Posts filed under Christmas

When the Giver is Changed by the Gift {Catholic Bedroom Makeover}

I never thought I would invite you into my bedroom. It really isn't my way. Something about publicly sharing the space that veils the sacred beauty of my vocation causes me to pause reflexively. Not out of prudery, but out of reverence. I changed my mind only because I want to share a story of blessing - when I risked a little to give a gift and discovered that I had neglected more than just my bedroom decor... but also the joy of having a beautiful space that my husband and I can truly call our own.

It began during a texting blitz with my dear friend, Lena (from Joyfilled Family). I confessed to being in a bit of a funk, a bit oppressed by my own failures... and by an ego that was reluctant to handle even one more apology and humble admission. Write down, she said, something that you would like to accomplish just for yourself. That one was easy. I have a lot of those. But there was one that stood out above the rest: I want a clean and beautiful home. A tall order. Okay, she said. Pick one room. That was easy, too. My bedroom. My ugly bedroom that looked the same as the day we moved in several years ago. My bedroom that looked more like a sterile bachelor pad than a woman's domain. 

I know nothing about interior decorating. We have lived simply and frugally and in a state of transition for many years due to house moves and construction. As I pondered the possibilities, I began to see the truth: the state of my room had far less to do with frugality than it did with my failure to "hold the space" for my husband and myself. "Hold the space" is doula language... always popping up randomly in my mind when I feel protective, defensive... but it fits. Even with babies sharing our beds, I should have held that space against the encroaching noise and clutter and crazy. It is my domain... and my husband deserves peace. 

So I began to plan. I would make it a Christmas surprise and use a fortuitous overnight trip planned by my husband to conquer my room and take it back for him. I've never surprised him before and I was nervous as Lena mentored me through the world of color and bedding. Create a new Pinterest board, she said. Twist my arm! I said. And I began.

Part of the way into my planning, I had a grace-filled conversation with Jennifer Buckley of Graceful Living {at Home} in which she told me about her decorating services and edesign consulting services. I already love her website and her vision for a Christ-centered home. When she offered to work with me, I was giddy... and also terrified. My budget was tiny as far as decorating goes. My timeframe would be even tinier. I told her that it would be a bit like a reality show in which we have neither enough time nor enough resources to bring a plan together. But she said, let's do it. And we did. The photo above was taken at the time of our Skype consultation. 

I want to offer a disclaimer here: Jen offered me many wonderful suggestions and counsels that I was unable to implement either because of financial or time constraints. She is a master of repurposing but I still had to purchase paint and all new bedding which ate up my budget pretty quickly. She promised me that if I followed 85% of everything she suggested, that I would have a knockout room. I'm not sure that I hit that 85% but I tried... and anything you might think is goofy or wrongly considered? It's all me. Jen is a master. If you are looking for help, I can't recommend her highly enough. Check out her stunning blog at Graceful Living {at Home}

Because this was a surprise, it was pretty challenging to secretly purchase and stash a bedroom full of stuff. The picture below is some of what I showed to Jen during our consultation before I had to stash it all away in nooks and crannies to hide again. She nixed the gray pillows, suggesting a "pop of color" instead and we made our way through the rest of the items and space together.

Below is a "before" shot. The walls were green-ish/tan-ish.... I never could decide which and just described them to myself as drab. When I first sent these photos to Jen, I was pretty embarrassed as I realized the extent of my neglect. For almost twenty years, I have used frugality as an excuse to neglect our space. I embraced the moment with what humility I could muster and just began.

Please pardon my poor quality photos. They were taken with an ipad (no flash) at different times of different days during a dreary and dim Ohio Winter with terrible room lighting. I hope you can glean some of the affect from what I have here...

And after...
I've since moved the photo frame from the candle shelf. I preferred the simple shining 8-day candle to more clutter...

I had removed my obnoxiously large dresser mirror a month prior and pulled this unused mirror from storage. I assumed it would go horizontally but Jen immediately had me turn it upright. I told her about my plan for my wedding photos and she sent me a photo from Pinterest showing how to arrange them symmetrically. 

I wanted wedding photos. I wanted a reminder of that young, reckless love that says I do give everything and more forever and ever. And as I cropped, printed, and transferred the pictures onto wood frames, I fell into that teenage love again. My heart began to expand. And I wept more than once at the stale, drab neglect that had begun to crowd in with the random toys and clutter.

My dresser has always said a lot about me. Always full of stuff. Random and scattered. Some of it meaningful, much of it wasteful. The books I have read and reread and intended to read. The spot where the varnish had been eaten through by a broken glow stick that a child had bit into...

... now transformed into a different angle of my heart - the one I gave naively to my husband 18 years ago and have been working on giving more completely and deeply ever since.... 

Of course Blessed Mother should be there. We walked into a Catholic gift shop in South Bend, Indiana on our first wedding anniversary and the Chief bought me this statue of the Bavarian Madonna. It was an extravagant purchase at a time when Weaver chicken patties on buns was our "meat" meal of the week. I remember that it was $50 and how nervous I was that I would drop it accidentally! is one of the few possessions I think I would cry over if it were broken. It was in our room at the beginning... and now it is back.

There are many holy cards and devotions that I cherish. For some reason, this particular "Special Act of Sorrow" is among them. I once saw a gentleman at church handing one to Father and I peeked over his shoulder to see what it was. When I saw that he had a stack of them, I asked him if I could have one. On the surface, it seems sobering and I suppose it is. But it also draws my heart to a place of humility which is where I most easily meet my God of mercy and JOY. When I hold nothing back - no sorrow or regret - I embrace the sweetness of my vocation with a happiness that is beyond description. The mystery of the Cross, I suppose. The prayer is a refinement I offer for my husband and I decided to bring it out of hiding... right next to the rosary he bought me several years ago. The pretty one with roses he saw me admiring in the case and surprised me with later...

First time craft projects don't always go my way but this one went just fine. I bought wood canvases, printed out black and white inkjet photos, used gel medium to transfer the image and a matte Mod Podge finish. I used the instructions here. I enjoyed the project and because I found a sale, was able to put each one together for about $10 a piece. The runner was leftover fabric from the curtains.

I always thought a pretty bed was simply a nice blanket spread over some relatively soft pillows. I'm either easy to please or just uneducated in the finer points of nice decor. Lena and Jen introduced me to the world of throw pillows, and in spite of my tendency to just get all matchy matchy with the neutrals... I bought a little color.

My 13-year old son can't fathom the idea of having pillows on the bed that aren't going to be used and kept asking why, why, why?? I was stumped. Until it dawned on me that they certainly can be used! Just not all at the same time. Which brought me to a perplexing question: What does one do with decorative pillows when one is sleeping? I bought a basket from target and it works just fine...

Does my husband care about the many man hours I put into picking out just the right duvet cover that looked like the one I coveted from Pottery Barn but cost half as much? I'm sure he would consider it a waste. I struggled with it myself and felt irritated with the seemingly endless search for... stuff. But those hours transformed me. Forced me to examine my original purpose and see that, yes, I am building a sanctuary. That is my domain and I claim it in love.

The blank wall behind the bed perplexed me. I had no idea what to put there. My original idea called for a shelf with pictures but Jen nixed it. No, she said. The bed is the focal point and the decoration behind it should accent, not overtake it. She suggested something round-ish or some beautiful words. She had a vision but I remained lost, caught between the pretty round wall hangings at Target and my desire to have that space filled with someone more purposeful. More Christ-focused...

I went to three stores searching, feeling a bit frantic to finish the planning. I spent another large chunk of time online wading through all the religious wall art I could find. And I found the Sacred Heart in iron. I thought it a little too Mexican for my tastes but I bought it anyway. When it arrived, it looked terrible on my ugly drab wall... but I kept it anyway. What a difference a gray makes. We think it's perfect...

The following photo was taken just three minutes before my husband walked in the door. I had worked for 11 straight hours and couldn't imagine what he would think of it. (Apparently, he couldn't imagine either because I really did manage to surprise him.) I was not as concerned about what he would think of the details as I was if he would understand my heart. I put a letter in his Christmas stocking and waited...

The room is small so it's a bit tough to get a good shot of everything. And the ipad made it tough to get a good shot of anything. One aspect of the project that I never completed was the lighting. Jen made some wonderful recommendations but when it came down to it, my budget was blown. So it's a very dim room... for now. The Chief and I will get to it eventually.

I was really stumped for curtains because I wanted a pretty sheer but also something that blocked light in a non-ugly way. Jen recommended burlap to match other items in the room. I hate sewing burlap so I found a burlap-like tablecloth, added light blocking panels behind and hemmed. 

Jen also suggested taking the curtain rod close to the ceiling and beyond the sides of the window to give the impression of greater size... and using a single panel swept to the more open side of the wall. I love the affect... and I totally love the feminine sheers...

There was a consensus among my female mentors (co-conspirators) that the cherry wood paper organizer on the top of the Chief's dresser had to go since it was a less than attractive focal point. I took it away but I wasn't sure how that would go over. I replaced it with a file box on the floor which I have yet to fill. Presumably, he doesn't mind since he hasn't said anything. Or perhaps I should just presume that he loves me. Lots.

Another dark shot taken shortly before he came home....

I don't know if I mentioned yet that I worked for 11 straight hours on this room from start to finish and ate while standing up. And perhaps it goes without saying how grateful I am to my Dad without whom I couldn't have done it and who stuck it out the whole day. And maybe I didn't mention that I was so sore the next day that I could hardly move. But... this...

I had the best motivation for following through. A gift of love to my husband. A Christmas love letter. Delivered imperfectly but with my whole heart. In reparation for all of the big and small hurts that I have caused over the years. For withholding the best of myself in selfishness. Eighteen years is a lot of time to live with someone... a lot of time to hurt. And a lot of time to bless and be blessed. I worked intentionally, offering it up in reparation and in gratitude for every moment of growth and absolute bliss...

This is a picture of the old wood waiting to be covered with three coats of white paint that still didn't cover all the way. The garage sale Amish cabinet that I looked at constantly in the preceding weeks wondering if he would really mind if I painted everything white as snow...

Another shot of the waiting below. I called in an early Christmas gift (because some dads will do things like that when you need them) and took a risk on a wall fireplace heater. The kids and I saw one on HGTV once and we wondered... if we would hate it or love it. Crash was determined to make it happen, called Grandpa, and we eventually fired it up. The cabinet above was painted, reassembled and the punched tin vegetables covered in leftover fabric from the curtains...

The heater has been a blessing in our cold Ohio Winter. And the fireplace affect inviting and pretty. No regrets. There are many little details that I could not finish because of time or budget constraints. Like brass doorknobs and closet knobs that didn't quite fit when I tried to replace them. And paint that needs touching up because we did the whole room in 11 hours. And the switch plates that we just replaced last week. And the white shadowbox shelves that didn't get installed above his dresser. No matching tables and lamps. A few displaced items.

One little surprise was finding this lion on top of the cabinet. It was from the Chief's childhood and the kids absconded with it many years ago. But one of them apparently remembered that this was Dad's lion... and they returned it, not even knowing that it had been in our room at the very beginning, before they were a twinkle in Daddy's eye...

I don't know whether Lena or Jen would like my corner shelf. But I painted it and insisted on it. Once upon a time, we had a single blessed candle burning perpetually in our home under our living room crucifix. Those were simpler times when children didn't break things daily or hit volleyballs against the walls. I wanted that candle back. And it is now in our room where no chaos is permitted...

When I was a younger mother, I did not see how I had made an idol out of my motherhood. How my children had become the barometer of my happiness. Now that I am older and I am feeling the sting of the many little rejections that children eventually will deliver straight to the heart, I am brought abruptly back to reality: I have given my heart to this man. And when my kids leave and make me proud and break my heart and continue to turn my hair gray, this man will remain my own. For better or for worse. And I pray that I will always be able to offer him a sanctuary. So I have made a little light for our room...

And I'll close with that. Pulling the veil back over the holy place where we find peace and consolation in the midst of a life of great big suffering joy.

Posted on February 19, 2015 and filed under Christmas, Family Life, Home, Marriage, Womanhood.

That Christmas When I Woke Up Cheerful...

Sometimes a girl just wants to feel really great on Christmas morning. And I did. Tired but great. Peaceful. I had it coming because it had been about, oh, seven years or so since I felt like I wanted Christmas to last more than just one day. Seven years of holy day survival mode is a tough thing. It's not that I was unhappy. It's just that I was a bit overwhelmed by too much too much too much. Chronic illness... club sports for several kids... challenging pregnancies and sweet new babies... house construction that was never quite finished. After finding a way to manage illness, quitting club sports and finalizing some home projects, I do feel like I can breathe a bit more. I feel a little more like me, if that makes any sense.

So this was a messy Christmas. An imperfect Christmas. (That's so mommy blogger cliche, of course, but it's true.) Fortunately, I am long past Christmas perfectionism and aim simply for a Christmas morning that dawns with a rising hope rather than a shocking knock to the head. On this sixth day of Christmas, I am sitting back and marveling (and laughing) that not only has my energy and hope NOT been dashed on the rocks of "seasonal distress" but that I am ready in every way to enter the New Year with passionate and cheerful commitment. 

*awkward pause* (I remember this feeling but it has been awhile... Just give me a moment...)

The temptation is to view this hour as an anomaly and slide back into what I have become accustomed to. My initial reaction was to narrow my eyes suspiciously at what looks like false hope. Is it really possible that I have been granted a moment of space and room to breathe and build? Sure! Why not? I have been in survival mode since about 2007... why not a little breather? As I wait in trepidation for the flu or plague to descend upon my family (because the whole world seems to be suffering but us), I'm enjoying this slow moment of clarity in mind, body, and spirit and recalling the slow progress that God has allowed me to make physically over the past few years.

My health is dramatically improved. A miracle and priceless gift.
No one has a sports tournament this weekend (or the next or the next or the next...)
We have carpeting in our family room and a dining room table that we all fit at.
Our family van (which has been disabled for months... mea culpa) is now running without stalling in the middle of busy intersections.
Small things that are big things.

I feel somewhat exhilarated as I look around and acknowledge that although crazy is the norm for my household...  I can still thrive. In the optimism of the moment, I am taking a risk and peeking out into the future. I have the courage to look and begin again. Bring it on, New Year! 

There were a number of little things that eased the immediate strain of a typically frantic Christmas. One of those was that we actually weren't sick. You all know what I mean. Especially those of you who spent your Christmas day in the hospital or laid out flat on the couch or cleaning up vomit. I know your pain and I've been praying for you. This was our year off and I'm grateful.

Other than that, a few other elements contributed to a relatively easy celebration...

JESUS

I'll start right at the top. I had to slow down a few times to get rightly ordered but I managed all right in the end. Thanking God for a van that can carry the whole family to a last minute visit to Jesus before His birthday.

The whiteboard usually makes an appearance before the big feasts. The numbers on the right are all followed by some variation of "Clean something." But the primary function is to keep us focused so that we can keep our eye on the Prize.

My dear Cookie baked and decorated Jesus' birthday cake while I was out shopping. If she hadn't done it, no one would have. So grateful to my girl. It was very motivating to see this beautiful cake after coming in from the cold night. A reminder of Him to keep me going.

BOYS

I didn't actually get to see this in person. I was sidelined from Midnight Mass with an injury. Most people fall down the stairs but I fell UP the stairs. So I went to an earlier Mass at which I did not have to juggle an exhausted toddler with my damaged appendage and the rest of my family went at Midnight. Sad but it worked out fine. I'm thankful to my husband for remembering to take this picture. I do love seeing my boys serving together.

My oldest son drove his choir-singing sister and altar-serving brother to Mass a couple hours earlier. As much as I don't love that my kid is driving, I fully appreciate the new freedom it allows our family. 

GIRLS

This one went up on Instagram the minute after I took it. I love that this girl still asks me to do her hair sometimes even though she is capable of doing it herself. I miss putting her little toes into too-long white tights but I really enjoy watching her grow in confidence and beauty. 

So the big sisters not only get themselves ready but they also help get the little ones ready and take care of them like little mothers. The boys are good, too, but the girls seem to be uniquely suited. 

I caught this photo of the shoe ritual. I was smarter this year and made sure that all shoes were paired up the night before since there are few things more stressful than missing shoes before Mass. But they still need to be applied and tied.

FABRIC GIFT BAGS

It used to take me hours to wrap gifts after Mass on Christmas Eve. It was not unusual for me to get to bed around 5am after nursing interruptions, wrapping, and final preparations. Painful. I have memories of being sick and pregnant and crying my way through the final present wrapping. So I came up with a solution. I sew basic fabric gift bags in various sizes and just stuff the gifts inside. I shop Joann's holiday clearance racks after Christmas and add to my collection of prints and sizes every year. The gifts don't sparkle like paper and bows, but they are still pretty... and a happy mama is much better than perfect wrapping. My kids agree unanimously on this one. Not to mention the satisfaction of folding all the opened bags into a flat neat little pile at the end of the day.

The picture above was taken after the final gift was wrapped. The little gift bags are pretending to be "stockings" since we dropped the ball with new stocking purchases years ago. 

PIE

Homemade gluten free french silk pie. Cookie is on a roll this year. I rarely eat this much sugar but I have no regrets. I promised myself I would be a good girl for Easter if only I could get a couple servings of this pie. So good. 

TODDLER

I love little babies at Christmas but postpartum fatigue is no joke. Having a toddler this year allowed me a bit more energy and also the tremendous satisfaction of watching a little person really enjoy Christmas independently for the first time. 

 PRETTY BEDROOM

When the rest of the house is in chaos, a clean and pretty bedroom is a wonderful place to refresh and recharge. I have promised you this full post and I will get it up when I finally have my pics organized. But in the meantime I will just say... what a difference it makes to have a peaceful space.

Peaches loves our new room but eagerly knocks to get out when she hears her siblings playing on the other side. The wall fire place heater is a new addition and one of my favorite things about our room. I wasn't sure whether it was going to be silly or wonderful. My vote falls solidly on the side of wonderful. And in this climate, you will never hear me complaining about an additional heat source! 

Now, I have to go order a beautiful planner before we fall victim to the flu. I hate to be a glass-is-half-empty kind of girl, but odds are not in our favor. If we make it to Spring without a nasty illness, I will count it a miracle and do a happy dance. Until then, we are stocking up on Clorox and Jello and enjoying the fantastic breather. 

Merry Christmas to all! May the peace of Christ reign in your hearts now and forever.

Posted on December 30, 2014 and filed under Christmas, Family Life, Liturgical Year.

How to Recover a Runaway Christmas...

A glittery Christmas without a proper spiritual framework is like bad liturgy. We can add all the lights, elves, guitars and electronics we want but at the end of that hour, we're left feeling like somehow the season (or the Mass) has failed us. We have decorated and hustled to please ourselves and not God. We have thrown ourselves into the wrong things and forgotten what we insisted last year we would never forget again: Jesus.

So here I sit on the threshold of Christmas with that familiar feeling of combined adrenaline, fatigue and dread. The excitement and mystery are gone for the moment... because I know all the details of the elaborate preparations. I am immersed in them. No magic elves come in to cook the food and wrap the gifts. That's on me. I made the plans and now I have to get it done. And when it is over, will I breathe a heavy sigh of relief? Or will I fall asleep with the scent of incense in my hair and a prayer on my lips? Or both.

I don't know that it is possible to take the ego completely out of the human condition. But I have one more day to get this a little closer to right. Although there was no blog post scheduled for today and I really don't have time... I needed to write. Because I need the accountability. It's going to be a busy, challenging 48 hours or so and I just want to make it perfectly clear...

Christmas is not about me. It's about Him.

It's not my job to push and force the feeling of joy. I am only called to come to the manger with my best... and adore. He has something to give me and I want to be available to receive it. If I fail to feel any particular emotions of excitement or happiness, it is not a failure of Christmas... it is simply the emotion of the moment. Neither here nor there. Christ comes as He will and not always on a flurry of twinkles. 

His birth room was a cold and stark place. And there was joy. It is proof that the busyness we burden our families with is not necessarily appropriate at all. The feast is for Him. The celebrations are for Him. I've forgotten... again... and I have one more chance to prepare my heart beautifully to receive Him. There are some things that are going to go undone today. I must decide that my time with Jesus isn't going to be one of them.

So I'm adding one more thing to my preparation list even though it doesn't really fit anywhere in the original plan. I'm going to adoration. To sit quietly and do nothing except be with Jesus. 

May your preparations be a time of authentic joy. And may the peace of Christ reign in your hearts this Christmas season and forever! 

 

 

Posted on December 23, 2014 and filed under Advent, Christmas, Liturgical Year, Spiritual Life.