The Boy's 14th Birthday

Boxing Day.  The day after Christmas.  Otherwise known as Thing 4's birthday.  In our house, a pretty special day.  Thing 4 has his own birthday tree, updated this year to a blue table top tree with matching LED lights.  It sits in his bedroom and holds his birthday cards and presents.  Separate from our Christmas tree and no Christmas wrapping paper is allowed under that tree.  This year a present sat under that tree for almost an entire month and had Thing 4 guessing and wishing.  Hmmm.

For his day, this 14th birthday, Thing 4 chose each and every activity and meal, beginning with the Manchester United match, quite early, and a proper English breakfast; Of which I have no photographs, slacker Mom alert.  The Horel family joined us for breakfast and the morning of footie. It was quite wonderful.  From there it was on to the skate park with his new scooter and then family dinner at Burger Up with cake and ice cream to follow at our house.  G-pa and Mema joined us for cake and ice cream and then Husband Jared, Uncle Jeff and the birthday boy were off to the new Star Wars movie in IMAX.  From what I heard it was incredible.  Sun up to sun down was spent celebrating this boy of ours.  

Thing 4 attempting to keep his eyes open to watch his team.  Although, I may have shut my eyes through some of that match too, it was ugly.

After breakfast swings in the Eno.  

My birthday boy!  

The six of us at the table.  Birthdays are a big deal around here.  At family dinner we like to continue the celebration by sharing one thing we admire or love about the birthday person.  

The present he was waiting for, from his sisters.  That might be the look of disbelief right there!  

Strawberry cake with strawberry icing and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream for the birthday boy this year!  Make a wish!

The family!

Post Star Wars, 3-D glasses!  

One celebratory filled day in the books for this now fourteen year old.  Can't wait to see what the year holds for our teenager. 

A Different Christmas

Our Christmas was different this year.  Not necessarily better or worse just different, for lack of a better word.  I know that doesn't translate well but roll with me here.  Our first Thing left the nest and returned home after three months.  Different.  The Things are all teenagers now.  Different.  Husband Jared is working retail once again, as in a store.  Different.  Gone are the days of Christmas through New Years holiday.  We are living near family, again.  Different.  There was no snow on the ground and hardly a chill in the air.  Different.  Like I said, so much change, so different.

All that and I still could not have been any giddier picking Thing 1 up from the airport.  I tried to hold it together and just calmly wait at the car for her but then I caught sight of her walking through the doors and I could not contain myself.  I sprinted across the street and jumped into her arms.  No really, I did.  Three months is the longest we have ever been apart.  We had a girls weekend planned since the boys were off to Florida for a showcase tournament at IMG.  Woo hoo, all the way around!  To kick off our weekend she requested Chick Fil A and then it was all eating and shopping and movie watching all weekend.  It was so good.  There were a few other highlights too, the Franklin Farmers market, church together on Sunday night and an outing to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens' holiday light display.  Such a sweet weekend with my three girls, reunited.

 Together again.

Fun at the Factory, we took a similar picture almost 10 years ago with Thing 4.  
A little different now.  

Baking Cookies, or something like that. (not different)

Holiday lights at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens

More lights, and not the best quality photograph but these trees were mesmerizing.

A few snapshots of the week leading up to Christmas.  Four of our six had a busy work week with Thing 2 logging over 38 hours but we managed to squeeze in a bit of fun here and there.  Thing 1's ornaments were waiting for her so she decorated the tree and put the angel on top(her year).  We also encountered some frightening weather one evening and were in our safe spot for most of the night while Thing 2 and Husband Jared were at work in theirs.  During one of Thing 3's work shifts we visited for fried pork chops.  What can we say, we like our meat and three's.  Well, mostly we like the girl serving them.  All this, more different, as noted above.

 Thing 3 behind the counter serving Thing 1.

Popcorn, a laundry basket and nothing but good times. 

This is how you put the angel on when your tree is almost too tall for your house.  

They were filled with excitement as Thing 1 placed her ornaments on our tree.  
(Enter sarcasm, definitely not different)

Before we knew it Christmas Eve arrived and we spent the day soaking in the bright sunshine and exceptionally warm weather that graced us.  We were outside running, walking Polo and strolling on Main Street.  Thing 3 was in her element baking away and we prepped for our traditional Italian dinner that evening.  Since Husband Jared was working all day the Things and I went to Christmas Eve service together, came home and put the finishing touches on our meal.  The six of us gathered around the table and toasted to Christ's coming and laughed like we haven't laughed in a while.  After clean up it was time for our jammie and hot cocoa Christmas light tour.  These kids never fail to make me laugh.  A poor attempt at Christmas caroling was made and after viewing everything from professional light displays to the average jo's we found ourselves at home and watching Polar Express.  Only thing was we were all so tired I don't think we made it but half way through.

After church obligatory picture for Mama. 

And then this happened and the situation escalated.  That blur is Thing 4 falling over the hedges and Thing 3 right behind him.  They both toppled over and thankfully stood up laughing with no major injuries.  

Thing 1 took over on fried cauliflower for me, she did a fantastic job!

The table is set.  

Christmas jammies on, hot cocoa at the ready and four Things.

Traditional sibling sleep over.  Although I'm not sure there is any sleep happening because we all know that before long Thing 1 will be waking us all up before the sun. (Not different)

Our tree with pretty brown paper packages.

And then came Christmas morning.  Per the usual Thing 1 was the first awake and her and the others stormed our bedroom to wake Husband Jared and myself.  After a quick snuggle it was downstairs for coffee and coffee cake.  Much to our surprise Thing 2 was on it already, coffee made and coffee cake in the works.  See, different, again.  We gathered with our blankets and coffee and Christmas music playing and we all opened our stockings.  One at a time so we could see what Santa had done.  When the oven dinged and coffee cake was ready we gathered around the table for our reading of Luke 2.  This year the Bible was passed and everyone took turns reading.  There we sat sharing new thoughts, trying our best to comprehend the significance of His birth.  It was my favorite part of the day with these people of mine.  We snuggled and spent the rest of the morning just being.  Whether that was preparing brunch or sorting through our goodies, watching movies, playing games, it was all good.  The Things had been patient long enough and there were gifts
waiting for them.  Next stop, around the Christmas tree.  Each gift was unwrapped and oohed and ahhhed over.  Paper was cleared and brunch was ready.  G-pa and Mema joined us for brunch and then it was off to the Horel's house for pressies with Autumn and Gemma.  Autumn had chosen special gifts for each of us this year, all on her own and she was filled with anticipation to present those to us.  The Things and their cousins opened presents and laughed and played and then there were dance parties and Wii tournaments.  We left the Horels and returned home to a quiet afternoon of movies and Enos and trivia and birthday cookies for Jesus.  Oh what a celebration!

Thing 2 on her own in the kitchen.  I must say, the coffee cake was delicious!

Time for stockings.  
Always too heavy for the hangers on the mantle.

 I'm not sure Thing 4 was fully awake just yet.

Thing 3's turn.  And a tail tucking Polo photo bomb!

Thing 1 and a blur of ribbon and wrapping paper.

Thing 2 attempting to untangle her lanyard from her stocking. Just as Husband Jared had predicted the night before.

Luke 2.  

Coloring time with their new crayon pencils and coloring books.

Damian jersey for Thing 4.  Looking good.

Sibling time in the Eno, despite the rain.

Due to the rain our walk to the Horel house was cancelled, thus we piled in the back of Betsy.

Autumn watching as her cousins open their presents from her.

Thing 3 and Gemma dancing!  

For posterity's sake and before we wrap this up I am obliged to include our ornament choices for this year.  The girl Things were all gifted vintage ornaments, chosen for their colors and uniqueness.  Thing 4's ornament, well you can see that one for your self.  Thanks for playing along.  

Thing 1's vintage ornament.

Thing 2's vintage ornament.

Thing 3's vintage ornament.  Well, sort of.  You see in the process of moving said ornament to the tree this Mama shattered it.  Like no gluing it together and pretending it didn't happen.  I was heart broken.  So Thing 3 in all her wittiness is showing you the ornament that wasn't.  Thankfully, since this photo was taken said ornament has been replaced and all is right once again.  

Thing 4's antler ornament.  You know, to document the year of pocket knifes and new adventures and arm pit hair.  Yep, I said it here folks.  

I'll leave you with this.  A snippet of the soundtrack of our Christmas morning.  I do hope you and yours had a merry and joyous day celebrating our King's birth!  

He's 14, goodness gracious!

Yes, it's true.  The baby boy is fourteen.  And like I say every year one of the Things reaches yet another milestone, I can hardly believe it.  These teenage years in the land of boy are proving to be challenging.  They really all are for one reason or another but life in boy-land is so different.  And as it should be.  True to form Thing 4 remains non-stop sun up to sun down.  Only now his sun up is a bit later, and his sun down is well after I am in bed.  This year has been full of change and growth in our young man and so worth documenting.  To begin with he accepted Jesus this past summer at JAM camp in Minnesota.  A monumental moment in his life for sure.  We've had a move, he earned a spot with a new soccer club, playing a year up, he's started home schooling and training for footie every week day morning, he has facial hair, and he is growing man muscles.  Like real muscles.  Oh and did I mention he has facial hair?  His voice is deepening as are his opinions and occasionally his attitude.  I'll take it though.  Because he is also more helpful around the house, he will take out the trash and hold the door for me and his sisters, he is concerned for our safety and well being and is so very tenderhearted with those younger than him.  So here we go.  Half way through his eighth grade year, almost a high schooler, a year of teenage-hood under his belt and only a few short years left in our nest.  Someone hold me close.  No really, hold me now.  Just yesterday he looked like this and was holding my hand and now I can rest my head on his shoulder when I hug him.

He still has those big blue eyes and now he uses them against me.  One look and I'm done.  Shhh, don't tell.  Ah, who am I kidding, he already knows.  This past year has been one of slowly letting go, allowing more independence and exploring and testing.  My Mama heart has done more praying then before, re-learning lessons with this man child and then working through them again.  Navigating communication and honesty and stumbling over mistakes again and again.  Friends have become more important as has time with them.  I knew it was coming.  And yet when I look at him, holding a pocket knife and talking about shooting guns and climbing trees and chopping firewood and digging and endurance adventures I realize that he is growing up.  As it should be.  Me, I am so grateful for every moment of this journey.  Some more than others, but nonetheless it has been and always will be a privilege to be his Mama.  

Thing 4, Let's enter this year of fourteen bolder and better than the last.  Dreaming big dreams and taking the baby steps every day to bring those to fruition.  I pray you learn something new and press in to the Lord, understanding His unique, one of a kind design for you and  your life.  I pray you share agency with Him in the plan.  I pray you listen more, not only to your Dad and I but to the world around you.  Take it all in.  Create.  Whatever that means to you, share your gift with others.  Help those in need.  Wherever and however.    Be you.  Don't try and be someone else or live someone else's story.   Yours is good enough and can only be lived by you.  I pray that you know you have a heavenly father that loves you significantly more than your Dad and I.  I pray that you always have the courage to admit when you've made a mistake.  That you know in your gut that being right isn't always the most important.  I pray that you know how to say I'm sorry and offer grace to those that don't deserve it.  I pray when you don't know where else to go, you run to the cross.  I hope you know how much your Dad and I love you.  I pray for big adventures which sometimes seem like small and little things.  I pray for boldness and steadfastness, for bravery to live like no one else and for a heart that remains tethered to Jesus.  He is the best and living for Him will take you on a journey like no other.  Happy, happy 14th birthday baby boy, Machu Pichu loves you.  

The Better

Morning and happy second week of Advent.  We have been attending a new church in Nashy.   A completely different experience.  This place with intentional space to linger and visit.  Worship that doesn't end with a three song set planned and directed to the minute.  Leaders that invite the body to the stage with them.  Although it can't really be called a stage or platform, it's just the place where music instruments are.  Catch my vibe?  The building is for corporate gathering but these people are in the business of healing, welcoming, allowing the Holy Spirit to invade and permeate and then sitting in that thickness and just being so grateful for it.  At least that is how I have felt the last two Sundays.  Floored.  Astonished and so raw.  All that to say, after this past Sunday and the last few days of my Advent reading I have felt a Spirit conviction stronger than before.  

We are also in a new city this year for the Christmas season.  Nothing is familiar and yet all of it is.  I have been striving to manufacture the "just right" feeling that I crave during this time of the year.  Matching pillows, white twinkly lights, candles, greenery flung everywhere and an atmosphere that is joy-filled and peaceful.  The irony is that in order to achieve my non-sensical goals I have been running myself ragged in search of all the "right" stuff.  And this morning that struck me right between the eyes.  One minute the simple, natural and use what we have mentality is in charge and the next I am a crazed woman scouring Etsy and Pinterest like no body's business.  Not to mention all these "holiday home tours" making their rounds on Instagram.  Most often I can scroll through, grab an idea, appreciate the beauty someone created in their home.  This year it has stirred up the green-eyed monster.  Sparked desires that are not feasible nor healthy.  Whoa.  Just as soon as those words appeared on the screen I wanted to delete them.  Well at least I am going to attempt to explain them away.   And please trust me when I say I am a fan of social media.  The ability it holds to connect people, near and far, educate, empower, grow and challenge.  All of these things are good.  For me, in this one instant, I allowed it to overtake my typically healthy indulgence.  Anyone with me on this? 

I am a usually content person.  But the struggle is real and this year I have been waging war hard core.  This past Sunday the entire service was devoted to worship, pressing in, going beyond and praying feverishly.  I was on my feet the entire time.  Hands raised, head bowed, then lifted, arms wrapped around myself, opened out wide and clapping in praise.  In other words, all over the place and completely wrecked.  The dichotomy of my recent actions and emotions flooded in and I repented.  Pleaded for healing.  For new thoughts to replace the old.  In the Advent devotional I have been reading the overriding theme is how Jesus is the "better".  At this new church Jesus is exalted, the most talked about, lifted high, praised, worshipped and adored.  His names, His redeeming power and His love are on repeat and because quite simply He alone is the truer and better EVERYTHING.  And during this Christmas season that is what we are celebrating as Christ followers.  His birth.  Love incarnate.  When a man of flesh changed eternity for all humanity.   For today, I am choosing to step into that a bit deeper.  Reminding myself that He is the better.  That the Prince of Peace came down from His throne for me.

Just because I have claimed that, written it in my journal and typed it here on the screen does not mean that I am fixed.  What it does mean is that I have recognized my fault.  My deep need for a savior.  And then hopefully the healing and growth.  I can laugh at my pillow obsession now, recognize it for what it is.  It also does not mean that I am somehow over this picturesque Christmas scene unfolding in our home.  Nope, still desire that for sure.  Guess what though, as I type and am finishing this post, Christmas has come and gone and we are sitting in the in-between space.  You know, in-between Christmas and just before the New Year comes and everyone is swept away with resolutions and good intentions.  Thus allowing more time for reflecting here.  On what was.  Our Christmas was different this year.  Everything from the Advent readings we did do to the way we celebrated with family, the food, all of it.  Different.  In light of the struggle I was walking through earlier in the season I am not sure that this could have been any more profound.  Despite all my efforts in creating and manufacturing our home as a haven for peace and hope, there was no peace in my heart.  I allowed changing circumstances and other people's decisions to rule my emotions.  Thus distracting me from my "present" mentality.  Jesus was still front and center, for certain.  Some traditions were maintained.  Our Christmas Eve meal and light viewing, the reading of Christ's birth story Christmas morning, opening stockings before everything else, coffee cake and jammies all day, game playing and coffee drinking.  Yes, those were the same.  Some were swept to the way side.  Movies not watched, Advent readings dismissed, activities forgotten.  For some reason this took a toll on me.  Distracting me, much like the decor did.  Can you even imagine?  One minute resting in our Savior's birth and the next fretting over whether the plaid pillow you just bought will coordinate with the tree skirt and candles.  Seriously?  I am just keeping it real people.  Having a clean, organized home brings me much joy.  Truly.  And that is no different at Christmas time.  So here we are, social media and the inter webs lead me on a downward spiral this season.  Taking me to a place I hadn't been in quite a while.  Still somehow, maintaining focus and doing my best to push Jesus into the spotlight.  My reactions let me down, the temper tantrums distracted and the dang pillows all ended up looking ever so cute.

Guess what?  That is life.  Mistake after mistake will be made and there is grace enough for it all.  The one that came as a babe in a manger brought with himself an immeasurable amount of it.  Enough and then some, if you will.  So my church, or at least the one we've been visiting now, reminded me of what I will offer to that grace filled redeemer this Christmas.  Despite my obsession with pillows and the lack of a nativity scene in our home and regardless of all the left out traditions and family, I am asking myself what will I give to Jesus.  On His birthday celebration what gift do I want to present to His kingship?  Not a pillow.  Not a melted down candle or sparkling Christmas platter of cookies.  No.  He is the truer and better everything.  What would suffice, save all of me.  To press in, hold on a bit longer, trust when it doesn't seem reasonable, obey when it looks bleak and take the next step when I am too scared.  Yes. All of that.    The new year is upon us and we will be pondering that question as a family.  Mulling it over at the table, journaling and sharing our offerings for the year.  Our hopes and dreams and goals as we pray Jesus at the center of it all.  Because friends, He alone is the truer and better.  Everything.