ornament on white tree

I don’t know how to write this post, but have to do it for my own heart’s sake.

I walked my 7 year old daughter to bed tonight with a grateful heart; it was the first time in days that the effort to walk up the stairs didn’t wipe me out.  It’s been a holiday season like no other at our house, one I hope is never repeated, one that I think would be impossible to repeat.  I didn’t think it could get much worse and then I got hit with a fever and a new round of the flu on December 23rd.  Whatever holiday trimmings I thought I’d managed to hang on to were quickly added to the pile of sacrifices already made.  My pride gone, we literally survived the Christmas holiday.  But even me being sick didn’t ruin it completely.  I guess that’s part of the magic of Christmas.  I know how I will remember this year, but I have a feeling most of my children will remember it as being like most others (thanks largely to online shopping and two day shipping!).

In November the hard drive on my laptop suddenly died.  It’s been looked at by several different people and no one can find a hint of data on it.  Two years of pictures – almost half of my youngest daughter’s life – gone.  I’ve done a terrible job of posting this year – because I was trying to be a better mom.  I’ve done an even worse job of printing photos – because I was busy being a mom.  Journaling?  None of that.  And all those photos are gone.  It’s been a month since it happened and it still makes me cry.  I’ve been so mad at myself for not backing it up, but there’s nothing to be done about it.  The parenting part of my daily life has been especially rugged for the past 2 months and I know it’s tainted how I feel about the entire year.  I’d like nothing more than to look back at pictures of our trip to the beach, our trip to Arches, at any proof there was that I’m doing a good job and actually enjoying this motherhood thing.  It’s all gone.  The last year with all 8 of our children living at home.  So many last things.  And no record of any of them – them or the year before them.  And the thought that being so consumed with trying to be a better mom caused me to slack on the “nonessential” task of blogging, or printing, or doing ANYTHING with those memories makes me want to scream.  How could I have let motherhood rob me of THIS?

We got to re-create two science fair projects in one day.  They were done, on the laptop, and then they were gone.  Lots of scrambling and stress and frustration.  So many things I’d prepared in advance so December would be manageable just didn’t happen.  I find it almost funny how much I converted to digital this year only to lose it all.  There were changes in my responsibilities at church in October that brought beautiful opportunities to serve but which also threw the moving parts of daily life into disarray.  We still haven’t recovered, and the stress of trying to run faster while not managing my home well finally started making me physically ill.   I’ve been getting up at 4:45 a.m. to get the family going on time before school, but waiting up till 11 or 11:30 for my son to come home from work, when he hangs out in our bedroom playing a game on his phone and finally starts talking about his day, his life, his friends, his thoughts.  Such an important event to stay awake for, but man, it’s hard.  Lack of sleep has certainly taken it’s toll.  A couple of my children need an awful lot from me right now, feeling like full-time jobs in themselves, and the worry never goes away.  I’ve missed doing things I love to do. They are good things, and they keep me balanced.  I’ve reminded myself over and over again how happy I should be because I am anchored in Jesus Christ, and deep inside I am, because I have a game plan thanks to Him and I understand what needs to be fixed thanks to Him.  Because of Him, all the big things are already worked out.  That’s why we celebrate Christmas.  I’ve worked very hard this year to conquer all negativity – and come a long way – but suddenly doubt and fear loomed large simply because I’m completely worn out.  No one thing that’s happened has been so awful, but the mix of everything was well tailored for me and my weaknesses.  As I’ve replayed it all in my mind from my position on the couch this week it makes perfect sense that I crashed.

And yet, it turned out the crash wasn’t all bad.

I’ve never spent Christmas laying on the couch just watching my children.  I’ve always been hurrying around, cleaning up the mess, preparing the dinner, making sure the next phase of the day is ready while everyone else enjoys the flow.  This year I hardly moved.  Instead I observed them.  I watched movies with them.  My youngest two girls came dozens of times to check on me and snuggle for a while.  We took naps together.  They talked and talked and talked while I tickled their backs.  I watched the children serve each other, play together, build relationships and make memories.  I felt grateful for their patience with me, for how graciously they accepted the meager meals we had in place of our traditional celebrations.  My husband and I have sat next to each other more than we have in months.  It’s not fun being sick, but it caused me to be fully present.  It was the only thing I could do.  And it was actually quite a gift.  A gift and a profound learning experience for me.

I’m typing this post from the new laptop my husband surprised me with for Christmas.  I am terribly blessed.  My heart aches about the pictures, but I have my children.  They are strong and healthy, full of potential.  They are trying to be good.  We all are.  So much living goes on under this roof every day – it’s no wonder there’s a mountain of worry and work to keep me company.   I’ve been reminded that I’m a mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy person when I properly protect the daily habits that nourish my spirit.   I’m starting to get better.  I am SO ready to close the door on 2014, but grateful for how my year-end challenges have honed my priorities and clarified my vision.  I am full of hope and excitement for the new year.

And there is my summary of the last quarter of the year.  I’m praying that the sweet, happy  memories that I know I lived will come to my memory and I’ll record them as they do.  It’s been a good year, a year of learning and stretching and trusting and trying.  I knew that having everyone in school would be a good test of all my organizational powers and I was right.  My only priority right now is to get the rest I need so I can carry it all again come January 5th and do it with more joy and confidence than I have for the past few weeks.  And if I’m lucky I’ll get the house cleaned back up and maybe even squeeze in some sewing.

Life is good.

Coffee Cake Cookies

I wish I’d kept count of how many years my friend Marilynn has been hosting her annual cookie exchange.  Over the years it’s become a holiday tradition for everyone who attends, and we all look forward to it.  After at least 8 years of exchanging cookies, lots of recipes have been used and this year I really wanted to find something new, something none of us has made before.

I found this recipe for Coffee Cake Cookies on Pinterest and decided to give it a try.  The idea of making a cookie that is like eating just the top layer of a coffee cake sounded delicious!  Because I don’t prefer store-bought cookie dough I decided to combine recipes and make my own version.  9 dozen cookies later, I can promise you’ll love them!


These cookies require three steps:  the cookie itself, the crumb topping, and the brown sugar glaze, so they take a bit of time to make, but are totally worth it.


Cookie dough:
1 cup softened butter 1 cup granulated sugar 1 tsp. vanilla 1 large egg 2 – 1/2 cups flour 1 Tb baking powder Crumb Topping:4 Tb. butter 1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1/2 cup flour Brown Sugar glaze:
1/2 cup packed brown sugar 1 tsp. vanilla 1 – 1/2 Tb. water To make the dough:In a mixer, beat butter with sugar.  Add vanilla and egg and mix well.  Add flour and baking powder and mix until combined.  Dough should be soft but shouldn’t stick to your fingers.
Roll cookie dough into 1-1/2 inch balls and place on cookie sheet 3 inches apart.  Flatten cookie dough with the heel of your hand.

To make crumb topping:
With a hand mixer, combine butter, brown sugar and flour until crumbly.

For glaze:
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar, water and vanilla and stir until smooth.  Glaze should be easy to drizzle but not runny.  If it’s too thick, add a few drops of water until consistency is right.  If it’s too runny, add another spoonful of brown sugar.

To prepare cookies:
Bake at 375 for 5 minutes.  Remove cookies from oven and gently press the back of a spoon into the center of each cookie to make a subtle indentation.  Sprinkle approximately 1 Tb. crumb topping into indentation of cookie.  Return to oven for 5-7 minutes, or until edges of cookies are just beginning to turn golden brown.  Remove from oven.  Let cool on cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.  Drizzle with brown sugar glaze and allow to completely cool.  Enjoy!

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Recipe adapted from Oh, Bite It.


About the Shepherds

The healthy ones have left for school and work and the sick ones are still in bed.  My youngest woke up crying before they left, so I turned off the lights and sat down to hold her in the semi-darkness.  Snuggled against my chest, her breathing slows and deepens and soon she is asleep.   I sit like this, staring at the Christmas tree, my eyes tracing a now-familiar path from ornament to ornament as I study the glow of the lights on their different surfaces.  For a moment I feel like I’ve gone back 25 years to my parents’ living room where I would usually sit by myself for a few minutes in this same semi-darkness to stare at the tree before bed.

I had a jolt of worry hit me recently as I was reviewing our holiday season so far.  I felt good about the feeling we’ve cultivated in our home this month, confident that my children had all spent some time in the Christmas spirit.  But suddenly I felt worried that we weren’t connecting with Christ directly enough.  I want them to know, absolutely KNOW, that this is all about Him.  That He has graven us on the palms of his hands, that He will never forget us or forsake us, and so we need never fear, or forget or forsake Him.

Last night for Family Home Evening we started out reading a couple of touching Christmas stories and ended up talking about the shepherds.  We read Luke 2:1-20 together and I love the way all of us have it partially memorized.  As a family, we decided there are five lessons we can learn from the shepherds in these verses.

1.  The shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”  They were doing their duty, and while doing it, came the grand experience.  Sometimes we think great things happen to people doing more glamorous things than we are.  But these were lowly shepherds, so lowly that in their society they couldn’t even testify in court.  I’ve written before about the importance of doing what needs to be done regardless of how we may feel about it in the moment.  Of course, we don’t know how each of the shepherds may have felt on that holy night.  One might have been tired, one might have been grumbling, one might have been worried about something at home.  The point is they were there, and for each one of them, showing up to do their duty was what offered admittance to the most amazing experience of their lives.  We can be like the shepherds, making sure to show up, abiding by our responsibilities even in the long hours of the night, and in doing so, we can trust God to give us the experiences we will need to grow in love for and knowledge of Him.

2.  An angel appeared to the shepherds, declaring “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”  The multitude of angels sang “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”  How can this apply to us?   There is no heavenly chorus out on our lawn, but we have something just as precious.  We have the scriptures.  We have the testimonies of prophets who have declared the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ with eloquence and power.  We have the testimony of Jesus Christ himself promising us abundant life, eternal life, joy.  With all these testimonies to draw from, we don’t need angels singing in the sky.  We will have angels singing in our hearts if we will just do our part by opening our minds and hearts to the words of those who testify.  Are we doing that?  Are we bringing a spirit of reverence, a spirit of listening, of learning to the formal, scheduled opportunities in our lives such as Church, scripture study and family prayer?  Are we feeling the song of the angels within us?

3.  When the angels left, the shepherds acted.  They said to each other, “let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.”  They didn’t say, “let’s go tomorrow” or “we should go sometime.”  Verse 16 states “and they came with haste .”  What are we doing with haste?  Are we acting on the promptings of the Spirit?  Are we responding in haste when we know we should do something good?

4.  The shepherds didn’t keep their experience to themselves.  Even with their low social status, they testified, making known abroad what had happened.  “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”  Are we living our lives in a way that makes people wonder at us?  Do they wonder what makes us so happy?  What gives us the strength to be different?  Can we work harder at being a light, even among groups of people who are all supposedly committed to being a light?  What makes us feel too small or insignificant to testify, and how can we overcome it?

5.  I love verse 20.  “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”  They went right back to work, back to the fields, back to the sheep.  They didn’t expect a new, easier life because of their experience.  But they did take back to that same life a new appreciation for the goodness of God.  Their hearts “glorified and praised” God for the experiences they’d had.   When we return to our work from an uplifting experience, do we continue to glorify and praise the Lord for what he’s done?  And as these special experiences fade into the past, can we work harder to “enlarge our memories” by thinking back far enough to remember these sacred times and still give praise, glory and gratitude to the Lord?  How long can we nourish that kind of flame to warm ourselves and others by?

Of course, when I type it here, it’s without the interruptions and the distractions so it sounds like we had some incredible discussion.  It wasn’t.  But we tried, and I hope seeds of ideas and desires were planted and nourished by our talk.  So we ended last night with a challenge to find elements of the shepherds’ experiences in our own lives.  We can engage in our duty and watch for faith-building experiences to come our way.  We can open our hearts to the numberless witnesses, letting angels sing in our hearts.  We can respond with haste to the call to act on our knowledge.  We can share what we know with others, and do it in a kind, happy, loving way which will make people wonder at what we have shared.  And we can return to our daily grind better people, people with hearts full of gratitude and praise to the Lord for the simple gift of living it.

I want to be a shepherd.  I hope my children do too.


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