Kids and Christmas.

Last year, on our daughter’s 1st Christmas, my husband and I started to implement the “4 gift rule”. Well, actually we added another category that we thought was a part of it and so ours is really a “5 gift rule.” Last year implementing this rule was not hard at all, considering we could have wrapped an already-owned toy and she would not have known any different. This year, however, has proven to be a little more challenging. Reese is still not yet old enough to have Christmas expectations, so the challenge was solely in the hearts and minds of her parents. I have to admit, it was tough walking around Toys R Us on Black Friday with my husband and not giving into the  “oh just one more thing…” mentality. I already had to fight off feelings of guilt and discontentment.

But, as of now we are heading into this Christmas with 5 gifts to give our daughter.

Before I move on I do want to make something clear: this blog is not at all written with the intention to make anyone feel guilty. I’m not trying to draw anyone’s line for them or even say where I think it should be drawn. Because I don’t know. While my husband and I seek to be intentional, we are naturally very spontaneous and “wing it” sort of people. So this new “tradition” is held with really open hands. We liked the idea behind it and we wanted to give it a try. So, we’ll keep re-evaluating and re-adjusting as needed. Or maybe at some point we will scrap it all together. But for now, here are the unspoken and spoken messages we want to be sent to our kids through each specific gift-

  1. Something you want: We care about your enjoyment and we want to invest in things that make you excited.
  2. Something you need: We want to be aware of and provide for your needs. Some years this might be a physical need while others it may be more spiritual, emotional, or relational.
  3. Something to read: Your brain is an invaluable gift that is worth being fed and stretched and invested in. “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” -Dr Suess
  4. Something to wear: We want you to know when you get dressed in the morning that you are protected and provided for, as much as it is up to us. We want you to have shoes to run in and a jacket to keep you warm. We also want you to be able to express yourself- who you are and what you like- through what you wear.
  5. Something to share: Others matter. Gifts aren’t just for or about indulgence and they aren’t just about us. Shared possessions can lead to shared enjoyment and experiences, and that is often better than the gift itself.

Even more importantly though- whatever we end up doing in the years to come- here are the underlying questions we want to ask ourselves each Christmas as we decide how to navigate things like traditions and gifts and family values-

Overall, we want to ask ourselves what a specific gift (or the way we “do gifts”) is teaching our kids about the rest of life. Do these gifts and the way we are going about them promote what we are trying to teach them every other day of the year? Is Christmas an isolated event in our life or does it flow with what we care about every other season of the year?

Something I read in a blog a while back that really struck me was the idea of setting your enjoyment bar. She talked about the need to often times set our bar lower in order to enjoy more frequently and more deeply. If our enjoyments are only found in the highest of highs, then we are always waiting around for the next big trip or gift. And then we go to the next level by trying to always top them. Instead, we need to learn to enjoy what we often dismiss as simple or mundane. Enjoyment can be guided and learned.

We want to teach our kids, and our own hearts, that gratefulness springs from a heart of contentment and ungratefulness springs from one of comparison. Instead of looking around at what others have we want to practice looking at what we have. We want to verbally practice saying “thank you.” Our heart will get there if our mouth starts there.

It is so easy for the Holiday season in particular to bring a sense of entitlement. We can subtly believe that we deserve gifts because “that’s just the way it is on Christmas.” Instead, we want to remind and recognize that all gifts are, well… gifts! If we are “owed” something, it ceases to be a gift. You do not “deserve” a gift more than the kid down the street whose parents were not able to afford any this year.

Gifts are about more than just you
With every gift there is both a giver and a receiver. We want to instill eyes that see the giver behind every gift. To see an actual person who is using something of their own- likely time and money- in order to give you something. Gifts are also given to do more than just hoard and keep. The more we get the more we are able to give.

A letter to my first born whose whole world is about to change.

My sweet Reese,

As the time approaches for your little brother or sister’s arrival there is a part of me that wants to tell them to wait a little longer so we have another “one last day” with just you. Soon that baby boy or girl will change your whole life as well as ours. I can not help but remember having that same feeling about you as your dad and I had our last get-a-way trip together. I knew you were going to change everything and I simultaneously wanted you to come and to wait. So, in these “last days” I have been reflecting on all you have taught me. I know parents are supposed to teach their kids but now I realize how much kids teach their parents, too.

You, my first born daughter, have taught me…

How wonderful being a mama really is
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how much I would love this being a mom thing or if it was for me. Yet that changed from literally the first second you entered the outside world. Not that all my fears or hesitations vanished, but they were still, and I knew that being your mom was a gift and not a mistake. Just like that you won me over. And countless times since that day I have stared at you in my arms, bubbling over with an affection I never knew existed. And it just keeps getting better. Being a mama- being your mama- is so much sweeter than anyone could have ever convinced me of.

How weak I am
All it took were your cries waking me up at midnight to realize just how selfish and easily angered I really was; or a trip to the ER with you to realize how little control I really had over your life. My impatience, incompetence, and inconsistencies did not wait very long to show themselves. Needy babies have a way of teaching their mamas just how needy we are too. You have taught me to be more willing to ask others for help, to admit my shortcomings, and to see just how strong and capable Jesus is and how quick He is to meet me in my weakness every single time.

How strong I am
When I found out I was pregnant with you not only did I feel unprepared in the timing I also felt completely unequipped as a person. Yet through your life I have found new kinds of inward and outward strength that I didn’t know were mine. You have helped me to try new things, to act despite my fear, to make hard choices, to love selflessly, and to keep going when I wanted to give up. Because of you I have seen the quiet, still, and deep strength that motherhood requires of you and gives to you.

The world is beautiful
Little do you know, you have already lived through some dark days in this world. Yet your innocent eyes that easily fill with wonder and awe have brought light into dark spaces and have opened my own eyes to the small beauties of life. Everything might not always be beautiful, but beauty can always be found.

Tomorrow is a new day
Even when I would go to bed with tears on my pillow feeling like a failure of a mother, I knew I would wake up and see your forgiving and forgetful smile the next morning. Even when I would be on my phone instead of play with you, or react instead of respond, or not cherish you or teach you like I should; I could always count on waking up to underserved grace the next day. You have taught me the simple healing power of a good night of sleep and the hopefulness that accompanies each sunrise.

My own Heavenly Fathers love
Being your mom has given me a new glimpse into my own relationship with my Father. It has shown me the way He cares deeply for me in the midst of discipline, the way He holds me, the way He knows my good and does not keep it from me, the way He loves me in my brokenness, and the significance of being called His child. I now see more clearly what it means to be known and seen and loved unconditionally, because He has adopted me as His own. Just like you are my beloved daughter, I too am His beloved daughter.

Love has different forms
I think I used to be afraid of making space to love someone new and that someone was you. As you might come to see, it can be scary. But you, my daughter, have taught me that love does not have to replace or duplicate. Love is vast and there is so much room to welcome others into it. I love your Dad with a romantic/best friend kind of love. Our love has the deepest of roots- covenant love. Yet, as it has been said, the kind of love I have for you is sort of like seeing my own heart walking outside of my body. Reese Avery, there is no competition in true love. No one gets left behind or lost. We will always share a unique bond and it will only keep growing in its own special way.

Yet now.
Now we must make room in our family and heart to love someone new. Your world is about to change. But, before you know it, you will not be able to imagine that same world without your sibling. Just like we cannot imagine ours without YOU- our energetic, strong-willed, daring, silly, and kind, first-born.

I love you,

A Halloween costume that revealed my heart.

[There is an excellent article that says anything way better than I could try to say it, but I decided to link it at the bottom and tell my own real-life version of how true this article is.]

This morning I got humility-punched in a way I never saw coming. It all started a few weeks back when I was browsing Pintrest trying to decide what my daughter could be for Halloween. Then I started to look up cute and clever ideas for what a pregnant person could be for Halloween. Aha! We could be something that went together. It was decided. I would be Pooh Bear (perfect with a pregnant belly) and she could be piglet. Little did I know in that moment of decision, something was planted deep in my heart. I thought all that was planted was a fun and innocent idea, but it was so much more.

The day begun with a trip to Party City. There were a few things left to get Reese to complete her piglet costume that she was supposed to wear in the next hour. I ended up spending a little more money than I wanted- and definitely more than I needed- on a pack of ears, nose, tail, and some pink face paint. I should have known that all my daughter really cared about was wearing the tutu that went along with it. But no, once she saw how good it all looked together, she would be sure to be as excited as I was about it!

We had about 15 minutes until we were supposed to be meeting some friends and their dressed-up daughters at the nursing home. So we rushed inside and I started putting on Reese’s ears and trying to convince her that she still needed her tail and nose. I finally got her to sit still for long enough for me to put a little pink on her nose, and she quickly proceeded to complain and wipe it off. Maybe she just doesn’t know how cute it will look…. I try again. She wipes the pink all over her face and makes it very clear that she wants nothing to do with it. In that moment, with pink smeared all in her eye brows and on her forehead, I respond angrily “Reese, but you have to!”

It was in that moment it hit me- what in the world was I doing? Why did I care so much about this that I would force my child to sit down and have a pink nose and chase her around trying to convince her she needed to wear the tail? But I did. And I was pretty set on it. How embarrassing and petty. I didn’t recant as quickly as you would think one would upon such a realization though. It took a bit for me to really realize just how ridiculous I was being.

This was supposed to be about having fun with friends and filling a nursing home with smiles. This was an opportunity to teach Reese that Halloween, and life, is not all about her. Yet here I was, making it about me. I was teaching her the exact opposite by my own actions and attitude.

My story might seem pretty innocent and typical. It might not seem so bad for me to want my daughter to wear the things I had taken the time to get for her. But for me, it revealed the idea of our kids not bowing to our own idols. Halloween itself had not become an idol. It is usually not that simple and surface level. Deep down, I kept tucked away my own selfish desires and intentions. They exploded to the surface this morning once things did not go my way.

“Our reaction to our kid’s behavior often has little to do with brokenness over their sin and has a lot to do with how irritated we are that they’re threatening our own desires.” (Jennifer Phillips) My “innocent” desires: For Reese’s outfit to look complete, for a cute picture, for our outfits to go together, for Reese to enjoy my own idea of fun, for my money and time to not be wasted, etc. And suddenly, my sweet daughter who really did not want to disappoint me but just was not interested in wearing a nose and a tail, became a threat to my own silly and selfish desires and expectations being met.

Once again, while the article below breaks it down so well already, here are a few of my own personal applications from this morning:

  1. Defining the “have” to’s:
    I want to teach our children a mix of obedient submission yet freedom of choice and expression. Yes, you have to go to bed. No, you don’t have to give that person a hug. I’m sure this is something I will have to continue to navigate through with a teachable spirit for as long as I’m a parent. But after today one thing is for sure- I do not want our kids to ever “have to” do anything solely because my own pride has become wrapped around it.
  1. The small moments reveal big things:
    We see in movies the dramatic you’re-giving-up-your-dream moment and the child inevitably responds with something like, “no, I’m giving up yours!” It doesn’t usually  show up in real life this glaringly. But it is bound to show up. So constantly I need to ask myself, “who is this for/about?” If the answer is “me,” it doesn’t always mean what I am wanting them to do needs to change but rather that I need to change my own heart and motive. And maybe sometimes it will mean they don’t actually have to dress up, or say cheese for that picture, or play that sport.
  1. The picture is not worth it:
    One of those unnamed desires that turned into an idol was getting a perfect picture. Sadly, too much of my life goes this way. And it was just another lesson and reminder screaming at me that a cute picture is not always worth it. No amount of “likes” on social media is ever going to be worth my daughters heart. I want my daughter to live life genuinely enjoying and learning and experiencing; not just saying cheese to pretend like she is. If I have taught my daughter that I care more about capturing the moment than I do about her and her actually living; I’ve lost.
  1. Expectations can be thieves:
    I could say, and in fact think I have said, this same thing about marriage. So often expectations of what we wanted steal from what actually could be. Sometimes the expectations could actually be worse, sometimes they are truly better, but most times they are just plain different. Expectations are inevitable. But we must practice holding them loosely and scrutinizing them in order to reveal the deeper stuff our hearts are clinging to.
  1. Teaching and living humility:
    I want to be humble enough to say to my daughter, “I’m sorry, I need your forgiveness.” To say, “I was being selfish and that’s not what really matters.” I want to look in her tear filled eyes when I become the obstacle standing between her and her desire and say “I get it. I get mad when my small idols are taken from me too. Together let’s choose to not let them rule us but rather serve the living God.” I can not truly teach my daughter humility if I do not live it in my own life.

So, there it is. One of many embarrassing and humbling moments that have exposed this reality of idols in my own life. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes to read this one as well:

A letter from a tantrum throwing toddler Mom at Target

Dear random people in the store today,

Yes. Me here.

The one whose once sweet-and-calm daughter sitting in the cart turned not-so-sweet-and-calm. Yeah, whose headband was no longer in, hair was everywhere, nose was snotty, and was acting completely unruly. Guilty as charged. Well, I just wanted to tell you a few things.

I’m home now. That little girl is now in bed. She was tired and hungry and not feeling so well. Today. I have to admit, that’s not always- or maybe usually- the case when these sorts of things happen. Sometimes she is just testing limits and being rebellious. Sometimes she is just straight up defiant and naughty and rude. And sometimes I’m just not doing what I should as a parent and it’s my fault.

I totally agree (assuming by that look on your face) that us parents need to control our kids in public. That discipline is necessary. That children need to learn to sit still and obey. That no one wants their casual and relaxing walk down the aisles of Target and Old Navy to be interrupted by a crying child. I get it. But please do not assume that parents are not doing their job every time you see a child act up in public. I’m not a perfect Mom. I do not have a perfect child. Once again, I’m not arguing that our kid’s behaviors do not reflect our parenting at times.

But, hopefully we have friends, family, and mentors speaking into our lives, calling out blind spots, and helping us navigate this disciplining and loving and raising our kids thing. There is a place for that. I need it in my life for sure. However, a small piece of advice from one mom: a judgmental person in the store never helped anybody learn how to be a better parent.

So instead, please give grace.

I left the store not only feeling irritated but also embarrassed and isolated. No one around me made me feel those things. No one said anything or even really did anything in particular. But I don’t think we as fellow shoppers or bystanders (myself included) always realize how big of a difference we can actually make in those moments.

A reoccurring word I have heard used particularly by new moms is lonely. Being a mom really does feel lonely some days. I used to think that loneliness would mostly be a battle for stay at home parents, because “staying home” can be lonely. But, I have realized people can feel alone even when they are around lots of other people. It’s not uncommon to leave a social event with a child and feel like it wasn’t even worth the effort or to wonder why we even went. Sometimes getting kids out of the house in one (somewhat) presentable piece is a challenge enough. Sometimes we as moms feel safer, and less isolated, getting back in our own homes than we do being out in public.

So, as silly as it sounds, let’s let parents who are out with their kids know that they are welcome. That we are glad they joined us. That their kids are not burdens, or less-thans, or mere distractions. That they do not “belong at home.” That we see them and their kids and that we want them and welcome them.

The people who have been willing to say things to me like “you’re doing good mama” or “it’s a tough job” or “I’ve been there too” have made a bigger difference than I could ever express. Even the people who have been intentional enough to catch my eye and give me a genuine and gentle smile. I promise, fellow shopper, it will go a long way. It could be the difference in that mom getting in her car and thinking “it’s going to be okay” or “never doing that again.”

So I think what I’m trying to say is, please remember we are trying. We are learning.

In turn, it will give me hope to look at my snotty nosed, messy haired, momentarily unruly kid and remember that they are learning too. And that it is going to be okay. And that we are not alone here.

Tantrum throwing toddler Mom at Target

What this little apartment taught me

2.5 years ago my husband and I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment, and about 1.5 years ago we brought our daughter back to that same apartment where we’ve all three lived since. But now we are thrilled to be moving into our own house in just a week! Before making a list of all the reasons I can’t wait to have a house, though, I want to reflect on what this place has taught me…

Doing the doable

Before our daughter was born a friend told me that her family of three was currently living in a one bedroom apartment and would be for a few years. Oh, so it wasn’t impossible? This made me realize the key difference between possible and preference. Despite what Pinterest would have us think, babies dont actually haveto have their own cute little nurseries. Social media in general has a way of shaping our expectations and preferences and then convicing us they are the only option. But I realized that mixing up preferences with possibilities keeps us from doing what we could, or maybe even should, do sometimes.

Hospitality vs entertainment

Many of the things on this list will not be things I did such a great job of intentionally learning but rather things I was forced to learn. And this is one of those things. When you have a small apartment that primarily holds necessitites due to space, you don’t have much to entertain with. It can’t be about showing off how cute your house is and how fun your entertainment center is. It forced us to make hosting about serving, creativity, and relationships. It meant whipping out the lawn chairs when guests came over.

Finding thanksgiving 

Most of us as Americans do not have to look very hard to find material things to be thankful for. The language we use of “finding” things might say something about our materialism/entitlement when to people around the world (and maybe even down the road) those things would be very obvious to give thanks for. Nevertheless, I do have to “find” things to be thankful for sometimes. And in the searching itself, I realize how much I have.

Two specific examples come to mind: Even though the water would change from scalding hot to freezing cold mid shower, water itself is something to be thankful for. Especially when it’s clean, accessible, instant, and warm. Though our kitchen was small, we always had things to cook and something to cook in. Space, utensils, appliances, and food are all things to be grateful for. They might seem like it, but they aren’t givens.

We’re never “beyond” this

Not too long ago we got a new car that I primarily drive. My husband took my old car. After driving our new car for a few weeks I got into my old car and started to complain about it. I quickly (maybe with a little help) realized the mentality I was falling into. It caused us to renew a theory that had to become a reality: our personal and family goal in life is not to simply “move up.” May we never be “above” shaky cars, finicky showers, or stained carpets. We never want to be “past” certain things or people.

The grass is greenest where you water it

I have heard this quote recently and I loved it. But in an ouch that’s good kind of way. This small apartment has taught me the value of cultivating the “yard” you are given. It might always be smaller and browner than the Joneses, but that’s irrelevant. That’s their yard. Not mine. Things only grow if we dig, plant, and water. It’s hard work, but the beauty of the fruit it bears is worth it.

I’d rather have a happy heart

…Okay so sometimes I would rather have my favorite things than a happy heart. But at the end of the day, I’d rather go to bed with a wellness of soul than have all the material things I want the most. Through the house buying process it hit me like a ton of bricks- I would rather stay in this small apartment for the rest of our life and have happy hearts than live in the “perfect” house but have an unhappy marriage, family, and heart.

The beauty of simplicity

I will always remember moments like spontaneously pulling over at a frozen pond with my family. We found a huge shovel, sat on it, and my dad pulled us around. It was a blast. It was delightfully simple. This apartment has allowed us to enjoy the small and the simple; the sometimes overlooked. It’s like toys. 3 toys are easier to really appreciate, know, and enjoy than 10. They have more of our attention and time. Sometimes intentionally choosing to down grade and simplify is a good thing. It enhances enjoyment and contentment.

What memories are made of

Memories often can and do include money. But in my experience the best memories are created and not just bought. The buying can lead to the creating, but more money does not always mean sweeter memories. In the same way we have also learned that no amount of space is too small to make memories in. These four walls have held a lot of life. They have held countless memories that will not be easily forgotten.

Apartment #19,

Thanks for giving us a door to open after a long day of work, a trip, or time away and a place to walk into and say “ahhh home” about. Thank you for holding our belongings- the ones that tell of our life before each other, the ones that represent our life together, and the ones that mean a new little life is a part of us. You have held our belongings that remind us of various people over the years and various places over the world. You have held a lot of growth, laughter, tears, and love. You might not always be missed but you will never be forgotten.

Love, the Lewises ✌