Monthly Archives: December 2015

Changing Christmas: A Midlife Mom’s Musings

IMG_1015I was excited to listen to a Christmas CD I just received and popped it in the player to set a festive and worshipful mood for my work. Rob was outside in “Santa’s workshop.” The happy “trappings and trimmings” of preparing for a full house at Christmas were all around me. I love Christmas — all of it!

Suddenly, waves of raw emotion crashed my world without warning or fanfare. One minute I’m sweeping up needles, wrapping presents and arranging holly. The next I’m choked up with tears that won’t flow. Enveloped by a menagerie of sentiments and feelings I can’t identify, much less express. My soul is instantly weary.

I notice the CD player (despite greeting me with “hello”) never started playing… I curl up on the sofa with whatever devotionals my email and facebook offer me. Searching the Bible seems like too much. The joy of a beautiful Sunday is suddenly sucked out of me.

IMG_1024When Rob comes in, I first think it’s something he said earlier that has me upset… as we talk, it becomes obvious that’s not “the thing.” Rob is patient to let me talk my way to discovering what I am feeling.

It’s not one thing… more just that the floodgates can’t contain the emotions surrounding all the change in my life. Consequently, this Christmas has taken a life of its own in my head. I finally acknowledge this as a Christmas of major changes. Of “last times.” Of new territory. A Christmas to find courage to prepare for all that’s ahead — joys and sorrows.

IMG_1029Sigh. And I was so determined to joyfully just accept change and grow old with enviable grace. Seems I can’t just wish it into being. Like many seasons before it, it will be a process of reflection and work. Surrender and trust.

You know how people typically ask about your holiday plans as part of their greeting at Christmas? Well, I’ve been excitedly telling them, “I’ll have all my children home! And Mom and Dad will be here.” Then adding with mixed emotions and a forced smile — “maybe for the last time, at least for a while.”

I redouble my Christmas planning and efforts…  I want this to be a Christmas every one cherishes. What mom hasn’t gone overboard, trying to make the holiday extra special for one reason or the other?

IMG_1027We’ve added 2 more stockings to the mantel. In 2016 my boys will each marry a beautiful bride. It’s wonderful and exciting. But at the same time, it’s the end of an age. It’s the last time this Mama will have all my little babies waking up under my roof on Christmas morning. It’s akin to other milestones like the first day of school or a college graduation (we had another one of those last week too).

I’ve long known new families were starting and adult lives were budding — but graduations and “last times” punctuate and define what we already know to be true. They make it all real. Forever more, just as I’m gaining daughters, I’ll be sharing my sons. At times the house will be more full than ever. But I also recognize I’ll need to master the art of facetime connections as our family grows and spreads out. As generations shift.

Change is a constant throughout all our lives. In our youth and younger adult years, adaptation often involves growth, excitement and abundance. Midlife moms are blessed to participate in our adult children’s bounty.  But oftentimes we add to that the uncertainty that comes with loving our aging parents. I’m blessed to still have both my mom and dad.

Granny used to say, “Old age isn’t for sissies.” As our parents live out their “golden years,” it seems that many inevitable life alterations are of a limiting nature.

IMG_1030I’m flooded with so many fond childhood memories –Mom and Dad started a wonderful Christmas Eve Chile Party tradition when my sisters and I were young adults coming home for Christmas.  Of waking up to a delicious quail breakfast Christmas morning and huge extended family gatherings at Granny’s on Christmas night. Those days are over.

My mom and dad have already faced many holiday changes in adapting to the lives and schedules of their children. This year they will leave their quiet house to be with us for Christmas dinner. I want to make things special like Mama always did. I want them to feel so loved and joyful this Christmas…

Other friends and family come to mind. Imposed solitude, peace and quiet can feel a lot like lonely (click for post) to anyone. I’m heart-broken for all those who don’t anticipate this Christmas with childlike wonder — for whatever reason.

The ornaments, traditions and gatherings trigger memories that span a lifetime. They spawn other recollections… the good bring warmth and joy, but sometimes also melancholy with them. No one escapes pain entirely — and those impressions often yell louder than the sweet ones.

IMG_1031Aging parents, weddings, jobs, babies, holiday work shifts — all can disrupt. Midlife moms like me know both the joy of anticipation (will there soon be little ones on Christmas again?) and the ache of silently wondering which dining chairs will be empty next year. I’m so grateful for all who will be with us this Christmas and feel the pressure of wanting our celebration to be extra special — again this year.

But how? I’m better this morning, but have the remaining edge of yesterday’s funk. I made coffee in the Keurig, BEFORE situating a Christmas mug to contain it.  I haven’t figured out our Christmas Eve dinner plan. My shopping isn’t done.  And I’m out of ideas. I haven’t baked a thing and wonder if I will. The beds aren’t fresh and I’m running out of time and energy!

Then I happened on this verse and God grabbed my attention —

“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)

IMG_1028The answer is right there in the manger scenes scattered throughout my home. God — through Jesus — offers hope that heals, energizes and transforms us. He came for the sick. The broken-hearted. He came for you and me —

I know what I need to feel refreshed. I’m going now to hide away with God. My CD player may not always cooperate, but nothing can stop me from praising Him with everything I have left in me. His mercies will fail not — and I have full hope that He will give me all I need to celebrate my changing family and the birth of the Christ child with grace and thanksgiving.

Merry Christmas! May your heart be full with Him.

Addendum: the playlist I worshipped through had some great lyrics copied below about the One who never changes. God is so GOOD!

IMG_1034Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

Great is thy Faithfulness, O God my Father,/ There is no shadow of turning with Thee/  Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not/ As Thou hast been Thou forever will be… Morning by morning new mercies I see/ All I have needed thy hand hath provided –/ Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

IMG_1035“And when I think that God, his Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:
How great thou art! How great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee:

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then *I shall bow in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!”

IMG_1033O holy night the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born”
IMG_1036“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

  1. Through many dangers, toils and snares,
    I have already come;
    ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
    And grace will lead me home.
  2. The Lord has promised good to me,
    His Word my hope secures;
    He will my Shield and Portion be,
    As long as life endures.
  3. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
    And mortal life shall cease,
    I shall possess, within the veil,
    A life of joy and peace.”
IMG_1037“Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room…”
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Don’t Buy the Hype — You’re Not all that Special

A dear friend and I met for a long overdue visit. As we talked about our empty nests and the resulting changes in our lives, we both admitted to a bit of disappointment.

We thought by now we would have accomplished more, obtained more wisdom. We expected to be all round more valuable, important and contributing citizens of the world by our 50s.

A more profound question followed: Is God calling us to just be… ordinary? (gasp)

IMG_0603Perhaps midlife crises are fueled by the eventual realization that the singular and noteworthy “me” I’ve fancied myself to be, doesn’t actually exist. Even the most successful people usually aren’t quite all they once imagined, and all this earth offers doesn’t quite measure up (read Ecclesiastes for a thorough exploration).

A presumed famine of childhood self esteem elicited the “YOU are special” slogans which have been spoon fed to us for decades. They mostly serve to inflate our egos and encourage self absorption. The culture pitched, and we swung at extraordinary lives with all we had. We believed we could “be the change” (even for Jesus), and DO BIG things! WE could be anything and expected to “have it all” along the way, if we only worked hard enough. We were special people living in special times.

IMG_3665What if we’ve defined special and success all wrong? What if we’ve passed on the hype to our kids? What if extraordinary doesn’t mean what our generation generally thought it did?

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

God’s guiding me to reassess life. In the process I’ve felt detached and isolated. Perhaps the nebulous mid life I’ve always heard about is at least partially to blame. What’s happening in me? What is God saying to us in this middle ground?

IMG_2571Whatever this age and stage is… I’m impatient to escape the resulting unrest. My gut says the emptiness isn’t due just to hormones or emotions, but rather transition and transformation.

It would be easier to label it, medicate it, ignore it, hide it, numb it or otherwise busy myself to the point of oblivion, but I don’t think it’s that simple. I can’t just press on as I always have. I feel drawn into a cocoon, but I’m also emerging. God is doing something different in me — creating something altogether new and beautifully ordinary.

As believers we’ve continually been maturing and being transformed (some call it sanctification) as we’ve lived through various seasons — and God’s got much more in store for us. “I will be your God throughout your lifetime–until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.” (Isaiah 46:4) “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)

photo (24)The empty nest gives God a great opportunity. Ambiguity and uncertainty are a part of change. Transitions by nature are liminal or without form. On the threshold between things. In his book “In Midlife” Murray Stein describes liminality “as ‘unformedness’ likened to being the elements of life before life itself is created. It is a time before creativity, but essential to the birth of new forms. A place of the ‘naked soul.'”

Yes! That’s how I feel. An element of the already but not yet.  I sense the stillness before something important happens. There’s definitely excitement and anticipation. At the same time I feel stifled and exposed. Unsure and incomplete.

IMG_1599The relief and pleasure of sending my children out into the world has waned, and the space I’ve provided for God to do His new thing in me causes midlife allegations to intensify:  you’re aimless… invisible… your life is mundane and meaningless.

While the accusations are untrue, I’m beginning to understand in the depths of my soul just how ordinary I am. Strangely, I think that revelation is part of what God’s been growing me toward.

It’s a little disappointing, but it also takes the pressure off to achieve — more than ever before. The shallow and mundane tasks of life are ordained by God just as much as the profound and impact full “big” moments. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) The impact of my Granny’s life sure was a great example of that!

My flesh balks at the idea. There’s a part of me that still wants to buy in to the slogans — to do big things. To be renowned. First to repress my own insecurity and then to impress others with my depth and importance. My uniqueness, understanding and achievement.

IMG_4171That’s spiritual pride. And a great pedestal from which I can easily fall into condemning, rebuking and judging others with an utter lack of self-awareness. I’ve encountered these mature and self righteous know-it-alls (Jesus called them Pharisees). I recognize in myself a mid-life tendency to become just such a pious onlooker, and I want to do anything I can to avoid becoming that person.

My flesh may have planned to be seen as profound, wise, useful and spiritually strong. But Jesus came to us as a baby in a lowly manger and died on a cross. Matthew 10:24 says “A disciple is not above his teacher…” By His grace God continually humbles and changes me. What I really want is not for people to see me at all, but to make Jesus more widely known. To love Him more and more. To allow Him to mold me and use me however He chooses.

IMG_1122We are in good company when our bodies grow wrinkly, tired, stiff or sick.  When we feel disconnected, invisible or discarded. Misunderstood in an unfamiliar culture where we once had a starring role. The common experiences of humanity safeguard us from self-importance and the heavy heartedness of taking ourselves and our endeavors too seriously. We might have increased limitations as we age, but not the God we serve! In thankfully surrendering to our present role in His story, we will always flourish for God’s kingdom.

God and His business are the things we need to revere and truly take seriously. Certainly not our ordinary selves. So let’s lighten up.  Matthew 11:28-30 says “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

IMG_2668By ourselves, we’re not so special. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6:7) “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5) We’re fallen. Sinful. We are ordinary people, but we’re made in the image of God. He loves each one of us exactly as we are. That’s beyond special.

To be extraordinary, we surrender to being ordinary and needy and let God work in us. “God saved us by his grace when we believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8) He even mysteriously accomplishes salvation in those He chooses, so that none of us can boast.

Saved by grace, we live by grace. Repent and give up our right to play God in our own stories. Then accept that something extra: God our creator, Jesus’ work on the cross, and the gift of His indwelling Holy Spirit — the only extra that matters in giving ordinary people extraordinary lives!

Let Him be extraordinary and give Him all glory —  and the possibilities are boundless as we transition into following God into whatever next thing He has in store.

IMG_0681***God’s got a sense of humor. Just after I wrote the longest post ever, I found this familiar verse. God said it much more succinctly and eloquently than I in Romans 12:1-2… “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” The Bible is our best guide! AMEN!

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