3 Things to Remember About Rest During the Holidays

We got back from a family vacation in Phoenix last Monday, and I have to confess, I made a common vacation mistake: I fell for the lie that I could cram my schedule full and push myself like crazy until the moment we left on on our trip, because I could slow down and relax once we were on vacation.

My muscle therapist warned me I was making a mistake. When I had an appointment a few days before we left on our trip, he asked me, “What are you planning to do about your stress level?”

“I’m going to Phoenix!” I replied enthusiastically. He snorted, shook his head, and said, “The more stress you have when you leave for vacation, the longer it will take for you to unwind.”

I felt truth in his words, but by then it was too late – I was exhausted from two months of a crazy schedule and lots of life changes to deal with, so by the time we got to Phoenix, I felt frazzled. It took me half the week to finally feel truly relaxed.

It felt great once I’d finally purged the stress from my body, but by then, the vacation was already half over. The weather was beautiful, and we did some really fun things out there, but I came home feeling regret about how it had all played out. I wanted to go back and do everything differently.

As I’ve thought about it since, I realize that I have the tendency to fall back on this same strategy for Christmas, too – go hard, hard, hard, all through the craziness of November and December, and then wonder why I can’t enjoy the actual week of Christmas. “Christmas has just lost the magic it used to have when I was a kid,” I think to myself every year.

Or maybe I keep approaching the holidays like a marathon runner who pushes with everything in him to the finish line, only to throw up and collapse the moment he crosses it.I’ve begun to wonder if there’s any way to arrive at Christmas without the “throw up and collapse” mentality. What can I learn from my vacation mistakes to take with me into this next busy holiday season?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

1) Let it be what it will be.

A lot of my stress leading up our trip came from wanting everything to be “perfect” once we got there. I always put this pressure on myself to get all the right snacks, the right clothes, and try to keep everybody in perfect health, etc. I get this idea in my mind that vacations or holidays need to be unrealistically wonderful – it’s family! And we’re SO HAPPY together! And we need to make MEMORIES!!! ALL THE PRESSURE!!!!

Guess how well that works?!

Everett got sick the day before we left on our trip, and it wasn’t great, but it was fine. Everyone survived, we still had a good time, and came home with great memories.

I realized that what I want is to have these special times feel like a little taste of heaven, but the problem is that life still happens on holidays. We’re not immune to sickness or any other life problems, just because it’s a “special time”. It’s like the bride I heard about years ago who had strep throat at her wedding. It just seems like that shouldn’t be allowed or something. We should be immune to problems during all vacations, holidays, and special occasions.

But it’s life, so these things happen. I can’t hold vacations or holidays up so high in my mind or expectations.

Christmas is just Christmas. It can be a time that is special and beautiful, but it can also messy and painful. I need to remember to let it be what it will be.

2) The unfinished tasks will still be there after the holidays.

Another reason I pushed myself so hard up until we left for Phoenix was because I wanted to feel like I had finished EVERYTHING, and there would be no loose ends to come home to. I was trying to work ahead so I could relax more on vacation, knowing there was nothing unfinished to go home to.

But when we were on vacation, I realized how impossible that goal had been – there’s always more to do, because life goes on after vacation, so the to-do list is never done. In trying to finish what could never actually be finished, I took on more stress, and then took longer to relax.

It would have been far better to hit “pause”, slow down life in general, and arrive on vacation already feeling relaxed, ready to enjoy myself.

3) Rest can’t be banked.

Deep down, I know better than to think it actually works well to push like crazy now and rest later, but we live in a culture where we hear this idea all the time. We neglect sleep in order to get more done. We are being “productive” and “successful” when we abuse our bodies to reach unrealistic goals.We can skip rest and relaxation, but we can’t do it well. I look at the weeks ahead, and I know the only real way to have the Christmas I want is to get there slowly. I need to pace myself. I need to relax NOW so that I can enjoy not just the week of Christmas, but everything leading up to it as well.

Maybe that means planning ahead a bit better so I don’t leave stuff to the last minute. Or saying no to some of the Christmas events, because we don’t actually need to go to EVERYTHING. Maybe I’ll buy a bag of chocolate covered almonds and bake a few less kinds Christmas treats. Everyone will survive. My kids think they want all their favourite Christmas baking, but what they really want is a kind, loving mother in her right mind.It means being realistic about my expectations, my energy level, and my priorities, instead of allowing myself to get swept up in the pressure to do it all.

Let’s do this well. I want to hear all your best tips for making Christmas simple and restful!!

Making Space For Christmas

A few weeks ago, I was part of a discussion about how to have a meaningful Christmas. We never came to a conclusion, it was more just a time of expressing a desire and longing for something deeper, heartfelt, of substance. I left that discussion, and then proceeded to think about it for the next three weeks straight. I wanted an answer, and I didn’t have one.

The cliche “Jesus is the reason for the season” just doesn’t cut it for me – maybe because there’s not much truth to it in most places. Christians have a tough fight on this one, because there are so many other things competing with what is supposed to be the “true” message of Christmas. We say we’re celebrating the birth of Christ, but lots of the time, it almost gets lost in the food, the gifts, and connecting with family. Those are all good things, too – I realize in my own heart that I’ve come to see Christmas more of a celebration of love and generosity, not because I’m trying to overlook the birth of Jesus, but because Christmas is so outrageously loud, busy, and flashy, it’s just hard to see past all the other good things happening at Christmas, and focus on Jesus’ birth.

So for weeks, I’ve thought about how to bring back the meaning of Christmas, and I’ve struggled with it. I got stuck on wanting it to be the way it was when I was a kid – it was easy to feel wonder and meaning about everything, and Christmas was like pure magic, but when I looked up the definition of wonder, the problem became clear to me:

Wonder – a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

It’s hard to feel wonder at Christmas, because how much are we surprised anymore? Christmas only comes once a year, so for the first few years of life, it IS unfamiliar, but I’ve lost that along the way. I’m not surprised by the beauty, nothing feels unexpected. I had to come to the conclusion that wonder is not the way to feel deeply at Christmas.

What, then, could replace the awe and wonder of my childhood Christmases?

The answer came to me in the strangest of ways. It was a busy evening a couple of weeks ago, and I was feeling frazzled because Ben was recovering from knee surgery, and all of the responsibility of home and family were on me. I had to get Ben to a physio appointment, pick up my grocery order at Superstore, and get back to pick him up. As I was trying to get to the grocery pick-up spot in the Superstore parking lot, a woman came out of the store, walked into the middle of the road, and plopped her bags and large purse down right in the middle of the street, stopping traffic coming from both directions. I was concerned about her – surely something must be very wrong in order to cause this woman to stop in the middle of the road like that. She was kneeling on the pavement, and I watched her closely, trying to see what the problem was. She didn’t look hurt, so I started searching for spilled groceries – maybe a bag handle had broken, and she was gathering up food that had dumped.

But there was nothing.

Suddenly, she changed her position and I could see what she was doing – she was lighting a cigarette. She couldn’t even walk ten more steps to get to the side of the street, out of the way of traffic, to get that cigarette lit. Unbelievable.

I drove to my parking spot, and as I sat there waiting for my groceries, I had time to think. I was still marveling at the woman’s utter lack of regard for other people, but eventually my thoughts got quieter, and turned back to this issue I’d been mulling over for weeks about finding meaning at Christmas. Suddenly, the words “Make space” popped into my head. I’m learning to pay attention to those kinds of thoughts – the ones that seem to drop into my mind out of nowhere. I started praying about this, and asking God, “How do I need to make more space at Christmas?” Suddenly I was thinking about that woman again, and how she dropped everything, right where she was, because she couldn’t wait a moment longer to get what she desired. She didn’t appear to have any trouble “making space” in her life for what mattered most.

I held those words in my mind and heart over the next while, and each morning when I got up to do my devotions, they stayed with me. In my quiet, dark home, early in the morning, with the Christmas lights making everything feel cozy, I started reading the Christmas story. I got stuck on a few different verses, as I read everything through my filter – “make space”.

“She wrapped Him in cloths and laid him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

I pictured a busy inn, so crowded that there wasn’t even room for a pregnant woman on the brink of labor. In my mind, I could see how loud, full, and busy it must have been. But then I could imagine the little stable out back, quiet and calm, and even though none of us would want to have a baby in a stable, or spend the night, I could see how it became sacred ground that night, as it became the scene for such a holy moment – Christ being born, in the quiet night, with no one around, the star shining and Heaven watching. God with us, but nobody noticing, because everybody else was crowded into the inn.

And as I’ve thought about making space, I’ve been thinking about how we keep repeating this scene over and over again each Christmas. Even when we truly want a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, we somehow keep getting stuck at the inn, and can’t seem to make it to the stable out back often enough, or for long enough. That bustling inn is noisy and demands a lot of attention, but the quiet stable is removed, easily overlooked.

All the Christmas parties and gatherings and shopping and preparing are like the inn, bursting at the seams, all the people crowded in there, so busy they have no idea what’s going on in the stable.

These things aren’t wrong, but I want to find my way past the inn, and I want to spend most of my time in the stable. I’d rather hang out there this Christmas, and just wander over to the inn occasionally to check in with everybody and see what’s going on. But if I’m looking for meaning, if I’m trying to make space at Christmas, I’ll find it in the stable.

I picture the shepherds with their sheep, out in the fields on a dark, quiet night, when suddenly, the sky is filled with light and angels, and the shepherds also get to experience the miracle of that night. And it’s interesting to me that this also happens out in the night, away from the crowds. So the shepherds go looking for the stable, and for a time, they also enter into that holy space.

I don’t write this to glorify that space – the glory went with Jesus everywhere he traveled while He was on earth, long after He left the stable, but over and over again, people needed to choose to make space for Him, and lay aside all the things demanding immediate attention, to remember what was most important.

We know all this – we’ve heard it over and over again, every Christmas. Anika and I have been joking about how every Christian Christmas story or musical or movie has to be about the grumpy person who has forgotten the real meaning of Christmas, and needs to be reminded by the end of the story.

We know it, and yet we still find it hard to make space, because the inn is flashy, fun, exciting, and demands our attention. It is part of Christmas, too, but it’s not where I want to stay for the night.

So every morning, I turn on the Christmas lights, grab the coziest blanket in our living room, and I get comfy on the couch with my Bible to read the Christmas story again, and again, and again. Even though I’ve heard it every year of my life, I pray that as I choose to make space yet again, those verses will sink in, and speak to me in new ways. Every morning, I picture that quiet stable, on that holy night, and how everything changed in a moment when no one was paying attention. I want to soak it in, to stay in that space, to make room, to be paying attention.

I wish you a beautiful, meaningful Christmas, and I hope there will be many opportunities for you to slip away to the stable. Enjoy all the fun craziness at the inn, but make some space this Christmas for all that matters most.

Christmas Photo Challenge

When Christmas rolls around, I’m always drawn to books or articles about how to simplify the holidays. Christmas was magical to me when I was a kid, but when Ben and I got married, and suddenly had seven different gatherings to get to in the span of a week or two, the holiday lost a lot of it’s charm for me. I love family and traditions and festivities, but I ended up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, exhausted, and in need of some quality alone time at Christmas.

One of the solutions to this came from book no longer in print, which basically said, “Cut out what you don’t enjoy, and do more of what you love about Christmas.”

As I was thinking about this last week, I tried to remember the most enjoyable Christmas I’ve had as an adult, and the usual things which came to mind were the traditions we’ve established as our own little family, and the days we enjoy at our parents’ houses, or when the gatherings are a little more spread out, with recovery time in between! But what popped into my mind which surprised me most was a spark of pleasure when I remembered the Christmas I did a 31 day photo challenge in December.

It seems silly – taking more pictures increased my enjoyment of Christmas? But it really did, maybe because photography is one of my favourite art forms, and art is always good for the soul.:) Or maybe it was because slowing down, paying attention, looking for the little things that make Christmas special for our family stayed with me.

Whatever the case, I decided to follow the joy, and started a Christmas photo challenge for this year. This is not going to produce deep, spiritual reflections on the birth of Jesus, or anything like that. We’ll see if that post comes at a different time! Nope, this is just to take a creative breather, have some fun, and capture some pretty holiday pictures to look back on in the future:

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Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:Decorate:

Sweet:

Anika decided to join me, so here are her pictures:

Red:

Family:

Lists/Planning:

Decorate:

More to come! What do you do when you need to take a break and relax a little over the holidays?

Christmas Favorites

When I was dreaming up the perfect Christmas, I never thought of wishing for a massive snowstorm, but it was amazing. I love snow. Ben doesn’t quite share that same love, because snow means shoveling the driveway, but to me, it means beautiful flakes falling, and feeling cozy inside. It also meant staying home because we couldn’t drive anywhere, and it was very relaxing! I loved it.

Here’s a peak at our little family Christmas:

ChristmasChristmas

One of my favorite moments! Anika has been saving her money for a looooong time to buy an iPod, and we surprised her by gifting her with the small amount remaining. I know it’s been hard for her to wait and use self-control with her money, but we knew it would mean far more to her if she had to work for it herself, and it was super fun to see her enjoy that moment!:)

ChristmasWe make a big chicken/mashed potatoes/gravy/all the extras dinner later on in the day, but we’re still experimenting with what we want our lunch tradition to be. We tried this fun option, and imagined what it would be like to make a table-sized Christmas tree as our kids get older and we need more food!

ChristmasChristmas

ChristmasChristmasAnd now it’s time to move on! I love Christmas and all the traditions and decorations, but I’m quickly ready to pack it all up, and get ready for a fresh start in the new year!

Wishing You a Very Merry Christmas

One of my very favorite things about Christmas is the family photo Christmas card tradition. I absolutely love getting Christmas cards in the mail, and seeing how everyone’s family is changing and growing. I enjoy seeing the similarities between parents and their kids, and because I’m into photography, I always love a well-posed photo with great lighting.

Because I love receiving Christmas card photos, Ben and I have always chosen to send a family picture ourselves, starting the year we were married.

wedding

I went back through all our photos, and was able to find most of the pictures we used for our Christmas cards each year, but things got a bit tricky the further back I went. We got our first digital camera for Christmas when Anika was two, so I had to hunt through albums and boxes of pictures, and a ton of memories!

What I keep coming back to is that God is so good. SO GOOD! There were a few years when it was harder to smile, and all those family pictures of just the three of us were a reminder to me of the longing for a baby that wasn’t coming. We loved Anika like crazy, but our family was so small! For many years, we thought our family might not grow, and I struggled to find contentment as we were. But God has blessed us, and my heart is overflowing as I look back over these photos, and see how God carried us through such difficult times, and has given me what my heart desired.

Here’s a look at 16 years of family:

familyfamilyfamilyfamilySadly, we’re missing one photo! I couldn’t find any family pictures from the year Anika was two.

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family

FAMILY

FAMILY

familyThis was the year our sweet friend Morgan started taking our family pictures, and has been ever since! It’s something we always look forward to.

family 2011

family 2012

family 2013

fmily 2014

family 2015

family 2016Look at that little peanut in the front! Each of our kids is a miracle, but he’s going to be the most spoiled with hugs and attention, because he’s got three mothers loving on him all day long. I look at that picture and I can hardly believe these sweet kids are mine. Our family is complete, and after some hard years, our family pictures only bring feelings of pure joy to me.

Family can be hard, and holidays can make it even harder, but wherever you’re at, I just want to encourage you to keep hanging on to Jesus. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know He is good. He has beautiful gifts and provisions for us, no matter what we are facing, and He gives us the strength to keep going. He has done the impossible in my life, and blessed us with those three miracle babies. He doesn’t always choose to answer our prayers in the way we want, but it doesn’t change the fact that He holds us in His hand.

Ben announced the other day that he’s tired of Christmas music, and I get it – it’s the same songs over and over. I love them, but there’s only so many versions of Silent Night to listen to before it’s time for a change. Some of those songs have such beautiful words, but it’s hard to really hear them, because we’ve heard them so often. But I came across a beautiful piece of artwork on Pinterest featuring the words, “The weary world rejoices”. It’s stuck with me, and I want it in our home next Christmas, because that is such an amazing truth to grab hold of – because of Jesus, we can not only survive and keep going…we can actually rejoice.

So whatever is making you weary this Christmas, it is my hope that you can draw your loved ones close, snuggle up inside while we get that foot of snow they’re forecasting, and find a way to rejoice, because our Father who can do the impossible has sent the Prince of Peace, and so we have a way to face tomorrow.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very merry Christmas!

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Choosing Christmas Traditions

It was Christmas time, Ben was my boyfriend, and we were hanging out at my apartment with my roommate, talking about Christmas music. A Boney M song came on, and Ben said enthusiastically, “My family always listens to Bonnie M – she’s great!”

My roommate and I burst out laughing, and teased Ben mercilessly about this woman named “Bonnie”. Seventeen years later, he is still just as convinced it’s the right way to pronounce “Boney”. Anika is now old enough to join in the debate, which now includes “Bunny” as an option, since the English language is weird, and it could be argued that “Boney” should be pronounced the same as “honey” or “money”.

Part of me is slightly annoyed that after all this time, Ben still refuses to admit the “Bonny” pronunciation holds no validity, but the rest of me has to confess I love this silly little debate which must happen every year, and I imagine our kids coming home at Christmas as adults, continuing the heated discussion of Boney/Bonnie/Bunny.

Christmas traditionsI think about what other traditions our kids will come home to. What are we doing now that will continue to be important for years to come? It feels like our traditions are still forming – we have special little things, like setting up our Christmas village, decorating a gingerbread house, having a hot chocolate picnic by the tree on Christmas Eve, letting the girls choose a new ornament each year at our favorite Christmas store.

Christmas villageI also think about how traditions form – which ones are intentional, and which traditions form over time?

When Anika was a baby, I remember having a conversation with a lady who’s oldest son was in Grade 12. I asked her what their family did to celebrate Christmas, and she said, “Well, this is the first year we’re actually home for Christmas – in the past, we’ve always gone to visit family at Christmas, so we don’t really have any of our own traditions.” It’s stuck with me for years, because I thought it was so sad. Their son was on the brink of leaving home, and they had never established any Christmas traditions for him to come home to. I remember feeling determined to get a head start on our family traditions. Baby or not, Anika was going to be traditioned.

When I was in Bible school, I had to write a paper about what makes a church strong and healthy. As I researched this topic, I found one of the most important aspects to be rituals or traditions – the church family needs something to look forward to, to come back to, to welcome others into. Traditions are part of who we are. The same holds true for our family.

Gingerbread houseIt gets tricky, because some traditions have to change as family changes. Over the years, Ben and I have talked about all the things our families did to celebrate Christmas during our years of growing up, and some of those things are not practical to carry on as kids leave home, get married, have their own families. Do we need to be more intentional about choosing traditions now already which are most likely to stand the test of time, or do we choose what works best for now, and try to be flexible and adapt as our family grows and changes?

Lots of things to consider. At least we’ll always have Boney M.

Friends, I want to hear from you: where do you stand on the Boney/Bonnie/Bunny debate, and what are your favorite Christmas traditions? What traditions have stood the test of time in your family?

Christmas Favorites

Hello, friends! I hope you’ve been having a wonderful Christmas. Other than a cold/sore throat thing, I have been loving this Christmas with our little family – so much better than last year! A newborn baby and nights broken up into 1 1/2 hour stretches of sleep at a time can be a bit stressful, so this Christmas, I found myself sitting back and watching Everett zip around all over the place, enjoying the stage of life we’re at.IMG_1637He just started saying a bunch of words, like “this”, “that”, “there”, and “come”, using them most often when pointing at food he wants to eat, or the girls’ toys he wants to get into. “That! Come!” As in, “Come to me so I can grab it, and run away.” So much fun.:)

Anika and KayliaHe passionately loves playing outside, and Anika and Kaylia have been so great about playing with him so I can get some work done until they come in with cold, rosy cheeks.

IMG_1591 IMG_1571 IMG_1592 IMG_1593I’m kind of feeling ready to get back to normal routine, but we have another week of gatherings and holiday activities, so we will press on! Happy Monday!