Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Santa Letter

A little less than decade ago I became a parent. Not too long afterward her first Christmas rolled around, so I hung up a little stocking and put a little gift from Santa under the tree because that's what you do when you have a kid. (No matter if she couldn't even eat solid food at the time. Santa Claus was coming to town, by golly!) I literally never thought about anything less in my life before acting. I just did it.
Then repeated it the next year, even though I could have easily passed and it wouldn't have hurt any feelings. But when I did a third time, it sealed the deal for me and all my future babies, and I was now stuck being a jolly red elf each and every December. Ho Ho Ho.

(Now, this is not a blog to discuss whether or not I think you should do Santa Claus for your kids. I just need you to know that I repeatedly do things without thinking about the aftermath.)

So now knowing this, you should not be surprised to learn that I also didn't think too hard about becoming the tooth fairy.
You know what's fun and exciting? Being the tooth fairy the first time your child loses a tooth. You know what's not fun and exciting? When your kids loses her 12th tooth one afternoon at school, and you are totally bamboozled by it because it is happening so often that she doesn't even tell you when she's got wigglers anymore. And you're rushing so fast between after-school activities and homework and life that when bedtime rolls around you check on your sleeping child, and you don't even notice that little piece of detached bone in a cup on her desk.

You know what's not fun for a child? Jumping up out of bed expecting a dollar and just finding a piece of bone instead.

This time of year, the magic is all around us. But somewhere, someone's baby is finding the receipt from Target that has all the gifts Santa will "magically" make appear under the tree..
or seeing a parent moving a creepy elf in the middle of the night...
or finding a bone instead of a dollar...

So I wanted to leave my friends an early Christmas present, just in case. Ho Ho Ho.

Years ago when my daughter was still quite small I found a letter circulating the Internet that a mom had written to explain Santa to her kid. (I realize this is not the original draft or credit, so forgive me. I'm late picking up my kids from school, because I started this blog without thinking through the aftermath.) Anyway, I read it, I loved it, and I used it as a skeleton to write my own letter. I saved it for a couple years until the right moment--which apparently was a couple weeks ago during the Tooth Fairy Debacle of 2016. And I have to say, it was so well received that it made me proud to be this kid's parent (and a little bit gracious with myself, because what may have started without much thought gave me lots to think about and perfect along the way.)

Without further ado, here it is.
Read it, love it, steal it, and make it your own.

Today we want to tell you the truth about Santa Claus.
I know you’ve wondered about the answer to this question before, and I’ve had to give it careful thought to know just what to say and when to say it.
The answer is no. There is no one Santa.
There was a real person named St. Nicholas who loved to give gifts to the needy in secret, often leaving them in their shoes or “stockings”(socks) and that is who most people model their idea of Santa Claus after.
Daddy and I are the people who fill your stockings with gifts and leave your presents under the tree. Not because you need them—but because we love you and we want to give you good gifts. The reasons we chose to be your Santa Claus are very important.

Santa Claus teaches us about hope and anticipation. We know how exciting it is to wait for something good. We felt that excitement when you were growing in Mommy’s tummy—you were the gift we knew was coming. We love seeing you get excited on Christmas Eve, knowing good things will happen while you sleep. We want you to always hope for good things in your life.
God wants you to hope for good things, too! (Romans 8:28) “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.”

Santa Claus teaches us to believe in things we can’t see or touch. The magic of Santa Claus at Christmastime is fun, but it helps prepare us for times when we need to have faith and can’t see. When things seem tough, you can remember to look for the God’s beauty all around you.
God wants you to remember He is there, even when you cannot see Him. (John 20:29) “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”

Santa Claus teaches us the joy of giving. You have always been so good about this. You know that there are some people who do not have enough—enough food, enough clothes, enough medicine, or enough money for toys or other fun activities. We are blessed to be able to give to those in need, and we should. When we give our good gifts, in service and in secret, it is almost like we are Santa Claus to those in need!
God wants us to share our blessings with others. (Deuteronomy 16:17) “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.”

Santa Claus teaches us to be grateful in receiving. We are all going to mess up and be naughty sometimes. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. Daddy and I don’t give you gifts because you’re good. We give you gifts because we love you. We hope that you notice all the good things God gives you and tell Him how thankful you are for them—especially the greatest gift of all, Jesus.
(John 3:16) “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Because these lessons are so important, “Santa” will always come to our house on Christmas. And we hope that whenever you find your stocking and present under the tree, you think about the importance of these lessons and recall these verses in your heart.

Remember to keep the secret of Santa to yourself so other mommies and daddies can tell their kids whenever they are ready. It is all of our jobs to help keep the magic of Santa Claus alive for them so they can learn these important lessons too!

We love you so much, Baby Girl.

Mommy and Daddy

Merry Christmas, y'all. (And good luck to Santas everywhere!)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Me, MySelfie, and I

Hello, dear friends.

Have I ever told you how I come up with the random content for my blogs? No?
Only a tiny percent are born from true issues that lay heavy on my heart and beg to be written down. A vast majority--like almost all of my posts--are things that I randomly think about while I'm running, doing the dishes, cooking dinner, mopping the floors... (Yes, my life is super glamorous. Thanks for asking.) And a very lucky few come from Facebook posts that I feel like are embarrassing left up there on their own and need additional explanation to be validated.

This will be one of those lucky few.

This morning my wonderful "On this Day" app told me that I had a sweet memory from a two-year-old son. He had asked if he, his sister, and I counted as three kids. And my answer was yes. Yes, we do. And I laughed thinking to myself that we still do, because I just might be the female version of Peter Pan. So I commented such things on my page, and then I posted this picture as photographic evidence:

...And then it sat there...

...And then I kept looking at it...

...And then it finally dawned on me what a hot mess of a picture I had posted of myself to the interwebs.

There I was, my big, crooked grin wedged makeup-less-ly between somebody's princess-like bridal portrait and a chick in a bikini who gave herself a magical butterfly crown as an added bonus.

I panicked. Do I take it down? Do I make an excuse for it? Do I own my hot mess proudly? Is it too late to try and fix it by downloading that blasted butterfly crown filter?!

I decided to post another picture of myself under the first one with the witty caption: Because we can't all be Alicia Keys.
(I know. I'm hilarious.)
Here it is:

...And then it sat there...

...And then I kept looking at it...

...And then it dawned on me that I had just posted two selfies in a row--as comments to my own post, no less--and that I might be the saddest person in the world and I'm fairly certain I will have no friends after this.

So I took that sucker down in order to save a little face.
(Or so I could show you a lot more of my face, apparently. Sorry in advance.)

It really bothered me that I cared so much how I looked to everyone in my newsfeed. Over the past decade especially, I have worked so hard to be content with who I am. I've learned to embrace crooked teeth and stretch marks and gray hair with an amount of grace that, quite frankly, surprised me. I've been told over and again how getting older helps you embrace who you are, what you're capable of, and how you process other people's opinions of you--but at this moment, I went full-out Peter Pan. I cared very much what every one thought I looked like and that they didn't think I was a sad, crazy person.

But y'all, I am a crazy person. (Ahem. It says so right in the title.)
I don't filter anything. Talk to me for any amount of time north of five minutes, and I simply cannot censor my inner-dork. I will never use photo filters, because I simply don't know how. (I will be a faithful client for life, photog friends.)

I finally realized what had bothered me in the first place. It was that in the very first moment, when I looked at the first picture of the real, blessed life I was living and questioned whether or not it was worthy to share as candidly as I had, I had balked on myself--and that was maybe more lame than posting two selfies in a row. So let's get real.

The last picture I posted of myself wasn't a fair representation. Originally I had picked that one because it was blurry and it hid a bit of the age that is starting to show in my face. That's not who I am, though. I am a person that has laughed too hard and smiled too much over the last three decades for anything other than plastic surgery to save me now. (And we can't all be Kardashians.)
Here's what I really look like:

And even then, that's only what I look like to people who I've just met. Again, if I've known you anywhere north of five minutes, I probably look more like this:

The inner-dork is strong with this one.

Happy, wrinkly, crazy dork though I may be, I am my very best self when I have these faces smooshed up against me:

Real life is not all butterfly crowns and rainbow's better than that.
I think what I'm finally beginning to realize is that growing older will not make you fully immune to other people's opinions, but your attitude will. There are still going to be days where we feel less-than, but that doesn't make it true. My hope is that you read this silly post, forgive me for sharing an incessant amount of pictures of myself, and know that you are so wonderfully made. Be you unapologetically, friends--because I think you will own the mess out of it.


Sunday, October 2, 2016

Digging Ditches

Today I left church feeling totally empty.

It's a horrible way to start a week, let alone my first blog post in months, but it's true. Anyone else ever felt that way? I came into the building knowing I was in the right place, prepared to hear a lesson, ears burning, mind open...the music was lovely, the sermon was full of truth and conviction, the testimony time was sweet...and then I walked out feeling empty. Not unchanged, but unfilled.

I came home and tended to my children with what felt like a stack of bricks on my chest. (For those of you who are not super familiar with the goal of Sunday morning service, I assure you that this is not it.) All the while I wondered what had gone wrong, and I began to replay the morning's events in my head. Was there anything especially hard about this day that would leave me weary? I did a quick run-through list of highs and lows:

High: I had my coffee and a shower. I made a hot breakfast. I dressed myself in something other than yoga pants.
Low: While I showered and got ready, my children did nothing.
High: I was able to still get us out the door without being too much later than I usually am. I gave myself grace for being late to all the things on all the days. Tra-la-la.
Low: I missed a Skype call from my husband in the process of dressing my kids in a clothes tornado. I am likely the person that will clean up said clothes tornado.
High: Participating in group discussion.
Low: Leading group discussion like an unlearned Looney Toon. (Wa-hoo!Wa-hoo!Wa-hoo! That's all, folks!)
High: Remembered my checkbook for the offering.
Low: Momentarily forgot to pick up child after the service.
High: Kid gets a lollipop for memorizing scripture.
Low: Other kid mad that they did not get lollipop. Argues against lack of fairness and justice in the world for all to hear in the church lobby. Argument continues all the way to car. Mom loses patience at children's bickering and SHUTS THEM AND THEIR NOISES ALONE IN THE CAR in the church parking lot.
High: I had the A.C. running, so the cops couldn't write me a ticket and the internet mom-haters could just shush.

I'm sure this sounds like a lot over the span of a few hours, but truthfully, this is pretty typical of every day. There was nothing here that stuck out to me as a reason to feel so heavy.

Then I looked at the list again...
I realized that over the course of a few hours, most of which I was merely supposed to sit still and listen and simply be, I had made myself a lot of list. And the fact that this was "typical" said it all.

I was empty of peace, because I was completely filled with stress.

Like an answer to a prayer I hadn't asked yet, a video popped up my Newsfeed. In it, Jen Hatmaker talks about a time where she felt overwhelmed, and how she gave herself permission to acknowledge her emptiness so that she could be filled. In it, she shared these verses:
"He then said, 'God's word: Dig ditches all over this valley. Here's what will happen--you won't hear the wind, you won't see the rain, but the valley is going to fill up with water and your army and your animals will drink their fill. This is easy for God to do.'" (2 Kings 3:16-19)

You guys. I about lost it.

What with this deployment still ongoing but the thought of homecoming and all it entails around the corner, managing my growing children and their schedules, owning a home that keeps randomly breaking, mentally and emotionally and physically preparing for a move in a short couple of months to a destination that the Army has not actually confirmed yet, my volunteer jobs actually expecting me to volunteer my time and energy (pssshh!)...all of this, and I still have to put out fires over lollipops!!! I have a lot of digging to do, and the problem is, almost none of these things are excess that I can just cut out.

In quiet desperation I prayed, "If it's easy, Lord, please show me how." His answer was so humbling. "You are building walls when I asked you to dig ditches."


There is a prayer journal that goes around our Sunday School class each and every week where we can put our requests for other believers to lift us up in prayer. Guess how many times I have put any of the above concerns on the list...big fat zero. Why? Because I don't think prayer will work? Of course not! It's because I am building up walls, protecting my image against struggle instead of humbling myself in front of others and asking for them to petition for me out of love.
I go to church without my spouse, which is not a big deal while there are other ladies who also come alone while their husbands are deployed. But when they come back, I will still be alone. Do I ever ask people if I can join them in the pew? Nope! I hold my chin up and find a tiny hole in a random spot next to a family of seven. Is it because I do not have loving people in my life that would welcome me to worship with them? (Or that have not already offered?) Of course not! It is because I don't want people to know how lonely and vulnerable I feel in a big congregation by myself, and I build a wall.
All of the sweet invitations to socials that people have offered, where they open up their homes for us to gather? Not going. There's a wall.
Volunteer to help lead...Can't. Wall there.

The thing about building walls is that I'm saying my own effort is enough to fix the issue or protect me from it, and it isn't always true. I make more work for myself and create more unnecessary stress to keep the wall standing. Digging a ditch says I humble myself and acknowledge the holes in my life. And then, God in His goodness fills them up with something better.

Walls are not more impressive than ditches. I mean, the Great Wall is a sight to behold, but so is the Grand Canyon--and God filled that one with water too. It was easy for Him to do ;)
(And friends, I think we all know which of those two will last longer.)

So let your walls down. Dig your ditches. Be filled.

Wa-hoo!Wa-hoo!Wa-hoo! That's all, folks!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How to Honor The Fallen on Memorial Day (even if you didn't know them.)

Let me start by saying, I should have always known what this day was about, but I didn't.

Both of my grandfathers served in the United States Air Force. Both of my grandmothers raised babies on their own while their husbands served their nation in a foreign place. My paternal grandfather still has evidence of a shrapnel wound from his time in Vietnam. (And I'm sure he has evidence of other wounds he tries to keep hidden.) My parents did not make a mistake by letting me celebrate and keep a bit of innocence on Memorial Day. I promise you, the "rough" men and women who sacrificed all they could for their country did so with things like family and togetherness in mind. Memorial Day was a day for me to feel proud of my country without really knowing why.

Then I married a soldier, and I figured the real meaning out pretty quickly.

My husband served exactly one month to the day of his commission before he lost a buddy during a training exercise. I was devasted--we all were--but mostly I felt shocked that I had never realized the inherent danger of my husband's job before that day. These guys weren't at war, but they were absolutely training the next group of young men to ready themselves against an enemy. They were serving a nation and a flag just the same, and the sacrifice was just as real.

A few months later, I encountered my first Memorial Day where I had a name and a face to focus on. And unfortunately, with more years of military service behind us, our family has only had more names to add to the list.
This is not an easy day, but it is such a necessary one.

You will undoubtedly hear a bunch of rhetoric reminding you to honor our fallen heroes. I realize that with all of the Internet noise, it is easy to scroll on through. (I know I'm guilty of this now and again.) But I hope that before you begin your regular festivities you take the time to read at least one of those reminders today, to pause, and to reflect. But if you are looking to do something more (because actions can indeed speak louder than words:)

-Pay respects to a nearby veterans cemetery. Many offer Memorial Day ceremonies with opportunities to lay wreaths or flags. This is an awesome way to educate your children (and maybe learn a thing or two yourself.)

-Reach out to a Gold Star family. "Gold Star family" is the term we use for family members who have lost a loved one during military service. If you know anyone who is surviving their service member, reach out to them directly and tell them you are thankful. Gold Star families just want to know that their hero is remembered. If you don't know anyone specifically but would still like to help, find an organization (like Gold Star Legacy) to express thanks, or even to donate to memorial and scholarship funds.

-Visit a memorial. Visit a park. Sit on a bench. Find shade beneath a tree. Look at a statue. Read an inscription. Be super grateful for the man/woman it was put there for.

-Support your troops. I know, I know. You've been told over and over not to thank a service member on Memorial Day. (It was most likely a service member who told you not to.) It is not their day, but these people are brothers of our fallen. It honors the dead to take care of the living--It just does. (There are literally hundreds, but quick plugs to what I think are worthy organizations: Fisher House Foundation; USO)

-Mount an American flag and shine a light on it. Wear red, white, and blue. Stand and face the colors when they are presented. Put your hand over your heart when you hear the National Anthem. You don't have to love everything about your country to be proud of it. Our nation is filled with fields of men and women who thought this country was worth dying for--flaws and all. Honor that today.

To those who never made it back home...
For the flag they fought to defend-
That they wore on their arm when they took their last breath-
Who now rest beneath that very flag.

May we always strive to be worthy of such heroes.