Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Traditions

It's that time again!  Christmas season has begun.  My Christmas countdown gives us 27 days to go.

As we work to prepare for this holiday, I have been giving a lot of thought towards traditions.  Christmas traditions have always meant so much to me.  Each little act that my family would do would help get me into the Christmas spirit.  There were some traditions from my childhood that I couldn't wait to continue on with my family.  One of these is decorating the tree.  We crank out the Christmas songs, fight with the strands of lights, wondering why only half the strand is working, the kids fight over who gets to put up the Christmas star, and we pull out the ornaments, remembering where and when we got each one, as we take turns hanging them on the tree.  Each year we let the kids pick out new ornaments for the tree.  We also try to get a new ornament from our travels.

I love seeing other people's Christmas trees.  Each family does this in a different way.  Some are like my family, you have a collection of mismatched ornaments that are meaningful in some way to you.  Some families have a tree theme, maybe you have many trees, all with different themes.  Some people have beautifully put together trees with ribbons and balls.  It's all wonderful, no matter how you choose to decorate.

One thing that I didn't anticipate in my youth was that as we get older, as new people are added into the mix, and as things change, traditions will need to be changed as well.  I don't fear change, generally, but messing with my traditions is something different all together.

This year marks the first time in my entire life that I am not sitting at my parents for Christmas dinner.  Our little family of five will be by ourselves this Christmas day and I don't even know what to do.  I tell the kids that we will develop new traditions, a new way of doing Christmas, but as of right now I do not know what that looks like.  I do know, as I have learned from experience, that I can not force new traditions on my kids.  There will be things we do, that I feel like the kids should love, but really I'm doing it more for me than them.

So, help me out friends!  What are somethings that your family does, or has done, that you love, that really put you in the spirit of Christmas?  How have you handled change to your Christmas routine?  How have you explained those changes to your children?

This holiday season will be full of change, full of memories, and full of new experiences, of that I am sure.

I'll leave you with a few pictures of our ornament collection.

Nativity star from Vatican City

Zach and mine's first ornament and Ryann's first ornament.

Penguin family I got when I knew our family was complete.

I love our little handmade ornaments!

I had a picture ornament made this year.  I love how it's nestled between
Iron Man and a bell from the Polar Express!

Zach and I received this little tree on our first Christmas as a married couple.  Zach's grandmother gave it to us as a gift and it has fit perfectly in every home we have shared together, 6 houses!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Growing pains

I'd like to tell you a story.  Before I begin, however, let me give you some background information.

We have been living in our new town, with Zach serving at his new church since the end of June.  In that time, there has been lots of changes and upheaval for our family.  Finding a routine for the kids and I to get in to has been a challenge, and continues to be more than four months into this new life.  Sundays have proven to be the most challenging part of finding our new normal.  There are three services that Zach must be at.  He leaves our house often before 7:00 on Sunday mornings.  Two services are held at one church, one right after the other, with the third being held at another church, in another town, more than twenty minutes away.  What is a preacher's wife and family to do?  Most weeks I try to make it to two of those services, one in each church, though there are times that I just don't have it in me to sit through two services with my three kids so I choose one.  Then of course, there's always the one service, the earliest one, that I have only been to a few times.

Now, on to the story and the purpose of this post:

Not too long ago the kids and I got up to go to the earliest service, the one we have only been to on occasion.  I sat in the front, with the three kids.  I tried to smile at those around me and most people wouldn't even meet my eye.  That's okay, it's early, most of these people have no clue who I am.  The kids are tired, cranky, hot and uncomfortable.  The youngest one is crawling all over me, fidgeting to stay awake, but really wanting to go to sleep.  We make it to the end of the service and I work on gathering the water bottles, church bag, my purse, and loose bulletins.  An older woman walks up to us, she's the first one to talk to us since we walked in the front door.  She goes right up to Noah, who has been upset because of something his sister did or said, and asks him why he didn't stand during the last song, saying, "Is there something wrong with you?"

Noah immediately backs away from her, this stranger whom he has never met.  My six year old has no idea how to respond to this question and chooses to say nothing instead.  The lady glances at me for the first time, asks if its our first visit here and then offers the kids some candy.  I left flabbergasted.  I managed to make it to my car before I broke down into tears.  I went home depressed and feeling like I am the worst mom alive, the worst preacher's wife, a failure.

Now, I understand that I am a sensitive person.  I also admit to reading into things, intentions that weren't ever there.  However, I also know that had I been a visitor I would never go back to that church because of how my kids and I were treated, because of how a few people made me feel, whatever their true intentions were.

I know a lot of my readers are church goers, many of you are leaders in your congregation.  I am begging you to think about how you treat young families, visitors, and anyone else.  Think about how you go about greeting people, how you handle those people who may be "doing it wrong."

I have written before about having kids in church (you can see those here and here).  It's hard, whether you have one or five.  We are trying to teach our kid how to behave in an environment that is often unforgiving of mistakes or missteps.  Our kids are expected to sit quietly, to understand the traditions and routines, to be still, and to be happy.  How are they expected to learn anything without messing up on occasion?

Let me tell you another story:

Another Sunday, and another service finds us once again sitting on the front row, belongings strewn about, but this time we are in another sanctuary, surrounded by different people.  My kids are happy and this creates a new set of challenges.  They want to play, they want to talk, they want to run up and give their daddy a hug.  Ryann, the three year old wants to dance to the music.  Her dress has a twirly skirt and that's amazing and doesn't everyone want to see?  I am exhausted, and frustrated, and once again feeling like I'm failing.  The end of the service comes and I try to gather my wits and belongings without crumbling.  An older woman comes up to me.  Great. Here we go again.  She puts a hand on my arm and says, "I want you to know that we love seeing your kids up here.  I know it can be frustrating for you, but we love it. You are doing a good job of handling them by yourself."

Friends, this is love.  This is what will bring people back, bring people into a relationship.  There was no judgement, just encouragement.

Being a parent is hard.  Being a parent who tries to bring their family to church is hard.  Young families today have so much vying for their attention and time.  Often both parents work full time jobs and Sundays may be the only time for families to spend together.  For them to come spend an hour or more at church is an achievement in itself.  It means they are there because they want to be, whatever reason that may be.  They will often want to keep their family together during that hour of worship, for good reason.  However, there's a good chance that their younger ones are still learning about what church is, and how to behave.  Their parents are likely still learning about how to best handle their little ones while figuring everything out.  Be kind. Be encouraging.  Be helpful.  Love.  Think about your words before you offer any kind of observation or "helpful" advice.  Think about how your words, whatever their intention, may sound to an overwhelmed mother or father.  Think about how your criticisms may sound to that visitor, who doesn't understand or know about "how we do things."  If we expect to have a church in thirty years, we need to practice loving and encouraging more, and criticizing less.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Weakness into Perfection

Weakness.  It seems like "weakness" has become a dirty word.  I don't know, maybe it's always been that way, maybe it's human nature to not allow anyone to see that we have weaknesses, that we are not perfect.

Perfection.  What is perfection?  As a Christian I have been taught that we must always strive for perfection, to live our lives in a way that is "Christ like."  If we are to live as Christ lived, then we must work towards perfection, for Christ was perfection embodied.  But guys, Christ showed weakness.  He doubted, he struggled, he had moments of anger and deep sorrow.  He didn't hide these moments of weakness from the world, from his closest friends, they are instead, well documented, and guess what? He's still perfect.

Why then, do we attempt to hide our weaknesses from the world?  Why do we try to hide our weaknesses from ourselves?  Only when we truly admit to ourselves that we are not perfect, that we struggle, that we need help, that we aren't always who we know we should be, can we really grow, grow towards true perfection.

It's easy to put on a strong face for a couple of hours, those moments we need to be the super version of ourselves.  It's easy to sit behind a computer and write, hitting that delete button when that version of ourselves that we don't want others to see makes an appearance.  It's easy to hide ourselves away when we are feeling weak so that no one has to see that part of us.  It's easy, but is it right?

Maybe I'm in the minority but I long for transparent and authentic relationships.  I need to be around people who have weaknesses and who we can journey together, through the valleys and the mountaintops.  I need people in my life who understand weakness and who are willing to share those moments with me so that I can overcome my own.  Who doesn't need people like that?

Christ is and has always been transparent and authentic.  He also knows our weaknesses and desires to walk beside us as we struggle.  If we aren't being honest with ourselves as to where and when we need help, are we allowing God to work through us and heal us at the same time?

Love yourself, warts and all.  Don't hide away when your soul is crying out for help, crying out in despair.  Don't keep that part of yourself from everyone else.  Who knows, God could use those moments of yourself, those moments you hate and hide away, those pieces of you that seem weak, to change another's life.

God is amazing.  His people are amazing.  We are capable of so much, but only if we are honest with who we are.  Only in that honesty can our true potential be realized.

I heard a quote recently and I'll try to get it right here: "Who we are is God's gift to us.  Who we become is our gift to God."

Who are you going to become?  And how are you going to get there?

Saturday, September 3, 2016

'Cause He's My Best Friend...

Today, Zach and I celebrate eleven years of marriage.  We are celebrating separately today because Zach is out of town and wont be back until tomorrow.  This week I have been reflecting over the last eleven years of married life and the two years that lead up to our wedding and would like to share some of those reflections with you, if you'll indulge me.

Anniversary picture from last year.

Zach and I met at church.  A friend from my McMurry days was working as Youth Director at my home church when I moved back to Plainview.  It was a difficult time in my life and I was feeling very lost and alone.  Tyson, my McM pal, invited me to come help out with the youth group.  I debated whether or not to go because, well, I was scared.  Teenagers? Scary! But, I was lonely enough that I went.  I met Zach that first night.  He was so young and weird, he came and sat beside me right away and made me feel welcome.  He's gifted like that.

Just a couple of kids, working with some kids.

The next year had us working together and forming a friendship.  I never really thought about dating him, he was so young, we would never be more than just friends.  However, as the months went on, and as we continued in ministry together, I saw more in him.  We didn't always agree but he always listened to me.  He was very immature but I saw growth.  We didn't have a lot in common, but we always had fun together.  Finally, I decided to let the age difference not be an issue and we started dating on July 4, 2004.

Our dating life had some up and downs but within a few months I knew he was it for me.  I was done looking for Mr. Right,I had found him in Zach.  We talked about marriage for months before he finally popped the question a year into dating on July 4, 2005.  He took me for a picnic lunch at the place we first met, the church, and asked me to marry him.  It was perfect.

Our first "couple" pic

Not getting any younger we decided to not have a long engagement and set our wedding date for only two months away, before Zach got far into his semester of school.  It was a stressful two months but our wedding was wonderful.  So many friends and family came to help us celebrate.  We had a very simple ceremony, again, in the place we met, followed by a cookout at my aunt and uncles house.  It was just what I wanted and I am so grateful for the hard work our families put in to help us carry it off.

We didn't have a ton of money so we honeymooned in Santa Fe for a couple of days before we had to return to work and school.  So begins married life.

Hanging out in Santa Fe with my 20 year old husband.

That first year of marriage was so hard.  We were trying to figure out what being married really meant.  We had to learn to put each other first, above everyone else.  We had to learn to communicate.  I'll be honest, there were moments that first year that I thought about calling it quits.  There were moments that we almost let our differences break us.

First Christmas as a married couple.

A couple of weeks after our fist anniversary I became pregnant with Zoe.  With that pregnancy came even more obstacles we had to cross.  Money, house, jobs, church, family, so many things that could have gotten in the way had we let it.  I prayed constantly that the Lord would prepare Zach to be a dad, worried that at just 22 he wouldn't want the job.  We were still working at figuring things out as a couple, would we be able to figure things out as parents?

He's the best dad.

It wasn't easy, but we figured it out.  We went the next year after Zoe was born, fumbling along best we could.  Things were hard and again, I had doubts.  The turning point happened one Sunday in May a year after Zoe was born.  I found myself in our bedroom, alone and fuming about something Zach had done.  I was angry and hurt and couldn't believe he was just going to let me be angry and hurt alone.  Do you know what I did?  I sucked it up, got out of bed, and calmly as I could, I confronted Zach.  I told him that I was hurt and why I was mad.  We talked about it.  I discovered that he wasn't aware of the transgression that had so upset me.  He apologized and we talked for hours after that.  I learned in that moment, that if I wanted to have a marriage with him that I had to humble myself and communicate my feelings to him instead of allowing them to build up and fester inside of me.  That was a game changer.

Since then many things have happened in our lives, many bad, so much more great.  We have grown together, built a family together, and continued in ministry together.  Zach, this kid I thought was too young for me, has taught me so much.  He's taught me to love baseball, to love generously (although he's still way better at it), to trust always, and to forgive earnestly.  We still have hard times, moments that we struggle through, moments of doubt, but because we are able to continue to enter into conversation together, to share those feelings, we have been able to persevere.

Eleven years.  It's not a huge amount, but, I know, without a doubt it will continue.  We have a lifetime ahead of us, and I am certain, without a shadow of a doubt, that we will share it together.  You see, even though I know it wont always be easy, it is so worth it to put in the hard work to ensure we have as healthy a relationship as possible.  I know that our kids will grow up believing in true love, because we have shown them what that looks like.

It looks like this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What a friend...

I'm sitting at the dining room table, catching up on some work and trying to savor my cup of coffee.  There's no school today and I am steeling myself for the inevitable nonstop bickering between my kids.  The two oldest are up, playing in Noah's room until they migrate into their playroom.  I hear Noah, frustrated with the drawing activity on his Leapster, proclaim, "Zoe! I'm trying to draw you a Zebra but I just cant do it!"  You see, little brother knows his sister's favorite animal has always been a Zebra.  He's trying so hard to do something nice for her.  Zoe, with patience that would rival most adults, responds like this,"That's okay.  Maybe you should try to draw something you know how to draw, like a dog.  You draw great dogs."  Just like that, Noah's frustration melts away.

I marvel at the relationship my kids have with one another.  They bicker so much.  They yell, fight, sometimes hit (always an "accident" of course), and make one another cry more than any two people I know.   However, they also comfort, soothe, encourage, and support one another in ways that warm this mom's heart.  The picture below is one of my all time favorites.  I had been trying to get a good picture of the kids in their Fourth of July outfits.  Zoe was not feeling it.  She was upset and frustrated about something I obviously didn't understand.  Noah probably didn't understand either.  However, his reaction to his sister was different than that of an aggravated mother.  He grabbed her in a huge, genuine hug, and her reaction was just picture perfect.  With that act, that love he showed her, Noah was able to turn the day around for all of us.

Our church is in the middle of a sermon series on friendship so I've been thinking a lot about what makes a good friend.  Honestly folks, good friends are hard to come by.  There aren't always very many people with whom we feel completely comfortable around.  People that take us as we are, "wart's and all" and love us unconditionally.  People who are honest and loving at the same time.

Zach and I understand that the path we've chosen in life, being a pastor in the United Methodist Church, means that we will move probably more often than we will like.  I worry sometimes about how this lifestyle will affect our children.  Seeing moments like I witnessed this morning, my kids truly being each other's best friends, eases my heart somewhat.  I think we would all consider ourselves blessed indeed to have a friend like they have found in one another.

May we also take the time to consider, "How have I been a friend to someone lately."  What act of genuine love and support have you shown to someone recently?  I know I could take a lesson from my kids today.

Blessings to you and yours, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

FAQs, Bechtold style

Zach and I recently returned from a wonderful trip to celebrate our 10 year anniversary that will happen in September.  We have dubbed it our "tiniversary" since tin is the traditional gift for 10 years.  We have received alot of questions from friends and strangers about this trip that I thought I would address here.

1.  How could you afford to do this trip?  Or, the more common but less of a question: "Must be nice to be able to afford it."  Since Zach and I have been married we have only taken a handful of vacations.  Nearly all have been baseball related and the longest one we took was for three days.  We usually stay in questionable hotel accommodations and we watch every penny we spend.  Since we started planning our honeymoon, which was to Santa Fe, we agreed that for our ten year anniversary we would try and do something big.  So, about two years ago, we started planning.  We put back nearly every extra dollar we received, either through an unexpected job, or money we received at Christmas and birthdays.  In September we officially booked the cruise and we were able to make payments.  Our flights, which we also booked early, we used our tax refund to purchase.  That, coupled with my incredible "cheapness" enabled us to be able to afford this wonderful trip.  It wasn't luck, it was work and conscious effort on our parts to make sacrifices to be able to afford it.

2.  How could you leave your kids for that long?  It was hard, trust me.  I am grateful to have a wonderful set of in-laws who were able to watch our kids for that long.  There were many moments during our trip that I was racked with guilt and worry for leaving my kids.  We were also unable to be in contact with them much which made it harder.  However, with everything that our daily lives encompass: school, work, church, kids, family, etc., we needed this time together.  I loved the moments and experiences we were able to share together, Zach and I.  So many memories were made that are priceless.  Also, for someone like me, who has never been out of the country, I treasured this experience with travel.  I was able to check many things off my bucket list that at times, I was quite emotional about it.  I kept thinking, what if we had kept putting this trip off, to when we thought it was "more convenient" and maybe missed having this experience at all?

3.  What was your favorite part of the trip?  This is a tough one.  I asked Zach this question and he said that his was visiting Vatican City, more specifically St. Peter's Basilica.  He said, "It's amazing to think I'm standing on the same ground where many Popes have walked.  Where Peter was crucified."

There's Zach's feet, in the purple chucks, standing where the Pope has walked.

No doubt about it, that is cool.  As for the Basilica, no words can describe the beauty of that place.  You walk in and your jaw drops.  You think you know what to expect, but you just cant.


For me, it's hard to pin down the best moment.  Rome was awesome.  Malta and Sicily were amazingly beautiful.  I got to walk on the beach in Corsica.  The ship was lovely, the service was perfect, and the food divine.  What's not to love?

4.  What was your least favorite part of the trip?  Hands down it would be trying to find the hotel in Barcelona.  Here's a tip, don't try to save money when trying to get around a place like Barcelona, just go for the cab.  We went with a bus then the metro. Never again.  Taxi all the way.

5.  What cruise line did you go with?  We went with Royal Caribbean and I would highly recommend it.  We were on the Vision of the Seas which isn't a huge ship but large nonetheless.  The service was impeccable and we seriously have no complaints about anything about the ship.  

I mean, two desserts each!  What's not to love??

6.  Would you do it again? YES.  In fact, we would do this exact same cruise again.  There's so much to see in this world and a day at each of the ports was simply not enough.  The only thing we would change is we would like some friends or family to go with us and share the experience.  Not to mention, sometime our "selfies" were a little difficult to pull off and some willing hands to help us out with pictures would be nice.

See what I mean, that bleached out part behind us is the Trevi Fountain.

I'm going to begin now to save those dollars.  Who wants to join us?

Sunset view from the ship.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Taking control

As any mother of more than one child can attest to, your kids arguing with one another can be a major issue in your household.  If my oldest two children are in the same place for more than a minute, they are arguing.  Mostly it stems from my seven year old believing she knows everything and my four year old saying things just to make her mad.  I am constantly reminding Zoe that she cant control what others do, she can only control her reaction.  In frustration I'll lament,  "Why can't you just let it go?"  Obviously the sky isn't green, he's just saying that because he knows it makes her mad.  That's what little brothers do.  She has to be right, she has to set him straight, and the arguing continues until there are tears or I step in to separate them.

It's easy to get my mom voice and lecture my children about letting go of the little things and taking control of our own reactions.  It comes naturally to me to sit my daughter down and remind her that being right isn't the most important thing we can do.  When it comes to living what I teach, that's another matter.

I've been slapped by the realization that I have let certain people steal my joy.  I has hit with daunting clarity recently at a Bible Study that I have held on to criticisms I have received in the past, in some cases, the distant past, and it has colored the perception I have of myself and my ability to do certain things.  I have allowed those negative people and thoughts to define a part of who I am, or, at the very least, of who I think I am.  I have let my desire to be right in some instances damage my relationships with certain people.  I have done that, no body else. 

With new insight comes a new challenge.   How do I let go of years of hanging on to my bitterness?  How do I truly forgive, down in my heart, where it counts?  How do I refuse to let other people define me?

Friends, I honestly don't know, but I'm working on it.  Something that has helped me in ways I would never of guessed is to intentionally focus on the good in others.  I'm talking, everyone I come into contact with.  I try to think of something I admire about that person with every encounter.  By seeing something positive in other people, I'm more easily able to see the positive things within myself.  By focusing on a person's good quality, I'm less likely to get annoyed by the little things.  By trying to enjoy the presence of those I come into contact with, I find it easier to put myself into their shoes, to understand why they may say or do hurtful things.  By doing each of these things, I find it easier, in most cases, to voice my opinion without major conflict arising over differences.

My family, with Zach's guidance, has made a mantra of "Love God, Love others, reach out."  I remind my children that when we show love to others, especially those who annoy us or hurt us, we are truly showing love to God.  It's so hard sometimes, and sometimes it's even harder to love ourselves.  

I can not control others.  I can only control myself.  It's a daily challenge, one that I fail at constantly, but I pray daily to see change.  I pray that by through my actions, I am teaching my children what it means to LOVE, and that I someday, I can honestly say that I practice what I preach.

 I would love to hear from you on this topic.