Learning Dependence

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We took the month of December off of school, and boy did I need it.  We got through about 5 days of Advent readings.  I really dropped the ball in that area this year.

This year of tight schedules, running around, feeling like my new job was that of air traffic controller to these 6 kids and a husband in my house.  The margin available for error is small these days.  My errors, though, stay the same, and I’m constantly in catch up mode.

So I did what a lot of introverts do when they are over-spent.  I retreated, became introspective, reflective, and pretty much became a horrible friend.  I let commitments that meant a lot to me drop.  Through all that, one of my dearest friends was moving to the other side of the globe, and I could barely make myself return calls to her, because I knew those calls were setting up our “last goodbye” for a few years.  I didn’t want to say goodbye, so I retreated.  (We did eventually say goodbye, and I’m still recovering.)

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As I took the month to pause, and regroup, I found myself terrified by what I saw in me.  Writers block hit with greater force than it has in years.  I started to question God about some big things, and then I stopped showing up to hear his answers, because I figured I already knew what they were, and I didn’t like them.  I went into avoidance mode.

God, in his goodness, still pursued me.  He even still worked through me.  As I timidly walked into obedience in one area of my life, and started ministering to some other women, as well as my own daughter, I started having these amazingly deep conversations and was able to encourage people to seek Jesus’ face, as he is the author and perfecter of our faith.  Through these acts of ministry, God was relentlessly preaching to me, using the words that I was speaking to others.

I don’t think God gets angry when we quietly back up with timidity.  He is patient.  I find that with many of the women I speak with, they are afraid to pray what is really on their hearts.  They want to present their best to God, and appear before him unblemished.  They want to get their act together, and show God that they are listening and obedient.

Everything changed in my spiritual walk with God when I learned to present to God my ugly.  When I tell God the truth about my feelings.  When I show God my hardness.  When I question him out loud.  When I tell him that I’m stuck in this trap of feelings and fear, and I can’t get out.

Because he always gets me out of the trap.  And I never have done so on my own.  Hiding the fact that I get trapped in fear and self-sufficiency is just an act of pretense, and God wants intimacy.  My real father is an alcoholic, and our relationship over the years has it’s bulk in pretense.  He pretends he’s fine, for my sake.  I suppose he feels he is protecting me.  What he never seems to realize is that our relationship would grow if he would just share his struggles, instead of hiding them.  I see no point to a relationship based on lies.  I don’t like to pretend to have a relationship, with pretend information.

But in order to be honest with me, he has to be honest with myself.  I continue to find myself in his shoes, as I face God.  If I want to be honest with God, I must face the truth of the ugliness within myself.  And that is easier said than done.

I think God feels the same way.  I think sometimes when I avoid spending time with God, it’s because I’m weary of pretending that I’m good, or having the right words or the right attitude.  It’s just the lie that I have to be good, and show my good to God.

We don’t go to God to please him, but to be changed by him.  

If we go to God to present this person that we wish we were, then the relationship lacks depth.  It has no intimacy.  We must come out of the darkness, into the light, and share the parts of our heart that we’d rather not.

The ugliness in my heart that I was struggling through, and God wouldn’t let me hide, no matter how much I tried, was on the topic of dependence.  I’ll likely be writing about this a lot in the new year.  It goes back to when I was beginning to have good days after my car accident, and I prayed to God the silly prayer, “I’m getting better.  Pretty soon I won’t need you so much anymore.” Then I heard my pride, and my stupidity, and instantly repented.

So the question I’ve been asking for the last several months is “What does dependence on God look like when there is no crisis?” When I’m in crisis, I’m on my knees.  I’m asking God for the practical.  I can only handle the present.

But when the crisis is past, we take joy and pride in “getting our life back in order.” We work hard to make sure we aren’t put in a position of dependence again.

And it felt like God was asking me to step out in faith.  He wanted to use me for his purposes, and I knew, I knew that would mean trouble.  I know that would require dependence.  I was thoroughly enjoying “handling stuff” myself.  I was in a pattern of self improvement and taking steps towards independence.  I was failing, but not failing bad enough to really reach out for God as much.

Praying “Whatever you want, Thy will be done” when I was a preteen was fine and dandy.  It changed my life and God brought me into a world I had never even imagined.  As a teen, young adult, and even a married woman, I have learned to pray “Thy will be done” and open my arms to whatever God wanted to do through me.

But now I have 6 children.  They depend on me.  They hold such extreme value.  They are more precious to me than I could have imagined.  Must I also hold them up to the Lord and say “Thy will be done?” God turned my life upside down every time I have prayed that.  He turned it upside down in such a extreme, but life-giving way.  He changes everything.

But these are my children.

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And if I pray “Thy will be done” now, will he catch me?

I no longer wanted to be a writer.  I no longer wanted to reach many for the gospel.  I started turning inward, and it scared me.  I just wanted my quiet family to be safe and secure.  I didn’t want to become big, and live under the criticism of others.  I didn’t want my words overanalyzed, and mis-taken.  Being misunderstood through my writing has happened before, and it’s one of the most painful things I’ve lived through.  I’m not a good enough writer to avoid it.

I began to believe that if I were to hold my family, my writing, my all to the Lord, and say “Thy will be done” that one of my children would die.  I know that sounds crazy, but let’s be honest and let the crazy all hang out.  I saw so many people telling stories of God’s faithfulness during the hardest of trials, and if I wanted a big ministry, it would mean God would show up big, and the biggest way he could possibly do that is through the deepest hurts.  And that’s the greatest hurt that I could imagine.  Stories of mothers losing their children, and how God showed up started flooding my ears on a daily basis, taunting me.

So I stepped back.  I asked God for promises that if I gave him just me, he wouldn’t touch my children, and he gave me none.  He reminded me that my children are already his to do with as he wills.  He just asked me to trust Him, and his goodness.  My imagination paralyzed me.

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I know God is good.  I know he loves me.  I know he is present with me always, because his presence is so thick and gentle in the midst of my home that he cannot be avoided.  He continued to let me speak to others.  He continued to let me speak truth to my friends and women around me.  Every time I encouraged one of them, I was preaching the gospel to myself.  Every time I shared with them a verse, it was one that God was giving to me.

Faith is sometimes declared as a resolution. I have only experienced that in an emotional state, but from a spiritual-real-life-gritty perspective, I have learned that faith is never something that I can conjure up within me.  It is a gift that God places within me, and I slowly yield to it’s goodness.  Sometimes I feel like a hardened child, who slowly relaxes within the strong embrace of her Father, and when I take that shaky deep breath is the moment of faith.

My word for 2016 was Abide.

I think I could easily use that same one this year.  Though from a slightly different angle, the word I cannot escape for 2017 is it’s synonym: Dependence.

The last few months, I’ve joined a writing group called Hope*Writers.  It has become a huge new source of encouragement and iron sharpening iron.  I haven’t felt so supported in my writing and crafting well since I was in college.  One of the dear friends I have met there, Heather, who is also a writer, encouraged me with these words over our Voxer group.  I replayed them over and over, and wrote them down: “God gives us the grace to walk through hard things, but he does not give us the grace for our imaginations.”

We can live in the “what if.” But truly, living there is not living at all.  God gives grace for hard and concrete situations.  He will be with us in the dark, and in the pain.  But God will not give us a pretend-relationship. He will not give us the answers to all the “what-ifs.”  He simply says “follow me.” It’s faith.  Faith not that everything will be perfect, but that God’s grace will be greater, sweeter, and more sustaining than anything Satan can throw at us.

I’m going to be learning this year what dependence looks like in all circumstances.  It will be the focus of my personal study this year.

As you, dear friends, walk into the New Year as well, and examine resolutions, goals, and this past year, I’ll leave you with this quote shared I happened across yesterday:

“God is looking for people through whom He can do the impossible.  What a pity we plan only things we can do by ourselves.” -A.W. Tozer.  

Full Bloom

 

These harvest days are long.  Do you ever feel like parts of your to-do list gets squeezed out consistently?  I have made some very intentional decisions regarding my family in the last year or so in regard to how we homeschool, and have laid out all of my goals.  I knew going into this year that I would have to sacrifice more, and it would cut deep.  It was not thrust on me.  I made the choice.

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These harvest days, Knut is not often there to support me at home, and in addition, needs support from me more than he usually does.  (I’ve actually been horrible at supporting him this harvest.  I’ll blame it on having a little infant, but really he’s not the issue.)  This year we are doing Classical Conversations for a homeschool co-op.  It’s all day once a week, and for a few of my kids, it requires more focus and time-sensitive assignments into their education, which was sorely lacking.  It’s brought me into contact with some wonderful new mom-friends.  It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made for our kids’ education, as I feel like I have the support, inspiration, and accountability I need to really thrive in this area right now.

Last year my kids’ activities grew with such speed, that I was floundering, and this year I’ve decided to embrace this season and stop fighting it.  I’m glad I did, because the focus and attention they have demanded from me these last few months bloomed into this enormous job that at times overwhelms me.

My writing has suffered.

I have been praying many times that I would keep my writing in correct priority to all the other work God has prepared for me to do.  As writing feels like it is getting squeezed out of my daily life, I’m praying so hard that God would keep me sane.  I miss writing like a dear friend.  I miss writing so much it’s suffocating at times.  My writing life isn’t gone.  It’s just that part of the daily list that is consistently getting squeezed off.

As I’m writing this right now, I’m sitting on the floor, at the end of a hall in the YMCA, listening to an aerobics class blaring on the other side of the door.  My big kids are doing their Tae Kwon Do.  My little kids are in child watch.  I’m trying to get my brain settled since it feels like I had at least 3 kids speaking to me at all times, since I woke up this morning.  It wasn’t 3 kids fault.  They all participated in “Operation Overload Mommy.”  They took shifts.

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I’ve asked God, in my not-so-quiet-times, if I shouldn’t be writing right now, and if I need to let go of the blog, to give me a peace about that.  However, just the opposite has happened.  Every time I pray about it, ideas just keep flowing out so fast that I’ve actually gotten a notebook to quick notes to come back to and expand.  It happens whenever I dare approach the throne of grace on this issue.  Ideas keep flowing for a group Bible Study book that I’ve been attempting to write.  I have ideas for a podcast, and spend some of my time trying to learn the software for that.  Learning new technology is painfully slow for me.  I sense God’s calling on my life even stronger in this area than ever.

So I just keep living each day, and reminding myself of my priorities.  I have gotten more organized than I have in my entire life…entirely by survival necessity. I’m aiming for excellence in so many areas, and as I see this writing dream of mine get squeezed out of my days, the vision for what God wants me to do gets bigger.  I can’t quiet explain it, other than to assume that not every day will be like right now.

12 years into this mothering journey, I’ve learned one main thing: the rhythm is constantly changing.  

There are seasons of naps, seasons of no naps. I’ll have seasons of loneliness and seasons of overwhelming fullness.  There are seasons of full schedules, and seasons of lazy days around the house.  There are seasons of awe, and seasons of frustration.  Sometimes the seasons are years.  Sometimes they are days.  Sometimes they feel like mere hours.

It seems I’m not allowed to give up my dreams, even though they’re not fitting so well in my current season.  As many times as I offer them up to God, he keeps growing them.  He keeps reminding me that he has not forgotten, and it’s not time yet.

So friends, the writing is coming slow, but I still relish in hearing from each of you.  I do try to pop over on Facebook and Instagram when I can.  Waiting on God is ridiculously simple right now as I’m too busy to wonder when I’ll have time for something.  But it’s just the season.  I’m not quite sure how long this season will last, or how quickly I should expect to switch gears.  Thankfully, I don’t need to know.  All I have time to do is to try to do the season in which I find myself as well as God’s grace allows.

Don’t give up on me, friends.  Feel free to email me or touch base on social media if you need to reach out to a friend.  I’m not always able to write back, but I always say a prayer for you.

6 Ways to Get your Kids to Do Their Work

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It is literally the hardest part of homeschooling.  Sometimes you have a child who just loves schoolwork like it’s chocolate.  They are delighted to sit at a desk, sharpen those pencils, and neatly write out their assignments.  They are eager and say, “Yes, Mommy.” or “Yes, Ma’am.”  They like things to look as school-ish as possible.

Then there’s the kids who look up at you, after you give them a fun and enthusiastic introduction to their assignment and they say: “No.  I don’t want to do that.”  They stare up at you with daring eyes that say: “Make me.”

Ever been there?  Ever have that child?

I have been there more times than I can count.  I have blamed it on curriculum and changed a billion times.  I’ve tried every method in the book.  Here’s what works.

1) Pray.

Pray for wisdom for both yourself and your child.  Remember, the Holy Spirit has access to your child’s heart that far exceeds your reach.  Pray for the right words, the right attitude, and a prepared heart.  Pray for eyes to see every situation as an opportunity to teach what needs to be learned that day, (whether or not it’s on the lesson plan).

2) Rule out learning problems.

I have learned that 90% of the time, when one of my kids says something is dumb, or I’m being mean, there’s a problem they are facing that I can’t see.  “The issue is not the issue” is a phrase I learned at a camp where I used to work.  It’s usually dyslexia is rearing it’s head, or they can’t see the page and need glasses, or they just plain forgot how to do it and don’t want to get into trouble and will misdirect.  Learning disabilities often look like laziness, because the kids don’t always know that the problem they are facing has solutions if you just knew about it.  But they get ashamed and will hide it.  Give them the benefit of the doubt and rule this out.  Doing this also helps you grow as a teacher, as you research left-brained vs. right-brained learning techniques, or exercises you can do together to get over humps in learning.

Edited to add:

Also take into account the maturity of your child.  I think among my circles, the most frustrated moms in this area are attempting to get 4 year olds to spend 5 hours in school to “get them ready.”  School is something fun and optional in our house until about age 7.  That’s the way Finland does it, it’s the way that some of the best minds in education recommend.  So in the early years we focus on quality play and character building.  With this system, some of my kids were reading chapter books before age 7, and some started reading just then, but built some pretty stellar Lego creations in the meantime, and started math 3 years ahead of their peers.  Please, please, please don’t force a little 5 year old to sit at a desk all day long, and when it falls apart say that homeschooling isn’t for you.  Let the kids play, and take into account the amount of work the maturity of your child can handle.  Maturity is one of those things that cannot be forced.

3) Think outside the box.

Do math in the treehouse, and jumping jacks during spelling.  Hold contests, set timers, be silly.  Sitting and writing all day is about the most boring way to learn, and unless your child is that unique one that is wired that way, don’t do it.  There are a million games out there, a million ways to learn and do things, don’t restrict yourself to the most boring, and consider that good teaching.  It’s not doing anyone any favors.

4) Let consequences fall.

This is my personal least favorite, and yet, I find myself back here over and over again.  Let’s say that you started your day with prayer and you’ve worked through the learning issues.  You bought the kid glasses.  You have a fun lesson planned, and the child looks up and you and says, “No.”

It’s times like this that I want to send my child to public school, just to show them that they MUST do school, and all the other kids HAVE TO do school, and while they can do it in a box or with a fox, or in the house with a mouse, they will do school one way or the other.  I have not yet done that, but I’m not ruling it out.

However, this isn’t something you are doing wrong.  This is your child’s choice.  He or she is making a bad choice.  Choices have consequences.  One of the common things our kids miss is the morning snack time.  If their morning work isn’t done by 10am, then they don’t get their snack.  Turning in your work is your meal ticket.  The same goes for lunch.  Sounds mean, but if you don’t work, you don’t eat.  If your afternoon work isn’t done, you have to stay in your room until it’s done while the rest of the family gets to go outside and play.  Family movie night?  That stinks.  Your work isn’t done, so you’ll have to be in your room while the rest of us who did our work enjoy the movie and eat popcorn downstairs.

Nothing gets me worked up as a mother, and flares my temper more than my child feeling entitled to all that is around him/her.  

I plan lots of fun things.  I want us as a family to work hard and play hard.  But when you don’t work, you don’t get the reward.  Plain and simple.  School is their job, just like teaching is mine.

I have found that the child will quickly shift blame to me when this happens, as though I’m just being mean.  The more in control I am with my emotions, the more I can get the message through that they have bad consequences from their bad choices.  The more you remove bad consequences, the more entitled they will feel.  Let the punishment fit the crime as often as possible.

This is hard because it will effect the whole family.  Sometimes the family has to stay home from a field trip because one child is making a bad choice.  Sometimes you miss out on date night because one child is acting up.  Sometimes you miss out on your down time because they finally come to their senses when you finally sit down with a cup of tea.

The fact is, it’s not just a bad choice, it’s sin.  Sin hurts other people.  Their sin is hurting you, and others, and as a family, we have to pray for a forgiving spirit.  You can try to contain that hurt as much as possible, but the fact remains: sin hurts others and yourself.  It never just hurts yourself.  When your child sees that, it will make a lasting impact as well.

5) Grab a leadership partner, outside the home.

Our kids’ Tae Kwon Do instructor is amazing.  I have sent her desperate texts more than once, and she has spoken with my kids more than once.  Other parents have a Sunday School teacher, or baseball coach or piano tutor that their child really respects.  When you and your spouse are pulling out your hair, wondering if you are actually crazy, and why can’t you get through to this kid, grab another adult that your child respects to chime in.  Whether it’s a psychologist or pastor, let them know that work is not optional is a universal concept, not just one in your home.  Concepts like respect should be consistent in all of your child’s activities.  When your child sees that work is not only necessary to get the perks in your home, but it will start effecting their baseball, their dance, or their gymnastics, they often snap out of it.

6) Weep with those who weep.

While movie nights and participation in sports is conditional in our home, love is not.  It’s so important that my kids know that my love for them is unconditional.  However, they will try to convince me that love means that I will do whatever they want and make their life easy and perfect.  That’s not love.  We must teach them the definition of love from a Biblical perspective, not a feel-good (feelings) perspective.  When my child is crying because he/she doesn’t want to do something, I will come beside them and hug them, saying I know it’s hard.  When they have to stay home from something because they couldn’t get their work done on time because they refused to do it for 3 hours, I will cry with them.

I remember what it felt like to realize that I failed a test, or I didn’t get my homework done in time.  It’s this pit in your stomach, and you feel awful.  When what you did sinks in and the shame is overwhelming, it’s amazing to have someone next to you, with their arms around you saying “This stinks.  But I will walk it with you.”

This is will make blaming you for their choices nearly impossible.  It solidifies in their mind the fact that their choices produce good or bad consequences.  It also solidifies that you will love them and be there for them through thick and thin.  You will be there with them in the movie nights, and you will be there with them when they are grounded in their room.

Once, a child of mine was sent to their room after mouthing off to us after they realized that their misuse of time would prevent them from going to a birthday party.  There were many tears.  I brought them up their supper on a tray, with a little flower on it.  I brought them their food, and said at the door, “I thought you might be hungry.  I know this is a huge disappointment.    I’ll be available downstairs to help you finish so that tomorrow can be a fresh day without you being behind.  I hate it when I realize that my laziness has cost me something too.  I know what you’re going through.”

Weep with them.  Comfort them.  That’s completely different than removing all consequences.  It’s walking through consequences with them, and takes them completely off guard.

Walking through it with them will cost you something.  It will hurt sometimes.  Let’s not forget that love = sacrifice, and laying your life down for another takes many forms.  However, this love and compassion is one of the most powerful forces on earth.

No education would be complete without it.

Family Day

There are somethings that are important, and yet they never make it to the calendar.  I want my kids to know where they come from, know why certain traditions are important, and understand that their lives are part of a bigger picture than just them as an individual.

Enter: Family Day.

It’s an idea I grabbed from The Life-Giving Home book.  The idea is to take one day a year as a family and reflect on your family history, share stories, pour over photo albums and scrapbooks, and end the day with taking your own family pictures.

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Ours didn’t go quite according to plan, but it was worthwhile nonetheless.

I scheduled our family pictures, but due to the fact that my kids are covered in mosquito bites at the moment, I decided to delay.  Our photographer was dealing with some sick kids too, so it all worked out.

But I decided to press forward anyway.

Then Knut said that he couldn’t get out of farm work that day, but I decided to press on anyway.  In hindsight, I should have delayed for the weekend, since the photographer was the main appointment on why I had picked that day.  But at that point, I had already arranged to meet with various grandparents, and I didn’t want to rearrange all of that.

The day started out with a big showdown between Knut and one of the kids.  This kid was having a meltdown, and Knut was desperately trying to hold him/her together so I could have this big day I had planned.  I finally told him to just go to work, and let this child figure out that they were missing out.  We just started without.  About an hour later, the child joined us as was fine the rest of the day.

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So while that was going down in the kitchen, the other kids and I were up in my bedroom, where I have a little cabinet filled with all the family trinkets, awards, albums, etc.  I just brought out all the scrapbooks and photo albums and the kids spread them out all over the bedroom, and were asking questions.  I was answering the questions with stories, and the kids were getting more and more delighted.  The giggles and laughter are what brought the cranky child back to us (after their morning chore was finally completed).

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We did face-time with my mom down in Arizona, and she shared stories of when she was growing up in Japan as a missionary kid.  She talked about the 12 hour train rides alone to her boarding school in Tokyo, and how lonely she got.  She told some funny stories too.  When they were recently up here, she was nearly non-stop storytelling.  My kids love a good family story.

After that we drove over to Knut’s parents house, where my mother-in-law had surprised us with a gorgeous tea-party laid, and told the kids about the time she broke her wrists as a preschooler, and how they would dress up their kitties.  After our snack we went to another table, where there were photo albums and she told us story after story about the people that she remembered in them.

We went home after that, had some lunch, and had our quiet time.

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After quiet time, we headed out to Knut’s paternal grandfather who is now 100 years old.  His mind is still as sharp as a whip, though he can’t see much anymore.  The kids gathered around him, and he shook all of their hands with a big smile on his face.  The kids asked him questions.  We learned one of his chores growing up was helping his dad milk their 12 cows.

Silje has been learning to play the violin.  This last year she grew into a full sized violin, and as Knut and I have been debating whether or not we should rent one, or if it would be smarter to buy her one, a cousin of Knut’s offer to let Silje use the old family violin (that officially belongs to him) until we decide.  He was excited to have the instrument be used again instead of in storage, as instruments are made to be played.  This family violin is a bit beat up, but still gorgeous.  It belonged to the father of this 100 year old grandpa that we were visiting.

So we asked him where his dad bought the violin.  Did he bring it over from Norway?  He said that his dad purchased the violin in Minneapolis…for $15.  When we got home and told Knut that, he wondered out loud how big of a splurge that must have been.  He wondered what that would be compared to the price of a plow back then.  Next time we go into visit Bestefar, we’ll have to ask him how much a plow would have cost back around the time the violin was bought to get a better idea of the extravagance of such a purchase.

Bestefar, (that’s what Knut calls him.  The kids call him “Oldefar” which he prefers they do.  It’s Norwegian for “oldest grandfather” or “great-grandfather”) well he got to hold Bjorn for a few minutes, and spoke to him in Norwegian for a bit.  Since family members who speak Norwegian better than me weren’t there, I had to ask him for a translation.  Basically he was telling little Bjorn that he had gotten so big since last time, and he thought that he was going to grow into a big, strong man like his father.

After that we went to visit Knut’s grandmother on his mom’s side this time.  She lives in a different nursing home.  We were so blessed that she was very alert and able to talk that day.  Many times when we visit her, she’s so confused that she can’t speak, or she will start the first few words of a sentence, and then get lost, and when she realizes she’s lost, she gets frustrated or sad.  Sometimes she doesn’t talk back at all.

When we showed up, she was alert, and greeted the kids.  She was able to answer so many questions that they had.  I haven’t seen her this good in months, so I felt like that afternoon was just a special blessing from God for our special day.

I was able to draw some family trees for the kids, so they could learn who their cousins were and who their second-cousins were, and how to tell the difference on the family tree.  I was going to do more with them, but I was getting tired near the end of the day.

It wasn’t a physical tired, though I know I have reason for that.  I wasn’t expecting family day to be so emotionally exhausting.  

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It didn’t occur to me that looking at pictures of people I have loved who have died, and holding tender gifts from family members I haven’t seen in many years, though they are still alive, thinking about my nieces and nephews who I haven’t seen in over a year, living so far from my family who were just here visiting me.

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It was all emotionally exhausting.  I cried more than once.  Once in front of the kids because it just spilled out.  2 all out cry-fests when they were resting.  When you grow up in a broken home, or when people you love have passed away, even recalling the good stories can bring tears.

And yet, I don’t regret it.  

Family day was one of the best things I think I have done as a mother, and I hope to make this a yearly tradition.  There were so many stories we didn’t get to.  I feel like we just scratched the surface of all I wanted to do.  Talking about loved ones who are gone, sharing both the good stories and the bad, so there’s a balance to their perception, was so rewarding.  So deeply hard, but so rewarding.

I can’t wait to do this again next year.  Hopefully with time, I will be able to pull off a Family Day without crying.  It was probably a good thing I rescheduled the family pictures that night!