A Perfectionist’s Christmas: Jesus, Not the Hoopla


No Christmas will ever live up to the hype.

I don’t know about you, friend, but all the commercials, Pinterest posts, magazine covers can make me feel my Christmas doesn’t live up to expectations.

My tree isn’t perfectly trimmed, even though it holds ornaments that are cherished and important to my family.

My house looks more cluttered than decorated, even though I dearly love each one of my displays. They have significance and precious memories, and I’d like to think they’re pretty, too.

My kitchen hasn’t yielded beautifully shaped, meticulously frosted Christmas cookies– because who am I kidding? I don’t like to bake.

My car has made the rounds of looking at lights exactly once this year, even though we adore piling in the car and gazing at brightly lit homes in our area.

My shopping is still incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t finish. Some years are like that — this is one of those. Life has interrupted our normal. How about you? Has life interrupted your normal?

Maybe you’re like me, trying not to compare yourself to the Pinterest-perfect posts and commercials. For me, it’s a struggle. I’m a perfectionist. I want to get everything right. But this year especially, my struggle to get everything right will be pure stress, so I’m trying not to try. I’m taking a breath and saying, It’s fine. And if it’s not fine with somebody, I’m going to try to shake it off. (I think that somebody will be me, mostly. I’m pretty hard on myself. You, too?)

Are you dealing with this, too? I think there are lots more women who, for various reasons, are finding it hard to muster a cheery smile while they try to do all-the-things, like bake beautiful cookies and invite friends and family to beautifully decorated, perfectly clean homes for gourmet meals and have brilliant, meaningful conversation.

Does anyone really do all that? If so, please don’t tell me. I’d rather think it was the legendary June Cleaver. It’s not me. I’ll bet it’s not you, either.

A week ago, when life interrupted our normal with a health issue, I couldn’t have cared less about Christmas decorations or gifts or gatherings. What I kept thinking was, It’s Jesus, not the hoopla. Today, with things getting back to normal, I’m still thinking along those lines. It’s Jesus. He is the reason for this Christmas season. We’ve allowed all the shiny things take our eyes off our Savior, but the distilled, pure message of Christmas is Jesus.

Sometimes it takes a life interruption to focus our vision. At least, it did for me. It doesn’t matter that my house isn’t just-so when my family gathers, or that I’m not the “perfect” hostess. I just want to be with the people I love, and I want to celebrate the One I love.

Christmas isn’t about the hype. It’s about Jesus.

A Few Lines in a Journal


The times, they are stressful.


Last week, my husband was out of town. Not a big deal, except that Kristen had constant pain from her dental visit. This worried me because she held her jaw, acted extremely grumpy (code for she screamed and yelled), and told me she felt fine (code for it really hurts a lot but I’m sure not telling you because you won’t let me do anything). Disseminating truth was difficult.


So, I’m glad this week is better (code for Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!).


Last week was one for the books – but we’re still around, and after a second visit to the dentist, Kristen is fine (code for great!).


Our motto has always been, “You do what you gotta do.” That’s a “true-grit Texan” kind of motto that’s inspired us to do the hard stuff that comes with special needs parenting.


But this week, I had to dig deeper. Mottos like that might get me headed in the right direction, but as far as keeping me going, I need Jesus.


So I remembered my prayer journal.


For the past few months, I’ve turned my prayer journal into something more. Instead of just prayers, I’ve been writing how thankful I am for God. My focus is on Him, not what He can do for me.


“Lord, you are faithful. You are loving and wise. You are just. You are righteous and perfect in all your ways. You are the comforter, the judge, the mediator, the listener, the righteous ruler. You are ever faithful, never abandoning us.” (excerpt from my 9/26 journal entry)


When I was too stressed to murmur Bible verses, I thanked God for His attributes. As I spoke them, I felt my shoulders relax. Kristen stopped yelling and started listening. It was as if God was spreading balm on our spirits by taking our eyes off our circumstances. Talking about the character of God was healing. It took our thoughts to a higher level.


Even though our situation hadn’t changed, our mindset had. We were calm.


Who would’ve thought a few lines in a journal could change the day.






5 Tips for a Good Father’s Day and Beyond (especially if you’re dreading it)

No matter how much time goes by, I’ll always be a little sad my daddy isn’t here for Father’s Day.


He died in 1995 — a super grandfather, a good dad and husband.


I have delightful memories, some regrets, and times of just plain missing him.


But in the end, I walk away feeling good. Because what I once thought I wanted in a father wasn’t what I got. And I’m so glad.


I’m glad my dad wasn’t what I wanted him to be.


Don’t get me wrong. He was an excellent man with good character and integrity. He treated us well.


But somewhere along the way, I got the idea that my dad ought to be 1) outgoing; 2) talk to us on a regular basis like a TV dad; 3) be happy all the time. But that wasn’t my dad. He was quiet, shy, and he didn’t show his emotions. I wanted an extrovert, but he was an introvert.


Which brings me back to I‘m glad my dad wasn’t what I wanted him to be.


I learned early that people are who they are. You can’t change a person’s DNA. My dad didn’t have the capacity to meet my unrealistic expectations. I was frustrated. Then reality set in: my dad wasn’t going to change, so I had to change my thinking.


To have a relationship with Daddy, I had to get rid of my expectations and get real.


In the end, that was the biggest gift Daddy gave me. He unknowingly taught me that expectations are dangerous. When we expect something, we almost always get nothing in return. Our expectations often are unfounded and unrealistic.


Looking back on our relationship years later, I’m so glad we stumbled through and made a way for daddy love to show itself in a non-stereotypical, non-TV, non-Leave-It-To-Beaver way.


I’m not one to force advice on anyone, but today I wanted to share what I’ve learned from putting aside unrealistic expectations and embracing your dad.


5 tips on Father’s Day and beyond


Be generous towards your dad (or your husband in the daddy role). Open your eyes and look at him realistically, with grace. So what if he’s not perfect? You aren’t either. Look for the good.


Do things on his terms. In order to be in relationship, we have to do things we don’t want to do sometimes. As our parents age, we need to do more things on their terms. If I’d waited for Daddy to do things my way, I’d still be waiting, twenty-one years after his death. Your ground isn’t holy–don’t plant your feet there.


Get to know your dad. Some of the best times I had with Daddy were when we drove around his childhood town and he told me stories of pulling pranks and running wild with his brother on lazy summer days. It was a side of my serious dad I couldn’t imagine. Shared times and telling stories add dimension to relationships


Stereotypical dads are boring — but your dad is unique. How is your dad special? My dad took me to the bookstore on a regular basis, and we’d stand and peruse magazines and books for hours. I don’t know a lot of dads that did that with their daughters. Think of the things that make your dad special and dwell on those things.


Instead of wishing for another kind of dad, enjoy the dad you have. He’s not a TV dad, but he’s real and he’s yours. Stop griping about his deficits and just enjoy him. He’s your daddy.




The Kristen Chronicles:Trust


Brain Surgery, Part 3 of 3

Brain surgery isn’t the worst thing that can happen to your child. But it was the worst thing that had happened to my child.


I had tried to deal with our reality in a variety of ways: denial, pleading, logic, crying, stoicism. But when everything was said and done, it was time to face reality. It was going to happen, whether or not I faced it. I wanted to summon whatever courage I could muster and be brave.


However, there was very little of my own courage to summon forth. Every time the words brain surgery flitted through my mind, my knees buckled. My hands shook, my mouth felt like cotton, my stomach churned. However, I looked calm. People mislabeled me as “strong.” I wasn’t — I was holding all my emotions inside, trying to get through each day and carry on a somewhat routine schedule as a mom of three girls who badly needed normal.


Naptime was my fall-apart time. I could pour my heart out to the Lord unhindered. And that time was my saving grace. During that time I was free to think, pray, read and talk to God without worry — my tears could flow.


During one of those fall-apart private times, I remembered the words from years earlier that our pastor had told us about contentment. When I’d heard it, it was incomprehensible to me. But now I was staring that message in the face: could I be truly happy if I lost everything, but had Jesus? I felt God was pressing me to answer this, and the image of Abraham sacrificing Isaac played in and out of my mind as I was considering my answer. I pictured Jesus as He labored in prayer before facing the cross.


Luke 22:39-46

39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.40 On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[c]

45 When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. 46 “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”


How many years had I read this same passage and never realized that Jesus didn’t have to go to the cross? It was a decision, a submission of His will. An act of obedience to His Father.

He was in anguish.

He prayed in earnest.

An angel came and strengthened Him — that’s how weak He was in His human form.


This Jesus — this was someone I could relate to.

This was a God I could trust.


So why was it so hard for me to give my daughter over to a brain surgeon who could save her life?


Because I wanted to think I had control.

But I didn’t. God had all the control over that operating room. And I knew I needed to give Him control over my happiness. With or without my happiness, the surgery was happening. I’d rather it be with my blessing and willing spirit. What I needed to do was give my control to God.


I gave God little pieces of my life: it started with the car I was driving. As I picked up my girls from school one day, their little voices chattering behind me, I whispered, “Lord, if I didn’t have this car, but I still had you, I’d be happy.”


It felt good to say that.

When we parked in the driveway of our too-small duplex, I turned off the ignition and sat looking at the back of that house. How often I’d begged God to be rid of this place that we’d purchased in a booming real estate market, months before the bottom had dropped out. Yet, if this house was taken away and we had nowhere to go … Suddenly that house looked pretty good.


But if I was going to give everything to God, it couldn’t just be the easy stuff. I took a deep breath and said, “If I didn’t have a home, but I had Jesus, I’d be content.”


As I helped the girls out of the car, I marveled at what I’d said. As we made our way to the back door, I realized there was more I needed to do. I made a beeline for my bed and knelt beside it. I knew it was now or maybe never.


One by one, I committed my family to God, acknowledging that my husband and my children were never mine to begin with, but I’d held them tightly, with a closed-fisted selfishness. I’d been fearful of trusting the One who created them. Now I was actively giving them back to the One they belonged to in the first place. The One who loved them even more than I did. The One who knew how many hairs were on each head. The One who knew how many breaths they took. The One who had big plans for them. The One who knew the moment they would arrive in this world and the moment they would leave this world.

They were not mine. They were His, to do with as He wanted.

Including my sweet Kristen.

I had to be okay if He chose to take her February 18,

during brain surgery, or any other day.


He did not choose to take her that day. The surgery was successful. Her recovery was so swift and smooth it surprised me.


But the biggest surprise for me was the deep peace I felt during her surgery. I almost expected not to see her again, because of the thorough preparation God had done within me. That’s not to say I was unemotional — when the surgical team took Kristen, Rick and I clung to each other and wept. But throughout the hours in the waiting room, and the next days in the hospital, I was filled with peace. God loved her and was fully in control.


He is always in control.









New Year, New Reading Goal!

I love to read. If only I could lose myself in a book all day, every day! Paradise! (…ok, maybe not literally, but you get it…)

Because there are only so many hours in the day (24 but not — you know), I do two things: listen to books as I do the daily drudgeries (i.e., laundry) through audible.com (no kickback here, folks —  I just knew you’d ask), and second, I go to  Goodreads.com to get ideas for my next read (again, no $$ for praise — I just love this site).

On Goodreads, I can set a goal for how many books I want to read in a year. Now, when I was an elementary librarian, my goal was absurdly high because I included picture books. Hey –don’t judge me. It was my job to read quality picture books to children. And I loved it.

Because I’m not a school librarian now, my goal number on Goodreads is quite a bit lower (50 for 2016) and it won’t have a ton of picture books (though I’ll always be reading to my grandkids!). But the books I’ve chosen, I can’t wait to dig in and start. So I had to share my excitement with you!

First, though, I can’t ignore my favorites from 2015:

  • The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  • A Fall of Marigolds, by Susan Meissner
  • Secrets of a Charmed Life, by Susan Meissner
  • The Girl You Left Behind, by JoJo Moyes
  • The Sound of Glass, by Karen White
  • After You, by JoJo Moyes
  • The Best Yes, by Lysa TerKeurst
  • Fervent, by Priscilla Shirer
  • Unglued, by Lysa TerKeurst
  • More Than Just a Good Bible Study Girl, by Lysa TerKeurst
  • Water from My Heart, by Charles Martin

Here are the books I’m looking forward to reading in 2016:

  • For the Love, by Jen Hatmaker (currently listening to this; SO GOOD!!!)
  • Made to Crave, by Lysa TerKeurst
  • Restless, by Jenny Allen
  • Savor, by Shauna Niequist
  • Audacious, by Beth Moore
  • The Gifting Trilogy, by Katie Ganshert
  • Love the Home You Have, by Melissa Michaels
  • On Writing Well, by William Zinsser (re-reading this!)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott
  • The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride
  • It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die, by Jefferson Bethke
  • 7 Women, by Eric Metaxas
  • I Used to be Organized, by Glynnis Whitwer
  • The Art of Losing Yourself, by Katie Ganshert


There will be others, of course, but these are on my radar today. I’m excited to begin! How about you? What will you be reading this year? And how do you read? Kindle? Hardcover/paperback? Audible? I’d love to hear! Post a comment about how and what you’ll be reading!

Yay for books!!!!





When Plans Change


If you’re like me, you’re full of plans.

  • for your day
  • for your groceries
  • for your meals
  • for your kids
  • for your life

But if you’re like me, my plans often don’t play out. In fact, days I’m muttering, “The best-laid plans of mice and men…” to soothe my ambitious soul.

But on harder days, I’m not muttering. I’m frustrated. I’m resentful. And some days I’m afraid.

And I’m thinking you’re just like me on those days.

So when a monkey wrench crashes into our plans, how do we deal with it?

That was my question years ago. My life turned upside down with my infant daughter’s diagnosis.  The one that took our lives from normal to abnormal.  From golden to rotten.

Or so it seemed.

I was so raw, so hurt . . . and numb. Just getting through the day, giving her injections that cost a fortune we didn’t have . . . that was our new normal.

But I couldn’t stand the pain. Numbness was unacceptable. I had to find happiness and joy again.

Proverbs 15:13 says,”A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.”

I had to turn my river.

But saying it and doing it are two different things, right?

When the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.  Broken spirits take awhile to mend. Mine took awhile, too.

I had a family that was incredibly supportive, and friends who reached out, although I was prideful and acted like I needed nothing — “I’m good.” I wasn’t!

But I had to reason things out. I had a lot of questions for God that needed answers. I went to the Bible to get those answers, my disillusionment not set but getting there fast.  I was mainly hurt: why had God afflicted our sweet baby? We’d served Him. We’d been good people. Why us?

It wasn’t long before I got my answer.

One thing I know — when you go looking for answers from God, He will answer.

Done, finished, no more cooking EVER . . . I thought

When we moved to a new house, I lost my love for cooking.

I went from a fairly big kitchen to a pretty small kitchen.

My new kitchen had about half the cabinet storage I was used to.  It was smack dab in the middle of the house, kind of a pass-through for those who didn’t want to take the hallway surrounding the space. And really, who would take a dark hallway going to who-knows-where when the heart of the home, the bright, warm, vibrant kitchen, is two steps in front of you.

I totally get it.

However, that kitchen is really small when more than three people fill it.  Really.

And the kitchen I left behind felt CAVERNOUS in retrospect.

So my new-to-me, smallish, circular kitchen with its shallow pantry, two skinny cabinets on either side of the stove (hello, spice storage?) the oh so lacking shelf space for my lovelies (dishes, cups, glasses = happy woman and don’t hint that I have too many), and the inches of counter space for preparation . . . well, it had me flummoxed.

And flummoxed led to frustration.

Frustration gave way to loathing. Yes, I said it, loathing.  I LOATHED the idea of cooking in that kitchen where I just couldn’t figure the whole space thing out. It just didn’t feel natural to cook there.  I didn’t have the rhythm that used to come naturally to me. I felt like a beginner cook.

And worst of all, everything tasted like I was a beginner cook!

So to cover for all of this, I made this loud and frequent declaration:  “I HATE COOKING!”

It was working for me. I managed to ignore the nagging guilt associated with that persistent declaration, and my “other self” (i.e. my conscience) looking aghast at the anti-cooking me, warning, This is not who you are!

I blithely smiled and nodded at my husband and daughters as they lodged their complaints.  After all, I had a very demanding job and was so tired! I had no time for cooking even if I’d wanted to cook (which I didn’t).

We went along happily/unhappily (depending on who you talk to), until– many take out menus later –something happened to change everything.

And suddenly my battle cry against cooking fell silent.