How Not to Get Caught in the Tradition Trap this Holiday Season

Christmas Tree With PresentsHoliday Season? That’s right, friends! Whether we’re ready for it or not the holidays are upon us. And with the holidays…Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s… comes a mob of traditions.

Trunk-or-treating at Grandma and Grandpa’s church

Aunt Becky’s mac-n-cheese, a Thanksgiving staple

Mr. Wonderful’s Ten Days of Christmas

 Church on Christmas Eve

 Monkey bread on Christmas 

 Chip dip, Catan, and champagne as we ring in the New Year.

 The list is endless and seems only to grow with each passing year.

Each year, before the holiday crazies get going I have a little tradition of my own. Every fall one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Sparks, releases a brand new, tear-jerking novel and my tradition is this: On the day his latest story releases I drive to Barnes & Noble where I find his book waiting for me just inside the door. I browse through several copies savoring the process. I check the pages for crimps and crinkles. I sniff the dizzying new book smell. I pick the perfect one and hold it close to my chest. Next I meander over to the café and order my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season. Then I sit, sip, and read until my heart’s content or my hubby/kids need me at home.

Christmas LightsThis past Tuesday Nicholas, (because I like to pretend we’re on a first name basis), released his first novel in two years, See Me, and I was bound and ready for a trip to B&N. I planned it out in my mind. Tuesday is story time at our local Barnes & Noble providing the perfect chance for both my girls and me to have some fun.

But then life happened. So much life I can’t even remember what derailed our plans, but no matter, here I am on Saturday afternoon, my tradition still waiting to happen.

And to be honest, while I’m excited to read Nicholas’s new book, and let me just tell you, I always, always, love a good excuse to go to Barnes & Noble, I’m kind of not-that-into-it this year. I’m wondering if it’s time to let go of this tradition.

Maybe it’s because we don’t really have the money right now to spend on a new book I don’t really need. (Want? Heck, yes! Need? Not so much.)

Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since one of Nicholas’s books captivated my heart like his earlier novels did. (Don’t get me wrong, I love all his stories but The Longest Ride doesn’t hold a candle to my all-time favorite, The Notebook.)

And maybe it’s simply because traditions are supposed to serve me, serve us. Never the other way round.

Black FridayThis is what we need to remember as we gear up for the holidays. Traditions can be wonderful things. They bring romance to our lives by drawing us to people, places, and things that make our hearts sing. Traditions encourage us to live outside of the norm, to grab hold of life, and in many cases should be fought for even when they’re inconvenient.

But if we’re not careful, traditions, or rather, the pressure cooker we build around them, can enslave us to patterns, habits, and behaviors that no longer serve a purpose, at least not a healthy one.

Whenever we find ourselves feeling not-that-into a tradition it’s time to take stock and ask ourselves the whys and wherefores behind the tradition in question.

Is it a blessing to us or others?

Does it require time and money we don’t really have?

 What’s the worse that will happen if we decide to do something different?

 Who are we seeking to please?

Depending on the answers to these questions it may be time to let the tradition go. Giving yourself the freedom and permission to do so ushers in peace, and grace, and makes room for other blessings to grow.

I’ve shared this quote before, and I’d like to share it again. It’s so important and needed at the start of the holidays, and I hope it will help you navigate the tradition trap this year:

“Whenever Christmas (Insert: Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years, Christmas cards, Christmas trees, Black Friday, trick-or-treating, caroling, turkey, pies, decorations, presents, shopping, etc…) begins to burden, it’s a sign that I’ve taken on something of the world and not of Christ.”

~ Ann Voskamp (Insert Mine)

May this be your rule of thumb to keep traditions from ruling you.

This holiday season may you and yours find joy in traditions that whisper His name and freedom from the noise that doesn’t.

~From the Archives

For When That Best Part of You Feels Lost

Computer DreamSo I did it! This week on a snowy Tuesday afternoon I sat at my desk and typed the finishing keystrokes of the second draft of my novel. 

Finishing the first draft was a major milestone, but this draft? This milestone? It feels even bigger. I pretty much knew without a doubt I would go to my grave before finishing this draft. It seemed to take for-e-v-e-r. And yet, somehow, I did it. I saw it through. I reached the end.

Finishing this draft has that down hill slope sort of feel to it. It’s like running a race, a long, long race and cresting the next to last hill. I’m not done yet; I’ve got one more to go (publishing…yikes!). But I can see the finish line. I’m almost there.

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what’s next. Draft number three? Professional edits? Book proposal, agent, publisher…holding my book in my hands? These are the steps that must fall into place and I have no idea how or when that will happen but there’s one thing I do know. This dream, it’s given me life. 

I recently had a chance to sit with a friend as she shared her vision for ministry. I wish I could convey in words the passion that poured out of her as she spoke about her dream. 

For months she wrestled depression, depression that stole so much. But as she shared her plans for helping women she couldn’t have been more alive. In her words, her movements, her eyes…all signs of depression were gone.

And I know, (oh, I know!) how she feels, her story so much like mine. 

How you feel like you’re losing that part of you. That beautiful, important best part of you and you don’t know how to get it back. How you feel this close to crazy.

And then He comes. There you are in the pit, and He comes and tosses a rope. He tosses you a dream and that dream…it pulls you out.

It pulls you out of the crazy, the dark, the sad, and suddenly you see. You see Him and His kingdom and people and places and this work He needs you to do.

This work only you can do.

I’ve been in that pit and He tossed the rope and I latched my heart to that dream. And now that dream is two drafts closer to reality.

There’s so much about this writing journey I have yet to learn. So much I may never grasp completely. But as I write my story, the writing itself becomes my story. Becomes my lifeline to joy and the person He created me to be.

With two drafts down and the finish line before me perhaps the one thing this journey has taught me the most is this: Sometimes we need the dream just as much as the dream needs us. 

And isn’t it just like Him to know this?  

And to love us like dreams coming true.

When You Find Yourself Walking a Broken Road

 

Winter 10The snow? It just kept falling all big and heavy and white. And we? We just kept laughing and dancing and shaking our heads that this beauty, this land could be ours.

Thirteen years (18 if you count the dating, doe-eyed, dreaming ones), three states, three major moves, four apartments, one rental house, two months that turned into seven years living with mom and dad, five employers, three children, and one self-started business led us to this.  

To a real life winter wonderland and a place to call our own.

Winter 4 Winter 7 Winter 8 As I held my baby close watching snowflakes melt on her cheeks. As little girls laughed and dug their hands in mounds of snowy white. As husband snapped photos of tears in my eyes and I craned my head back to catch flakes on my nose and eye lashes.

As we all stood for this slice of time and wonder, wonderstruck by the beauty of this first snow of the season, by the beginning of this season in which we leave one home and create another all I could think was: this...

He knew it would come to this. This is what He had in store, set aside, waiting, planned, created for us.

The jobs, the moves, the states, the dwellings some of them, many of them, broke our hearts. But now we see how He worked it for good.  How He made a broken road and blessed it to bless us.

Winter 9Winter 13Winter 12There’s a country song that says it: “that God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”*

And He did. He has. He will continue to.

He takes the broken, the lost, the forgotten, and makes it new. Makes it good. 

New, as snow on evergreen branches.

Good, as the feeling of home.

*”Bless the Broken Road” Lyrics by Bobby Boyd, Jeff Hanna, Robert E. Boyd, Marcus Hummon

 

How to Stop the Tiresome Striving (with a little lesson from Max)

Still HotI looked at the bottom line: $ 1,800.00 to homeschool my girls this fall, IF we do all the things I’d like to do. The video tools, the new curriculums, the local classical group.

But how in the world? I wondered. How will we ever come up with the money and still make ends meet. 

The answer is simple: we won’t. According to my husband, and President of Allen Party of Five, we won’t go into debt or jeopardize the rest of our expenses just to do the latest and greatest in the homeschooling world.

Part of me wholeheartedly agrees. I can easily and effectively homeschool my girls using materials I already have for far less, and I know in the end we’ll be fine.

But there’s this other part of me. There’s this voice that says it won’t be enough. Without the latest and greatest my girls will miss out. I’ll miss out on important resources and opportunities.

MaxAnd there’s these other things going on with me:

There’s this compulsion to eat. To gobble up anything and everything that has sugar as a main ingredient. There’s this impulse to spend money. To buy this or order that. Something doesn’t feel right, I think as I scarf down a cupcake. I know better, this isn’t me, I muse as my curser hovers over the Confirm Order button.

And there’s also this complacency that’s perhaps the most troubling of all. This lack of a desire to write. To be still and commune with God. To resist the things that bring real, true life.

After three weeks of this behavior I stopped to listen to the voice that kept saying, this isn’t me. I stopped and asked God to show me, on the level of my heart, what this homeschool anxiety, sugar addiction, and compulsion to buy was really about.

In the stillness and the quiet He whispered three words:

Validation

Satisfaction

Joy

That’s what’s at play here. In my heart this is what I’m longing for. Striving for. To feel validated as a homeschooling mom. To feel satisfied and full. To feel real, true, joy.

The tiresome spirit of striving, the urge to make things happen, worms into my heart and mind in seemingly harmless ways, and before I know it I find myself caught in a wormhole of vices, addictions and counterfeit Gods. 

God has spread a banquet before me. His banner over me is love, and all I want is to eat at McDonalds. I want fast food when I need the bread of life. I want a quick fix when I need to slow and taste and see that He alone is good.

What other validation matters? What other satisfaction lasts? What other joy could be so complete? Where can I find any of these things except in Him?

Wild RumpusWhen I saw the striving for what it was, I asked God to come and rescue me, to disarm the meddlesome force. I asked Him to forgive me for all the ways I’d tried to fill the void in my heart with sugar and shine and things that weren’t Him.

I returned to my Savior and His banquet for me. To His soaring banner of love.

It sort of reminds me of Max, the little boy in the famous book, Where the Wild Things Are. How Max goes off to live and roam and romp with the wild things thinking this is what he wanted, thinking this would satisfy the ache in his soul. But in the end he found the wild things weren’t what he wanted or needed at all so he left the wild things and sailed for home.

When the wild things call, when they come with striving, compulsions, and things that make you think, this isn’t me…

Remember the banquet. Remember the feast and the banner over your head. Remember who you belong to, the source of all you want, the giver of all you need.

And sail for home. 

Be like Max who returned to “the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him

and it was still hot.”*

*(From Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak)

A Sweet Little Tale on Inviting God In (And the Story Behind the Name)

Cabellea SignSo there once was this couple and long before they wed, long before they had any right to think about having kids they dreamed and laughed and envisioned what one-day might be.

They pictured tiny little cowboys running wild in boots. They pictured pretty little girls twirling dainty in sun-splashed dresses.

Each little boy, each little girl had a name, a dream attached.

So the man, he loved to fish, he loved to hunt. He loved a certain huntin’ store and thought the name of that store a pretty one for a someday little girl. And the woman, she loved the man and she loved the dream and even though it seemed a tiny bit crazy, she thought it a pretty name too.

So years passed by and the couple said their vows but before the babies with names and dreams a four-legged creature was first to fill their nest.

Now, had that couple known that someday down the road they would welcome not one, not two, but three little girls into their tiny home in Michigan, perhaps they would have named the four-legged creature differently. But they didn’t know. How could they know? And that name, of the huntin’ store, seemed to fit the creature just right.

The couple lived on happily as their house filled up with pink. Filled right to the roof with laughter and dolls and dancing feet. And the man, he didn’t get the wrestling team he’d sort of always dreamed of but what he did get seemed even better.

Twelve years into happily ever after the woman turned to the man and smiled, “Ready for one more?”

“Of course,” came his reply.

Belle's FeetFor twenty weeks they waited and wondered. Maybe? This time? A cowboy in boots? But the cowboy names and the cowboy dreams would have to wait a few more years because the black and white TV screen showed another little girl.

So the couple that had a list of boy names as long as a lasso, scratched their heads and wondered how’d they ever come up with another perfect name for another perfect girl.

September? No.

Avenlea? No.

Remington? NO! NO! NO!

Colt? Hmm… Maybe?

Nothing seemed quite right.

Now, this couple had a tradition, a secret weapon of sorts. For each little girl they prayed. From beginning to end they prayed. For health and happiness and hope in a Savior they prayed for the hearts of their girls. And they asked that Savior if He’d shed some light. If He’d, please, give them a message to speak over each little girl. A special message from God, just for her, to be spoken over her by her father.

The first little girl became God’s Blessing.

The second God’s Message of Hope.

Six months into the nine-month wait the man turned to the woman and smiled, “God spoke to me,” he said. “She’s God’s Promise.”

With tears in her eyes, the woman replied, “That’s what He’s been telling me too.”

Baby Belle CheeksThey had their precious, perfect little girl curling ‘round their hearts. Curling all around her mama’s belly. And they had His words to speak over their precious, perfect girl.

But the name? That stubborn name refused come.

“We could name her Cabela,” the man said one day.

“Could we?” The woman asked as joy turned in her heart. As a nameless gift of God turned happy in her belly. “We’ve always loved that name…”

“We could call her Belle, for short.”

“I love that. Belle.”

Together the couple continued to pray. They prayed and asked for a name. They invited God in, they asked Him, please, to affirm the name they chose.

They knew they loved that name. That name they’d always dreamt of. But that huntin’ store? And that four-legged creature, now long gone?

They wanted to be sure.

Only God could make them sure.

Belle's HandThanksgiving, family, and friends came ‘round, and hearing the couple’s plight, one friend piped up and asked, “Have you Googled names that mean God’s promise?”

The couple turned to each other and smiled, “Why haven’t we Googled names that mean God’s promise?”

The man, he got his computer and filled the search field with hope. With curious joy at what might follow.

And wouldn’t you know? How could anyone know? That God glory can show up on Google? Can show up in a list of names.

In a list of names that mean God’s promise. And at the very top of the list…

Belle.

Belle, Bella, Carabelle…which seemed awful close to that long-loved name.

BelleAnd the couple knew within their hearts what this little girl’s name would be. God was in it, the name, the dream, the wish their hearts made all those years ago.

God had been in it all along but it wasn’t until they invited Him in that the thread began to unravel.

The couple had learned it again and again. Over broken friendships and lost jobs. Over big disappointments and small inconveniences. The simple act of inviting God in to the twisted, the mangled, the knotted, the tangled would always, eventually, unravel Glory. Unravel a tapestry that could only be crafted by His unfailing hands.

“People will laugh, and joke, and tease.”

“They’ll look at us funny.”

“Let them,” the couple agreed.

For nothing could steal their joy.

Nothing and no one in the whole wild world could steal God’s Promise away.

Could steal their long-loved little girl, Cabellea Wren…

Their precious, perfect Belle.