Real Christmas Heroes

How excited would we be if we were tasked with providing an amazing, memorable, magical Christmas to a family? A family in need of a little magic. How honored we might feel to be called upon, chosen.

If we saw a video on facebook that laid out, to a sympathetic track of music of course, as a photo slide show of the compelling circumstances and sweet photos of a nice man and his children played, we would be moved. If we watched as the stories of their challenges and struggles from the previous year were retold - the stress, the strain, the sorrows- our hearts would be filled with compassion. 

We would instinctively think about how his kids were growing up, clocks ticking and all and how few opportunities he has left to spend this time with them before life marches past. We'd be reminded about how hard he works to provide for them and how much he misses everyday just to be able to give them the basics. We'd sit at our table, moved to tears. 

We would accept the challenge and determine that he and his children were going to have the best Christmas. We'd be so happy to be the elf, the Santa, or more importantly the hands and feet of Christ to that family. We would pull out all the stops, we'd use every resource we have. We would stay up late to bake and cook, shop and plan and we'd gift that family with an amazing Christmas season they will never forget.

So why, is it that sometimes we lose the heart to do that for our own needy family? The ones who live in our home, under our roof, whose care has been assigned to us alone? Why are we so "over" creating those memories for our own husbands and children? 

Maybe it's the monotony of having done it so many times. Maybe there isn't a spirit of gratitude in our home anymore? Maybe we just lost our way? Perhaps we are too busy to sit down and think about the year they've really had and play their emotional movie in our own minds. Because we could make one couldn't we? We could all make one. Our kids faced challenges all year. Disappointments, wounds and failures were mingled with their ups. Our husbands managed all kinds of stress during the year and probably some we never even knew about. The year is winding down, so how will it be remembered? How will the next year begin?

Every Family Needs a Hero

We have a story too of course. Whether we work or not, we all faced down many mountains to make it to the end of the year with our sanity mostly intact. Health issues, anxiety, worry about our families, a mother's heart is where worry comes to rest. So in a family where everyone is feeling a tad overwhelmed who will step up and make something beautiful out of it all, at the end? We will. Moms will take the scraps and create something they can all hold onto. We must. Because every family needs a hero and when it comes to milestones, memories and holidays let's face it, no one else is better equipped, not really, than Mom.

Reject the Snarky Mommy

I could write and record a snarky, overwhelmed mom video if I wanted. I could rant and joke about the holidays -  all the work, the expectations. What would it serve? A cheap laugh? Okay. Sometimes a cheap laugh is better than none, sure. But if I'm being honest I could admit the snark is nothing more than a thin veil, shielding me from the guilt that is trying desperately to tell me that I have lost my joy and the desire to serve my family with a joyful heart. I've heard the analogy so many times about how mother's must put on their oxygen masks first so they can save their children. Mother's must care for themselves to be able to care for others. It's true. So too it is true with the Way of Joy. You cannot bring joy to your family if you have none in your heart to share. The half hearted, resentful, snarky mommy will shine through. And here is the worst part, no one will see it as clearly or be pained by it as much as you will. It will push in at the corners of your mind. You were made for joy. You were made to bring that joy to your family. A family needs a hero and a hero needs her joy.

Does It Really Matter?

Reject the snarky mommy trend, it doesn't really make you feel better. Find your joy and be the hero your family needs. For all the assurances you will be given about how nothing matters. I suggest to you it does matter. Do the children remember exactly the cookie, or the gift, or the decoration from a specific year, probably not. What they do remember is the feeling, the environment, the tone that was created in their home throughout their childhood. It's how you craft a family. They remember what is built and built upon every year. You will know they remember because it will show through in their spirit.

Consider this, it's your birthday. Your husband says last minute in the evening while he sits on the couch in his work clothes, "It's your birthday, don't cook, let's get McDonalds." Nice enough. He remembered, no cooking, ok, it's something. But if he planned a special dinner, booked a babysitter, dressed up, smelled nice and lovingly and excitedly took you out, it's a very different experience. The point is, effort matters. Effort matters when it's offered to us (or when it's not) and it matters when we offer it to our families. Thought, planning, love shine through when we try harder. Those efforts over the course of your child's life matters.

This Isn't Spoiling

Efforts and thought need not be expensive and moms would do well to wrap one gift for their husbands and children this year that would mean more than any other. THEIR TIME. Baking cookies in your pajamas and listening to Christmas music doesn't cost a thing. It doesn't have to be hard either. 

Buy a premade mix, add an egg and a couple tablespoons of water. Let them help you wrap presents. Sure it will take longer. And? Let them help you, really help you shop for others. Let them help with Christmas cards. Let them light the Advent candles. Read Christmas stories every night. Go to church, often. Watch movies together in mom and dad's big bed, make it a Christmas Slumber Party with hot chocolate. You don't have to take them to Disney World for Christmas or buy them every electronic gadget at Best Buy. Don't spoil them, that's counter-productive. But pour yourself into loving them and making special moments and memories with lots of time. Spend carefree timelessness with them. Make an effort, plan.

Imagine, if you must that your family's story was a Youtube video this year and your husband and your kids were asking for some Mom with a lot of joy, who has a little time and imagination to be their hero and help them have a magical Christmas. Then do it. There is still time.

Begin Again

Begin Again

And you throw your head back laughing like a little kid

I think it's strange that you think I'm funny 'cause he never did

I've been spending the last eight months
Thinking all love ever does is break and burn and end

On a Wednesday, in a cafe, I watched it Begin Again.

These words from the Taylor Swift song, Begin Again spoke to my heart this week. Beginning again is hard, was hard. It's been nearly 20 years of marriage with this man and a few carefully placed words from a song can still take me right back to those moments when I fell in love with him and realized there might be a new beginning, even for me.

When a relationship ends it's never simple. It's never painless. You are left with baggage to sort through any which way you slice it. Buried in the luggage of the past is blame. Usually enough to go around and bad decisions. If you have ever made a bad decision or maybe two, you know what I mean. I was there once.

When I had began dusting myself off, I felt like possibly the weakest, dumbest woman to ever walk the earth. I didn't have a family tree filled with happy marriages. I didn't even know many happily married people so I wasn’t really surprised by the ruins I saw all around me. At just 24 years old I believed all love ever did to a person was break, burn and end. I had decided that love and marriage was not for me. The only men in my life would be Jesus and my son. I had a Jesus take the wheel series of events that brought me to this place.

I would be single, probably forever. I didn’t trust any man and I think I trusted myself any less. Yep, that’s how I was going to do it.

Then, this man walked back into my life.

His laughter was contagious and it still is. He actually throws his head back, he laughs with his whole body and it fills the room. He was born to be joyful. I remembered that there was a time in my youth I was joyful too. Then, everyone thought I was hilarious, a class clown. But, just a few short years into adulthood had drained the silly string right out of my spirit. He made me laugh. He made me rediscover my own sense of humor, my sarcastic streak and he thought I was funny. I had forgotten so many pieces of who I was. As this first piece of me began to come back to life I started to feel like myself again.

He thought I was smart. I'd been beaten down for so long, treated like a second class citizen and made to feel as inadequate intellectually as you can imagine. Thinking about it now I can't even understand how I got to a place where I allowed another person's opinion of me to define me this way, but I did. It's a slow process, like the old analogy about boiling a frog, I just didn't feel the heat until it was too late.

Here was a man I respected, admired. I knew him to be educated, more so than I and yet he thought I was smart. weird. After some time in our courtship he said, off handedly almost, that I was the smartest person he'd ever met. I couldn't even process that kind of affirmation.

What came as the most startling surprise of all was the way he expressed his love, his affection for me. Love has always been a verb for him, from day one. He would get up hours earlier than he needed to just to bring me breakfast before work where I began at 7 am. He would notice things I liked and he would pick them up for me. He listened when I talked and he would come back days later and ask me how things went or how it had worked out.

He did the strangest thing, he He got permission from my boss once and borrowed her keys to decorate my work for my birthday in a crepe paper explosion. He would leave notes and gifts in my office, play practical jokes on me. He left notes on my car. He would draw pictures for me and fax them to me all day. He bought me flowers and cards all the time. He wrote me poems. What? Is? Happening?

This man was head over heels in love with me. It was unspoken, it was only expressed in acts of love. He treated me as if I were a treasure, someone to be cherished, and worthy of his time, affection, attention and sacrifice.

I fell in love with him when I first set eyes on him but I didn't acknowledge it. He was tall, handsome, sexy, funny and made me feel at ease immediately.

I couldn't allow myself to fall for him. I had sworn off men. I rejected him for a good while. I promised him, he would be my very best friend but I couldn't ever be more.

I had two little ones. They were my whole world. My priority. I’d already messed so much up. The last thing I would ever do was to take a chance on someone for my own happiness. No.

He persisted. He said he would wait and he did.

In that time, he was my rock. He was the man I could depend on any time day or night with any need. He was my emotional support. He was my closest, dearest friend. He was the crazy-fun friend of mom's that my children adored. He was a jungle gym for my young son to climb on and play video games with and a master at playing baby dolls or Blue's Clues with my baby girl. He was content to be someone in their lives they could count on, he was perfectly happy being Steve. He didn't want to change them, discipline them or fix them. He just loved them and thought they were amazing. He was right.

Every wall in my heart was broken down, I was in love. I was scared to death of it. I was in love, true love for the first time in my life. I didn't know love like this existed. Honestly I don't know if many people know the kind of love I'm talking about. Unspoken. But as real and as essential as the air around me. All that was left was thin fa├žade of fear and doubt. A paper mask.

He asked me out on a "date". I laughed because we spent most all our free time together already. He moved in closer and kissed me and asked me again. I told him, something we said often, "I love you, you know that, you're my best friend" then I said, "and if you told me you wanted to date a girl like me with all this baggage I would tell you run! You've never been married, you're young. You do not need a lifetime of complications."

His response, changed the course of my life.

"He said if by complications, you mean the kids, they are not complications. They are perfect. I want them too." He said, "I don't want to change you or them. I’m not goint to pretend like I know how to raise kids, I don't. I don't know anything about it. But you do." (and here is the part where the ground underneath me shook) He said, "You're the best mother I've ever seen. I don't know anyone who loves their kids more than you do. You are already a family and I just want to be part of it."

My husband is also a writer, a better one than me truth be told. He knows how to communicate, writing dialogue is his strong suit. He crafts words that pierce your soul. He was taking his best shot at getting through to me and he knew what he needed to say and how he needed to say it to me. He had run it through in his head till it was right.

And that was the last time I ever resisted him.

Our love story moved quickly. We had known each other since high school, our best friends had gotten married. We were neighbors. We'd been friends for a long time, best friends for a year. Once our “couple hood” was established he proposed not long after and we have been living our happily ever after every single day since.

How can I describe to you how much I love him? Our love has grown into something so beautiful. We are passionate about each other still. Even more than in the early days. We crack each other up, we are the very best of friends. We date, we have adventures, we try new things, we are complete geeks and we celebrate our Geek Life together proudly.

I can't stay mad at him. I try.

I know it's hard to imagine he ever does anything wrong but he's still a guy! I look at his face and he says he's sorry - and he always says he's sorry - because again, he's amazing and how can I be mad at him? I see 20 years of love and sacrifice written in his face. I would forgive him anything and I know I would never ever need to forgive him anything of consequence.

We are devoted to one another. Faithful without question, beyond reproach. We are open books and we hide nothing. We share everything.

If I haven't regaled you enough with the character and love of the man I get to call sweetheart let me tell you the rest of the story?

After a year of marriage he saw how hard it was for me working and managing the home and kids. I had some health issues I was struggling with as well. He wanted to provide for me in a way that let me be the mom I wanted to be and tended to my health. I made more money back then, changing the script was not going to be easy. He told me over coffee one morning that he was thinking he should join the military. Full benefits, housing, medical (which I needed) and money for him to finish school and get a Master's. Build a new life for us. A few months later it was all happening. USAF. Moving. College. Excellent Training as a Biomedical Technician.

We converted to Catholicism together during our engagement and rooted our marriage and our family deeply in the love of Christ and obedience to living as God called us to in His Word and His Church. Within two years of our marriage the kids asked if it was okay if they called him, daddy.

I asked him what he thought of it and he said, "I don't care what they call me. If they call me Steve forever all that matters to me is what 'Steve' means to them. If they know Steve is the man who will do anything for them, protect them, and love them. I'm good with Steve. If they want to call me dad, I'll work the rest of my life to earn it." He was dad from then on out and I promise you he has earned it.

It was years, maybe 3 or 4 years before he ever even asked them to clean up their toys. I did the discipline while they got to know him and love him. There was never some expectation that this is the man mom chose so get onboard and deal with it. Not at all. He knew instinctively that for us to have any chance of being a family they had to choose to love him all on their own.

Even all these years later, I take the lead on harder stuff. He is their soft place to fall. They respect him and love him. They know his values and that he backs me, so there was never a divided front. I have told him many times he should write a book on how to grow into parenthood the way he did. The kids love him, he is dad. No court ever had to tell him how much money to spend on the kids, or force him to provide for their needs, their wants, their passions, their hobbies and interests. No court ordered how much time he should spend with them. He spoiled them with time. He provided for their every need.

Life keeps coming because real love stories happen in the real world, this isn’t a fairytale, it just feels like one sometimes. Lest you think we just waltzed into a sunset. We had a war, a deployment, military separations for duty. A hurricane where we lost everything (Katrina). A diagnosis, MS. We lost 4 babies along the way but gave birth to a beautiful baby boy who is 16 now. Life has had it’s challenges.

Steve, who would tell you he was a bit lost in life when we met, has accomplished so much. He was working at a Video Store when we met up again. He has finished 2 Associates degrees, a Bachelor's, a Master's in Business and is working on another Master's presently. He is a Biomedical Field Engineer and is focused and successful. Turned out I had a little something that he needed as well and I helped him begin again too.

As I looked through the library of photos of us I can't help but notice how physically close we always are. If we could always be within arms reach of one another we would be so happy.

Our family has roots that run deep in faith, love, laughter, respect, commitment and joy. Life is not about a pursuit of happiness. What a fleeting thing to live for.

Our ideas about what will make us happy are a pale, pathetic excuse for the plans for our great joy that Our Father has for us. When I stopped seeking my ways and started seeking His I found love everlasting. I found a man who seeks His Father's will and would do much more than take a bullet for me or the kids, much more!

Instead of making lofty grandiose statements that fade he chooses instead to quietly lay down his life every single day for me, his Bride. He sacrifices unconditionally for our children. He is good and kind. He has never ever, in 20 years used a curse word even in my direction. He doesn’t make idols of hobbies, friends, vanity or ambition. He cares for me when I'm sick and he will be my side always. Only death will part us for a time. He is my king and sometimes I refer to him that way when I write (oh how some people hate the sound of that). He is, and you'll get no apologies here. I serve him. I am happy to do whatever he needs. He treats me like a queen, cherished and my joy is in loving him and raising a family that brings him honor and abiding joy.

I never imagined a love like this. I do not deserve it. I'm thankful to God who is merciful and does not give me what I deserve but instead rains grace over my life. He gave me new life in Him and a new beginning.

This is our family. Our first granddaughter, a daughter in law and new son in law in just two more months. My cup runneth over. We worked, we sacrificed, we prayed without ceasing. This was the life I was given when I got to Begin Again. Thanks be to God.

Abundant Gratitude

Ever complain? Ever feel angry or upset?

When we are frustrated or upset we gripe and moan. We tell and retell our story to everyone who will listen. We post it on Facebook and sometimes when we really let it get to us we let it penetrate every fiber of our existence. Our breathing changes, our thoughts change, our moods change. It affects our speech patterns, our patience. We alter our plans because now we don't feel like doing the thing we were going to do before we got angry. (Maybe you are picking up that I have some personal experience with this? You'd be right;)

It occurred to me yesterday as I found myself in a moment of total and complete thankfulness how very differently we approach these two polar opposite emotions.

Negative emotions hit us but so often they linger. Most often they infect and travel to every area of our physical body and spiritual being. Whereas gratefulness so often exists only in flashes. Moments of peace and joy in between the irritations of the world.

I've been working hard on mindfulness, intentional living and flipping the script on this pattern. It's not easy.

Anger is easy, so easy. Just sitting at my desk I can look around and find a dozen things to be annoyed about. Items used on my desk that weren't put away (again!) A coat and shoes left out. A device not put back on the charger, a window not closed snuggly. And don't even think about logging on to social media. With a flick of your scrolling thumb you can find 10 things to make your blood boil.

Those external factors are not impacting my peace anymore. They are external and they stay that way. They aren't allowed into the sanctuary of my heart.

I'm choosing not to poison the love and light of Christ that resides in the sanctuary of my heart. I choose instead to nourish His love with gratitude.

A long time ago I read a book, Simple Abundance and began a journey of gratitude.  Over the years I've done gratitude journals, prayer and bible studies on the topic. I believe the power of gratitude can overcome a troubled life. But it wasn't until I began to focus on Abundant Gratitude that I felt the tide turn and my deeply held anger begin to dissipate.

We manage anger in a bizarre way I think, we fuel, feed and embrace it. We share it and spew it on others. Those unfortunate enough to be driving too slowly in front of us or walking too slowly exactly where we need to be. But gratitude, gratitude we whisper in prayers, we experience with gentle sighs and we sit quietly with it.

Anger and frustration we share with everyone around us,
 but we keep gratitude all to ourselves.

Abundant Gratitude is different and what a learning process it is for me to learn to walk in life this way. Abundant Gratitude is active. It's reminding people how wonderful they are to us. It's being thankful for hundreds of simple acts of service and love the people in our lives offer every day. It's NOTICING. We take so much for granted in this life. SO MUCH.

Noticing what people have done for us is humbling. When you begin to notice how much you need others you recognize your interdependence with them. For many people that is an incredibly uncomfortable place to be. It means, you owe them. It means they have something on you! It means there may be expectations of you and your behavior.  And who wants that? If there are expectations, there can be failure.

We can try to avoid it, we can dance around it. But the only path to peace and happiness is growing in humility and growing in love. We can only grow in love when we grow in gratitude.

Abundant Gratitude isn't about what you think. It's not enough to think grateful thoughts. It's not enough to recognize them. That's Gratitude for Dummies but hey it's a start. Gratitude that grows you, stretches you, is gratitude that is lived in abundance and it's sort of the Master's Program for appreciation. Here are four ways you can increase gratitude in your family:

Speak gratitude

We must learn to speak gratitude over the people in our lives. Not only for what they do but for who they are. I have children with hearts for service. They are the most willing of helpers. I speak this over them frequently. I tell them how thankful I am for their precious and tender hearts. I will say to them, how happy I am to know that there are people like them in the world.

My gratitude becomes an affirmation for them, validation. It waters their soul as it waters mine. We speak love in our home. We never hang up the phone without, "I love you" never. So ingrained in our family is love that even when we are calling back and forth 5 times in 20 minutes working out directions or a forgotten grocery list, each brief exchange ends in "love you".  I tell my closest friends I love them on the phone. I am grateful for their friendship and I speak that to them by saying I love them. It's not enough to feel grateful. We must speak it.

Acts of Love in Return

So many acts of service are offered to us each day, particularly by the people we love and live with each day. Small acts of kindness build love and gratitude into a family. Moms. We love to care for our families. We do. Sometimes we feel unappreciated for all that we do. Our families oftentimes aren't able to connect the dots. They grow accustomed to all we do and forget that we do it out of love that is given and taken in our family. It helps to grow ourselves and our children in a gratitude that includes appreciation for these acts of service. Let me give you an example.

As we were all getting ready for bed, I asked my son to unload the dishes. He asked if he could do it the morning, but I knew I wanted to start baking and get soup on early and it would really help me if he'd unload before bed. (Normally he unloads first thing in the morning). He did this for me, without complaint. The next morning, I made him eggs and bacon and he was of course very pleased. I mean, bacon! c'mon. But when I brought his plate to the table I said, "I wanted to say a special thank you for unloading the dishes for me last night. It made my morning much easier. You are so good to help me son." And I kissed his crazy bed head. He hugged me and said it was no problem.

Our daughter has watched my husband bring me flowers for all of her life. When she was very small (5 or 6) she began to ask where her flowers were? So from time to time he would bring her flowers too. I also started to buy her flowers to let her know how much I appreciated her. As the only girl she was a great help to me over the years. Speaking gratitude over her and the boys and returning acts of love with acts of love trains them to give love but also to expect it in their relationships. As she prepares for marriage this fall she has chosen the most wonderful man. He exemplifies this love and is truly her intended spouse.

Gratitude You Can Feel

I believe this world is starving to death, spiritual death. Starving for physical acts of true, edifying, affirming love. Starving to see Christ and feel His loving arms around them. Starving to see His mercy in someone's eyes. We make the world a better place when we raise people who can go out and be this light.

As a young mom I read something that would shape my journey of motherhood. It said "every time you see your children, your face should light up". You should ALWAYS smile. It seemed elementary to me as I contemplated it.

When they enter a room and look at me, the woman who brought them into the world, they should always see the tremendous joy I felt when I met them for the first time. 

We hug a lot in our home. There are morning hugs, evening hugs, kitchen hugs, couch hugs, what did you just bake hugs, how come she is getting a hug, hugs. There are kisses and tickles of all the grown people. There is rubbing my oldest son's newly shaved head. There are smiles, silly faces and more than a few annoying habits like grabbing someone's toes and popping them. (Which is mom's least favorite expression btw) When you come into our home, I hug you. I hug you because I am so grateful that you have come. I am so grateful that you are in my life. I am so grateful to see you and spend time with you.

We laugh often. The kind of laughter that shakes the rafters. My husbands laughter is contagious. He laughs big and with his entire heart and this great big laugh has been a permission for each of the children to laugh big too. It helps that they all have a sense of humor that makes them a magnet in a group.

People are starving for touch in this world. When my server has taken care of me in a busy restaurant I will touch her hand, make eye contact and say thank you for taking such good care of us tonight. Breaking the bubble changes everything. People are physically moved and you connect on a different level with another human being. Making eye contact and speaking gratitude over strangers builds a wall of love in your chest that we need so desperately to combat the divisions and hatred the world would have us buried beneath. It takes a bit of bravery if that's not a normal way of being in the world but it will change your life.

Grateful Perspective

We approach every single event from our own unique perspective. It's ours alone and no one else has the ability to alter it in the slightest. How we process events, negative ones particularly, can have a life changing impact on our heart. A flat tire is a nuisance. It can be frightening on the interstate. It costs money. It delays us. It is a problem. I get all that. Growing in gratitude though, means you begin to see what previously you did not. You can see what was always there. A flat tire may have spared your life. The delay may have freed you for another purpose. Maybe something even though was not your priority at that moment, may have served greater priorities. The tow truck driver may be someone who is meant to be in your path. A motorist who stops to help you may have needed to feel useful and do something nice for a stranger. People random strangers may have offered prayers to you as they passed and thought, "I'm glad that wasn't me today".

Changing our perspective doesn't magically remove annoying events but it filters and processes them in a way that grows us in a positive direction. We begin to realize many events aren't good or bad independent of our reaction. An event is just an event and we can assign whatever feelings and reactions we choose. Choosing a Grateful Perspective is a powerful way to bring more love into our heart.

Most of the time I'm a "less is more" kind of girl but when it comes to gratitude, more is more.

Are You Making these Two Scheduling Mistakes?

So you know, I can lean on the hyper organized side. I love me some organization.

When we first began to homeschool 18 years ago I was very structured. If you saw my homeschool style now versus then, you'd be hard pressed to believe it's even the same person! At one point for an entire semester I had our day scheduled in 15 and 30 minute increments. Insanity. I must have been nuts back then. It was after that semester that I began to walk away from hyper structure and scheduling and discovered a way of life that focuses on rhythms as opposed to schedules. It has been blissful. The time I have enjoyed with my children and my spouse as a result is nothing short of luxurious and I wouldn't trade it for anything you could think up.

We're moms. We love schedules. I get it, I do. I LOVE planners. I love color coded calendars and colored pens, my bullet journal and menu plans. I have loved me some schedules. I am obsessed with office supplies.

Organized is not the same as scheduled.

Those tools help me organize my world in a way that frees up more time and energy because I am able to work more effectively and efficiently. This is work, running the home is my work and I treat it as such. But scheduling has a dark side and I don't just mean over-scheduling. Which seems to be the only concern people have with regards to schedules. I think there are at least two important pitfalls in scheduling people often ignore.

Does the schedule serve you or do you serve the schedule?

The first pitfall in my estimation is becoming a slave to the schedule. Women too often place themselves at the bottom of the priority list. (I may have once held the title in this event) Sometimes we have to, that's reality. But as a way of life? no. Trying to do everything and be everything to everybody at all times is an impossible task. Hear that. It is impossible. Even when you think you are killing it and you ARE Wonder Woman. I can guarantee you, something somewhere is falling through a crack. Maybe it's prayer, church attendance, exercise, health, meals, charity, kindness, time with friends, free time, play time, sibling relationships, spouse time, or getting the oil changed and the water heater drained. Stuff WILL get missed. The schedule is supposed to help us remember the things we need do to, but what we normally do is write down every single thing and fill that schedule up to the brim. That's not how a schedule should work.

A schedule that is bursting with a flurry of activity, service, fun, work even when it's all good things and responsibilities can work well for only a time. If you aren't careful you can find yourself serving the schedule. Contorting yourself like a pretzel to do it all and there are consequences. Health, both physical and mental, suffers when schedules rule our lives. Marriages are most often the silent victim of schedules. Marriages that end after 20 years often do so because couples grow apart. They end because the children's schedules drained all the time, energy, money and enthusiasm out of life and when the kids start leaving or reach high school the parents look at each other and find there is nothing left.

A schedule should be a way to free up time, not fill up time.

I used to sigh and pray for lots of too busy moms. When lots of moms would gather for coffee and chatting we would bring our planners so we could schedule activities. It was almost a competition. Oh who am I kidding it WAS a competition to see who was the busiest. Because busy equalled successful supermom, right? It was a badge of honor. I say this because it was my badge once before I gave it up.

I recall a gal who loved to regale us with all that her three kids were doing. It was clear how much she loved her family. No one doubted that and it was clear how important she felt by doing all this stuff for them. I watched her get lost in it all. She was frazzled, she neglected self care, her marriage, her friendships, and her faith life to be SuperMom. Attempts to encourage to scale back, skip the specialty teams, and tourneys were lost on her. (Side note: a few years later that marriage ended and those kiddos long since dropped out of the sports that ruled their lives.) 

People love to talk about how busy they are, as if being busy were a means of quantifying happiness or success. Busy doesn't mean successful. It's not a virtue. It's also not very biblical. 

I don't remember in the Beatitudes where Jesus said, 
"Blessed are the Busy for they run with their hair on fire."

Not accomplishing the things on the schedule, falling behind, forsaking sleep, worship, friendships will ultimately result in feelings of failure and loss. I promise. When the schedule becomes the determining factor in your feelings of success or failure as a mom, wife, or woman the tables have turned and you are serving the schedule. 

Placing life and family on auto-pilot?

The second pitfall in my experience and observation is even worse than being over-scheduled and over-tired. When the schedule begins to lead the family we find ourselves on auto-pilot. A family can never run for very long on auto-pilot. This is how disaster creeps in.

Most families do not recognize that there are serious issues until their children enter the tween and teen years. Until then NO ONE sees it coming. It's during this time that families wring their hands and scratch their heads trying to figure out how they wound up with kids who won't talk to them. Kids who internalize their pain. Kids who are using drugs, sexually active, suicidal, choosing friends poorly, disinterested in life, dropping out of things they once loved. Parents are baffled and I do mean baffled. Utterly at a loss for how their family ended up in this place.

Sometimes stuff is just gonna happen, sure and you can't prevent everything. But many times what really happened is that the family was on auto-pilot for years, living by the schedule dictated by the activities and there were signs, red flags, warnings, clues that nobody noticed because the schedule was being kept. "We were doing all the same things we always did, so how did it go so wrong?"

People often say I had such a happy kid and then they became a teen and just changed overnight. No they didn't. They changed over time, slowly. You just realized it overnight.

Avoiding auto-pilot is more than just asking each year if your child still wants to do scouts, (which is good if you are at least asking). It's more than just not assuming they will play soccer because they always have. It's about recognizing an absolute truth.

The most important things 

are never urgent and never on the schedule. 

The most important things we do with our kids will never be considered urgent and they will never be on the schedule. If you are on the front end of this journey, consider this advice from someone on the back end (meaning I have launched two kids into adulthood with one to go).

The more important things were spontaneous. Lots and lots of listening. Talking. Snuggling. Reading. Exploring and adventures. This life produces kids that are rarely if ever bored too by the way.

The most important things were times of "carefree timelessness" with the kids. When we could do whatever we wanted because there was NO schedule pressing us to wrap it up and keep moving.

Our family is knitted tightly together. Peers and friends are an important piece of a happy, fulfilled life but they never took primacy over the love we had within our family. Sometimes all those activities shift the focus from family to friends (for parents and kids). Sometimes children get the message and learn that a happy life is a life in constant motion.

It's not.

The people who are happiest, the families who raise their kids and launch them and maintain that peaceful, loving environment are the people who find their joy in things that never make the schedule. They shift priorities so that those scheduled things are fewer and far between and real life makes up most of the time. They keep their hands on the wheel and never allow their family to go on auto-pilot.

The things that shape your children, the things that bring siblings close together, the things that build strong marriages are never on the schedule. No one pencils in: "waste away four hours on Saturday picking dandelions and making necklaces from them." 

Time can't be wasted or saved, only spent. When you look at the schedule how much time is there to simply be together - without others, without any activity to occupy them, without any money being spent, or friends to distract? Without electronics?

Planning is good. I love my binders. I have schedules for maintenance, meals, projects and such. But I abandoned exhaustive daily schedules long ago. I traded a schedule in for a rhythm. A more gentle way of life that has enough flexibility that I am not a slave to it and I won't miss the cues that life and family are changing.

Schedule appointments. Mark them on the calendar. Keep track of course of things that need doing, but if the schedule is running your life it might be time to take a step back and look at it. It's just a suggestion.

Choosing to be Found

(continued from a previous post titled So Lost)

In the couple weeks leading up to Lent I had tried to be intentional about getting to Mass, even though in all honesty my health made it difficult. I began to pray about what I was supposed to do during Lent. What should I give up, what should I add, what should I read?

At Mass Father presented each parishioner with Matthew Kelly's new book, Resisting Happiness. I felt like God had just dropped a fully charged iphone with GPS and a good signal into the wilderness for me to find my way out. I was so excited. THIS would be it. This would call me out.

I put in a solid plan for Lent and started my Lenten Journey with great anticipation, with fasting, prayer and study but my health continued to test my strength and many of the best laid plans waned and became an arduous task.

Frustrated is putting it mildly. I was trying but I didn't feel any better, my emotions hadn't changed. Why wasn't God rewarding my efforts?

About half way through the book I gave up. Not gonna dress it up and put lipstick on it, I just gave up. I found myself right back where I had been - everything is pointless, everything is stupid. I know totally mature. But that's how I felt. I was done and I was just gonna go eat worms. Everything annoyed me, everyone annoyed me. I really wasn't fit to be around people for a few days.

I think this piece of the puzzle is of note. I had largely eliminated social media when I decided to take up Lent with purpose. I removed it from my phone. I unfollowed negative people and negative sites, particularly those whose values and beliefs were so contradictory to mine. It was bliss. As I have been connecting these dots in retrospect, I recognize that it was at the beginning of this second episode in despair that I had added social media back to my phone and began to dip my toes into those negative waters again. I had abandoned the book saying to myself that I've read all his other books and there wasn't a lot of new information here so I was wasting my time and I should look for something better (pride).

It was at this point that I regained consciousness. This way of being in the world is really foreign to me. It's NOT who I am. One night in a long restless series of nights where I couldn't sleep, but I could only lie awake thinking, praying, contemplating, I became aware finally that I was in fact lost. Before this moment I would have described and did describe, my state as feeling out of sorts. I knew I was off but it wasn't until this second wave that I fully recognized how lost I was and for how long I'd been so. Half of the work of resolving a problem is defining it. How can you find your way back if you don't even know you are lost? Now I knew, I really KNEW.

It shook me. No, it scared the hell out of me. 9 months. 9 months of my life was gone. I will never get those 9 months back. 9 months of sadness, suffering, despair, feeling like God had abandoned me. 9 months. 9 months. I felt physically ill at the thought of having surrendered 9 months of my precious life to these feelings and circumstances that created them. This is not my first rodeo. I know we can't control what happens to us, we can only impact how we react to what happens to us. oops.

As I sat contemplating this newly discovered tidbit of information the next morning I thought, well, then what is He trying to give birth to? The 9 months was sort of stuck in my head. 9 months is the gestational time for a human women so what kind of little hellion is about to be birthed! I joke. What I knew was that I was not going to be like April the giraffe and allow this process to go one moment longer than required.

Just like a difficult pregnancy, an unexpected, or even "unwanted" and complicated pregnancy filled with pain and doubt is the creation of a new soul. Typically birthed into a new world (occasionally birthed into heaven) but a new soul either way exists that didn't exist before. A gift. A blessing.

What gift was God giving me in this? He brings good from everything. Count it ALL joy His Word says.

My thoughts shifted, my contemplation changed and I began to ponder the entirety of the journey. Until those moments I didn't see at all how lost I really was. I thought I was managing it all okay - yeah, not.

The next day I returned to the book Christ had quite literally placed in my hand. I picked up exactly where I'd left off and it was like a different book. Everything was relevant. Everything was God speaking directly to me. Everything began to make more sense and what was once an arduous chore seemed like a gift. Even this second wave was obviously a part of the plan.

I began to open my mind back up to the possibility that once again through suffering Christ was teaching me, forging me, shaping me. Man, I wish there were an easier way but there just isn't. I'm really okay with that because the end result is sort of miraculous.

Here I am in the 10th month of my own Odyssey. I'm still in the wilderness but I have stumbled upon the trail that leads me back home and I'm taking it. Since it's discovery, each day, each hour is somewhat of a revelation to me. I'm having to go backward to go forward some. Revisiting some things to process them in new ways. I think the way forward is clear but I'm aware I might still lose my way so I'm dropping breadcrumbs to find my way back -writing, keeping my prayer journal, staying the course even if it's not how I feel at the moment with Mass, prayers.

I can't help but think of others who are lost. I know and love people who have spent a lifetime lost. Decades of their life lost. Who am I that I should be found? It's almost like survivor's guilt. But here is what I know about being lost from this experience and every other I have ever had.

My Father is grieved and pained at the loss of even one of us who drifts away and is lost to Him for any amount of time. In most of our lives we have encountered God. We have had the opportunity to choose a life of following Him, or charting our own course. Free will, it's ours. If we choose Him, He gives us Grace. If we choose Him, His light begins to shine in us and it will always be there if we need it to light the path. But it's not a one shot deal. It's not a one time decision. It's just not. We cannot turn our back on the Light and expect it to light the way.

Life is a contact sport. It will hammer away at us. The enemy of God, will deploy every weapon he has to cast us into the abyss. We will get lost. Time and time and time again we will get lost because life isn't so short when you are in pain, it is a long, long life.

If we choose to return to the Light and the Hope of our Salvation we will always find our way. If we fix our eyes on Him, He will lead us out of the wilderness and into the valley. To peace, still waters and the comfort of His love. It is a choice. When we seek Him, He never fails. It might take time, His time - not ours. It might not look the way we think it should look, it rarely does. We might need to break things like pride, vanity, self interest but He WILL come and lead us home. If we seek Him. If we cooperate. Like our initial yes, we must continue to seek Him daily. We must seek Him when we are lost. We must seek Him when we are suffering. We must choose Him ten thousand times in those moments. Otherwise we will find ourselves lost and we will stay that way. Lost in great ways and small. Being lost is awful. It's gut wrenching, lonely. Look for the Light, choose to be found.