Christmas with Intention

Christmas with Intention

We have four children with birthdays in January, March, April and June – ours are in August and December. Six months out of twelve, we are celebrating a birthday at our house. Generally, after the last kiddo’s birthday in June, I start shopping for Christmas. I know that sounds really ridiculous, but we have a LOT of people to buy for, not just our kiddos. We are blessed with a big family, and not just by blood, but by our extended family of friends and/or their children. In turn, we are blessed by many gifts in exchange. I assure you – one quick glance at our play room, and you’ll know our children want for little. 

This year, rather than start early – I have decided to limit the gift giving for our children. The littles will be limited to 10 gifts a piece (and Santa’s limit is undecided though it will be even less) and while that still seems extremely excessive, I have decided those ten gifts will be purchased/gifted with intention. I read an article that suggested intentional/minimal gifting could be limited to four gifts: “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” Also, I have read in the past that Santa should always bring the most modest gifts in an effort to show compassion to your child’s peers. 

Our ten gifts will go as follows:

  1. Wish list item
  2. Wish list item 
  3. A fiction book
  4. A nonfiction book
  5. A STEM/STEAM toy
  6. A pair of shoes
  7. Something that encourages creativity
  8. An outfit
  9. A keepsake
  10. An experience*

*To expand on “experience,” I want to point out that could mean many things for many different people. For example, my oldest asks frequently for a mommy/daughter date so even a handmade coupon promising one-on-one time with your child would be an inexpensive addition to your Christmas gift list, yet the most rewarding present of all. 

There are many reasons for going minimal this year, as I have given this a lot of thought. 

Appreciation. I want my children to truly appreciate their gifts. I am extremely guilty of ALWAYS going overboard and buying “just one more” gift, especially when I start shopping so early in the year (which, I did not do this year). As we all know, it’s not the number of presents, it’s the “thought that counts.”

The playroom. Over the years our playroom has become a collection site for way too many things. Recently, I cleaned out five garbage bags (that we donated locally). Five garbage bags. I was then able to add a reading area to their playroom (which I have always wanted to do) and an art area, and I feel like those are both very important activities for the girls to be engaged in more fully.

Our carbon footprint. With toys that only cost $1 at Dollar Tree (or the Target bin, or even at Walmart, etc.), it’s easy to say “yes” as we shop. But honestly, those are the first toys I toss out when I purge, the first toys to break, the first toys to get lost. With already overflowing landfills, I am literally spending “only $1” to contribute to more waste (I’ve already started saying no to these impulse purchases). Side note: I don’t want to discount that these purchases are what some can more easily afford, I am speaking solely on intentional gift giving as my motivator.

The true meaning of Christmas. I want to focus more on doing for others, why we celebrate Christmas in the first place, being truly engaged with friends and family, creating and passing along tradition. I can’t believe that the true meaning of Christmas hasn’t been lost, as I go to the store to purchase toothpaste on the first day of October and see a small endcap of Halloween/fall items and pass two entire aisles of Christmas decor.

They don’t NEED it. They truly don’t need any of the things they get for Christmas. They don’t NEED this year’s Christmas fad item (and the fact that we haven’t had cable in 10 years is a bonus because they don’t watch commercials to know what this year’s fad item is anyway). They WANT for gifts and, hey, in life we don’t always get everything we want (I don’t want to raise my children to believe that they do, or feel “entitled” to anything they didn’t work hard for). Why put all of that pressure on ourselves as parents when it’s literally not a necessity. Food, they NEED food – they don’t NEED a new doll (when they already have 20).

As far as the big kids go, it is easier to gift with intention. We can make purchases directly from their lists and know that they’ll get used/worn and appreciated. Our oldest daughter is intentional on her own, and only asks for what she feels like she needs (#goals). For everyone else? Handmade items. This year, I am going to make something for each of my friends. I feel like it aligns with intention and focusing on what Christmas means to me. So, if you’re reading this and we exchange gifts – make me something instead of purchasing a present (a handmade card would be perfect). 

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I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

I’ve been running from my grief, and I am tired…

For over four years, I have ran from my grief. I ran fast and far, to revisit it briefly only a handful of times; each time leaving more quickly than the last. I can’t live in it, I refuse to, but I also probably can’t say that I’ve actually grieved properly. But then, I guess, I don’t know what grieving properly really is.

I was a stay-at-home momma when my own mom passed away. I’m lucky that I was able to spend so much time with her in the year following her cancer diagnosis. I am so thankful for that time and the remaining memories we were able to make. I accept her death, I accept the inevitability of death and my own mortality. Accepting her death is different than accepting the “why.” “Why” my mom was chosen, I’ll never understand. I can’t even think too deeply of it without wanting to vomit or completely and totally shut down.

To escape my grief, I made myself busy; so busy that I rarely slept. I finished my Master’s, endlessly volunteered for multiple organizations and causes, individually spear-headed a series of fundraisers to benefit the National Brain Tumor Society (we are over $33,000 raised), said “yes” to every favor and request, purchased a building and started a business (and then purchased another building and started another business), became the Village Clerk of Wapella, wrote a weekly newspaper column (in place of my mother’s weekly newspaper column), started a Girl Scout troop, and the list literally goes on (add in the fact that I’m a mother of four, got married during this crazy time, and I’ve remained a daughter and friend).

I. Am. Tired.

It caught up to me, it all caught up to me and I am exhausted mentally and physically; some days I cannot find even a portion of the energy that I couldn’t shut off for so long. I cannot find the energy to say “yes.” And, I’m sad. As I near my 35th birthday, I wish I could fast forward through it. I wish that every year, I didn’t have to be reminded of one more year “since” or “until.” My heart breaks with the loss of my mother. I miss her SO much, and it’s not “fair” that I don’t have her – that my children don’t have her. Although, I’ve heard it said many times that, “life isn’t fair,” I still very much wish that it was.

Here is what I have gained from slowing down, though. I have regained my ability to solely focus on my family and sometimes even on myself (that is still a work in progress). I found my dream job without even knowing it existed. I work long hours without effort, because I truly enjoy it. I have time to go on adventures and make memories with my family. I have finally focused on making my own legacy, rather than living 100% through my mom’s. I think she’d be excited, and proud. I think for a long time, I tried desperately to hang on to every ounce of my mom, rather than to live my own life. I didn’t want anyone to forget about her, but regardless of who remembers – I will never forget and I will never let my children forget. She will live through us, whether I stay up all hours of the night or sleep in.

So, if I’ve been more of a “no” person than a “yes” person lately, please don’t take offense to it. My saying “no” means I have more time to say “yes” to MY family. I can spend more time with my children so that their memories of ME will be like my memories of my mom and the home I grew up in with her, the life I lived with, and because of, her – she was always by my side, always my biggest cheerleader and she loved me endlessly. I always knew she was there for me, without any doubt. I hope my children will grow to understand that is how I feel about them. My love for them all will never falter, through life or even death.

GBM Awareness Day

GBM Awareness Day

Four years ago tomorrow, my mom passed in her home, taking her very last breath surrounded by her husband, daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters. I will never forget it, and I would never wish it upon another human being.

It was a tough year. I had just given birth to my second baby, naive that life was grand and I had never been happier. One month later, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) – a deadly brain tumor with a nearly non-existent survival rate.

The next 12 months would be riddled with tumor resections, radiation, chemotherapy, (multiple doctors, hospitals and nursing homes) and ultimately the infection that would end her life. It was also riddled with never-ending love, overwhelming emotion, and undeniable heartache.

I remember googling GBM as we sat in the waiting room, my mom alone in her hospital room, minutes after the diagnosis. We were all absorbing what we had just heard. I had never heard of GBM – there is no known cause, there is not currently a cure.

Thanks to information provided by the National Brain Tumor Society, I was better able to understand what was happening. Thanks also to their dedication to research, they proudly donate $0.83 cents of every dollar they receive. I knew that day I would one day partner with them. I couldn’t save my mom, but I could bring awareness, contribute to research, maybe I could help to save YOUR mom (or YOUR daughter or YOUR nana). In the last 3 years, our small town had housed the National Brain Tumor Society Nature Walk held annually at Weldon Springs State Park (where my mom spent countless hours, years, of her life giving to our community). We have raised over $36,609. We are currently working on year four of this event.

In the meantime, I have met many families affected by GBM, all of whom have helped me through this journey – hopefully I’ve been able to help some of them as well.

Today is the first ever National GBM Awareness Day. This is HUGE. July 17, 2019 – just one day short of four years since I lost my momma, is recognized to bring awareness solely to GBM. I am elated.

Please consider sharing information about GBM today – share our event, share our fundraising page, donate, post a picture of GBM facts, share this post. Whatever you can do today to help bring awareness – I know I’d appreciate it, but I know the world will benefit from it. Thank you, from our family (who is seriously missing a significant piece of our hearts) and for all of the families who deserve a cure ❤️

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Anything Helps, Even a Smile

Lauren Johnson

We had just left Dairy Queen. I was feeling incredibly guilty because drive thru meals have increased as we have found ourselves always on the go. Coincidentally enough, my weight has also increased significantly – I am certain that the two are correlated. Regardless, we left the drive thru and pulled up to the lights to head South on the highway, me with a mouthful of BBQ Snack Melt, when I saw a man standing there with a cardboard sign. The sign read, “Anything helps, even a smile.”

It had been one of those incredibly windy days and the man was clearly doing everything he could just to hold on to his sign. I couldn’t help but think about how cold this man had to be, and before I knew it, we had changed course and headed back toward McDonalds to get the man with the sign something warm to eat.

Collins slept through this whole adventure, but Kendall was fully alert, curious as to why were at McDonalds when we had been on our way home just a couple of minutes before. I explained to her that we were taking the “man with a sign” something to eat, further explaining that he quite possibly hadn’t had anything to eat all day. She was very upset at the idea that his “tummy was rumbly,” and thought fondly of our mission to alleviate that issue for him.

I have to figure that if someone is asking for help, then they really need it. I would’ve came home and worried about this man all night had I not done at least something for him. To be honest, I’ve worried about that poor man since the second I saw him and his wellbeing has consumed my thoughts.

We took the “man with a sign” his two cheeseburger meal and some extra cash. As I handed it out the window to him, he nearly cried (and so did I). He said, “oh, bless you, bless you!”, before taking off across the street to his bike. It made me wonder how long that man had stood there hoping for something warm to eat. How many cars drove by him, a block away from a drive thru, ignoring his pleas for help. How many people went home and regretted not helping, and how many never gave it a second thought?

The entire drive home, Kendall was full of questions.
“Who was that man?” “Does he know how to eat?” “Why is he hungry?” “How did you know he was hungry?” “Where does he live?” But after I answered all of her questions, her wheels started turning from why we helped this man, to what else we could do. “We could invite him to our house?” “I could give him my candy!” “Can we buy him a bed?” “We could visit him so he has friends!”

We continued our discussion and I told her that sometimes in life, we experience hardships and although I’m not certain, the “man with a sign” may not have had anything other than the clothes on his back and his bicycle. I asked her how she would feel if all she had was a coat and a bicycle. She replied, “well mommy, that would make me sad!”

I hope Kendall can always look back on this day, and without using any judgement at all, follow her big heart to find a way to help others. I also hope that the “man with a sign” can look back on today and know that even though hundreds of people went on by, there will always be that one person who will help him when he needs it. Maybe someday he will be able to return the favor, I will bet that if he can – he will. Until then, we should all learn a very valuable lesson from this man and remember that anything helps, even a smile!

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
⁃ Ralph Waldo Emerson

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

To Live with Intention

To Live with Intention

How much better would life be for everyone if we held ourselves accountable for our actions, yet weren’t so quick to judge others? What if everyone talked about their problems; solved them – stood up for themselves, stood up for their children, stood up for others (and others’ children). Why are we so quick to blame others for our own issues? Why are we so quick to put someone else down to make ourselves look better? If you hold yourself accountable for your actions, you may save someone else from suffering, from severe anguish. Why are we intentionally hurting other people?

I recently had a situation where I felt it necessary to speak up for one of my children. I despise confrontation and literally avoid it when possible. This has often been misconstrued as a weakness, but I feel like I’m trying to be the bigger person by not arguing when not essential. I was shaking; I was anxious. I presented my situation respectfully while the other person became overly defensive. The whole time I wondered if I was out of line and I realized later that no, I was not. I’m allowed to speak up for myself (or in this particular case, my child). I’m allowed to be upset. I’m allowed to initiate conversation (respectfully). Would it have avoided an argument had I remained silent? Of course. But should I be able to express when I’m upset with someone (or about a situation) without judgement or confrontation? Yes. Yes, I should (and so should you).

I am an adult. There are so many qualities you develop as an adult; as you’re learning and growing; adapting and changing over the years. I thank some really amazing professors for encouraging my analytical thinking skills, but regardless, we {pretty much} all have an ability to analytically think about situations. One of my worst personal characteristics has always been that I often over-analyze which gives me severe anxiety. “Did that text come out right?,“ Did my comment get taken out of context?,” “Did I do that wrong?,” etc. I will be thinking of something long after someone else has forgotten about it. My dad calls it “dwelling.” I don’t dwell intentionally, it’s just part of my personality.

Accountability. Another thing we {should} develop as we age. I’m the first to say “I messed up, I’m sorry.” I don’t blame others for my own shortcomings, I own up to them. If I hurt your feelings, I’m CERTAIN it was unintentional and I probably missed the cue while I was overanalyzing something else I {or someone else} did. But, if you are willing to call me out on it, I’m willing to talk about it. Let’s fix this.

I’m a fixer. I want to “fix” everyone that hurts, every broken situation. Again, a quality that has its downsides. Maybe you posted on social media about your bad day. You go to bed and while you’re sleeping, I am probably laying in bed thinking about how I can help you. While helping others is a positive quality, it also causes me anxiety (I worry way too much).

Unfortunately, these qualities make for some confidence and self-esteem issues. I’ve struggled with these issues for years (and years). When I do something wrong, I forget all of the times I did something right. Dwelling. I am my own worst critic.

Being a parent changes these characteristics slightly. I speak up for my children {when I often don’t speak up for myself}. I know they need an advocate – I have even been known to speak up for your children (you might not ever even know about it). I teach my children to stand up for themselves (and others when necessary), but if they feel like they can’t, they know their mom or dad will help them. That’s our biggest job, afterall. Making sure they have what they need to grow – emotionally, physically and even spiritually.

None of this means that I’m discounting that other people try their hardest to be their best selves. Some people just fall short and that may not even be their fault (or intentional). But in our minds (and in our hearts), we KNOW when we are lying, judging, and/or being hateful – so why is it happening, and with such frequency? It is not at all difficult to say, “I was wrong” or “you are right!” – three little words, that’s all.

I just keep thinking how much easier life would be if we could coexist with intention; live life with intention. How many broken hearts we could avoid breaking in the first place, or help those whose hearts are broken already. Stand up when we know something is wrong, yet not be afraid to admit when we are wrong. We are all guilty of making mistakes, it’s how we respond to those mistakes that defines our character.

© 2019 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com

I am courageous

I am courageous

I Am Courageous

By Lauren Thompson

As it was featured on Facebook in the “You Are Courage Campaign” Page

Friday, July 25, 2014 was the start of the week that changed my life forever. My mother – my best friend, my biggest supporter, my strength, my light on every dark day – was transported to the local hospital exhibiting stroke-like symptoms. At only 58 years old, she was diagnosed the next day with a brain tumor. Four days later it was resected; three days after that, she was told she had a stage IV Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), with a projected life expectancy of 15 months with treatment, or 4 months without.

For the next 12 months, she endured 6 weeks of radiation, countless days of chemo therapy, and an additional resection. She was sick for weeks during, and after, chemo. She missed her last Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and both granddaughter’s birthdays (among other various birthdays, holidays and special occasions) due to her chemo schedule and hospital stays. Ironically, it was because of her family that she was fighting so hard. She was the best Nana two little girls could ever ask for and she loved our little girls more than life itself. Her biggest fear through it all was that her grandchildren wouldn’t remember her.

Growing up an only child, my stay-at-home mom and I shared a very special bond. Until recently, I was too naive to understand that not everyone is lucky enough to share the special bond that we had. In addition to being special to her family, she was also a notable lady in our small community, sharing her wealth of knowledge with children and adults for almost 30 years.

Carol Thompson passed away on July 18, 2015 – a week shy of her first hospitalization. It was a bittersweet day knowing that she was no longer suffering, while knowing I would never again feel her touch, hear her voice or smell her scent. I watched as the woman who witnessed my first breaths, took her last.

This year was my third Mother’s Day without my momma. I have experienced all of the various stages of grief. I have cried almost every single day, but I never let my grief keep me down. Instead, I decided to channel my energy into keeping my mother’s legacy alive.

I talk about Nana every day with my children, my family, my friends and the world. I know that no matter what, she is always embedded deeply into our hearts and forever in our thoughts and memories.

Being brave through my loss was something I would have never believed I could be, but I have done it. On the days I think I cannot go on without my sweet momma by my side, I remember that I can – and she would want me to. I have an amazing support network and have been blessed with astounding family and friends. I am courageous for my fiancé, I am courageous for my beautiful children, I am courageous for my father, I am courageous for my friends, I am courageous for me. Most of all, I am courageous because of, and for, my sweet momma.

© 2018 Lauren Johnson; http://livingthroughherlegacy.com