I simply had no idea. I just didn't fully understand and appreciate a child's openness to wonder. I didn't get it. Now I do.

All week we've been telling the kids that we had a surprise for them this Sunday night. We gave them hints, but they just couldn't figure out what it could possibly be. So, as you can imagine, this afternoon after we got home from the church they were totally wired up with the anticipation of it all and could not wait. Greg and I were sitting by the Christmas tree reading and they were running around playing. We had all been right by the Christmas tree the entire time. There was nothing under our tree.

And then there was.

A wrapped present suddenly appeared under our tree! The kids found it and brought it to me and on the tag was a message: "Special Delivery from the North Pole. To: Elijah and Grace. Please take this wrapped package with you to your surprise tonight." We talked about who could have possibly brought it and how they could have done it with us all sitting right there. The kids finally decided that it must have been there the whole time and we just didn't see it. So, Santa must have came to our house while we were at church. But just after deciding that must be it, Grace said under her breath, "But I really didn't see anything under there..." We all just shrugged our shoulders and decided maybe we would find out at the surprise.

About an hour later we packed up the mystery present and got in the car to go to the surprise. We drove into town, all the while fielding guesses about where we might be going. We parked the car, bundled up with our coats and scarves, and walked to the square in downtown Springfield.


Now they thought they knew - we were coming to see the giant Christmas tree!


After taking a few pictures we told them that they still hadn't quite figured out what the surprise was and we began walking over to the corner of the square. About that time they noticed the giant white carriage with the beautiful black horses, and riding in the carriage was...SANTA! Now they knew!

Once we were all settled in the carriage, we pulled out the present and told Santa that we didn't know what it was, but it had appeared under our tree this afternoon and the note said to bring it with us. Then we asked him if he had any ideas. Well, he did. He said that he had snuck in when no one was looking and left it, then he asked if they would like to open it. Of course, they said yes! Just like Grace had been asking for, it was an Elf on the Shelf! Santa then explained how every night the elf would be coming to see him and telling him if they had been naughty or nice that day, so to be sure and be nice! It was perfect!

Elijah appears to be thinking of ways to circumvent the elf, here...

After the carriage ride we went to eat and we read the story of our elf. Grace filled us in on some of the crazy things her friends' elves had been doing, grinning ear to ear the entire time. Then came the process of picking out a name: Pinkie, Gerald, Cha Cha, TreePack(?), but finally they settled on Sunny. Soon, we were back in the car and on our way home.

Before we were halfway home, they were both sound asleep.


When we got home, Greg and I unloaded the car, including the elf, and then brought the kids in. Grace woke up enough for me to show her Sunny sitting up on our mantle all ready for his nightly trip. I wasn't exactly prepared for the reaction.


When Grace saw Sunny sitting on the mantle, she woke up completely and exclaimed, "How did he get up there?!? So, when you opened the box, he wasn't there? And you found him here?!?!?"

To which I, wide-eyed, stammered my reply of, "YES....uh, yes, that is exactly what happened, Grace. I went to open the box and couldn't find him, but then I looked over at the mantle and there he was!" Well, she could hardly contain herself! Soon enough she had Elijah up to come see that their silly elf had already started doing the crazy things she was talking about earlier.

Finally things settled down and everyone got tucked into bed, still buzzing a bit with excitement, but ready to sleep. I went in to wash my face and also get ready to settle for the evening. But then, all of a sudden Grace comes running into the room, "MOM, Sunny, he MOVED!" Then giggling, she ran back to the living room, "Come see, Mom! Daddy, come see! ELIJAH!!!"

And THAT is when I realized their capacity for wonder and their ability to believe. Because this is what had happened that had absolutely solidified Sonny's realness as a magical elf. He had went from the position you saw earlier to....THIS!

And I looked from that elf, to my children, and back to that elf in total awe and wonder as well. Grace and Elijah thought I was just as amazed as they were by the elf's antics. At first I really thought they were kidding. I mean, the elf tipped over. Surely they knew that the elf had just tipped over...

But no, they did not. Then I saw what they saw, just for a moment. I saw that silly elf playing jokes with them already! Laying down - in the same silly position that he had been sitting earlier. "Mommy, see? He is LAYING DOWN NOW!!" And I let it wash all of my sadness away for a moment. I just basked in their purity, their faith, their wonder, their capacity for magical thinking. Their whimsy, their delight, and their joy. It's amazing.

It was a gift. A reminder that the world IS a magical place and there is beauty to be found in the most mundane circumstances. They helped me to laugh, with pure delight, at their joy.

And for that I thank our little elf. He may be keeping track of how well behaved the kids are, but he will also be reminding me to set aside my concerns and just believe in the wonder of it all...

 

One year ago tonight I was in Columbus, GA, shopping for something comfortable to wear home the next day because I was going to be going straight to the hospital after catching the first flight home. I had an idea that this might be serious, but despite the obvious signs of declining health, I really had no idea that in three days time my dad would no longer be with us.

It's hard to believe it's been a year.

I've been doing really good, but now I'm not. I had planned to go and meet dad's closest friends and our family for dinner tomorrow night. I had thought about how to mark the occasion and the idea of sharing stories, and being with people who loved him brought me great comfort. It has given me something to look forward to.

But now it's going to snow. A lot. I'm afraid we may not be able to go.

Grief is such a mean bully.

I had decided earlier in the week that I was just going to shut down my blog. I had spent a lot of the last few months just slowly spiraling. I have missed personal deadlines and delayed getting pictures edited that I needed to finish. I just started feeling a malaise of sorts over everything I touched. Nothing seemed of value. I've thought I should just put away my keyboard, and my camera, and curl up within myself.

And then just yesterday I went to talk with my therapist that I had started going to this year for grief therapy. After 30 minutes or so we kind of uncovered the fact that these feelings of dissatisfaction was, in fact, my grief. This was my way of taking the hurt and turning it into things I could talk about and maybe do something about. It's tricky remembering that you are sad about something that you cannot fix. Far easier to be sad about things you can fix. I'm glad to know that, but knowing something and feeling something are two very different somethings.

Bad roads. Another thing I cannot fix that is keeping me from the one thing I had came up with to deal with the other thing I cannot fix. What a fix.

*Sigh*

What's my point in writing this down? What is my point...

I don't know. I'm not sure who reads this (you should have heard how my inside voice just answered THAT little intro) but I just wanted to tell the interweb that I'm sad.

I want to shout into the ether: Losing people you love really sucks all the time, but Christmas, with it's memories...extra bad. And, I don't know why we can't figure out how to add something into pavement that causes snow to melt and keeps roads from freezing.

I'm too tired to yell into the ether.

Obviously, if you read my facebook, I'm also very happy. I have some great kids and a kick-butt husband. I have a fantastic mom and step-dad. Great brothers and sisters. Precious friends. Lots of goodness. I love them and I can't wait to spend time with them over the holidays. But none of that makes the sadness go away completely.

So if you are with me. If you are both incredibly sad and incredibly joy-filled this Christmas, I just want you to know that I get it. I understand how you can both anticipate and dread something in equal measure, all at the same time. I get how you can mentally know that your life is good while also feeling like it's not. I cannot confirm that you are not crazy, but I can confirm that you are not alone.

I'm going to sit here now, in front of our Christmas tree, and read with a warm cup of apple cider. And I'm going to try and remember that I'm ok. And if things don't work out tomorrow, I'm just going to reschedule it for another night over the holidays and I'm going to remember that I'm ok.

But part of me is not ok, and that is ok.

 

We are working on a series about leveraging the idea of circles to stay on track when life throws us a curve ball. This is our third installment and you can catch up pretty quickly by clicking through to our previous installments:

Week One: We started with a high level overview of what we are talking about when we talk about circles in life.

Week Two: Where we dive into the first half of the circle and identify the first steps to take when we find ourselves in one of those kairos or 'time stops' moments.

Here is a nice graphic of the concept that Noble used at The Chapel to walk us through the idea.

This week we are going to look at the second half of the circle. I was thinking over the past two weeks about circles and some of the stories you have shared through private messages. I started picturing all of us curled into a protective ball. I think this is what our initial reaction is when something big happens. We want to turn inward and protect. We want to keep everyone else out. That is not a bad thing. I think this is our first reaction, because we are created for that to be our first reaction. We need to turn inward in the beginning. We need to shrink life down into a manageable space and we need to make sure that we are safe.

The problem starts when we stay in that position. It is hard to move forward when you are curled up. So this week we are going to talk about how to get back on track and start moving forward.

(My mad drawing skillz are not improving...I had help...drawing stick people.
Did you see that ipad drawing of Morgan Freeman this week? I had help with this...with drawing stick people.)

Ok, moving on...

So, leveraging this idea of the circle - we are now ready to look at the second half - the part that swings us back up to the path we were on, or maybe even a better path. In the first half we asked, What is God trying to teach me? Now we are ready to ask, What is my response to what God wants me to learn? We figure this out through the steps of: Planning, Accountability, and Action. All of this is predicated on a belief that change can happen. We will talk about that more at then end.

We can see how important it is to go through the first steps of observing, reflecting, and discussing. Without a clear, and honest, view of the problem it will be impossible be create an effective plan. But once you have that, you need to commit to moving forward.

To move forward you need a:

Plan: In the planning phase we map out what we need to do differently. I love the Einstein quote, 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results'. Not having a plan is exactly that. When we find ourselves struggling with the same problem again and again, we can feel pretty confidant there is no plan. During this phase we need to figure out steps we can take to remedy the problem, and avoid the problem in the future. Maybe we need to make amends by apologizing. Perhaps we need to confront a situation that we have let linger too long. There are as many possible plans as there are problems in the world. What's important is that we have identified clearly what has happened and we make plans to address it.

Once you have a plan you need:

Accountability: This is an easy enough concept but a challenging thing to put in practice.

Accountable is defined as: to be required or expected to justify actions or decisions. We bristle at that, at least I bristle at that. Especially in western cultures we typically pride ourselves on our independence and the idea of accountability certainly goes against the idea of independence. But the truth of the matter is, no one is ever successful at life alone. Isolation is not a natural state. We were made for community. Now some of us prefer small communities and some prefer large, but we all need someone in our lives that helps us to be honest with ourselves.

Ok, so we are going to (some reluctantly) agree to accountability. This means we choose someone we trust and we share our problem, and our plan. It is important that we choose to honor someone who is trustworthy and will lovingly help us remember our plan. Well, that is what is important to me. Others may need someone who is a trustworthy drill seargent. No matter, as long as it is someone that we respect and will accept guidance from.

And now it is time for:

Action: This one is pretty clear cut. There is another saying, 'paralysis by analysis'. At some point we have to quit evaluating what went wrong, we have to stop making plans, we have to pick a plan, and put it into action. This is when you find yourself back on track and moving forward. It is important to put some type of structure around our accountability process so that as we move forward with our plan we are talking with someone who will help us continue with our forward momentum.

And over the entire process: Belief.

So how does belief fit into all of this? This second half of the circle? The part where we uncurl and move forward? This second half takes tremendous courage. It requires a flicker of faith and belief that if we try to hear what God is saying, He will step up beside us and keep whispering it in our ear as move forward.

This is the hardest part, this belief. It was so hard that I couldn't even remember exactly what was meant by belief in the context of the circle until I called Noble for a reminder.

It is so hard when we are doubled over in pain and frustrated at being in the same position for the umpteenth time or for the umpteenth year, it's hard to remember to believe. And sometimes, what makes that even harder is not the idea of believing in a loving God, although that is challenging for some. Sometimes what is most difficult is finding belief in ourselves.

Sometimes the hardest thing to believe is that we can do things differently.

But we can. We were created to overcome. We were created to rise up. No matter whether you are struggling with yelling too much at your kids or if you are hiding from the world - All things are possible. All things are possible for everyone. All things. Even your thing.

I've known people in my life who never worked through their stuff. They got stuck. I don't want that for anyone. It is hard work but it is so worth it. We are more than our mistakes. If you don't have anyone to walk with you - send me a message, I'll walk with you. Don't let a bad decision leave you with a bad life.

All things are possible with God and that means all things are possible for you.



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