One Great Way to Unwrap Presence This Christmas

Each year, with more little eyes and more little ears and more little feet padding their way around our nest, I’ve been hungry to find traditions that would celebrate this most wonderful time of the year with reverence and sincerity. The commercialism seems to get bolder. The advertising seems to get better. And a few weeks ago, my eldest asked if he could start working on his wish list with some help from Amazon. Again.

We do our best to do give our children some {read: not a lot of} meaningful, purposeful gifts this season (I’m planning another post to share some of our favorite useful/educational ideas with you) but what I don’t want Christmas to be all about at the Collie house is presents.

I keep asking this one thing:

How do we glorify the Presence and de-emphasize the presents?

We’ll hang lights and remember the Light coming into our dark world.

An ever-green tree will go up, and we’ll remember the One who died on a tree, and how that tree gives us ever-lasting life.

I’m hungry to communicate the greatness of this incredible Presence — the arrival of the Messiah. This changes everything.  This is why we want to lead lives that honor God. This is why we want to show kindness to the least of these.

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Years ago, I tried creatively placing the little elf around the house. It just wasn’t a good fit. I’ve watched in subsequent years as folks decorated with powdered sugar footprints, came up with creative stunts, and competed to post the best imagery of elf shenanigans on social media. For us, it continued to emphasize the presents. Be good for the presents. The elf is watching. I just couldn’t put so much effort into something that –for me– felt like it was pointing away from the place I was trying to direct these little hearts’ attention.

Could there be a bright alternative?

Could we aim to de-emphasize the stacks of presents? Because this Presence — it’s the greatest present of all time!

Two years ago, in the days leading up to Christmas, we started a new tradition around the Collie house. One that draws a line from the Creation to the Cross, and sheds new light on the meaning of the manger.

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Sometimes right after breakfast, sometimes when we’re back in PJs at the end of the day, we dive into Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. Starting December 1st, we’re led through a lesson each day, right up to the 25th. As a tangible part of the experience, you’re invited to create your own Jesse Tree — a tree you’ve made, perhaps from branches in your backyard — where you can hang ornaments (more on those in a second) that relate to each of the daily devotions you’ll read as a family. The activities related to each lesson involve things like praying about ways your family can give and serve others over the holidays (and all year long) and making a list of things you’re grateful for.

Exactly as I’d hoped, it created these great opportunities for meaningful connection with our kids at Christmas.

Did we check every item off the list, accomplish every activity and turn it into a this.must.happen thing to add stress to the holidays?

Nope.

But when we took the time to sit down together, to be still and to think and to talk, it did facilitate meaningful conversations, and provide this illustration that I believe will be re-introduced to our kids each year, so that it will be ingrained in their hearts permanently, as the true reason for the season.

In the sitting still and reflecting I just felt like… this is what I want to do most in this season.

I want to point to the one thing I want my children to know in this season: Jesus is the Greatest Gift.

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Last year I hot-glued some felt to some cardboard to create the most awesomely rough-looking Jesse Tree you’ve ever seen… but my children love it.

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I’m very excited to do this together again, as a family, this holiday season. Last year the kids loved the beautifully illustrated book, loved the thoughts to discuss and family activities, and loved coloring the paper ornaments (available for you to print for free from aholyexperience.com). I loved that it was all written to point to the significance of the coming of the Messiah, a constant encouragement to anticipate and celebrate the arrival of Christ.

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So friends, if you’re hoping to introduce some new traditions into your Advent Season, or if you’ve been on the fence pondering this book for a while, please consider this my whole-hearted recommendation. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift has been a gift to our family, and I’m excited to have found something to help our family truly celebrate the Savior this season. I’m genuinely excited to share it with you!

And? I’d love to hear from you! Have any questions for me? Are you hungry to put more meaning into your celebrations this season? What is your family doing to point to the Christ in Christmas?

xCC

P.S. In addition to Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp’s book, The Greatest Gift, was released two years ago. This devotional is about “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas” and was written with adults in mind. It was named the Christian Retailer’s Devotional of the Year for 2014 and is absolutely worth considering in addition to the family celebration, or on its own. (They do cover the same themes and correlate to one another, but they are definitely not the same book.) The devotion draws you in to deeply considering the meaning of the lineage of Christ, and the love story of His coming. If you’re looking for something special for yourself in this season, perhaps for that early morning cup of coffee on the couch moment, I highly recommend this!


 

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In Stormy Political Seas, These are Words To Remember about Faithfulness

As far as colors go, gray might just be one of my favorites. I’m sitting on a gray couch beside gray arm chairs resting their feet on a gray area rug. I painted the clock on the wall gray. And, how’s this for timing, I’m wearing a gray t-shirt this very moment.

But when it comes to life decisions, ethics and even Theology, gray is a hard color for me to swallow. In the university setting, during an ethics discussion, I didn’t like it when I felt like we were in gray territory and there wasn’t a clear black or white solution at the end of an hour’s discussion.

In the years that have followed, I’ve since come to have a different understanding of gray areas. Gray has become a new color for me, so to speak.

Earlier this year, many of you might’ve read this post I shared about my word for the year: Faithful. This word was like a tiny whisper to my soul from the Lord, just nudging me to keep my ears open and my heart listening to what He had to say.

This year, I’ve come to realize faithfulness and perfection are not the same thing, and I don’t have to be so hard on myself.

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I’ve learned that other people might not know what faithful looks like for me — so I don’t need to fear judgment or outside opinions. It’s the Lord first and foremost I’m called to be faithful to.

And this bullet shot out of a speeding train pierced my heart through while I was writing the Swim Your Own Race series a few years ago:

Your Race is in Your Lane.

Translation?

Your faithfulness and my faithfulness are going to look completely different. But that does not mean we are not both being faithful.

I have friends who have never taken their kids trick-or-treating because they feel it’s wrong to celebrate Halloween. I have friends who make a big deal out of Halloween and see it as an opportunity to connect with their neighbors.

Will I give the one side a high five and tell the other side they’re ridiculous? Obviously not.

Faithfulness looks different for different people, because God has different plans for each of us.

Am I saying there aren’t cold hard black and white areas where I think there’s no room for discussion? Of course not. We had some friends over for dinner this weekend and were discussing their denomination’s stance on a particular faith issue. The husband of this sweet couple commented, “We try to speak where the Bible speaks, and remain silent where the Bible is silent.”

That’s wisdom worth taking notes on.

Thousands of years ago, do you know how Alexander the Great became the ruler of one of the largest and most expansive empires of all time? War. Battle. Great strategy and Physical Domination.

How did Genghis Khan found the longest contiguous empire in history? Think the Mongols took a vote? Think again. Invasion and domination.

In Ancient Greece, Athens was known as a city where people had voices, and political decisions were discussed in an open marketplace. Down the road in Sparta, strength and physical domination were the most highly valued prize. But the Athenians were on to something we still believe today: the idea that an uneducated mass of people can be very easily ruled over, even bullied, truly. But educated individuals, given the right to vote, can elect officials that will represent their ideals well. It was a novel idea in those days.

Today, my fellow Americans and I have the privilege of casting a vote to elect the officials that will rule over us. I think about a very dear friend back in Zimbabwe, where elections aren’t really true, honest or real. My Hero Hubs is a resident alien, (and a South African Cowboy Gentleman) he watches from the sidelines. We mustn’t take it for granted: the democracy we call a “unalienable right” is still in many places a far off dream, a hoped-for-someday privilege.

If we do have the privilege, we should not take it lightly.

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Paul once wrote these words to the Corinthians to encourage them in their generosity:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. {II Cor. 9:6-7}

Like the Corinthians in their decision to give, before we make a decision and fill in a bubble on a ballot, we should wrestle in our hearts before God. This soul-searching is the most important part of the process. The Corinthians would have had to consider whether they were being greedy or trusting God for their provision, perhaps how much they were able to give and still meet other commitments. Similarly, we must wrestle with what we value most — are there certain political ideals we want to hold most firmly to? Certain character traits we feel are the most important? Are we valuing the right things most?

At the end of the day, some Corinthians would’ve given one amount, and others would’ve given another. But those different amounts didn’t mean one was being faithful and another was not. Each decided in his own heart and hopefully gave as the Lord led him.

I’m sure I don’t have to spell out the parallel to you — based on what’s on our hearts, what ideals we value, what character traits we are looking for, we will perhaps come to different conclusions about how to appropriately mark a ballot on November 8th.

But there is a beautiful conclusion for all of this:

We can feel differently about issues and still each be faithful to what God is speaking to our hearts. God might lead one friend to choose not to trick-or-treat at Halloween, and another to be out in the community with her kids in costume.

We can all do different things, and still be faithful to what God is leading us to do.

The most important part of the process is perhaps the wrestling. The drawing near to your Creator and doing your best to bare your soul and hope to live your days with a clean conscience before God, trusting that you listened to the Holy Spirit to the best of your ability.

As this political race comes to a close, remember that you are swimming your own race, and your race is in your lane. Faithfulness will look different for you than it will for the person to your right or your left.

Fix your eyes on Jesus, friend, love and respect your neighbors and their race in their lane, and just keep swimming your race with faithfulness.

xCC

 

What to Do When Dreams Look Like Hard Work

I stared across the table at her for just a moment or two this morning. She scarcely has more hair today than she did a year ago when she was born. She’s one year old and I’m thinking about where it all began, and how it all began on the outside.

A little smirk crosses my face as I think of a comparison between giving birth and the experience of being in war. There’s blood and momentary confusion and yelling (that would be me) and you know that all of life is not contained in this moment — you just have to get through this moment to get to the good on the other side. I ponder all that, and that word — labor — and how it’s the same word we use for work.

Hard labor.

Manual labor.

Six days shall ye labor… and rest on the seventh.

She smiles and bounces the feet that dangle underneath the tray of her high chair. And an old thought strikes me in a new way:

It seems like the hardest things in life sometimes are also the best things.

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Whether it’s the numerous challenges of pregnancy and labor (or the challenges of the parenting years that follow), whether it’s the challenge of pursuing that PhD or writing that book or building something amazing, composing something amazing, there’s labor, and it is a part of the story that good things come from.

The labor of sowing the seeds and watering and weeding and waiting, and finally, reaping what you’ve sown.

The labor of teaching small and precious ones day in and day out, sowing those seeds and trusting the world will reap them years from now.

In a great conversation about these thoughts today a friend of mine put it succinctly: Just about everything in life requires hard work except watching TV.

Barring those moments of laying on the couch and being entertained by a screen in the room or a phone at your nose, life does require work. And the things that are really worth it? They usually require the most.

I’m making fresh commitments to myself about working hard right now.

About resting well and appropriately, yes, but also about knowing my own frame and, based on that, committing to work hard to achieve personal goals.

It convicted me deeply when I read these words recently in Tim Tebow’s new book:

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

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The Bible puts it this way:

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. {Gal. 6:7}

Pray about everything. Seek wisdom. But know that in addition to that praying and that seeking, you will also have to do your part. You will have to put in the time at the gym. You will have to put the seeds in the ground. You will have to dust off that resume and start putting it in front of new sets of eyes. You might have to stop spending when you should be saving.

The hardest part might just be stepping out of the boat — doing something that doesn’t look like the “normal” everybody else has going on. Putting in extra efforts at the end of that 9 to 5 instead of putting your nose to a screen.

Jesus lived a life like nobody else because He was a Man like nobody else. In our own small ways, perhaps we are called to go and do likewise.

I write these words to myself — pondering the things that might perhaps have been birthed with the time I spent on the couch instead.

But I write to you, too, knowing there is probably more inside of you. A dream. A hope. An idea of some kind that could scratch an itch you feel in your soul and feed a need in the world around you.

If I dream of seeing my name on the front cover of a bestseller, I’m going to have to put in the hard work to make that happen.

If we dream of having world-changing kids, we’re going to have to put in the hard work to raise them to change the world.

If you dream of making ______________ happen… what are the practical steps you need to take to do something about it?

Looking across the table at this baby who’s just one, I come to rejoice in the fact that in different ways, and in His good timing, God is faithful to our labor. Fruit doesn’t always come the way we want, as fast as we want, as much as we want. But we will not reap what we have not sown.

Lean hard on the Holy Spirit to direct your efforts, to prune you and give you wisdom, that you might bear much fruit.

And don’t be afraid if the path you see ahead of you looks like nobody else’s. It’s not supposed to.

xCC

 

 

 

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How To Develop a Supernatural Six Pack

It was after 11:30 – probably closer to midnight when they came out of my mouth, and it felt like they were never in my mind first. I was scrubbing the carpet in earnest, in the boys’ bedroom, and suddenly, I heard them as I said them. Maybe I should back up and tell you how I got there first.

It was an answer to prayer, around Christmastime a few years ago, when finances were very tight and I was hoping and believing it would somehow be possible for the Hubs to go snowboarding sometime that winter. It’s one of his most favourite things to do in the world, and he hadn’t had the opportunity since before we were married. I was trying to work something out when an invitation came his way, and, even though it meant he’d be away for nearly a week, and I’d be at home with three kididdles, I was still very excited, very thankful, very encouraged that God made a way.

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He left early early on a Tuesday morning. His first night away, my Mom and I juggled the three sweet peas pretty well, spaghetti on plates and baths and bedtime. After my Mom headed home, my friend Mona arrived, who, bless her soul, was willing to camp out at our house for the week — a big blessing because I didn’t want to be the only adult around in the evenings.

It quickly became apparent that it was a good thing Mona was present.

very good thing.

About the time I was planning to retire to bed, we heard a big cry from the boys’ bedroom. I knew it was the Bear and rushed in to find him, his pillow, his sheets, and a reasonable amount of the carpet by his bed covered in… how shall we say it?

His dinner.

I grabbed him up and hurried him into the bathroom for round two of the new mini-series Return of the Noodles. Moments later, I had the Bear soaking in a bubbly tub, his brother chillaxing on the couch with Yo Gabba Gabba (and precious Mona, watching along) and, armed with some I-need-this-now DIY carpet cleaner I’d just shaken together in a spray bottle (one part white vinegar, one part water, a few drops of tea tree oil, pray and shake well…) I was ready to meet those noodles head on.

I stripped the bed and began rinsing and scraping and piling things into the washing machine, and I began to start thinking about my thoughts as I vigorously scrubbed the carpet beside the Bear’s bed.

If this is the first night with the Hubs away…what next… well, surely it can only get better from here…

Am I really scrubbing carpet at 11:30 at night right now? And is this the first time I’ve ever had to be the vomit cleaner? I guess the Hubs normally tackles this job…

It was after a pause, and a sigh and a deep breath that the words exited my mouth without entering my thoughts:

Teach Me, Jesus.

And strangely enough, while scrubbing that noodled carpet at an hour when all’s well when all sleep well (usually) He did.

I was met with a strange kind of peace — the unexpected kind that brings a smile to your face even though you don’t know why. It slows your anxious pulse, calms the whirlwind in your mind.

Suddenly I was thankful. Thankful I’d decided to ask Mona to come and spend the week at our house. Thankful Tiger Tank was chilling on the couch with her instead of doing a dirty noodle dance or wailing because he couldn’t join his brother in the bath. Thankful there was the perfect amount of white vinegar left for this job, and how in the world did it happen that I finally found the tea tree oil at Walmart for the first time, just last week.

Coincidence? I think not.

I remembered Katie’s story. About the time a rat crawled into the back of her oven. She fought back the need to throw-up as she bleached and scrubbed and cleaned. She threw up once and got back to work.

My thoughts continued. Thank You, Lord — at least I’m not puking at all this.

Three simple words put me back inside that 5 x7 of thankfulness:

Teach Me, Jesus.

And I’ve since discovered that they have a multitude of uses.

It now seems so obvious, that all the moments that find me like this — struggling to scoop up too much laundry at once, the four-year-old shouting for assistance with a bum wipe in the bathroom, the toddler, diaperless and missing, which is a risk because the baby is awake and dangerously vulnerable in her play place, and of course because the toddler could pee somewhere — I can pause for a moment (or breathe on the way to check the baby before wiping the bum and finding the toddler) and just say it again:

Teach Me, Jesus.

Because I fully believe the Creator of the Universe is not sitting on a gigantic throne in the cosmos hurling challenges, distress and laundry our way for fun.

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The glory of the moments where you feel like you’re suffering is that great stuff can, and does, come out of it:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. {Rom. 5:3 -5}

From the bounty of His infinite goodness, God patiently walks us through the things we feel like we’re just striving to endure each day. He is stretching the muscles in our soul. Building a robust strength in our spirits.

Perhaps by the time I go to meet my maker, I will have supernatural six-pack abs.

How do you work those core faith muscles?

In all things, give thanks.

And when it gets hard, ask, and then listen: Teach Me, Jesus.

There’s no pill you can take. No supernatural steroid. No way to get from I kinda-believe-sometimes to “supernatural six-pack abs.” You’ll have to walk through the hard things, and lean hard into Jesus.

If you need an extra little something to get you through one of those moments — when your boss chews you out and lets you go, or the toddler stands up in excitement over having pooped in the potty only to discover the poop hasn’t dropped yet and OOOPS there it is on the floor and there he goes…. (that happened, people), or you just don’t know how you are going to keep on putting one foot in front of the other if something. doesn’t. change. like. now. — I wholeheartedly recommend giving these three words a try.

Teach Me, Jesus.

If you are willing to ask, He will.

xCC

 

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— Adapted from the Archives

 


There Are Stars in the Southern Sky

It was just a few short weeks ago, but it feels a lifetime. Hero Hubs and I were sitting outside with the lights off, half a world away with the sounds of the African night all around us. For days, we’d been watching a small family of bats that was nesting in a little space between the doorframe and the door nearby, and at dusk they’d come out to begin their nightly ritual of swooping through the air above our patio.

As the bats collected their meal, a few insects at a time, the hubs and I talked. We stilled, hushed and listened to the birds and the sounds and the low murmur of television sets and other human life in the cottages nearby. The incredible gift of echolocation amazed us and we watched how quickly the bats changed course: their flight might be aiming straight at our heads, then they’d adjust direction within inches of our ears and we’d hear a gentle swoop as they passed.

It was one of those irresistibly special moments where I thought to myself, “I wonder… could anyone else in the world being doing exactly this thing at this moment?”

I was delighted by the experience, grateful we were outside thinking and talking and looking up and not inside staring at screens. And while the idea of a few bats whirring past my ears made me a bit nervous, I just decided… I am not going to be afraid. I’m going to live this experience, this moment.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And I can honestly say I’ve never seen stars like I’ve seen them from the southern hemisphere on a clear night, near the bushveld and far away from bright lights and city pollution. It’s become a ritual on every journey back to SA. We always find at least one night, and we look up at the sky together, sit quiet and talk. We talk about our lives, what we are hoping for or preparing for in the season ahead. And this time we talked a lot about my Dad-in-law’s (I prefer Dad-in-love’s) health. We were startled by how fragile and weak and declining he seemed when we arrived back in SA.

Three weeks. It was a precious and good time making new memories with family. We were also privileged in our visits into Kruger National Park. Blessed to see animals and sights we’d never seen before in the previous ten years of game viewing together. Lions mating, wild dogs with pups, a hippo having an argument with a crocodile, and back at our cottage, several gorgeous species of kingfishers fishing right off the porch where we were staying. We watched yellow weavers making nests in an acacia tree overhead, listened as they chittered feisty arguments about who would get which branch, marveled as they clipped away at last year’s nests and let all that hard work drop into the pond below to make space for new nests.

It was as if the very voice of God was whispering to my soul with every sight, with every sound, with every blessed moment… I’m with you and I love you.

I was grateful for that whisper — I just didn’t know yet how much I needed it.

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We spent our last few days in Bloemfontein, soaking in the last few moments with Mom and Dad before we’d be half a world away again. On one of our last nights, Dad had a roll of toilet paper by his chair, which he decided to pass to sweet baby Catriana (now ten months old) to see what she might decide to do with it. She rolled it out and began tearing strips into shreds, and I watched her enjoying her new toy, but I really took in Dad just enjoying her. There was a beautifully bright gleam in his eyes.

At the end of those three weeks, we said a really hard, really sad goodbye. Living far away is just hard. Really hard. For the last four years, every goodbye has been a scary could-this-be-the-last-one goodbye.

With Bloemfontein in our rear view mirror, we endured the treacherous five hour drive to ten hour flight to fourteen hour flight to five hour drive home. We arrived exhausted, and after a brief rest, jumped in to all the commitments on the calendar. Quiver Tree Academy (our homeschool) started up again, at least until everyone got knocked out by some unpleasant virus that came for a visit.

The news came just two days after our return, Dad was in the hospital. Day after day we did our best to keep going here, while waiting to hear news about Dad, doing poorly there.

Life is messy hard when you are mostly waiting but have to keep living.

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We’d only been home ten days when we heard the news.

I’ve had the privilege of calling two men Dad in my lifetime. And now my second Dad had breathed his last breath. That night, Hero Hubs drove to the airport to get on a plane the next morning, headed back to our beloved country again.

It has rained every day this week, and the stormy skies seem to reflect the sentiments in my own soul. Grief is a path that can take you in several directions, almost simultaneously. Angry and sad, grateful and glad for the memories, hurt and fearful when you consider the great separation between you and this person so dear to you… you can jump from one path to the next, one emotion to the next, in the blink of an eye.

You can be sitting still on the outside, but on the inside, your soul feels like it’s rocking in a tiny boat on tempestuous waves.

For days now, we’ve been mostly sad. I’m sad that it seemed best for the kids and me to stay here while HH traveled home to bury his father. We FaceTime, sad at this loss, sad at the separation.

It takes a while for me to remind myself that sad is often right, and appropriate, and it’s okay. Not every sentence needs to end with an exclamation point.

I think about what wise old Job said to his wife, when she was so bitter at all the sadness in their lives and said he ought to curse the heavens for all the broken parts of his life.

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” {Job 2:10}

We came home to the leaves falling from the trees, the reminder that part of the renewing is in the letting go. The beloved dogwoods in my front yard will bloom again in the spring, but first leaves have to fall. This too is part of the process.

It can be awfully hard to lean into trusting that even though you’re not in control, somehow life can still be okay. It can be hard to sit still and trust the special gift God gave the bat to keep it from hitting you in the head. But a small kind of miracle can take place if you can let go.

New leaves will push through in the spring and life will be renewed. A tiny whoosh passes by and your ear canal catches it and tells your brain — that’s the sound of a tiny little bat who just changed direction mid-flight to avoid colliding with you. Rejoice in how amazing it is. Even if it’s also so simple.

The Dad our family will say goodbye to tomorrow was often a man of few words, but also a man who spoke up when it was time to speak. He was a man who made efforts to greet cashiers at the checkout in their native language, and even if the first three languages he tried didn’t work, he kept trying.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

I’m grateful we had three more weeks of memories so recently. I’m grateful Dad had 77 years of life. I marvel that he was just a few weeks shy of being married 50 years to the one and only love of his life.

Living out a promise faithfully for 50 years. Beaming in his last few days at the mischief of passing a roll of toilet paper to a baby just to see what she’ll do.

Sometimes the simple things are the most amazing.

There are stars in the southern sky.

And there are stars right where you are, too. And it’s amazing to think the light that you’re seeing often started its journey from those distant places before you were born. The very star you’re wishing on might’ve died years ago, but the light it let off is still on its journey in this direction.

Even though his journey wasn’t an easy one, Dad had a light in his eyes and goodness in his heart, and it’s a gift to think about how that light still shines, and will still shine in his absence.

Sometimes, the simple things are the most amazing.

xCC

What We Can All Learn From the Rio Olympians: the Danger of Trying to Do It All

Have you been staying up way too late following the Rio 2016 Olympics? I’ve mentioned before — the Hero Hubs was a competitive swimmer for many years so you can probably guess which sport is on lots lots at our house this week! Whether you’re a fan of the swimming (which can teach you a lot about learning to Swim Your Own Race!) or watching gymnastics, dressage, fencing or track and field, there is one stand-out lesson I’m confident any Olympian could teach all of us.

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Now in case you’re not familiar with my little family, let me give you a quick backstory to make sure this post all makes sense. We are a human party of six — two adults and four kids, and I think we’re going to stop here since that’s all the hands covered. My husband is a professional photographer, and I assist him at weddings, bridal portraits and engagement sessions, but he handles family sessions and commercial work solo.

While photography currently pays our bills (and I dream about the day writing will, too) it is also something we both really enjoy, especially because of those four aforementioned humans we are blessed to have in our care. They really do grow and change and learn something every day, and we really love capturing the journey.

The one challenge with being a pair of photographers is discovering that one of us is always not in the picture, because, you know, that one is behind the camera. We can occasionally try to set something up to get everyone in, but you try convincing a seven year old, a five year old, a three year old and a nine month old to all simultaneously look in the same direction, at a camera with nobody behind it AND smile. Then let me know how that works out for you.

So, we do occasionally employ the services of another photographer, so that, ya know, we can have a picture of all of us that we didn’t take with an iPhone we propped up against a rock somewhere.

And let me just mention one more time, I really love photos, and have been dreaming about having one really great family photo, now that we think all the humans are here, to hang in our home.

And this is where the story begins.

The Story About How I Try To Do Too Much

We made an appointment with a very talented photographer for a photo session for our family. It’s not unusual for me to give advice to other couples or families planning for a photo session, so I took some of my own advice and started thinking through how I wanted everyone dressed. And then a happy thought bubble emerged, and I asked the hubs if maybe I could pretty please get my makeup done for the session.

And I pondered clothes and stressed clothes and everything that seemed to match among the children somebody had already drizzled olive oil on or something.

So I managed to scoot away with the baby and the oldest along to help for a wee shopping trip for the first time in maybe … two years or so… and I found some options for the session and it went way more smoothly than I expected and I was so thankful I was in tears on the way home. But I basically had something for me to wear at that point. And the hubs was covered. Thanks, Amazon.

The day of the session was postponed thanks to weather, and in the meantime I asked the hubs at some point when I didn’t think he was paying attention and would say yes if maybe I could also just get the girls at the salon to quickly dress my hair up after makeup.

The new session day arrived and I couldn’t find clothes that really matched nicely so I asked my Mom for help and ran out to shop again and found a dress for the Belle which meant this shirt would look best for this boy and that shirt for that boy, but by now I’d bought a lot of stuff, but everyone was going to match and maybe that was okay because I just about never buy clothes for my kids because my Mom always does, and we are blessed with lots of handmedowns.

I scurried home with the treasure and took off again not long after for hair and makeup which took longer than expected — how I didn’t expect that when I’m a wedding photographer and hair and makeup often take a good wee while, I don’t know — and there wasn’t time for me to fetch pizza I was supposed to grab on the way home, so a frozen one came out quickly instead and we rushed and shoved pizza into small faces and wiped those faces and shoved them into the clothes and I fed the baby and scurried her into her outfit and everybody was rushrushrushed and when we finally got into the car just about on time, I was like… holy cow that was nuts.

During Operation Awesome Photo Session, I wasn’t the nicest Mommy, nor was I the most helpful wife. We didn’t have a major fiasco and I’m sure the photos will be great because our friend Dana catches lightning in a jar on a regular basis. But, I kind of got absorbed in OAPS at the expense of — well — the people who were going to be in the pictures, who are, ironically, the reason the pictures matter. It’s really the people.

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The Trouble With Doing Too Much

The thing about doing too much is, yes, maybe you can get it all done — but will it get done well? I’m grateful to say most of our days are not like that day, where the pace was too quick and the hurry started to hurt.

There are hundreds of thousands of options for our every day lives — so many things we can do — but if you try to do the metaphorical hair and the makeup and the clothes and and and (give some thought to what those might symbolize for you), you might not do anything really well.

Jane Austen describes her lovable and fallible character, Emma, like this:

She had always wanted to do every thing, and had made more progress both in drawing and music than many might have done with so little labour as she would ever submit to. She played and sang;—and drew in almost every style; but steadiness had always been wanting; and in nothing had she approached the degree of excellence which she would have been glad to command, and ought not to have failed of. {Emma, Jane Austen}

Austen highlights the fact that Emma had the talent, ability and resources to be excellent in many things, but she didn’t approach excellence in any thing because she wouldn’t faithfully submit to persevering in one thing — she lacked perseverance, and chose rather to do a little of everything instead.

Unfortunately, we often drag our children (and/or ourselves) into trying this sport and that sport and this instrument and that club and this activity. Our calendars fill, and we might feel like we’re doing well to give our lives so many options and entertainments and interests. But we have to keep the balance in check. Here’s the thing.

Any of the Olympians you might be watching in Rio right now will tell you — they didn’t get there by doing everything. In the history of the Olympics, no one has ever medaled in everything. I did a little research and couldn’t find athletes who ever medaled in three sports or more. There are some who’ve medaled in two sports, but the sports are usually complementary — like swimming and water polo, or Nordic Combined and Cross Country Skiing — or they take place in different seasons — one is a Summer Olympics sport, the other, winter.

Most often, an athlete at the Olympics got there by doing one thing, and working at doing that one thing continuously, faithfully, with perseverance and grit.

I will not excel at every thing. My kids will not excel at every thing, but they could be great at some thing if I could help them learn the discipline of perseverance (which I’m most certainly still learning myself!)

And I have a deep desire to parent my children well and a lot of the most important moments we’ve ever had — the most meaningful conversations and memories have happened in the margins. Those passing moments when a thought pops into their heads and they ask a great question. Or the moments when we have time to open the Children’s Bible as the last kid is finishing their dinner, because we’re not rushing off to something else.

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How Not to Do It All

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

If you’re not sure what those main things are in your life that need to be the non-negotiable parts that take center stage, I have two simple encouragements for you.

First, press into Jesus. Choose to let the God of the universe direct the course of your life. His plans for it are good! Read His Word and think about how it applies to your life.

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9

Second, pray lots and often. Don’t beat yourself if this doesn’t look how you want — this might not be the season for an hour in the garden before sunrise. Pray when you can — in the car, in between this and that — just let the conversation keep going.

Ask for help to discern which things are the things you ought to commit yourself and/or your children to, and which things are just fluff on the calendar that is going to make life really hard for you. Maybe your kids will be a little bit disappointed that they can’t do all the things they want to do — but remember, number those days — and you’ll know that you only have so many before those precious people are out the door and on their way.

Teachers, instructors, and sports coaches can be amazingly wonderful influences on our kids, but they are no substitute for us spending quality one-on-one time loving each child and training him or her up in the way they should go.

Third, get practical. Start writing down which things are the main things, the non-negotiables, for you and your kids. Train your calendar to submit to the goals that you have for your kids and yourself.

I’m confident you care more about the character and integrity of your soul, and about the character and integrity your kids will have when they leave your home, than you care about a corner kick or mastery of the scales. Your will have to work to make your calendar submit to your primary goals. No can be hard, but sometimes yes ends up being much harder.

If you need it, These Two Resources might help you figure out what your primary goals are. But the surest way not to reach your goals is not to set them.

Slow down and enjoy life today friends. Love the people that matter most to you, and remember that every yes is also a no. And every no is also a yes.

What do you want most to say yes to? I’d love for you to share goals, or resources that have helped you figure them out, in the comments!

xCC