WFMW: 6 Things You Don’t Have to Do This Season

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We don’t have to do it all.

Here are 6 practical things you can leave off your list this holiday season.

 

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1. Send out Christmas cards- I was feeling stressed about this and I can’t tell you how freeing it was to just let it go. I am not sending cards this season. Instead, I’m sharing a family picture on social media and that will have to be enough.

2. Go Into Debt-Just don’t. It’s not worth it. Cut back, give acts of service or time if you don’t have the money. Be the gift. Don’t keep paying and paying for the gifts all year long.

3. Spend a lot of time and money on gift wrap-We are talking about something that ends of up in the trash. Cheap paper works. And I’m not even doing bows this year. Scandalous. Let your kids help. Let go of perfection.

4. Continue to Consume-I made it a goal this year to stay out of the Christmas section of the stores. I’m using the decor and ornaments I have. Did you know Americans spend a whopping 6 billion dollars on Christmas decor and lights alone every year?

5. Buy Junk- Instead of buying gifts that won’t last or don’t mean a thing or one more iTunes or Starbucks gift cards, choose gifts that give back. I love these fair trade gift ideas (that have quick, free shipping for Amazon Prime members):

6. Feel Guilty. We are making a conscious effort to do less this season. I refuse to feel guilty about my hodgepodge tree with handprint ornaments. Our kids get 3 gifts from us and it is more than enough. Simplicity feels good, don’t let guilt ruin it.

That Time We Went to Paris in December

Every time we fly to or from Kenya, we have a layover in a different country. So far, we’ve seen the inside of the London, Amsterdam and Istanbul airports.

We use a humanitarian travel agent who gets us discounted tickets (we pay for our children) and when she emailed that our layover would be in Paris this time, I sort of hyperventilated. And then when she said it didn’t cost a dime more to spend the night in the city of love, I headed straight for Expedia to look up cheap hotel rooms for a couple of nights. Because I’m wild and crazy like that.

What I didn’t do was figure out how to get out of the airport once we landed at zero-dark-thirty. Our deal of a hotel room was actually more than an hour from the city in the French countryside.

We might have been *thisclose* to a family fight in the Paris airport. Thankfully, there was a bakery and chocolate-filled beignets that CHANGED MY LIFE.

Or at least my attitude.

We finally braved the confusing train system, to which my kids asked over and over? Why does it smell like pee and cigarette smoke everywhere we go?

Ahh, Paris.

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AAannndd four hours later we found our hotel room in a 17th century farmhouse-turned golf course, completely vacant, because who golfs in the dead of winter? We don’t, but we did get a cute apartment and had a lovely (expensive) traditional french “winter lunch” that I’m still dreaming about. Oh, Expedia. And Euros, you have a way of surprising us. Apparently, I’m very motivated by food.

And who can blame me? Our family got food poisoning at the Mercy House graduation ceremony and we ended up having Ramen Noodles on Thanksgiving Day. Ahhh…. memories.

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The fun thing about visiting a country in which you cannot speak ONE word of the language is boundless. And also, my husband’s impersonation of a French man over lunch. Ooh la la.

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So, after a good night sleep and by that I mean, we fell into bed. We did all of this in one day:

We visited the Arc de Triomphe, the oldest, largest arc in the world built by Napoleon. It was bitterly cold.

I had three pair of pants on in case you’re wondering.

I know, impressive.

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And then we got back on the underground train and when we walked up the steps, this was our amazing view:

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Oh, but we didn’t stop there. We decided to climb the Eiffel Tower. Oh, my children, they do not get their energy from me.

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Because I nearly died on this step:

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The view from step 700 and something:

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Our day was just getting started, next we stopped at the historic, cathedral Notre Dame.

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This was such a sacred, holy place.

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And the stained glass story telling of our Savior?  I WILL NEVER FORGET IT.VpF8rTybwkPAXtqitzxKmtC4LqaRoxm3nmz-a2XkEjE

Our final stop of the day/night (which definitely pushed our exhaustion level to a whole new level) was the incredible Louve Museum. We didn’t have time or energy, but we needed to see this lady:

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To which my 6 year old kept saying in a weary whisper, “Who is Mona anyway??”

Paris in December? I highly recommend it.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas

It’s strange to return from November on the Equator to December in full swing in the Lone Star. To an unlit house, undecorated tree, unwrapped gifts. And six days of unturned Advent pages.

Motherhood and Christmas go together. It’s mostly up to Mom to hang the stockings over the mantle with care, to make the house happy and bright, to play Santa if she so chooses, to handle the wrapping and coordinate the baking and to keep Christ in Christmas…. It’s a pleasure and pressure pot, all this merry-making.

And throw in hectic calendars, three school band concerts this week, a 6 year old turning 7, a basketball game and the emotional ups and downs that sometimes accompany the holidays… oh, and jury duty on a Monday.

It’s enough for an undoing.

“Mom, we are so behind on Christmas,” my 6 year old said as I stood over an intimidating pile of unwashed laundry and unpacked suitcases.

She wanted to do the things of Christmas. And I was about to come unraveled.

Her words matched my own holiday To Do list, the one that reminded me that if we were really going to capture the magic, we would have to chase it down, and fill our days with pin-worthy recipes and memory-making and house-decorating, shopping and crafting, parties and handmade gifts in recycled jars.

She precariously carried a box of ornaments from upstairs where they’d been sitting since November-something. Itching to catch up, I opened the plastic lid and held a red glass Santa, a favorite from my childhood. And it slipped right thru my fingers and shattered.

Into a thousand bright pieces against the unforgiving tile.

Broken.

It left me feeling shaky.

It left me looking around for something stable.

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My oldest rushed into the room frantically looking for her winter scarf that matched the cozy sweater that went with the tall brown boots. She turned the house and the atmosphere upside down as only a teen girl can do and before I could say ho ho ho, it was a winter storm of attitude and anger.

Peace, it’s what I crave. Not just in my home, but in my heart this Christmas.

Peace that says Rest.

Stop.

Don’t Do.

Be. Still.

Because this year, I’ve decided we won’t catch up. We won’t mark it all off our list. We won’t get the best cyber deals or go ice skating at the mall (thankfully). We won’t make homemade ornaments or trim our tree to be magazine worthy. There won’t be an Elf on our Shelf.

We will be behind this Christmas.

But isn’t that was followers do…stay behind? They are led. By a Leader. The One searchers found swaddled in a barn, born to die. To be the gift we unwrap this Christmas.

And He is saying Peace, be still. Not as the world gives, but as I give.

I swept up the glass on the floor and asked this Savior born in a messy stable and a broken world to give me a stable home this Christmas.

To fill me with peace, not more pieces, to quiet the raging, waiting list and help me focus on the unending gift of His presence. The Present.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas With Your Children:

1. Do less Stuff: Resist the urge to do it all. You don’t have to make all your gifts, compete with the neighbors, be Mom of the Year this season. It’s easy to get so tangled in the festivities that we are left exhausted and undone. I remember having a meltdown one year because I missed a couple of devotions on the Advent Calendar with my children. Oh, y’all. Christmas is not about doing and I’ve learned that the hard way.

2. Be the Gift: Want to bless those in your life? Want to give your kids the most memorable gift ever? Be the gift. Give your love and time. Turn off the distractions and live.

2. Stop Keeping Up: I’m not visiting Pinterest these days. Once I decided I can’t keep up with all the perfection of matching Christmas pajamas and hand stamped gift wrapping, the desire to keep up left me. We can get so wrapped up in doing Christmas, we miss the true meaning altogether.

3. Seek Peace: If you long for peace this season-in your home and heart- find Jesus. If you’re kids need peace, your marriage, He’s there. That’s where we will find peace.  Jesus is Peace.

4. Be Still: I love Ann’s new Advent Devotional, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. If I could recommend one resource, this is it:  It’s short, daily, doable chunks of inspiration (even if we are days behind). It’s a moment for our family to connect around the table, add an ornament to our simple Jesse Tree and pause our busy lives. I especially love the fill in the blank spaces for reflection.

5.  Be Led: Instead of following our culture down a sparkly-lighted path that demands more is more, be a follower. Be a disciple of Jesus, our leader. The great thing about our children is they will generally follow where we lead. He will guide us if we let Him.

Sometimes life can feel precarious and uncertain this time of year.

The only way to remain unshaken is to start at the stable.

A Wedding to Remember

Kenyan weddings deserve their very own post.

When Maureen visited us in America in January 2013 for meetings and speaking engagements, a generous friend of mine secretly took Maureen and I wedding dress shopping.

Because we knew (hoped) this day was coming a few months later. I had the honor of being there when the big question was asked.

Over the past few years, Maureen and I have had many Skype conversations praying and talking about her future husband, someone for her to share her life and calling with. And so, we knew if we could arrange the delicate timing of our next trip, it needed to include one very special Kenyan wedding.

And after Maureen lost her beautiful mother suddenly in June and asked if I would stand in as Mother of the Bride, I knew we had to be there.

Y’all.

You haven’t really celebrated joy until you’ve attended a Kenyan wedding. The day started very early in the lasted until sunset. And there was a lot of waiting for the bride to make her special appearance. It can sometimes take a bride up to an hour to s-l-o-w-l-y walk down the aisle. Thankfully, Maureen has too much spunk for that.

Here we are waiting…

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Here comes the bride (just a few seconds of what went on for HOURS):

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Then there was dancing and singing and more dancing and more singing. And we repeated this about 27 times.

Possibly the world’s cutest flower girl and ringbearer (the two firstborn babies of Mercy House):
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I mean, SERIOUSLY.

The Mother of the Bride got to take care of Precious and Travis. It was hard work! I might have fed them tick tacks and Pringles the entire ceremony. After Travis had about 12 chips, he started to lick the salt off and pass them down the row. Awesome.

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The Mercy House babies loved dancing (as well as several hundred other guests!)

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Maureen was a stunning bride. And her joy was evident.

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Dear Maureen and Oliver,

What a day! Thank you for sharing your amazing day with us. You are an example of purity and  faithfulness-a beauty for ashes story-to the girls at Mercy House. You’ve given them a fairytale to look forward to someday. We pray God blesses your union and His face continues to shine on you.

Love,  the Welch family

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The bride and groom presented a cake at the reception to our family and the residents of Rehema House.

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And then we danced some more…

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And just because, this needs to happen again:

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Photos by my friend and photographer, Suzanne Box

WFMW: {Guest Post} Easy Holiday Parties

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I work with a group of middle school students and adults at church, and despite the fact that December will make me eight months pregnant, I’ve decided to invite them over for a Christmas party.

Of course, being the slightly crazy person I am, I immediately clicked over to Pinterest – where my eyes quickly glazed over as visions of gift bag tags and tiered appetizer trays danced in my head. Thankfully, I quickly came to my senses and remembered, Hello! Middle school students. And eight months pregnant!

So while I’m still excited to invite my team over to celebrate Christmas together, I’m reigning in my tendencies to go overboard and get overwhelmed. Planning a fabulous party without losing my mind? Yep, that works for me!

I actually wrote a book about planning parties that’s part how-to and part manifesto on preventing the very event planning craziness I’m prone to myself. I’m taking a page out of my book and following these tips for an easy Christmas party.

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Thinking of My Guests First:

  • My first [brilliant] idea was to hold a cookie exchange for my church friends. But then I remembered that two-thirds of my guests are kids and the cookie-making responsibility might fall to their parents . . . who might not be too thrilled with adding that to their holiday to-do list. So instead, I’ll make a big batch of cookies [probably the slice-and-bake variety] and have them ready to serve my guests.
  • While it’s easier for me to invite people to a party at a specific time, I know how busy the holidays are for everyone. So I’ll make my party an open house and welcome guests anytime they can drop by on a Saturday morning and afternoon.

Serve Simple Food:

  • The kids I work with love peppermints, so I’ll make sure to have a big bowl of those – and then follow a red and white theme for the rest of the food.
  • Kids and busy adults alike seem to enjoy finger foods (I know I do), and these things should keep decently throughout a longer open house: Pizza Poppers, chips and salsa, brownies with peppermint Hershey’s kisses, and a veggie tray. If I’m real ambitious, I might even make candy cane shaped rice krispy treats – but I’m playing that one by ear. (Remember? Eight months pregnant. Not losing my mind.)

Choosing Streamlined Decor:

  • In my book I talk about using the Rule of Threes for party decor. Pick a theme, then use it with one larger decoration and two smaller ones.
  • I’m planning a candy cane theme (to go with the peppermints). While I may or may not get my tree up and decorated before the party, I’ll hang some candy canes (such a budget-friendly decoration!) from greenery on top of my blinds and on a few shelves.
  • Then I’ll serve our food on red platters (like this Jesus is the Gift plate from DaySpring) and red and white paper goods (like these adorable Peanuts Christmas plates and napkins). And I’ll tie little candy canes to their gift bags.

Just like that, I’ve got a fun (might I even say fabulous?!) party – and I didn’t have to go crazy or spend tons of money or time. Planning fabulous parties without losing my mind works for me!

Mary Carver 1

And I’d like to help you do the same. I have a discount code just for We Are THAT Family readers, taking 80% off my ebook. Just use the code WFMW between now and December 31, and you’ll receive Plan a Fabulous Party {without losing your mind} for just 99 cents!

Mary Carver is a writer, believer, wife, mom and recovering perfectionist. She writes about her imperfect life with humor and honesty, encouraging women to give up on perfect and get on with life at www.givinguponperfect.com. And she’ll give you a free ebook about romance and real life when you subscribe to her blog.