Christmas Fail? But Charity Never Faileth

Christmas is four days away. I feel like a failure in each and every way, and yet I am so grateful for all the acts of love and service that others have given to us.

The Okayest Family has been quite ill for quite some time, and my to-do lists have been ashamed of themselves.

My Christmas tree has looked like this for over a week now:

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My Christmas decorations are still in their boxes in the basement:

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My presents are still not wrapped:

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And my dresser looks like this:

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(Okay, let’s be honest: my dresser always looks like that. It has nothing to do with sickness or Christmas, but we can just pretend, mmkay?)

I feel frustrated. I feel sad. I feel like I’m failing. I promised my oldest that he would sit on Santa’s lap at the church Christmas party, but we couldn’t go when my husband was still too ill to assist me in child-wrangling. My kids didn’t perform in the church Christmas program this Sunday for the same reason.

Things aren’t going smoothly, and I’m so tired, and I want to cry all the time. However, most every mother probably feels this way around this time of year. Besides, I’m just okayest; I know how to take things down a notch, right? (I’m no Pinterest mom, but I do want my kids to have a Christmas.)

I force myself to pick myself up and remind myself to count my blessings. It slowly is starting to work. I am so thankful that my husband has a secure job with paid sick leave. I am so grateful that we got to cut down the Christmas tree together (even if it is still outside), that we can afford presents (even if they aren’t wrapped), that we have a warm home with room for storage of luxuries like Christmas decorations (even if they aren’t hung up).

christmas cookies (2)So many people have shown me love and service lately, and it humbles me. Every time I feel like I am drowning in illness and exhaustion and undone to-do lists, someone else shows me love and service. My in-laws come to care for the children when we can’t, even if they subject themselves to heinous viruses. My mother comes to have a “Christmas craft day” with my kids, and brings her cookies to decorate and makes sure we at least get out the only decoration that matters: my great-grandma’s nativity.

imageFriends check up on me via text. Church sisters offer to put up my tree, substitute teach my Sunday School class of six-year-olds, bring dinner, and even haul my twins into the beige minivan when I can’t physically maneuver them. One friend even makes my kids some “shake it” sensory bottles when I go to her for advice about some specific behavioral problems.

My church sisters’ love makes my heart full. My Mormon friends each have more children than I do, and yet they always help. Mormon women seem extra good at serving in specific ways. They never say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Instead, they say, “I’m bringing dinner,” and, “I’m teaching your class.” Sometimes they don’t say anything, but just pick up that runaway twin. They will do things like this for people they hardly know. They have always done it for other sisters; they will continue to do it in the next town they move to. It’s not just for me. They are a great example to me. I will pay it forward someday … when the kids are in school? I know heaven smiles on these women.

A friend reminds me to think of the one thing I can do each time I get overwhelmed. Maybe today I can play some Christmas music to bring peace, and maybe tomorrow I can read to the children about the birth of Jesus. They won’t care if the door has no wreath and the presents are “wrapped” in a brown cardboard Amazon box.

Most of all, I can remember to be ever grateful for my miraculous little family that was created against all odds. We are together, and of course, that is all that really matters.

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Dear readers: I wish you and your family peace at this time of year. I hope you find it quicker than I have! I know Christmas can be hard for many of us for so many different reasons, but I hope that you have love in your life and peace in your homes. Much love to you all!

I Don’t Want My Kids to Be Happy

happiness sunlight Yeah, sorry, I did the ever-popular “Shocking Title to Get Your Attention” trick. (Aren’t I so trendy?) And now that you’re reading, hear me out.

Of course I want my kids to be happy, but that is not my most important goal for them. Happiness is not my aim, but it can be a welcome by-product of a life well-lived. I feel that if I teach them how to be good people, then they will naturally be happy. I am not raising them to make themselves happy. I want to raise them to make others happy first – to lose themselves in service to other people (and hopefully, to God). If they do these things, then I hope their own happiness will follow.

What is happiness anyway? As Bob Dylan sings, “I’m halfway content most of the time.” That’s good enough for Bob, and it’s good enough for me.

During my infertile years, I used to torture myself by watching “A Baby Story” on TLC. Remember that show? Kinda cheesy, makes you choke up, and every episode is the same? Yeah, that one. Each episode followed a woman through the last few weeks of pregnancy, then the birth, and then a bit of the newborn phase. At the end of each episode, the producers must have asked each set of new parents the same question: “What do you hope for your child for the future?” Invariably, each mother would respond, “I just want him to be happy.”

“I just want him to be happy.”

happiness car repairThe phrase just always rubbed me the wrong way. It would make me bristle. I felt like shouting at the TV (but that was probably because I was infertile and secretly hated that show but couldn’t look away). I would think, “If I were on this show, and if I were blessed with a baby, I would answer, ‘I want to raise him to be a good person. I want to raise him to be selfless and caring and a productive member of society.’”

I have always felt that if we raise our children with their own happiness as a goal, then we are setting them up for a lifetime of selfishness. I believe that true happiness is found from losing oneself, from thinking outwardly, and from service.

happiness work editOne of my best friends, a mother of five young children, says that whenever she gets stressed or overwhelmed or depressed, she immediately turns her thoughts outward. “Who can I serve? Who needs my help today?” She has no free time to give, and yet she is constantly looking out for others in her neighborhood and our church. She babysits when a mother has to go to the doctor; she brings meals to the sick; she gives rides. She manages to put her own family’s needs first, but they still get to see her service to others. She is a great example to me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson can, of course, say all of this better (i.e., more succinctly) than I can. He wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

happiness handsI agree. My purpose is not to make them happy; their purpose is not to be happy. I hope my children understand: If you are useful, honorable, compassionate, and make a difference, then you will give yourself the best shot at happiness. (Or at least at being “halfway content most of the time.”)

And now two of them are crying. They are not happy.