Peace on Earth (and in Your Home) – Navigating the Tension through the Holidays

This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on November 23, 2016.

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

There is nothing that brings my heart more joy than being with family. My husband and I are extremely blessed to have four wonderful children together, and the majority of our immediate family live locally or just a short drive away. While we get to enjoy family time fairly regularly, I always look forward to Thanksgiving, when we travel to visit my extended family. The holidays are that special time for many people to meet up with loved ones they rarely see and reminisce, bond, and make memories together.

Then 2016.

Guys, let’s be real. This year has been tough on everyone. The last few years have brought to light many social and political issues facing our nation, and all that building tension climaxed this year with possibly the most divisive election cycle in American history. While some people like to keep their circles small and unified in beliefs, I count myself lucky to belong to a large, diverse family holding many different opinions and convictions. The one thing that unites us — and probably how you can tell we’re related — is our passion and stubbornness when it comes to what we believe. 

While I’m pretty sure my family’s Thanksgiving celebration will not include any punches being thrown (fingers crossed, y’all!), you might not have the same confidence for your own holiday gathering. If you are one of the many people worried about facing family with whom you disagree politically this holiday season, remember these pointers to make sure your get-togethers go smoothly, and maybe one day you can even look back on this year and laugh. Or you can just survive until January; I mean whatever you gotta do, bruh.

  1. Go with a plan. And the plan is, let’s just not.

To continue reading, view the full post on the Knoxville Moms Blog. Happy holidays, and remember that family is worth not fighting for. ūüėČ

Creating a Summer Routine You Can Live With

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Today I am posting on the Knoxville Moms Blog about my ridiculous aversion to organization and how I am trying to overcome that this summer! Click here or on the link below to view the full post!

Congratulations, mamas, you have made it to the end! School is officially out in most of the area, and any stragglers are not far behind. For most families, this is the long-awaited and much-needed reprieve from the relentless routine of early morning wake-ups, late nights of homework and extracurricular activities, and endless obligations for class parties, school plays, etc. etc. etc. After nine months of the same-old, same-old every.single.day, parents and kids alike are ready to ditch the schedule and just relax.

I am among those moms who take relaxing a little bit too far,¬†if that’s possible.¬†If you’re like me, summer mostly consists of 10 weeks of utter chaos as kids stay up late, sleep all morning (or, if you’re a parent of littles, wake up at exactly the same time only exponentially more cranky), and days filled with moanings of¬†“Moooooomm, I’m so bored!”¬†Of course those weeks are speckled with fun-filled days of ridiculous, what-was-I-even-thinking chaos, such as overnight trips, zoo days when it’s 95 degrees and humid, swimming all day and expecting the kids to stay up for a bonfire, and visiting family who expect your children to act like well-mannered humans and not the pack of wild dogs you’re pretty sure you’re raising.

Of course not all of us live in this madness. Yes, there are some moms out there who run a tight ship when their little sailors return to the U.S.S. Homebound each summer. They schedule out their days with crafts, educational activities, play dates, and exciting outings. These are the moms who do science experiments, make their own fruit leather from scratch, and they might even BAKE with their children!¬†(Good gracious, they’re superhuman!)¬†Do a quick search on Pinterest for “summer schedule” and you’ll find them out there, simultaneously ensuring their kid is smarter and more well-rounded than mine and giving me an anxiety attack thinking about all the planning they must do.¬†If you’re one of those moms,¬†hats off to you, my friend,¬†I simply cannot.

Where is the middle ground between these two extremes? Although I typically prefer unstructured play for kids, it is clear that with a new baby in the house (he was born the week before school started last fall) we really need to establish a routine for our family. I am very easily overwhelmed by planning and schedules, so the key for me has been finding a balance to create a summer routine I can live with that still keeps our family on track.

Below I’ve compiled some of the best – and most realistic – ideas I’ve found out there¬†(obviously none of them are original; see the second paragraph about my typical summer)¬†to give structure to your days and actually¬†enjoy¬†this season together.

Check out Knoxville Moms Blog to view the full post, complete with links, portables, and lots of great tips to create a summer routine you can live with!

Sorry Kids, No Pro Athletes Allowed

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This post originally appeared on the Knoxville Moms Blog on February 15, 2016. To continue reading the full post, please click the link at the bottom of the page!

If there’s one thing you need to know about Knoxville and sports, it’s that we’re Peyton fans around here. Last week’s Super Bowl victory wasn’t just a win for Denver; it was a win for our scruffy little city too. Peyton Manning is THE good ol’ boy of the Tennessee Volunteers, and while New Orleans may claim to be his hometown, we all know Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to him.

In an interview with Bill Cower, Peyton emotionally revealed that regardless of his plans for next season, he always wants to be remembered for his character. The Mannings know what it takes to get to the top, and hard work is at the top of that list, maybe even edging over God-given talent. Having the kind of skill, leadership, influence, and legacy that Peyton Manning possesses comes only from a lifetime of unwavering dedication to his craft.

But as a mom, that’s just not something I’m willing to let my kids do.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the kind of passion and commitment Peyton Manning and really all professional athletes have is amazing and honorable. I love the ones like Peyton, Tim Tebow, Reggie White, and Troy Polamalu, all of whom are incredible athletes and incredible human beings, providing fantastic role models for my children. I love the values taught by sports and all the potential for great relationships being part of a team. However,¬†I also know that the type of commitment needed to make it to the pros starts early, doesn’t give up, and requires parental support to achieve the dream. And I know those are things I simply can’t or won’t do.


To continue reading the full post, please click here! And have fun with your kids, whether you’re on the field or in the backyard!

And Suddenly, It’s Christmas

This year I’ve heard a lot of people talking and posting on social media about our culture’s tendency to skip Thanksgiving celebrations and go right from Halloween to Christmas. Status rants and funny memes are filling my Facebook feed; here’s one of my favorites:

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I get it; we are such an over-marketed consumer-culture that we rush from candy to mistletoe so quickly without ever taking time to slow down and be¬†thankful. Last weekend my friend saw Santa at the mall and requested those who think this is okay to please unfriend him on Facebook. I did not heed his instruction, but I have to ask… Is it really all that bad?

Is rushing from Halloween to Christmas really rushing anything at all?

I’ve already told you that I’m not really big on “celebrating” Halloween, but I do love me some Thanksgiving. It’s one of my favorite times to visit my friends on the margins, to sit down and enjoy a meal with children of God who have been rejected by the Church. In a setting where we are often pushed to move from place to place, Thanksgiving is a time to savor the people and relationships that I value so highly.¬†Thanksgiving is also the one time of year I travel to West Tennessee to visit my extended family, and it is my absolute favorite two days of the whole year. I adore my clans, I adore their food, and I cherish the memories I have of growing up together and the memories my children are creating. It is truly a time for me to be thankful.¬†I absolutely, in no way whatsoever,¬†ever¬†want to gloss over Thanksgiving.

However, I have to admit coming home at the end of November feels like being thrust onto the starting line of a race as the gunshot fires, and I don’t even have my shoes laced up. In fact, I’d rather be home in my pajamas and robe cuddled up by a fire watching the race on TV. Because waiting until 4 weeks before Christmas to even begin preparing for the season of giving and light seems like a much more detrimental kind of¬†rush. Office parties and teacher gifts and church plays and soup kitchens and holiday baking and gift exchanging and decking the halls and falalalaaaaahhhh it’s exhausting!!

If there is such concern for rushing holidays, it seems like we should be happy to ease into Christmas, extending the joy of the season to eight wonderful weeks of sharing goodwill and cheer. Stretching out the season minimizes the stress of shopping and gives us the gift of time – time to shop, time to help, time to celebrate, time to remember… Rather than¬†rushing the Christmas season through a marathon month of¬†doing all of the things, let’s go ahead and rush from October into full-on holiday mode. Let’s dive right into the beauty of everything that Christmas means.

Is there ever a bad time to plan ways to bless those that we love? To bake with our kids and share hope with the hurting? Is it ever too soon to sing songs celebrating the birth of our Savior or to put lights on our houses reminding us of the Light of the World? When “should” we start building fires and filling our homes with scents of cinnamon and nutmeg? Is November too early to marvel at the ridiculous miracle of the Messiah being born in a stable? That God Incarnate put on human flesh and entered both our literal and spiritual mess in his mission to redeem mankind? Is there ever a bad time for that?

I don’t think so. Because Christmas should always be in our hearts – the love, hope, family, peace, joy and light that makes this season “the most wonderful time of the year” is the same that fills our spirits every day that we serve Jesus Christ. So go ahead – trim those trees, hang your stockings, and fill that shoebox with gifts of love. It’s almost Christmas, after all.

WWJD? Halloween Edition

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It seems like every October there is this strange tension in the church. While the rest of the world is out stretching cobwebs across their doorways and setting skeletons in their porch swings, folks inside the 4 walls of the church are tiptoeing around trying to avoid the obvious elephant in the room: Halloween. We try to pretend like it’s not an issue, scheduling our Harvest Festivals the week of the 31st – but maybe not on that day so as not to promote the holiday – half joking about our family friendly costumes of super heroes or princesses¬†for the “Boo at the Zoo” party while ignoring the door-to-door visitors that might be coming Halloween night. We ride this imaginary fence of whether or not to participate, all the while missing the forest for the trees.

This year I learned how to celebrate Halloween like Jesus would.

I have never been one to make much ado about Halloween.¬†My kids have a huge collection of costumes that they wear all the time, so Halloween is just the day that everyone else joins their party. Plus the candy, of course, or the Frankenstein-themed notepads and plastic spider rings from those teal pumpkin’ed houses. A few simply-carved gourds is the most decorating we do for the occasion, and this year we even skipped that due to a severe reasonably-priced-pumpkin shortage when we procrastinated until the last minute. I hold no ill will toward others who go all out; I simply don’t have the disposable income or off-season storage to devote toward such items.

Growing up, my church always had a “Hallelujah Hoedown” (laugh all you want; this is East Tennessee) in place of Halloween celebrations, and by the time my parents wrapped their heads around us trick-or-treating, my brothers and I were in middle school and not terribly interested anymore. For the last decade of my adult life, I have spent nearly every Halloween at church, where we hosted a Trunk or Treat event, a “safe alternative” to walking door to door at strangers’ houses. I value that this particular church was open to the community, and while our church-sponsored trunks were always “family friendly,” no one batted an eye when community members showed up dressed as zombies or demons or scantily-clad nurses or whatever other non-churchy costumes were presented. (Okay, well, maybe my husband batted his eyes in the other direction of scantily-clad nurses, but it wasn’t a judgmental sort of way.)

This year we are serving at a new church, one whose Fall Festival was held on Wednesday night before Halloween. Our neighbor across the street is festive for every occasion, and she rang my doorbell¬†last week bringing special treats for my kids. “I know you are always at church on Halloween,” she said, “so here’s something special since the kids won’t be coming to my house.”

“Actually, we’re not doing anything on the 31st,” I replied, much to her surprise, “so we will plan to come by and show off our costumes!”

Her excitement at my news should have clued me in that¬†there was something special about this day in our neighborhood, but I have to admit it didn’t. I was actually a little disappointed that our church wasn’t having an outreach event on Halloween night, as I had grown so accustomed to this tradition being a blessing in our previous context. This year, however, we got to try something new.

Halloween night came around, and I honestly considered skipping the trick or treating. We had already been to our church Fall Festival on Wednesday, our new church campus’ Fall Festival on Thursday, and a local Freaky Friday event in the park, so we had enough candy to feed the whole neighborhood. But I already told our neighbor we would come by in costume, so off we went. As we walked down our street I realized something that made my heart sink:

I don’t know my neighbors.

I know R&C on my right, whose boys ride the bus with my kids and let them come over when I am late getting home after school. I know D&K on my left, who always go out of their way to be neighborly, including dying my hair pink a few years ago. (That’s going above and beyond, people!) I know C&C across the street, who bring my kids dollar store treats for every major holiday and give them shiny rocks from their garden whenever we go retrieve a ball that has rolled into their yard.¬†And that’s it.

As we walked from house to house, I saw dozens of kids I didn’t know lived here, including two in my son’s class. We met dozens of parents and grandparents giving out candy. There was one man sitting in his garage with a box of cigars¬†and a bowl of candy about 10 feet away so kids could help themselves without breathing his smoke. (LOL, by the way.) There was a little old lady who lives by herself and gave kids packets of hot chocolate and instant oatmeal in lieu of candy. (LOL even more, by the way.) There was a family on a cul-de-sac with a trailer hitched on the back of their truck, giving neighbor kids a mini-hayride in addition to sweets from Elvira at the door. (Okay, that was awesome.)

Not only do I not know my neighbors, but I am missing out on what it means to be a neighbor.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Trunk or Treat (or Hallelujah Hoedowns) at church, as these can be a big blessing in certain communities. And yes, I should be spending time getting to know my neighbors all year long. But this Halloween showed me that a typically controversial holiday can be an opportunity to love people. No, I don’t mean hand out salvation tracts along with Blow Pops and Snickers. (That’s actually pretty annoying.) I mean coming together as a community, learning each others’ names and needs,¬†loving¬†people where they are, especially when that is just up the street.

For one night every year, my neighborhood becomes one big party where everyone joins in, and I have the opportunity to interact with people I normally never see. Rather than boycotting that with my self-righteousness or devaluing it with my presence somewhere else, I’m choosing to participate, dress up, share the fun, and share the LOVE. Body of Christ, rather than fighting about ‚Äúthe Christian response‚ÄĚ to Halloween, let‚Äôs take the opportunity to get to know our neighbors, and serve them the way Jesus told us to. Because loving our neighbors honors him, and that‚Äôs what Christian holidays are all about.

Maybe next year I’ll remember to get pumpkins…

Happy Spring!

HAPPY FIRST DAY OF SPRING!!!!!

There is something magical about springtime. It’s called outside. After being stuck inside through the long, cold winter, going outside on a spring day is heaven.

Just three weeks ago we were snowed in while the governor declared a state of emergency. This past week has looked more like this:

Sidewalk chalk = spring!

Sidewalk chalk = spring!

This is really exhausting when you're 3 and don't actually know how to use a scooter.

This is really exhausting when you’re 3 and don’t actually know how to use a scooter.

Nothing quite says spring like sidewalk chalk and picnics in the park. Since I became a stay-at-home mom almost 4 years ago, I have never felt more like my mother than when I say, “go play outside!” It’s still too rainy and muddy to do this every day, but the days of waking up and heading straight to the backyard are so close I can taste it!

I’m now expecting our 4th child, and this is my first pregnancy as a stay-at-home mom. Unfortunately I still don’t have that second-trimester burst of energy I really need to keep up with 3 small kids, so the timing of this weather is perfect for me. I can sit in a chair on the patio while all of us benefit from some much-needed Vitamin D therapy. We are all counting down the days until my parents open their pool. I’m picturing long days of sunshine, nap-producing exhaustion, and joint-relieving buoyancy – that is, if I can find a float that can hold me up.

Today we are venturing out for a day at the zoo. Wish us luck! We normally only go on the annual free weekend or when a friend with guest passes invites us, so we don’t feel so horrible about leaving early if we have to. Today we are paying full price for 5 people! Hooray! No, seriously. Pray.

What is your favorite springtime activity? Got any free or cheap ideas to share with a broke mama over here? Let me know in the comments! And enjoy this beautiful season!