beautiful, creative, entertainment, family, gifts, gratitude, holiday, home, journey, parenting

My first Christmas Gift, of the season…

My heart is all a flutter these days as darkness blankets the world earlier and twinkly Christmas decorations span the city streets. Part of my adult heart still feels a bit surprised when evening brings such Christmas magic to life. Isn’t adulthood kind of like that? Each holiday season seeming to approach sooner, and never seeming to hold quite enough of those peaceful, magic-filled moments we crave… Maybe it’s just me. (It isn’t though, right???)

Being a movie lover, and a Christmas lover (Christmas itself and not the consumer induced frenzy of chaos and clutter that seems to misrepresent the season, anyway) I find that movies really do act as the glue which binds my season together. For roughly forty-six weeks of the year I am a pretty critical film watcher, with fairly high standards, but come early November I melt into that girl who loves nothing more than spending a snowy afternoon or at-home-evening in front of the fireplace with a Hallmark Christmas Movie on TV and a cup of something deliciously warm and comforting in hand. Sure, its cliche. I’m pretty ok with that. These are among the rare moments I have ever shared with my mother. This is the very description of many a Christmas season moments in our home, once my motherhood was the route of my journey. Of course though, Hallmark is not the only source of Christmas movies which hold my heart… I love so many, from the really funny ones (Christmas Vacation, Elf, Surviving Christmas, A Christmas Story) to the heart-layered-lovely ones (Step Mom, The Family Stone, The Holiday) and so many beautiful classics (Miracle on 34th st, Meet Me in St. Louis, The Bishop’s Wife)… Many of these fall on my must watch every year list, which naturally inspires one to wonder: does this girl do anything other than watch Christmas movies in November/December??? The answer to this, naturally, is sort of… They are almost always on, in the background. Sometimes I focus on them, sometimes they simply go about their two-hour time period bringing comfort, like an old friend, while I go about a work project, gift wrapping, card signing, baking, or mundane household chores.

If I am being honest though, I’d have to admit that my all time favorite Christmas movie is It’s a Wonderful Life. This Christmas is finding me at 41 years old. For as long as I can remember, my holiday seasons have held this movie as a part of life’s festivities. It never grows old and I somehow still manage to cry and draw kernels of wisdom and truth from George’s story, despite the fact that every inch of it is already stitched into my heart. Though Michigan may not be my favorite leg of this life’s journey, one thing I truly love is at Christmas time when we bundle up (because the weather here is usually pretty rocky on this day, and Ann Arbor seems to intensify the rockiness of the weather) and head to the Historic Michigan Theater for a Sunday December afternoon showing of It’s a Wonderful Life. The seats are snug and tiny, and every inch of our surroundings are rich with history and family sharing millions of moments just life the one we’re partaking in. The theater has both warm popcorn and beverages, and proceeding the film there is a jolly man playing the best of all fun Holiday jingles on a larger-than-life pipe organ. When ever I think of Christmas and the bits I truly love, this one always illuminates my mind first. The entire afternoon is sheer perfection.

I love my old school, time-honored favorites. I am a sucker for the new Christmas movies too. There are already two out, and I’ve seen them both. (Like I said, I am pretty die-hard about this whole Christmas movie thing. Speaking of Die Hard– ALSO a Christmas movie I love! ) The movie I am REALLY looking forward to this season is The Man Who Invented Christmas. (Fun fact sidenote: I also read A Christmas Carol every December)

The Man Who Invented Christmas tells the magical journey that led to the creation of Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer), Tiny Tim and other classic characters from A Christmas Carol. Directed by Bharat Nalluri (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), the film shows how Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) mixed real life inspirations with his vivid imagination to conjure up unforgettable characters and a timeless tale, forever changing the holiday season into the celebration we know today.

 

THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS releases in theaters on November 22.

As if it isn’t exciting enough, I also have a behind the scenes featurette to share!

So tell me, are you feeling in the mood for Christmas yet? Well… I have a little Christmas giveaway to add to the spirit. I would love to give one of you a Christmas movie DVD pack. I’m leaving the title’s a secret, BUT to make it fun- I will tell you that each of the three films has some significant tie to this movie The Man Who Invented Christmas! Intriguing, right? Entries end at Midnight Thanksgiving day!

To enter to win this awesome little package all you have to do is leave a comment RIGHT HERE, about your favorite Christmas movie. That’s it. (and yes, Hallmark movies COUNT! They totally do!)

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beautiful, books, entertainment, family, friendship, gifts, gratitude, journey, parenting

Her Children Will Rise and Call Her…

Decades ago there was a woman who identified herself as wife and mother. She had a heart for Jesus, and this would come to sustain her more than she may ever have imagined. It is easy, in such a role, to find yourself in the details of sack lunches, ironing shirts and after work embraces, greeting your husband at the end of his day. When her husband found himself unfaithful and interested in a life & family with someone else, leaving her and her four daughters, it may have been hard to imagine herself at all- for a minute…

These days this scenario is almost expected, and there are programs and plans to help. Decades ago, this was not the case. To be the left, carrying the load, well- I can only imagine she endured judgement and bigotry at times, at the hands of others maybe so trapped in their fear. An absent husband/father and the either compassion or disapproval of others will not put food in your daughters’ bellies, so this beautiful woman had no choice.

She rose.

In an era where men were still handed most opportunities, she marched into a bank and offered them herself. She presented herself with such honesty: this would be her first job, she was an abandoned single mom, she knew she would work hard, and she did. Many years later she would retire from that very same bank. Times were so different then that, truthfully, we may have a tough time even understanding how isolating and brave this all had to have been. While her friends were lunching and sharing in each others lives, this beautiful soul would miss class parties and the like, just to keep power on in her very modest apartment. These days single motherhood is such a thing, and working mothers are very common, but this story is more. Even though single motherhood and working motherhood are among the most common elements of todays society, the fact that this woman’s life fell utterly apart and she rose in the morning, rising to give her daughter’s life. Rising to create a life that was so full of something bigger than any dollar could buy.

Rising up and moving past is not something common these days either, but maybe that has never really been on trend…

Beyond that, any of us who have been parents for any point in time know that parenthood is hard. So hard, and going at it alone only multiplies that. This incredible woman raised four incredible women. Women who went on to raise incredible kids. While no one is perfect, these 5 women have set the standard for keeping family at the center of the vitalist of priorities, also in a time when family grows less and less important.

There is not a person out there who could not learn something life affirming from knowing these girls or their mother. These days, most of girls themselves find themselves grandmothers. Their family has seen illness, loss, struggle, death and heartbreak. The tragedy which altered their world at the start of this story did not cripple or eternally victimize these five women, though it could have. It did not create an opportunity for them to settle down and live off of charity. It did not inspire deep, life long rebellion and acting out. Did it devastate them? yes. This woman, whom I admire beyond words, worked hard every day for her family.  In rising above and with such courage, she planted the seeds which would grow what was necessary, in her daughters, to stand throughout the heartaches and struggles they would face. She fought hard, for her family. She prayed hard, for her family. She was in the trenches for these girls, without ceasing. What began as clothes on their bodies and heat in their home continued through dating, marriage, childbirth, some divorce, heartbreak, health problems and even burying one of her own beautiful daughters. She still stands strong for these girls and their children, and their children’s children. Having known this beautiful soul since I was sixteen, I have to believe that if we are earning “jewels in our crown”, in heaven, for the beautiful things we do on this earth, this woman is going to have a castle filled to the brim with jeweled crowns.

Her daughters continue her legacy, rising up and fighting for the ones they love. They are united, kind and supportive and their children have become this as well. Among them is so much success, many geographical locations and, at the core of everything, family.

When I was challenged to write about a woman, a heroine, whom I have known in life who has gone above and beyond, sacrificed and inspired, there was no one else I could imagine. I met this soul when I was sixteen, visiting her tiny apartment with her granddaughter, who was my friend. I had no idea the ways that this woman would be so important in my life. She has stood beside and fought for me more than any one I’ve had. She is tiny in stature and fierce in heart, even so much as going up against my husband 18 years ago for his own adultery and abandonment. There she stood, taking him on and this man of 5′ 11″ towered over this tiny little woman and yet the only thing he was feeling was terrified. She, one of her amazing daughters (who would become my mentor and one of my dearest friends) and her own mother made three of four people who attended my wedding shower, when the world I’d lived in had all but thrown me away. I have recovered from miscarriage in her home, cried on her shoulder, prayed beside her and had so much loving conversation.

Any popular story I hear about people moving great obstacles to accomplish bold things simply does not hold a candle to her, in my book. What she had to do (and really, when she had to do it) combined with how her own daughters turned into loving mothers, fierce advocates for their family, and wild supporters of others- that is everything right there. She is a heroine with an amazing heroic legacy.

There is a film releasing on the 31st called The Zoo Keeper’s Wife. (It is based on the novel of the same title, and you can see the trailer here.) It is the story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, a Christian couple who save and house hundreds of Jews during WWII. This not only an inspiring and life affirming story of heroism and faithfulness, but in a time such as this, it is a necessary story of humanity tearing down the walls of religion to help others, regardless of theirs. 

The world is scattered with brave souls, their beauty and their stories there for us to learn from and do with. I am so blessed by knowing this beautiful woman who I have shared with you. Who would you have written about? I would love for you to share. On the 31st, at 12:00 a.m., I will choose a winner (at random) to receive a $25 Fandango card… (comment additionally if you tweet or FB share to be granted extra entires.)

adoption, beautiful, confession, family, friendship, gifts, gratitude, home, journey

A house/A home…

I have the heart of a true dog lover…

When Chw and were young and a bit crazy, and two new kids living in upstate New York, we grew our little family with an adorable little roly-poly Golden Retriever puppy named Makaila. Makaila became the very best friend of our little Gen, when she came home to us.251415_10150202049326277_874492_n

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When Makaila was five years old, an adorable little newborn black and barely white puppy fell into our laps. We named her Paisley, for no particular reason other than I had dreamed of getting a puppy named Paisley the night before. Paisley was tiny and dependent and bonded to me very, very deeply. As she grew, my heart wrapped so tightly around that precious little dog.

In August of Makaila’s ninth year, we learned she had bladder cancer and in a very short amount of time she made her way across that rainbow bridge. We had her cremated and her ashes were scattered at a Christmas tree farm, which I still think is the loveliest of things…

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A couple of months later Paisley was lonely for a canine companion and we foolishly jumped at the first puppy we found. She is called Emma and she is a character. She and Paisley never hit it out. Emma can be funny, but she is seldom sweet and often her soul is more fire than love (in a sassy and prideful way, of course). She is the most un-dog any of us have ever known, she has made home what it is and we love her quirky ways all the same.

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Ironic as it seems, this past August was Paisley’s 9th year and she too found her way to the Rainbow Bridge. It was sudden and gut wrenching and a piece of me went with her. I think a piece of all of us, even little Emma, went too. She was the epitome of love in a dog. The most pleasing, comforting, loving, accepting, reassuring creature I have ever known…

Emma has had a tough time recovering the loss of the other canine presence. She lost herself a bit and is finally emerging. My husband assures me there will be no future dogs for us. My heart both sighs with relief at his words, and aches to beg for another.

I love my kids and they make the two of us a family, binding us together and bringing about rhyme, reason and purpose… But our dogs, our dogs have made our houses home. They’ve breathed life when the darker times convinced us there was none. Their wet noses have whispered love into the loneliest of moments and often been the only things that dragged me from the pits of a depression hell in the dark days.

Dogs make the world a better place…

Tell me about any pets you have loved?

Thanks to the release of the new film A Dog’s Purpose (based on a WONDERFUL film, of the same name), which opens on 1/27, I am happy to give away a $25 Fandango credit to one reader! The giveaway ends at Midnight on 1/26! To enter simply comment here with your story of a dog you’ve loved.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the trailer. And just in case you missed it, here’s a link to a post I wrote about their charity support.

beautiful, confession, entertainment, family, gratitude, holiday, home, journey, marriage

Togetherness… {A giveaway}

 

Oh Christmas Tree...I’m going to be honest… I have really struggled with writing this post. I wanted to talk about what Christmas means to me and how my faith plays a part in that. This is a timely post and while I deeply love both Christmas and my faith, and for me personally the two are intertwined, I am still on the cusp of what has been an incredibly difficult leg of my life journey. To sit here and tell you how much I adore Christmas, and this is why and this is how my family celebrates, seems so fake and contrived. Sure, we have traditions and we somehow managed to continue those traditions (for the most part) when we were apart last Christmas… But truthfully, I still cringe with so many raw and broken emotions when I think about last Christmas. It is almost like I had loved the season so deeply, and then we had a terrible break up and I feel like I can never look at it the same again…

What I want, this Christmas, is for that feeling to go away and for the magic to be restored. Before the horrible holiday season of 2015, my youngest daughter and I loved cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies. We all loved our trips to the city to watch black and white Christmas movies on the big screen. We bought special outfits to dress up in for our annual “family date.” Last year we had tickets to Newsies. Chw and Gen went alone, of course. On my wall of Playbills, that one hangs there screaming at me of all the mistakes I have made, ways I have both wounded and been wounded, and all that was broken when adulthood just got too hard.

For me Christmas means so many things, different things than they did before last December, but possibly that is simply a part of growing up. Whenever life is hard, or hurts, it seems like the holidays accentuate that. Two Decembers ago, we sat in a New Jersey hospital, afraid that someone dear to us would not wake up. Last December I unpacked my life in the last place I wanted to be, going through the motions of what I felt like I was supposed to be doing, while dying more and more, and more on the inside. Having a faith in Jesus gives my heart reason to celebrate Christmas. Having a faith in Jesus is perhaps the only thing that stopped me from not ending my life last Christmas day when I finally woke up to the reality of life crashing down all around me. Today, in this season, I am not one hundred percent clear about how my faith and the holidays fit together. I could write up some plastic piece which sounds right, and is something I probably would have felt 14 months ago. I don’t want to be that person. Last Christmas looms, in my mind, like the boogeyman. I feel overwhelmed with this need to make up for it, to make it better, to be better and to never be there again. Gone is the magic or sentiment of any beautiful Christmas before, as the shadow of last Christmas hides them all. The Hallmark movies were unbearable for me to sit through, and I saw this play out in Gen as well, though we both tried to force it for a while. It only feels like Christmas because of the sparkly tree and gift wrap. Unspokenly, for me, it all feels so terrifying and like I don’t belong.

It is that last little bit, which has navigated me through. It has driven me as I focus on acts of kindness towards others. We’ve sponsored a family, bought gifts for a young girl and I have tried so very hard to spread genuine kindness and cheer to an increasing number of people who want no part of either. Perhaps this bleak and overwhelming fear I feel is closer to what many feel, where Christmas is concerned.

For me Christmas means Togetherness… Together, an honest connection between my faith and my action. Together with friends and family, wherever we’re at, no fakeness needed. Together within myself. Allowing me to be right where I am at, not drowning within the sea of my expectations and personal disappointment. Holding it together, keeping it together, reaching out, connecting and moving through this season together in every possible way the word can be… Together with God, together with loved ones. Slowly glueing my pieces back in place.

In what has been the absolute worst year of my life, I have had a few bright spots. Two of these come in the forms of really lovely films I’ve had the privilege of writing a bit about before. I loved both of these movies a great deal.

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise follows Hillsong United as they share a bit of their journey both as a band, and individually. It is a moving showcase in the dark days we face, coupled with how God can truly do the unexpected in our lives. As I have said here before, Hillsong has played such a vital part in my year and growth. I truly love this movie for its authenticity and relevance.

Greater is the inspiring true story of college football player Brandon Burlsworth. His journey is one that taught me so much about my own faith and how I live my life. There are not enough things I could say…

BOTH films are releasing on Blu-ray/DVD Tuesday December 20th, just in time for Christmas. I am giving away a movie night bundle to a reader, including copies of BOTH films. Simply comment on THIS POST by December 20th, at 12 a.m. with what Christmas means to you, to be entered.

beautiful, confession, family, home, journey, parenting

The post about Dreams and Goals… {a giveaway}

 

greaterMy youngest is a senior in high school, this year! That is insane and incomprehensible, honestly. There are so many things about this which I am not ready for. What really overwhelms me is that next year I won’t be school supply shopping for anyone at home.

My older daughter Amanda has two school aged step sons. I love having a reason to peruse the back-to-school stuff again. It’s so fun and I want to simply buy all of the things. Of course I do not, but I want to. Crisp paper, colored folders and the air cooling a bit all play together well creating my favorite season.

Back to Gen and her senior year though- The entire school year ahead feels like a challenge. It’s her senior year and she made the decision to finish high school online. She has goals that involve college and a career in marketing, but staying in a traditional school seemed to be taking her farther from these goals. She’s also a young seventeen year old so it is quite possible that those dreams may change a few times over the months that follow. I know that I am trying to keep my heart afloat and not stress too much over the two semesters ahead. If it matters, my dream for her is simply that she finish school in a way she is proud of and that whatever happens between now and that cap & tassle day is the stuff that confidence is made from. If you’ve read here for long, you’ll remember it’s been quite a difficult journey for my wee girl. She deserves the best, I pray every morning that she will find belief in that, for herself.

That is one of the things I really loved about Brandon Burlsworth’s story in the film Greater. He shows us the value of, not just the goals and dreams themselves, but of the hard work that goes into them. As a mom I have a lot that I can do to make this heart vision I have for her a reality…

I’m partnering with Grace Hill Media this week in anticipation of the theatrical release of the film Greater. We would love to hear what challenges, goals or dreams you have as this school year begins. One lucky winner will receive a $25 gift card to WalMart, perfect for those school supply needs! Deadline for entries is Saturday August 27th at midnight.