Category Archives: Family

How to Have an Imperfect Christmastime

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When the tree is lit with a single strand of lights – despite that the ‘experts’ insist I need about 300 more bulbs – I am already too weary to bring the box of ornaments down from the attic.

Someone tell me again – why is it we do this?  There isn’t going to be a single gift under this tree.  Hasn’t been for nearly nine years – that’s the way of things here.  So, why all this effort?

At least I wrap the ribbon.  The same ribbon that has snuggled our tree the last six years.  I love it for the golden stars, reminds me of the star-lit journey…

So when the sweet friend pops in unexpectedly and she’s holding stacks of wonderfully printed handwriting pages and crafts for my kids to do and these paper strips with the Names of God… I know.

She goes on about how she doesn’t know why she’s standing here, with the extra things she’s printed – how odd it would be that she felt the urge to bring them to me.  But I know.

So the shiny balls and sparkly stars stay in the attic this year.  And what was meant for an advent paper chain to count down the days – it’s counting up instead.  All around our tree.  All the things God IS.

I punch holes in those strips like there were holes punched in Him and we hang the Names of God on the tree just like God hung on the tree – because Christmas is only really celebrated because after he laid on the wood of the trough — then He laid on the wood of a tree…  There is only reason to celebrate His birth because of His death.

So we string up those attributes – the only ornaments on our tree.  And we see it every day as we sit at the table and break bread.

And sometimes we drink hot cocoa to soothe away the disappointment of not going to see Papa on his birthday – because the weather was too fierce.

That chocolate has a way of curling up the sad lips.

And we lay out the Advent book on the table and read it at night.  And the tree-lights reflect in all the little wide eyes as the story unfolds each night.

Tabitha’s Travels

And sometimes we double-up to make up for the night we missed when the day was too long and weary.  But I guess if anyone understands about a day being long and weary, it’s the One who knows about holes and trees.

And some days there’s nothing ‘holly jolly’ about the mess in this place.  The mess you can see, and the mess stuffed up in prideful hearts.  And some days the schooling only consists of reading aloud to listening ears…

And learning to enjoy new skills while your hands are busy making something for another.

Learning is Looming

And no, the stockings aren’t actually hung yet, but they’ll be ready… and no, there hasn’t been a gingerbread house, but there is a little manger in the nativity….

The one with only two wise men, because little hands dropped and shattered the third. I suppose even wise men don’t live forever.

At least Joseph only has a hand broken off…. or is that a shepherd.

The Broken Shepherd.

And on a quiet night I sit by twinkling white lights and hear snoring from the other room… and try to ignore the pile of laundry sitting beside me.   Because it isn’t about a perfect Christmas.

Thank God it’s about how He chose to come in to the mess of this life and on a quiet night like this the first announcement was made to a most unlikely audience – Good tidings of great JOY – here in the midst of the ugly imperfection – the Savior has come.

God.  With us.

Christmastime Around Here

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Are you joining me-  In all our imperfection?  Are you making this season different? Making room for more of Him?

We managed to get most of the sawdust swept away, the clutter moved aside, the laundry settled down {for now}.

We managed to get the tree up (that took an hour longer than I expected with about 372 artificial branches to attach – I vow that next year we will go real tree or nothing.)  So now our humble tree is lit, but the ornaments remain in storage another day… as does the nativity, and the stockings…

But we are celebrating Advent.  In gratefulness the past two evenings I’ve sat at sturdy, hand built table and run my fingers along the smooth boards while we watched the candle glow and listened to our Advent story.  And prayed for God to make much of Himself in our hearts and our home.

Our small, imperfect hearts and home.

You asked how we ‘do’ Christmastime around here… so come on… enjoy a warm drink and prop your tired feet up on my paint-chipped coffee table.  {Lots of cars and army men and tea cups and babies play ’round that table.}

Sit, I’ll tell you about it…

Christmas morning. It begins quiet.

Of course the kids are up early – just like every day – and they are excited.  Each one has a new book to unwrapa tradition my mother began when I was an eager kid on Christmas mornings…

New stories are unwrapped and pages are flipped while we sip on coffee and the aroma of breakfast makes our mouths water -cinnamon rolls – our traditional Christmas Morning Breakfast.  Sometimes from scratch, sometimes Pilsbury.

And then afterwards we gather ’round.  It’s time to pull the letters from our stockings.  Mom & Dad’s hold the most folded or rolled up paper treasures.  Nine years of Christmas Morning letters… one-by-one, we read our letter to each of the children.  Sometimes we read them letters from Christmas past.

Letters aren’t all we open this morning – we also open the Word.

We read the story from Luke 2.  The one both Mama and Daddy can recite by heart.

The gift we celebrate today is Jesus.  His grace.  His hope. The few small gifts that come wrapped in paper – they can wait ’til New Years.

Today we want nothing to compete for our hearts’ affection…

Maybe now the children will snuggle up on couches and re-watch the Nativity, even though we all watched it together the night before, while the turkey was cooking for Christmas lunch.

Granna will come.  Sometimes others will come.  Aunt and Uncle.  Neighbor.  Friend.  We’ll gather around the table for turkey and dressing – my grandmother’s ‘recipe’ {although she never really measured the ingredients.  Neither does my mother.  Neither do I.

We thank God for our meal – thank Him for the bread, and the Bread of Life… and around the table we eat and talk and laugh.

And we light the last candle.  The white one, there, in the middle.  It’s what we’ve been getting ready for these last four weeks.  We have our final Advent activities, almost sad that we’ll put it away until next year…

No one ever eats the pie right after lunch; we’re all so full.  {That’s my Mom’s recipe, and that one we do measure.}

Slowly we come away from the table.  Satisfied.

The kids will nap or have quiet time on their beds.  We’ll sit around with Granna {and sometimes others} on sofas and enjoy the afternoon coffee – we’ll eventually make it around to that pie.

And as the evening unfolds, we will reminisce.  We will talk about God’s goodness.

We will celebrate…. His coming.

 

 

It’s Not Too Late for Advent

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Here we are the first night of advent, and instead of lighting our candle tonight, and reading our story or making an ornament for the tree – instead we shuffle through sawdust on the kitchen floor. We skirt around power tools and try to keep the baby from eating wood chips.  We eat our meals picnic style on the floor and around the coffee table and piano bench.  And where there would be standing a Christmas tree – where there would be the soft glow of Christmas lights if we were that family who had it all together – there are stacks of homeschooling books and craft supplies that lost their home and got shuffled around when the re-arranging of the dining room and the building of our big farmhouse table began.

It’s day 2 of December.  First day of Advent.  And it ain’t pretty around here.

{ ‘Ain’t’ is what I say when I really want to emphasize something.  Because, being the grammar nazi that I am, I still believe it ain’t a real word.}

No, once again, this is not what I had envisioned.  But it rarely is.

That’s how life looks when you’re just a broken family in need of grace, just striving to put on the Armor every day and put one foot in front of the other.

And not trip because you’re a boy (or girl) wearing King-sized armor.

But I’ve learned that just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you ‘scrap’ it.

Our beautiful table finally finished, we’ll just begin our Advent tomorrow.  Maybe the tree will be up. Maybe it won’t.  Maybe the greenery and the wreath will be assembled.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe there will be the soft glow of Christmas lights…. or not.

More than likely I’ll have a half-painted dining room wall, and the school books and craft supplies  will still be a cluttered mess, but we’ll celebrate Advent anyway.

We’ll celebrate His coming.

No, it won’t be perfect.  But come to think of it, that’s kind of how the birth of Christ was anyway.

Everything about the story of Christ’s entry into our earthly world was pretty much the opposite of perfect.  Instead it was unexpected.  Messy.  Scandalous, even. Ridiculous, if you want to get right down to it.

I mean really – the Word – the Creator lowering Himself to wear our skin and walk our dirt?

I guess if the Creator of the universe – the King of Kings – can be born to an unmarried young mother in quiet anonymity amongst some hay and animals – well then, I guess He doesn’t mind us celebrating His Coming in the imperfection of half-hung lights and a saw-dusty floor.

Because what matters is that we do celebrate.  We do remember. We do something.

Even if that something is just “Be still and know that I am God.”

Even if you’ve never celebrated Advent before – it’s not too late for you either.  It’s not too late to teach your family to celebrate His coming!  This – this is what we’re celebrating this season!

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!  

I heard someone today say that we as Christians have the most reason to sing Christmas Carols!  We are the ones to be celebrating His coming!

He has come!  He is coming!

Do it!  Do it late; do it imperfectly, just do it!

Don’t worry about having special books to read, or a special candle display.  You traditionally use four pink/purple candles (light a new one each Sunday in December leading up to Christmas) and a white candle (lit on Christmas day) – if you can get out today and get those, great.  But if not, just light a candle….

If you don’t have a special advent book, just read Psalm 23, for the first night.  And talk to your family about God being our shepherd.  And talk about why God might call us sheep.  And why do sheep need a shepherd?  And if you have some cotton balls and construction paper, let the kids make a little sheep ornament to hang on the tree.

Or if you’re looking for a little more, print out this beautiful free Advent Christmas Devotional from Ann Voskamp.

Make it more this year.  Not more lights or greenery.  Not more gifts or baked goods.

More of Him.  More of looking for Him

It’s not too late.

 

 

 

Letting Go… And Growing On…

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We lived in a small two-bedroom apartment.  And life was good.  Sometimes we didn’t know it, but it was really, really good.  Two baby girls, and each other.  A little home filled with things mostly handed down to us.

A little home filled with warmth.

I happened upon a table one day.  Scratch -‘n-dent on the Walmart sidewalk.  The little walnut-stained table and four matching chairs was so much nicer than what we’d had since our first year of marriage.  So I bought it on a whim and asked them to put a SOLD sign on it until I could come back with a truck.

It was so nice for our little family to sit around our ‘real’ table.

And the years passed.

Four years, maybe five.

Our family of 8 now squeezed around it, clear it was time to expand our arrangement.

So the husband began a building project.  And suddenly one night, without any ceremony, it was carried out.  Given to another cause.

And as I wiped it down and tucked in the chairs one last time… as I watched it being carried through the front door, my heart tightened.  And my vision turned to watery.

All those years.  So many memories.

The faithful, solid little thing earned more scars.  More scratches and dents.

From the cutting of Christmas cookies…

… to holding lego creations…

 

So many birthdays were celebrated here…

 

And moments like this…

 

And this…

Family and friends have gathered around this table too many times to count…

And as we get ready for another season…

I have to let go of what I can’t hold onto.

But sometimes you have to let go of something good and trust God for what’s around the corner.

 

Best Moment

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Melt My Heart

We had a semi-busy day planned.  For me and 6 kids – traveling to Vidor (45 minute drive) for a double birthday party.

For Jeff, continuing to work on our farmhouse table he is constructing out of Beech wood.  He took off work Friday and this morning so that he could finally begin to tackle this project.  (And thanks to our friend Chris, that just might happen before next weekend.)

I was at the {current, seating for 4} table, setting out breakfast bowls, and Jeff was just about to leave for Lowes to pick up some hardware.

Carson came bouncing into the kitchen.

“Daddy, you read Go Dog wid me?”  ( Go, Dog, Go- Dr. Suess)

Jeff: pausing “Sure, son.”  He puts down his keys.

Carson: {Kirk Cameron style} “YESSSS!!!!” Runs to the chaise lounge with his book.

He didn’t just rush through it.  He paused at all the right places, and used all the right voices, and asked Carson questions throughout the story.

I knew that no matter what else happened in the next 12 hours, that would be my favorite moment of the day.

And it was.

On a Cold Night in November

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I wonder if somewhere right now, there is a young woman who is thinking of a cold night in November… seven years ago… when she went into labor earlier than expected…

And birth came so quickly there wasn’t even time to leave the apartment…

When she bundled up the tiny girl baby… so tiny and thin… but eyes wide as a startled cat

When she probably had to call a driver to come get them, she and the small, wide-eyed baby…

Did she try to nurse the little babe at first?  In those new moments… Did she even know what to do?

Did she know, as they drove to the hospital, that she would choose to leave her baby… did she even know herself the illness they both carried…?

When they arrived at the hospital, did she worry that her baby was so small and frail?  And hours later, did it twist her heart to the brink of ruin when she left without her child?  Never to see her again.  Did she feel there was no other way?

Does she think of that night every year at this time?  Does she wonder?  

Does she know that it was six years before her baby girl had her first birthday party?

Or a single birthday gift?

Does she know that it was six years before anyone sang happy birthday or baked a cake for that baby girl?

Lena with her buddy Alik

Tonight does she even imagine that the tiny baby lives so far away… speaks fluent English… is just now learning to read?

How can she know that her daughter still rocks herself to sleep at night… because no one ever did?

Look at my necklace!

How can she know that her baby loves purple… and hot dogs and pizza and ice cream…. how can she know the tiny baby is now a tall, lanky girl who loves puzzles and would swing until the sun went down? 

Staying up late on her birthday

Does she wonder?  Does she carry a guilt so heavy it could bury her?  Do her arms ache for what she gave away?  Does she fear for the future?

How can she know there is One Who Sees All…. Who sees her?  How can she know there is One Who would hold her heart in His hands… One Who has already covered it all?

I wish I could talk to her tonight.  To help her lay her burdens down.  To let her see the beautiful life she gave… to help her know the abundant life that could be hers…

… this cold night in November.

 

What Do You {Want to} Know?

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Seven years of blogging.  I think it’s time for a little Q&A.

But first, let me tell you why I’m happy as a lark

Sunday is Jeff’s birthday, and Lena’s is coming up too, so we’re having a Double-Whammy Birthday Cook-out Saturday… I thought about renting a bounce house (‘space walk’, for those of you who grew up with me and real roller skate, not those inline things), and researched a few options in this area.  And then I realized if we were willing to spend $__ on a bounce house for one afternoon, we could spend nearly the same amount and get a trampoline that my kids would love for years.

And if I’m really honest, I really wanted a trampoline as well.  How else is a mother of six supposed to get a workout?

After all, it would give my kids a little something more to play with than the ONE swing (the other one is currently broken, and a bucket of rocks.

Ridin’ His Wagon to Town

So tonight after dinner, we took all the kids to Academy, and just started walking around.  They had no clue we why we were there.  They really enjoy that store anyway, because there are so many fun and exciting things- the guns, the toys, the bikes, the battery-operated cars…

But when we ended up standing in front of the boxed trampolines and they realized what we were doing, they could not contain their excitement.  I’m pretty happy about it, too.

Gather ‘Round

Surprising your kids is so fun, isn’t it?  Especially when they’re asking sweetly, “please, can we get a trampoline?  I really, really want a trampoline. Please with a cherry on top?” – when you’re planning all along to buy them one.  It’s why you’re there.

Hm.  There’s a spiritual lesson in that, I think.  But I’ll let it stew.  Time for Q&A.

However, we have to have some Q before there are any A.

Here’s where you come in.  You have to click the ‘reply’ link above this post, and leave me a comment.

So what questions do you have for a broken, messy mama of six kids?  A mama who used to be pretty crafty and DIY... a mama who’s been the only white face in a sea of beautiful Asian ones (and kind of forgot I was a minority)… a mama who crossed the ocean twice to bring home a brown-eyed boy and a hazel-eyed girl (who turns seven next week)…

What do you want to know?  Talk to me!

Meanwhile I’ll be assembling my new exercise equipment!

~Shannon

MIY Monday: Play Doh!

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Simple No Cook Play Doh

I began today needing something that would ‘kill two birds with one stone’. (Wow, how’s that for a statement that is probably no longer politically correct? Ha! Well, just in case you’re an animal rights activist, please be informed I do not go around killing birds. Often. )

 
Anyways, today I needed something that would 1) Be special and fun for my kids, and 2) Provide a helpful Make-It-Yourself Monday post.
 
And here we are. Or here I am. You are there. I am here.
 
I really shouldn’t write these blog posts at 11:00 at night…
 
So, here’s what I came up with: Homemade Playdough
 
I used a simple, non-cook recipe I found on the web, and altered it just slightly:
 
– 3 cups flour
– 1/3 cup salt
– 1 cup water
– 2 Tbs. cooking oil
– 1 t. cream of tartar (optional to add to elasticity)
– food coloring (optional)
 
I’ll show you what I did and give you my review of this method at the end of the post.
 
Step One:
Mix Dry Ingredients. Then add water and oil.
 
 
 
Step Two:
Knead. Knead. Knead some more.
 
C’mon, give it some elbow grease.
 
Step Three:
Separate into balls and…
 
 
 
 
 
Add food coloring to the center of the dough balls. You don’t want to get the dye directly on your hands. I’ll talk more about this at the end of the post.
 
 
 
 
Adding the coloring to the already kneaded doh gives the play doh a more ‘marble’ look. This isn’t what I was going for, but my kids didn’t care.
 
 
 
 
After they played with it for a while, the color looked smoother, as you can see in the ‘cake’ Maggie’s making here.
 
 
Every day is a birthday in her world.
 
My Review:
This method is pretty simple, but I think I’ll try a cooking method next to compare. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, I’d put the dough in there to knead – I really had to work with this for a while, but really liked the texture of it when I was done. I didn’t think of using my mixer to do my work until I had already finished. That’s what I get for talking to my Mom on the phone while I was working!
 
If I use this non-cook recipe again, I will mix the food coloring into the water first, to give a more smooth, all-over color. And I’ll use more dye to make a richer color. But this means I will only have one color of dough, because I will not be making separate batches for every color.
 
While I wanted more vibrant colors, I did like that no matter how much my girls mixed the colors together, it didn’t turn to an ugly dark brown-purple, like regular play doh does.
 
 
Pretty. I sealed it up to play with again another day.
 
Finally, I liked the texture of this dough. And it was easier to clean up than commercially produced play doh. Plus, you can add essential oils to the mix. I think next time I’ll add lavender… maybe it will have a calming effect on my children. Ha!
 
This did keep my kids happily occupied for over an hour, which never happens with the other store-bought stuff. I think maybe that’s because they watched me make it, and it was like bread dough I sometimes give them to play with – so it’s more ‘realistic’.
 
Have any of you made play doh – tell me what you think!
 
Bless you all – Happy Monday, everyone!