Searching for a Nativity

Searching for a Nativity

I’ve spent the last five years searching for a Nativity scene to display at Christmas. I see them in catalogs and stores every December but none of them feel right.

Blond Mary and blue-eyed baby Jesus. Nope.

Joseph and Mary dressed like royalty. Nope.

Blank faces which scare me a little. Nope.

Darth Vader, who wasn’t invited to that party. Nope.

And so I keep searching. While I long to have a visible symbol of Christ in my Christmas decor, ultimately I am desiring a symbol of peace in the middle of this busy season. Tacky chihuahua ornaments glare at me from the tree, neighborhood lights blink on-and-off, music blares all day long and my shopping list never seems to disappear. Sensory overload! But Nativity scenes sit there quietly, oblivious to their surroundings, focused on one solitary thing: Jesus. They symbolize the space in which I desire to live- the space of peace and quiet and stillness, in the middle of chaos. I feel like having a Nativity would remind me to slow down and focus on that one thing, too!

BUT THE SEASON PULLS ME. I resist the Online Joneses as much as I can but my December days still seem overly busy and overly scheduled. School concerts, work parties, white elephant gifts… where can I find my peace??

One night last week my family was tucked in bed (while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads) and I was wandering around our home, turning off lights, locking doors and shutting down the house after a busy day. I felt like I hadn’t sat down since breakfast. 

I came to our living room where our Christmas tree glowed in the darkness and I stood transfixed, staring at it. Then I sat down and stared further, mesmerized at the lights, like flames in a fireplace. “Silent Night” started playing on my phone and I finally found it: the Spirit of Peace. The room felt holy because I was finally quiet and still enough to sense it. I wasn’t moving, I wasn’t running around or making more notes on my to-do list, I was just sitting. The stress of waiting on military orders dimmed, the dining room table covered in unfinished Christmas presents was forgotten and the Nativity was Real. Like Mary, I finally found I could focus on that One True Thing: a God who loves me. 

The obvious answer is that I didn’t need a Nativity Set to find peace; I didn’t need to cut out activities and lighten my holiday load to reach this goal (although that definitely helped). I needed to simply slow down for five minutes and sit in the presence of the REAL Nativity, the One who gives me hope and perspective. It’s here in this meeting place that my life feels peaceful.

Are you looking for peace in your life, too? A place of stillness in the middle of chaos?

Do you feel burdened and overwhelmed?

Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

James said: “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Did you notice the verb? When we take action and COME, He responds and gives us REST. Oh how I love that word and long for it in my life! Don’t you??

Is there something unsettled in the depths of your heart?

Is it possible that you have been searching for peace in the wrong place?

Then come closer to the Real Nativity. Take a deep breath, ignore the lights & distractions and approach this place of stillness. Maybe your peaceful meeting place isn’t a Christmas tree, like mine. Maybe yours is behind a closed door or inside of your car for a few extra, quiet minutes each day. Maybe it’s returning to church after a long absence (or visiting for the very first time). Maybe it’s a pause at the top of the stairs, to think about the point of Christmas. Whatever it may be in your life, commit to this habit and make it happen. I pray that you will sense God in your stillness. As the New Year beckons, I hope that all of us will take the time to search for and FIND the Nativity of Peace. There is hope for us yet. 

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, PRINCE OF PEACE.”  (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Merry Christmas everyone,

p.s. If you don’t know where to start, sit silently in front of your tree and play this song. MAGIC.

We own this ornament. Thank you, children.

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

Happy Holidays from the Online Joneses!

It’s here! Do you see the Christmas trees in the stores? Do you smell the cinnamon pinecones at Michaels? THE HOLIDAY SEASON HAS ARRIVED. People often think of this season as November-December but most parents know that it actually begins in October and extends into the summer. (Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout Willis?) Are you on social media? Do you see how American holidays require our constant attention for months on end? At least, that’s what Pinterest tells me. Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram tell me many things and it’s hard not to bow under the pressure.

In America we often talk about “keeping up with the Joneses,” but instead of walking around the neighborhood and envying people’s houses, we can now feel the pull every time we go online to these social media networks. During this time of year, they display tremendously creative ideas for our holiday celebrations, but they make parents feel woefully inadequate.

According to the Online Joneses…

In October we are supposed to decorate our entire house with spiders and cobwebs, “Boo” our neighbors, then grow and harvest cotton to make our kids’ costumes from scratch. After the Halloween treats are collected, we are supposed to coordinate an Almond Joy drug deal with “The Switch Witch” who will trade the candy for a toy. (Can’t we just tell them to stop eating candy? No, says Pinterest, that’s not the “creative” way to handle it.)

In November we are supposed to make paper maché thankfulness trees that stretch across our entire living room. If we don’t find time to construct these masterpieces then clearly our kids will never learn to be thankful. (Or will they?) After the tree is finished, we can prepare a ten-course Thanksgiving meal for our thirty closest family members. And make it organic, people.

In December the expectations are very clear: I am supposed to introduce Elf on the Shelf to my children and help coordinate twenty-five days of activities and entertainment. It’s endless fun to do in the midst of countdown calendars, Christmas cards, sugar cookies, Jesse trees, gingerbread houses, Operation Christmas Child, random acts of kindness, holiday parties, matching pajamas, homemade gifts and Christmas dinner for twenty. And I can’t forget to roll out the welcome wagon for Santa Claus by blanketing the backyard in fake, glittery snow to rival Arendelle. Zippity-do-da! Not overwhelming at all! 😉

In January, while laying on the couch in our post-Christmas fog, we must leave room for the Tooth Fairy. She comes throughout the year to leave glittery trails of encouragement on our children’s carpets or gifts under the pillow, like tickets to see Yo Yo Ma. (Whatever happened to twenty-five cents? Child of the 80s here.)

In February, we must follow Pinterest’s lead and shower our families in Valentines Day Love. We should decorate our entire house in pink and red and serve every food in heart shapes. Normal-shaped food will not do unless you are a bad parent. (*Sigh*…I’m feeling tired. What if I just want to whisper “I love you and I am glad you are in my world”?)

In March, the magic continues as I am told to dye my pancakes green and build a St. Patrick’s Day Leprechaun trap with my child. Linking an oatmeal container to an Amazon box, painted green and sprinkled in gold glitter will prove my motherly devotion and warrant another treasure for my kid. (Whoa, Little Patrick, can we give it a rest? This is four months of gift-giving in a row!)

In April (are we done yet??) it’s time to coordinate pastel-colored clothing and buy Jelly Beans and Peeps to prepare for the Easter Bunny. Candy-filled eggs shall be hidden around the yard, but wait…there is also a basket full of gifts! (For the fifth month in a row!? Isn’t the miracle of Easter a gift in itself??)

By May, all good parents should be 100% focused on summer birthday parties. Turning our backyards into petting zoos with koalas and unicorns is the least we can do for our children. If we transport our guests via hot air balloons then we will be guaranteed some Instagram-worthy photos. (Or maybe we order pizza, buy some plastic cups and play Minute-To-Win-It games?)

W-O-W. Are you exhausted from reading all of this?? I am! This feeling hits me EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Do some of you coordinate all of these activities? Does this bring you joy? If so, I think you have an amazing gift for hospitality and party planning and people like you make the world fun. Being friends with you is exciting and I would love to ride in one of your hot air balloons someday!

For me, on the other hand, this holiday schedule is OVERWHELMING! My family does acknowledge many of these dates but I simply cannot keep up with my Facebook friends and the Instagram photos. I use the holidays to help pass the time and acknowledge the changing of the seasons but our traditions remain more simple; I have yet to find an affordable herd of unicorns and all my searches for homemade snow machines have been fruitless. (BTW, if anyone has actually done this, please send me photos.)

The truth is, I want my kids to have magical memories in their childhood, but engineering wow moments every six weeks is TOO MUCH…and an incredible amount of pressure! So while I occasionally battle “mom guilt,” I am trying to acknowledge my limitations, let go of the outlandish expectations and focus on what the holidays are truly about. These social media networks have benefits, but they don’t need to dictate my family’s celebrations.

Recently, as I was thinking again about my course of action during this holiday season, I happened to hear one of my children complaining that school was dumb “because it isn’t fun.” That night I began to wonder if too much of their lives have been centered around magic and entertainment. Do they realize that school, jobs, paying bills and other monotonous activities aren’t going to be magical? Have our American traditions created high expectations here? Food for thought.

Maybe there isn’t a direct correlation but I am wondering now if bringing down the holidays a notch might benefit both me AND my kids. I might be less exhausted and able to more easily enjoy the holiday season; they might learn that magic and gifts come at very special times, rather than every month.

So as you enter into this long season, let go of the Joneses and your mom guilt and go forth. Know that you have permission to go big, go small or just stay home and hug your kids. (And don’t forget to send me fake snow photos or selfies with your birthday unicorns.)

Happy Holidays!! 🎃 🍁🎄🧚‍♀️💕🍀🐰🎈

Living the Messy Life

Living the Messy Life

People say the kitchen is the lifeblood of a house. It’s where family and friends congregate and eat; it’s where parties linger, conversations flow and occasions are celebrated.

I spend a significant portion of my day standing in my kitchen, which usually doubles as a home office because Mama needs a command center! As a military family we have lived in many houses but rarely have these floor plans offered a work space close to the kitchen. Consequently, I usually commandeer a corner and claim it as my own.

What happens then? Clutter. Some chaos. An endless stack of school papers and bills residing next to the bowl of bananas. It’s enough to make Mrs. Marie Kondo weep. So the reality is that my kitchen is usually a bit messy!

While I am definitely capable of sanitizing the space for the public eye, if you spontaneously pop over for a visit, you will definitely see clutter and maybe a half-eaten piece of peanut butter toast which my kid insists she will finish after school. (Truthfully you will see clutter in other areas of my house, too, but that’s another story.) As my favorite letterboard quote says: “My decorating style is ‘There appears to have been a struggle.’” **Sigh**… housekeeping is just not my strong suit.

Years ago I had a new acquaintance who often spoke about her tidy home. The subject weaved itself into our conversations over and over again until I began to grow suspicious. As she spoke about her wonderfully organized house and her constantly well-behaved kids, I sensed her need to project an image of perfection but wished she would simply RELAX.

Desiring to know her better, I invited her to my own house for a last-minute cup of coffee (this is another word for “mom-speed-dating”). Immediately after coordinating the date, I thought about this woman’s spotless house and began tidying my messy kitchen, fearing judgment for my housekeeping failures.  Halfway through the process, I stopped. What was I doing? Was I trying to prove something to her? Was I also trying to project perfection in order to be her equal? Man, it was contagious!

In a moment of clarity, I realized that if I desired to know this friend better, we needed to push through this façade. So I decided to leave the clutter. I don’t recall the exact state of affairs but surely a stack of mail cavorted with some school papers, children’s drawings and dirty dishes. While the scene felt slightly awkward, I hoped that in revealing my imperfection, this new friend would feel more comfortable revealing hers and we could move forward on equal turf. No competition here.

Did she notice? I will never know. But later that evening I confessed to my husband that I had intentionally left our kitchen in chaos for this woman’s visit and said “It’s my ‘Messy Kitchen Ministry’. It’s my way of subtly telling people that perfection isn’t important to me.”

From then on, “Messy Kitchen Ministry” became a catch phrase in our conversations as we marched forward, striving to be transparent and authentic with the people we meet. We learned that showing our “weaknesses” went a long way in making people feel comfortable. Our real lives involve unfortunate mistakes, unflattering photos and untidy corners…the messy stuff… and I have learned not to be afraid of it. (And frankly, there is usually humor to be found in much of it.)

The truth is that life is a bit messy for everyone, is it not? I’m talking beyond the kitchen walls now. And yet…

Do we ever choose to reveal a little of our mess or do we wrap ourselves into a pretty package and project the perfect life? Do we shove our weaknesses and failures into cupboards with the hope that no one sees them? Do we only post the best parts of ourselves on social media to convince the world that we have it all together? It’s tempting to live this way.

I’m not saying we should showcase our mess, plant our flags and marinate in it forever (our end goal is not to live in a state of chaos), but rather, wouldn’t it be nice to end the charade and be our honest selves? Can we all admit that we are works in progress, striving to be better? Can we all admit that sometimes our homes don’t look like magazines, our kids don’t always behave and our lives don’t always go the way we planned?

I have an idea….

What if we collectively raised our hands and said “I am not perfect and I don’t expect my friends to be”?

What would happen to us then?? I think we would find great community, intimate friendship and a more grace-filled perspective! I think we would stop comparing ourselves to Pinterest and start laughing with our friends about our failures (crafting and otherwise). Maybe we could finally admit to some of our struggles without fearing judgment. Perhaps we would be more honest, more relaxed, and feel more accepted.

Because when life boils down to the basics, that’s the way I want to live- leftover peanut butter toast, crumpled utility bills and all. Let’s start a new movement. Let’s choose to be honest and messy and find friends who do the same.