Don’t Lose Your Wonder, Brave Girl

Twas the night before the night before Christmas, and my children were nestled all snug in my bed while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads. Well not sugar plums, likely Skittles. And not beds, but bed. But you get the idea.

Two nights ago I was in the middle of my giant king-sized bed, snuggled between my two brave girls. During the daytime my bed can easily accommodate the three of us stretched out watching a movie, but on the rare nights we all fall asleep here together I somehow end up smooshed into a 5 inch space in the center while the two little people consume the remaining 75 inches of space.

It. Was. Glorious.

It was glorious because I was surrounded by the two most wonderful little humans I know. It was glorious because everyone was feeling snuggly. It was glorious because so close to Christmas the girls don’t argue about someone being in their space or staring at them or poking them – even teenagers don’t want to get ousted from the good list! And it was glorious because I was keenly aware that the days of all of us climbing into bed together are numbered and few. And with that realization came this question: how does one not lose the sense of holiday anticipation and wonder with all the growing up and with all the change?

Last night, on Christmas Eve, we ended the day in our new jammies. It’s our tradition, and one of the few traditions we’ve maintained. I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about all that’s changed in the last year and I realized that the biggest thing is not that the girls have parents who are divorced. The biggest change is one that every Mom faces over time. The Christmas Eve kid-chatter goes from what Santa might bring to how embarrassing Mom’s striped elf pajama pants are. Instead of putting together Barbie dream houses and pretend veterinary hospitals, Santa lays out an iPhone and Vans and purses.

The biggest change is simple really – the girls are getting older. They’re growing up. And so Christmas isn’t the same as it’s always been.

I’m a firm believer that one of the best things about Christmas is the traditions. But really Christmas is about both tradition and change. We celebrate Christmas because of change in one small family in Bethlehem: Mary found herself pregnant even though she was a virgin and Joseph found himself married to someone that he didn’t get pregnant. And throughout our lives now, more than 2,000 years later, Christmas is a benchmark by which to see change.

We were all once a baby who looked at the lights and bulbs with wonder, we were all once a child who fell asleep wondering about Santa, we were all once a teenager wondering why we couldn’t just get our stuff and then talk to our friends all day, we were all once young adults sitting around the table wondering how to talk like and be real grown ups…and at some point we will all be matriarchs or patriarchs that wait with wonder to see the young people on Christmas Day.

To fully understand and embrace all that is Christmas, we have to be open to change – all throughout our lives. We embrace a baby that was born to become a king and a savior, and we embrace Christmases and the different phases of our lives with the firm belief that there’s beauty in each one. That’s the only way we will hold on to our sense of wonder.

So I will snuggle with my girls in the big bed along with a tray of pineapple cookies, a family tradition that’s at least over 45 years old. I will watch a Christmas cookie bake-off on the Food Network instead of White Christmas, which apparently has boys that are weird and music that is weird. I’ll wake up on Christmas morning and watch Ella smile just as big at a Merry Christmas text from a boy as she did for her new phone – I’ll even think I like that boy for making her smile. I’ll watch Audrey play more with her new device than with her LOL Surprise house, and I’ll be a little sad for a minute until I see the first text she sends, to me, reminding me to embrace the change and see the wonder: “I love you so much.”

When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things, not the great occasions, give off the greatest glow of happiness. ~ Bob Hope

Happy Christmas, everyone.

What Do *I* Know About Love?

Our family lit the advent candles at church this morning, and in a perfect representation of our life right now, the whole thing was a little messy. Perhaps the most funny thing is that I couldn’t even operate the lighter – the culmination of a week of messiness. A week of frustrating Christmas picture attempts, appointments moving around, arguments, broken devices, and someone advising in all seriousness that my cat probably needs relaxation therapy for litter box anxiety.

I have several bad habits that were out in full force this week, but I’ll focus on two here. One is skimming emails while I’m sitting at stop lights. Two is saying yes to things before I fully have or process all the details.

Will you and the girls light the advent candle this Sunday? Yes! Later I get the follow up email and find that love is the theme for this week. Wait, what? LOVE?! I can’t stand up and talk about love. I didn’t know this was about love. This is the absolute worst time for me to talk about love. I go back to the original email, looking for my “out” while mentally preparing my response: I’m so very sorry, but I didn’t know this was about love. And then I fully read the last line of the email that I skimmed the first time: the theme is love this week.

!?&#$*%#!

And as I started to process that I am going to have to actually go through with this advent lighting, I laughed out loud at the silliness of it all. What the heck am I going to say about love? I suck at love. I can’t even choose a faithful mate! While I wouldn’t ever say it to my girls and I’d rather not admit it out loud in church, I’ve also spent much of the last year thinking that not all people are deserving of forgiveness and love. Anyone that makes deliberate selfish choices that hurt others, especially children, just has no idea what love is – and does not ever deserve love or forgiveness or happiness. I know what the bible says about forgiveness and love, and I can even quote those scriptures. But the truth is I still believe with absolute conviction that some people cannot and should not ever experience it. It’s part of my messiness, I guess.

What the heck could I possibly say about love? I had nothing. I was completely devoid of ideas. So I said to my girls: What do you think love is?

My seven year old gave me a one word answer: worship. Worship didn’t really make sense to me, but she wasn’t interested in expanding on her answer so I decided to try again a day later. Audrey, what is love? Worship, she said. So I googled worship plus love and found Psalm 100. It’s only five verses, a packed act of worship that ends with the reminder that His love is eternal. And I realized that what Psalm 100 teaches us is that worship is the way to get love to invade every area of your life.

My 13 year old stood up today and said this: God’s love is different. You may not love him, you may sin, you may be mad at him, but he doesn’t care. He will love you no matter what…God will love you through the hard times and he will be there for you every step of the way.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: my children are smarter than me. I learn from them all the time. And I am absolutely certain I could learn from them even more if I paid more attention.

Advent is the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. In Latin – Mr. Martin from 1980s Bayside Junior High, I have not forgotten you! – adventus means arrival, but also develop or set in or arise.

All things happen for a reason, right? Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because it’s time to steer my thoughts on love away from what it is not and on what it is. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because the season of arrival is about new birth. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is simply because God has a really great sense of humor. Perhaps the reason I was asked to focus on love is because I needed to hear my daughters’ thoughts on love, and let those thoughts develop and set in and then arise in me.

A Lot Better Than OK

I have a favorite bakery. That bakery isn’t my favorite just because of the awesome pastries and donuts and petit fours, it’s also my favorite because of the group of women that work there. I often see them on my way to work when I stop in to get a bagel, and we chit chat about everything from TV shows to kid shenanigans to dipping a spoon directly into the peanut butter jar and calling that dinner.

A few days ago I made a formal order for treats for my office, and as one of the women filled out the form I realized I needed to tell her that my name changed. She looked up at me with such a sad face, and without thinking about the words coming out of my mouth I said to her, “Don’t feel bad for me! I’m really OK.”

And until the words came out of my mouth, I didn’t know they were true. I paused a minute, looked at my reflection in the display case, looked back at her making eye contact and repeated myself with absolute certainty.

Don’t feel bad for me. I’m actually a lot better than OK.

And then she asked the questions that people I love ask: What about your girls? How are the girls? I’ve learned in the last year that people who truly care, people who truly value marriage, people who truly value family, people who truly care about children – people with true empathy – always ask about my girls first.

The girls just finished their year of firsts, but the truth is they have even more firsts ahead and their lives are complicated. Their days of not worrying about anything outside of school and friends and youtube sensations ended some time ago. Now they have to think about the other people to be introduced into their lives, how their school events will change again, how holidays will change again, how to tell two parents their big news of the day when only one of those parents is at home to hear that news in the moment of excitement. Their lives can be great – and they WILL be great because I am determined to make it so – but they will never be as carefree as they once were and as they could have been. Change and knowledge of adult things was heaped upon them, and they’ve grown up so much faster than they needed to.

Some time ago, I ran across this quote by Sophia Loren: “When you are a mother you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.”

Once you’re a parent, everything you say and do has to be with two sets of people in mind – yourself and your children. Your greatest responsibility and your greatest privilege is to parent. From the moment your first child is born, every decision has to be looked at from multiple perspectives. Every action and reaction has to be made with two sets of people in mind. Every mistake has to be viewed from multiple perspectives. The remainder of your life must be lived with the understanding that little eyes are watching and those children are impacted by everything you do and say in some way.

As parents, never really being alone in our thoughts also means that how we’re doing is almost always tied to how our children are doing. If they hurt, we hurt. If they are filled with glee, we are filled with glee. If they are mad at a boy, we are mad at that boy. If they cry because of a mean girl, we want to yell at that mean girl.

At the bakery I talked to my pastry tribe about how I was doing, not about how my girls are doing. And my response was about me and not about them – and I’m not sure how I feel about that. Because while I think that as parents we are certainly individual people, I also think that parenthood, with the goal of raising good humans, must be approached with selflessness. Can we really be happy if our children have unpleasantness in their lives? Should we be happy?

I don’t have the answer. I think sometimes we have to guide our children to happiness, and to do that don’t we have to find happiness first? And yet in some ways I also think that sometimes children are naturally happier than parents and they can help guide us to happiness – even though that’s not the way it should be.

The bottom line is that there is still unpleasantness in my life and in their lives, but at the same time there are so many wonderful things about my life. My girls live with me, we’ve made an awesome girl house, I hit the jackpot in the family department, my friends and neighbors and church family are awesome, my work family is the absolute best, I love my job, and I could go on and on.

So I’ll repeat myself: Don’t feel bad for me. I’m actually a lot better than OK.

And you know what’s also true? Regardless of the changes, my girls have more forces of good in their lives than bad. My girls see more examples of selflessness in their lives than they do of selfishness. And my girls see God in more people than they don’t.

So the truth may be that they are actually a lot better than OK, too. And maybe that makes me even more OK. *Maybe* we can be confused and have peace and be happy and yet overthink things and have chaos and love and be loved all at the same time.

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Girl Trees and Pruning

One of my favorite things about my house is the big perfectly full tree in my front yard. I know it sounds odd, especially coming from someone who is allergic to most outside things, but I am attached to my tree. She is simply beautiful and she makes me smile every time I look at her.

I don’t actually have any idea if my tree is a boy tree or a girl tree, but I am convinced she is a girl tree because she is regal and she adds a peaceful quality to our entire home. She fills the view in every window at the front of our home. And this is the time of year when she is most glorious. Yellow and red and green and orange. Her leaves fall over the course of about 4 weeks and they rest beneath her, blanketing our entire yard.

My girly tree may be magnificent, but she also causes a few problems. She hangs over my driveway, blocking our ability to park in one area. She also hangs so low in several spots that she’s a pain in the behind for the guys who mow the lawn. I know I should probably do something about her – maybe trim some of those branches back – but I just can’t bring myself to risk touching her in any way because she is so magnificent just the way she is. And the truth is I’m afraid to change her in any way because I’m worried she’ll never be the same again.

What if she doesn’t recover?

And what if she’s never as full and beautiful?

There’s risk in pruning. She may never really be full again. There may be parts of her that are missing forever or that will never be the same. And yet there’s a chance the risk could yield great reward – with a little time she may be even more full and even more beautiful and even more happy.

I have realized something about myself recently. I have always known that in a crisis situation, I can make critical decisions very quickly and I won’t overthink them or second guess myself. But I have learned that I am not very courageous when I have time to make a decision. As it turns out, I will allow myself to worry and over-google every little thing and I just cannot seem to commit to a decision.

Am I seriously more afraid to prune my favorite tree than I am to prune in my personal life? Maybe so. And I’ve been trying to figure out what that says about me.

Several months ago I disconnected from almost everyone who is also connected to my ex-husband. Well over a hundred people all in one afternoon. Quick and easy decisions. In some cases I did that because I wasn’t truly communicating with those people regularly anyway and in some cases I did that because you can’t really be my friend or truly care about my children if you are going to support behavior that is wrong. It’s all very black and white for me.

I’ve spent almost a year thinking I should feel badly about that decision but not actually feeling badly about that decision. When the pruning was over that afternoon, I felt free for the first time in months. I was free of all the people attached to a negative force. Free of all the people who would ask what’s going on and what’s happened before they would ask how my girls are doing. Free of all the people who are afraid to do their own pruning because they are stuck in an old life. Free of all the people who aren’t brave enough to not be a fence-hugger.

But what I also did – and a couple of people who love me were real enough with me to call me on it – is disconnect from people as a defense mechanism. I chose to disconnect from some people before they had a chance to hurt me by possibly choosing to try to be friends with just him or with us both. It’s a fair criticism, and it’s easier to see now with some time and space. And yet with all that’s happened in the time since I made those quick pruning decisions, my determination to not allow shades of gray in some areas of my life is even stronger. My determination to prune and let go is even stronger.

Call me mean, call me a narcissist, call me a bad friend, call me ungrateful, call me whatever. This is my life. And it may sound shocking, but I’m pretty sure I know me and what is best for me better than anyone else.

I opened Facebook this weekend and saw that a friend from church posted this quote: “Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” I don’t think I’d seen it before, or if I had I’d forgotten it. And it reminded me of my journal entries about friendships and my thoughts about my tree and it just kind of pulled a few things together for me.

My magnificent and glorious and strong tree shows me how beautiful it is to change and let things go. She bravely let’s go of her leaves, sometimes a few at a time and sometimes in a big heap in one day, trusting that with spring’s rebirth she will be even stronger and taller and fuller.