Thursday, December 29, 2016

On Turning Forty

We had a great Christmas. A happy Christmas.

And then, two days ago, I turned forty. I don't feel any different, really. It's just a number. But it means I've been here, on earth, for forty years.

In this strange, in-between week of Holidays, when the world slows down and gets ready for a new year, I always turn a new age, too. I get introspective and examine my life and make plans for the year to come. I lounge around in my pajamas, reading novels and eating chocolate.

Sometimes I write poetry.
Well, today I did, anyway. Here it is.
Be gentle, critic. 

      On Turning Forty and Changing the World

      My shoulders are weary
      Carrying this load. My feet ache. Cold.
      I just want someone to pave the way . . . pay my way.
      I want . . . too much.
      The pavement is shifting and I’m having forbidden thoughts.
      About to fall.
      No. Be grateful. You have so much.
      But I’m selfish. Stubborn. I want . . . so much more.
      Is it too much to ask? Just for one day?

      In the warm, lighted haven. Heaven, to me.
      Books all around. I browse.
      On a book jacket.
      What I’m longing for. We all are.

      This life. This world.
      I close my eyes. Breathe deeply and know
      I am not alone.
      This ache. This wanting.
      Proof that there is more.

       I open my eyes and see clearly again
      The gifts right there in front of me
      All along.

Friday, December 23, 2016

From the Archives: It was a warm December . . .

I'm too busy wrapping gifts and making cookies to write a new blog post this week, but I looked through old Advent posts and this one from 2011 resonated with me. In all your Christmas preparation, I hope this short post reminds you what it's all about . . . 

I apologize for my absence lately. I was super sick for a week. Laid out on the couch, couldn't do anything but order a few gifts online kind of sick. Thank God I'm feeling better because we had our Live Nativity at church this past weekend. It was cold, but it was good. And now, not only do I have gifts to wrap, cookies to bake, stockings to fill, and a few last minute presents to take care of, but I also have eighteen people coming to my house for Christmas dinner! In my mind, I used to be much more organized. I finished my shopping by Thanksgiving so that I could truly enjoy Advent. But in reality I'm not sure it ever went that smoothly. I wanted it to. But was there ever a Christmas free of stress? I mean, since I was about ten years old?

The next best thing, I suppose, is taking a moment away from the stress to remember what it is we're doing this for. To recapture the wonder we felt as children. In those moments, I realize it has nothing to do with whether Camilla gets the Lalaloopsy doll she just started asking for last week. It has everything to do with the Gift we received over two thousand years ago. It sounds like old news. It's all been said before. God's Son, born of a virgin.

For me, in this rare moment of quiet by the Christmas tree, it is new again. It can be new in all of our hearts if we step back from the craziness that Christmas has become. If we focus on the Christ Child. Who He was. Who He is. And how He continues to make us new.

"Because of God's tender mercy,
the light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us to the path of peace."

Luke 1:78-79

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Choosing Joy

This year has been quite a ride. I’ve written about my struggle with anxiety and about some of the peopleI’ve lost. With all the heartache in this crazy world, I want to write something joyful this Christmas season. Something that brings you peace and hope.

Just bear with me. I’ll get there.

Last night I was talking to a longtime friend about some tough subjects—the crap that’s happened in life. In mid-sentence, I had a flashback to when our group of friends was young, happy, in love, full of hope. It hurt so much to look back for a moment. To think about the hopes dashed in the past 15 years.

This morning, I was overcome by a sudden longing to see my friend Laurie and I just started bawling. I had an ugly cry, as Laurie would have called it. We may not have seen each other much in the last couple years of her life, but it’s quite a different thing to know I’ll never see her again earth side.

Over the past five months, my anxiety has been much better. Part of that victory comes from leaning on Christ for peace and joy. Some of it comes from managing it with constant redirection of my thoughts.

This is my brain’s refrain: No, don’t go there, Alison. That’s not happening. It’s not your cross right now. Don’t pick it up.
It can be exhausting.

I think the improvement is partly due to storing up sunshine during the summer months. Now that’s starting to wane. Taking Vitamin D supplements isn’t the same as absorbing it through my skin. I can feel the struggle more now that the sun goes down earlier and I’m not outside as much.

But perhaps the greatest growth comes from choosing joy over fear.

Ann Voskamp says, “All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends.”

It’s true. When I think about Laurie’s family or about our friends who lost their daughter this year, I can’t imagine bearing that kind of pain. But deep in my heart I know God’s love never ends. It never fails. My own life story reminds me He’s been there in the midst of my darkest night, my deepest pain.

If I worry about losing someone, or my marriage failing, or illness striking us, how does that help those already suffering? I can have empathy for them, but when it morphs into worry and fear, I’ve crossed a line. I’ve begun trying to control my future instead of trusting God to lead me through it. Instead of embracing all the good things He’s given me today.

So I’m choosing joy now. I’m choosing to smile about the blessings He’s poured out on me in His love and grace.
Photo Credit: April Olivia Roskos
Let me share a few of them with you . . .

A three-year-old girly girl filled with wonder and words.

An active boy whose creativity blows me away.

A leggy tween sharing her problems with me. Me!

Knowing when to stop what I’m doing, shut up, listen, and offer a hug.

A husband who works hard every day . . . and then comes home (often to a cranky wife and kids).

Putting up a real Christmas tree and decorating it—all five of us, together.

How are you choosing joy this advent season?

Friday, December 2, 2016

What I'm Into: November 2016

Once again it's time to link up with Leigh Kramer for What I'm Into. It’s been a rough few weeks in my world. I haven’t been blogging. In fact, I haven’t been writing at all. November was a veritable whirlwind and I’m ready to enter the calm of Advent with my whole heart and soul.

The calm of Advent? What am I talking about? It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but I pray we can have peace in our home during this time of waiting for the Messiah. As I mentioned in my last What I’m Into post, November began with my mom’s heart surgery. Then our nation had the most controversial presidential election of my lifetime to date. The following week, my sister went to the emergency room with a herniated disc and had back surgery the same day! By the time she came home from the hospital, it was practically Thanksgiving.

So, my family's pressing needs, holiday celebrations, the demands of parenting, and nurturing my own soul circumvented my writing plans. Sigh.

To be honest, it seems as though I go through this cycle quite often. I’ll finally get myself chugging along, making progress in my work, and then I’m thrown a curveball and it takes a while to recover. I don’t think I’m unusual (not in the curveball department, anyway) so I’m genuinely curious how other work-at-home writers manage when life gets out of balance. How do you actually succeed when curveballs come out of nowhere?

Maybe you don’t sit around watching Gilmore Girls for three days straight.

Ahem. Let's move on . . .

What We’ve Been Reading . . .

I noticed in 2015 that my reading slowed down during the second half of the year. Unfortunately, that trend appears to have repeated itself in 2016. I finished listening to the audiobook version of Hotel on the Cornerof Bitter and Sweet. I don’t think Jamie Ford reads my blog, so I’ll just say that I may or may not have banged my head against the wall a few times while I listened to his book. I should have recognized the melodrama in the title, but I’m kind of stupid that way. I hate to admit this, but I thought the hotel was actually on the corner of roads named Bitter and Sweet. I know. I’m a space cadet, right? Don’t tell anyone.

The kids and I abandoned Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West. It had been so long since we read it, we just didn’t care what happened anymore. On our Anne Shirley kick, Camilla and I started reading Anne of Avonlea. It will be slow going as we rarely have time for reading just the two of us and I don’t really want to force Adrian to listen to this feminine tale. Perhaps we’ll have time to work on it over Christmas break.

Eva is really into Pat the Bunny now. Whenever I ask her if she wants to read, she says, “Can we read the Bunny Book?” For a while, it was “Can we read the book about Polly and Judy?” I hated to disillusion her, but I had to explain that it was “Paul” not “Polly” and that Paul is a boy. She was understandably disappointed, but continues to be a loyal fan of the book.

Both big kids are listening to me read The Silver Chair. How I’ve missed you, Clive Staples Lewis (better known as Jack)! By the way, when I was a teenager I named my horse C.S. Lewis. His nickname was Jack, too. Anyway . . .

The human C.S. Lewis was a brilliant author! I love how he works little nuggets of everyday truth into his novels. 

Take this one, for example: “It is a very funny thing that the sleepier you are, the longer you take about getting to bed; especially if you are lucky enough to have a fire in your room. Jill felt she couldn’t even start undressing unless she sat down in front of the fire for a bit first. And once she had sat down, she didn’t want to get up again.” Really! Even in 1953!? Today, of course, it’s Netflix, not the fireplace. Same concept, though.

What I’ve Been Watching . . .

Nice segue, right? Todd and I are completely obsessed with Lost. I could binge watch this, but I won’t watch it without him, so that does place some limits on my addiction. Limits are good.

And the aforementioned Gilmore Girls. Years ago, when the show was originally playing on The WB, I picked it up about midway through Season Two and became a devoted fan until the end. Or maybe I got mad at Lorelei and skipped a lot of Season Seven. There are some gaps in my memory of the final season. Earlier this year, I started watching the series from the beginning on Netflix and quickly got annoyed with the Girls. Then Todd was out of town for a week this month. I couldn’t watch Lost without him, so I started Gilmore Girls again and found that I loved it! Added bonus, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life was coming out the day after Thanksgiving. I was psyched! And I needed to nurture my soul. So I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls Thanksgiving week. I didn’t get through the whole series, but I caught myself up on the major points. Sunday evening, my sisters came over and we watched the first two episodes of A Year in the Life! I'm really not sure how we stopped after two. We were just too tired to keep going. I guess we’re old and we need our sleep. But it was fun! And I’ve resisted the urge to watch the final two episodes hoping we will get together again soon! It’s more fun to watch with food and company.
Photo Credit: April Olivia Roskos

A few of our favorite moments in November . . .
Western Day at ACA!

Grampy's 81st Birthday!

The First Snowman!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click them and make a purchase, you help support my work without paying any more for the product. Thank you for your support!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hope for the Future

I’m a slow processor. So here I am, two days after the election, finally pulling my thoughts together. Heck, it took me until Monday night (or maybe Tuesday morning) to decide for whom to cast my vote. Although, soon after the primaries I was pretty certain it wasn’t going to be one of the major party candidates. That is neither here nor there at this point. Except that I don’t regret my decision.

What grieves me now is the deep divide I see in the U.S. The fear and dread among some. The outright gloating among others. I’m sad. I looked forward November 9th so the vitriol would stop. But if anything, it seems to have increased for the time being. I am truly horrified by reports of racist acts by fringe Trump supporters. I’m also disgusted by the flag burnings and protest marches. Clinton and Obama have both urged Americans to lay aside their differences and work together.  Can’t we all just get along?

What I really want to do is wrap my arms around my nation and say, “It’s going to be all right.”

It really is. I believe that. Maybe it’s because I was prepared to accept a Clinton presidency and I was leaning particularly hard on God for peace in the face of that. Maybe that’s why I have faith that we’ll survive the Trump presidency, too. Maybe it’s because my Republican roots run deep and even though I couldn’t get behind the man, I actually agree with his supposed positions on a lot of the issues (not all of them, though).

I hope the real reason is that I believe in redemption.

During this political season, I heard a lot of incredulity in response to Trump’s slogan. Make America great again? When was America really great? I mulled this over for months.

If you were a white man, it was great. And in the past one hundred years or so, if you’re a white man or woman, it’s pretty great for you. But maybe not if you’re Irish—depending on where you lived.

Before my lifetime, things were extremely difficult for our black brothers and sisters. We enslaved you, legally, for over a hundred years.  And even since then, how far have we really come?

Early on, our government passed laws that forced Native Americans to leave the homes and families they loved. We gave them specific territories in which to live. Not so great for them.

If you were of Japanese descent during World War II, America wasn’t such a great place to be.

You all get the idea. America has historically been great for certain people groups. It's been great enough that a lot of people from around the world have wanted to come here. And still do. 

I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be non-white in the U.S. I’m attempting to understand it better. I’m trying to listen.

I spend a good deal of time researching and writing about America in the 1800’s. A period in history when things were especially dark for black people.

Recently I remembered the reason I do this. It’s not to focus on the wrong we’ve done to each other. The purpose of my writing is not to exorcise the demons of slavery and oppression.

It’s undeniable. People in our country--people around the world--are capable of great evil. I know this and I see it in my own heart.

But my purpose in writing about this time period is to celebrate those who stood up for what was right. I want to draw attention to the abolitionists. The fugitive slaves who fought for their freedom against all odds. The white and black people who worked together to help bring about change. Most of them were following God’s guidance. Their steadfastness is staggering.

When people give their lives to God, anything is possible. It’s not about who sits in the oval office. Who is on the throne in your heart? That’s what makes the difference. And that’s why I’m cautiously optimistic today. There’s a lot to worry about. Much to be afraid of if we focus on the negative messages. But I know the final chapter. Everything will be okay in the end.  

Before my political party, before my nationality, I am a Christ follower. Hopelessly flawed, yes. But redeemed by the One who created and loves us all. Therefore I have hope.

Jesus said it best . . . and this is the message I want to offer those of you living in fear right now.

Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” John 14:27 

Friday, November 4, 2016

What I'm Into: October 2016

“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

So said Anne to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, and I quite agree with her. We had a beautiful October. The foliage was especially vibrant this year. Now the leaves are falling and the Holidays are just around the corner. My mom had heart surgery on Wednesday in a top-notch hospital out of the area. As a result, we’ve been busy and emotional around here this week. My two youngest siblings (teenagers) are staying with us and I’ve been texting and talking with all my other brothers and sisters as we get updates from my dad. Ergo, I didn’t get to blog yesterday. But that’s okay. I know all three of you have been holding your breath, wondering when I’m going to post What I’m Into with LeighKramer.

You can exhale now. Here I am!

What We’ve Been Doing . . . 

Photo by April Olivia Roskos
October is arguably our busiest month. On the last day of September, Camilla had an American Girl Sleepover Party to celebrate her tenth birthday! I know, I already mentioned that, but I felt it was important enough to reiterate. We followed that up with a small family party on the 3rd for her actual birthday.

Photo by April Olivia Roskos
The very next weekend we had family over again to celebrate Adrian’s 7th birthday! I think my family is sick of seeing the inside of my house, buying birthday gifts, and singing happy birthday. I know I needed a nap once we were all done. Why on earth did we have all three kids’ birthdays in the space of a month? You’d think we might have planned that better. Of course, I am the woman who didn’t think it was a big deal if we got married the first Saturday of deer season. I didn't realize that meant our anniversary would be in early hunting season. Every year. For the rest of our lives.

I did not think that through.

Moving right along . . . we got Camilla and Adrian new bikes for their birthdays, so we went for a family ride on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. 

This past weekend, we decorated our trunk for our church’s Trunk-or-Treat event. Camilla was super-excited about this project and thought of outlandish expensive time-consuming possibilities. I went on Pinterest and found the idea for a zoo. When the kids jumped on it and started gathering stuffed animals, I was relieved. It was so easy and cheap, I couldn’t believe they agreed to it! We had fun with it, though. And handed out candy to about a thousand children!  

I did not get any photos of my own children’s costumes this year. I don't know why.

We did our nine-mile hike to the Pinnacle again. We love this portion of the Appalachian Trail and try to hike it every fall, when the leaves are at their peak. We were planning to do it the third weekend of October, but Eva had a small bout with croup and we were all a little under the weather, so we rescheduled and ended up with an unusually warm day for the end of October. Our niece Olivia was a trooper and came with us, which made it even more fun!

I decided not to carry my good camera this year, hence a mediocre photograph at the Pinnacle.

What we’ve been reading . . .

I almost feel like I should remove this section entirely. Not really. I love reading too much and I’m determined to do more of it. We just haven’t been reading a lot together, so my overall number of “books read” has dropped a bit. Camilla had some projects to do for school this month, so we spent time working on those. I read some picture books to Adrian. He really seems to enjoy this and I can also sneak in some reading practice for him this way. Eva has also been allowing me to read to her more. She didn’t enjoy reading together much in the past, and I didn’t push it because I was into reading with the older kids, but now I’m thrilled to announce that she’s tolerating being read to! Lately, she likes to hear There’s a Wocket in my Pocket! Nothing like a little Dr. Seuss to brighten your day.

I finished Penned without Ink by Sarah Lynn Phillips. It was a great read about a terrifying car accident Sarah and her family survived and the way God walked with them through the aftermath. What a beautiful testimony of God’s loving care for us!

I’m working on several books now. I started 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup. This is a riveting true story of a free black man who was taken captive and forced to be a slave in pre-Civil War America.

The other night while I was painting our dining room, I began listening to the audio version of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I’m loving it so far. I’m thinking of doing a lot more painting in the coming month, and maybe listening to a few more books, too!

What I’ve been listening to . . .

More of the same, really. I still love The Simple Show with Tsh Oxenreider, especially this episode on routines and golden hours. My favorite podcast this month was Erik Fisher’s interview of Srinivas Rao on Beyond the To Do List. I listened to it twice. There is so much meat in this episode regarding creativity, habits, and handling the pull of social media. I think I knew on some level, but still did not realize the extent to which social media and screentime can have a detrimental effect on our mental health.

What I’ve been watching . . .

In spite of the detrimental effects of screentime, I’ve allowed myself to get sucked into another TV series. Todd and I are finally watching Lost, over ten years after its release. I know, it’s pathetic, but we just never got into it before. Now we are. And I’ve been going to bed much too late.  

Camilla was home from school sick one day and I talked her into watching Anne of Green Gables. I feel sad that I had to talk her into it, but she actually enjoyed it once we started. 

In other news, I did not watch the third and final presidential debate. I am fed up and pleading the fifth when it comes to political discussions. Can’t wait until the hatred is over. So glad I know the King of the World, no matter who is president of the United States next term. The end.

I hope your October was glorious and that you decorated your bedroom with maple boughs! (Another Anne reference. I couldn't resist!)

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click them and make a purchase, you help support my work without paying any more for the product. Thank you for your support!