Getting Through Hard Times {Finding Raisins in Your Cookies Instead of Chocolate Chips}

How to Handle the Hard Times (and some chuckles to brighten your day)

Photo Credit (Alterations mine)

Life is amazing and it totally stinks all at the same time. It gives and it robs. It promises and it fails to deliver and sometimes it hands over so much pain we can’t breathe and so much joy we’re bursting. It’s full of summits and valleys, days when your cookies have chocolate chips in them and days when the “chocolate” in your cookies turns out to be raisins.

How do we get through the valleys? How do we handle raisin days when we really need chocolate?

First, a glimpse:

Six weeks ago today, our eighth child was born. He was healthy. Everyone wants a healthy child, but when you’ve had unhealthy children in the past, your gratitude level for a healthy child skyrockets…like rockets…to the sky. We were and still are overjoyed–seriously overjoyed people. There’s joy, and then there’s us–overjoyed.

Five weeks ago I was sitting on the couch nursing my baby and chatting with my grandmother.

Four weeks ago we were standing by my grandmother’s hospital bed as she danced into heaven.

Three weeks ago we buried her.

Two weeks ago Judah and I joined the rest of the family who were already back on tour. Totally wonderful, but I need to go back to kindergarten so I can have a nap.

This past week our daughter with Crohn’s disease had a flare-up, and our son Judah presented blood in his diapers–we’ve been down that road too often.

Six weeks ago–summit. Three weeks ago–valley. Five weeks ago–chocolate chips. This week–raisins.

Here are some of the ways we choke down raisins while waiting for chocolate chips:


15 Tips for Handling Hard Times

1. Cry. Yes, cry. Science is amazing, don’t you think? By science I mean the incredible body and world designed by God–provider of summits and chocolate chips and sustainer through valleys and raisins. When we cry tears of sadness, the tears streaking mascara down the face contain stress hormones. In other words, by crying your tear ducts are removing stress hormones from the body. Isn’t that amazing?! (Yes, Christy. Yes, it is.) So don’t hold back–bawl your eyes out.

2. Just tackle today. I don’t particularly find the words “today has enough trouble” comforting, but this verse does offer good advice: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” Matthew 6:34. Don’t worry; don’t regret; don’t think about tomorrow without Grandma; don’t think about where Hannah’s flare might take her; just live this moment. You can handle this moment.

3. Rest. According to this State Universityy of New Jersey Pub-Med report summary, “Effects of stress accompanying social disruption and psychological depression, when demonstrated, have been consistently adverse.” Say, wha’?! Because I am an English major, not a science student, I will translate: stress weakens the immune system, and many personalities cannot adapt to the higher stress levels over time. Therefore, you must baby your body a bit (say that ten times fast) to counter the negative health effects of the raisins in your life. Do what you can to incorporate downtime into your day, even if that means jamming to some 80s tunes on the way to the next doctor’s appointment. To quote my doctor, “You. must. rest! Ask. for. help!” (Yeah, he scolds me…but he’s right.)

4. Hug. I’ve learned that hugging random strangers can get you punched, so I don’t do that anymore. Hugging willing huggers, however, is a great stress-release and a mood booster, because it releases endorphins (happy chemicals) into your body. A 20-second hug is ideal, but sometimes that’s awkward…especially when the hugger hears you counting. I prescribed 20-second hugs to all my children, and they count out loud, which serves double duty in teaching the preschooler her basic math skills and easing my homeschool load a bit.

Twenty seconds of hugging releases endorphins into your body and lifts your mood...unless you hug a random stranger who punches your lights out.

5. Don’t listen to the downers. When my daughter has a flare and people tell me Crohn’s horror stories, it doesn’t help. It’s horrible, actually. Total strangers learn about our daughter’s condition and, because they know someone with a similar disease, that somehow opens the mystical door of permission to destroy this mama’s joy. “I know a boy who had Crohn’s–he died.” Oh? Thank you. I haven’t panicked in, like, 17 seconds. I was almost feeling like a normal person. Thank you for removing that possibility for me. “My neighbor’s uncle’s llama’s previous owner’s niece has Crohn’s and was on the same medication as your daughter, but it stopped working and now she can’t get out of bed and her life is miserable.” Whoa, thank you! I was feeling almost optimistic, but you narrowly saved me from the inevitable fate of a positive outlook. Whew. That would have stunk.

There are times when you can listen and empathize and handle the horrors, and there are times when you simply cannot take it. Just say so. Say, “I’m sorry, but I’m really panicked about my daughter’s future right now, and I can’t handle any more bad news.” Some people have no tact and will ignore your request and keep talking about horrors and doom, so give them this WikiHow link: How to Be Tactful–15 Steps (With Pictures). You could even have business cards made up.

6. Pray. ‘Nuf said.

7. Exercise. It releases happy hormones into your body. If you exercise while crying, you are putting happy hormones in while taking sad hormones out. It’s pretty cool, unless you jog into an oncoming school bus because you can’t see through the tears–that right there is why I don’t jog, people, in case I start crying and hurl myself in front of a school bus and scar the passengers for life and leave my children motherless and get the bus driver fired. I don’t jog because I’m concerned for the job stability of bus drivers. Plus there are bears in the best jogging places, and no chocolate.

8. Laugh. When my father-in-law was dying, it felt wrong to laugh. The first time we laughed during his illness, it was a confusing release of pent-up emotion which actually made me cry, and it felt like we were betraying him, but at the same time it felt good to finally laugh again…while crying–I’m emotionally unstable like that. Why are you taking advice from me?

Laughter can help you through the hard times.

9. Distract yourself. I am certainly not one to hide from the realities of a situation, but dwelling on them does nobody any good at all. I know, because I’m a dweller. Turn the dwelling over to God and do something enjoyable–read a book, take a walk, plant a garden, hang out on for half an hour, play spider solitaire on your phone, call your bestie and make plans for world domination. Whatever you do, don’t dwell!

10. Embrace normal. Sure, your normal is different in the valleys than on the summits. After all, raisins are kinda squishy while chocolate is smooth and divine. Whatever you can do for yourself and your family that resembles your normal (movie night, family dinners, bed-time routines) will help remind you all that life is still livable.

11.Throw away normal. Ah, woman, you’re nothing if not contradictory and confusing! I know. Sorry. Seriously, though, if you homeschool your kids and you just lost your grandma, forget about math. Sit and read books and hug your kids and build a fire in the fireplace and roast popcorn over it in one of those tin popcorn thingies that clearly states, “Do not use over an open fire,” because having firetrucks parked outside your home is totally not normal and it’s a great distraction.

12. Find an ear. Not your own. Find someone you can talk to. Don’t find a fixer or an accuser. Fixers tell you what you need to do to make everything better; they have their very important place, but it isn’t here and now. Accusers like to tell you how everything is your fault. If only you would have… I’m not sure they have a place, except maybe on Perry Mason or Columbo. Find someone with an empathetic ear who will just let you vent and who will hug you and pray for you right then and there and for that short time will make it all about you and your problem until you have soul-dumped and cried and laughed and eaten chocolate and can get back to living. Talk your emotions out with your spouse as well, and with your children at their levels, since tough times often bring out the worst in a body when families need to really be sticking together.

Finding something to be grateful for.

13. Understand that this is a season. When Hannah was first diagnosed with Crohn’s, I thought our lives would forever be a mass of emotions, confusions, regret, guilt, and anguish as we watched her struggle. It has gotten much, much better. Trust me when I say that you will not always feel this way. Sure, I will always miss Grandma and my daughter will always have Crohn’s, but we adjust…like velcro shoes, and things get better…and then worse again, but that’s where this next point comes in.

14. Keep it in perspective. By perspective I mean eternal perspective. What are today’s troubles compared to the glories of heaven. Also, keep it in worldly perspective. Face it–most of the things we complain about don’t matter. Really, I mean…really! Okay, the chocolate versus raisin thing–that matters, but most of the other stuff–non-issues! The sooner we can accept that, the better. Some things really do matter, like cancer and Crohn’s, but heaven has none of those things, and it is very real for those who trust in Jesus. The sooner we can look at life through heaven’s eyes, the best.

15. Find joy. Find something to be grateful for. There’s always something. Trust me. Better yet, trust God.

What are your best tactics for handling life’s valleys and raisins?

My apologies to anyone who loves raisins. I’m not usually so hard on dried fruit.


Connecting Children to Their Heritage…With Pie

Connecting Kids to Their Heritage with Pie -- more important (and flavorful) than you think

It’s my grandfather’s birthday. He would have been 91 today if he weren’t already in the arms of Jesus. So today we had two lemon meringue pies for breakfast.

I can see you’re not following me. Let me jump back a few decades.

Grandpa’s birthday is January 29; mine is February 1. I grew up on Grandpa’s farm. He was the father I always wanted, and of all the people on God’s green earth, he is one of those I love best. Every year at the weekend that fell closest to January 29 and February 1, my mom would bake a two-layer poppy seed cake with custard in the middle and seven-minute frosting for me, and a lemon meringue pie for Grandpa. Grandpa’s sister and her husband (my godparents) would come either to his house or ours, and we would all eat Mom’s classic meal of delicious lasagna, amazing potato rolls, and Grandpa’s favorite fruit salad. We’d sing and open presents and have pie and cake with the frosting scraped off (of mine) and wash it all down with tall glasses of cold Wisconsin milk.

That was one of my (many) favorite times, sitting with my grandpa, smiling for Grandma’s polaroid, eating Mom’s lasagna, and watching Grandpa enjoy his pie.

Every year I share those memories with my children. They know it by heart, but they (at least act like they) love to hear it again.

And every year we try to have lemon meringue pie on January 29 and share stories about everyone’s memories of Grandpa, or Big Bubba as my children called him…although he was a slim 6’0″ and not really the Bubba type. That unusual nickname, too, is a story we share.

This annual pie baking connects my children to their heritage. Who cares? I do, and you should. Here’s why:

  1. It’s pie.
  2. It’s Grandpa. I love him. He is vitally important to who I am as a person. Doesn’t it make sense that I should share that with my children, if only to help them understand me a bit better?
  3. It’s Great Grandpa–they knew him and want to remember him and share their joy and sadness and their own special, personal memories of him and their unique bonds.
  4. Connecting to the generations that have gone before helps children see that life did not begin when they did. They are not the axis of the world and the center of the universe. There is much that went before them and much that will come after them.
  5. Regardless of how small you are in the big picture, each person is a special, unique, valuable human being. Look how valuable Grandpa is to us, how seemingly insignificant things–like a timely scolding, a wink and a poke in the stomach, a “come on, Kid; let’s go,” or a side of peanuts and saltines with my ice cream–mattered to the generations that followed.
  6. It gives them an anchor and a sense of belonging to something big–family, and lots of it depending how far back you can take your pie heritage.
  7. It’s a history lesson. When was Grandpa born? When were his parents born? What was their life like?
  8. It puts Justin Bieber and thigh gaps into perspective. Who cares about a teen idol when you talk about my great grandma delivering her firstborn in a log farmhouse at the start of the Great Depression, and about grandpa coming of age on a farm during World War II and raising teens during the 1960s. Life was different once and it will be different in the future, and Bieber’s hair will not even make the who-cares radar.
  9. It shows how faith carries a man through all aspects of life…from birth on earth to “birth” into the next life in heaven. 
  10. It’s a time to remember and to mourn together and to rejoice together.
  11. Did I mention the pie?

Not all my relatives are remembered with pie. Aunt Betty gets mini cheesecakes, my grandma gets her mom’s molasses cake, and my other grandpa gets chicken booyah, because he was the state booyah king. But still, the date goes on the official family calendar for what it is: Big Bubba’s Lemon Meringue Pie Day. It is anticipated and enjoyed, and the memories and lessons of an amazing life are cemented a little further.

Plus, who doesn’t want an excuse for homemade pie?

If you want to launch Family Pie Heritage celebrations, it’s simple. Put the dates on the calendar and make it happen. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Just add dessert to dinner or switch up the menu that night, or watch that person’s favorite movie that week–and share memories. Simple, but memorable.

I miss you Grandpa. We all do.

20 Ways to Help a Loved One in Need

20 Ways to Help a Loved One in Need {Free Printable}

I remember the weeks that our eldest daughter was in the hospital where she was ultimately diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, and I vividly recall the first several months back home. She was 14. She could barely walk or eat. I was very sick thanks to growing our sweet baby number seven. Steve was handling the groceries and follow-up testing and appointments while struggling to hold onto our business in a plunging economy in the Vegas area.

It was a trying time and, looking back, I can’t feasibly comprehend how we mere mortals survived that period.

If not for the grace of God…

Some people offered to help. We should have accepted. Honestly, though, when someone says, “Let me know if I can help,” you never let them know. We don’t, anyway.

Why not?

“Let me know” feels rather like a “How do you do?” from a passing acquaintance; the greeting merely expects a “Fine, and you?” They don’t really want to hear about your aunt’s illness and your daughter’s grades in school and your auto repairs. It feels that same way with a “let me know,” doesn’t it?

That said, there was one family who looked us in the eye and said, “You tell us how we can help. You know we mean that.” And we knew…but we didn’t ask. There were also a couple relatives who volunteered to fly out and help. We didn’t accept. Why in tarnation not?

Here’s Why People Like Us Don’t Ask For Help

We were so wrapped up in the medical decisions and the basics of survival, that we couldn’t think of what to ask for, we couldn’t manage the logistics of airport pick-ups, wheels, and accommodations for helpers, and we certainly didn’t want to burden others with the remainder of our life issues which we could somehow struggle to manage on our own, being the independent do-it-yourselfers that we are.

We could manage to get some sort of food on the table. We could manage to keep everyone in clean clothes to some extent. We could manage to drive over an hour away to take care of the dog and drive back to the hospital and charity house. We could. It would have been a whole lot easier if we didn’t have to manage food and laundry and dog care while managing a very sick child and five very concerned other children and a brand new baby.

It’s ridiculous that we didn’t ask for help, I know, but how many times haven’t you done this same thing? Be honest.

After a birth, following a miscarriage or other death, during an illness or while being diagnosed, during financial hardships, when a mama is newly pregnant and puking up her rib cage, during a move, after debilitating news–those are all times when people need help, and that’s okay. 

Let’s see how we can offer help to someone in a manner that will be effective, rather than make them think they’re begging for help or imposing on others.

20 Ways to Help a Loved One in Need {Includes a Free Printable}

20 Ways to Help a Loved One in Need

  • Instead of saying, “Let me know if I can help,” rephrase it to “I sincerely want to help. Please tell me what I can do. I mean this with all my heart.” This is the bare minimum. They will still probably not tell you how you can help. We wouldn’t.
  • Give them a list of ways you can help and say, “Pick three.” Stand there until they do, or say you’ll call in a day or two to get an answer.
  • Can you cook? Everyone needs to eat. Tell the family that you will be bringing dinner some time this week (or every Wednesday for a month), and to pick the best date for them. That leaves no asking on their part–just thanking. Be sure you ask about food sensitivities. While they would appreciate any food, often the family-in-crisis resorts to quick and filling and would love something healthy and homemade.
  • Slip a grocery or gas gift card in their mailbox or hand. Everyone needs those. If you’re a close friend or family member, steal the car for an hour (when they don’t need it) and fill it with gas; you might consider running it through a car wash while you’re at it.
  • Drop a bag of groceries off at their home, maybe with a family-friendly movie or a puzzle tucked in. Tell them you’re coming and say, “Set a cooler out front to let me know you’re too tired for company, and I won’t come in and bother you. If there’s no cooler, I’ll knock.”
  • Are you good with kids? Say this: “I would love to pick your kids up Thursday and bring them over for crafts and cookie baking if you’re comfortable with that. Otherwise, I would be more than happy to come and watch them so you can run errands or take a shower and a nap. Don’t feel obligated to socialize with me.”
  • Say this: “I’m coming over to do your laundry. No arguments! I’ve seen dirty undies before, so don’t hide them before I get there.” (That last part is important.)
  • Say this: “I’m coming over to clean your house, not because you’re a slob, but because you need a break. You can take a nap while I’m cleaning.” Or give them a gift certificate for a cleaning person with the same “not because you’re a slob” explanation.
  • If you are a long distance relative, say this: “I really want to help. Would it be helpful if I came and stayed to help, or would it be more work to have me there. Please be honest.” And while you’re there, please be helpful. We’ve had “helpful” guests that were far more work than help.
  • If you live far away or don’t have the time, order food to be delivered. You can also have toilet paper and other necessities delivered through Amazon.
  • Go with them. Doctor visits and hearing diagnoses are scary. Funeral arrangements are confusing. Bankruptcy proceedings are humiliating. Go along and hold a hand.
  • Send cards, emails, and well-wishes often. Often! People generally offer help and sympathy immediately after a difficult event, such as the start of an illness or a diagnosis; the prayers and sentiments commonly fall off after a short time.
  • Get techy. Ask if they are on Care Pages, Caring Bridge, or another online update site via which you can follow their medical progress. Get the Stand With app and encourage your friend or family member to do the same.
  • Sit with them. Some people simply want to feel less lonely, less scared, less…different. Sit with them and chat, laugh, cry, pray. Put your phone away during this time.
  • Be understanding. Sometimes fear and pain elicit the worst in us; be patient through these moments.
  • Ask. Then listen. Nothing’s worse than the whole world pretending your problem doesn’t exist, or switching the conversation to their cat or their kid’s grades every time you bring up your struggle. Well, I’m sure something’s worse than that, but when you’re immersed in pain, being ignored or compared to someone’s cat or a 3rd grade report card belittles your hurt.
  • Give the family or couple some movie tickets. Offer to sit with all the kids or with the ill person if she or he cannot go. During a crisis, couple time becomes time spent in doctors’ offices and waiting rooms–not the most romantic setting. Often the financial toll a situation takes is almost as intense as the main issue–what may be no biggie to you is huge to that family, like a couple movie tickets or a trip to the zoo.
  • Take over their jobs at church or other volunteer locations…with permission, of course.
  • Enlist a group of people to provide meals for a while, take shifts with babysitting, visit, whatever! Look within your church for this group–even if the person doesn’t attend a church, it’s a great introduction to the imperfect but loving heart of the Christian.
  • Listen. (I know I already said this, but it’s important.) Let them grumble, cry, scream, sulk, whatever! And don’t say anything stupid or critical in the process. The stuff your loved one is going through is hard–if you haven’t been there, you can’t comprehend the depth of the pain. Don’t judge, don’t gossip, don’t try to fix, don’t say, “well if you only–“, don’t roll your eyes–just listen.

Might I add, please don’t expect a thank you note. People are in such a haze during trying times, that sometimes they can’t even remember who helped or how they survived, much less muster the energy to write a note. Do it for the person, not for the credit.

I have received multiple requests for permission to print this to share at women’s conventions, funerals, hospitals, and the like. Please, friends, do share. To make that easier, click here or on the image below for a printable version.

FREE Printable: 20 Ways to Help a Loved One in Need

Here is a great post from someone else’s experience with a few more helpful actions that would truly show you care.

What are your best tips for helping someone in need?