When Your Christmas is Tired

Our Ella was four when we bought her the nativity. Painted genuine with muted colors. Rugged, durable, real—beautiful. It wasn’t a cartooned toy, and it was perfect for her. Perfect for her tiny hands to carry the baby Jesus, to travel Mary and Joseph to the stable, to journey shepherds and Wisemen to the manger.

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I love this sweet nativity, held so much with little-girl hands the faces are worn away. Crowns and angel wings have been chipped and glued, chipped and glued. And Baby Jesus continues to sleep peace in His momma’s arms. Even now, my Ella-girl takes the set to her room placing figures just so for the Season.

Her nativity.

Worn ragged with love.

And the nativity in my heart? Sometimes its worn ragged with this season.

Hustle and bustle. To and fro. The balancing act of the holidays brings a dance of parties and work. Late nights again and again leave children grumpy—parents grumpier. Laughing and smiling when it’s easy to purchase the perfect present. Whining and sighing when it’s not.

And I struggle to teach my children generosity in a season that spends. When gift getting can be a blessing but in the gift giving you become the blessing. Wanting to ignore the Pinterest perfect but succumbing to those late nights scrolling and wishing for more money, more time, more. I’m consumed.

Then sometimes we can’t unclothe ourselves from pain and sorrow to put Christmas on. Our skin pulls heavy with loss—suffering the season without ones we love dear. Tears don’t stop just because Rudolph has a red nose or Frosty’s a jolly happy soul.

No.

Sometimes our nativity view is blurred with the salty wet in the corners of our eyes.

And sometimes it’s the ceaselessness. The never stopping. The never breathing. The never slowing. A week into December and tiredness is already stomping through my soul. The nativity, the birth, the origin of the Christ-child becomes a faded echo in a Christmas of coming and going and doing.

When what I crave? What I yearn for? Is just the being.

To sit next to an ornamented tree, glowing with soft lights. To breathe in the candle fragrance. To hear the carols, old and new, allowing them to float through my heart and land in my soul. To feel the Advent deep.

Because the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes is coming—has come. The world, round and pregnant, anticipates the celebration of His gift.

Christmas is only ever clear when the nativity is rubbed clean through with our focus, with our world-weary hands. Because sometimes you just need to hold the baby Jesus in your hands to remember He resides in your heart.

Christmas is when we see His Nativity for what it really means. It reminds us to take the Christ-child in our hands. To feel real the significance of the moment, the weight.

The twinkling moment a tiny babe with ten fingers and ten toes became Emanuel.

God. With. Us.

So this December day, when your Advent is rushed and your Christmas is tired. When your manger has faces rubbed away by little hands and splintered wood builds a stable. When you can’t seem to find the beauty and wonder of the season.

Begin with the Nativity—the beginning, the origin, the birth.

It is in the birth we find life. The first breath of the Christ-child breathed life into the souls of humanity. Only the worn out feeding-box, with it’s wrapped-in-swaddling-clothes gift, can save our worn out Christmas.

Can you hear the cries of the infant piercing the dark? Can you hear the soft comfort of a new momma whispering in a King-babe’s ear? We don’t have to look hard.

Christmas is in a manger.

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A Holiday Perfected

I have a confession to make. But before I share my shadowed secret, I want you to know—I don’t feel any guilt for what I’ve done. Not a shred. Even when my daughter looks at me with her warm chocolate eyes and her turned-down lips. Not even then.

Are you ready?

If so, I’d love for you to click on over here to The Moms Magazine where I share my hidden Christmas confession today. I know. Shameless teaser. But I can’t spoil my secret too quickly. You may or may not have the same one….

Posted in Beautiful Life, Christmas, Motherhood | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Because Thanksgiving Changes Me

Clothes pile up in front of my washer. Baskets of clean laundry sit at the end of my unmade bed. My son scratches out letters in the dust on our end tables. Mildew plays “ring around the rosey” in our toilets. The dishwasher is emptied and waits to be filled again by the dishes heaped in the sink.

Stacks of student essays stare at me from my crowded desk. Three tests await creation and lesson plans need to be written. Call parents. Read The Scarlet Letter.Reread Gatsby. And then. Then assessments are failed, and I must rethink. redo. reimagine.

Momma! Momma! Momma! The endless needing. The arguing and bickering of siblings separated six years. Sticky fingers pull the hem of my shirt. What’s for dinner? We’re out of toilet paper. Can you check my homework? And I just want to pee alone. MOM!

Daily life can weigh me down.

Please click here to continue readingSharing my heart at Orlando Moms Blog on this Thanksgiving morning. May you and your family have a blessed holiday full of tender memories. Happy Thanksgiving Friends!

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On the Worry of Raising Children Well

Yeah…so I thought I was going to write a word or two on gratitude. But instead the still small Voice led me to this…And well? My Thanksgiving for the peace it gives my heart? A humble gratefulness.

Thanksgiving approaches, slipping and sliding its way into my year faster than I know how to breathe. I just want time to slow. Before I blink I’ll have children grown, and there may be a Thanksgiving I spend without them. Or a Christmas. Or any other holiday.

I only have so much time.

Only so many minutes to nurture and instill the values I cherish most. Yet the deepest lessons can’t be rushed. Like stuffing a trash bag too full, cramming morality and gratitude and Jesus-love down into their deep parts will only cause them to burst—leaving fragments and gaping holes and emptiness.

Do you ever worry they won’t get it? Wonder if they’ll love God with every ounce of their being?

I’m often consumed. Fearful I discipline too much or not enough. Guilt ridden my kids won’t understand the most important things of life. Anxious I’m raising the entitled and not the grateful.

Because when my children forget to say thank you? When they argue and fight with each other? When they make fun of someone? When they’re dishonest? When they continue to disobey?

When they do all of those—and more—I feel like a parenting failure.

I wonder if my kids are ever going to learn. If I’m ever going to get this kid rearing thing right. Because I only get to raise them once. If I screw it up? Once they’re grown and gone…? I can’t even think about it.

I’m not alone in this. You might worry too?

But, momma? This is what we need to tell our brains and our hearts and our worries. This is what we need to pound into our deep parts and hold tight. This is what will get us through the days we get wrong.

Growing children is not one great moment—it’s a thousand quietly planted seeds that poke quietly through the soil when ready.

Because growing children is slow, tedious, backbreaking work when planting by hand. And they can’t learn all they need to know about living in a day. That expectation is too much for them. It’s too much for us.

The lives of our children aren’t forever changed by loud lectures or a few moments of parenting brilliance. No. We impact their hearts in the everyday. Not in the fabricated lessons but in the fabric we weave during the spontaneous.

The molding and shaping of little hearts happens in the car pool lines, at the dinner table, in the coming and going. It takes place at bedtime, in the arguments, at the grocery store. It happens in the daily.

Teaching life to our children never happens all at once.

Loving God and learning to live a life of beauty is a journey—for them, as well as me. One incremental step at a time.

The lessons we give our children happen in the middle, the in-between. When we don’t overwhelm with the cramming and the stuffing. They’ll learn to live life well when we hand them one bit of Truth at a time.

Little by little. Lesson by lesson. Example by example.

Tiny increments produce a harvest. It won’t be perfect. It will take sacrifice and the constant, unending planting. The daily watching over and pouring of our lives into theirs.

One day we’ll turn around to see our daughter pull one of her own notebooks from her bag to fill a Christmas Shoe Box and be bent by the sadness of “It’s not enough, Mommy…”

We’ll put our arms around her shoulders, tears filling our eyes, and we’ll know.

Know something is sinking into their souls—we must be doing something right. We’ll sink to our knees in holy gratitude for the little ones we lead into life, praying we take hold of each teachable moment.

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There will be lessons we miss, overlook, forget. This is the beautiful grace of do-over days. Because growing children happens in a thousand little moments. Moments that build a life.

So don’t worry, momma, if you missed one opportunity today—because there were dozens of others you got right. From the shoes you made them put away, to the ground you held in the face of defiance, to the kisses you planted on faces as you tucked them in—you got it right.

You did.

And you’ll keep getting it right—one teachable moment at a time. Keep on planting, brave momma. Don’t let fear and worry waste another thought.

Your daily is enough.

It has to be.

Posted in Beautiful Life, Gratitude, Motherhood | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

When I’m Angry At God

Our argument was over nothing really. He had refused to quiet down so I could read his two bedtime books—always two books, every night. But on this stormy evening he lost the privilege because he couldn’t be obedient, and too much grace had already been given.

I mean, this was the night he decided to mumble from beneath the covers, “I want the respect I want,” again and again. Yes. He did.

“Oh…This is not going to end well for you,” was mumbled from my recliner in the corner again and again.

I braced myself. I knew what would come. I told my favorite Court Jester time was up. Reading would not happen this evening.

I put the books down.

Then, in his little boy bedroom painted blue, all of hell seemed to break loose.

Screaming, kicking, flailing. It was more than his normal I’m-four-and-you’re-not-the-boss-of-me tantrum. He was angry. Red-faced with tears in his eyes angry. And I was the enemy.

Gulping air and sobbing breaths came from my baby boy.

My heart broke.

I knew the choice I’d made was right. Yet, those hot tears rolling down his face, his anger toward me? Be still the ache in my momma heart.

We were still at it thirty minutes later. Maybe more. I don’t know. It was a stand-off to be sure. I knew already I wouldn’t succumb to his anger. I was in this thing for as long as it would take.

I never left his room.

He stomped all over. He screamed in bed. He tore off covers. I just sat there rocking, back and forth, back and forth. Each time I tried to bring him into my arms, he resisted, his little body going rigid. He wanted nothing to do with me.

But I stayed.

Finally he laid in bed whimpering. Exhausted and spent. I knew he was ready. I quietly slid into bed with him and began to pull my fingers through his thick hair. I wiped tears from his soft cheeks and whispered, “No matter how angry you get, mommy will always be here.”

And then it happened. I felt his warm little hand reach up to my cheek. He snuggled close and sighed deep. His breathing steadied as his little body drifted its way toward slumbered dreams.

Peace. Wrapped in his momma’s arms.It was then, the nudging of that still small voice, the voice of my Creator, my Redeemer. It was then I knew my Jesus was whispering, It’s the same with me, daughter.

He knows I need reminding. Because my first reaction—every single time—my first reaction to the world not going my way? It’s anger. And I’m usually angry with God.

My spiritual temper tantrums don’t always involve screaming and kicking and flailing out loud. Sometimes they do. My anger is real. It’s palpable. It’s directed toward God. Even though I know He is not the author of catastrophe. He is not the maker of calamity. And my pain is His torment. Even though I know this, I blame Him.

Always with the stomp of a foot and a frustrated glance to the sky, “Ugh! Why did you let this happen!?”

His attempts to draw me close are rebuffed. Instead, I miserably sit in my anger, lonely for the God who sits close, rocking me back and forth. Waiting patiently for me to finish.

When I’m exhausted and spent, I find my Heavenly Daddy has come nearer.

As my spirit reaches toward His grace, I find His gentleness has softened my heart. Rest is found when I let go of the anger I try to hold so tight. Rest is found when I embrace His calm—His peace. Rest is found when I yield to the knowledge that He is good.

Because I know. He is a good God. He sees the picture of my life I don’t. So, after my ranting tantrum, I remember He is the God of Love and of Mercy.

Because when I’m angry He never leaves.

He sits close. Watching. Wishing. Wanting to draw me in, just as my momma heart yearns to pull my own children into my embrace.

This is the glorious beautiful—No matter how angry I am. No matter how loud I yell. He is near. He is there. Waiting. For me.

And for you.

Do you hear Him whispering? No matter how angry you get, I will always be here.

Posted in Motherhood, Relationship with God, Struggles | Tagged , | 2 Comments

When I Remember the Important

My Court Jester sits close with a tablet in hand watching some new version of Frosty, which is fine by me since the original always kinda freaked me out. Or was it Rudolph? The Princess is dancing her tippy toes away at the ballet studio, and Prince Charming is running errands (which may or may not include a drive-by Starbucks for a peppermint mocha.)

I’m sitting in my living room with the sun setting so much earlier than it should. A thousand thoughts run through my head, and all I can think is it’s been two weeks. Two weeks since I’ve sat down with you in my thoughts.

I mean, I think about you all the time. What it is God is teaching me. What He might want me to say to you. Because the thing is, you’re important to me. So often I wish I could reach through the screen and hug away salty tears. I do. And when two weeks go by, well, I just miss you.

Our lives have been a bit more chaotic than usual the last several months—too chaotic. It’s forced me to sift through priorities. Reevaluate. Refocus.

About a month ago, our closet flooded. I’ll spare you the details, but the entire contents of our stuffed-beyond-capacity closet ended up in our garage. For years the junk had been building towers.

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I hated to open its doors. Hated to try to find anything. Hated to see the door open even a teeny bit. My closet caused nothing but anxiety to well within.

It was a mess.

I decided, even if it took weeks, nothing would reenter our closet that we didn’t need. And so we purged. We gutted. We decluttered.

It’s almost like I could hear the angels sing.

Can a closet be beautiful?

I walk into the closet space now, and the sigh of relief is overwhelming. It’s strange how affected I’ve been by this newly cleaned-out space in our home. I didn’t realize how burdened I’d become by the stuff and the clutter I’d allowed to overtake such a small place.

My heart can be the same.

I can allow it to become clogged with junk, with stress I don’t need, with worries I don’t use. And when my heart space is a jumbled mess, it doesn’t translate well into my family life.

So I’ve started some fall cleaning in my soul.

I began a new teaching position this year. A new school. New preps. New students. New crazy. Good crazy, but crazy just the same. As a teacher, like other jobs, my work is never done. There’s always one more thing I could be doing.

But two weeks ago, I decided to stop bringing my work home, and to leave school on time. I’ve done this before, many times. Yet I forget and get sucked back in to the lesson plans and the grading and the paper work and the…

Then Grace. The Still Small Voice of my Jesus reminded me. My goal in life is not to be Teacher of the Year. No. Instead?

I want to be Wife of the Year to my husband.
I want to be Mom of the Year for two sweet littles.
These three? They matter most.

Reprioritizing. Saying yes to less. Decluttering my heart. Reminding myself of my call to mothering, my call to be a partner in marriage. These are the important things.

Life isn’t less busy today than two weeks ago. But I can walk into the space of my family now and breathe—knowing I’m doing all I can. Knowing I’m making the best choice when I choose them. This is the cleansing.

It’s not perfect. There are so many corners of my heart still caked with dust.

But choosing my family again? It’s a start—a beautiful start.

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Why This Season Stills My Soul

Crimson leaves float to the ground. Cinnamon candles scent our home. Harvest pumpkins fill patches and churchyards. Burnt orange scarves pair with flip-flops. Football hums on the TV in the background.

It’s Florida. It’s fall. It’s my favorite time of year.

I’ve tried to understand why this season elicits such warmth in my soul. Because autumn’s really just nature’s call to dormancy. It announces the end is coming. It’s a shutting down, a quieting. It’s a reminder of winter’s song—peace be still.

To finish reading the words on my heart this morning, please join me over at Orlando Mom’s Blog by clicking here.

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An Invitation Into My Mess

My greatest fear on this blogging journey? My most haunting thought as I spill my life onto the screen? My deepest dread?

That you would believe my life is all together—wrapped in perfection and ribboned with ease.

Because it isn’t.

Instead, I’m a mess desperate for grace.

Clothes pile up. Dust takes over. Weeds fill flowerbeds. Fingerprints smudge. And those mildew rings in toilets…ugh!

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But that’s just the surface. Really, it’s easy, or at least easier, to invite you into my dirty house. What’s harder?

To invite you into the stained blots on my soul. The parts that ache when Prince Charming and I head straight down the roller coaster of marriage with silent screams and clenched teeth.

The parts that get annoyed with my children. Those parts that secretly want to run for the hills. The selfish side of my life that only wants the cuddles and the kisses and the hugs but doesn’t want to actually work to raise the next generation.

And there are the days gossip lays thick in my mouth. The cuss-like-a-sailor words that fill my mind when things don’t go my way. The times anger rules my decisions. The weeks I allow my job to trump my family. When I’m not willing to do the difficult because I chose lazy instead.

Or the moments that even though my Jesus-love is strong, even though I’ve loved His nail-pierced hands for as long as I can remember, I still struggle with the whys and the how-comes.

My black-stained list could go on. And on. I stare at the screen even now, scared to share the darkest parts.

But maybe it’s enough for you to know I have fragments and shards left over from crushed pieces of my soul. Maybe it’s better I don’t hold up my past as some badge for you to compare with your own. Because God has cast those sins as far as the east is from the west—and what those mistakes were shouldn’t matter. But you need to know they’re there.

Maybe it’s in sharing the mess and struggles of now? If we did even that?

Grace would come.

Last weekend we allowed the ocean waves to salt our toes and the sun to warm our backs. As we walked the shoreline, I discovered the 10-year-old sweet girl still hunts broken shells. I thought, after all this time, she’d set her sites on the perfect.

But she didn’t, and I was reminded.

Reminded there is beauty in the broken. Reminded of the beautiful light only visible when we invite others into the shards and clutter of our broken shells and messed-up lives. Only when we sit in the middle of the brokenness does light filter onto holy palms open—offering ourselves.

So. I want to invite you into my mess.

I believe only when we look across the tables from each other and share our dirt, our filth—only then will our souls begin to heal from the grace we lift and sacred prayers we offer.

Friends. Let’s share our joys. Our triumphs. Our moments of brilliant glory. But may we also share our pains. Our sufferings. Our moments of black defeat.

No one is perfect. Not one. In sharing our deep cries we bring grace to the shreds in humanity’s soul. Because in our voiced imperfections is the realization we don’t always get life right. And if we don’t get it right? How can we expect perfection from the world?

When grace fills our lives there is no room for judgment or comparison. Let’s invite each other into the mess and dive deep into the well of grace.

There’s no other place I’d rather be.

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The Only Reason I Keep Teaching

There was a time being a teacher was so far down on my list of possible careers I would have laughed had I known what the next 15 years of my life were to look like. And then I would have drowned my sorrows in a 24 hour Starbucks binge.

Teacher wasn’t what I wanted to be when I grew up.

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Except for those times I inhaled chalk dust as I meticulously wrote the alphabet for three stuffed animals and a few baby dolls. Though it wasn’t long before the “students” were at recess, and I had Barbie and Ken driving down the road in their convertible imagining happily ever after.

Yet. Here I am. A teacher in my twelfth year. There are still days I’m not sure I want to teach. It’s hard. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s stressful.

But. There is one reason. Only one reason I continue to do my job.

My students.

My job affords me the privilege of making a difference in the life of a student. Call me crazy—but it’s the only thing that matters to me.

The days I allow myself to stay buried underneath mandates and paperwork? Those are the worse days. The drudgery days of the crotchety schoolmarm. It sucks me dry and joy is elusive.

But the days when I allow my students to matter most? The days when I look my students in the eye, shake their hands, say good morning, and remind myself of what really matters?

Those are the best days.

So I stay because of my kids. I continue to teach because my students inspire me to be a better human—for them, for me.

I stay for the incredibly intelligent AP student who randomly, in the middle of class, asks, “Mrs. Iseminger? Does Spain have beaches?” When I answer that Spain is surrounded by water, we laugh together, big belly laughs bubbling from the deep. Here’s looking at you Mav…

I stay because I know education is one of the greatest weapons humanity has in its arsenal against the war on poverty and ignorance. If I can help just one more struggling student scratch and claw her way into some form of higher learning, it’s worth every minute.

I stay because while my classroom may offer sanctuary and grace is a never-ending supply, my students know they will work. They know excellence is required and shortcuts only derail. Watching them rise to the occasion? Beautiful.

I stay for the email sent over the summer sharing a video perfectly expressing satire because he saw it and thought of my class, and I know something is sinking into that long-term memory bank. Success for the student is my only success.

I stay for letter of recommendation requests where I may be more nervous than the student. Because my letter matters. And if I screw it up? I can’t even think about the possibility without a clenched stomach and sweaty palms.

I stay for the former students who email me their college essays with a, “I know your busy…you can say no…but would you mind taking a look?” Honestly? There’s not much better than this nod of remembrance. To know I’m thought of—outside of the classroom.

I stay because students need a safe place to land. They are desperate for the classroom that welcomes all. My prayer is my classroom is a place they can breathe peace deeply during their day. To know, if only for a moment, life is okay.

I stay for the students who don’t eat because mom didn’t fill out the free lunch forms and without hidden change, stuffed away fruit, and breakfast bars in my desk those kids go hungry.

I stay for the students who need someone to trust. Those popping their heads in my classroom door when the school day is over and the hardest parts of their lives are about to begin. I can barely hear them whisper Are you busy?

I stay for the parents who don’t show up. For the alcoholic fathers sleeping on couches and the you-will-never-be-good-enough-for-me mothers with expectations beyond the capacity of a 16 year old. Because parents should be the constant in their kids’ lives but sometimes they just aren’t. So teachers fill the gaps.

I stay for the students who need to know they’re loved. So I love them. I’m desperate to remind them they are worthy and they are worth it—every minute.

I stay because this is my calling. Just because it’s a calling doesn’t mean its easy. It almost never is. But for as long as I’m called, you will find me in my classroom, coffee cup in hand, cheering on our future.

Because my students?

They’re worth it.

Last day of school with one of my classes and the students suddenly crowded around my desk for a selfie...I couldn't say no.

Last day of school with one of my classes. Students suddenly crowded around my desk for a selfie…I couldn’t say no.

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When Mommas Lose It

I hit the wall. My daughter, Ella, was two and I slammed my palm into dry wall. To keep myself from doing the unthinkable, I put a hole in the wall of my hallway. With my hand.

She had screamed for what seemed like hours about her breakfast. The breakfast she had always eaten before. The breakfast she had asked for.

No one tells a momma how to keep from loosing her mind when plates and waffles and peanut butter and syrup hit the floor.

My worst momma moment? Possibly? I’m sharing my heart today with The Moms Magazine, and I’d love for you to head on over to read more–to know you’re not alone…

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