Happy holidays, right? Fa la la la laaaaaaaaaaaaa! It’s amazing how quickly the beauty of family bonding time can sour into family grump time. And it’s not just the kids who turn into grumps—Grinchiness can attack us all, no matter our age or stage in life. We can get irritated with roommates, spouses, extended family, annoying pets…
Every Christmas, my family relies upon the passage I call Old Faithful, a.k.a. Philippians 2. It has seen us through many a grumpy moment on holidays, vacations, and—well, even on regular old days when we have descended into selfish funks.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness . . . .
Do everything without grumbling or arguing,so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the skyas you hold firmly to the word of life. –Philippians 2:1–7, 14–16
The way of Christ is humility, sacrifice, and selflessness! Putting others’ needs before our own. Forgetting what we want and what would make our holidays great, and putting others’ needs first. Choosing gratitude over discontent, speaking thanks instead of complaint. When we become selfless, a funny thing happens: We get happier! We have more fun! We find joy in the midst of chaos and stress! Isn’t it amazing how wise God’s ways are? Our heavenly Father—our Designer—knows how we function best…and he made us to give! We thrive when we serve.
(Ahem. I hereby interrupt this blog post for a Public Service Announcement addressed to those of you who never stop: Please do not read this and think, “I should run myself ragged serving others this Christmas.” If that is you, please read Have a ‘Mary’ Christmas: More Sitting, Less Stressing! End of PSA announcement.)
Want more ideas for bringing Christ into the chaos of daily life? Sign up for my newsletter here and you’ll receive a free download: 7 two-minute devotions to do around the breakfast table with your family!
Kevin and I read Philippians 2 with our family all the time (in fact, we discussed it for the umpteenth time yesterday). With young kids, try reading this passage in the New Living Translation; it’s a little easier to comprehend. After we read, we like to give our kids lots of practical, specific examples to “hang” these scriptures on. We encourage them to think about things like, “How can I make my sister happy today?” and “What game would my brother like to play today?” and “What if I let everyone else choose which cookie they want before me?” (In our house, volunteering to be the last cookie-chooser would be a sacrifice of saint-like proportions.)
Here’s to defeating the spirits of Scrooge and Grinch and Grump, and having a holly-jolly Christmas through the Spirit of Christ!
When All You Want for Christmas Is a Baby: A Spiritual Survival Guide for When You’re TTC at Christmas
Ah, Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. . . unless you’re going through infertility. Every commercial mocks your pain: angel-eyed toddlers looking oh-so-squeezable in red and white striped pajamas, waiting wide-eyed for Santa. (And how about that Pampers commercial they play 5,000 times every season with all the babies sleeping to “Silent Night”? Excruciating!) Every trip to the mailbox is an assault on your soul, every Christmas card a test of your gratitude, your self-confidence, your ability to keep jealousy at bay: babies in Santa hats, toddlers on Santa’s lap, and best (meaning worst) of all: the pregnancy-announcement-slash-Christmas-card combo, a double whammy! It’s enough to make the sanest and holiest of us Google things like “1,000 ways to blow up a mailbox.”
And then there’s the dilemma of your own Christmas card situation: Do you get a dramatic haircut so something looks different from last year’s card? Buy a puppy? Put an asterisk on the empty space between you and your husband and include a line on the back of the card that says, *A baby should be here. Yes, we’ve been trying to start a family FOR AGES, and no, we don’t want advice about ovulation and base temperature?
As a survivor of several Baby-less Christmases, I want to encourage you that with God’s help, you can have a joyful holiday season, even if you are also enduring a season of infertility. You can have fun. You can stay sane. You can enjoy the life you have even while you pray for the life you want.
Here are a few strategies that helped me and Kevin survive our TTC Christmases (TTC means Trying to Conceive):
1–Battle envy with love and self-pity with gratitude.
The Christmas season can make us more painfully aware of our own empty arms compared to our friends’ full ones. Romans 12:21 encourages us to “overcome evil with good.” Whenever I was tempted to envy friends their babies or pregnancies, I worked to resist envy by focusing on how much I loved my friends. I deliberately centered on thoughts like this: I love this friend. I am happy that God has blessed her with a family. I am glad she is not suffering through infertility. I pray she enjoys a fulfilling Christmas season being pregnant/being a mom, just as I hope to enjoy my own Christmas in my own way. (And then I ran to the nearest Starbucks and drowned my sorrows in a decaf mocha.)
We have to deliberately combat self-pity with gratitude. When the Enemy whispers, “God is holding out on you. Your life is terrible. Everyone else has more than you,” we have to replace those lies—which lead only to sadness and bitterness—with the only thing powerful enough to overcome them: gratitude. Remind yourself of God’s goodness, thinking through all the gifts he has already given you—be as specific as you can. I like to make gratitude lists and read them to God in prayer!
2–Think ahead, and be gentle with yourself.
Christmas heightens our emotions, and if you’re going through infertility, you’re probably going to feel more fragile during holiday seasons.
We all have things that trigger us: seeing pregnant women or new moms; walking within 100 feet of the baby aisle; Instagram bump-dates. If you can identify the things that most hurt you and tempt you to feel down, then you can plan ahead to either avoid those situations entirely, or at least to experience them in smaller, more manageable doses (doses that you have spiritually and emotionally prepared yourself to handle).
For example, let’s revisit the Christmas card issue. If you hold your breath every time you open a card, waiting for temptation to take you down—the stab of envy when you see the umpteenth baby swaddled in a stocking; the painful sense of insecurity or even inferiority when you see yet another friend walking across a field holding hands with her children and just looking so daggum motherly and complete—then go easy on yourself. You don’t have to drool over every baby picture and linger over every life update. Set the Christmas cards aside and open them in batches with your husband at your side. Pray and set your heart on celebrating the lives of the people you love, give the cards a quick once-over, and move on with your life. Your life, the life God gave you—a life that is fully meaningful and valuable and packed with love, with or without a baby. (And hey—if you really can’t handle the baby’s-first-Christmas-themed cards, who’s to know if you skip opening them altogether?!)
If you usually buy gifts for a family in need, but the idea of shopping for someone else’s kids brings up too many sad feelings this year, perhaps you can buy gifts for an adult instead. Or bypass the whole gift-shopping idea and donate food to your local food bank or time to a soup kitchen.
Social media. . . take it easy for a while, my friend, unless you have a superpower that makes you immune to envy.
And can we talk Christmas pageants? My advice is to head to the bathroom for a nice long break during the kids’ performances at church. I mean, the heart can only take so much.
Infertility is hard enough on regular days; during the Christmas season, go as easy on yourself as you can. Even though I joke about these things, I’m not suggesting we make excuses for becoming selfish or cynical or rude—but it’s not wrong to shelter ourselves a bit from some of the difficulties the holidays bring. It’s wise to think ahead, plan ahead, and pray ahead.
3–Be intentional in your thinking.
It’s oh-so-tempting to spend the entire holiday thinking about all the things you wish you were doing this Christmas…the baby you wish you were holding, the toys you wish you were buying, the sleep (weird as it sounds) you wish you weren’t getting.
And if Satan has his way, that’s all we will think about. We’ll be consumed by the sad things, the loss, the hole in our hearts. And in so doing, we give away any chance of joy. We give away our happiness, our gratitude, and our perspective.
I’m not saying your sadness and pain and the hole in your heart are not real. They are real. Your sadness is valid. Your loss is legitimate. But we can choose what we focus on this holiday season—and always.
Focusing on what we don’t have has never been God’s way. All throughout scripture, God encourages his people to remember what he has already done for them. What gifts they do have (even if they still lack some things they want—or even things they need). I love David’s attitude in Psalm 13–begging for relief even as he remembers God’s past kindness:
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me. –Psalm 13, emphasis added
Here is a simple strategy that helps me reclaim control of my mood when I’m hurting (adapted from my book When God Says “Wait”):
–Take a moment every morning to write down 3 things you have to look forward to that day. (Some days you might be really stretching things, but that’s okay: This morning I’ll splurge and put fancy creamer in my coffee; today I get to meet a friend at the gym; tonight I’ll get to snuggle with my husband and re-watch Stranger Things.) No matter how difficult life is, we all have good things in store in every day, if we’ll just train ourselves to pay attention.
–Take a moment every evening to write down 3 things you are grateful for from that day: God prompted a friend to send an encouraging text just when I was feeling down; I got a phone call from my mother (I have a mother! She is alive and she loves me enough to call me!); I laughed at lunch with a friend.
Exercises like these bring gratitude and a healthy, big-picture perspective into our lives.
4–Be proactive in planning your holiday season. Focus on fun!
Christmas 2004 was rough for me and Kevin. It was the third Christmas since we’d started trying to conceive. Everything in me wanted to hide in my bedroom all December watching Die Hard, the most non-kid-related but still vaguely Christmasy movie I could find (ahem—even Die Hard has one annoying reference to the pregnant woman who needed a couch to sit on—no movie is safe when you can’t get pregnant!).
But I decided to fight back. Baby or no baby, I still loved Christmas, and I didn’t want infertility to ruin my favorite time of the year.
That year Kevin and I were intentional about doing a lot of fun things—fun things we might not be able to do, we reminded ourselves, if we had a baby in tow! We deliberately made new memories together. We decorated our house like crazy and made it feel festive. If memory serves, that was the year we drove out to the country to a Christmas tree farm and cut down our own tree. We went to late movies and made ourselves sick on popcorn. We slept as late as we wanted and cooked fancy breakfasts. We went a little crazy splurging on gifts for our siblings. We planned a fun vacation for the following spring.
–We are always happier when we are giving. Find ways to serve your community: My favorite way to serve at Christmastime is to visit seniors in nursing homes (ahem, added bonus: not one of the nursing home residents will be pregnant!). Call ahead and ask how you can give: You can bring cards, sing Christmas carols, help with their Christmas activities and parties, or just sit and chat with the residents. Get ready to hear some amazing stories!
Christmas can be tough when you can’t get pregnant, but with focus and prayer, you can still claim joy. You can make memories and have fun. You can remain grateful and spiritual. You can stay close to your husband. You can sidestep the Enemy’s traps of envy, self-pity, and sadness.
Are you struggling to conceive this Christmas? My heart is with you. Send me your name—I’d love to pray for you!
When my daughter Avery Grace was six, she turned her big brown eyes up at me and asked, “Why does Santa check his list twice?” She paused, then said, “Wait, I know. Is it because anyone can change?” I stood dumbstruck for a moment, awed that such little-girl cuteness could offer such old-soul wisdom.
Anyone can change.
I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately—how it’s so much bigger than we think. How it can cover everything and make us new over and over again. In late October (2017) my mother and I had the privilege of spending a weekend with 800 wonderful women in the Midwest, talking about “Overflowing Grace.” And earlier that month, I spent a Saturday afternoon with 200 vibrant ladies in West Palm Beach, Florida, seeking God’s kindness and grace in our waiting seasons—along the way we found quite a few laughs and tears. (Scroll down to see pictures and to find information about speaking availability—next year’s calendar is filling up fast!)
How are you doing with grace lately? It’s hard, right? We want to accept it, we ache to feel it. . . but so many times, we walk around still haunted by guilt. And when we’re dogged by guilt ourselves, we show less grace to others, a painful cycle. This holiday season, I pray you experience God’s grace more fully—and share it more generously.
Here are three simple ways to experience more grace this December (and always!):
-Have an encouraging devotional time with your family. So many times we focus our family devotional times on areas where our families need to grow, highlighting our weaknesses—not this time! Your only goal in this devotional is to encourage your kids like crazy. Go around the room and be as specific as you can with each child, praising them for who they are—what you love and like in their personality and character; all the ways you enjoy and admire them—and also tell them specific ways you have seen them serve or grow or give. Kevin and I had a devotional time like this with our kids a few months ago, and it was wonderful.
-Take time to notice God’s encouragements to you—His small graces—each day. Pay closer attention to his small gifts and kindnesses. They are always there, those gentle signs that say, “I’m here and I care,” but we rarely slow down long enough to notice and appreciate them. Did He give you peace when you were anxious? Did He prompt a friend to send you a reassuring text message just after you prayed for encouragement? Did He help you find your lost keys? Try writing down three ways God showed you kindness at the end of every day—I bet you’ll have a hard time stopping at just three!
-Share some of the grace God has given you. Write a card, share a meal, give a gift. Or offer grace of the forgiveness kind, forgiving someone who has hurt you even though they don’t fully “get” how much you hurt. (Can any of us fully “get” how much our sin has hurt Jesus?!) We all know it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)—Jesus taught us that—but something beautiful happens in our hearts when we give grace. Giving grace softens us, humbles us, and opens us up. The more we give grace, the better we are able to receive it from others. Try it. . .you’ll see what I mean!
I wish you a grace-filled, joy-filled holiday season!
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I only have a few speaking slots left for this winter/spring (only one date left in February and one in March; April and May have a few openings), so please contact me ASAP if you’d like me to come visit your church or group! I’d love to meet you in person. You can finda list of speaking topics here.
Here are a few pictures from October’s events, “Grace Overflowing” and “When God Says ‘Wait'”:
Nope, that’s not a typo in the title. It’s the ETV (Elizabeth Thompson Version) of 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has given you everything you need for life lice and godliness.” (Hey—I think my translation still suits the spirit of the scripture.)
I’ll take another liberty, this time with Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem:
‘Twas three days before Christmas, and all through my house, not a creature was stirring, except for a louse…
Yep. This Christmas, we got visited by more than just elves and Santa Claus.
It was December 22, 6:00 am. The night before, I had nearly killed myself to finish an intense editing job—I’d worked long hours for weeks on end, scrambling to finish with a few days to spare so I could shut down and spend time with my family for Christmas.
So there I was, the morning of December 22, finally free, and happy, happy, happy. For thirty-eight minutes, everything was perfect. I woke up before the rest of the family, smiling to myself in a dark and sleepy house. I brewed coffee, switched on peaceful music and the Christmas tree lights, and settled down on the couch with a mug and my Bible. Christmas had finally begun, and I was going to start it off right: alone with God.
A few minutes later, my daughter stumbled out, bleary-eyed and tousle-haired, and snuggled up beside me with her head in my lap. Happy, happy, happy, I sat there and prayed over her and stroked her hair.
And that’s when I saw it: a louse, scurrying across her head.
Within an hour, the whole house was awake and Kevin and I had kicked into Save-This-Christmas Mode. We called and made an appointment with the “Lice Lady” who had saved our vacation the last time the lice fairy paid our family a visit, when we were on vacation. Who cared if her office was a ninety-minute drive away? Christmas had to be saved. (I hereby pause this essay for a random proclamation: If your kid gets lice, hire a Lice Lady. Hock a family heirloom to pay for it if you have to. It will be the best money you have ever spent, except maybe for your epidural. Lice Ladies know what they are doing, and will help you get rid of evil bugs waaaaaaay faster than you could on your own. They will also help you retain your sanity, your spouse, and your salvation. Okay. Back to our story.)
So we stuck a shower cap on the Infected One, cancelled our big Star Wars plans with friends, loaded up the four Crazies in the minivan, packed enough snacks to survive a four-month covered wagon journey across the Oregon Trail, blasted Frank Sinatra Christmas carols, and trundled down the road to the Lice Lady. When we got there, our poor almost-three-year-old squealed with glee: “We going ice skating!” We had to break her heart and re-enunciate: “We are going to the LICE LADY, not ice skating. Instead of ice skating, you get to sit in a chair and let someone comb your hair looking for bugs! Woohoo!”
And so began the Great Christmas De-Lousing.
The first appointment was just the beginning. The afternoon at the Lice Lady’s office was followed by several days of laundry and hours of follow-up nit-picking, even as family members gradually filled our house for the holiday. (Paranoid family members, I might add, who were terrified—rightfully so, I’m not judging—of hugging us.)
But you know what’s great?
I didn’t lose it. I didn’t cry one self-pitying tear. Not even when my dryer decided not to help me dry the 4,000 loads of laundry I needed to do when we got home. I didn’t lose my temper, or snap at my husband or kids. I didn’t flip out, not even behind closed doors. I just rolled with it. I even laughed about it. I’m kind of gawking at the computer screen even as I type these words, because this is not normal for me.
I am beginning to accept that life is messy. Things do not go according to plan, pretty much ever. If we wait for our whole life to be perfect to be happy, we will be waiting forever. We will grit our teeth through a series of disappointments, and only find peace and joy when we make it to heaven. That’s not how God wants us to live.
The secret to a joyful life is appreciating what we have, when we have it, for as long as it lasts. Not placing rules or restrictions on our happiness—rules like: “I can’t be happy until…” or “I won’t be happy unless…”
Nope. That’s not how joy works. That’s just a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and unhappiness.
As 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 puts it, “Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve come to accept that there will always be something wrong with our life. Something we wish was better, or different, or…whatever.
There was a day—two years and nine months’ worth of days, actually—when I couldn’t get pregnant, and I would have gladly given my right arm to have a house filled with lice-infested children. I never want to forget those lonely days.
If we can learn to roll with the unexpected, to adapt on the fly, to appreciate what we have even though there are things we lack, to “laugh at the days to come” instead of fearing them (Proverbs 31:25)—better yet, to laugh at the days that are, even when they go so completely wrong…then we can do more than just survive life. We can enjoy it. We can thank God for it. We can be a person we’re proud of being, in all kinds of circumstances.
So if I have a new year’s resolution this year, it’s this: To keep on rolling with the punches. To stop waiting for perfection. To stop expecting smooth sailing. To accept, embrace, and even laugh at the mayhem of the unexpected. To be happy now—no asterisks, addendums, or alterations.
And to braid my daughters’ hair, and spray it with mint spray, every day from now until eternity.
Happy new year, y’all. Here’s to the madness.
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“Martha, Martha, you are worried about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42, emphasis added).
Welcome to my world. I’m hosting Christmas for oodles of beloved family members, and the Martha in me wants to show my love by making everyone else’s Christmas perfect: Decorations? Check. Clean house? Check. Gourmet food? Check. (“Sort of. Wait. Let me run into the kitchen to prep a few things . . . I’ll be back in five hours.”)
But you know . . . the clean house, and gourmet food, and Pinterest-worthy Christmas decorations, aren’t what’s most important for our family holiday. A great holiday is about time spent together, about laughing so hard you snort egg nog through your nose, about the light of magic shining in our children’s eyes. So I hope you’ll join me in taking Jesus’ gentle words to Martha to heart this holiday season. Let’s “choose what is better.”
And what did Mary choose? She chose to be present. To be engaged. To be with—fully with—the people who had come into her home. To spend time sitting at the feet of the Lord, listening and learning. That’s what makes the holidays great. That’s what is “better.” So won’t you join me?
Let the dishes soak a little longer.
Let the pine needles rest on the carpet a little longer.
Let the meals be a little simpler.
Let’s just be there with the people—and the Lord—we love.
That, my friends, is better. That’s BEST. And Jesus will not take it away from us!
Merry Christmas to you and yours, from the Thompson Crazies! (Here’s hoping we don’t actually GO crazy.)
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