Keep Calm and Remove Some Lettuce: 5 Ways to Stay Merry & Bright This Holiday Season

merry-and-bright

I’ve already started making THE LISTS and decorating the house in my mind. I’m giving my calendar the evil eye and she’s giving it right back.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

If I sound like Scrooge, rest assured, I LOVE this time of year. I love everything but the stress. {Much of which I bring on myself.} Somehow we have turned the holidays into an Olympic sport and I don’t want to resort to cupping just to get through the marathon of it. I want to savor it, to slow down, to sink into the comfort of my home and my people.

The overwhelm began to tap me on the shoulder last week. Instead of making more lists and running around restoring order, I decided to stop and think and write. This post began as a letter to myself but it turned into something for all of us.

If you want to savor this season instead of stressing your way through it, I hope that one or two of these permissions will help:

 

1. Don’t try to cram too much into a small space.

Here’s what right now begins to feel like if I’m not mindful: a fast food salad.

So many veggies are crammed into the plastic bowl that when you remove the lid, it’s like the lettuce is spring loaded. And if you want to add dressing and croutons and toss it up a bit? Well, I hope you enjoy eating your salad directly from the table and floor.

Fast food salads stress me out. They’re full of yummy things. But they’re crammed so full of good things, you can’t enjoy the actual salad.

Don’t be like Wendy’s, cramming an entire head of iceberg lettuce into an 8-ounce bowl.

If your to-do list feels out of control, it’s time to remove some lettuce.

If looking at your calendar makes you break out in hives, it’s time to remove some lettuce. Reschedule all possible appointments and coffee dates to January. Or later.

JOY

If finding all the perfect gifts brings on a migraine instead of joy, it’s time to remove some lettuce and find a simpler way.

The world doesn’t need the martyr version of you during the holidays. They need the relaxed version.

Repeat after me. “Lettuce stay sane this season.”

 

2. Don’t neglect what keeps you centered.

For me this means two things. {Three if you include coffee.}

1. I have to get my heart rate up and sweat a few times a week or I’m mean to the people I love and get even more anxious than I already am.

2. I have to eat spiritual food. This means me and God’s Word.

Sometimes — okay, often — I try to go without it because I’m “so busy” and I’ll get to it later. But this is like trying to get through the day or a series of days without eating actual food.

Going through my day without spiritual food is like slow starvation. I become a shell of who I really am. I’m malnourished. I’m misguided. I am figuratively nibbling on candy and junk and wondering why I feel terrible.

It’s taken me decades to realize this but God’s Word is my food. It keeps me anchored and nourished. And just like actual food, you have to get up the next day and eat again.

If this sounds like disciplined drudgery, let’s remember that food is awesome. Jesus tells us that He’s the “Bread of Life,” not the “Kale of Life.” {Hallelujah.} This means that time with Jesus can be a feast for your soul.

There are other practices that center me and reset my anxious spirit, like being in nature or finding a quiet place. But over time I’ve found that sweating out my anxiety and being with Jesus are the biggies.

MI walk

For you it may be yoga, baking, taking a walk, opening up a book, or locking yourself in the bathroom so that your body can have an actual break from tiny people touching you. I’m sorry I can’t stop them from yelling “Mommy” or sliding their fingers under the door. Maybe your centering thing right now is a babysitter in the middle of the day or a hefty dose of kids’ movies on Netflix.

 

3. Outsource and say “yes” to help.

Get someone to clean for you before the holiday season. Buy up a bunch of frozen pizzas, lasagnas, or burritos to make things easier. Give teachers gift cards or chip in for the class gift instead of coming up with something adorable {and time consuming} from Pinterest.

Buy the pre-made sugar cookies for your kids to decorate.

Order gifts online in your pajamas. Target is super fun but the traffic, the people, the end-caps with the holiday candles I can’t stop smelling — I’m just not mature enough to be there very much during the holidays. Also I have a teensy problem with road rage so it’s best that I stay home.

receive my life bracelet

My sanity means my family’s happiness. And my happiness too!

I can promise you this. Your people would rather have a fun-loving, even-tempered you instead of everything on their Christmas list. If this means a smaller holiday budget so that you can actually enjoy this season by ordering take-out and getting your house clean, well, I think that’s a happy trade-off.

And if your life stage or circumstances are more overwhelming than normal, I beg you to accept any and all help that is offered. Don’t let pride, shame, or self-sufficiency rob you and others of the gifts of grace, generosity, and mercy.

 

4. Honor your Sabbath.

Take a nap. Don’t cook. Or do if cooking is the thing that feeds your soul. Sink into a book or a movie. Linger over dinner and save the dishes until much later, after you’ve had a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

God doesn’t want us to rest from everyday work and rhythms because He demands our rest. He gave it to us as a gift. We don’t have to rest. We get to rest.

tea on the screen porch

Again, this looks different for all of us but it’s a gift I’ve begun to anticipate all week long.

Recently I instituted a break from all things digital {except movies because I’m not crazy} beginning Saturday evening until Monday morning. It was glorious. And weird. I had to fight the compulsion to check things — e-mail, social media, etc. That compulsion let me know that my brain and my spirit desperately needs regular breathing room.

Listen up all you weary souls, we need a real break from all the input. And from all the output. The end.

 

5. Remember the way of Jesus.

Recently I read two little verses in John 6 that I can’t stop thinking about. The people were all in a tizzy about their works. They crowded in around Jesus, fully expecting for Him to load them up with right answers and lists.

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they clamored.

Jesus replied  with a simple answer that surely bewildered them all.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s it.

Belief is the “work.”

We could unpack that a great deal. Because while belief is simple, it is not easy and it’s definitely not benign. But that’s not my point.

My point is this: The Jesus Way is always a simpler way. 

staircase

We load up our faith with lists and He tears them up.

We load up our salvation with works and He tells us that believing in Him is the work.

We load up our holidays with events and musts and comparison. He reminds us that He came into the world in the humblest of ways — as a helpless, human baby. I can’t think of a simpler way for the Savior of the World to make his entrance into the world.

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We’ll be prone to forget all of this in the coming weeks of busyness, me included. When that happens, simply come back — to your centering practices, to your rest, to your simpler ways, to Jesus.

We’ll all remove some lettuce and begin again.

As we sink into this week of giving thanks, please know how grateful I am for all of you who join me in this space. I get the feeling that you’re as weary as I am from all the “shoulds” and lists. I know that your right-now life is messy and that it feels like someone hit pause on your “hope.”

Let’s un-pause our hope together, shall we? Your right-now life holds unexpected gifts to unwrap. Let’s look for them. I’m so glad to have you along.

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Why You Really Are Prepared for Christmas. {Even if You’re Not.}

prepared for Christmas header

One of my favorite Christmas posts, edited and reposted from the Christmas vault:

It will be a Christmas memory for the archives. All five of us, on December 13th — just two weeks behind schedule — traipsing through the Lowe’s parking lot to find our family tree.

It was a soul-sucking vignette, to be sure. Megastore garden center at night. Vacant cinder-block stalls, emptied of the best trees. Bad fluorescent lighting that reflected off the cement and handed me a shot glass of depression. The whole scene felt a bit like prison.

2014 — The Year The Vischers Bailed Out a Christmas Tree

One child stood in the corner, arms folded and scowling and I can’t believe this is the tree we’re getting!

The other two pushed each other around on the flatbed metal carts because their mom was too melancholy to care. And my husband, God bless him, channeled his inner Clark Griswold and assured his disgruntled family that this was indeed a fine tree and that we were going to have a hap-hap-happiest Christmas after all.

We drove out of the parking lot as the kids complained about our small-statured tree and how we’re putting it up late this year and why aren’t there lights on our house and so on.

I simply stared out the window in silence. As we drove home, my husband asked me what our schedule looked like this week and when no answer came, he looked over and saw tears rolling down my cheeks. Of course he asked what was wrong and all I could get out was, I’m just overwhelmed.

We didn’t realize until recent weeks that the last half of 2014 was tougher than we’d acknowledged, an extended season of physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational stress that gradually seeped in without fanfare or acknowledgement. Sometimes we’re so busy putting out the fires and making the decisions and dealing with the issues at hand that we don’t realize we’re actually drowning. The waters have risen, ever so slowly, and we find ourselves gasping for breath.

Or in my case, crying on the way home from Lowe’s and telling my husband that for the first time ever, I wish we could just skip Christmas.

And then there’s the guilt. December 13th and no Christmas decorations. No advent readings {because the books are packed up in boxes} and therefore no hearts “prepared.” No intentional memory-making endeavors like gingerbread houses and Christmas lights and tree farms and putting on the ornaments while we pass the hot chocolate.

JOY

For the mom who’s overwhelmed by her stress, her lack, her distraction, her loser-ness, there is only one answer.

To be overwhelmed by grace through Christ. 

I can look at the expectations, overwhelmed by how I’m coming up short. Or I can look at Jesus, overwhelmed by his sufficiency.

I can look at the all the moms getting it “right,” overwhelmed by my pitiful comparison. Or I can look at Jesus, overwhelmed by his favor for me.

I can look at my kids’ expectations, overwhelmed in a torrent of guilt. Or I can look at Jesus, overwhelmed because there is no condemnation for those who are in Him.

In far too many moments, I’ve been looking in the wrong places for approval, affirmation, and joy. And I should know my now — that always leaves me gasping for air, emotionally bankrupt, and reeking of self-focus.

Why are we so prone to define ourselves by what we’re doing {or not doing} instead of what Jesus has already done?

It’s been a December in which I’ve been ambushed by my culture’s expectations, others’ expectations, and my own expectations instead of overwhelmed by the simple yet profound truth of the Gospel.

But it’s still December. And I’d love a do-over. I long to shift my gaze.

Because even if the tree never went up and the cookies never got made and the advent readings never got read, Christmas would still come because Christ still comes.

And when He showed up on the scene over 2,000 years ago, no one was prepared, not even his own family. There was no matching layette, no birth plan, no carefully prepared suite, not even a room at the inn.

Do we think Christ’s humble beginnings were a result of poor planning or just happenstance? Do we criticize Mary for not having it just a little more together, seeing as how she was getting ready to birth the Savior of the World?

Of course we don’t.

Because God isn’t a God of coincidence, the world’s unpreparedness was no coincidence.

If your own Christmas preparations feel behind, pitiful, or less than enthusiastic, you’re in good company.

Christ came to the unprepared, the unlikely, and the unsuspecting. And He didn’t show up with a checklist. He showed up with compassion.

During this crazy week, know that it’s never too late for your heart to “prepare Him room.”

And though He is God in the flesh, though his glory is beyond our comprehension, He is the most gracious guest for whom we’ll ever prepare. He’s not impressed by lights or tinsel or even our intentionality as parents. He doesn’t require garland or even a Christmas tree by December 1st.

He simply asks that we receive Him — just as we are, just as He finds us.

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You may also enjoy:

Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

What an $18 Fake Christmas Tree Taught Me About Saying Yes

This 4-Part Advent Series from 2014

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Week 4: How Jesus Cleans Up Your Home {and His} for Christmas

week 4 advent

Week 1  //  Week 2  //  Week 3

It’s the week of Christmas and if you’re like me, your thoughts and lists and errands are all pointed toward one end: readiness.

We ready our homes, our gifts, and our families.

We ready our meal plans, our guest rooms, and our attitudes.

We ready our smiles, our small talk, and our pretend peace.

And while all of these things have their purpose — hospitality, generosity, tradition, relationship — they can shove our real states of being under the heavy rug of denial. We enter into Christmas with untended souls and hurting hearts, with guilty consciences and stinging regret.

But who really wants to unwrap that sort of downer under the tree? Not me. And probably not you either. So we fa-la-la-la-la our way into gift-wrapping and road-tripping and home-keeping and all the while, the abode that really matters is a paradoxical horde of both emptiness and clutter.

We pretty up our outer world and that has its place. But is it distracting us from being honest with our inner world?

In recent weeks, I have been astounded anew that the God of the universe, the One who could make his home solely in the unspoiled beauty of the heavens, has chosen also to make his home within us. Even more, he dares to call our dilapidated selves his temple.

Because of Jesus, God clothed himself in the wrinkly flesh of a baby so that we who were once far off could be brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility —

And his wall-splintering peace knows no bounds.

It breaks down the walls between a holy God and sinful man.

It has the power to reconcile nations and churches, spouses and family.

And most personally for me, right now, his peace reconciles me to myself, breaking down the wall of hostility that falsely divides Who Marian Wants to Be and Who Marian Actually Is. We are one and the same, loved and saved and being made new by the indwelling spirit of Christ.

It’s too good to be true but it is actually true. His person broke through the walls of the universe so that His peace can break through the walls of our hearts, taking up residence in our mess and somehow also making room for himself.

Slowly and lovingly, Christ sweeps up the filth and pretense and transforms a hovel of sin and superficiality into a temple radiant with his presence.

lightbulb

He doesn’t tell us to get it ready first. He simply asks to be let in and then He promises to do the rest.

And so I do. When I remember the Gospel, I let him in and then exhale relief because all of this readying is too much for me anyway.

On this fourth week of Advent, might we do what a 19th-century hymn requests — to fling wide the portals of our hearts and make it a temple, set apart. 

And let’s remember, there is no place for striving when Christ is in residence. His presence is what sets us apart, nothing more or less.

Today, this week, in the coming new year that’s begging you to clean up and clean out and get your best self together, let’s remember that Christ did not come to help those who can help themselves. He came to help those who can’t. And I have a secret — that’s all of us. {Though the world is doing its best to convince you that with enough striving, you’ll finally measure up to your own expectations and everyone else’s too.}

The best way to ready yourself is to ready your heart. And that’s easier than you think. As the rest of that old hymn recites:

Redeemer, come, with us abide;
Our hearts to Thee we open wide;
Let us Thy inner presence feel;
Thy grace and love in us reveal.

Open your heart wide and let him dwell. Let his unspeakable glory shine through the humble cracks and crevices of your life. Let his grace and love, not your striving and to-do lists, get you ready.

And take comfort in this most beautiful of promises:

Behold, I am making all things new.

Yes, even us.

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And if you’d like to have a look back at the other 3 posts in this advent series:

WEEK 1

Advent week 1 300

WEEK 2

  advent week 2 300

WEEK 3

advent 3

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