an hour down the road we hit snow and bumper to bumper traffic. Huge rigs pulled on the side of the road to avoid the slip and slide routine going on with cars. We snailed our way along singing Christmas songs with Pentatonix (we do the sound effects in the background perfectly) and laughing til tears streamed down our cheeks. Oh… Christmas. We arrived home safe and sound two and a half hours later, tired and happy. How did you know Sirri?

Or better yet, did Mary know?(Mom joke) Really, what does this have to do with kids knowing the meaning of Christmas? Lots. You see, we sometimes over spiritualize Christmas. Do you hear me serious sister?  As Moms, we are constantly reminding ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas and in a parallel universe, checking off a to do list like a maniac:

  • WRAP PRESENTS -CHECK
  • ORDER LAST MINUTE FROM AMAZON BEFORE TOO LATE -CHECK
  • MAKE PIE
  • RUN OUT FOR STOCKING STUFFERS- CHECK
  • CLEAN- CHECK

And when our children ask for time, tire from activities, walk around in sugar comas and meltdown, we Moms despair of our kids ever understanding the true meaning of Christmas.  When the kids play with the plastic nativity scene and have Mary duke it out with Joseph of the Wisemen, we may wonder if they will ever ‘get it’.

BUT- AND THIS IS A BIG BUT…..

Do we get it?

If we do and we live consistently, acting on that belief, then they WILL get it. It won’t be a shopping trip to IKEA and driving home in snow. It will be Christmas.

Christmas isn’t a day, well…..it is, a day we Christians picked to celebrate the birth of our Savior. I won’t get into all the theology, but if you want to know more about it, read a great series here. Christmas is a belief that God came to earth as a human babe. He left his throne and God-form to set up His kingdom on earth, not for a day- for eternity.

When we live in accordance with that kingdom-

But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides.-Matthew 6:33

When we live with this in mind and action, knowing He works out everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His [own] will.

God sent His son to checkmate satan, to turn the tide in the game, to take us from the course and fashion of this world, take control back from the prince of the power of the air and establish His kingdom in our hearts and on the earth.

Kids aren’t going to respect Christmas because we put up a tree or purchased the perfect presents. They aren’t going to act like angelic beings because we celebrate some man made traditions. However, they are going to watch us. If our actions are consistent with our beliefs, they will get it.

Just don’t expect them to float around singing the Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus unless you are!

Your children will get it, if you live it. It is a process. It takes time. You weren’t born with wisdom and understanding. Neither are they. We understand it part. They understand in bits. Wait for it.

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 19

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Don’t expect the Christmas season to be free of hardships.

A dear friend of mine died this week. I won’t make this post about it. The grief is fresh and private and yet I rejoice that she no longer suffers. None of us knows the day or the hour when hardships or struggles will strike.

At this time last year, I was running around with a heart monitor strapped to my chest and wires trailing out of my yoga pants, thanks to some heart issues. My eldest son, Damian,  fell and broke his elbow at work so we traipsed from doctor to specialist trying to get a good picture of what was going on inside his arm. I got home and jumped into son Hunter’s car to be whisked to the cardiologists and rip off the monitor before they locked the doors. (Wonder what the reading looked like that last hour.) Not what I planned to be doing during the countdown to Christmas.

The truth is- life happens during the Christmas season. We cannot put sickness on hold or plan not to have any tragedies. Struggles are not scheduled on your calendar app. 

Our children from hard places know the drill. Hardships have already happened to them. They can get stuck in the expectation of devastation. It is our job to allow them to grieve, but not stay stuck in the pit. Tough job. Not impossible. When we have this mindset that Christ gave us that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) and remember this is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. Give thanks. Not for the circumstance, but in the midst of it.

Luke 2:1-7

In those days it occurred that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole [a]Roman empire should be registered.

This was the first enrollment, and it was made when Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And all the people were going to be registered, each to his own city or town.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the town of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David,

To be enrolled with Mary, his espoused ([b]married) wife, who was about to become a mother.(A)

And while they were there, the time came for her delivery,

And she gave birth to her Son, her Firstborn; and she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room or place for them in the inn.

The circumstances of the birth of our savior were probably not the Christmas that Mary and Joseph had envisioned. Fleeing the Egypt shortly after was probably not on their agenda either. Yet, they rejoiced. They celebrated. Mary pondered all of these things. There were gifts and songs sung by angels. There was great joy!

“Struggling and rejoicing are not two chronological steps, one following the other, but two concurrent movements, one fluid with the other.”- Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

We parents must learn, for the sake of our children to rejoice and struggle at the same time for our children’s sake. We must teach them to cope and rejoice in the midst of circumstances. We can rejoice in one thing and grieve another at the same time. Nobody is asking us to ignore grief or pain. We don’t ask our children to either. We can rejoice in Christmas in the midst of pain. Hardships happen even at Christmas.

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 18

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You are not a vending machine.

“This is what I want,” my son said as he flashed an expensive item before me. I saw the price first and the present second. Almost half my Christmas budget.

This is not my first Christmas with children or my  first Christmas with adopted children. I have learned the hard way that children from hard places sometimes want proof that someone loves them. Material proof. If you love me then you will buy me this pricey present, they challenge.

It was daughter, Audrey who reminded me of the important truth- I am not a vending machine (and neither are you). Christmas presents do show others that we love them, but they are not based on coins spend or love doled out in material measure. Each gift should fit the recipient and the budget of the giver. We Moms can easily throw our whole year’s budget when we feel compelled to love a child with the vending machine mentality.

The sad truth is no matter what we buy a child, it will never fill the need for love. Material things are not eternal soul-fillers. The child may be happy for a moment, a week or a month, but eventually that vending machine need grows into greed. And greed is never satisfied. Greed never loves. Greed doesn’t affirm. Greed doesn’t hug or play board games or read books. It just cries for more.

So, this Christmas don’t fall into the vending machine trap. Fall into the loving, time-giving, affirming habit. Christmas gifts are not the purpose, they are the icing on the cake of Him who gave the perfect present-Himself.

25 Days of Survival Tips: Count down to Christmas, Day 17

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Expect a Mom meltdown.

Three days ago my good friend Lori posted this on instagram:

“I am in panic mode you guys. I worry about what I’ve gotten the kids, if they’ll like what they are going to get, who else I need to buy for, where are all the extra funds going to come from? I know this isn’t the reason we celebrate, but I can’t help it. I want to give my kids the world! They don’t ask for things. In fact, JR only asked for one thing and he said he didn’t care if he got nothing else. The stress of money and things have made me grumpy and to not enjoy this season like I used to. I feel so behind….not just with Christmas, but on the house, with school. My mind is rarely on the joy that Christmas brings. So, I’m going to try and combat that this week. We are going to bake cookies, maybe research how other countries celebrate Christmas, and read the story of Jesus’ birth….I need to be reminded why Christmas makes me so happy, and I need to release myself from the stress and let God take the lead (because I’m such a control freak).”

and the feedback was in agreement. I shared “you are not alone” and other Moms agreed that they have meltdown before Christmas moments. Some blame it on peer pressure. Yep, it is there. But I think most of it stems from our wanting to make Christmas perfect for our families. A top notch goal? Right?

Blogs and articles this season have a wide array of advice about advent readings, the true meaning of Christmas, how to decorate the best tree, the best deals on gifts, yummy cookie recipes. And these are all good things unless we Moms let them be the ruler by which we measure ourselves with. Then things get dicey. Our inner monologue becomes one of should haves and should dos instead of peaceful thankful thoughts.

I am not immune to the inner monologue or the meltdowns. I had one the other day. My inner voice says, you won’t have enough to get everything for everyone and you won’t have enough energy to do everything you need to do. 

How do we combat these meltdowns and the negative speak? With the truth.

My God shall supply all my needs according to His riches and glory.  Needs. Not wants. Needs. Not perfection. The truth is God will supply what it is in His will to supply. He is not the our perfection provider. He does not give us control. He is in control.

Yesterday, I traveled to my eldest daughter, Audrey’s for a cookie baking day. I picked up my second eldest daughter, Amerey, and baby Cecilia on the way. I was feeling pretty great about the trip. I had given all my baking supplies to Audrey the day before. I didn’t need to bring anything but myself and the dough. Here’s what happened:

The fog was so dense in the mountain passes that I missed my exit. I had to travel further down the road and turn around and try not to miss it again. I almost missed the turn into Audrey’s neighborhood because I was disoriented. We pulled in her driveway and jumped out of the car, “I forgot my cookie dough!”

“What?! Mom?!”

Audrey ran out, “What’s wrong?”

“I forgot my cookie dough!”

“Mom, I didn’t make any because you and Amerey were bringing some!”

We laughed. It worked out. Audrey ran to the store and bought some more supplies. We did make cookies. We did have a good  time.

A joyous Christmas season is not based on perfection. We’re just a bunch of human beings.

 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place under these circumstances: (Matthew 1:18) the perfect gift of Christ was delivered in much less than perfect circumstances- an unexpected pregnancy, an edict to travel, birth in a manger. Yet, the gift was still was and is perfect.

Expect a Mom meltdown. Let it go and move on. I pray that God shows you His presence in your imperfect circumstances. Speak truth to your inner self. Christmas joy does not demand perfection.

Expect y