That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.

I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

Panic at Christmas

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It appears I took an unintentional blogging break here. We hosted Thanksgiving this year – my parents came into town, and my sister and her husband spent a lot of time here, too. (They live in Chattanooga.) It was so nice not to have to travel for a holiday! We still had lots of late nights and crazy family time, but being at home helps the kids readjust easier.

I’ve also been battling a sickness that keeps coming back, which may account for my lack of writing and the vast amount of Jane the Virgin episodes I’ve watched in the last two weeks. Thankfully I felt mostly better over Thanksgiving, but then it seemed to come back with a vengeance. Argh. I am not sick very much, and it’s frustrating not to feel well when there is so much to be done.

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But, see, I think the real reason I haven’t written is because I want to write about Christmas. And this year Christmas seems to have me a little panicky.

It’s not that I’m worried about making it magical, or buying the right gifts, or the fact that my kids will probably ask me why we don’t have Santa gifts or an Elf on the Shelf (again).

It’s just that it seems like IT WAS JUST CHRISTMAS.

Seriously. Where did the year go? How can it be Christmas again when I so vividly remember last year’s celebration? Wasn’t it just summer?

And then I get into the MY KIDS ARE GROWING SO FAST AND SOON JOSHUA WILL BE THREE AND THEN HE WILL BE 18 WAHHHHHHH!!!!

I wasn’t even sure I would want to do the Christmas things this year at all, because it seems like I just took down the tree. I have, of course. I’ve put them up, the big tree and the stockings and nativity and wreath and all the things that will fit in our little apartment. And I’m listening to Christmas music, even though it’s been in the 60s outside and it feels wrong.

I still don’t feel it.

But what I do feel is Christ. I actually made an Advent wreath for us this year, and on Sunday we lit the first candle of Hope and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I shared in my Sunday School class about the traditional Hope passages of Scriptures, those being taught in liturgical churches around the world on the first Sunday of Advent. We talked about acknowledging pain, and how that is a part of hope. We wait, and waiting is not easy, but in it we hope.

I don’t have any great proclamation about how my heart has changed. I am still feeling panicky about the kids getting older and the years going quickly. I am still not feeling especially Christmasy. But I am also convinced that Christ is with me in this “wait” – these years that may seem both long and fleeting. And, like Brené Brown says, what gets me through is leaning in to the good, sweet moments. Breathing and not rushing and holding them when they want to hug and cuddle.

I look at our tree and remember the Light of the World, and how much He deserves to be honored, every Christmas, every moment.

Christmas tree

Joy

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I’ve been struggling a lot lately with feeling like a really bad mom.

It’s hard work parenting. Some days I feel like I will never get out of a cycle of exhaustion. I let anger win out too much. I don’t see the fruits of gentleness, patience, kindness nearly enough from myself – or from my kids.

We’ve been enduring a season where the kids fight, physically and with words, and the discipline and correcting and trying to figure out what on earth to do with it brings me to the end of my rope. (I’m willing to take ideas, if you have any.)

I’m frustrated because it seems like nothing ever goes right, the apartment is always a mess, and I feel defeated every single night after tucking those sweet faces into bed.

And then yesterday I was trying to gather pictures from 2015 to make into photo books or something for Christmas presents. (Look at me getting a head start!) Seeing these memories … I just feel the joy.

Tweetsie Railroad

There are the times we’ve done special things together – like this trip with my parents to Tweetsie Railroad, an amusement park; our now-yearly trip to Tybee Island; Easter egg hunts and museums and trips.

But just as often, I see big giant grins just because we are having fun together, because they are children enjoying life and being kids and loving wholeheartedly.

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I might always feel the weight of yelling and dealing with problems and having crayon papers all over the floor. (Thanks, Joshy.) But the joy outweighs the bad.

When my kids wake up in the morning, they’ve released the stuff of yesterday and are ready to face the world with smiles and pep. I want to be the same way. Letting things go like a kid, and just embracing and giving thanks for all the joyful moments. When we look back, I don’t think we’ll remember the nit-picky everyday things, but we will remember building a snowman, playing games, cuddling and laughing.

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Lord, I thank You for all the sweet joyful moments with these treasures You gave me. Help me embrace the good and let go of the bad, constantly remembering that You are with me as a parent. Let Your fruit abound in my parenting. Amen.

Full Heart, Empty Womb {Guest Post by Stephanie Greer}

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Today, my friend from Nashville, Stephanie Greer, is sharing an excerpt from her book Full Heart, Empty Womb: How I Survived Infertility … Twice. Mr. V and I witnessed Steph and Eric’s first struggle and the birth of their twins, and reading her whole story really touched me. Infertility is still such a weird topic in our culture. I love that Steph is opening doors and is willing to talk about her struggle and paths. This is part of chapter 1 of her self-published book, which you can buy for Kindle or in paperback.

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In August of 2002 we got married and settled in Nashville, Tennessee. I didn’t think I could be any happier. We had our whole life ahead of us. We both had a good start to our careers. We were happy and madly in love. We spent every weekend trying to make our house a home. And if we weren’t at a football game, we were at a wedding. We were at the age that all of our friends were getting married. And since we lived in the heart of the Southeastern Conference, one didn’t get married on a game weekend! We went on dates and fun trips when we could afford it. It truly was the honeymoon period.

Eric and steph at wedding

My maternal side emerged after only a few months, and I begged to get a puppy. After little persuasion, I convinced Eric to let us get Majors (named after famed UT football coach, Johnny Majors). He was my baby.

I am a planner. When I first started with GE, I went into a Franklin Covey store and spent my paycheck on a beautiful planner. A planner that could not only help me plan my day in A, B, and C order, but I could plan six months ahead – even two years ahead! It served me well in my career. I planned meetings. I planned contests for my sales team. I planned trainings. I made plans about plans. I always had a plan and that kept me sane in a stressful, high demand workplace.

I also had a plan for the Greers. Get married. Enjoy being newlyweds for two years. Have our first child. Wait another couple of years and have our second. If we have two kids that are the same gender, then try for a third in another two years. It would be that simple, right? For some, maybe so.

It took a little more convincing than I anticipated to get Eric on my plan’s timeline. But after much campaigning, I got him on my timetable. I couldn’t help it. I was so ready to become a mother. All my life I have loved kids. I made all my money in high school babysitting the kids in my neighborhood. I never had a lot of clarity on what my career would be but I always knew I would be a mother. And I was ready now.

I learned about tracking my temperatures to figure out when I was ovulating. I learned what ovulation is and why it is so important. My friend Kristen told me when we should and shouldn’t try. She even shared with me some old wives’ tales like how long I needed to stay lying down so the sperm could do their job. We were going to hit the ground running. I was so excited. I just knew that we were going to start trying and instantly get pregnant.

It was exciting at first. When I told Eric we had to have sex every other day, he wondered why we hadn’t started trying sooner! I lingered in the baby aisle at Target. Need this. Need this. Must have this!! Oh I can’t wait to register!

Our first attempt to conceive coincided with a trip to New York City for Thanksgiving. I didn’t even have a glass of wine because I was SURE that I was pregnant. Granted, the sperm hadn’t even had a chance to fertilize the egg, but I just KNEW I was pregnant and wasn’t going to take a chance.

Diagnosis: Infertile

That is the way it was for a couple of months. Then my obsessive nature took over. I started not only checking my basal body temperatures each morning, but I put the results in an Excel spreadsheet and even made a graph! As silly as it was, it gave me the first indication that I was INFERTILE. As I looked at my temperatures, it became clear that I wasn’t ovulating until very late. I didn’t ovulate until day 28, and my cycle was only 34 days long.

Being a take-charge kind of gal, I made an appointment with my OBGYN. I went in armed with my graphs so we could figure out what to do. I went through a battery of blood tests to figure out what was going on with me. I will always be grateful to my doctor for listening to me. Traditionally you have to try unsuccessfully to conceive for 12 months (a full year!) before you are given a workup and treatment for infertility. We had only been trying to get pregnant for a few months. But it was quite clear that my body wasn’t doing what it needed to do for us to get pregnant.

I was so frustrated. Something was wrong with me. Why can’t my body do what it is supposed to do? I mean, I am a woman, right? Had I done something to cause this? Was I just getting what I deserved? I did have a little wild phase in college. Why couldn’t I just be normal? Everyone was getting pregnant around me! No problem at all. They just went off the pill and poof! They were pregnant. And then there were those who weren’t even trying that were getting pregnant, too! I felt like a failure. And it didn’t seem to bother Eric that much and that made me mad. He didn’t understand why I was so upset.

The blood tests confirmed everything that my temperatures indicated. I needed help to get me to ovulate on time. According to my doctor, I needed to take Clomid® to help me ovulate more regularly. I also needed to take progesterone after I ovulated. I had what is called a Luteal Phase Defect which means that the time between ovulation and the start of my next cycle isn’t long enough. My uterine lining would shed before an embryo even had enough time to implant. The progesterone would prolong the luteal phase (keeping my uterine lining intact) so that if I got pregnant the embryo would have enough time to implant.

It felt good to have a plan. My OBGYN said she would let me cycle like this for a few months but after that she would refer me to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) for further evaluation. That was fine by me because I was going to get pregnant the first month. If not the first, then certainly the second! She also wanted Eric to go to an urologist to be evaluated as well. This proved to be a vital step in our diagnosis.

So that brings us back to me sitting in my office chair after getting another pregnancy announcement email. Bawling my eyes out and hugging Majors, my fur baby, for dear life. I went from a life that was living wedding shower to wedding ceremony of all my friends to a life of weekly pregnancy announcements and baby showers. That is where we were in life. A time when even a simple question like “Guess what?” got an excited “You’re pregnant!!!!” in return. No … I just found a good pair of jeans. While all of my other friends in their mid to late 20s were deciding to just “go off birth control and see what happens,” I was taking drugs just to give me a prayer of conceiving.

Little did I know that this would be a nearly ten-year journey for us. It would be a journey that would bring me a lot of tears but even more strength. A journey that against all odds brought me closer to my husband and taught me that I had to trust and lean on God. Through much of the journey I felt like I was all alone. Unless you have been through infertility, you just cannot understand how isolated it makes you feel. I have many reasons for writing this book. The first and foremost one is this: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Please join me on my journey. If you are infertile, I think you will be able to identify with some of it. Hopefully that will help you to know that you aren’t the only one who feels this way. If you happen to have a loved one who is struggling to conceive, perhaps this will give you a small glimpse into the trials and agony of infertility.

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stephanieStephanie is a native Texan that has spent the majority of her life at home in Tennessee. She is a true Southern girl who loves God, sweet tea, football and anything monogrammed. She married her college sweetheart, Eric, who taught her about true love and football.  The “option” still stumps her because isn’t there always an option to throw the ball?? After battling infertility for years, they were blessed with three children. In her first book Full Heart Empty Womb: How I Survived Infertility … Twice,  Stephanie chronicles their journey through infertility and what she learned along the way. When Stephanie is not writing, she stays busy volunteering and caring for her family. If she is lucky, a hot bath and a good book are waiting at the end of a very full day.

You can find Steph on her blog, The Southern Lady Mama, as well as on Facebook. Her book is available on Amazon.

Teetering on the Edge

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David at the beach

It’s September 1st.

For me, that can feel like the edge.

I remember the exact feeling of panic I got last year. I think it has to do with October through December being a jumble of holidays and birthdays for us. I so vividly remembering spewing to my husband that, “It is almost FALL and then Libbie will be 6 and then it will be Halloween and then Thanksgiving and then David’s birthday and then Christmas and before I know it, it will be March and Joshua will be TWO. WAHHHHH!!!!”

I’ve never claimed to be a sensible and calm person.

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I woke up this morning with that same edge-of-the-cliff feeling. Only now it’s all a year old. How could my baby possibly turn 3? Never mind that his birthday is still more than half a year away. It feels like those months will slip through my fingers like Jell-o.

I read this post by Steph Fisher last week reminding me of Brené Brown’s thoughts on “foreboding joy” in her (too wonderful and awful) book Daring Greatly. Brown writes, “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.”

It is vulnerable to love with our whole hearts. It is vulnerable to love my kids at 6 1/2, 4 1/2, and 2 1/2, knowing that soon those numbers will round up and change. It is vulnerable to live in the moment and simply enjoy the sunshine and scents and little laughs without worrying what is to come.

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So this fall, I’m giving myself permission to be vulnerable. To sit and stare into three sets of big blue eyes – all different, beautiful shades – and truly listen to my kids speak.

I’m giving myself permission to lavish in the remainder of the summer (which lasts until about mid-October here, really) without worrying about when to pull out the long sleeves and pumpkin decorations.

I’m taking one month at a time, even as I go to events to make sure David has a spot at Libbie’s wonderful school when he’s in kindergarten next August. One week at a time. One day. One hour!

I’m making time for myself to exercise and eat real foods, knowing that the payoff is daily and long-term, and not feeling guilty for leaving my kids in the gym childcare for an hour.

I’m giving constant, constant thanks, knowing that is the best way to firmly plant myself in today and now.

Consider those my Right Now Resolutions.

Tossing Pennies into the Toll Booth

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Toll Booth
source: Marjorie Lipan via Flickr

When I was in high school, I had to drive each day – once I was old enough to drive – through a toll booth. Back then, it was a straight-up 50 cents. (Our recent trip to Richmond revealed that it is now 70 cents – plus it didn’t take one of my first quarters, so we ended up tossing nearly a dollar at the thing. A travesty! Almost as bad as Ukrop’s being gone.)

Usually my co-pilot and I were armed with quarters or tokens, ready to throw the coins and get through quickly. But one day, I was alone for some reason. Maybe I wasn’t even going to school that day. I found myself approaching the toll booth and realized I had nothing but some loose changing floating around in the console of my Eagle Vision.

Quickly I gathered up as much as I could. And I remember vividly watching the numbers slide above the toll basket, praying that I could find enough to change to equal those 50 cents. I was tossing pennies by the fistful. And finally, breath escaped, I saw it click down to zero and the bar raise.

I don’t even know what happens if you don’t have those 50 cents. I bet it happens a lot more now than it did in 1998, although maybe EZ Pass-type things help.

I’ve felt a little bit of that same panic in these last weeks of summer.

School supplies were purchased, I’ve been stocking my freezer with items for school lunches, and Nana bought Libbie a new backpack. We’ve registered and before that vacationed and traveled and visited and swam and played to our hearts’ content.

And yet the day before Libbie started back to school, I still felt panicky. Unprepared. With first grade there wasn’t the same sense of preparation there was for kindergarten. There are no more phase-in days, no staying with her on the first day, nothing but a messy and loud thirty minutes of handing in paperback and handing over school supplies to her teacher.

Did I forget something important? She’s armed with summer projects, a reading log, a poster timeline of her short life. It’s all there. We have the first-day picture with her printed-that-morning-off-the-Internet sign. David’s registered and ready for his preschool class.

  

Perhaps it’s that the whole summer I have felt confused. Apparently having three kids at home full time will do that to you. I just always felt like I had more to remember than I could keep in my brain. I forgot deadlines, to mail things, to call back. Embarrassing and a little wretched. 

When I was pregnant with Libbie, one of my coworkers told me that after he and his wife had their first child, they just wanted to get back to normal. Then when they had their second, they wanted to get back to normal – the one-child normal they’d found. But with kids, normal is an ever-fluctuating concept. 

Right now, I am looking forward to returning to normal, knowing that it will likely be a different normal than last school year. Even though the kids are at their same schools on the same schedules, they are a year older. Joshua is a maniacal two-year-old instead of a toddling, babbling guy. Things will be different.

But I’m hoping soon I will feel like I have two quarters instead of a handful of pennies.