Wednesday, December 11, 2013

(Real) Christmas

First of all, hi. 
I know I haven't blogged in two months and I have a ton to write about but no time to do it.
Secondly I have a confession to make and it's this:
I'm back on Instagram.
I feel a bit guilty about this, after I wrote about deleting it here but I really really didn't like missing out on what my sisters were up to and I love the little snapshots of life that are just so fun to take.
And thirdly, thank you to all of my friends who contributed to this post/article/anthem on being real at Christmastime.
It all started this way:
After a grueling school day and tons of lessons, errands and endless cleaning, children in bed, and surveying the house I had to transform into Christmas party central for the next night, I posted this picture to Facebook on Monday night:
i vow to keep my social media real
I was pretty surprised to get a very overwhelming response.  I got texts and pictures of messes and inboxes and one dear lady messaged me that she looked at my laundry picture through tears. Ha ha,  I guess I should do this more often!
After all the pictures I received, I decided to ask if anyone had more to include (you did) and write about it all (surprise, I have to write to process).  So here you are, my lil brain dump on women and pressure and Christmas.  Included are a bunch of brave photos from my amazing friends, who are all beautiful and all have beautiful homes and families.  
So did you see that gingerbread house recipe?  The one with the four pieces of bread stacked carefully and a little spice jar of ginger in the middle with the defeated words:  the only gingerbread house I can make.
I saw it.
It kinda sums up how I feel this Christmas.
I laughed.
I've come a long way from the newlywed who vowed to always use cloth napkins (I packed those away wistfully-yet-resolutely: I made it to year three, though) and send a lunch with my husband every day.  I've learned the brutally hard way that tradition can create tension and yet just when I think I've embraced the fact that Daniel loves me even if he eats at Subway and paper napkins are the right choice for my life stage, I get hit with Christmas.
You too, right?
I mean you're teaching, or working, or doing ministry, or tying shoes, (or all four) and just barely keeping your head above water and then you have to come up with twenty-four cool activities that are Christ focused yet not materialistic, unique, yet traditional?  Who started the advent calendar in this house anyway?!?
I did.  I love it.  This year's is little translucent wedding favor bags.  They're strung on wire against our chalkboard wall with little white paper + metal key tags attached that are supposed to be labeled with numbers 1-24.  They're not labeled.  They're also supposed to  be filled with Christmas activities written on paint chip cards.  They're not.  Well, I filled day one through five with things we had already done. Example: Day One: Get Christmas bins out. [Check] 
Tonight Cambria took it upon herself to finish the advent calendar:
"Mom how do you spell Christmas??"
"You know!"
"Oh yeah."
*five minutes pass*
"Hey Mom, how do you spell candy?"
patience waning  mine, not hers
"What can I do next, Mom?"
"How about Christmas Gifts for Tenants?" [Another tradition looming over my head.  We always do individual gifts for each child, each family.  It's a cool idea.  I also don't have gifts for my own kids.]
More shouting:  "How do you spell tenants?"
My problem is wanting to do it all.  My problem is thinking about Christmas perfection for my kids while the lil tot perched on my counter struggles with his mis-matched mittens.  (I  WHERE ARE THEY?) I stop myself and look at his precious little face and his brown eyes.  He is my little Christmas perfection.  He's singing: twinkle twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are.
My problem is wanting to do ministry my way.  I want to have a perfect little shoebox packing party for Samaritan's Purse.  It didn't happen.  We had friends stay with us en route to Chicago --->>> South Africa though and I am blind if I don't see that God gave us that for ministry.  Make the soup, light the candles, vacuum the floor, leave out the water bottles and chocolate, change the sheets - I can't do it all.  I can't always do both.  If God asks me to open my doors, then He'll surely allow you time to fill an extra shoebox for my absent one. 
My problem is thinking that I have to carry all my burdens alone. 
My problem is trying to clean my life up so that you don't see my inadequacies and then throwing open the door to my home but not my heart.  God has a way of humbling this in me:
Fifteen minutes before everyone arrived at our Bible Study Christmas / December birthday party, while I was lighting candles and doodling magic marker on my super cool brown paper tablecloth, I started smelling smoke.  Like serious smoke.
Yeah, there were literal flames in my artisan-bread-cooking-oven and my firefighter husband was not around to rescue me.  I managed to extinguish the actual flames, but my house was literally filled with smoke.  I greeted everyone through a (diminished) haze and the noise of a box fan blowing the remaining smoke out into the subzero backyard.
But that photo sure looks great, doesn't it?!
If I'm about a perfect house, I'm not about serving the people in it.  Obviously, a messy house doesn't serve people either, and it's wise to choose order and cleanliness. But as I plan and execute poor word choice (execute? thesaurus? help?!) carry out Christmas festivities  I have to constantly remind myself who I'm serving and Who it's all about.
You all had a lot to say on pressure and Christmas.
I'm going to let you say it because I'm wiped out from the pressure of figuring out how to make Blogger cooperate with all of your fantastically real pictures.  Plus I just keep eating chocolate to stay awake (we all know that's not a good plan) and since it's getting colder in here I think Daniel turned the heat down to get me to come to bed.
Enjoy these (real) Christmas snapshots:
Jodie's a pastor's wife, gifted photographer and my sister Lydia's friend.  I laughed out loud reading her story:
I think I put so much stress on myself each year to MAKE that perfect gift. I used to stress, finally find a project, make sure we still had the money in the Christmas budget, start to make the thing, get far into the project but mess it up (I hate sewing) and then frantically try pulling it all together the night before Christmas Eve. There was one year I wanted to make Isaac a little baby quilt. I messed it up so bad I gave it to the cat for a sleeping pad.  Another year I tried making the popular "sweater" stockings that you make from old sweaters. They looked more like elf feet than pretty stockings. I also wait till the last minute to wrap gifts, and end up doing it behind closed door in our bedroom on Christmas eve at some point. I was so frantic trying to hurry and wrap them one year that I managed to cut not just the wrapping paper, but also my new sheets
This year I've cut back. I know I don't have the energy or patience to make every single little project I see on pinterest. We read Advent scripture with the kids each morning, but I don't stress about a daily Advent project or craft or activity. The kids and I made cookies together yesterday. Not pretty decorated sugar cookies with a mess of frosting fun on the table, but chocolate chip instead. It worked. They still had a fun time. I did all my shopping this year in one night at one store (Target, I love you). A few nights later I skyped my mom after the kids were in bed and we wrapped stuff together.  So this year, the cards aren't out yet, the cookies not decorated yet; listening to music, watching the snowfall the other day, watching Christmas movies. We haven't done every Christmas event known to man, but we're taking it slow and enjoying the season. --Jodie

My sister Edith says that she likes their little tradition of escaping all the pressure and getting a hotel room right in the middle of December; they  "hide out from everything for a little while. Swim,watch hallmark movies, eat junk. . . and then I'll be ready to tackle Christmas letters when we get home. Maybe."
Oh my goodness, I love this lil imperfect Christmas picture from Erin, a fellow firefighter wife at MFD.  I love that Erin posted this picture as is and didn't make Sam (cutest kid ever) fix his pajama top.  She says that Sam plays with his belly button when he's most excited.  (There you have it: he's excited.) 

Erin writes:  I'm trying to come to terms with the pressure myself. Buying for a teenager has done me in this year, and as usual I always feel like my gifts aren't good enough for those who receive them and I lose focus that a gift is a gift - that shouldn't have expectations at all. Makes me sad that Christmas has become so gift-focused, and less focused on the one true gift we all received when Jesus was born.

This is from Joy, who points out the leaning star, the laundry, and also her son Benjamin's orderly farm in the midst of all of that happy. I told Joy that I have about had it  with the pressure women place on each other and she said she was SO already there.

This is from Tracey, my sister's doula, the sweetest woman ever.  Sweet people's dishes are just supposed to disappear, right?  Ha ha- apparently not.  Tracey posted this to my facebook wall last night and said she knew I'd appreciate her honesty.

Stephanie, via facebook: What pressures are you talking about??? I totally fell apart yesterday because I feel like I'm failing on making Christmas prefect for the kids. And then I remind myself the pictures everyone post leave out the yelling, complaining and bad attitudes. Why do we do this to ourselves??? [8 people liked this, wow, I wonder why?!]

Lisa:   I've been thinking about all that too this Christmas. Our tree is super beautiful but also a bit too big, meaning with that + baby bed + playmat + toys + desk in our family room we can hardly walk. Our Christmas crafts are tacky and between 3 little ones and foster care craziness I am not doing any shopping. But ... those 3 little ones are all enjoying a special Christmas because it's not the image that counts but the heart!

Rebekah, wife to Josh, mama to Elliot and missionary/church planter, sent me these, captioned: 

Reality.  I'm making ornaments, writing 65 thank you notes to our supporters, working on laundry, being the sole playmate of my 2.5 year old.

(Sorry to interrupt your honesty, Rebekah, but that is just a super cool blue. . . ottoman??) (And I love your artwork.)

Rebekah writes:  Sally is not you, you are not Sally. Be secure in your relationship with Jesus. He made you with the talents that you have. So often I want to take my talents and use them like Sally uses hers. Why am I trying to fit her mold when God gave my own mold and made it unique?The purpose is to serve Jesus and others anyway (1 Peter 4:10), not to be comparing myself with others (2 Cor. 10:12).
Eternity is Long. Now is Short. When I try to do it all, something suffers. Usually it's my family that suffers first - never mind the hurting people around me.What a broken world I live in, with so many hearts bleeding. But am I too engulfed in my own chaos to see those hurting souls? Jesus cared for the children in the midst of his busy ministry. He withdrew to pray to his Father at the height of his miracles and teaching. His life and ministry is a challenge for me too with an eternal perspective!

Bridget is a business owner here in my hometown and she shared this with me:

I believe we shouldn't build up some Disney fairy tale Christmas.It is a nice story but even it has an end.  Our lives have cycles, and right now, I know I am learning to juggle new items I often drop them and end up picking them up off the floor. Knowing what I am juggling,   that I am content in my limits and not to let others influence me is such a help. 

We do a simple Christmas tree. We choose to make it all about spending time with each other. Our kids are very blessed they do not need anything, the occasional clothing that they have out grown is the closet need they know. I am thankful. The night before we bake a cake. We wake the kids early before they wake us up to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We eat cake for breakfast. Often stickers, crayons and watercolors are found on the table and new socks. Mark and I exchange our Christmas gifts not found in any store, a gifts that are priceless, uninterrupted naps. When there is a need we will purchase each other gifts through out the year. Mark does not wait for a holiday to show me he loves me.

We will have an epic family pillow fight battle. At this point daddy wins. We shall see when they are big enough to work as a team and "get dad". The house is filled with laughter.

I challenge you to wrap Christmas with the building lasting memories and friendships, not built with the stress of stuff.

Loren, my friend and former pastor's wife, texted me this picture this afternoon and  let me know that she had already blogged about the same subject this morning!

She had this awesome picture of a nativity scene that was pretty. . . haphazard. . . and I was asking to use it.  But she beat me to it cuz great minds think alike.  You can see her picture and post here. [I have purposely not read her story because that way we'll both be original, right? Ha ha.]

Emily, my sister's sister in law  (did you follow that?) texted me this: "Just another day at the kitchen sink! #keepingitreal"

Emily is beautiful and talented and super organized and I'll admit being surprised at those dishes in her sink.  She's married to Jason and they have the cutest lil guy ever.

Emily writes via text:

Maybe just this: God calls us to build each other up.  Portraying an inaccurate picture of having it all together when we really don't can lead other women to discouragement. 
Let's find freedom in honesty, encouraging each other along the way and celebrating when accomplishments do happen.

My new friend Kristi says she had to talk herself out of explaining her messes away and she just sent these anyway.

Phoebe sent me a Pinterest approved photo of her living room:

and then turned and snapped these:

 Phoebe writes: Ever wonder why candlelight is so relaxing? Overhead lighting can feel like flashlights in our tired eyes and force us to see all the imperfections.  So turn the lights off, light candles and focus on the people amongst you.

Darla is my friend Deeann's sister; you meet her and you can't help but like her cuz she's so hilarious and fun and nice; you can't even hate her for how perfect her four lil angels look or her crazy interesting Army [Officer] wife life.  Deeann sort of taught me about the South, but Darla is my real true connection.  Oh the manners and charm and amazing food and hilarious sayings: those girls are as mean as snakes! I always feel like I want to move to Alabama after hanging out with Darla. 

Shockingly, she sent me this and said:

Here's my keeping it real picture!! Turned my back for a minute. . . . . .

Apparently messes happen at Christmas time even in the South.  What is up with the apple juice?  Just thinking as I look at that - it's an awfully good thing the lid didn't come off or Darla wouldn't have had time to text me!
Janene writes:  I saw your post on FB about real life and for whatever it's worth I had a few thoughts- alot of the real life moments are ones that you can't IG or even write a blog post about lest you come off sounding like a complainer. It's the stuff like running a business in this crazy economy, showing love and grace to broken, hurting employees, staying connected when your husband works 80+ hrs a week, it's the messy relationships that you so much want to see fixed, but it's not always that easy, it's the sudden death in your family that is just messy and painful.
I could honestly go on and on, but I'll stop but I am convinced of this- regardless of how great our life looks on social media, we all have hard real life battles we face daily and for many of us out of respect to our husbands/family's social media isn't the place to go unload.   I think of this quote often when I am on social media- be kind, everyone you meet is facing a battle!

{janene blogs at celebrating life}

My friend Monica and her husband Ruben have taught Daniel and I so much over the past year!  Their happy children and obvious love for each other and God is just crazy refreshing.  I love this picture of their kids trying out their fireplace:

Monica texted me a picture of her laundry area:

and then another:

Monica writes: Like our hearts, we only allow people to see the "clean" areas.  Women under pressure need to know that all actions are only observed and judged by God and whoever is behind your closed doors.  God is so good in seeing us with loving eyes that we should allow ourselves to vent His direction.  It is ultimately up to us to choose the struggle with pressure or allowing our children to witness us in our perfect chaos, being led by the perfect Hand of Christ.

Beautiful Rachel blogs at Song In My Heart. We know so many of the same people that it's just a matter of time before we're going to meet. We share in common hilarious little sons who think too hard, a love of books, great cooking, house flipping and renovation plus Rachel is the best person ever to follow on Pinterest.  See, look how cute she is:

I'll admit having serious house envy of her fantastic style - I squinted incredulously at the laundry room picture she texted me last night. 

Pressure is no fun. I feel so much more relaxed now than I did as a young bride, wife, mommy...I felt like I could never keep up! Plus, interestingly enough, my new family and the other young married couples I knew at the time kept IMMACULATE HOMES. Wha-?!? Where were the paper piles?!? I couldn't figure them out! I felt like I could never keep up.
But then I grew more confident, and less concerned about what anyone else thought. I needed to live my life, not wallow in comparisons or self pity. It was a big day for me when my "perfect" friends saw my house and life, or parts of it, messy. Their eyes grew big, and my heart swelled. It was all okay, and even quite funny.
And when the valleys came, I cared less and less about what people thought, and keeping everything "just so" became distantly important. Not that I don't strive for beautiful moments and a tidy home and obedient children, but the heart behind it is completely different than when I first started this journey. Still always, always learning.
Here's another thing to think about: some of us may post charming Instagram photos or FB statuses not because we are only trying to highlight the "picture perfect" moments, or create a false image of ourselves, but simply because we live in so much chaos or grief or struggle that *those* pieces of the puzzle help bring us hope and joy and help remind us to be grateful. Personal examples for me: my advent basket on Instagram? The only "tidy" part of my kitchen this morning! Our Christmas photos?
The porch contained a tub yet to be installed in the bathroom (yes, a tub on our porch), black cat footprints, a dying plant, and who knows what else, all covered in dust. It was tempting to be frustrated about it.
But take those pictures we did, and the results made a great memory for us! And my friend who took them...well, she got to see the laundry pile, the boxes stacked in the living room, all of it. -- Rachel

Rachel's laundry

My problem is not my mess. Your problem is not your mess. Our problem is pretending we don't have one. Everyone has a mess. In fact that's the very reason, in very simplistic terms, that Jesus, while every bit God, came in the form of man to Bethlehem, to a very big mess:
Birthing room? Sweet moments? Perfect circumstances?  Warm welcome? Not so much.
That's what He's about.
That's really what Christmas is about.
Let Him have your mess.
Merry (real) Christmas.




  1. Oh how my soul needed this!!! Words cannot describe the pressures of perfection melting away as I read these and begin to realize I actually have permission to let life be a little messy if it means I am allowing God the space and time to work on messes in my own heart. I put so much pressure on myself to keep it together, but often at the cost of not giving time to the things that count most. So, so grateful for this post, and for God usuing your dirty laundry room for ministry!

  2. PERFECT Hayley!! Thank you so much for this!

  3. My absolute favorite set of pictures is the pair that show the lovely living room on one side... and disaster on the other. Isn't that just SO true for each of us!?
    I truly believe we each get 'Norman Rockwell' moments in the midst of the chaos....
    I love the idea of celebrating both.

  4. This came at just the right time ...and I cried. Thanks Haley. Have a Merry Christmas!!

  5. So good....please write a book soon. This is probably one of my favorite blog posts of yours!

  6. I just love your blog!
    Thanks for doing this.
    And even though my blog has been collecting dust, I happily brought it out of storage since I really really wanted to link to your post. It's so encouraging. So hey, maybe I'll send 2 people over here! ;)

  7. You have no idea what that meant to me. Thank you to everyone who was willing to post those pictures.

  8. Absolutely love this. Thank you for taking the time to be such an encouragement to others! Love your blog! :)