Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"God Bless Our Christmas": A Giveaway for the Day Your Child Gets a Diagnosis

My sweet friend Hannah who ate chocolate chips out of the bag with me on the last night of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference and won the award for best blog is an actual real book-on-the-shelf writer.

She wrote this sweet story and its accompaniments: God Bless Our Easter and God Bless You and Good Night . Beautiful board books for familes, not just children. She used vivid words and a soothing rhythm to remind us in God Bless Our Christmas who is the reason we have all these blessings to enjoy.

"The Christmas carols that we sing
Are full of joy and love.
I have such cheer this time of year.
It comes from God above."
--except from God Bless Our Christmas

I cuddled up on the couch last week to read this with Amelia, my four year old, and her best friend Ellie. They took a break from the ponies in the dollhouse to tuck into each of my sides and hear the words. Amelia liked the penguins best. Ellie liked the polar bears. I liked the simplicity that so often gets overlooked in our busy holiday.

But most of all I liked having a normal moment with my baby girl. Normalcy has become a thing of the recent past for us in the last few days. I suppose that's common--because when you get news that's hard and uncertain, a new normal develops. 

When I wrote these words to those who bear sadness this Christmas, I didn't know how true they would become for me--
Let this season of love put you back together again.

In the midst of uncertainty and fear, we are welcoming the arms of love that have wrapped tight around our family during these last few days.

Last week, I took my four year old for a stat CT scan and prayed only for an answer to why she had stopped using her right hand and begun stuttering and being clumsy. The test revealed that Amelia has an arteriovenous malformation (AVM).  It's a scary moment to realize your mother's intuition is right. That, yes, there is something very wrong and it might get worse before it gets better.

But here's the truth of our diagnosis. She will get better. This is a treatable condition that we still don't know about completely and there's still more testing to be done. But she will get better. Even if that better means a surgery or a drug regiment or who knows what. They tell us we're the best case diagnosis for something being wrong in her brain.

And I'm scared out of my mind that it will be nothing or something or anything. I'm scared I won't be strong enough for her, for my husband, for my other girls. I'm scared I'll run out of energy to give.

But I don't have to have enough of me to go around. I have a great big God who formed her and knows her and formed me and knows me. He knows what we need and what we can handle. He's given us a network of friends and family who are already begging for jobs to do, already bringing meals, already replacing my favorite lost pair of earrings.

God Bless Our Christmas indeed.

So today I'd like to spread a little Christmas love. I'm giving away one copy of God Bless Our Christmas . Winner will be chosen at random from comments left on the blog. You can comment on Facebook too, if you like, but I won't pool entries from there. One location is all I can handle.

Tell me whose Christmas would you like to bless?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Dear Ones Who Bear Sad Tidings This Year (Five Minute Friday)

It can be hard this time of year to find the joy in the twinkly lights and the broken nativity and the limp garland when all you want to do is hide away in a corner from the well-wishers and the do-gooders and the hope-bringers.

It can be hard to be facing a holiday ringed with family dinners and friendly hospitality and gift exchanging when there's one less seat at the table, one less card in the mail, one less gift under the tree.

When I was ten years old my mama walked this journey. My daddy walks it now. This stumble through the season of glad tidings when the tidings dealt you this year were dark and doomed. The tidings of grief under the shadow of fear.

I don't remember how Mama got through that Christmas. Her mother died three days before December 25 and we buried her two days after. My most vivid memories are that she bought me a black velvet dress and my uncle reamed all the grandkids for daring to ask if we would open the presents Grandmommy had already wrapped and placed beneath her tree. There would have been five of us kids at that time. Five of us to get through breakfasts and toys and tantrums and the joy of Christmas that would forever be tainted with shock.

I remember how we got through last year when the cancer was doing its death march across my grandfather's gut and the dementia was already eating away his memory. We just didn't talk about it. We visited and the last time I saw him speak and smile and know me was Christmas Eve. This year I want to talk and celebrate and remember that he loved the mountains and coffee and another plaid shirt wrapped alongside a good book.

I don't know how you do it. I don't know how you walk through a season of grief during a season of happiness, but I do know this. You're walking through a season of love.

Let yourself be wrapped and swaddled and cared for like that baby in a manger. Let that be the only hope you hold because it's just too much to try and care about shopping deals or holiday feasts or gingerbread houses.

Let this be a season of nothing but love and let love put you back together again.

In that glorious coincidence way God works, I wrote this as part of the Five Minute Friday crew. I haven't participated in months, but saw the prompt on twitter and had just five minutes this afternoon to word thoughts that had been tossing around for a few days. Then I click over to Kate's place to link up and her words today? They're on grief. So much so that she wrote an ebook about it and you can get it for free until midnight tonight.

Christmas makes the pain acute. My prayers are with you if you and yours are walking this journey right now. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gifts that Give This Christmas Season

I don't know about you, but I'm on the lookout for more gifts that are less about a number of packages under the tree and more about what those packages mean to the hands that prepared them and the ones that receive. So here's a list of some of my favorite little shops for giving back as we head into a season that's really meant to be less about materialism and more about caring for one another. 

Black Tag Diaries Etsy Shop::

Meet Julia and Lance. They're world travelers, Christ lovers, and proud parents.
Meet Zara. They brought her home from Uganda exactly one year ago.
It was miracle beyond miracle that they did this in only one trip.
But it still wasn't cheap. Not that raising any child is, but when you start out with insurmountable fees, it's just one more stress for a family.  Who wants more stress when you have a two year old?
So together with Julia's talented dad, they've created an Etsy shop that showcases Julia's talents for decor and design. There's jewelry, home goods, and these sweet ornaments.

personalized custom wood christmas ornament

We ordered one for our tree this year to remind us to pray for our friends, count our blessings, and give with purpose. All proceeds offset their adoption costs. You can hurry up and get one right here

I'm not much for accessorizing. But I do love a great purse. The (ahem) older I get, the more I realize that maybe the Target clearance isn't always going to cut it. I'm a "buy one bag and use it for years" kind of girl, so I've got my eye on one of these bags with an amazing mission. It's the heart beat of our own finances to back and support small businesses, and when there's a business that gives back to the community the way Better Life does, I start to lose the argument with myself over price. So maybe one day soon I'll be carrying one of these.

I got to spend Saturday morning with these lovely ladies and learn all about The Noonday story from the only ambassador local to our area. She drove an hour and a half to share Noonday's passion for empowering men and women to build a life out of poverty.  Coincidentally, we had met in passing before--at Allume where I first heard of Noonday in 2013. Those great earrings I have on and that gorgeous black wrap? All handmade. I'm looking forward to hosting my own show this spring, but in the meantime if you'd like to support this cause with a purchase in time for Christmas we've got an open show that closes at 5 p.m. today. Click the link above our picture for details or message me on email, Facebook, or Twitter.

A subsidiary of Hallmark, DaySpring is a great line of cards and gifts that reflect faith in Christ. In addition to beautiful designs inspired by some of today's bestselling authors, the entire site is on sale in anticipation of giving the message of Christmas with a gift that lasts all year long.
Here are some of my favorite deals.

from: DaySpring Cards Inc

from: DaySpring Cards Inc.

It's my hope that I don't go farther than my laptop and my hometown square for the rest of my Christmas shopping. What's on your get and give list this year?

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Budgeting of Motherhood

Photo Courtesy of MBShaw Photography, 2012
I had a glass of chardonnay and she had some fancy fruit juice concoction and the room buzzed and hummed with the small talk of entrepreneurs and those who fund their dreams. I had on my bargain black ankle pants from Kohl's that I bought to have something cocktail party worthy, and she wore a slick business suit with simple jewelry and plenty of poise. But we sat and whispered together, not about the finances of small business but the budgeting of motherhood.

I felt like that scene out of Lisa Jo's book where she mentions being in the room with all the high-powered three-piece suits but all the other woman wants to talk about is how she handles the most important gig of all and still gets her paying job done.

This woman who is light years ahead of me on the American dream career path told me about her boys and getting dinner on the table and we commiserated over homework while my husband--who holds the same title she does for another company--networked and business carded and advised. She told me how he'd helped answer her questions the other day, and when he was finished talking, she figured she'd just learned enough to make the event worthwhile. It made me proud to hear that. Then just as we wound up the party, she asked him for one more piece of advice about some report they're required to run.

He told her how he gets started on that as soon as budget is finished in December. That he sets staggered deadlines, so by the time January blows in, they're already plugging away at the first third of the process and the rest is a downhill slide into March. (Mostly my words, not his. He used actual trade lingo and acronyms.) But she looked at him, eyes wide with disbelief and said, "But how do you do that with Christmas?"

He didn't have an answer. But I did. I leaned over and reminded her, "He has me. And I stay home."

Her question came from her mother's heart, not her financial officer's brain. A mother knows December entails teacher gifts and chorus concerts and family portraits and extra mail. She knows it's already list after list of goodies and gifts and glory, so why would she add something else to a plate that's already heaped high enough?

It's not that my husband doesn't help make the holidays happen, He does and he's amazing. But his mind isn't forefront with the worries that we haven't chosen an advent tradition or ordered Christmas cards or made the sugar cookie dough well enough in advance. He's never worried about all the little details because he's never had to. Even when I taught, this was my department. Maybe that's because of who I am or maybe it's more generic than that. Maybe it's because of who we all were created to be.

Mothers tend to be in the weeds--to borrow a term from my husband. We wade on in and get stuck in the rushes because we know all the little intricacies that we want to do or need to do or expect to be able to do. We do this regardless of our job status, our marital status, and our previous status.

But we're terrible at budgeting ourselves, at realizing that we all have a capacity and yours shouldn't have to look like mine.

When I chose to stay home, I increased my budget for motherhood. But it took me a long time to realize that where I spend that budget isn't the same as someone else.

I spend a lot of time letting my kids drag inside toys outside so they can pretend to be the orphans from The Boxcar Children. I don't spend a lot of time actually playing this game with them myself.

I spend a lot of time inventing new ways to hide kale and turnips in their food. But I don't spend a lot of time making that food look cute.

I spend a lot of time typing away at my own dreams. I don't, however, spend a lot of time actually listening to theirs. (And I should.)

My motherhood looks different than yours, and different than this woman with whom I sat with and had uninterrupted grown-up conversation. But I learned from her.

It is nothing short of luxury for him and me that I stay home.  That I am able to support my husband with home-cooked meals and leftover lunches. That I don't have to rearrange the schedules of others to accommodate my sick kids. That I don't have to experience the Sunday evening rush that bleeds into Monday morning mania.

I know lots of women love their outside the home jobs. I just wasn't one of them. I wanted to be, but my capacity for motherhood didn't include the job I had and hear me loud and clear--that is okay. And it is okay for you to not be me.

It took me a long time to get here. To see what I do at home as being as valuable as what I once did in my classroom.

I've realized the budgeting of motherhood is about more than how I spend my time or where I spend my days. It is about my honest response in pursuit of being the mother I've been called to be.

Which may not be the same type mom as you. Want to tell me about that in the comments? Have you figured out your capacity? How do you budget motherhood with career and marriage?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Really Short Story about Short Stories

My first short story came out on Saturday. In a real live magazine that you can subscribe to online or read in print (especially if you're my mama and you're waiting on my complimentary copy). I'm all sorts of tingly thrilled while at the same time, like all writers do, trying not to over analyze that on that same day I found out I'm not a finalist in a contest I entered.

This writing business is a lot of hurry up and work while you wait. Then news come down all at once and it's all elation and pits of despair because I rarely seem to just land in the middle of that swinging pendulum.

But still, I get to call myself a real, live published writer. And over the next few months, I've already received confirmation that three more pieces are coming out. Another short story in Splickety Prime (this one's my take on A Christmas Carol because I can't go through the season without a Scrooge reference) and some little anecdotes for Thriving Family magazine which you can get for FREE right here. 

So after years of talk and scribble and dream and excuse I'm finally doing this writer thing. Not just the blogger thing because they are both the same and different in all sorts of ways.

It's all crazy coincidence and God's timing. You know how I met the blog editor for Splickety?(Sometimes I guest post over there.) She's friends with Jennifer. Who I roomed with at Allume, because I didn't know anyone and she put out a notice on the Facebook page that she needed a roomie. Then seven months later I'm in a keynote address at a different conference and she sends me an Instagram notification that I need to meet her friend Bethany because she's deduced from our pictures that we're in the same room at right that very moment. Which gave me the courage to meet these people who teach classes at this conference I'd never been to before and led to enough confidence to submit and well, that's the rest of the story.

Oh, and Bethany and I have back to back stories in the current issue. Which made Jen and me all sorts of giddy.

So that's what I've been doing. Pounding the keys in a different sort of telling. The kind that's hopefully going to lead to a completed manuscript by Christmas.

I'm writing stories.

I tell you true ones here. But it's my hope that someday when you pick up a novel with my name on it, you'll find those ringing of the same.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

When Brave Hospitality Looks Like a lot of Pizza

The girls and I had the idea one early autumn afternoon that since Halloween fell on Friday night this year, maybe we should have some friends over for Friday night pizza.

They invited families from school and church and I spread the word to friends of my own who would keep on the path to sanity for the night. We ringed a patch of dirt with old landscape stones and called it a fire pit and broke out the paints for a little craftiness.

I stressed about who we had invited and if they would come and who we hadn't and if they'd be hurt and people said--it's okay if you just order the pizza.

But it wasn't. Not because I wanted to show off or be prideful but because if you come into my home, I want to offer you a part of myself, a glimpse into our everyday chaos, a seat at our family table.

Even though we set up outside and banished all twenty-five kids from the front door.

I make pizza on Fridays because I enjoy it. Over the years it's become a therapeutic ritual our family relies upon. Every other night's dinner might be made up on the fly, but pizza has become a predictable routine they expect. And in a world that is constantly unexpected, it's a small gift to keep something the same.

So I made eight pizzas and friends drifted in and out of my kitchen to keep me company and kids spilled off the back deck into the yard and I didn't worry about our imperfect bathrooms or lack of living room square footage or carpets that desparately need to meet a Stanley Steamer.

I just made pizza.

There were people we've known for years and friends we've just met and at one point I wasn't sure if those were trick or treaters or guests on our front porch. It was wildly disorganized and delightful.

And you know what surprised me most? That after we had canvassed the neighborhood, people came back. They drank coffee and cocoa and sat around and talked and listened and we all ignored the mess and the candy wrappers in the kids' rooms.

I don't host parties very often. We're not asked to be the home for the socials. Our house is small and there's no denying it. But what we lack in space, I'm learning to make up for with a face of brave hospitality.

That's a catchphrase these days for inviting even when you aren't ready, welcoming even when it's a stranger, cooking even when you think you're not as good as the delivery down the road. In this social media driven world of perfection, there's a group of women in my generation who are striving to be less perfection and more purpose. To love like Jesus loved on purpose.

Over the kitchen table with marker stains.

Over the broken bread and wine that might look like coffee and scones but feels like communion.

Over in the small house with pizza in the backyard.

This week Kris Camealy (whose writing I adore) and an amazing group of writers launched a new place for community: Grace Table. It's not a food blog or an entertaining blog. It's a space for frank discussions about what Biblical hospitality should look like. You should check it out. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

For the Mamas Who Fear Not Being Enough

In the quiet dark of the early morning while the four who call me Mommy are still tucked in safe and I can hear the thoughts that pillage my head and heart, I whisper prayers for two sweet friends who are laboring today.

Today they'll be mamas all over again. One is doing this for the third time but it will be a fourth love. Twins sandwiched between her only daughter and this newborn son and they're all less than four years old. One will bring home a second son a good two weeks before she expected him to arrive, but I've heard tell that his monogrammed towel is already hanging on the bathroom hook.

They've both prepared as much as one can for this late night feeding, early morning rising, baby in a sling with the toddler on the hip motherhood adventure.

But there's a little bit of fear mixed in with all that joy. A little bit of worry that nags a mother's heart and makes us wonder--will I really be enough? Can I split my heart again--and again and again and again--as many times over as God calls me to be a mother?

I think it as a I sit at a table covered with failed spelling tests and this week's assignments and sticky cereal milk and damp paintbrushes. Is there ever going to be enough of me to give some to each of them?

There's no doubt about the love. For some it's the moment the stick turns pink or the ultrasound tech points to the screen or the wailing newborn is placed in her arms, but that mama heart does just crack right open and welcome another and there's no doubt there will always be enough love.

But time? Energy? Attention? Will there be enough of that?

Those who know Christ, the apostle Paul calls us His "handiwork", His "masterpiece", His "creation anew"--called to do the good works God planned long, long ago.

Long before any of us knew how many extra hands and feet would crawl into our beds each night.

God chose you to be this mother to this many. Whether that's one or four or a baker's dozen. He chose you.

He will make you enough.

Somedays it's a struggle to believe. There's yelling and fighting and slamming of doors and I have to distract three so I can comfort one.

Somedays it's a beautiful, glorious mess around here. Teeth brushing gets neglected but they're all in my bed and we're reading stories that are age-appropriate for two but timeless for all.

Somedays the house is clean and the school day was good and there's actually time for a walk with a red wagon and the chatter of an eight year old.

Somedays everything falls apart and there's the forgetting what my knees are really for and the reminder that this is all a gift--that I do not want right now.

There's not enough hours in all the days of all the years to come to ever make us feel we have enough time to be everything everybody needs.

So don't be.

Be the mama you've been called to be. Seek grace. That will be enough. 

Angie Ryg