My “word” for 2018

My “word” for 2018

Until last year, I have never been one of those people who came up with a word for the year. I’ve always thought it was a cool idea, but I simply was never able to think of one word that described my focus for the coming 12 months.

Last year, as 2016 was coming to a close, my word for 2017 just made itself obvious to me. I knew that “intentional” needed to be my word for the year. You can read a little bit about how that word impacted me here, but it really deserves a separate blog post (which honestly, I will probably never write).

Anyway, as 2017 was ending, once again, my focus for 2018 materialized unexpectedly.

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Typology, which is by the author of a book I have recommended several times, called “The Road Back to You.” I have really loved this book, which explains the personality profile system called, the Enneagram.

Each week, the author, Ian Cron, interviews people who are different types on the Enneagram. I love listening to stories of how people have learned to maximize the strengths and weaknesses of their personality type and grow in their faith through the process.

On this particular episode, he was interviewing a woman who is a 1 on the Enneagram, which is the perfectionist. I was especially interested because I also am a 1.

As I was listening to the interview, I kept thinking, “This woman reminds me so much of myself.” About halfway through the interview, the conversation started to change. The interviewer began probing her on questions at a deeper level. I was answering the same questions in my head.

By the end, he suggested to her that maybe she isn’t a 1 at all. Maybe she actually is a 3, which is “the achiever.”

I’ve always questioned whether I’m actually a 1, because some aspects of this personality type really don’t describe me very well. But as I’ve analyzed other types, I’ve always passed over the 3. I knew for a fact there was no way this was me. In fact, as much as I didn’t want to be a 1, “at least I wasn’t a 3,” I would sometimes think!

But now, as he described the 3, an uneasiness started growing in my stomach. (And I knew I had NOT eaten any gluten!) Just the name of this personality type seemed to describe me so perfectly. Achiever.

Dang.

If you lined up 10 people closest to me and asked them to choose one word to describe me, I’m guessing at a few of them would choose this word.

I haven’t taken the test again to confirm or dispel that I am a 3. But just thinking about it really started to bother me.

I really do get so much of my value in life from what I “do.” I love to achieve. I’m driven to perform. Most people know me best by what I DO, rather than who I AM.

In fact, I wrote a whole blog post about this realization last summer when I took that sabbatical and visited the lighthouses.

After a few weeks of processing this, it became clear to me that I really don’t want to let another year go by, letting my life be defined by what I DO, rather than who I AM. The word I chose for 2018 was “be.” But that seemed short and hard to understand so I eventually came up with a phrase: “Less doing, more being.”

The problem was, I didn’t even know what that meant. How do I DO less? How do I BE more?

Does this mean I can’t DO all of the things I love? Does it mean I can’t do all of my crafts and write in my bullet journal and cook my crazy food and decorate my house?

I realized that the most important part of “Less Doing and More Being” doesn’t mean I have to stop doing all of the things that bring me joy. It is really about the motivation and attitude that come with my need to constantly achieve. I’ve found that doing things is how I gain acceptance and value. The problem comes when I start to place so much weight on DOing and become so focused on my goals that I Iose sight of building authentic, transparent relationships.

But how do you even track your progress when you are actually trying to do LESS? Where does one even begin?

Thankfully, God started to give me some clues. One of the first was a friend from my past came into my life and reminded me about a book she had recommended six months ago called, “Sensible Shoes.” She had told me that my story about my sabbatical reminded her of one of the characters in the book. I’ve already started reading the book, and some of my friends agreed to read it with me and have a book discussion. Discussing a book with a group of friends sounded like a great first step to build relationships based on BEing, rather than DOing.

After that, several other people reached out to me in completely random and unexpected ways with opportunities to BE together.

So, I guess this journey won’t be one that I get to plan. It won’t involve a goal sheet or a habit tracker. I think it’s going to be more of an adventure of being open to opportunities to BE more often and DO less often. I’m going to be paying attention to my heart and motivations when I start to DO too much. Am I trying to find value and happiness by DOing? And how to I replace that with BEing?

I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to seeing what God has planned for me this year.

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Living with Celiac Disease: What it’s like

Living with Celiac Disease: What it’s like

I spent most of my morning waiting.

It was our first day back into a routine after 17 days of Christmas break, and I had a long mental list of things I needed to do. But I couldn’t move.

I couldn’t get out of bed to tell my older kids good-bye as they rushed off to school. Thankfully, the youngest had a sore throat so I could call the school and them know she was sick without getting up myself.

I knew all I could do was wait.

My lower back was in extreme pain. My head was throbbing. My brain was foggy. And I was overcome by such a weight of exhaustion that I couldn’t think about standing up.

I laid there wrestling my range of emotions. Anger. Frustration. Worry. Anger again.

This is what my life looks like the morning after I’ve been exposed to gluten. I’m not talking about eating a piece of bread or enjoying pizza or cheating with a cookie. I’m talking about accidentally ingesting a tiny, imperceptible, invisible trace of gluten.

I decided to write about it because: 1.) I think most of the time my life looks like all I do is dance from one creative endeavor to the next without a care in the world, 2.) I’m not going to post this on Facebook, which means about three people will ever read it, 3.) I just need to let it out.

The gluten hit my system surprisingly fast. I’ve only had a few incidents like this one during the past year. But it’s scary to me how much harder it hits me each time.

I was talking to a friend at a party when my head started feeling like it was going to explode. My stomach was starting to feel uneasy. And I suddenly felt very hot. My friend told me that my face was red.

It took me a minute to process what was going on. Even as careful as I am about asking questions and making sure food will be safe for me, could I still have gotten some gluten?

The illness was coming over me like a wave now, and I knew I had to get home before it hit my stomach and intestines. I knew what was coming. I knew I needed to be in my own home to handle this. And I knew once it hit, there was no way I would be able to drive home.

The first few hours are definitely the worst as my body goes into overdrive to try to eliminate everything in my system as quickly as possible. If you’ve ever had food poisoning, that’s the best comparison.

The thing that makes it worse is the feeling I’m going to explode. My digestive tract is burning hot from the acid reflux in my throat to the burning in my stomach to the flame in my intestines.

A few hours later, the intense pain in my lower back set in. That pain took me back to the first month when I discovered I had Celiac Disease. I lived with that pain on a constant basis. I couldn’t believe it was back. It feels like I should at least have had the joy of eating a piece of pizza first if I was going to be in THAT much pain!

Once all of the physical symptoms subsided, that’s when I started dealing with all of the mental and emotional junk.

  • How will I live like this for the rest of my life?
  • How can I live in a society that is covered in gluten?
  • What will happen when I’m older and I have an attack like this one?
  • How long will it take for me to return to normal?
  • Should I tell anyone about this? I’m pretty sure everyone is tired of hearing about it so I should just endure it in isolation.
  • What kind of mother am I that I can’t even get out of bed on my kids’ first day back at school?
  • How much damage did this do to my system?

I have worked so hard to stick to my super strict diet the past year. I know that my intestines have been healing because I can eat more foods. I’ve even been exercising the past few weeks, which is a huge improvement. I’ve struggled so much with anemia the past few months that it had been hard to even go for a walk. Lately, I’ve been running on my treadmill. What will happen now?

I know that when my body encounters gluten, my immune system goes into overdrive, attacking my small intestine. I wonder how much damage it will do before the gluten is removed. How long will it take for those antibodies to settle down again?

Sometimes I wish I could have a “normal” disease. One that people could understand. One that I could take a pill for or get some kind of treatment. Maybe even one that is curable. I realize that’s just weird to want to trade in this disease for another one. Most of my thoughts are irrational at this point.

Finally, my system has been cleared out after a very painful 16 hours or so. I’m ready to carefully try to find something to eat to start to restore my energy.

I vow not to let this happen again. I try to convince myself it’s not my fault. Then, I tell myself how stupid I am that I took such a risk. Eating food at a party. Geez! How could you do such a thing?

I’m ready to re-enter the world as if this never happened.

I’m ready to start filling in this week’s to-do list.

I’m ready to do something other than wait.

 

 

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That time I started a bullet journal

That time I started a bullet journal

A few days ago, I was talking to some friends about our Christmas highlights. I mentioned that I was really excited about one of my gifts… a bullet journal.

No one in the group seemed to know what I was talking about, so I went on to try to explain. It’s a blank journal. And you fill it in with whatever you want. And you get to use colorful markers. And practice your handwriting.

They looked at me perplexed. A few of them laughed out loud.

“Explain it again… You do WHAT?!?” was the general reaction.

I thought that maybe if I just gave them more detail, they would catch on to the greatness of this hobby that is the bullet journal. It’s for people who love to make lists… or just love to write on paper… you create your own calendar pages… and you “journal” but in bullet points, I tried to explain.

Instead of falling in love, they became increasingly convinced that I am nuts! So, I guess most people aren’t that excited about a bullet journal, and if that’s you, that’s OK. I get it.

I tried starting a bullet journal back in 2016. I even wrote a few blog posts about my excitement about it! I started following Instagram feeds and blogs devoted to bullet journaling. But the more I learned about it, the more convinced I became that there was no way I could do it!

Some days, I can barely find time to even write out my to-do list, not to mention, create a colorful page with neat handwriting and carefully framed boxes to record my thoughts. But as I approached the end of 2017, I decided I wanted to give it a try. There’s just something about creating a bullet journal that is so appealing to me!

As I mentioned before, I love pens. I love writing on paper. I love practicing my hand lettering. I love planners. I love doodling. This is a hobby that’s also an organizational tool that incorporates all of those things!

I gave my husband a link to the Leuchtturm 1917, which seems to be the bullet journal of choice for many people. The pages have squares like graph paper, which makes it so much easier to plot out what you want to write on each page. The pages also lie flat, and each page is numbered.

He also got me a creative lettering book and some nice pens.

So, I’ve been bullet journaling for a week now, and so far I love it. Also, so far, my kids have been on Christmas break, and I was off last week and had a lot more time than usual to sit around and write in my bullet journal. Honestly, if I can keep this thing going for two weeks, I’m going to be happy!

Just to give you a taste, here’s what kind of pages I’ve created so far.

Getting started is the hardest part because you don’t want to mess up the very first page in your beautiful new journal. I decided to start by creating a record of our Christmas gifts. Not that we need a record of our Christmas gifts. But it’s straight forward. It’s easy. It didn’t require a lot of thought.

That was fun, so I decided to make some other lists from 2017, just as a non-threatening way to get started with my journal.

I wrote down some significant memories from each month…

…a list of the books I read and my favorite podcasts…

…and I started a list of new foods I tried last year… I still need to complete this list…

I was still a little worried about getting into the meat of the journal, so I used a few pages to just write words…

It’s not perfect or beautiful, but I like to try to write in different “fonts.” 🙂

So, finally, I started the calendar portion of my journal…

First, I created a “future log” with one line for each day of the year. This is where you can write all of the important dates of the year, like holidays, birthdays and days off school. I love that my journal has two bookmarks so I can mark different pages. The pages in this journal also are numbered, making it easy to create a table of contents at the front with the page number references for what’s in the journal.

Next, I created my January habit tracker.

You can imagine how much I love filling in these little squares each time I complete one of my daily habits for the month!

And finally, I started working on my daily spreads.

The fun part about a bullet journal is that you can make all of your spreads look different. I’m still a little intimidated, so I just copied this spread format from someone on Pinterest, and I created a week’s worth of pages in this format.

It includes a “to do list,” a box I labeled “healthy,” which includes my weight, what type of exercise I did that day, how much water I drank and how many steps I took that day.

At the bottom is a box marked “gratitude.” This is the “bullet journal” portion of the book, where I jot down in bullet points the highlight of my day. I’ve been surprised how much I enjoy filling in this box!

So, that’s my bullet journal. At this point, you are either laughing, completely confused or convinced this is something you have to try! Whatever the case, I get it. I can’t even tell you I will be bullet journaling a week from now, but it’s been a great excuse to cuddle up under a warm blanket with some hot tea and write with my pretty pens. And that, my friends, is my idea of fun!

**

Hey, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever heard of bullet journaling? Have you tried it? Does it sound ridiculous? Or do you think it’s something you would enjoy? I would love to know!

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My secret code gift labelling system

My secret code gift labelling system

A few days before Christmas, I was surprised to hear our 13-year-old daughter say what she was looking forward to the most.

“I can’t wait to crack mom’s code on the gifts,” she said.

About five years ago, I began replacing my traditional gift tags with a secret code. When the kids were little, I would write their names on their gifts like a normal person. But as they got older, they began going through the gifts, sorting them into piles by name.

Once they knew which gifts belonged to each child, the shaking, squishing and guessing began. They were usually able to identify with about 70 percent accuracy the contents of each package.

The first year I set out gifts without names, they were perplexed for a little while, at least. I wrapped each persons gift in a different type of paper. It didn’t take their curious minds long to decode that one. Just find the gift that shakes like Lego and start narrowing it down.

The next year, I mixed up the wrapping paper, but added tags in different shapes. The shapes didn’t correspond to a person, but the order in which they should be unwrapped. I added a number to indicate the name of the receiver.

My secret codes have grown more and more complex over the years. But this year’s topped them all.

As I was wrapping the gifts, I saw a little pile of cards sitting on the table next to me. On each card was written the name of a Christmas song. We had used these cards a week earlier to play a game of “Christmas Carol Pictionary” at a party we had at our house.

I attached a card to the front of each gift. In my notebook, I created a little spreadsheet of which Christmas song labelled each gift.

For several days, the kids had been trying to figure out my system. Did the Christmas songs indicate a certain person? Or were they a clue to the contents of the package?

On Christmas morning, they were excited to crack the code.

I started with the first gift for the youngest child and began drawing the name of the Christmas carol that labelled her gift. She had to guess the Christmas song, then locate the package with that tag.

Once she had opened hers, I whispered the clue for the next person, and she got to draw… just like Pictionary. We continued, with each gift recipient then becoming the artist.

“I so glad you did this!” our oldest son chimed in. “Usually, we open the gifts so fast, and then it’s over. This makes it really fun!”

We ended up having tons of laughs as each person drew clues like, “it’s beginning to LOOK a lot like Christmas” …

“Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem “…

“I’m gettin’ nuttin’ for Christmas”…

And “Oh, Holy Night”…

I love thinking of a new secret code every year to label the gifts. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to top this one!

Maybe Christmas label Pictionary will become a new tradition.

**
What about you? Have you ever done anything unusual with your Christmas labels? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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The hands of Christmas past

The hands of Christmas past

Fifteen years ago, I was a mom to two little boys. One was 2 years old, and the other was just a baby.

Back then, I didn’t have Pinterest. I didn’t have Instagram or even Facebook. Somehow, even living on a planet empty of social media, I was able to glean creative ideas from sources of which I now have absolutely no memory.

Somewhere, I saw an idea to trace a child’s hands on the skirt of a Christmas tree. I thought this was cute, so I set out to find a plain tree skirt that I could decorate with the handprints of these two tiny boys.

I chose gold paint for the older child and silver for the baby.

When it came to actually tracing these little hands with paint, I imagined them running through the house with wet paint all over their hands, touching things and sticking fingers in mouths, faster than I could stop them. So, I decided to first trace their hands on cardstock, then cut out the hands, and trace the paper hands with paint.

I had so much fun tracing their hands that first year. I spread out the four little hands, with no concern for making room for hands in future years. I wrote their names under their hands and the year: 2002.

The next year, I added four more slightly larger hands. By the third year, I had a new set of tiny hands to add to the tree skirt. I had to choose a new color for her hands. And so a splash of green was added to the gold and silver.

As the years went on, I would often wait until after Christmas to paint the hands. Many times, the tree skirt would lay out for months after we had put away all of the other Christmas decorations. Sometimes, I would even let the little cut-outs of their hands pile up and have to paint two sets the following year.

Our seventh year into the process, we added one more set of hands. This time, I traced in red.

And I also filled up the tree skirt.

What should I do now? Was that the end of the tradition?

As a fourth born myself, I know how it feels to looks at so many photos and hear tales of vacations of which I have no memory. I wasn’t born for much of the fun. Or some of the traditions. I wanted this sweet little one to get more than one set of hands drawn on the tree skirt.

So, I set out shopping for another plain tree skirt. This time, all I could find was green.

The hands were growing larger, and in 2010, those eight hands wrapped themselves halfway around the outer edge of the new skirt.

I continued tracing hands on cardstock at the beginning of each Christmas season. But sometimes, the traced hands would sit in the closet never getting traced in paint.

This year, I looked at my second tree skirt and realized I had fallen FIVE YEARS behind! I knew where those traced hands were kept because they taunted me all year long. Over and over again, I would write on a to-do list, “paint hands on tree skirt!” Over and over again, I would ignore my own admonition.

Finally, this year, I found the hands I had traced. I had missed a few years, but was determined not to give up. I simply used the following year’s handprint and traced a set slightly smaller to represent the previous year. This was art, I told myself, not an exact representation.

I cut out five year’s worth of hands. That’s 20 sets. Forty hands.

I arranged them on the tree skirt and realized that once again I had run out of space.

I had two complete years that wouldn’t fit.

 

This was no time to stop. I searched five stores before finding a plain tree skirt that I liked. I struggled with the fact that the three skirts were completely different styles.

I spent hours tracing and cutting hands. Laying them out. Tracing them in paint. Writing the names. Adding the years.

Finally. I’m done.

I think this is the only tradition that I have carried out for basically the entire life of my children (minus those first two years). I wonder what I will do with three tree skirts. I wonder what I will do when one goes to college, then two, then three, then four. I wonder if I will someday add grandchildren. I wonder how many tree skirts I will eventually fill.

I decide not to worry about it. This year, I love looking back at those tiny hands that have grown into bigger hands and are now adult-sized hands.

I’m so thankful I have them to look at and remind me how blessed I’ve been by all of those sets of hands.

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How we were finally visited by an elf

How we were finally visited by an elf

A few days ago, our oldest son stopped me as he was rushing to head out for his early morning drive to school. He looked perplexed.

“Mom, why were you wrapping toilet paper around the Christmas tree?”

A few days earlier, our 15-year-old confronted me in a similar manner.

“Ummmm, Mom?” “Why did you come running down the stairs at 6 a.m., throw the elf in a bowl and pour Froot Loops on top of him?”

These kinds of crazy activities have become a new addition to my morning routine. I draw pictures on bananas. I set up fake Scrabble games. I stage dance parties in the Barbie dream house.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit to the world that I’ve become one of THOSE moms. After years of resistance, we have an elf.

I swore for years that this would never happen to me. I’ve always hated the Elf on the Shelf trend. It had to be the most heinous of all forms of distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. I have enough on my plate with four children, there’s no way I could take on the responsibility of setting up elaborate escapades for a stuffed elf. And… I know myself. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to go Pinterest crazy. I didn’t know if I could handle the pressure of being an Elf Mom.

When the older three kids were little, I really didn’t have to worry about stuff like this. We homeschooled, and then they went to a private Christian school. They weren’t surrounded on a daily basis by kids who talked about Santa Claus or their elves in such a profound, this-is-reality, kind of way.

Then, our youngest went off to kindergarten at public school. When Dec. 1 rolled around, an elf came to visit her school. She had fun searching for the elf each day and seeing what kind of antics he had pulled overnight. But then the conversations began. Each child in her class would tell about what his or her elf had done that morning. Our little 6-year-old was stuck in the awkward position of trying to explain why an elf had not come to visit her home.

“Mom!” she would question each day after school. “WHY am I the ONLY child in my entire class who doesn’t have an elf?!”

I tried to compensate by moving her stuffed animals at night. I created elaborate displays of them playing games or dumping cereal on the counter or getting into other sorts of trouble. I was dancing on the edge of the elf trend, but refusing to jump in. My daughter gave a half-hearted smile at my attempts to fill the elf void, but it was never enough.

Still, the more pressure I felt to participate in this elf religion, the more I dug in my heels. We are NOT getting an elf.

Our daughter’s birthday is Dec. 1, so the next year, I was so focused on getting ready for her first grade birthday party, that I didn’t even stop to think about the elf. She came home from school that day, not full of excitement that it was her birthday, but crushed from hearing all of the stories of how everyone’s elf had arrived with great fanfare that morning.

Dang. I forgot about the elf.

December dragged on with more tales of the amazing, crazy and exciting things that were happening with elves in other people’s homes. I couldnt even muster the energy to move her Beanie Boos. No matter what I did to try to make the season merry, the elf tales hung like a heavy shadow over all my efforts. I couldn’t wait for December to end.

By the time Christmas came and went at our house, I knew one thing was for sure. On our daughter’s 8th birthday, she would be getting an elf.

How could I do such a 180 on my anti-elf stance?

Our oldest son is a junior in high school this year. We only get one more Christmas with him living at home after this one. Seeing how quickly he has grown up has made me realize that some things aren’t worth fighting. These years are so short. Our little one will only care about an elf for a few more Christmases. Soon, I will be wishing she still cared about Barbies and Legos and elves. I know now how painfully condensed this short season of life really is.

I would rather she have fond memories of her elf messing up the house all of December, than memories of being left out of every conversation because she didn’t have an elf.

If I hadn’t made up my mind already, my new position was solidified in late November. She was about a week away from turning 8. That is the age we had told her she needed to be to have a sleepover. She told us that her friends had invited her for a slumber party — not because she was turning 8. Nope. They wanted her to sleep over so she could experience the fun of finding their elves the next morning!!

I have a tradition of decorating each child’s door with streamers and wrapping paper on the morning of their birthday. This year, I made sure an elf was part of the decor. She declared it the Best. Birthday. Ever.

Having an elf IS a distraction from the true meaning of Christmas. But we spend lots of time talking about the birth of Christ and the things that truly matter. She knows how the elf moves at night, but she will never admit it. She staunchly obeys the rules of not touching the elf. She admonishes anyone who unknowingly tries to rescue the little stuffed guy from a bowl of cereal or being wrapped in streamers. She loves playing along with his silliness and searching for him the minute she wakes up.

My older kids aren’t sure what happened to their mom. They think the elf is ridiculous and can’t believe I’ve bought in.

My husband has tried to move the elf a few times to help me out. He quickly learned that simply setting it on the fireplace isn’t enough. Our elf likes to have more fun than that!

And me?

Well, it’s possible that I might be growing to like our elf. It turns out he hasn’t ruined our lives.

He’s cute. He’s always smiling.

And yeah… I can’t wait to see what he does next.

**

So, what about you? What do you think about the Elf on the Shelf craze. Have you bought in? Or do you hate the pressure?

 

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