christmas eve gratitude.

66. our kids are old enough that we got to sleep in this morning
67. a lazy, rainy morning inside a warm house
68. David’s homemade bagels
69. gifts under the tree
70. strong, hot coffee
71. rediscovering curtains in the attic from India that are perfect for the baby’s room
72. my whole family will be together on Christmas day
73. our first Christmas with Steve and Linda here
74. looking forward to a service tonight with our church family and Chinese take-out afterward
75. Amazon packages arriving all week
76. I made fudge for the first time yesterday and it tastes delicious (recipe here, I halved the amount of sugar)
77. the four of us are healthy
78. our friend Bob is free of pain and with Jesus this Christmas
79. Gayle’s annual gingerbread party
80. making new friends from Iraq on Monday, tasting my first Iraqi food
81. Judah’s enthusiasm to learn about new countries
82. God spared my cousin Lindsey’s life this weekend; she’s safe and recovering from surgery and has a beautiful baby boy, Grayson Caleb
83. “In him was life , and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1.4-5

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waiting.

I’ve been trying to think up this blog post in my head for a couple weeks now. But I’m struggling to find words for this season of my life.

We’ve been officially waiting for a baby for two months, and the hard-ness of these two months has caught me by surprise. I honestly did not expect to find it difficult. I think I worked so hard just to get through our process, to do absolutely everything I could: fill out every paper, meet every deadline, answer every question. I figured the actual wait would be restful in comparison. Life is busy and Christmas is coming and I thought I’d just feel happy and distracted-in-a-good-way.

But reality has been different. This kind of waiting is unlike any feeling I’ve ever experienced. Not like a pregnancy. Not like moving overseas. Not like coming home suddenly from overseas.

It’s a weight on my heart, an ache in my chest. It’s needing to be ready at any moment and also needing to just pull it together and move on with life, perhaps for months and months. It’s not like waiting in line, because with our agency the expectant mother chooses the adoptive family. It’s incessant wondering, When is it our turn? Are we good enough? Will anyone want us? It’s a mind full of unknowns.

It feels strange to ache for someone in the abstract: who I’m not even carrying in my belly, and who I have no idea when will join our family. It’s strange to feel like a person is missing when I have no idea who that person will be.

But I will say that I feel every bit as emotionally connected to this baby as I did to the babies I gave birth to. If I didn’t know it before I know now that adoption is a beautiful, unique bond that is every bit as real as biological parenthood.

There’s an excitement too. A feeling of being on this grand adventure God’s writing for our family, knowing with a certainty that we trust Him. We don’t know what’s next, but we know He is good and He’s always, always been faithful, even when it hurts, even when we can’t see what’s around the bend.

I’m thankful for those who are keeping company with me in the waiting, who are okay when I want to talk about it and when I don’t want to talk about it and when I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m thankful for friends who are waiting too, who understand in a unique way how I feel on this adoption journey. I’m thankful that God has provided all the money we need so that we’re ready for this baby to come tomorrow if that’s His plan. I’m thankful for the collection of hand-me-down baby things we’re amassing and for two kids who ask every day when they get to meet their brother or sister.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to be in the Christmas spirit for Christmas to come on Thursday. I’m thankful that Jesus of all people understands the weariness of waiting and the thrill of hope. I’m thankful that He is enough.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
- Lamentations 3

monday gratitude.

50. two and a half magical days in Charleston with my husband last week
51. staying in a hotel and not lifting a finger to cook or clean
52. long walks, window shopping, eating fabulous food, curling up in bed to watch Rise of the Planet of the Apes together
53. our kids spent two and a half happy days with their grandparents
54. coming home, walking in the door to a dirty house but our house
55. my great obsession: organizing closets
56. wrapping Christmas gifts
57. Indah coffee at the Farmer’s Market
58. laundry spilling out of baskets means we have clothes to wear
59. Gilmore Girls
60. our church may have inadvertently started Advent one week late, but we started Advent!
61. another church loaned us 150 folding chairs when we needed them
62. learning that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to celebrate Jesus’ birth
63. spending yesterday afternoon with David, Kenny, and Danny in Florence
64. piles of dusty treasures in the Thieves Market antique mall
65. we’re one week closer to meeting our baby

stovetop potpourri.

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I’ve got a secret to a fabulous smelling holiday house without using expensive candles or chemical air fresheners, and it’s a “stovetop potpourri.” I’m not even sure where I got this idea but I definitely can’t claim it.

The base ingredients are cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and orange peel, but sometimes I like to add a generous sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and nutmeg.

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Throw in a small saucepan and cover with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil on the back of the stove, then turn heat down to “low.” The important thing to remember is to check your mixture from time to time to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated (and set a timer if you’re worried about turning the burner off before you leave the house).

I make this little concoction up first thing in the morning and our house smells wonderful all day. We even traveled for three days this week and walked in the door to a cozy spicy smell in the air (which if you live in an old house you know that’s a minor miracle).

Happy weekend!

simple holidays, part three.

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Many people I talk to long to have purposefully simple holidays but don’t feel like it’s possible to make a change.

The most-repeated reasons I hear for not simplifying this season are 1. not wanting to disappoint other people (family, friends, church, kids), and 2. not wanting to miss out on fun memories.

Well, I don’t think merely not wanting to disappoint people is a good enough reason to do anything. Guess what? You’re going to disappoint people. This is something I’m learning to accept more and more.

You are responsible to make good, life-giving choices for yourself and your family; you’re not responsible for other people’s reactions. In life you’re going to miss out on fun things. We all are. If social media is making you feel chronically bad for the memories you’re not making and the parties you’re not attending and the house yours doesn’t look like, my advice is to get off. I did it close to a year ago and have become a much happier person because I no longer know what I’m missing out on.

Part of the holiday season is humbling ourselves to realize that we can’t do it all. And we shouldn’t. Please don’t let people talk you into believing that being spiritual or loving people means baking cookies for the whole office or doing an Advent craft with your kids every day or making an appearance at every gathering. Being spiritual is a quiet heart full of peace and awe over the God who loved us so much He sent Jesus to earth to live among us.

Think about the long term. Do you want to feel frantic and frazzled in December five years from now? You don’t have to, you know. If you don’t, then sit down right now, either alone or with your spouse and list everything you do in December. Then agree on a very few holiday traditions that are most important for you and your family, that grow your relationships with one another and foster joy. Focus on making those things great and let the rest go.

If you have children, you’re teaching them that God didn’t create us to do everything, and that limits are good and right. You’re teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that they don’t need to have or do everything they want to be happy. You’re teaching them that relationships are what matters, not busyness or keeping up with everyone else. You’re teaching them that we’re celebrating something way bigger than the way our culture defines Christmas, that we do all of this not to please people, but because we’re full of breathless wonder over the Word made flesh.

If you’re in too deep this year and have already over-committed, don’t beat yourself up. But do make sure to sit down sometime right after the craziness dies down and reflect on how the season made you feel, what were the great parts and the hard parts. Plan to make next year different.

Plan to make it purposefully simple.

simple holidays, part two.

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(See if you can spot the part of the tree my kids decorated)

Today I thought I’d share with you a few of the ways we keep our holidays simple. Our way is not the only way — this list isn’t intended for that. It’s merely intended to show you that we don’t try to do everything, and that it’s possible to have a purposefully simple, joyful holiday season.

- Christmas decorations are simple. Some of you love, love to decorate for Christmas. Others find it a chore and just do it because you feel like it’s expected or don’t want to let your kids down. I think our family falls somewhere in the middle. We have an artificial tree (for no other reason than because it’s just simpler) and all of our decorations fit into two boxes.

We can set everything up in an hour, and take it down on January 2nd in the same amount of time. I don’t decorate every room of my house. I don’t make centerpieces for my table. I plain stop looking at Pinterest in December so I won’t feel guilty for how un-decorated my house it and how un-crafty my wrapped gifts look. Would we enjoy having outside lights? Yes of course. Do either of us want to spend the time hanging said lights? No. So, we don’t.

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- We don’t do special advent devotions or crafts. We tried to make this work for a couple of years, we really did. I printed out advent pictures and made elaborate laminated decorations hung with gold string and hunted for sticks for our Jesse tree. But it ended up becoming a burden. This tradition just doesn’t fit our family. Instead we learn and recite Luke 2:1-14 around the dinner table.

- We don’t exchange gifts with extended family. This was a choice made together by members of our families. In addition, I don’t make or buy gifts for friends/neighbors/etc. We don’t send out a yearly Christmas card. I love the idea of all of these things, but the times I’ve added them in I’ve felt stressed. Again, I’m not telling you this is the right way, it’s just how we roll.

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- We only give our children a couple of Christmas gifts. They get one present from each set of grandparents, and a gift from a couple of others. They usually each end up with 5 or 6 gifts total, and believe me, that is plenty.

- We don’t do Christmas-y activities. We don’t go to the lights at the zoo. We don’t go to any church Christmas programs. This year I didn’t take Amie to The Nutcracker. We’ve done all of these things in the past and they’re fun traditions. But we realized we were exhausted by squeezing these activities in, often keeping the kids up late at night, and sitting in lots of traffic. In the end, we just don’t need these activities to enjoy each other during the Christmas season.

- Our church does very few Christmas activities. We have a church staff dinner that David and I host, and we have a Christmas Eve service. This year a friend planned a church ladies’ $5 gift exchange party. Because we just do a couple of things, we enjoy them immensely.

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So many “don’t’s” What do we do, you ask?

- We spend time together. We bake together. We have Christmas movie nights. We do a little Christmas shopping, mostly online. We whisper Christmas-gift secrets and make art work and have fire pits.

- We spend time with friends and family. Our December is filled with people, but we’re strategic about what things we say “yes” too. We choose gatherings that allow for building up relationships old and new, and for including outsiders. We schedule in “down nights” for rest between all the fun.

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- We go to the Great Wolf Lodge. We have a December tradition of an overnight at the Great Wolf Lodge. This is our third year, and it’s always one of our family’s favorite memories. We laugh a lot and join in the Great Wolf Lodge Christmas pajama party, and mostly go on lots and lots of water slides.

- I choose one Christmas craft to do with the kids. Last year it was salt-dough ornaments. I’m still thinking up one for this year. My mom is great in this arena and supplies them with fun Christmas projects during the month. I’ll admit I found a simple Christmas ornament project on Pinterest for myself and I’ve loved pulling out my little craft box and hot glue gun in the evenings.

- We read books. David and I always have a stack of books we’re reading on our own, but we also recently started reading aloud as a family. Last December it was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Right now we’re reading the Little House on the Prairie series, and all of us enjoy it.

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- We save money. I don’t think spending money to celebrate Christmas is wrong. But I don’t think anyone should go into debt for it. There are so many ways to celebrate and make the holidays special without spending a lot of money.

If exchanging gifts with lots of people or even your own kids is breaking the bank this year, have a frank conversation with them. Tell them you’d love to buy gifts but it’s just not possible right now. Don’t try to keep up with the people around you, figure out what’s possible for your family.

Ask to draw names rather than buy gifts for everyone. There are some great ideas on Pinterest for low-cost gifts or stocking-stuffers. Offer babysitting for date nights or another creative chore. We had some “leaner” Christmases in my house growing up and I was not in the least bit traumatized.

- We don’t burn ourselves out. Once Christmas Day comes we aren’t complete exhausted running to and fro saying “yes” to anything good that comes our way. Instead we spend our day at peace and rested, with family and friends.

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simple holidays, part one.

It’s December 1st and our tree is twinkling in the corner next to our wall of books and the James Taylor holiday station is playing on Pandora and in this moment all feels peaceful and good.

I’m so excited about the Christmas season. I love watching the anticipation and delight on my kids’ faces, seeing them stretched out on the fuzzy rug in front of the tree playing with ornaments, whispering secrets about gifts. I love the Christmas hymns at church and finding light-glowing houses when we’re out at night and Christmas-y smells coming from the oven.

I love this season.

But I didn’t always feel this way. I remember times in our marriage when I dreaded the whole month of December, with it’s busyness and endless events, especially for those of us in ministry. I felt pressure all around me: to be present at activities, to make lots of memories, to have gifts for friends and neighbors, to bake for many pot-lucks. Just looking at my calendar in December made me weary.

But all of that drastically changed when we moved overseas. We went from over-packed Decembers to very quiet Decembers indeed. Among other things, living in another country jolted us out of years of habits and traditions and made us think about this season in a different way.

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Few people in our part of Asia celebrated Christmas. And for those of us who did want to celebrate, there weren’t many choices when it came to decorations and food and gifts.  We didn’t have family close by. We didn’t travel. We celebrated with co-workers and pastors, but even those celebrations felt simpler, smaller. In fact, the difference was so vast that Christmas felt downright lonely sometimes.

But as much as we missed our families, we grew to love the quiet, even to embrace the loneliness. What better way to reflect on Jesus leaving everything and coming to earth than to be sitting in a foreign place missing home?

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I think the main thing we realized living overseas was, The Christmas season doesn’t have to be crazy. And it doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to rise up and match any expectations.

Christmas just is. Jesus came into this world as a baby, whether anyone in our apartment building has a tree or brings us Christmas cookies, whether we’re with our family or not.

Experiencing that reality was very freeing. Jesus was Emmanuel, “God with us,” in a very far away place, sitting under a tropical sun eating spicy biryani for Christmas dinner.

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When we moved home two and a half years ago, we somehow managed to carry our new Christmas habits with us. It’s harder to keep things simple here in America, but I’m here to tell you it can be done.

Tomorrow I’ll give you some practical ways we keep Christmas purposefully simple as a family.

infinity scarf.

This was going to be a very hip, Pinterest-y post about my first crocheted infinity scarf. But real life is funnier.

me: Hey Amie, want to do a fashion show and let me take pictures of you?

Amie: Ok sure!

me: You have to wear what I say.

Amie: No way. I want to wear my flower girl dress and sparkle shoes.

me: No, I want you to wear your blue dress and tights and boots and your new scarf.

Amie: No. That won’t look good.

me: Yes it will. I know about fashion too you know.

Amie: Not as much as I do

Silence.

me: Will you do it for a piece of chocolate?

Amie: How many pieces?

me: Three

Amie: Ok, I’ll do it.

Judah: Will you accept a dinosaur fashion show for chocolate?

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