by Jen Hatmaker on December 15th, 2014

It could be said accurately of me that I am a slow-learner.
This is our 4th Christmas with Ben and Remy home, and last year I finally tracked our history and noticed that Christmas produced an inevitable cocktail of unintentional sabotage, overreactions, and meltdowns (or total withdrawal). The best of days ended in their tears, yelling, and devastation. Until last year, I kept thinking, “Dang! I am just not getting this Christmas thing right!” I thought I failed once again to provide the perfect mix of togetherness, meaning, Advent, and memories.

I’m onto it now.
Example: For four weeks until Christmas, Remy talks about gifts/dates/plans/expectations CONSTANTLY. I mean constantly. What starts as ordinary preparation turns tense and anxious. A week or two out, it gets darker: lots of entitlement, demands, the outer edges of fit-pitching. Nothing is enough. Every Christmas activity lacks; she displays a constant state of disappointment or anger. (She had her first meltdown this year when we decorated the tree and drank hot chocolate while watching Elf. It was a total disaster for her, start to finish, no matter how we all rallied. Sydney said, “Mom? What is really going on?” EXACTLY.)
On Christmas morning, behavior turns insufferable over the smallest thing, over nothing. The “who got more” tally is in full effect (Ben particularly struggles with scarcity). The six thoughtful, loving presents are discarded for the one unreasonable, outrageous thing she didn’t get. We will absolutely hear: “This is the worst day OF MY LIFE!!” (We hear this regularly on Big Days.) She will end up crying in her bedroom, devolving into shame: “I am the worst girl! I am on the naughty list! I ruined Christmas! I’m giving all my presents away!” I feel so frustrated that I sometimes snap, making it all worse. Ultimately, I dread Big Days altogether and while she is thinking she is the worst kid (bless her), I am thinking I am definitely the worst mom.
Big Day Sabotage is no joke, man.
For all my adoption friends (as well as grownups who also sabotage Big Days unwittingly or have other kids who do), we’ve learned much about our kids’ unintentional behavior and how to help them. Maybe you find yourself wrecking Big Days like Christmas, feeling frustrated year after year at your own self. Perhaps this will be helpful for you too, dear one. So many factors contribute to this grief and self-preserving behavior; being abandoned/adopted is one contributor, but other heartbreaks result in the same reaction.
First, the WHY. This is multifaceted and certainly varies from person to person. I’ll discuss what we see in our adopted kids, and I’d love to hear your personal experiences in the comments.
WHY: For adopted kids, abandonment is a deep shame so entrenched, our kids don’t even know they are operating out of it. Whether with full memories in hand like ours or kids given up at birth, it doesn’t matter. The narrative is: I wasn’t good enough to keep. This sense of unworthiness is so deep, it takes a lifetime of intentional work to overcome. What that shame tells them is this: I am not worthy of love, happiness, or goodness. It seems ridiculous to parents who love them madly, who go to every game and concert, who sing to them and tuck them in, but those affections can’t erase the beginning of their story. They don’t feel worthy of happiness on Big Days, so they sabotage to hasten the disappointment before it gets to them first. Double bonus if their behavior triggers our anger, because then their shame is validated just like they suspected.
WHY: Big Days trigger Big Feelings. No matter the extreme (good or bad), it is all INTENSE and triggering. It conjures their most tender emotions, their most volatile responses, kind of like laughing hysterically at a funeral. Of course the reaction is outrageous, but Big is Big and when a traumatized kid opens the door to Big, everything is free to spill out. They spend so much energy keeping a lid on their pain and fear and trying to just “act normal,” so when permission is granted to feel all their feels, both ends of the spectrum dump their restrained contents and it is a cluster of hysteria.
WHY: They exit the safe space of ordinary, regulated, predictable routine and enter the scary space of extraordinary, disregulated, unpredictable practice. There is a reason adoption counselors urge parents to establish regular routines with no deviation for awhile. When their insides are out of control, it is incredibly calming to have a schedule they can count on; no big surprises to derail them, no left field scenarios to navigate, no uncertain activities to worry about. With Big Days, not only do they possess exceptional emotions (not normal), but everyone else places heightened expectations on the impending (not normal) celebration, and the stress is unmanageable.
Or the opposite. Remy places her own unreasonable expectations on Big Days. She imagines a narrative so impossible, so idealistic, so over-the-top, every normal detour is devastating. Her desire to craft the Most Perfect Day Ever reaches a fever pitch, and with the slightest wobble to the plan, she comes unraveled. She wants to control the outcome all the way to perfection, but that doesn’t exist and her inner shame trumps it anyway. She falls from an exceptional height of Expectations + “I am unworthy of happiness.”
WHY: Regret and sadness. We learned this the first year we decorated the tree. My bios received an ornament every year of their lives, and for Ben and Remy’s first Christmas, I backlogged ornaments to their birth year too. But when my big kids started hanging ornaments and declaring memories, “Remember this one!” and “This was my favorite when I was five!” and so on, Ben fell off the ledge so hard, it took two days to get him back. (Ditto: old family videos of the big kids’ childhood…) You know what? It is just sad to realize your birth family couldn’t or wouldn’t give you a happy childhood. Big Days are a reminder of what should have been but wasn’t, all that was lost, all that will never be. While their siblings happily skip through every charmed childhood Christmas memory, my littles are remembering lost birth parents, crushing poverty, and Christmases in orphanages.
Bless their precious little broken hearts.
So here is what we do to love them and help them through Big Days.
If we can, we shrink the runway to Big Days. The longer the season (THANKS FOR NOTHING CHRISTMAS SEASON THAT NOW STARTS IN OCTOBER), the greater their stress. It’s just too much to worry about for too long. So if possible, we don’t say a word until the day before or day of. On seasons like Christmas, the next suggestion is helpful…
Which is this: lower stimulation all around. I initially thought MORE Christmas was called for. Let’s make up for lost time! Let’s make so many new beautiful memories! I’ll give you all the magic you missed! But it had the opposite effect. Too much stimulus, too many feelings, too much activity, too many opportunities to sabotage. We have to keep Big Days (and seasons) simple. We cannot overschedule or overhype. The calmer an activity is, the less noise and people, the better they do. And we don’t talk about those activities until they are practically happening. Less is more.
We try to manage expectations. I am constantly bringing things low for my littles, especially with Remy who elevates all Big Days. We cast simple, manageable vision for Big Days: this is what we’ll do, this is who will be there, this is what we won’t be doing, this is about how long it will last. If possible, I address unrealistic expectations early; better now than they obsess for weeks then face disappointment times one million. (I had a hard conversation with Remy yesterday because she kept asking for an iPhone for Christmas. I finally sat her down and said, “Honey, you are not getting an iPhone. No 3rd grader in this family has ever had an iPhone. Let’s let that go right now so you don’t expect one on Christmas morning.” She had a meltdown, but now she knows. That stressor is gone. She will not worry about it for the next 10 days then despair on Christmas morning.) When they tip their hand toward unrealistic expectations, manage them then and there. Giving them everything they ask for is not healing; we have to work hard to not “make up parent” their early deficits with excess and liberties. That creates short-term happiness with long-term detriments.
Lots of touching and pauses for affection. This has a calming effect on my littles. When I see them spiraling, it helps to pull them on my lap, rub their backs, and redirect their attention for a few minutes. It is a physical solution to an emotional problem. It often works like a reset button.
Finally, we talk in advance about how Big Feelings might show up. We recall other Big Days and identify emotions. We validate, validate, validate, making sure they hear that they are NOT bad kids wrecking a perfectly good day. We talk about their fear and sadness and feelings of scarcity and how that makes them behave, and we give them full permission to feel it all. Sometimes when I consider all my kids have endured, I wonder how they even get out of bed in the morning, much less manage a Big Feelings Day with grace and restraint. We assure them that whether they get a handle on it or not, they could not possibly make us love them less, and if the worst thing that happens is they have a bad day, then no big deal. Everyone in a family gets to have bad days. It’s not a deal breaker.
Just taking that pressure off is so helpful. They feel less alone in their anxiety, confusion, and shame. They are not these hurt kids off to the side working so damn hard to keep it together while the rest of their happy, charmed-from-birth family sings carols, oblivious. We are in this together, and just knowing that makes them less afraid.
Oh, we are so grateful for these beautiful children in our family. They are treasures, overcomers, survivors. God is doing a mighty work in their hearts. We are watching Him heal them, asking for so much wisdom and patience. (It helps to take our own expectations out of the rafters, and if a Big Day goes beautifully, then HUZZAH!! If it doesn’t, it is just a day and we are looking at the long road with our littles. We’ll have beautiful Christmases when they are 34 and bringing me grandbabies.)
To all parents doing this hard work and to grown-ups with sabotaging behaviors and worries about these Big Days ahead, I just love you. We’ll just keep working, keep trying, keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways. You are not alone, know that. So many of us are right there with you, doing the stuff, having victories and flat-out disasters. But we are trying and we care and we Love Big and that counts.
The merriest of Christmases to you, friends. And if the whole Big Day goes in the gutter, there is always the egg nog.
What is your experience here? What do you see? What do you do? How do you help?

by Jen Hatmaker on December 4th, 2014

You know what I've learned? God is going to do what He is going to do. Sometimes the best laid plans fall straight into the gutter, and sometimes barely laid plans turn into something crazy powerful. That is how IF : Gathering feels to me. God swept in last year and started something strong, and now one year later, all over the world we have IF : Tables, IF : Local leaders, and women studying the Bible through IF : Equip every single day. We gathered around the world this fall for IF : Pray. God turned it into a whole thing before we barely even knew what was happening.

In two months, it is time for our second IF : Gathering here in Austin. To be sure, the conference here is powerful but its real legs exist everywhere else. Last year, over 40,000 women gathered in living rooms and churches and streamed it live. We could barely believe it. Women literally rose up everywhere and took responsibility for their people and their place.  The desire to gather, equip, and unleash our generation to love and serve God and this world is apparently a raging fire.

A few of you will join us here in Austin on February 6-7, but most of you will be snug as bugs in your own communities, exactly where you are needed. We are praying for an army of IF : Local leaders to rise up again, prepared to gather and lead your women in unity. We have so many resources for you: a whole community of IF : Local leaders online, materials, all the streaming conference content, promotional flyers, ideas. You don't have to do ONE SINGLE FANCY THING. IF has always operated out of this approach: "simple and pure."

I want to introduce you to an IF : Local leader who stepped up last year in her community and has seen God do a mighty work since then. Meet Lora Lightfoot!
Q: Hi Lora! Where do you live?
Merced, California!
Q: How have you used IF's tools & resources to lead in your local contexts?
The simple and pure mission of IF resonates with our hearts, and helps us encourage whoever comes in our path to connect with one another and grow in their faith and calling.  The tools/opportunities/resources were easy to use and energizing when combined with the excitement of linking arms with women who love God all over the world.The positive model of unity and diversity represented in IF leadership is refreshing and enables us to promote unity within our church family and our community.

The fruit looks like a diverse and united local leadership “team” with my friend Anna. Dinner Gatherings: 60 women sharing dinner around tables of 8; from different churches, age groups and backgrounds connecting and sharing their common faith. IF Tables hosted by leadership in private homes, which has led to other’s planning to host Tables as well! The first Prayer Gathering; 30 women attended and represented several churches in our community.Walking together in the Word by passing IF Equip on to everyone (I seriously should print business cards with the web address!) 
Q: What has been the scariest, most challenging aspect of leading for you?
Not knowing…walking in complete faith. For Anna and me, (we are sitting here, discussing this question) we had no idea what God was doing. We had common friends and attended the same church, but we were not “friends”. We had no idea why God was calling us together (at first I think she may have thought I was a stalker) but we knew God was preparing us for something. We started prayer walking and discussing what God might be doing months before we ever heard of IF.
When we did hear about IF in January, we both knew it was what God had been preparing us to do, together. (It is important that you hear that God put the mission on our heart and IF was the vehicle God used to get us there!) We have met almost every Friday since, to pray-walk her property (we hold all our events there) and listen for God’s direction. You will notice I did not say “plan” (though we do discuss details). We don’t plan far ahead, we don’t market, or even kill ourselves advertising…we pray, we listen and we wait for God to tell us what to do. This walk of faith has been so precious to us, so amazing, so faith building…and we don’t want that to change. We honestly don’t want IF to turn into the next “thing”.
Q: How has God awakened you?
I think this whole season, journey, whatever, has caused us to trust God more and ourselves less. We see the need for God all around us; people truly are seeking truth, fellowship, love, acceptance, hope and healing. We see the importance of passing our faith on, relationally and generationally, and we want to do everything in our means to meet the needs we can and ultimately direct women to Jesus. We are not the same people we were a year ago, we have changed; we’ve had to let go of self and how we operated in the past and surrender to God’s leading. IT IS AWESOME.
Q: How have your relationships with others deepened?
In a sentence: “On a path of no return - we’re not going back!”
As the relationship between us deepens (all the people who knew Anna and I separately are watching in AMAZEMENT, lol), the relationships between our women deepens, and the relationships in our church deepens, and the relationships in our community deepens. We have turned our circle from facing inward-to facing outward and our goal is to include as many women as we can in everything we do, especially behind the scenes.
Personally, as a former staff person, I “knew” a lot of people in the church. The problem was that so many times, I wasn’t present and I didn’t take the time to get to know them at all. I have confessed this publically, and I now spend a lot of my time just being present and getting to know others and hearing their stories, WHICH IS AMAZING!
Q: How have you seen God show up in your life and the life of the women you are gathering, equipping, and unleashing?
God has just shown up in so many tangible, exciting ways I don’t think I can express them adequately. I will say that I have seen TRANSFORMATION in the lives of women around me.
 I have watched as a gifted young woman stepped out of doubt and perfectionism and stepped into her calling as a worship leader, and I cried like a baby when I heard her share how IF had helped set her free to trust God in this area of her life. Sheri and I attended the IF Catalyst in GA; and God has her by the heart! (People actually comment on the change in her, it was visible!)
I have listened to Sally, an incredible prayer warrior, severely limited by MS, share at a dinner gathering how she has been praying for the revival she is seeing now FOR YEARS! Her prayers helped pave the way to what God is doing in us, and in our women alongside IF.
I think of Melinda, who almost left the church because no one called or cared for her when her father was very ill—but instead allowed God to turn that hurt into her mission; she goes out to those who are in the sick/in the hospital to offer prayer and support.
I listen to story after story of women who are being courageous in their faith; inviting others in their homes, reaching out to people who are unknown or different and are getting up close and personal in each other’s lives.
God has shown up in my own life by breaking my heart (in the best way possible) and setting me free from a stronghold of fear and doubt.  I am not the same woman I was last year…

We are praying for IF : Local like it is our job. It's time! No conference can EVER have the impact that thousands of local leaders will have influencing their actual communities. If you are considering leading an IF : Local gathering on February 6-7 (this can be 8 women in a living room or 350 women in a sanctuary), go here. If you are looking for an IF : Local event to join, go here. We have resources galore for you here.

Would you consider joining us? We believe in the local church so much. Our greatest hope for IF is not that it becomes some big thing but that it equips and supports YOU to impact your people and your place. If it was just some 2-day event in Austin, we'd quit today. But Lora's story reminds us that God is AT WORK and we get to be a small part of his movement in our generation. 

We can't wait to gather with you.

Did you take part in IF : Local last year? Or since? Can you tell me a little about your experience? What are your plans for this year?

by Jen Hatmaker on November 29th, 2014

I'm not a good guide for traditional gift-giving. I'm sure I told you, but I once bought Brandon front row tickets to Jamie Foxx's "stand up comedy show" which turned out to be his "concert." We couldn't hear for three days and it now stands as the monument to my well-intentioned but poorly executed gift-giving skillz. (To add insult to injury, Brandon is like the President of the United States of gift-giving. It is actually embarrassing.)

But listen up, gentle reader, because I may be unable to handle the fine print on a concert website, but I can track down socially conscious vendors and products that are not only INCREDIBLY AWESOME but take good care of the earth, the artisans, the community, and the world. We buy once, give twice here, and in a season where Americans will spend over 500 BILLION dollars in a matter of weeks (for the love), we should make sure some of those dollars go toward more than just filling our homes and closets with more things we don't need. Our dollars can actually be a powerful force for good. Women are famously easier to shop for in this genre, but I tracked down great gifts for men and kids, too. (Be also thinking about teachers, neighbors, friends, etc!)

by Jen Hatmaker on November 12th, 2014

I’m pretty much a Fun Time Girl. Laughter and humor are my go-to staples. Brandon and I have had this conversation 338482 in our marriage:
BH:      What movie do you want to rent?
JH:       A funny one.
Bless. It is just what I reach for. I just love to laugh. I like funny people and funny things. (My sub-category is sarcasm.) This is both my preference and my style.
But sometimes life is really, really hard and I am in the weeds. Sometimes I need sober, thoughtful instruction to lead and comfort me. Sometimes I crave depth in the midst of struggle. As one who thrives in exterior spiritual work, it is innately good for me to learn from someone with a strong interior constitution.
Many of you know my mom has cancer. It’s so dumb. We still can’t believe it. She looks so normal and plus we don’t get cancer. Mom is the only calm and stable person in our family. The rest of us are prone to hysteria and drama; you would think we had the cancer to hear us go on. Crisis has found our doorstep, and it is decidedly not funny (even though Dad asked us in the hospital after Mom’s surgery if she was going to make us dinner that night…we are somehow managing Cancer Humor which apparently is a thing).

by Jen Hatmaker on September 16th, 2014

No passing zones
This is not a thing here. Every zone is a passing zone. Those double yellow lines? Pure wishful thinking of the ET Transportation Department. Enormous bus coming right at you in the opposite lane? Still a passing zone. The middle of the road, the shoulder, the median, the sidewalk...all passing zones. It is irrelevant how many cars are next to you, in front of you, or coming at you. These are not details that matter. Simply beep your horn and barrel around someone. Everyone else will move. Except the donkeys. The donkeys will not be moved. The donkeys clearly have a death wish.

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