How to Maintain Balance During the Holidays

I want to love Christmas.

I used to love Christmas.

Just a few years ago when my kids were tiny, creating our little family traditions and watching Christmas unfold through the eyes of my small children, it was all so exciting and magical. I vividly remember one year, taking down the tree and packing up ornaments with a heavy heart and teary eyes. I didn’t want Christmas to end.

Fast forward ten years, and you may still find me heavy-hearted and teary-eyed. But it’s more likely when I’m glaring at the calendar in utter disbelief. I know Jesus is the reason for the season, and all that. I just can’t always see Jesus through all the commercialism, materialism, perfectionism and busy-ism.

Yesterday, while I spent the morning wrapping Christmas presents, I saw an absurd commercial for a pay-day loan company, encouraging me to borrow money at 40% interest to purchase gifts for my loved ones (and also, a new recliner for myself.) The next commercial reminded me to buy something special for the most loyal friends in my life–my pets.

Really? This is the best daytime television has to offer us in December? Gifts for animals on credit? It’s like the Flashy/Raunchy Vegas version of Christmas.

Furthermore, please tell me when it became necessary for EVERY last classroom, church department, office, organization and remote affiliation to host a Christmas party, a gift exchange, a program, a concert and/or a dinner? I have only three children, but I’ve received no less than ten requests from school for contributions for teacher gifts and Christmas parties.

By the time it’s all said and done, my kids will have rehearsed for and performed in three concerts and two musicals—all but one, requiring mandatory attendance for a school grade. I’ve lost count of the number of work-related Christmas parties my husband is expected to attend, bless his heart, but I’m estimating it’s in the general vicinity of eight, or maybe twelve.

Somewhere in there, I’m also supposed to “hurry in for the BEST PRICES OF THE SEASON,” “deck the halls,” and travel several hours across the states so “I’ll be home for (all the) Christmas(es).”

Gosh, you guys. Am I the only one who wants to hide in my bedroom until January?

I don’t want to be Scrooge. I truly want to create special memories with my children. I want to find peace and joy in this season. I want to kick off the New Year with more than a hefty credit card bill, five extra pounds and an eye-twitch. Don’t you?

So, when the scales of life become ridiculously unbalanced, I become ultra-intentional. Here are a few things I’m doing this year to even things out.

1. Keeping Decorations to a Minimum. I love when my home twinkles, inside and out. But, this year, I have four bins of unused garland, bulbs and bows sitting in my storage room. I decorated the areas I love the most, and declared it all “good enough.” Additionally, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas cards will not go out this year. (Again.) (For the third year in a row.) When Pinterest continues to flutter flawless DIY Christmas décor in my face, I retaliate with simplistic imperfection.

2. Fiercely Protecting (what’s left of) The Calendar. Though the pockets of unscheduled time are fleeting and few, I’m guarding them with my life. It’s tempting to see an unscheduled Saturday morning and think, “Hey, we have four hours to run to the mall and get that (insert holiday item) for the (insert holiday event)!” Or, “Sure, I think we can squeeze that party/appointment in between the two other parties/appointments we need to go to that night.” Instead, I’m treating every empty spot on the calendar as a mandatory party/appointment with myself. A gift from God. A chance to regroup and recharge. I have learned that the only way for me to survive the chaos of constant activity is to push back just as hard with blocks of uninterrupted solitude.

3. Eliminating Mind Clutter. Remember my last post about disappearing from the Internets? Well, a few days after I published that post, I deactivated my Facebook account.* I have all manner of things to say about that, and I will in a later post. But for now, I will simply declare, it’s been one of the most mentally clarifying things I’ve done in a very long time. There’s just something so freeing about NOT knowing the details of my 700 Facebook friends, and whether or not they have their Christmas shopping done, that’s lightened my mental load tremendously. I don’t know if the deactivation is permanent, but I know I don’t miss Facebook, not one bit. I’m learning that the best way to balance out the endless stream of information flooding my brain is to build a dam at the source and stop the flow.

4. Looking for Meaningful Ways to Serve. Thanksgiving morning, we bundled up our kids and took them downtown to hand out food, blankets and gloves to the homeless. We’re going back to do it again for Christmas. We helped our kids shop and prepare gift boxes for underprivileged children through Operation Christmas Child. My daughter knows of a friend at school who has significant financial needs, and asked if we could do something anonymously to help him this Christmas. Retailers are trying like crazy to convince us we need to buy more things–because THIS is the true meaning of Christmas. The more Materialism screams this message in the face of my children, the louder we push back with whispers of contentment through sacrificial giving.

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Q4U: Does Christmas seem to be getting more chaotic every year? What are you doing to balance it in your life? Let’s discuss.

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*If you are my Facebook friend and you saw this post show up in your newsfeed, you’re probably all like, “Wha??? She’s totally on Facebook, cuz how else would I know about this post?” That is true—I reactivated long enough for this post to go out. I would strongly suggest, if you want to see future blog posts, that you subscribe via e-mail in that little box at the top of my blog. I want you to read my blog. I think you want to read it, too. But I can’t promise future posts will show up in your Facebook newsfeed. Because of the deactivation, and all.

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Here’s a Balance Tip: Get off the Internet

The other day after all the children had left for school, I took the dirty breakfast dishes and started loading them into the dishwasher. My mind was full of the day’s obligations, so I had not noticed that I failed to unload the CLEAN dishes prior to loading the dirty ones.

Awesome.

As I was retrieving the milky bowls and the buttery knives, I chuckled at myself and thought, “I need to make this a funny Facebook status or work this into a blog post.

To which I immediately responded to myself: “Oh my GOSH, Sandy. Who the flip cares if you loaded dirty dishes in with the clean ones!?! Do you need to live out your entire life on the Internet?”

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Later that night, as I was drying Elliana off after her bath, she asked, “Mommy, do you have time to read to me tonight?” In response, I let out a big, giant, overly dramatic sigh. Like it was the most inconvenient thing for my child to ask of me at that moment. How DARE my 7-year-old ask me to read to her in bed, when, clearly, I’m exhausted.

In my defense, Jon had been out of town for days, and I was depleted. But to my discredit, I had spent countless minutes, no hours, throughout that very day checking the number of likes and shares on a Facebook status I posted earlier. A Facebook status about (wait for it) being a good mom.

“We’re connecting dots with people who may as well live on Pluto, while trying to avoid the ones planted right next to us.” ~Beth Moore~

Did you ever just look at this whole social media hoopla and see it for the absurdity that it is? Did you ever scroll through a feed or click on a blog and wonder what the heck you were doing reading about the mundane details of someone’s life you hardly know, or don’t know at all?

Have you ever just wanted to disappear from the whole thing and live your life quietly? As in, OFF LINE? Like we did way back in the 1990s? I mean, truly—get off line completely?

After living my life ON LINE for the better part of seven years, the thought occurred to me: I want off.

And, thus, began a week of deep introspection, soul-searching and prayer.

See, we’re heading into the holiday season. It’s always a busy time, but I’m grasping a little more tightly to it this year, because it’s a year of “lasts” for us:

…the last birthday Elliana will have in this house.
…the last Thanksgiving I’ll cook in this kitchen.
…the last Christmas we’ll gather in this family room in pajamas and hot cocoa.
…the last few months the neighborhood kids will ring our doorbell, run through our yard and make a beautiful mess of our basement.

Each year about this time, I take a break from blogging, unapologetically. I considered that maybe my thoughts of potentially disappearing are just the result of added pressure of building a new house. Lord knows, that alone would be a valid reason. Maybe I just need to disappear for the holidays, and revisit everything in January.

But then, I thought: In January we have to get the house ready to sell. And February, it will go on the market (have you ever sold a house with kids? It’s Crazy Town trying to make it look like you don’t live there when, in fact, you do.) And March we will start packing. And April we will move. And May we will be wrapping up the school year with programs and exams, while also integrating into a new area of town. And June begins summer—when I often take another break from blogging, unapologetically.

And then, it hit me: in two and a half years, I will launch my oldest daughter into COLLEGE!!!!!

College?

When I started this blog, she was 8.

I’m not quite sure, but I’m now wondering if maybe all these thoughts are more than pressure from building the new house. Maybe God is nudging me to focus elsewhere for a season.

“So believe in life cycles and seasons. They are real. Therefore, when the days get shorter or it’s time to change, you will not think ‘something is wrong’ but you will accept the change as readily as a farmer accepts the turning of the calendar. Then you will be able to end the previous season’s appropriate activities and move to the next. Endings are easier to embrace and execute when you believe something normal is happening.”

~Dr. Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings~

Here are some of the questions I’m asking myself:

What if I spent the next year pouring myself into God’s word instead of poring over articles and newsfeeds? What would THAT look like? And what would that do to my levels of peace and patience? How would that change my attitude and my thinking? How much more effective could I be as a mother, a friend and a writer?

What if, rather than spending the next year continuing to build my blog audience, I spent it building my home (not just my new house, but also, my HOME)?

What if, instead of wondering how to work humorous or encouraging thoughts into a post, I work them into a real conversation? What if I took my dedicated writing time and used it to write personal letters of encouragement? Or write in the journals I’ve purchased for the kids? Or write truth and affirmation on the heart of a friend over coffee? What if, for a season, instead of looking for ways to encourage an audience of on-line connections, I direct all my efforts into the connections I can touch and see and hug and hear?

What if God is drawing me away from distractions so He can create something new in me? Something that I might miss, if I don’t disconnect myself?

What if, instead of living a public/viral life, I lived a private/quiet one?

Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others. (I Thes 4:11-12 NLT)

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bloggers write posts of apology for not keeping up with their blogs. Their guilt is palpable. They apologize for an irregular posting schedule because they are doing things like (gasp!) taking care of their children or traveling or keeping real-life work or volunteer commitments.

I always think, “How silly! Don’t apologize! Go take care of your people! You don’t even know us!”

Yet, as silly as it is, I get it. I, too, feel a deep sense of responsibility to you all. If I don’t post something here, I feel the need to come and explain. When I deactivated my Facebook account for a few weeks this summer, I wondered every day what people were thinking about my absence. I feel a responsibility to you, even though I only know the names of maybe 10% of you. I know you are real people with real needs, sitting across the screen drawing encouragement from something I’ve lived and written. I have never taken this lightly. I would never want to be irresponsible with the opportunity God has placed before me to serve you.

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This is such a jumbled post. I’m sorry. It’s not like me to write such a messy essay in the midst of all my messy thought processing. Normally, I would wait until I have a neat and tidy solution, a decision, a life lesson…

I don’t. I just felt like I needed to put it out there. Just in case, I disappear. Which is quite possible.

(Don’t miss the irony. Needing to “put it out there” in a post about refraining from “putting it out there.”)

(And also, don’t miss the fact that I did, in fact, work the dirty dishes thing into post. Score!)

(Or that, if I do disappear from the Internet for a year, I have already considered how it would be killer content for a blog series when I return.)

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