Preparations and Expectations at the Holidays

We were supposed to host 18 family members for Thanksgiving Day dinner.

The house was as immaculate as ever (especially with young kids), the turkey was in the oven, and our formal China set was on the table ready for its first use since our wedding 9 years ago.

Then Connor took one bite of his breakfast and threw up.

And suddenly, plans changed. We quickly shifted to my mom’s house instead, called all the family members, and loaded up our van with all of the napkins, drinks and food we had prepared for our home. Sure, I was disappointed that the Thanksgiving I’d been looking forward to didn’t pan out as it was supposed to. But it offered an opportunity to focus on the celebration in front of me, and not the one that I was expecting, which didn’t happen.

Expectations and preparations usually go hand-in-hand. We expect events or celebrations or days to go a certain way, and our preparations for those events revolve around those expectations.

Over the last few weeks – starting with that Thanksgiving stomach bug – I’ve been taking care of sick family and devoting some days to nursing kids back to health. As the holiday season and Brenna’s birthday quickly approaches, I’ve also been feeling a much larger-than-it-should-be responsibility to make sure everything goes as planned… helping to coordinate menus and party details and holiday activities and gift lists. I’ve been holding myself accountable for All The Things, and I didn’t even register this until one day last week when I spent the whole day convinced I was getting really sick. Until I realized that my impending illness was actually stress-induced, not virus-induced.

I took a day off. My wonderful husband took on the juggle of getting the kids ready for school and preschool pick-up while I slept without an alarm clock, got a massage, and browsed a store. For myself.

But most importantly, I sat in the quiet of the morning with God. And in that reflection, I came to see how my preparations have been misguided and my responsibility has been so misplaced.

Coordinating gift lists often comes with the territory, but I have a much simpler, yet incredibly more valuable, responsibility…To make Jesus known.

Not only in the holiday season, but every day – what are my most meaningful preparations, my true celebration, my ultimate responsibility? 

When I examine my desire and expectation for these days, these activities to be wonderful, marvelous, awesome… it is made so clear through Whom I will actually find that wonder, marvel, awe.

The stores, the ads, the pageants, the gift lists, the lights displays…All The Things are clamoring for our attention. But with these preparations for the holiday festivities, what – or more accurately, Who – are we actually preparing for? The expectations offer less pressure and the details feel much more insignificant when I ask one question: how can I live out each day making the coming of Jesus known with my words, my attitude and my actions?

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{Celebrating Beautiful} Blended Beauty in Motherhood by Christen Spratt

In blogging for the last 4 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: motherhood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
 
I first connected with Christen Spratt when I was a guest on the ChannelMom Radio Show promoting my book, and she was participating in the same show. We really connected, and have a lot in common as special needs moms, so it’s been great getting to know her better. Christen is very authentic and cares most about sharing about real life, even when it can be messy. 
Here is Christen Spratt on Celebrating Beautiful…
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The teenage version of me had a very narrow opinion of what it meant to be beautiful. I used to think you had to have great hair, flawless skin and perfect curves. I was taught that beauty came from within, but I just saw that as the second layer of the onion. Magazines and television programs seemed to value the outward version so much more, and I was a sucker for the ploy.

In the midst of all this vanity, my life came to a screeching halt with 2 little blue lines. I was pregnant. At the age of 18, all the things I believed made me beautiful were slipping through my fingers…my hair was falling out, skin was breaking out, and oh the curves… now they were in all the wrong (according to teenage me) places.

When I married my husband, I really struggled with the teenage version of beauty. My body was not what it was. I had stretch marks, cellulite, and thinner hair.

That was when I shifted my perspective… surely beauty in mothering wasn’t as vain, right? Instead of focusing on hair, skin, and curves, I poured all those preconceived notions into different vessels. I forced my warped view of beauty onto my little humans.

I decided beautiful now looked like well-groomed and very well-behaved children, matching outfits on a Christmas card, a home that looked like it was ripped from the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog, a refrigerator stocked with only organic goodness, and of course… smart, healthy, privately educated, athletic, musical, multiple language-speaking children.

Then life happened…We are a blended family, which is crazy hard unto itself and sometimes messy. Sometimes matching outfits on a Christmas card is all we can do to “blend.”christenspratt1

Those well-groomed and very well-behaved children… well, they have decided that they hate having their hair cut. Trimming nails inflicts an excruciating amount of pain. Essentially,  keeping them in good order is a form of torture in their eyes.

They throw tantrums in public.  They forget to put on their shoes for church or underwear for school. Sometimes they scream “NO!” to a simple request for a goodbye kiss at the bus stop (in front of all the other moms, of course.) And as for school, a couple of them need a little extra help and are in Special Education.

But the biggest blow to my version of a beautiful mothering came in the form of a diagnosis.

My baby girl has epilepsy. She has to take meds that make her less than pleasant at times. She may or may not outgrow her disorder. She may or may not get to live an ordinary life of driving cars and holding jobs. Special needs was not in the “beautiful” plan.

Through the years and through the struggles, I began to realize that maybe, just maybe, I had beauty all wrong.

It’s now obvious to me that beautiful is;

the sweet milky breath of a cooing infant,

rocking a child back to sleep in the still of the night,

helping a toddler learn to walk,

sounding out syllables with a new reader,

talking through the vulnerable struggles of a middle schooler,

holding hands,

snuggling,

giggling,

reading stories,

saying “I love you,”

singing silly songs,

praying innocent prayers,

being the safe place,

and offering a listening ear.

Beautiful is so much more than meets the eye; beautiful is being raw, broken, present, authentic and dedicated.

This mothering thing is not exactly what I thought it was going to be, or even what I thought I was going to be able to make it. It is harder, messier, and much louder than I ever imagined.

Motherhood isn’t easy, and it sure doesn’t feel pretty many days. Mac and cheese dried on the floor, yoga pants (for the 27th day in a row), public humiliation and a smelly car are not exactly glamorous… But if you take a closer look, take a moment to really evaluate all that surrounds you, you’ll see that it’s undeniably, breathtakingly beautiful and so much more significant and marvelous than great hair, good skin, and kicking curves.

Beauty is motherhood, and motherhood is beautiful.

Today, I challenge you to take a moment to submerge yourself in the beauty around you and I triple dog dare you to admire the beauty that you are.

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Christen is the wife to one (he is the coolest engineer you will ever meet) and a mother to four (one from her teen pregnancy, one with epilepsy, one with SPED needs, and the fourth may or may not be related to the Hulk.) She is a recovering “perfect wife/mom,” up to her eyeballs in all things motherhood. She doesn’t have a Pinteresting life, she doesn’t cut sandwiches into dolphins, she doesn’t have a perfect marriage, and she regularly shares all this good/bad/ugly with her sweet readers over at christenspratt.com. Christen is passionate about authenticity and  frequently writes about the FaKebook phenomena, parenting, marriage, and faith while keeping a canny sense of humor.  It is her heart to offer hope to other moms in the trenches. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.