Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Celebrating Thankfulness

Several years ago, our daughter came home from preschool with a foam tree.  On each leaf she wrote something for which she was thankful.  Every year since then, we have made our own tree at home for Thanksgiving.  We have varied the method of assembly, but it always gets done and we always enjoy doing it.  Some years we each take several leaves and write on them.  Other years, one person is the writer as we go around the table sharing our items.  No matter the method, we enjoy taking the time to give thanks for all that the Lord has provided for us.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Special Veteran's Day

It isn't uncommon for kids to look forward to celebrating special occasions like Christmas, Thanksgiving and their family members' birthdays.  My kids aren't all that common.  Every year around this time I am sweetly surprised when my kids dig into my card stash looking for just the right card to give their dad for Veteran's Day.  They usually wake up early to make him a special breakfast before he heads to work (just because it's a holiday doesn't mean truck drivers get the day off) and then they make him a lunch with the cards hidden inside.  Although our oldest daughter was less than a year old when my husband was medically discharged from the military, all of our girls remember vividly the day we said good-bye to him when he left for Iraq as a civilian contractor and the day he surprised the girls by walking into a restaurant where we were celebrating our middle daughter's birthday.  I am glad that all four of our kids understand the importance of honoring those who serve for our country.

Because of the impact of my husband's military career on our family, it wasn't all that surprising to me when my mom told me a few weeks back that she had nominated my husband to be on the Steve Harvey Show for a Veteran's Day special.  I was surprised to find out that not just my husband, but our whole family was one of a couple of families being considered for the show.  It was easy to get wrapped up in the excitement.  The timing of the taping couldn't have been better.  Our family has faced our share of difficulties lately with one of our children having a seizure in June that triggered a string of doctor appointments and diagnoses of health issues (none of which triggered the seizure) and my husband experiencing serious misfortune in our business including an accident that totaled our semi and took our income and savings down to nothing for three months beginning in July.  I didn't know a whole lot about what the show was about beyond honoring veterans who give back to their communities, but I looked at this opportunity to get away to Chicago as a breath of fresh air for our family.  Because my husband gives up so much for me and the kids, I was also thrilled that he would be the recipient of something special beyond what I could give him.  The part that made this arrangement completely ideal was that I had already scheduled the days surrounding the taping to be away from work to attend a conference. 

All that stood between us and Chicago was an interview via Skype with one of the show staff members.  I spoke with the kids about being prepared to answer questions about how we are involved in our community and general things about what they like to do so that they could be involved in the interview and each contribute something different that reflected their wonderful personalities.  We got up early that morning and I made sure every was ready with clean clothes and brushed hair and teeth.  We prepared the computer and my stomach did flips as I waited for the call.  The flips became stronger and more frequent as the appointed time came and went with no call.  Knowing that he arranged the call, I began to quiz my husband...Are you sure she said 9:30?  Were we supposed to Skype her?  How can she Skype us if you didn't give her our username?  Luckily for him, the phone finally rang but the interview was over before we really even said much at all.  I was completely thrown off guard when the sweet interviewer asked my kids what my husband and I do for them.  Apparently my kids were surprised too because only my oldest daughter was able to pull together an answer.  At the end of our chat, the lady said that they would have an answer for us late that evening but she was pulling for us.  It was at this point that our kids realized that this wasn't just some lady that wanted to meet them, but someone who might want them on TV.  In Chicago!!!  That meant a trip on an airplane or a train - a first for two of our kids!!!  This would be better than any Christmas gift we could give sine we are still getting back on our feet from the events of the summer.

As I went about my day, I couldn't help but get excited.  She said our chances were good and it was between us and one other family.  Was this how God was going to bless us for our faithfulness through the past few months - by sending us to Chicago for a TV show?  He's done more unexpected things in our lives, so it could happen!  My excitement turned by the next morning when we heard nothing.  Didn't she say that she liked us?  Were we not chatty enough?  Not attractive enough?  Doubt and disappointment led me through the next few days.  It was momentarily alleviated when my husband's phone rang as we walked into church that Sunday morning.  It was the lady who interviewed us...saying that we weren't chosen.  My heart sank.  To be completely honest, I cried.  Second place never feels so bad except when you think about how good first place could have felt.  My heart was sad for my husband who deserves this sort of honor and my kids whom I overheard excitedly talking about traveling as a whole family on the train or airplane.

I packed my bags and went to the conference with my mom as scheduled before this whirlwind caught me up in it.  Apparently being on the show and whatever came with that was not the blessing that God had for us and I knew that in time I would be satisfied with not going.  I knew that there were many other families with compelling stories that truly deserved this as much as my family and was happy that the show was honoring any veterans. The first night at the conference, the night we would have been in a hotel preparing for the show, my husband called to tell me it was OK that we weren't picked.  He and three of the kids were home with a terrible stomach bug.  Being in Chicago (or traveling there) would not have been fun at all like this.  I had to agree with him.

I though I dodged the sickness by being gone (my thoughtful husband disinfected the house before I came back), but I have been home sick most of this week.  With little energy to do much else, I was flipping through the channels this afternoon and saw The Steve Harvey Show listed.  Out of curiosity, I turned it on to get a glimpse of the man whom had almost blessed my family with a lovely surprise holiday.  On this particular show, he gave a family a day out with pizza and bowling.  The kids were ecstatic and he commented about how easy it was to please them.  It took me back to how overjoyed my kids were about simply traveling to Chicago and staying in a hotel.  My kids were thrilled to consider the many beverage and snack possibilities while traveling and hoped for time to swim in the hotel pool!  Yes, they are easy to please!

My thoughts were interrupted when a teaser came on for Monday's show.  It wasn't about the veteran as I was about the super mom in the military family!  I had to rewind the clip to make sure I heard it right.  For the past two weeks, I have mourned something I never really had - the opportunity for my husband and family to be blessed because of what my husband has done when really my mom did this for me.  Because I am that kind of person, I cried again. 

This time it wasn't because of what we didn't have.  It was because of what I have.  At this point, I really don't want to know why we weren't chosen.  It doesn't matter and it isn't going to change anything.  Some people who don't know us met in a room and chose to honor another family over mine and that's irrelevant now.  Chosen or not, this was a reminder that I needed.  What matters is that I have an amazing family that takes every possible opportunity to demonstrate their love and appreciation for one another.    What I do isn't about me, but this is a reminder to me that my kids value the time I spend teaching them, driving them to their activities, and just hanging out with them.  I know that my husband appreciates the crazy dinners I pull together when he gets home late from work, the errands for him, and all of the other wifely things I do. His appreciation was evidenced in the things he did to get us on the show, something he would have rolled his eyes at if I had mentioned it to him.  And then there's my mom, who has her hands full with so much going on in her own life, but took the time to submit her letter and try to surprise me and cheer me up after our recent turn of events.  The things my family has done over the past couple of weeks to try to honor me validated all of those moments when the kids complain about their school work or my husband points out something that's not right and I wonder why I'm doing all of the things that I do.  Our faces may not be on TV this Veteran's Day and the day's routine will probably be like most any other day, but it will be my most special Veteran's Day ever.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Making Gift Giving Easier

When celebrating holidays, I try to balance my desire to be practical with the light-hearted fun of the occassion.  In our house, stockings and Easter baskets are filled with wonderful treats like toothpaste, body wash and pencils as well as minimal candy and toys.  When my girls were little, I'd get three of everything (one for each girl) in their favorite scents, flavors or colors - Chapstick, bubble bath, mini notebooks, whatever.  Now that we've added a boy in the mix and all of the kids are older, I've gotten a little more creative in my gift giving.  I've also added a new tradition that helps me know that I've chosen things my family likes. Let's be honest, it's not always easy keeping track of four kids' changing favorites.  Sometime each autumn, each of my kids fill out a gift guide.  This is the one time of year when they can write out all of the wonderful things they want and like.  They know that I don't want to hear about everything they see and want as the stores roll out their holiday displays because I will use these guides for my shopping.  Sometimes I deviate from their lists, but that is by my choice, not theirs. 

I don't just keep these lists to myself.  I make copies and share them with their siblings and extended family who ask for gift ideas.  By sharing this information, I often have an idea of who is getting what and duplicate gifts are avoided.  The list offers ideas at a variety of price points so everyone can find a gift within their budget that is sure to please the recipient.  These lists help to cut down on disappointments as gifts are opened because the things they receive are things they wrote on their lists.  We always teach our kids to be grateful for what they receive, but for birthdays and holidays, I'd rather give them what they truly need or want.  They are honestly excited when they receive their favorite toothpaste rather than the basic stuff I buy the rest of the year.