The Grace Standard

When we fail at being awesome, we need more grace and less judgment all around.

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.

Take today, for instance.

I was going about my business, living my life, doing the typical Sunday stuff. You know…the stuff we put off all weekend then frantically try to complete by midnight on Sunday. It’s like we’re going to turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12, so we’ve got to cram it all in after church.

And thank goodness, we made time for church, because someone needed to bless the muttering, complaining, and “less than appropriate words” stomping through our heads all afternoon. Heaven help us, if we didn’t start the day with a good dose of Jesus.

When out of nowhere, my husband snaps out of his football trance and says, “Hey…what time was that party today?”

Party?

Suddenly, everything in the room came to a screeching halt. My heart fell straight to my gut…and one of those “words” may or may not have popped out of my mouth.

The neighborhood “Happy Birthday to Jesus Party.”

Crap.

How did I forget the party? It’s a birthday party for Jesus, for crying out loud. What kind of person forgets that?!?!?

Me: A tired person.

Also Me: I bet nobody else forgot the party!

Me: We just moved to this neighborhood….they are going to think I’m a total flake.

Also Me: As they should!!!

So with 15 minutes left in the party, I sucked it up and texted the host, owning the fact that I totally screwed up. I mean…I was supposed to bring the mini cupcakes. Pretty sure I ruined Jesus’ birthday!!! (And I wonder where my kids get their flair for drama…)

Then I spent the next few hours fretting. Out loud.

I must have said, “I can’t believe I did that” 100 times until finally my 8-year-old said, “MOM…give yourself a break!!”

I just knew I was going to be labeled the “flaky mom” in the neighborhood. You know, the one you invite but don’t expect to come so you don’t give her anything “important” to bring. Drinks and chips. That was my fate. I would forever be the drinks and chips mom.

Fantastic.

But do you know what her response was?

Grace.

Complete grace. Not the kind that was sent in “good Christian love” but was as fake as the 17-year-old Christmas tree sitting in our living room…no, this was legit.

She even admitted to doing the same thing just a few months ago, and I don’t even care if she was lying through her teeth to make me feel better. BLESS HER.

Why is it that we have a hard time extending this kind of grace to ourselves and to others?

 Life is hard! Whether you have zero children and a thriving career or have 6 and are a stay-at-home mom…we have so many demands on us! Just being a woman and experiencing the emotional ups and downs we ride on a daily basis is hard enough! (Thanks, Eve!)

The sad truth is that I freaked out because I know the thoughts I’ve had about others who have “flaked” on me. Our first inclination is to think the worst. They didn’t want to come. They just don’t like me. They aren’t responsible. They should really manage their time better. (eye roll)

But where’s the grace? Where’s the empathy?

We’ve all been there and know we can’t be on our A-Game 100% of the time. It’s impossible. So why do we hold ourselves and others to an impossible standard?

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2

I’ve come to the realization that it starts with us. I have to hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection, so that I can then extend that same grace to others. How can I show others grace if I can’t even show it to myself?

I can’t. And you can’t either. So instead of freaking out when we fail or casting judgment when others do the same, let’s purpose in our hearts to give ourselves a break this Christmas season and determine that we will show more grace in the year to come.

“I will hold myself to a standard of grace not perfection.”

Merry Christmas, and God Bless!!

Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of Year…or is it?

When the most magical time of year doesn’t seem so magical…maybe we should listen to the movies after all.

The holiday season has just begun, and I’m already tired.

It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? But the mere thought of decking the halls and fighting the crowds makes me want to crawl under the covers and resurface only after the ball drops in Times Square.

Now, maybe you are Cindy Lou Who and radiate the Christmas spirit all year long; and if that’s the case, yay you! Please feel free to come to my house and radiate all day long. I will not stop you…and may even hand you the lights.

But some of us need help. (And by some of us, I still mean me.)

I’m not going to lie. Every year at this time, I get cranky. I’m all Thanksgiving-ed out, the kids are jacked up on caffeine and sugar, and all I can think of is the enormous list of things that need to be done. And don’t get me started on the lights that mysteriously stop working from year to year. I just love that. 

Bah-humbug.

Let’s face it, Moms. Our children’s happiness rests solely in our hands! Whether Christmas is a success or failure depends entirely on us. One wrong move, and our kiddos are going to therapy!

Or not.

But isn’t that how we feel? We put this enormous unattainable pressure on ourselves to make this the biggest and grandest Christmas of them all and completely wear ourselves out doing it. There’s nothing less fun than when we try to force the fun, believe me I know. I usually have this idea in my head of how it’s going to go….and hell hath no fury like a mother who doesn’t get her picture perfect holiday.

“Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together.” – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I mean, just how many “traditions” does one family actually need? Talk about pressure! After years of collecting traditions like coffee mugs,  (those sentimental blog posts and creative pins will get you every time) I started asking myself why? Am I creating lifelong memories for my family to pass down to their children…or am I trying to impress other moms who are just as tired as I am.

After giving it some thought, I realized many of the “traditions” we had were merely checking boxes.  They didn’t breathe life into our family or make happy memories. It became more about creating the “perfect Christmas” than about celebrating Jesus and our time together as a family. Bottom line, it was stressing me out; and when mama ain’t happy…nobody’s happy.

“He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. Maybe Christmas, he thought doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more!” – How the Grinch Stole Christmas

And guess what. I found out that no one even cared about half of the “traditions” anyway! Here I was stressing over fitting it all in so we could “Save Christmas” that I was totally missing what really mattered to my family.

When I took the time to sit down and find out what that was, I realized it was more about “Quality over Quantity.” It’s not how many traditions we have or how many presents we buy….

  • It’s making the traditions we have count. Quality time together doing something we all enjoy. And that’s different for every family! You may enjoy baking Christmas cookies…and we may enjoy going “Light Criticizing.” (don’t judge…it’s a perfectly good holiday tradition) 
  • It’s making the gifts we buy count. The older our children get, the more expensive the toys; so they know they may open fewer gifts…but they also know they will enjoy them longer.
  • It’s making the memories we make count. The more we schedule, the less fun we have. The best holiday memories I have are of the unplanned moments…the people…the love.

“That’s what Christmas memories are made from. They’re not planned, they’re not scheduled, nobody puts them in their Blackberry, they just happen.” – Deck the Halls

I don’t want the only holiday memories my children have to be of their crazy mom trying to force the magic. I want it to be magical because it truly is a magical time of year when we let it.

Quality over Quantity…that’s what I want. Now if I could just get rid of the Elf…..

“Just remember the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” – Santa Claus, The Polar Express

 

 

The Thanksgiving House

When we look past the ordinary and find the extraordinary…

Recently, our family made a long-anticipated move from a house in the city to what we consider a house in the country. It’s literally 5 minutes down the road, but everything changed from stores frequented and schools attended to farm animals and spiders the size of my fist. Not.a.fan. However, as sad as we were to leave behind the comfort of the familiar, we have quickly grown to love many things about our new home.

Whether it be watching the sun rise over the fields as we drive to school in the morning or admiring the horses, pigs, and old houses as we head into town, we’ve found new sights to see and new things to discuss.

For example, it was not long after our move that I broke from my morning pre-caffeinated trance and noticed a little old house on my way to work. Tucked back between an old billboard and a cluster of trees, the tiny shack could have easily been missed had it not been for the middle-aged woman bustling about outside that caught my eye. At first I didn’t think much of it for there are many different kinds of homes scattered along the way. Some big, some small…some mobile, and some abandoned.

This one had clearly seen better days; but for some reason it stuck with me, and I began to look for it.

Every day as I passed, I saw this same woman, coarse dark hair pulled back in a bright scarf and a dirty apron covering her simple clothing, sweeping the porch or the driveway, watering potted plants hanging from splintered beams, or sitting with a glass of tea in a weathered but colorful chair soaking in the sun or the breeze, depending on which the temperamental NC summer decided to give us.

And every day, I admired her.

I don’t know who she is, and I don’t know her story. I often like to watch people and try to imagine what that might be. However, what I do know is that she doesn’t have much as far as material possessions are concerned, but she clearly takes pride in the little she has….and that struck a chord in my heart.

“But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.”  1 Timothy 6:6-7

Why is it that the people who seem to have so little often appreciate what they have so much more? This sweet woman doesn’t hunch her shoulders and drag her broom muttering under her breath about her misfortune. Even from my passing car, I can see she stands tall and sweeps with fervency and pride, making her little house a home where she and her family can find comfort and rest.

It pricked my conscience and made me think. There have been times in my life that I knew what it was like to have very little. When I spent years as a young child living in a small trailer with my single mother eating rice and bologna every way one can fix rice and bologna, then later in the first years of our marriage when we were in ministry and barely making ends meet…I’ll admit my attitude was not nearly as gracious, nor did I take pride in the little we had.

But now, so many years later, I am beginning to realize the error of my ways and the sobering truth of the matter. It’s not the house that makes a home. It’s not the perfectly manicured lawns or the white picket fence. It’s not the elaborate meals or the expensive toys (for both young and old).

It’s the people. It’s the life we live and the love we share. It’s coming together to help one another in times of need. It’s being thankful for the blessings God has given us.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

So as we approach Thanksgiving less than two weeks away and the Christmas season soon to follow, I want to remember what this woman unknowingly taught me with her diligence and sweet spirit in less than desirable circumstances. It isn’t about what we don’t have or what we think we need. It isn’t about perfection or impressing others.

It is all about Jesus, what we DO have, and how He graciously meets our needs in miraculous ways each and every day. 

And in case you were wondering about our sweet friend who has become so dear (in a non-stalkerish kind of way), the onset of colder days has driven her and her pretty little plants inside, but we won’t soon forget her precious example and the lesson she has taught…and we look forward to seeing her once again in the warmer days of spring.

 

 

 

Easy “Elf on the Shelf” Ideas for the Burned Out Mom

I don’t know about you, but I’m that mom that dreads “Elf on the Shelf” season. I love Christmas with a “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” kind of love….but dread the Elf. And by dread, I mean I swear up and down every year that THIS is the year we “scale back” on the Christmas hoopla, and it starts with the Elf. THIS is the year the Elf decides to goes somewhere tropical for a tan and a much needed vacation instead of our house. THIS is the year that I am under no circumstances bowing to the Elf pressure, the creative stress, the exhaustion. THIS is the year…not happening…nope.

And as you’ve already surmised, I’m sure…it lasts all of about 5 minutes, and then the incessant “Elf” chatter from my Littles chips away at my ice-cold, worn-out heart until there is no choice left but to succumb to ALL of the pressure and be the mom that my kids have absolutely NO idea I am being. (until years later when they find out we lied to themfun times.)

So it is currently the second week of November, and I’m in the denial stage. The kids have yet to mention the Elf; therefore, I am once again clinging to the hope that they may have forgotten the last 5 years of their lives, and I am finally free. Leave me alone. It could happen.

However, because I’m a team player and we moms have to stick together in this whole Elf fiasco, I am passing along some “kid tested, mother approved” Elf ideas that are easy to throw together and don’t involve the Elves wreaking havoc on the home or teach our kiddos to be any naughtier than they already are. Like they need help.

Our Elf’s name is Jingle, so we’ve stuck with the song lyric theme for the past few years, and here are a few of our faves. Good luck, tired moms…and may the odds be ever in your favor!!

Tip:  We learned after the first year that the cards make a big difference. Our kids are fairly current on their song lyrics and figured them out quickly, but the cards made it much easier and a lot more fun.

Elf on the Shelf Ideas - My milkshake brings all the elves to the yard. song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – My milkshake brings all the elves to the yard.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Do you wanna build a snowman? song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – Do you wanna build a snowman?
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Ice Ice Baby - The cold never bothered me anyway. Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – Ice Ice Baby – The cold never bothered me anyway.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - They see me rollin....they hatin. #ridindirty song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – They see me rollin….they hatin. #ridindirty
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - I came in like a Christmas ball. song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – I came in like a Christmas ball.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Now watch me sip...and shop on ebay.
Elf on the Shelf – Now watch me sip…and shop on ebay.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Turn Down For What? Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – Turn Down For What?

The hubby even got in on this one. I fell asleep and forgot to move the Elf, so he jumped right in and kept up the theme. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork

Elf on the Shelf Ideas - I don't think you ready...4 this jelly. Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – I don’t think you ready…4 this jelly.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Hello from the outside...I must have knocked 1,000 times. Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – Hello from the outside…I must have knocked 1,000 times.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - I like big trunks...and I cannot lie. Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – I like big trunks…and I cannot lie.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - Band-aids don't fix broken rolls...but I'll say sorry just for show. Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – Band-aids don’t fix broken rolls…but I’ll say sorry just for show.
Elf on the Shelf Ideas - All I want 4 Christmas....is Dew... Song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – All I want 4 Christmas….is Dew…
Elf on the shelf ideas- you used to call me on my elf phone...late night when you need my Christmas list. song lyrics
Elf on the Shelf – You used to call me on my elf phone…late night when you need my Christmas list.

It’s even better when you have great neighbors or friends who work with you. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork

So take heart, tired mamas. We can do this. Er…you can do this. I’m still holding out for the fact that my kids have forgotten.