family, motherhood

Santa is Bringing My Daughter 1 Toy for Christmas… And I’m Not Sorry

santa 2019 (3)

My family has excess. I don’t mean that in a we-have-a-ton-of-money way (because we don’t) or a we-take-elaborate-vacations-and-own-a-vacation-home-in-Tahiti way (uh, because dream on).

What I mean is that our needs are met, as are many of our wants. We have more food than we need, more clothes than we need, and our only child certainly has more toys than any one child needs. We simply have excess in our home.

Our 2-year-old daughter is mostly sweet, charming, and a delight to be around. While she has her toddler temper moments as all little ones do, she fills our lives with joy and fun daily. I am 100% certain her name is on Santa’s “Nice” list. And yet, I heard from Santa’s head elf (her name is Mama) that she is getting exactly one toy for Christmas.

Santa won’t be a total Grinch to our daughter. There will be a few other presents to unwrap. I heard she’s getting a bath towel and plate, bowl, and cup set (practical things that she needed anyway) and a sticker activity book to keep in the diaper bag while we’re on the go. But as for shiny, new toys to add to her collection? There won’t be a pile for her waiting under the tree; there will be one. And I’m not sorry.

Why is a Good Girl Getting Just 1 Toy for Christmas?

I, oops, I mean Santa made this decision after her second birthday. We didn’t have a big party this year – just little family gatherings on each side of the family with cake and snacks. And a massive pile of gifts. It was during the first of these family parties that she learned the word “present,” then quickly learned to string the phrase, “more presents.” After tearing open each gift, she would ask for “more presents.” And I knew that something needed to change.

That is why Santa is only bringing my child one toy for Christmas.

I want to teach my daughter to be grateful for what she has. I understand this is ambitious at the age of 2. But heck, this is a lesson that I am still trying to drill into my own head. So maybe if we start early enough, it will stick. We have more than we need. Let’s give thanks for the blessings we have, not ask for more. 

Enough is Enough: We Don’t Need More

Does my daughter need dress-up clothes for every Disney princess? No. Do I need to make a trip to Target for shampoo and walk out $50 (okay $75) poorer but with super cute clothes? Also no.

Our culture tells us that we deserve to have the things we want. Ads come at us from all sides for the newest, tripped out cars, the latest tech gadgets, the most refreshing sodas, you name it. If it’s for sale, marketers want to persuade you to buy it (I’m in marketing – this is a fact). And heck, we work hard to earn money – shouldn’t we get to spend it in ways that make us happy?

I would like to say yes. Go for it. Buy all the things you want (and can afford) if that is what makes you happy. But I know it won’t. Not really. You may have been groomed to THINK that your life will be made complete with a cell phone that can film in super slow mo (looking at you, new iPhone), but it won’t. There will always be something new, something better. You will never be satisfied is you try to find contentment by acquiring physical things.

Modeling Gratitude

Gratitude is a tricky business but I want to model it for my daughter because she is watching me. What I want her to see when she looks at me is a mother who is content because of the people in her life and a relationship with a the One who saved her life, not the stuff in it. This is something that I want my daughter to see throughout the year, not just in the Christmas season. And the way that she will learn it is if I truly live it.

To the family who may be reading this, I want you to know that we deeply appreciate the thoughtful gifts you’ve given our daughter. Thanks to you, she has a playroom full of toys that provide hours of entertainment and fun. But this year, I would ask that you slow down the flow of new things before we overflow.  Instead, come hang out with us for a day. Gift our daughter your presence, not your presents. Show her you love her with your time. It may not be store-bought (or elf-made), but it is surely more meaningful.

Uncategorized

5 Things a Young Mom Needs From HER Mom

family

To the first-time mom, motherhood can be scary. You hear horror stories of colicky babies who refuse to sleep, overtired toddlers who have tantrums in public, and sassy preschoolers who sound more like teens than 4-year-olds when they speak to their parents. Thank goodness we don’t go through this parenting journey alone.

When I had my daughter, my husband and I didn’t know what we didn’t know. I had been around children my entire life, but those kids weren’t MINE. Now, the responsibility to bring up a child to be happy, healthy, God-honoring, and kind was on our shoulders.

But we could still ask for help. We could seek guidance from those who had walked this road before when we didn’t know the answers. Thankfully, that is exactly what we did.

Continue reading this post at Strength for the Soul!

work

How to Stay Motivated through a Seemingly Endless Job Search

motivated-in-job-search

13 months.

186 applications.

84 rejection emails.

95 companies that didn’t even bother to respond.

18 phone interviews.

18 in person interviews.

3 offers.

Innumerable hours.

My most recent job search did NOT go as planned.

Five years ago, I got my first professional entry level job. The process took 6 months and 75 applications. With 5 years of experience under my belt, I expected this second round of job searching to be easier and take less time. I believed that I would be a more appealing applicant to employers.

What I soon realized was that I was competing against hundreds of people for each individual position I applied for. Yes, I had more experience now, but SO DID EVERYONE ELSE. We were all looking to take the next step in our careers and competition was FIERCE.

The fun began.

For over a year, I slogged through application after application, interview after interview, and one rejection after another. Many times I felt I was THISCLOSE to an offer, only to hear that the razor-thin competition left me in second place.

A couple times I DID receive offers but ones that I determined did not meet my needs of either salary or benefits. (Despite the seemingly endless nature of job searching , I do NOT recommend settling for a sub-par offer – unless you are desperate.)

Waiting for a strong offer to come along was hard. I prayed the same prayer over and over again: Lord, please let me find a job that 1) I love 2) supports our family and future family and 3) I am able to glorify you through my work. I asked God to lead me to the path he wanted me to follow and I waited a very long time.

Through this endless search, I did three things that kept me motivated.

Even when feelings of rejection and “when will someone just give me a chance?” crept up, these things kept me grounded, positive, and ready to fill out another application.

1. Have a support system.

My system was threefold: 1) family 2) friends/small group and 3) a professional network.

My husband and parents let me jabber on and on about each interview I went on. They listened intently as I discussed the questions they asked, how I answered them, what the position entailed, etc. This went on for 13 months, but my family support system cheered on each position and shared in my disappointment when the jobs didn’t come to fruition.

The second branch of my support system was my small group. These friends deserve a special place in heaven for allowing me to share my struggles week after week, never complaining that my prayer request was the same for over a year. Then they took their encouragement to the next level by regularly praying for me and my job search. I regularly received texts from this special group of people letting me know that I was being prayed for and they were thinking of me as I waited for God’s timing. This was such a priceless gift; they will never know how deeply they blessed me.

Finally, attending professional networking events helped me meet other women who had been in similar circumstances in their careers. They provided not only a listening ear, but also a third party perspective on what I was experiencing. Through these events, I even met a career coach who assisted me with enhancing my resume and cover letter, coaching me through interview questions, and even helping me evaluate job offers when they came in. I am so grateful that I had a professional mentor to help me through the search process – because honestly, it is foolish to NOT accept all the help you can get.

2. Keep contributing to the work that you have now.

This could be in the job you have now OR not. Maybe you’re unemployed. Okay, that means your job is learning as much as you can about the current job market and what you can do to get an edge. I HIGHLY recommend subscribing to LinkedIn Premium to have access to their LinkedIn Learning service. There you will find endless videos from professionals who have dedicated their careers to helping others find fulfilling work.

Or maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent preparing to re-enter the work force. Great! Your work is caring for your family and all that entails from preparing meals, to caring for injuries, to refereeing sibling fights. Just because that work does not provide a traditional paycheck does not make it any less meaningful. If being a mom or dad is your current work, don’t neglect it.

And then there is work in the traditional sense of the word. If you’re job searching while employed, I’m talking about you. And me. This is the group I was in. As an employed professional searching for a new position, I could not “check out” and ignore my responsibilities. Staying engaged with the work I had was imperative to staying motivated to obtain the job I wanted.

3. Remember that you are capable of amazing things – because God gives you the strength.

“I can do all things through God who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

This is the part of the blog post where I motivate you by saying YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. And I truly, deeply believe that from the bottom of my heart.

You are amazing. I know this. I know you are the smartest, or the hardest working, or the most dedicated, or the most talented, or the fastest learner, or whatever your special gift may be. I believe that you can put your mind to achieving what you want to achieve with a heck of a lot of work to back it up.

But here’s the thing: I believe this about you because I know that God gave you a unique set of gifts combined in such a way that no one else has them. This means that yes, YOU ARE A ROCKSTAR, and that is awesome! But you are a rockstar because God gives you the strength to be one.

Remembering this was my mantra to start the next job application, and edit my cover letter again and again… and again. Knowing who I was in Christ was the key to my motivation in a job search for a highly competitive field among other super talented individuals. When you believe, REALLY BELIEVE that you are strong enough to handle any obstacle that comes your way because you are a child of God, your mindset changes.

IF you get a job becomes WHEN you get a job.

And yes, you have to wait on God’s perfect timing and that might mean waiting 13 months (or longer!), but as you wait, you can use your God-given strengths to your advantage. You can muster up the energy for the next application, and phone interview, and in person interview, and offer, and negotiation. Because you know that his plans for you a perfect and they will come to pass when the timing is right.

“… but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels
just for fun

Birthday Bucket List (30 Things to Do before I’m 30!)

yeah-pexels-1200It’s the last year of my 20s. One year from today, I will be the big 3-0. And while I have no concern about this upcoming milestone, now is the perfect time to write a one-year bucket list. I might as well be intentional about how I spend my time in my last year of this decade. So here we go.

Here are 30 things to do before I’m 30:

  1. Blog more. A lot more. 30 new posts (after this one!) seems like a good goal. So I’m shooting for it! I’m putting more emphasis on my blog as I’m leaving my work in the Christian media space. I want to make sure that I am sharing my faith through my writing here since I will no longer be working in an extension of ministry daily. God placed a desire on my heart to encourage other parents and families through the chaos and that’s what I plan to do here.
  2. Try a live video. I’ve said for years that I’m a writer not a speaker, but it’s time to get over this fear.
  3. Try 5 new restaurants. 
  4. See 1 new movie in theaters (Frozen 2, anyone?!)
  5. Take a friend out to dinner.  
  6. Have friends over for dinner.
  7. Speaking of dinner, actually, really cook. And learn to like it. Jen Hatmaker talks about doing this in Of Mess and Moxie so I’m pretty sure I can do this too (or maybe it was in For the Love, but whatever – read them both!).
  8. Run. 100 miles seems reasonable. Considering I have 3 half marathons on the books in the next year, I should really run MORE than that. But I know myself well enough to know that I love racing, not training.
  9. Prove myself in my NEW JOB! A good measure of this would be to learn a ton and earn a bonus.
  10. Read (or let’s be honest, listen to on Audible) a Dave Ramsey book.
  11. Finish reading Gone with the Wind. I read this once in middle school and loved it, but it’s time to get through this beautiful 1,000 page mammoth once again (and understand it this time).
  12. Finishing listening to the Harry Potter series with Dustin. We stopped in the middle of The Prisoner of Azkaban when our library rental ran out. It’s a bummer you can’t renew audiobooks.
  13. Finish my baby shower thank you notes. That’s right guys. They still aren’t done. I’m so, so sorry. But I am still so grateful for the thoughtful people who showered us with love and gifts before Emmanuella was born. I hope they know that without notes.
  14. Write our Compassion kids four times. 
  15. Teach Emmanuella to pray before meals.
  16. Visit the National Zoo. 
  17. Have a family picnic at the park.
  18. Bike on the Capital Trail.
  19. Travel to a new city. This is kind of cheating because we already have a trip to Charleston planned, but yay! I can’t wait!
  20. Go to a new winery.
  21. Go apple picking. Carter Mountain is so close. Why have we never done this?
  22. Turn the junk room into a game room. Make it a space that the whole family can enjoy.
  23. Lead a small group. Cheating again because this is already planned for spring, but it’s exciting. While Dustin and I have hosted small groups and facilitated discussions, we’ve never chosen our own curriculum, written discussion questions, and made it happen. We’re excited to see how the Lord moves within our small group community this year!
  24. Read a devotional with Dustin. We pray together nightly (and what a difference this makes in our relationship!) but what if we read a devotional as well? I hope God moves us forward in our marriage with this additional practice.
  25. Make a craft. Preferably more than just one!
  26. Paint our front door. BC Crimson is the color!
  27. Host another BC summer reunion.
  28. Visit the beach. I’m not sure if we’ll make it to the Outer Banks (my favorite place in the world) again in the next 12 months but we can at least go to the beach in Charleston!
  29. Take Emmanuella to three new places.
  30. Throw a party!

I expect that 29 will be an exciting year full of new challenges and fun family experiences. I’ll check in next year to tell you how I did on this list!

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Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
family

12 Questions to Ask When Searching for Child Care

bright-horizons-1200We did it. We registered our baby for preschool. Through this process I learned several things about myself, about the child care industry, and about finances.

I have high standards.

I kind of knew this ahead of time. But looking at child care facilities made it very clear to me that I don’t tolerate a lot of things: any amount of dirt, overcrowded classrooms, and unprofessional employees are at the top of that list.

If I want my standards met, I have to pay for them.

This point deserves a “duh” but it I’m still putting it here. In the beginning of this process, I thought I knew how much daycare would cost when truly, I had no idea. Most child care centers don’t advertise their tuition rates; you have to call to find out rates and availability.

In one case, a preschool refused to share the rate altogether, insisting that I had to see the facility first. (I coerced that preschool into telling me the rate over the phone because I was a previous employee and knew what they had to offer.) But man, once we got to those cold, hard numbers, my jaw hit the floor.

I learned what I didn’t want through the process of daycare visits.

I started out the search unprepared; I didn’t have a list of questions and I wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. It turned out that didn’t matter. As we visited centers, I quickly honed in on what I didn’t want: I didn’t want a school that crammed 16 babies and 4 caregivers in a tight space. I didn’t want to leave my baby in a school that had a funny mildew smell and looked like it needed a very thorough cleaning.

Eventually, I got a clearer picture of what I did want: a clean and comfortable center with professional employees who welcomed us from the moment we walked through the door. A school with a curriculum where my child can learn and grow throughout the years to come. We found that place, but first we had to trudge through many daycare visits that checked all the wrong boxes.

I decided that paying more than what I wanted or expected will be worth it in order to leave my child in a setting that will make both of us comfortable.

In the end, I determined that I don’t even care what it costs (within reason). I am willing to pay an arm and a leg in order to leave my baby in a facility where I am 100 percent confident that she will be well cared for, loved on, and safe.

We may have to trim our budget. There will be fewer Chinese takeout nights and spontaneous Chick-fil-A stops. But when I leave my baby with her teachers and go to work, I will have peace of mind that we chose the right center for our family. And it turns out that feeling is priceless.

Extra help for parents seeking child care:

12 Questions to Ask about a Child Care Center, Preschool, or Home Care Facility:

  1. Is the facility licensed through the state? Many states publish all licensed child care centers in an online public record. I recommend looking up the center to ensure that it is free of any state licensing violations.
  2. Is the facility clean? You can ask the center if the space is cleaned by a professional service and how often.
  3. How many children and teachers will be in the classroom? Look up your state’s regulations for licensing.
  4. Are all adults in the facility certified in CPR and First Aid?
  5. Does the classroom follow a curriculum? Can I get a copy of the curriculum?
  6. What qualifications were used to hire teachers or child care providers?
  7. How will my child’s progress be measured in the classroom? Are parents kept up to date with what children are learning?
  8. How do teachers or child care providers interact with parents? Is there an app where I can stay updated with my child’s daily progress?
  9. What will my child eat every day? Ask for a copy of the weekly menu if it is available.
  10. Where and when will my child sleep?
  11. What is the parent responsible for? (i.e. Will the center wash bottles at the end of the day? Do I provide diapers and wipes for my child?)
  12. In the event of an emergency, how will I be notified? What if you cannot reach me?

It’s best to be prepared with these questions when you enter a child care facility for a tour (even if it does make you sound a bit picky). After all, the one you choose will be the caring for the most precious thing in your life – your baby.

family, motherhood

What I Didn’t Expect about Working from Home

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Working from home with my baby wasn’t how I pictured it.

When I got the go-ahead to work from home two days a week with my daughter, I thought I had found the best of both worlds: I’d still be stimulating my mind and keeping my professional skills sharp, while getting to spend time with my baby.

I had always heard that working moms envied stay at home moms because they missed out on milestones while their precious babes were in the care of someone else. Meanwhile, stay at home moms daydream about a whole day in which a tiny human does not rely on them to deal with every bodily secretion.

Working at home was the holy grail. I had found the greenest grass; no other situation could possibly be better than this.

Or so I thought.

It turns out that working from home with a baby is a challenge. Some of the biggest struggles that I faced:

  1. Taking a “lunch break” meant multiple breastfeeding sessions throughout the day.
  2. Nap time was necessary if I wanted to get anything done during normal working hours.
  3. Most of all, my attention was never fully on my daughter and I felt guilty about that.

That last one came as a surprise.

My sweet girl loves interacting with others. And as she grew and gained mobility, she took to crawling over to my laptop and trying to sit on it to gain my attention. I apologetically pushed her aside every time, all while worrying that she would start to believe the screen in front of me was more important than her.

It wasn’t, of course. I was just trying to do my job so I could financially support her. I would be able to explain this to her one day, but you can’t explain this to a 1-year-old… no matter how many times I said, “I’m so sorry, baby. Mama has to work right now.”

What I learned is that ALL moms struggle.

Working moms are separated from their babies. Stay-at-home moms never get a break. And as a working from home mom, much of the time I was overwhelmed with conflicting priorities.

We would all do well to give each other more grace. 

Moms and dads alike struggle with balancing the demands on their time. No matter what your working situation may be, it is hard to be a parent. In fact, parenting is a full time 24/7/365 job in and of itself.

It’s also the best job in the world. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Encourage the parents around you. Lift them up with your spoken words, with an uplifting note, with your actions, and in prayer.

You never know which mom or dad in the office might have just spent their morning cleaning vomit out of the carpet. Trust me; they can appreciate a simple, “Your kid is lucky to have you.”

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Photo credit: Pexels.com/energepic.com
motherhood

The Gift That I Want to Give All New Moms

paying-bills-blog-1200“Write a down piece of advice for the new mom!” the sweet baby shower hostess announced.

I did as she asked and wrote down a helpful tip for my friend on the square of pink cardstock.

I didn’t write, “Enjoy those cuddles,” or, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” I didn’t even put down, “Don’t worry about your house for a few months. The mess can wait until you learn the new routine.”

I wrote something practical. Something that I had no idea about until it was too late:

“Get a bill paying organizer.” 

That has got to be the worst piece of advice ever written in one of those cute little mommy advice books. And yet that is exactly what I wanted my friend to know.

I didn’t expect to have a baby with hip dysplasia. There was no indication during pregnancy that my child would be anything but healthy. And yet, Emmanuella was born with a short-term special need.

As a new mom, I went into survival mode. We carted our daughter from appointment to appointment, from ultrasound to ultrasound. We became regulars in the hospital’s outpatient procedure waiting room. My focus was solely on her care, and rightly so.

Then the bills started coming in.

My C-section was billed separately from the anesthesia, which was billed separately from my hospital stay. The hospital pediatrician had his own bill. And of course, our regular pediatrician’s office sent a bill for the 4-day-old well check. And all of that was just from a normal delivery.

But Emmanuella wasn’t a normal baby.

So then came the orthopedic pediatrician’s bills. And hospital bills for each ultrasound. She got ultrasounds every two weeks and every bill was for the same amount: $267 (thank goodness insurance paid for most of the $800 total). The only way to distinguish one from the next was the date of service in small print at the top.

It was overwhelming, and caring for a newborn stole my attention from dealing with it all.

One day I spent eight hours paying bills and uploading them to our health share organization.

I ended up in frustrated tears. No one told me that this would be a part of the new mom job. The fact is I was unprepared.

When bills came in the house, they likely landed on the kitchen counter… and then got lost in the shuffle. With demands on my time like breastfeeding every two hours, attempting to pump in between sessions, washing and sterilizing bottles and pump parts, changing diapers, and maybe, maybe getting a nap in there, bills just naturally went to the wayside.

I wish someone had told me to get a bill paying organizer.

I bought one too late. It helped, but the flurry of bills had passed. Maybe if I had gotten one before I was bombarded, we would have avoided getting late notices and “FINAL WARNING” letters. Truly, it was an honest mistake when I missed a bill. After all, they all looked identical and had identical amounts. Didn’t I pay that one already? 

This is why I wrote that unsentimental note at my dear friend’s baby shower. I wanted to save her from the frustration and confusion that I experienced.

Yes, we received more bills that most new parents. But the thing is you don’t know if your baby will have a special need. You don’t know if your child will require extra trips to the hospital to see specialists or even require surgery after birth.

This isn’t about the money. While it was no fun carrying a financial burden during such a transitional time (and while I was only being paid out my vacation and sick time before getting a partial paycheck of short-term disability), the money itself is really not the point.

The point is this is one way new moms can be better prepared… but no one talks about it.

We prepare for motherhood by prepping nurseries, stockpiling diapers, attending baby and childbirth classes, and touring hospitals. So why not prepare for this aspect of parenthood as well?

It’s possible that no one else struggles with this. But I think that they do. Quietly.

Let’s put this out in the open. There will definitely be bills and they will be numerous. Sometimes the sheer multitude will bring us to tears.

But they don’t have to. We can be be better prepared for this. Mamas to be, I know this time is exciting and nauseating and painful and joyful and many other things. But don’t forget to make this time an time for organization as well.

Scrimp and save and squirrel away cash where you can. And please, please have a bill paying organizer ready and waiting for the day that the first bill arrives from the hospital.

You will be able to confidently tuck it away into the folder of the month it is due and go back to snuggling that precious, perfect baby. Maybe you can even squeeze in a nap.

New mama tip: I like this one with pockets and stickers to label the pocket by month or type of bill. But do what works for you. Just find a system and stick to it!