A Defiant Hope in 2016

We put away our tree yesterday without regret.

Christmas was warm and simple, the way I hoped it would be.  After opening presents, we visited my grandparents in their separate care centers, and both were in high spirits.  The kids played the piano in the rec room for my grandmother, which I think she liked, though a younger man in a wheelchair muttered that we were interrupting his Christmas Sports Center experience.

Often we feel wistful when we put decorations away after Christmas, but not this time.  There was nothing sensational about the season, but it was enough.  We had holy, quiet moments where we reflected on the birth of Jesus, on his life, death, and resurrection, on the salvation that he offers to those who know they need it.  We listened to Christmas music (the kids begged for international renditions as well as electronic remixes this year).  We ate loads of chocolate and spicy sausage.  We opened presents and created hazardous fires with piles of discarded paper.

And now we’re ready for 2016.

Last year was an anxious one for the United States and the world.  We struggled for perspective, finding ourselves caught up in an endless barrage of bad news along with everyone else.  It looks as if the new year will continue to present us with compelling reasons to lose hope.

But we’re ready, and we refuse.

Jesus is both the reason for Christmas and the reason for the hope that is within us.  (Which is not to say he’s the author of some pie-in-the-sky optimism that won’t look properly at the dire straights we’re all in.  On the contrary, his mandate to love others means that as his followers we’ll likely feel and see more sorrow–not less–as we seek to clasp hurting hands wherever we find them.  More sorrow and more reality).

We’re determined to carry on in 2016 without hand-wringing and panic because he promises that he will never leave us, never forsake us, never stop remaking us.  And not just us but, someday, everything.  Until then, we will join him in telling people Good News–news that hurts in the short run but heals in the end. And we will love boldly because we have been loved.

Yep.  We want to face 2016 with defiant, humble gladness, like people who have read the last chapter.  Because we have.  And it’s very good.

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The Most Typical Time of the Year

It’s almost Christmas.  Yesterday I sat down with the kids and told them how this week will unfold if everything goes the way I suspect it will– that there will be fun but also boredom; sweet moments but also snippy responses from siblings and parents with cabin fever; excitement but also hints of the blues, maybe.  I reminded them that Christmas morning will come with presents under the tree, but also visits to two separate nursing homes, where my grandparents wait out the ends of their lives without knowing what day it is.

I wanted my kids to be prepared for the everydayness of this week–the truth that, even with the sparkle of the season, there’s going to be plodding and flashes of frustration.  Even in the happiness, there might be secret (or not-so-secret) undercurrents of grief and insecurity, as there are for so many of us.  I wanted them to understand, when they’re slightly let down after ripping the last package open, that having mixed feelings about all of it is OK.

Because I feel that way, too.  And so do most people I talk to about this season of high expectations.  It’s only when we accept that joy will steal up on us while we’re not expecting it, that it will be interspersed with normal–even banal–things like loading the dishwasher, standing in the doorway of a hospital room, or serving cookies to someone who can’t quite chew them the way she used to, that we are set free to celebrate the baby who was born in a drafty barn on an ordinary night.

*For another take on helping kids set reasonable expectations of the season, see this.*

A War for Peace

It’s here: The Season.  I swore I’d never be one of those people who got caught up in all the mindless busyness of modern American holidays, the hand-wringing over recycled wrapping paper, gluten-free finger foods, and gargantuan expectations.

I wasn’t during our years in India.  And I wasn’t before that, when my kids were very small.  But since we’ve been back in the U.S. (three years now), I’ve felt holiday insanity sneaking up on me.

Have you seen the movie Alien?  I don’t recommend it, but I’ll just say that the raging fever of consumerism and ubiquitous Pinterest Faerie Land Photos feel to me like the hideous thing that attaches itself to the guy’s face in order to lay its eggs in him at the beginning of that movie.  (Since I’ll  never be able to un-see that particular scene, you might as well see it, too).

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And just like in the movie, this craziness means war. A war for peace. And I’m gearing up.

I just got done cancelling the kids’ jujitsu for the entire month of December (boom).  And we only have one more piano lesson before we shut down the semester (hooah!).  I’m saying no to math.

And you know what else?

I’m saying no to perfect because it doesn’t exist (except in the Person for whom all the fuss exists).

But I’m saying yes to our Advent readings, to my sister and her family staying with us for a week, to a Christmas concert with friends, to fires in the fireplace, to Crock Pot chili.

I’m saying yes to shopping on Amazon and wrapping the boxes as they get here and sticking to the budget as much as possible.

I’m saying yes to donating to our favorite causes, even if it’s only a little bit, and to sharing coffee with our neighbor whose husband died a month ago.

In short, we’re going to have a White Space Christmas season, if not a White Christmas, exactly.  I’m finding that it takes guts to carve out time for nothing, but I just strapped on my flak vest.

I dare you to join me.

 

Little Changes in 2015 to Minimize Resistance

It’s January, as if you didn’t know.  I’m hopeful, as is always the case at this time of the year, and one reason is because I’m satisfied with how December went down. The kids liked their presents, we went to concerts and church programs, hung out with friends, helped people, and spent time together watching whodunnit movies.  I sat by the fire, ate quality chocolate, and listened to Christmas music until I stopped liking it.

It was good.

Furthermore, I stand by my decision not to do a lick of school with the kids for the entire month.  See, I hadn’t really planned it, but we ended up having eighteen, yes, eighteen overnight guests in the month of December.  This is crazy-sausage, especially for someone who’s an introvert.  But it happened.  And, the thing is, it was wonderful, better than I could have imagined.  It wouldn’t have been, however, if I’d had a lot of cherished plans that kept getting way-laid.  In that case, I would have been excessively crabby.  As it happened, I was only normally crabby.

Now, on to January:  Long ago I gave up on making big, sweeping goals for the new year.  It’s not that I don’t hope certain things will happen in the next twelve months, or that I don’t see the need for improvement in some of my habits.  It’s just that I don’t make big changes very successfully unless utterly forced.  Which sometimes happens, but still.  So I make little changes, or try to, and I sneak them into my life so that my subconscious barely notices.  I don’t start implementing them all on January 1st.  Instead, I add one at a time, little by little, all through the months of January and February, or for as long as it takes to make them habits.  This way, it feels like I deal with less Resistance.

Some of my little goals for 2015 include (in no particular order)

  • A little bit of (boring, so boring) exercise, every day.  Not just because of the thigh issue and the thirty-seven years old thing but because I struggle with depression.  Exercise helps.
  •  Getting up one hour earlier–which is to say, early, period–so that I can get in more time to write before I start the school day with my kids.
  •  Being nicer to the kids.  Specifically, I’m going to work on praising something about each of them at least once a day.  I forget to, with all the teachery correcting I do, but it seems to make such a difference when they hear me say something complimentary.
  •  Reading my Bible more consistently, with (hopefully) deeper concentration.  Gonna try not to find myself at the end of a chapter with no idea how I got there.
  • Finally, (a few of my writing goals are still in formation), posting more consistently on the blog.

That’s it.  No marathons, no enormous reading lists, or herculean educational efforts with the kids.  No more goals at all, in fact, unless someone drugs me and performs a lobotomy.

What about you?  Do you make small, medium, or large goals for the new year?  Or none at all? 

The Ten Minute Read

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Christmas break starts tonight.  Admittedly, it started a while ago for the kids and me, so when I say Christmas break, I mean my husband’s break.  Having him home with us will officially kick off a string of slow, fireplace days, and hot-chocolate-and-murder-mystery nights.  Of course, I’m looking forward to it because it’ll mean memory making and good conversations, all of us together during the best hours of the day.  But it’ll also mean that I can steal away sometimes (while, say, Dad plays dominoes with the kids) and do some serious reading. The long, focused kind. The best and rarest kind, in my humble opinion.

Then, inevitably, the New Year will roll around and schedules will tighten up around here again.  The kids will get back into the rhythm of co-op, extra-curriculars, and youth group.  The days will fill, as well they should, and my time for reading will be limited–again.  As happens at the start of every new year, I’ll be tempted to let library books pile up on my nightstand, unread and collecting dust.  And then, naturally, the longer they sit there, the guiltier I’ll feel because I’m a writer and writers read.  Just ask Stephen King.

I say I’ll be tempted to let those books pile up, but I won’t actually let them.  Instead, I know I’ll have to shift my mindset, once again, about how much time it really takes to move through a few pages of a good book every day.  I’ll have to get over my all-or-nothing tendencies and re-instate the Ten Minute Read (which is to say, reading on the fly).  And to facilitate my goal of grabbing ten minutes increments in which to read, whenever they present themselves, I’ll make sure to

  • Have a book in my purse at all times
  • Have a book (or three) on my nightstand
  • Use my ten minutes to actually read instead of checking social media
  • Rethink the time I spend standing in lines, holding the phone, or waiting in parking lots as excellent times in which to clear a few pages.

All of this doesn’t come naturally to me as I’m a girl who likes to block out large swaths of time to do things that are important to me, and then focus only on those things.  But I’ve realized that if I wait to read only when those large swaths appear, I’ll read twice a year, maybe.  So I’ve learned to embrace the reality that, right now, time comes to me in fragments, in serendipitous slivers.  I can make the most of these pockets, reading a page at a time, or fritter them away.  Sometimes I choose to fritter because it’s just easier.  Increasingly, though, I’m using my minutes to read.  And the amazing thing is that those minutes are starting to add up, and I find that I’m reading a lot after all.

What about you?  Are you all-or-nothing, or do you grab flyby moments to do things you love?

A Homeschooler’s Guide to Surviving December

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I love this month we’re in.

I love looking for beauty and meaning in life, and I can find a lot of both in December.  I love the snow, the ubiquitous sparkles, the fuzzy cardigans. I love peppermint mochas and peanut butter balls.  I love Christmas contatas and casseroles and Nativity scenes.  I love to remember why we celebrate: Jesus.

What I don’t love is all the shopping, the feeling that there’s not enough time, ever, ever to finish all the tasks on my list, the huge holiday expectations of basically everyone, and the feeling that the kids and I are getting behind in our academic goals.

And while I can’t really get out of shopping (no, I can’t. I’ve kind-of tried for years), or create extra time where there isn’t any, or make my entire circle of family, friends, and acquaintances expect less from the season, and from me, I’ve learned that I can manage our homeschool goals for the month of December so that we end up feeling like we spent our time the way we meant to.

Here’s how I do it:

I set the bar low for academic work.  This means we don’t do math, basically, or Latin.  Instead, we gather together at some point during every day to read an Advent-related portion of Scripture and an accompanying devotional, plus a chapter of whatever novel we’re working through, and a couple of poems.  We talk about the day, pray, discuss what’s coming up tomorrow, etc.  That’s it.  For the whole month of December.

I set the bar high for sleep.  We love our sleep around here (and by ‘we’ I mean me).  And, of course, all the holiday merry-making of December is completely exhausting, especially if you host parties or have overnight guests.  Since I don’t want us to give less time to the people we care about, and I also don’t want the kids to be sick and good-for-nothing when we start a new semester come January 1st, I try to have everyone in bed on the early side.  We’re better able to avoid illness and crankiness this way, and, as an added bonus, waking up at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas morning doesn’t hurt quite so bad.

I carve out big chunks of “white space” in the day.  This is not so that I can stare off into the middle distance and drool, though that would be so nice, wouldn’t it?  It’s because I know that things will come up every day of this month, things that we’ll need to do, or want to do, things that teach us, things we couldn’t have planned.  I want to be able to seize special moments without freaking out about not having enough time in an already over-packed academic or social calendar.  So I build in downtime each day, as much as I can, knowing full-well that it will get filled in some way, and that there will learning opportunities I didn’t know we needed.

The upshot of all of this is that when we look back on the month of December, we’re able to see all the things we were able to experience–people we got to visit, chapters we got to read in front of the fire–instead of all of the things we weren’t able to get done.  Not only does this make for a sweet holiday season, but it also sets us up for a productive, fresh start in January.

And that’s a Christmas present this homeschooling mom wishes for every year.