Wednesday, December 24, 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year

Wow, where to start? Today was awesome and fun and busy and hectic and tiring and amazing. Perhaps the best Christmas Eve of all time! Today was about as "typical Kelsey" as a day can get. It felt good!

This morning I meant to get up super early and get a lot done. Did that happen? Nope. Slept in until 6:30 at first, when I discovered Kimmy standing at the foot of the bed playing with my blanket. I'm still unclear whether she was awake or sleepwalking. I told her to get back in bed, and then I didn't get up until 8:00! I took a shower and got completely ready and had to go coax her out of sleep because she was so knocked out. Got her dressed, and our day officially started!

First, we hopped in the car and drove through McDonald's for a lazy-mom breakfast. Then we went to my work, so I could do payroll real quick and for Kimmy to meet a few of my coworkers. You never know what a toddler will do, so I certainly didn't expect Kimmy to waltz right in confidently and hold up her foot to show my coworker her Cinderella light-up shoe. LOL! So random. She happily ate her McD's breakfast and acted like she was perfectly at home in the office with Mommy.

Once we finished up there, it was off to Indy for free admission day at the Children's Museum. We had never been because it's not really in our budget, so I thought free day was a good time to go. Parking was also free, which is a major winner in my book.

We got there a little before 11:00am, and holy crap it was packed. Not just buzzing, but PACKED. If I had claustrophobia, I would not have made it out of the parking garage. I vowed not to let myself get too stressed out (it's really hard to take a young child somewhere all by yourself and not be intimidated or nervous), keep a strict eye on the Kim-bird at all times, and have fun.

And have fun, we did! Actually, "fun" is an understatement. There was so much to do! Kimmy loved everything--the dinosaur and train play tables, the musical instruments, water table, sand, drawing with chalk, the holiday displays, the giant polar bear on the 2nd floor (which we had to go back to 4 times because she was so enthralled), dinosaur bones, blown glass with plastic play versions for kids, the big train car you could walk through, the play castle near where Santa was, and, heck, even the hand dryers in the bathrooms and ramps to and from each floor--and I loved watching her have fun. She had a blast! We probably walked 2 miles seeing everything.

After the first hour of exploration, we got in line to meet Santa. We waited less than an hour, I think, but it was exhausting. There were kids running around everywhere, people getting in and out of line for bathroom breaks and phone calls and who knows what else, and Kimmy was starting to feel tired. I basically split the wait time between watching her like a hawk and grabbing her anytime she tried to run off and holding her on my hip, so she could lay her sleepy head on my shoulder and rest. Hard manual labor with a 30-lb. toddler.

We finally made it to the front of the line, and the much-anticipated first-ever Santa meeting took place. Kimmy LOVED Santa. She was mesmerized. She whispered, "Wowwwwwww." as she walked up to him. (She also stuck her foot up and showed him her Cinderella light-up shoes. They are apparently her most beloved possession right now.) She sat still as a statue as I snapped a picture of her with Santa Claus. She was starstruck and completely in awe. So hilarious to watch her reaction! Also, this Santa was the best ever. He was 100% in character and didn't show the slightest annoyance at any of the children or 4 hours of non-stop photo opps. Very impressive.

We hung out at the museum until 1:00, when Kimmy was just too tired to go on. We never made it to the 4th floor to ride the carousel, but luckily the Jay-jee wasn't even aware there was one up there! Before we left, though, we went to the gift shop. I have to say that I am a pro at finding the coolest cheap things to get at museum/aquarium/zoo gift shops, and this was no exception. I'm pretty proud of that skill. But what made my finds even better was the nice mother in the line next to me who used her museum member pass on my purchase to save me 15%. It was such a nice gesture! In my opinion, the best moms are the ones who help each other out and have each other's backs. I hope mystery mom and her kiddos have the best Christmas ever because her small kindness made my day a whole lot brighter, especially after several stressful hours of wading through throngs of people bouncing around like pinballs because of their unpredictable toddlers' footpaths.

As we were walking the skywalk over to the parking garage, I noticed that Kimmy was slowing down, down, down until she was barely even picking up her feet to walk. Hilarious! I carried her the 500 ft. back to the car, and she was asleep in about 5 minutes.

Okay, so all week I had been planning to go to the 4:30pm Christmas Eve service at our church, but as I was driving home today, the GPS was giving me a 2:37pm ETA to our apartment. I decided that I could most likely get us home, changed into church clothes, and to the church just about right on time for the 3:00pm service. Challenge accepted, self.

In typical Kelsey fashion, I caught every red light in town on the way home. We arrived at 2:45, but I somehow got us to church at 3:00pm on the dot. BOOM!

If you know me, you know my Christmas Eve traditions include church hopping to as many candlelight services as possible and singing as much Christmas music as possible. Kim and I used to go to as many as 5 services in one night! So, I've seen it all, or so I thought. This service was way different, though.

Sherwood Oaks put on an AWESOME service! Not your same-old-same music. No candles, but the Wham City Lights phone app. I loved it!!!!! Probably my favorite service ever. The best part was the last song with the app with all the color-changing phone screens. The music was like Christmas carols meets Jersey house music. So much fun! The 8-ish year old boy in front of me was jumping up and down and fist pumping the whole time. It was hilarious! I left with a big smile my face and in my heart. I love a lot of things about Bloomington, Indiana, but the number 1 on my list is my church home.

After church, we ran to Kroger. I know, I on Christmas Eve. But I really couldn't help it. My Thirty-One and PartyLite commissions hit my bank account today, and Kimmy was 100% out of allergy medicine. I grabbed that, and Kimmy and I picked out our cake mix and icing for Jesus's birthday cake that we're making tomorrow. I really wanted to make it symbolic and do red velvet cake with pure white icing to be able to chat about the blood and the blanketing of our sins with forgiveness, yadda, yadda, yadda. I guess I temporarily forgot that I have a very girly 2-year-old who is very into pretty, sparkly things as my best mate. She picked out white cake mix and bright purple icing with big multi-colored sprinkles. Well, first she picked out bright pink icing with pink sugar sprinkles, which I smoothly nixed (by showing her a few better options like purple and blue) because I'm not big on pink. Purple it is.

Here comes the interesting part: I was sitting in the backseat buckling Kimmy into her carseat after our shopping trip, when an impatient person started pulling into the parking spot next to us. Door wide open and me being the [too] nice person I am, I pulled the door closer to me. Well, the wind blew it shut completely. Annnnnd, let's just say the child safety lock feature works perfectly in my car. Yep. Locked in the backseat with my child, despite the unlocked door.

Well, being that Kimmy's carseat is in the middle seat and is rear-facing, that left about a 1 ft. space from the top of her seat to the ceiling...a space that I was forced to dive through face first to transport myself to the front of my unlocked-from-the-outside car.

Yes, this really happened. I could not make it up. This is my life.

I'm sure my child now thinks I am the weirdest human being on the planet based on her facial expression as this was happening. My antics may push her into teenage embarrassment mode well before her time. I could definitely see this happening. Go ahead and laugh!

When we got home (at 5:00pm, which is an awesome time to be in for the night on Christmas Eve, by the way), we had our fancy cheese and crackers platter (Pierce traditional Christmas Eve dinner) and a whole lot of blueberries, followed by couch cuddles and Christmas movies. As I got my lovey ready for bed, I gifted her with a Christmas sticker book, Maisy's Christmas. She absolutely loved it! I see a fun new tradition in our Christmas Eve bedtime wind-down! She thought the stickers she could insert into the story were ultra-cool. Toddler moms: I highly recommend this book!

As I was tucking my sweet child in bed, I asked her what her favorite part of our day was. She said, "I saw Santa!" So, there's that.

After she went to bed, I finally got her gifts wrapped and put under the tree. As I sat back down on the couch to watch a Hallmark movie, I had a stunning realization:

I. Am. So. Sore.

My feet are Disneyworld sore. My back is 9th-month pregnancy sore. My biceps are Arnold Schwarzenegger sore. However, my heart is overflowing. Single mom busy-day, non-workout workout for the win. I wouldn't trade this day for all the money in the world.

Merry Christmas, friends! I hope your day was as amazing as ours.

More later.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I'll go first

Going first is something I've always had to push myself to do. Why? For the first 15 years, 3 months, and 11 days of my life, I had the luxury of walking in my big sister's shadow. At the time, it was something I took for granted. I always felt stifled, unrecognized, and as if I would never get my time to shine--typical middle-child syndrome. When Kim died, not only did I lose my sounding board for all the thoughts that entered my head, but I also lost my leader. I was suddenly thrust toward the front of the race, and the idea of having to experience all those life milestones first suddenly became my worst nightmare.

It's now been 10 years, 9 months, and 20 days since that terrifying transition, and I'm still standing.

It has not been easy decade. First kid in my household to graduate high school, move out, attend college, earn a degree, have a baby, make financial mistakes, get a job, learn to make important phone calls, buy a car, go to doctor's appointments alone, pay bills, etc. When you spend most of your life assuming there will always be someone to experience those things first (and be an example for you to learn from), being thrust into the forefront really takes a toll on you. I have felt lost, confused, and overwhelmed more times than I can count.

With this recent bout of new life experiences, my anxiety has been higher than ever. My self-talk has been on overdrive...constant, swirling, cyclical questions flurry around my brain every day. The unknowns are innumerable.
"Can I do this?"
"How will I do this?"
"Will I be okay?"
"Will Kimmy be okay?"
"Will I ever feel unburdened financially?"
"Can I really count on someone I don't trust to take care of his child financially?"
"How do I budget without really knowing if that money will come?"
"How will holidays work?"
"Will I always live here?"
"Where will I move to really start my adult life when I feel ready?"
"Can I open up and trust someone again?"
"Who has a big enough heart to accept Kimmy and me?"
"How do I find him?"
"How will I know when I'm ready to find him?"
"Will I ever get to give Kimmy a sibling that she so deserves?"
"Was getting my own place a smart move?"
It's no wonder I never sleep!

Especially since signing a lease for our townhouse, I have felt mega-burdened by responsibility. Depressingly so. I'm so excited to escape (sans the whole packing and actual moving experience). But, the numbers aren't adding up how I want, and all I can see on the horizon is financial strain.

On the flipside, my brain is giving me lots of useful coping mechanisms:
"Trust. Trust Jesus. You are bulletproof with his protection. Psalm 28:7."
"You can do this. You are doing it."
"Kim would have your back with all your decisions. You're not letting her down."
"Kimmy is happy and healthy."
"Life won't always be this hard."
"You deserve happiness, and God will pave your path."
But perhaps the most useful little thought nugget my mind has concocted is this: My struggles are not my own.

Not only do I have the loving, amazing, impervious shoulder of Jesus on which to dump my burdens, but I also have my amazing family and friends.

Beyond that, my struggles and the way I handle them are a source of energy and encouragement for so many other women walking in these same worn and tattered shoes that have endured the walk through incredible deceit, betrayal, mistreatment, acrimony, and disrespect.

Several women have come to me since I revealed my current reality and told me of almost mirrored situations. For perspective: I don't take pride in that, and I am certainly not happy for their struggles. I am happy to say, though, that no matter how chaotic I feel my life outwardly appears, I will gladly go first if it means I can help someone else escape to independence.

It may be uncomfortable and hard and scary, but I will go first. I can only hope that my testimony will be strength and hope, not an endless string of miniature disasters. That's where trust will come into the picture and stay. I will trust the Lord with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. I submit. These struggles are only as long as I am here on this earth, and God will hold my hand during that time. Even if life's burdens never let up, I will be rewarded for my steadfastness in eternity. In that I can trust, when all else collapses around me.

The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. 1 Chronicles 29:9
Lord, make my life meaningful to those [I may not even know] who need to see this journey that leads straight to the cross of salvation. Help me go first, even if I feel like I'm running this race in very last place.

Lots of love,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Compassion at Christmastime

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.
                                          -Galations 6:2

This time of year--especially this year--I'm reminded of just how much so many of us take for granted. Christmas is a joyous holiday, full of love, friends, family, celebration, sharing of blessings, good food, warm jammies and cozy fires, presents, and even time off from work!

Or at least it's supposed to be. Unless, of course, someone or some circumstance has stolen your holiday joy.

I tend to believe that only a select few are genuinely 100% non-stressed this time of year. With financial (and emotional) burdens weighing heavy--money spent on gifts, elaborate meals, warm clothes, decorations, etc.--a lot of people really don't enjoy this time of year very much at all.

Here is a [generalized] list of people who may be putting on a brave face, but internalizing at least a little hopelessness during the holiday season:
  • people who have lost a loved one
  • people suffering with a terminal, chronic, or acute illness or a minor, severe, or disabling injury
  • caregivers
  • the homeless
  • the unemployed
  • children whose parents can't afford gifts or even food
  • parents who can't afford their children's gifts or food
  • children who are hungry or cold
  • college students who are incredibly stressed about finals, money, and academic progress
  • people with eating disorders, mental illness, or some other such thing that affects their confidence
  • parents whose children live far away or aren't speaking to them
  • nursing home patients
  • retirement home residents
  • people who can't afford to travel to see their loved ones
  • people who have to work, like medical staff and other such public servants
  • teachers and people in other professions who will spend most of their holiday downtime preparing for work after the break
  • people who are struggling with debt
  • people who have had a major life change like divorce, bankruptcy, miscarriage, etc.
  • children whose parents don't pay attention to them
  • children who have no parents
  • people who have no friends, or at least feel like they have none
  • people who have been arrested or imprisoned, whether guilty or not
  • and many, many more.
Okay, so you may be thinking, "Um, duh. Common knowledge." But that list just touches the surface. Think about people around the world who may be in even worse predicaments. You can also add in all the advertisements and marketing surrounding Christmas of perfectly cooked holiday meals, trees with gifts literally stuffed underneath because there are so many, people flaunting their big shopping deals on social media, and so many more other scenarios that give people's self-talk no other option than to say, "You're not good enough. You're inadequate. This holiday sucks. Life sucks. This is not fun. You aren't happy. You have no right to be happy. Your life is hopeless."

In my circle of people, I can rattle off about 30 names, without even batting an eye, who might have a hard time this Christmas. I tend to think this is the norm for most people. We all know of friends who are going through a personal challenge right here, right now. Take a quick minute to think about your people and just see who you come up with.

So, let's get to the point. Christmas is about the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, right? Right. How can you be like Jesus this Christmas? I know I want him at the center of my holiday. Over the last few weeks, I have been racking my brain trying to come up with some new holiday traditions to share with my daughter, but I think I've been thinking on the wrong types of things: activities we do together in our home vs. things we can do for others...maybe even others who will never know we helped or could never repay our kindness.

That's what I want my future Christmases to be about: Compassion. Kindness. Loving others. Sharing their burdens. Easing their struggles. Being the light. Holding their hands through the storm. I can confidently say that the people who have been all of those things to me in my life have given me some of the best memories and feelings I have ever had.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Colossians 3:12

Unfortunately, I, like so many others, do not really have any disposable income right now. I'm not able to go all out and buy, buy, buy for others, but if you are able to, maybe just consider the impact that might have in someone else's life. Do you know someone who has children? Buy their kids a gift to show them you have their back. Know a single parent? Give them a gift card to Kroger or Walmart for groceries and necessities--I guarantee they need it and will appreciate it more than you could ever know. Is there a place where homeless people hang out in your community? Stop at a donut shop and get them a jug of hot coffee and a couple dozen donuts. 

Use your gift to be a gift. Mine is my ability to put my thoughts into written words, and I plan to share kind words with others this season. Fun fact: We each have a gift. Even if you haven't found it yet. What's yours?

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4:10

Feeling uncreative? Let me help:
  • invite someone who is lonely, lost, hungry, cold, or weary to your home for dinner
  • offer compliments to people you see as you're out doing Christmas shopping
  • gather all the change in your house and pop your kids in the car to let them put the coins in the Salvation Army bucket one by one
  • buy a big load of groceries for an elderly person who can't get out to do it alone
  • cook a meal for a set of busy new parents
  • make Christmas cards for the patients on a hospital floor
  • invite someone to come to church with you
  • call a few friends you haven't seen or talked to in a while, wish them a Merry Christmas, ask them how they are--how they really are--and be a friend
  • bake some festive cookies for a friend or coworker
  • go sing Christmas carols or read poetry at a nursing or retirement home
  • go visit with someone who might not get a single other visitor this Christmas
  • babysit someone's child(ren) for a few hours for free, so they can have a break to decompress and destress
  • at the very least, just pray for someone
If you think you can't be there for someone, you're wrong. It doesn't take much to make someone's holiday a whole lot brighter. One small kindness negates a ka-trillion bad things in your life.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.
1 Peter 3:8

Think about it.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

And that's all I have to say about that

(Yes, I quoted Forrest Gump in this title. It's perhaps my favorite movie of all time!)

So, let's get right to it.

It's amazing how threatened someone can feel by my stating the things that he actually did/does and said/says. It's amazing how intimidating a woman's independence and resolve can be.

Guess what?

I offer no apologies.

I own my story. I own my thoughts, words, and actions. I'm pushing forward, and if I want to share my story, that's my right. (You) deal with it, [not me].