I Chose To Stay Home With My Children – Not To Throw Away My Career

As I left my job almost two years ago, the words of a trusted co-worker rang in my ears: “If you want to come back, you better find part-time work or a way to make yourself appealing to employers or you won’t be able to find a job”.

Last fall, out of the blue, another co-worker graciously recommended me for an amazing job (thank you). The appealing job description and company seemed like a good fit for my previous experience. While nothing is certain, if I’d pursued it, I think I could have gotten the job and would have enjoyed it.

For the first time, in a long time, I paused to question whether it was smart to pass on the opportunity. Was I blowing my chance to return to a career I excelled in and enjoyed? If I stay out much longer, will my 4 years of school and 9 years of experience be obsolete? Worthless? How long is too long?

I spent hours thinking, praying and trying to make sense of ‘what could be‘. I sought counsel of my husband and friends. The consensus reached was that now isn’t the right time, even for a perfect job. I am already in the right place; at home with our kids.

When I replied to the recruiter, he commended me for choosing to stay home. Then, in the same sentence, he warned – find contract or part-time work, soon, or re-entering the workforce will be challenging (he also offered his services to help me find such work).

I appreciate the truth behind this repeated warning. Biotechnology is a rapidly developing and changing field. While I read journal articles and do my best to stay up to date with emerging technologies, I’m not working in the industry. I can read all I want, but when I do return, there will be a learning curve. It isn’t that it can’t be done, but the longer the time away, the harder it will be to return.

The warnings made me wonder if I was going to wreck any chance of getting a similar job when I am readyDid I throw my career away? Society often thinks of stay-at-home moms as doing just that when they leave the work force. Just look at forums where moms discuss trying to go back to work. The boards are filled with encouragement, but are laced with critical, harsh and ignorant comments from people who made different choices. Different decisions don’t have to be judged as worse, or better.

But a decision to stay home is a bold one, not an easy or foolish one. It is carefully considered; options weighed, pros and cons listed, and agonized over. I did put my career on hold to stay home with my children. I did contract work during my first year away. I didn’t choose to throw my career away. I understood the warnings. My career may look differently in 10 years than it would have otherwise. I’m OK with it.

No matter what happens when I am ready to work outside the home again, I won’t feel penalized. Having the opportunity to be with our children beats any career success, published journal article, patent application, financial reward, or respect of co-workers that I may have earned during that time.

I was with the same company for 9 years. It was a busy (sometimes chaotic) job. I enjoyed the quiet solitude of the lab, loved technical writing, and appreciated that my co-workers were dear friends. When my son was born, my job was less fulfilling. Before, I’d have been excited by a priority project, even if it required some (or a lot of) extra hours. But now…I longed to run out the door.

I wanted to do both jobs well…but I found the demands of an infant and toddler and working to be often overwhelming. I was drained at work from sleepless nights, and drained at home from working. Some working moms find this balance less challenging – I am in awe of you. I found I wasn’t wired to do both while our kids were small. I wanted to give my family the best of me, not the left-overs.

I struggled sending our child to daycare and knowing I might miss precious first waves, words or steps. I wanted to be there during the ‘formative’ years; while they develop and learn new things every day. More and more…my desire to work waned. My greatest impact and legacy will not be in the field of biotechnology, it will be in our children.

Initially, we couldn’t make it work financially. I kept working; a mutual decision, and not one I regret. We trusted in God’s perfect timing. My husband is my hero. He was willing to do anything he could to help me stay at home. He worked a full-time job, while also earning his MBA. The MBA helped him achieve career goals, which allowed me to quit my job after my daughter was born. The timing was perfect.

Still, quitting was not easy. No, it was hard because I liked my job. I tried to have the best of both worlds…a part time gig. My employer and I couldn’t make it work, so it was full-time work or none. Tears were shed. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t work part-time. It would have been difficult to have one foot in each world when the purpose of leaving was to have two feet at home.

It also wasn’t easy to transition home. I missed my work, friends, and solitude of writing and the lab. Like any job, it took time to adjust, and the learning curve was huge.

While there is truth to fears of being obsolete when I want to return to work, there is also a misunderstanding of what I am doing while out of the traditional work force. I may not be working in a lab or traditional business, but I am still developing skills that will be useful to an employer. They are much more than perfecting laundry, cleaning, and cooking skills. Raising little people is no small feat.

I spend nap times and evenings doing part-time marketing work for a talented speaker and consultant, writing this blog, volunteering, and working for an online company. It is not about money, but to keep my brain busy and to spend time thinking about things beyond our household.

These years are a gift; a different career path.

I didn’t throw away my career to stay at home with my kids. I took a break to focus on what was ultimately stealing my focus already. I spend my days with two of the most precious people in my life. I enjoy smiles and giggles, and help them with challenges and tears.

What will I do when I go back to work? I honestly don’t know. It will be different than if I’d kept working. Fiercely loyal, I’d probably still be working at the same company; my current job is more fulfilling. I may not be able to jump right back in where I left off, but so what? I am not the same as before I left, so why should my work be? I expect and hope for more fulfilling work. With the joys and challenges I’ve encountered as a mom, I am not sure that writing and editing procedures or the solitude of the lab will be enough for me.

No regrets.

To the working world – I hear your warnings and take them seriously. But also take note: being a mom is changing me, for the better. My worldview is bigger, my skills are better-rounded, and if the lab world doesn’t think I am qualified when I go back, it may not be the right place for me.

Here is how I CHOOSE to remember our trip

I chose to stay home with my children – not to throw away my career

DIY Dinosaur Tails, Dinosaur Spike Party Hats and Favors

I am excited to finally share the last special touches from our son’s dinosaur birthday party.

About a month before the party, I came across these DIY Dinosaur Tails on Pinterest. I was excited about the idea but lacking a sewing machine and the skills to actually make them. My mom is a talented artist and I knew she would be able to make them. I asked if she’d be willing to help me. She was excited and more than willing to help!

Let me first accurately describe what I really mean when I say my mom ‘helped’ (she’s amazing!):

  • she went with me to the store and helped pick out what to buy, and determine how much we needed
  • she clipped coupons and went through the checkout with half of the items so we could maximize use of coupons – most was 50% off
  • it was her idea to use patterned fabric
  • it was her idea to use two colors of felt to sew two sets of spikes on each dinosaur tail
  • she ironed the fabric, cut everything out, and made a pattern that maximized the use of our fabric
  • she sewed the tails (not only did I not have a sewing machine, but I haven’t used one since home economics in junior high)
  • she was gracious and willing to make 5 more tails after the initial 10 when ALL of the kids RSVP’d to the party…kind of like a dinosaur-tail sweat shop

We are so grateful for the work of my mom’s loving and skillful hands! 15 dinosaur tails later…the result was a basket of very fun party favors.

DIY Dinosaur Tails

Along with a tail, every child had a dinosaur spike party hat to wear. This idea was also seen on Pinterest, and modified. I used store-bought polka-dot hats and cut the spikes from folded neon paper. The spikes were attached to the hats using double-sided tape.

DIY Dinosaur Spike Party Hats

Each child took home their own dinosaur tail and hat, along with a little bag of dinosaur party favors:

party favors collage

Here are a few pictures of my son and daughter in their tails (the day after the party), and one picture of the kids all dressed up at the party. It was very entertaining watching the kids run around and enjoying their tails and hats. I’ve heard from several parents that the tails are still being played with regularly by the kids who attended the party. Three months later and our kids use them every day – they are well worth the effort!

Dinosaur Party FunCheck out the dinosaur birthday party food and decorations in these posts:

Dinosaur Birthday Party Brunch & Dessert that will Please Both Kids and Parents

DIY Dinosaur Birthday Party Decorations

 

 

25 Real-Life, Tear-Inducing Toddler Problems

25 Real Life Tear Inducing Toddler Problems

Trying to understand why a toddler is upset is often a futile endeavor. Simple daily events that usually go unnoticed can suddenly induce tears, terror, screams, angry outbursts or any combination thereof. Then the same issue will cause no response whatsoever the next time it happens.

I wish grown-up problems were as simple as these. Sometimes you just have to hug your child, while stifling the smile (or laugh) over their shoulder.

These real-life events have induced tantrums, terror, screaming, crying, flailing, tears or downright panic from our little ones:

  1. Ice cream is not allowed for breakfast, or lunch
  2. Preschool said to call a diamond a rhombus
  3. When they demanded food, they wanted a snack, not lunch!
  4. Their lunch, cooled in the freezer for 10 minutes, is much too hot
  5. Lunch is on the wrong plate (not orange), and their water in the wrong cup (not blue), and they said they wanted ice
  6. Said ice, by the end of lunch, has melted in their cup. Mommy, why did you eat it?
  7. The garbage truck took our garbage
  8. They have to share [insert ANYTHING] with their sibling
  9. They have a runny nose. Blowing it is messy so they snort it up into their head, making themselves cough. They cry because they are coughing, making their nose more stuffy. Repeat
  10. Tonight they have to wear a pull up to bed, like every…other…night
  11. They cannot find [insert OBSCURE TOY]. There is nothing else to play with (in the entire toy box that is now emptied out on the floor)
  12. They bit their own finger while eating lunch, again. Chomp!
  13. Mommy didn’t take any pictures of them so there aren’t any to look at on the computer (after running away screaming they didn’t want their picture taken multiple times)
  14. They think their potty chair is an actual throne on which to hang out. Actually using it to go to go to the bathroom makes it dirty and is traumatic (and you are the one who cleans it up)
  15. They want to zip their own zipper but don’t know how. No, you cannot zip it for them
  16. In summer, they want to wear soft (fleece) pajamas to bed. They wake up soaking in sweat but refuse to change into non-fleece pajamas because they aren’t soft. Repeat tomorrow
  17. They cannot sleep because of the rain, thunder, lightening, snow, wind, or because it might rain…because there is that one white puffy cloud in the sky, over there! 
  18. The only shoes they like are Crocs but it is subzero outside. They do not want to wear socks, or shoes, or boots
  19. They are too tired to pick up toys but do not want to take a nap, or go to sleep…they want to play basketball in the basement
  20. Their snowman melted
  21. They taught their little sister that knocking down towers is funny. Now she keeps knocking down their tower
  22. Panic ensues (for them, and for you) when they’ve dug around in their own messy diaper. Happened multiple times…with the same outcome…still, they Houdini out of onesies, snaps, pants, and more until the last resort is putting them in feetie pajamas two sizes too big, backwards, so you can turn the feet around and zip them up the back. And they wanted to do the zipper
  23. They twirl their hair into a dread-lock and their finger gets stuck in it. Every. Single. Night
  24. Their special doll, teddy bear, or blanket has to be washed. Seriously. It stinks
  25. They didn’t tell you they were hiding, but you didn’t seek them

What are your toddlers biggest problems?

Fear Rises…

Fear

On November 26, 2014, a young man named Chandler Swink died after suffering a severe allergic reaction to peanuts. I wrote this article that day. I waited to post this because I didn’t feel right discussing my fears as if they were as important as this man’s death. They aren’t; my fears are nothing in comparison to what he, his family and friends have gone through, and what so many other families have gone through when a loved one is lost due to a food allergy.   

To the family of Chandler Swink: My heart is broken over your loss. I have thought of and prayed for you often since I read your story and will continue to do so. I am praying for your comfort, for you to find peace, and that God and your loved ones will carry you through the difficult days and years to come.  I pray that the memories of your son will be vivid and will bring you joy and solace through your pain. I thank you for speaking out about your family’s experience with food allergies and for advocating for other children. 

From November 26, 2014.

Today was just a normal day. I woke up and spent time reading my bible, praying and journaling in the warmth of my bed. I felt great.

A quick shower, and the kids were awake. I spent some time snuggling with my 4-year-old, talking about what we to do today, and we prayed to start our day. By now, we could hear my daughter squealing and playing in her room. We cracked the door open and peaked in to find her jumping up and down in her crib, giggling as we entered. As always, she was ready to go and full of joy.

Thanksgiving on the way, these sweeties to spend the day with…I went downstairs with smiling kids, and an even bigger smile oozing off my face. Today would be a good day.

I served breakfast and sat down with a piping hot cup of coffee to check my email before heading out to run errands. Nothing important in my email and the kids were still eating so I opened Facebook and started to scroll down the news feed.

The second post stopped me in my tracks. I spilled that hot coffee on my hand. It burned, but my reaction to the coffee was nothing compared to what I read.

A college student in a coma from an allergic reaction for a week. A grim outlook. It didn’t even sound like he’d eaten a nut.  A contact reaction. Later that day, I’d read of his death.

I can’t adequately describe the tightness in my chest and the intensity  and loudness of my heart throbbing wildly I looked across the room our son.

Innocently eating breakfast, giggling with his sister. All smiles and silliness with a mouth full of cereal.

My eyes welled up with tears instantly, and I walked out of the room. I tried to compose myself. This news was much too heavy for a 4-year-old to bear and he doesn’t need to see me cry. When he is older, perhaps I will let him see my tears over these stories, but for now, I spare him.

It saddens me that this is not the first or last time that I will read news like this. To say my world is turned upside down is an understatement. It releases fears that I usually give to God and move on from. But today…

The fear rises…

Welling up with a ferocity and power I can’t control. I suddenly find myself paralyzed by fear and subject to my own terrifying daydreams of my worst fears. My mind wanders to places it shouldn’t be allowed to go. Thinking horrible and terrifying things, down a rabbit hole I go…The story of a child being harmed or dying is enough to make ANY parent find heart stopping dread in the possibility of what could happen to their own child.

News of severe and fatal allergic reactions occurs too often and reduces me to tears and heart seizing fears almost every time. It wasn’t even a month ago when I was reading about another child who had a fatal reaction on Halloween. I don’t think they ever learned what caused the reaction to occur. It shook me then, and now, again, it shakes me today. But deeper. Building on the knowledge that this isn’t a one-time news story. These deaths are too frequent. Too real. They make me realize our own frailty, and to fear this outcome for my son who has a peanut and tree nut allergy.

These death are accidents that happen to vigilant and responsible people. It is not carelessness. They are doing everything they can to protect themselves and their loved ones from allergic reactions. Then suddenly, an unforeseen, unplanned interaction with an allergen, and suddenly what should have been a normal day becomes deadly.

On what started as a normal day for me, I suddenly find myself trembling, my white knuckled fist clutching a tissue as I struggle to catch my breath. I desperately plead with God to not only save this young man and comfort his loved ones, but also to protect my own child. And to help me simply continue on with the day and enjoy my children who are here with me now, safe and sound.

I’m sure this child and his loved ones started that fateful day just as simply as I began my own. Unassuming. Hopeful. Joyful. Unaware that it would be the last day he would ever wake. As parents of children with food allergies, we always have that nagging voice that reminds us to keep them safe. But most of the time, I don’t wake thinking that today will be the day that a reaction occurs; that this could be it. We don’t think about how even if we do everything right that a reaction could occur and that an Epi-Pen may not save them. We can’t thrive if we spend all of our moments like that. But it could be a reality we may face, any day.

Too often, I find myself soothing my fears with the Epi-Pen. Not good. News like this reminds me that an Epi-Pen isn’t a cure. It’s not a security blanket. It surely gives them a fighting chance, but for a severe reaction, sometimes it is no more than a Hail-Mary.

It. Might. Not. Work. There are no guarantees.

These stories. These deaths. These children and broken-hearted families. We stand with them. We know these families are living the truth that we often want to forget and that society doesn’t always understand or acknowledge. Proof that food allergies can be deadly. Proof that deadly reactions do happen to responsible children and adults. Proof that food allergies are not just a nuisance we live with. They are a real, powerful reality that requires vigilance at ALL times.

Food allergies require empathy and help from the community. This particular story followed news of a school administrator who made light of food allergies, and of parents and community members who thought she was actually funny. She rightly paid for her comments with her job, but these children and families pay with a life. A precious life. There are no appropriate jokes when it comes to this.

All these thoughts swirling…I found myself this morning, and again this afternoon in our downstairs bathroom, sobbing. Stifling the sound so the kids wouldn’t hear me. I’m not sure I can explain this to my 4-year-old today but I know the day is approaching when we will have to. So here I am. Broken. Helpless. Fearful. Sucking air.

The burden is heavy. And much too real. I wish he didn’t have a food allergy. But he does. And we must go on. I cannot stay in the bathroom all day weeping. I will not squander the moments I have with these kids wallowing in fear. I can’t prevent the fear or the unknown, but I do have control over my own actions.

SO I pull myself together and focus on what I can do:

  • Keep going: I wipe my eyes and compose myself and open the bathroom door. I put one foot in front of the other, pull myself up, and move forward. I continue to love and parent our children. They are a gift, not to be squandered.
  • Pray: I pray for all allergic children to be protected. I pray for a treatment that would be effective when Epi-Pens are not. I pray for answers to why allergies are affecting kids with increasing frequency and for a way to stop it. I pray that these deaths would cease and that no more would be lost due to FOOD; eaten or touched. I pray that my son will NEVER have a life-threatening reaction.
  • Trust: I do the only thing I can do in moments like this. I put my faith in the Lord and remember that He has given me these children to raise and care for. I remember that He is Lord and He is sovereign and faithful. I pray that God would help me trust Him to protect our son because trust doesn’t come naturally. I believe that no matter what, God will see us through whatever happens. I trust in His promises in scripture to give us rest and peace:
    •  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)
    •  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
  • Advocate: I will speak out for my son’s safety no matter what the situation. I will educate others and make sure they understand his needs and the true risks of his needs not being met. I will do whatever I can to make the world safer for him.
  • Equip:  I will continue to educate our son how to protect himself. I will ensure that those caring for him are educated as well. I will take time to learn all I can about allergies, scientific research and technologies.
  • Be Grateful: I commit to be grateful for each moment and that my son is sitting in my kitchen eating his cereal. I will be grateful we found out about his allergy with a test, not an ER visit and that he has never had a life threatening reaction. I will be grateful for family and friends who made our holidays nut-free and safe this year so we could relax and enjoy the day. We are so grateful for all of you who keep our son safe…it truly takes a village…

My son smiles as I walk in. He and his sister won’t know why they receive such intense hugs and kisses on the head. Today, they are oblivious. I’m glad I can protect them from this reality for a little while longer, but the time is coming when they, too, will have to know and understand these things. Today I am grateful my son is a carefree 4-year-old boy who knows there is food he cannot eat and medicine he has to carry. For now, he thinks nuts will make him feel sick and knows to ask before he eats anything…

But he knows nothing of death. This looming potential threat won’t always be hidden from him. His own fears will be tangible, real and heavy. The responsibility will be huge. My daughter will have fears for her brother’s safety, just like my husband and I do. I pray that by the time they have to carry this burden, I will have learned how to carry my own so I can help them carry theirs.

In the long run, I can’t control this, fix it, or heal my son. I can’t make his allergy go away, even though I would gladly take it on myself if I could. I will keep moving on when fear rises because there will be plenty more days like this. The fear creeps up often; when I’m unprepared with alternative safe food, when we’re in an unknown church, school or home, when a dessert loaded with nuts passes by us in a restaurant, when I learn my son ate something before a label was read, and when I read stories of those who have had reactions or have paid the ultimate price. I will keep looking forward and prepare as best I can for the days when I send him to kindergarten, summer camp, and someday, college. I know this fear will certainly be present in the days to come, but I cannot let it rule me.

So I hug these two little ones tightly. And today, I rise above the fear.

To the Busy Mom: 10 Reasons to Take Better Care of YOU in 2015

For many, new years is a time for making resolutions. It is a time to reflect and think about how we can be a better person in the coming year. We think about what we need and want, and set goals.

I don’t know about you, but one of my main goals every year is to take better care of myself…but every year, I fail in doing so in one way or another, and have to resolve to do better when the next year arrives.

As a mom, my schedule seems to revolve around meals and sleep schedules. Much of the time, I see my day as a TO DO list. While filled with GOOD and necessary things, these TO DO lists tend to consume my thoughts, plans and attention. Too often, I neglect to spend any time taking care of myself. I do not completely forget to read my bible, pray, exercise, or eat well, I sometimes choose to neglect doing them. And busy-ness is not a valid excuse.

Some days, I justify putting it off by telling myself I will do it later…when it’s quieter, slower…but in reality, I don’t. And there are tangible consequences. Self-neglect leads to something very unimpressive…I run myself ragged. I become impatient and cranky. I feel worn out, but don’t sleep well. This lack of spiritual and physical maintenance robs me of my ability to be an effective, joyful, healthy wife, mom, friend, Christ-follower and well, PERSON.

In 2015, I need some ammunition to keep going, instead of continuing this unproductive cycle. I need some reasons to persevere. Why? Because my determination will fade. I know it.

Here are 10 great reasons for busy moms to take better care of themselves in 2015 (and always). Whatever your resolutions may be, I hope this list of reasons will encourage you, and help you persevere in whatever you are striving to achieve this year.

Happy New Year!

10 Reasons to Take Better Care of YOU in 2015

1. Our children are watching us: We lead by example. Our kids will learn how to care for (or neglect) themselves by watching us.  If I neglect to read my bible every day, if I never exercise, if I never rest and run myself ragged…where will they learn to make these things a priority?

2. What we eat affects our whole family: I shop and prepare most meals in our home. This means I decide not only how healthy I eat, but how healthy we ALL eat. I want my husband and kids to benefit from wise food choices.

3. We are too busy NOT to: I often claim I am too busy doing ‘good’ other things to exercise, pray, read…But in reality, I can do my job better and with more stamina if I do take time to do these things. My husband and family deserve to have me at my best.

4. There are long-term health consequences: We all have genetics that predispose us to certain diseases or disorders. But our health isn’t decided by genetics alone. How we treat our bodies will directly affect our quality of life, and perhaps the length of our life. Healthy living can prevent or delay many health issues. The genetics are up to God, but I want to know I did my part. And I believe He expects me to.

5. We don’t want to be a burden: Neglecting myself now may mean that I need more help when I’m older than if I’d done otherwise. I don’t want to be dependent on my husband or children because I failed to care for myself. It isn’t fair to them and I am far too independent to be OK with that. It is my responsibility to do what I can to prevent unnecessary needs.

6. It isn’t fun to be out of shape: For anybody. When I have neglected my soul…I’m not fun to be around, and I find myself ungrateful. When ungrateful, I don’t have as much joy, and am generally not as happy. For me, that steady peace and joy can only come from daily time with Jesus. Without it, I’m on my own, and it isn’t very pretty. When I’ve neglected my body…I don’t feel well and I don’t like myself much. Being lazy makes me unproductive, and being unproductive makes me feel bad about myself…it makes me unhappy and unpleasant…not fun.

7. Being unhealthy is expensive: For us, eating simple, homemade meals and in-season vegetables reduces our grocery bill. When in shape, my clothes fit better and I am more likely to be satisfied with what is already in my closet. This means I won’t be trying to find something new to ‘make me feel pretty’. And, being healthy generally means fewer illnesses and fewer medical bills.

8. There is no excuse: Sometimes we put our lack of self-care on others. Our loved ones should not bear this burden and don’t want to be our excuse. I think as moms, we often neglect ourselves because we’re so busy making sure others needs are met. But at some point, we give so much, we have nothing left but scraps. Perhaps we are proud and think we can do it all. Or, maybe we feel guilty because we think we’re so needed. Or, maybe we tell ourselves we’re sacrificing our needs for the greater good. Ha! If we’re running on empty, what good are we to anyone? We are to be stewards of our mind and body. We are accountable to ourselves, and to God for what we put into it and do with it.

9. You ARE worth it: God loves you. Your family loves you. It is time to love yourself enough to put in some TLC. 

10. It is easier to maintain than correct: If I can’t keep this body in shape now, how much harder will it be in 10 years…20 years…40 years? The older we get, the harder it will be to change or to improve. There is no such thing as a less-busy time than now – life will always be busy, just in different ways. Including time to care for yourself is a habit worth building into your schedule, permanently.

The Wonder Of It All – All God’s Grace in One Tiny Face

john114Do you ever find yourself wrapped up in the bustling holiday schedule, and even though you keep Christ as the center of the events, you find yourself missing the feeling of WONDER? You know, the magic, the feeling of joy and mystery, and gratitude that seems to come so easily to children.

And lets be clear: I am not talking about the wonder of Santa, although I do not think Santa is a bad thing. But lets set the Santa discussion aside for another day.

I spent last Christmas, focused on Jesus, and while I certainly felt grateful that He came to save the world (to save me), I am sad to say, I didn’t feel AWE.

Why?

Because we are busy. Because I’m often guilty of being so analytical in my thinking that I lose my imagination; I read the facts and commit them to memory, but I have trouble thinking on a deeper level.

And, the story is familiar. Of course, I want scripture to be familiar…but it is never a good thing to think it doesn’t hold truths we don’t already know, just because we have read it before. It is meant to be treasured, each time, and then to be questioned, wondered at, and pondered.

So I’ve been reading the gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth, over and over, and have been trying to spend time really thinking about what is said, and what IS NOT SAID.

In the process, I have generated more questions than answers, and the questions have left me with a sense of wonder…that this story has truths that are not revealed, that I cannot understand within the limits of my human mind, and that cannot be explained by science, reasoning, or deduction. Like much in the Bible, there are details and truths in this story that God intentionally left out; mysteries left behind for us to marvel at.

So while I don’t know all the answers, I do know is that the Christmas story – the miracles, the gift of God’s son, and the great work of God that began with Jesus’ birth deserves not only to be read, but to be studied, reflected on, and to be AWED at…with wide eyes.

In order to experience the WONDER of Christmas, I have to take time to realize what there is to wonder about.

As I posted last week, I have spent a lot of time thinking about Mary, and what her experience would have been like if it happened to, gulp, ME.

But today, my thoughts are all about Jesus. Fully God. Fully man…

My thoughts were on Jesus when I saw this sign in Hobby Lobby while trying to find a craft for my son to make for his preschool teachers:

All Gods Grace in one Tiny Face sign from Hobby Lobby

I’d seen the sign before and had thought about how cute it would be in a new baby’s room. But never before had I made a connection to Jesus and how these words are more than fitting to describe His birth.

It is easy to think of Jesus as a cuddly baby and to celebrate His birthday. I’m sure He was cuddly. I’m sure he was as sweet as newborn babies are. Complete with ten tiny toes, ten tiny fingers, and baby soft skin and hair. I’m sure Mary and Joseph thought there was never a baby as cute as Him. There was certainly never a baby as miraculous as Him, but we know Jesus was ordinary. By looks, I’m sure he blended in with the crowd – it was His actions and character that set Him apart.

The meaning of Christmas is more than just the miracle of His conception by the Holy Spirit and birth to a virgin.

God did not have to send Jesus. And Jesus did not have to abide by the Father’s will. God does not have to love us. And furthermore, God could have kept his plan limited to His chosen people, Israel. He didn’t have to blow the doors off their hinges and open the way for the rest of us to come to know Him and be saved.

The truth is, He doesn’t have to do anything. Which means…He chooses to love, to redeem, to save. Perfectly.

I have no reason to offer God that can make Him want to include me, to save me, to love me. In reality, I should be unlovable by God – sinful, ungrateful, selfish…I could go on…In God’s holy presence, I deserve judgement and wrath. He is far too holy to tolerate even ONE of my many, many sins. I deserve Hell; we all do.

And yet, on that day, God became flesh – Emmanuel. God With Us. Why God would desire to be WITH us…I cannot answer. But when He came to earth as a baby, He not only dwelled here, but He paved the way for the Holy Spirit to dwell WITHIN us.

In us. A gift we don’t deserve. No words can express how priceless this gift is.

Jesus was fully God. Can you fathom what this means? Was He actively restraining His power at all times while on earth? Did He, as a tiny baby, have to allow Mary to take care of Him? He certainly had the power to meet His own needs. And yet, allowing others to raise Him, care for Him…Was that a part of how He humbled Himself to experience our life? Did He do it to show how only He could remain sinless as He experienced our physical and daily challenges and temptations?

I don’t think we’ll know these things on earth, but I can’t wait to ask Him in heaven.

When all will be revealed.

Our God is certainly powerful, but He also has the utmost self-control – The RESTRAINT required to live 30 years without showing His power…Oh my. It’s unfathomable.

He makes no mistakes. He committed no sins.

Not. A. One.

He MEANT to come, to carry out this amazing plan, to fulfill every single prophecy, to serve us and love us in this way. He was all-powerful, all-knowing, and able to do anything. But He lived a quiet life before His ministry began. His life’s sole focus was on fulfilling an eternal purpose. To save us. Us.

He chose no worldly glory – He didn’t come to reign as King and to rule over all, even though He is the ultimate King, of ALL Kings. Ruling here could have been His rightful place. But His plan was eternal. More perfect than we can understand; and a plan we could NEVER come up with. He aimed to save as many as possible. A plan to end ALL plans.

Certainly we cannot know the truth of all of these mysteries…but I believe HE KNEW all of this the whole time He was on earth. It doesn’t explicitly say in the Bible if as an infant Jesus was pondering these things, but since He was fully God, I believe He did.

I believe that when Jesus came as a baby, He knew how and when His life would end.

Can you imagine the self control, love, and faithfulness of living each day for 33 years, knowing the exact time and circumstances of your death? He knew He would be ridiculed, punished, beaten, spit on, and hated by those He loved and came to save. The sins of those who brutally crucified Him, He bore on the cross. He looked in their eyes, knew their names, and heard and felt their scorn.

Do you wonder how love could be so big? So deep? So motivating to God that He would do all this? Do you wonder how an all-powerful God could be so humble as to enter His own creation? To feel pain, physical exhaustion, and all of our frailty? And to be unrecognized, and to be rejected, all while not striking down those who certainly deserved it?

Only a God who IS love…

Jesus entered a world of sin. Full of sin. As THE Holy God. Every person who had ever lived before, and has lived since deserves His WRATH. Yet He held it back, even when surrounded by sinful men, women, and children.

Surely, the sin in the fallen world He entered repulsed Him. But despite His ultimate authority, He showed mercy. He demonstrated attributes that we struggle and fail to emulate…Unconditional love. Peace. Compassion. Comfort. Service. Sacrifice. Gentleness. Goodness. Kindness. Patience. Grace…

And oh, do we need His grace…But we don’t deserve it, and can’t earn it.

When I think of these things…when I WONDER about these things…

It gives a new perspective on Christmas. It brings depth, peace, joy and gratitude at a new level. Here I stand today, washed white as snow by the blood of Jesus, all because Jesus came as a baby…grew up…and died for me.

I find myself finishing this post, words blurred by tears of joy (If you know me, you know that tears do not flow freely for me very often – it holds significance here). They are welcome tears to someone who often sees the facts but often misses the heart of scripture.

I find my thoughts wrapped up in the mystery…in awe…in gratitude…at the wonder of it all.

“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14 (ESV, emphasis added)

Merry Christmas.

Too High or Too Low…Beware of Setting Irrational Holiday Expectations (and 6 Tips to Maintain a Realistic Mindset)

too high or too low

We’ve all done it. We develop expectations of our children, friends, family and of events only to be disappointed.

It could be an event we’re attending, or one we’re hosting.

It starts innocently. We pencil in a date on a calendar to go on a date, celebrate with family, attend an event, or just spend time with friends or family. We get excited.

Don’t get me wrong, being excited is a GOOD thing. In fact, if I’m spending time with someone, I WANT to look forward to it.

BUT. Sometimes, this excitement transforms into something unpleasant…and sometimes, into something downright ugly.

In our excitement, we start thinking of all the fun things that can happen,  and how lovely we will feel. Of course, we assume everyone there will be just as excited as us.

That would be a good place to STOP.

But often, we start to get carried away. We begin to assume that our version of events is what will work best for everyone. We jump down a rabbit hole and imagine everything we anticipate in vivid color. Our imagination skews the event to fit our personal desires and we anticipate something PERFECT.

Perfect is a dangerous word.

Perhaps we think our children will be elated with an activity, even if they’ve never done it before. We just know our family will make lasting memories and how everyone will never forget them.

Of course, everyone will be on their best behavior, our daughter will nap, and even if the kids go to bed late, it will be fine because everyone is having SO. Very. Much. FUN!

This daydream becomes our EXPECTATION for real life.

These types of expectations are not just silly, they are irrational.

Now, if something goes wrong, we’ve built things up in our mind so much that we may now find ourselves in the place of disappointment. We may end up trying to make others do our bidding, instead of just enjoying the moments as they happen.

OR, conversely, maybe the problem is not perfect expectations, but no expectation at all. Sometimes, we have such low expectations we assume NOTHING will go well, and we dread the event all together.

Do you ever find yourself dreading an event? Perhaps you booked it a while ago and now you don’t feel like going. Or maybe you booked so many things that now the next event just feels like just a hassle. Perhaps it is across town, late at night, or you are tired from a long week and just want to stay home.

There is plenty of danger here too.

When we expect the worst, we are likely to show up with such a poor attitude, that we may rob others of joy. We put ourselves in the mindset that something will NOT be fun, and then we’re surprised when we do not have fun.

We may take for granted, and poison someone’s efforts, good intentions and goodwill. 

Bad attitudes are infectious.

So what ARE we to do? I think there are a few practical tips we can follow.

6 Tips

6 Tips to Maintain a Realistic Mindset:

1. Choose to Have Fun

Walk into the event with an attitude that YOU will choose to have fun, regardless of what happens. No matter how many daydreams you’ve perfected, set them aside and CHOOSE joy, regardless of what happens, who comes (or doesn’t come), who throws a tantrum, or who leaves early. If you’ve simply decided the event will not be fun, stop, check your bad attitude at the door, and CHOOSE to go into it with an open mind, and to find something or someone you enjoy. Remember, Christmas isn’t about you, or your family, or your friends…it is about JESUS. Having that in mind will make it hard to be focused on your desires. Also, be wary of dragging others into your poor expectations, because it will be more difficult to break free and enjoy yourself while you’re commiserating with someone else. Find someone who is having fun, and join in their fun. Misery loves company, but so does JOY!

2. Leave Room For Spontaneity

While is nice to have some back up activities or ice breakers to use in case the party gets slow, don’t have everything so planned out that you leave no room for spontaneity. Go with the flow and don’t force something that seems to put a halt to good that’s already happening. Be open to others ideas and suggestions and if you don’t get to everything, be OK with it. Put your efforts into helping everyone else have fun, and you will too!

3. Laugh It Off

Often times, the worst thing you imagine happening (a burnt dinner, saying the wrong thing, or something else totally unexpected) becomes a topic for laughter for years to come. It’s all about how you handle it. Sometimes it is hard when something we worked hard on doesn’t turn out, or we find ourselves embarrassed. But, it can be done, regardless of what happens. When something goes wrong (and let’s be honest, something will go wrong), choose to make light of it, and move on to enjoying the moment.

4.  It’s Not About the Event, It’s About The Company

It isn’t about the perfect meal, activity, or gift. The joy is in the people who are there with you. Spend time with THEM instead of analyzing whether your plan is going well or if they are living up to any expectation you may have had. All these people came to the event and most of them are probably in a pretty good mood and hoping to have fun.

5. When It Comes to Children, Expect NOTHING!

Two years ago we took our son to Big Truck Day. He loves trucks and we expected him to be elated, to laugh, and to, well, love it. What happened? He cried most of the time, overwhelmed by all the people and noise, and we left with him screaming when he saw a person dressed up like Curious George (who was apparently TERRIFYING). Just because the idea is well-intention-ed and seems like a great fit, doesn’t mean a child will see it the same way you do. And, anytime sleep is lost, or over-stimulation is possible, give them a lot of room to act however they are feeling. Instead, take a step back and let their reaction surprise you, and marvel at how unique they are.

6. Be OK Staying Home, or Leaving Early

Just because you scheduled it doesn’t mean you have to go. Sometimes we have simply over-committed and taking a little time at home may be enough to set your mood right for the rest of the season. So, if your kids are over-tired, over-stimulated, ill, or if YOU are in that same place, it is OK to just stay home. It is your choice to attend or not. The people who invited you to the event love you, and while they want you there, they will understand if you can’t come. Be respectful: use tact, and honesty, and communicate using your VOICE not a text message or email. Perhaps you aren’t comfortable not attending. That is OK too. Go with an open mind, have fun for a while, and then bow out early. Or, if you find yourself where your children are falling apart, or you are falling apart or are detracting from the mood of the event, call it a night.