My Guest Blog Post: Merry Christmas Expectations!

My Guest Blog Post: Merry Christmas Expectations!

I am a guest blogger today on Leslie Kelly’s blog, His Garden of Grace! I met Leslie as part of a group who enjoys Bible Journaling, which is about exploring scripture through creative imagery and artwork. Leslie’s personal testimony and mission … Continue reading

Happy Valentine’s Day! Love, J.Laurel

I’m not saying I’m a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. I’m not. It’s fun when you’re four and eating red mashed potatoes and red jello for dinner (thanks, Mom!). But, after that, Valentine’s Day comes with its share of major and minor disappointments…until you are 34 and realize it’s no big deal. (Yep, I think I’m finally there.)

I am, however, a huge fan of LOVE. Not just romantic love, though it is arguably the loudest and most obnoxious and overtly worshiped form of love in our society. I’m talking LOVE in all capitals. The kind of LOVE that isn’t so exclusive (and gag-inducing from the outside). LOVE that is much bigger and wider and wraps its arms around all of us. That sort of LOVE is given to every person, first by God, to be shared without limits. And instead of demanding fancy dinners or token flowers, it seeks to be a creative giver of beautiful things like encouragement, help, hope and wisdom.

Today, no matter what kind of Valentine’s Day you have, don’t be swept up in the lie that you are on the outside looking in (and that goes for single and married people). It is so easy to believe we are missing out when LOVE has been right there on our doorstep all along. And unlike those flowers you may or may not receive, LOVE is available to all of us if we simply open the door.

God loves you more than you could ever imagine. So much so, the universe is one great big Valentine to you. Don’t miss it in lieu of some cheap dime-store version. And don’t miss opportunities to give LOVE to others who need it…today and every day.


In honor of LOVE, I am featuring two of my favorite J. Laurel items that put me in mind of Valentine’s Day! Enjoy!

For more about the bag, go here.

For more about the bow tie, go here.

Gift-Wrap Obsessed Much?

I am slightly obsessed with wrapping and packaging Christmas gifts. Fine. More than obsessed. Obsessive/compulsive may more accurately describe my tendencies. I just can’t help but keep moving the target, even after I’ve told myself the cheap dollar store wrapping paper will do. Truth is…it doesn’t. It’s cheap. It rips easily. You can often see through it (defeating the purpose of wrapping paper altogether). And it is never quite pretty enough.

So I go out and buy more gift-wrapping accoutrements.

Those magazine articles don’t help – with spreads of Christmas gifts donning DIY wrapping paper, stenciled gifts tags, sprigs of fresh holly and real turtle doves (okay, the last one is a minor exaggeration) have ruined me altogether. Because I WANT THAT.

And the whole myth, the magical “JOY” of wrapping gifts, falls severely short of expectations. It’s as if Christmas amnesia sets in…or denial…and I believe yet again that if I set the mood with plenty of holiday lighting, festive music and hot chocolate, wrapping will be more enjoyable…this time.


For some reason, I never anticipate the incredible amount of physical exertion wrapping presents require. Why do I just feel like I ran a half-marathon??

And I get SO thirsty. Why am I SO thirsty?

And I lose stuff. Even with the tape that straps to my hand. And the losing stuff, repeatedly, provokes a sort of Christmas insanity. Where are my scissors? They were…JUST…HERE!! *gritting teeth* What!? I’m out of tape again???? NO!!!!!

Did I…did I just get a paper cut? OH-MY-GOSH, I…am…bleeding. I have a Christmas paper cut! Are you kidding me?

And the achy-ness – the physical pain of hours of pulling paper tautly over the edges of even the most manageable boxes. So much pain. But pop some aspirin cuz’…must…keep…wrapping.

And, just wait, because at least one of my gifts will be so oddly shaped that no amount of wrapping skill or experience will suffice. Really, I should just drop those gifts in bags. But bags feel like a cop-out. Besides, I can’t find a bag wide enough. So I try to wrap the gift, while feeling all sorts of buyer’s remorse. But the ends of the paper won’t fold in neatly and instead gets crinkled and cracked. Or just as I am finishing, something (probably one of the eighteen sharp edges on said object) pokes through the paper. And I’m like “NOOOOOOOO!!!!”

Deep breaths and a lot of self-talk…”It’s fine. It’s totally fine. It’s just going to rip again, so I am NOT rewrapping it. No…NO. I’m not rewrapping over some little tear. That’s just crazy talk.”

*Cut to scene where I am again wrapping this same item, wrestling it like an alligator until the edges tear the paper again. And crying a little.*

Paper is everywhere. Bows scattered. Tape reserves dangerously low. Scissors missing…again. Back aching. Head throbbing. Paper cuts bleeding. Is it the twelfth day of Christmas already??!?

Then I look up and realize I’ve only wrapped a total of…three and a half presents. There are twenty-five more to go, and that’s not counting a bajillion tiny stocking stuffers, including socks (and how does one wrap socks???)

An overwhelming desire to assume the fetal position consumes me…

But, no. NO. Must…keep…wrapping. And…stamping gift tags. Can’t…stop…the madness…

Great Reminders for Moms

If you are a mommy of little ones, these MOPs articles offer great thoughts on motherhood and the holidays! Adjusting expectations is a powerful tool and one I am still trying to master. I imagine it will take my whole life. :/ Such good reminders, and I need a lot of them this busy holiday season. Hope you find them helpful too!

Help a Sister Out!


Yes, I realize it’s not yet December, and I’m writing about Christmas. But let’s be honest. If you’re a woman who celebrates Christmas, you’ve been thinking about it for a while now. Gearing up. Clipping coupons. Making lists. Trying to remember what you gave people last year. Scheduling photos for Christmas cards. And bracing yourself for the hurricane THAT IS the festive holiday season.

It’s like there is an imaginary gun somewhere, held in the air (or at our heads), while we crouch at the starter’s block. POW! The gun goes off – the race is on! Even those of us that try to pace ourselves in the beginning sprint at the end. And it’s not pretty.

While discussing the impending holiday stress with my mother today, she planted a seed of wisdom that isn’t new or even profound. It’s quite simple, really. Yet, we find it SO hard to do. She said, “Women need to help each other out by not adding to one another’s stress at Christmas time.”

In the words of my father (in his famous “women make so much work for themselves at Christmas” speech), “You [women] make ALL that work for yourselves, and then you get ALL stressed out because you’ve got ALL that work to do. *waving hands in the air for emphasis* Does that make ANY sense?” And then, despite our heavy sighs, eye rolls and verbal protests, he goes on to describe how most men are happy to sit around in their underwear, watching a game or doing nothing, eating cereal and pulling gifts (bought the night before) out of store bags. While this is a generality, it may NOT be inaccurate or exaggerated. (I have seen men behave this way without female intervention. Unfortunately. I have.)

Yep. Most of what “must happen” at Christmas is a supply/demand phenomenon where both the suppliers AND the demanders are often one in the same – WOMEN. Now, I know there are exceptions. And I know that this feels unfair. But it’s kinda’ true.

Many, if not all, of the Christmas parties, gifts, meals, traditions, cookie swaps and other holiday festivities in which myself and my family participate…are generated and organized by women. I don’t see a ton of men, of their own accord, dressing in their holiday finest to exchange gifts, sans wives. Rather, their involvement in grand holiday festivities tends to occur at the sharp behest of girlfriends or wives. (Perhaps the gun-to-the-head  hyperbole works here as well.)

This means that, if “we” [women] are going to simplify the season, we [women] need to start with each other. Because we [women] are the ones in charge hereSo for Christmas this year, I am begging you to help a sister out.

At a time when gifts beget gifts and baked goods more baked goods, the best way to let ourselves off the hook is to let others off the hook, too. You might consider saying to your friends, “Let’s not worry about exchanging gifts this year. We’ve got enough to do.” Or scheduling a get-together in January or February instead cramming everything into December. Or toning down the number of gifts Santa brings and instead do something with your kids for someone in need.

I began the 2013 Holiday Season with the simple decision to forgo cookie exchanges. Some women love them. But for me, baking is not fun. And I don’t need the calories. So why do it?

You may pick something totally different to forgo. Good.

Christmas might not have all the same bells and whistles if we let some things go. But Christmas was NEVER meant to be about the bells and whistles. Or guns. So before that starter gun fires (and I think it already has): Help a sister out. Find ways to simplify. Make time to breathe. And help others do the same. We’re in this together.


The Sky’s the Limit

Now I know why my parents stayed up all hours of the night making killer Halloween costumes. This was before so many varieties of ready-made costumes were available at “reasonable” prices. But even reasonably priced costumes total a pretty penny for a family of four kids (both then and now). Besides, I think my Dad, in particular, liked the challenge of making a much-beloved character out of humdrum household items. Thus my parents rallied all their creative energies, sometimes pulling all-nighters, to produce priceless gems–like my to-die-for Rainbow Bright costume complete with bright yellow yarn wig or the Rocketeer costume for my brother that was nothing short of a-MAAAZ-ing.


A bright-eyed Dusty Crophopper

Fast-forward twenty plus years later…my initial idea for a Mickey Mouse costume this year became quickly overshadowed by my son’s growing fondness for Dusty Crophopper and all things aviation. *This was after seeing the movie Planes three times (thank you, Daddy).*

Yes, there were Dusty costumes available at reasonable prices. But I decided instead to gather poster board, milk jugs, soda bottles and paint, and like my parents before me, make Halloween magic. In the process, I discovered the real reason my parents poured their hearts into our costumes all those years before.

Because when your kid wants to be something, you move heaven and earth to make it happen.

Imagining the delighted expression on Buddy’s face when I showed him the finished Dusty costume — well, the sheer thought of it almost made my heart burst. This, in turn, made engineering rotating propellers from recycled soda bottles slightly less agonizing and allowed painting cardboard wings to reawaken some childlike excitement in me.


Dusty on a mission.

I never thought much of airplanes before. Those enormous, miraculous, gravity-defying machines flew over me every day for years, and I didn’t notice or care. That was UNTIL my son’s small voice and wide eyes pointed my attention to the sky. Now, we watch. We listen. We identify by the sound of the engine or the propellers. And we cheer!

You’d think we won the lottery.

And that is exactly what my parents did for me. They loved what we loved, and they used those things to engage our imaginations and our passion. Now, I get to do it. And it is pure bliss and so easy, because you already love your kid SO much – it just flows out of you.

Right now, Dusty is all the rage. So I, too, have a fondness for the crop dusting plane who dreamt of racing bigger and faster planes. Though everyone told him he wasn’t strong or fast enough, Dusty went on to (*SPOILER alert) win the race! But it is HOW Dusty won that is most important – he made friends, treated others with respect and ignored snarky criticism. He didn’t put his ambition above his integrity. In fact, it was his integrity that led him to victory. Is it a simplified version of life? Maybe. But as long as my son wants to be Dusty, he will admire the things that make Dusty great. His originality, boldness, tenacity, positive attitude, honesty and grace under pressure–all ideals worth personifying in real, everyday life.


Mommy and her favorite little airplane!

You don’t need to MAKE the costume. And it doesn’t have to be Halloween. Our kids can dream big any day of the year. We simply need to love what they love, and help them discover and be what they so admire. It is one of the greatest privileges and JOYS of parenthood. But we can miss opportunities if we’re not paying attention.

Some day, it won’t be so cool to wear a costume handcrafted by Mommy. But I hope my son will always know, from these early years on, that next to God, his Daddy and I are his biggest fans.

So catch those tailwinds, Dusty! The sky’s the limit, Darling.

Mom and Jesus

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day, but I am also not cynical (or selfless) enough to expect nothing from it. That’s right, I want my big Hallmark holiday, and I want it in a BIG way. But like Valentine’s Day, the day dedicated to acknowledging motherly devotion  is completely ill-conceived from the beginning. And I will tell you why.

As liberated as we like to think we are, just who is it that spearheads nearly all holiday festivities? Women, more specifically, mothers. So Mother’s Day is like expecting a great Christmas after telling Santa and all his elves to go home, kick off their shoes and relax. IT SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK.

My mother still makes me feel loved on special days, but now that I’m a mother – a shift has occurred. I am setting the tone for my own family’s holidays. I am the one without the days off.  It can be, if not exhausting, then completely terrifying, especially considering all my mother has been to me over the years. I have some pretty big shoes to fill.

I remember, in a middle school essay, praising her for being selfless “all the time.” One peer edit in incredulous purple ink questioned, “Really, ALL the time?!?” Indignation rose within me, but I forced myself to acknowledge the reality – no one is selfless ALL the time. Most people aren’t selfless MOST of the time.

But, my mother isn’t like most people. She is pretty darn selfless.

Could I be as selfless as her? I certainly wasn’t feeling selfless on Mother’s Day. I was thinking, This is MY day. Make is special, or die trying! I mean, if I am honest, I want to be recognized and appreciated. I desire validation…and regularly.

But the thing about motherhood is we are not here to be recognized or be lifted on shoulders and carried through the streets with cheers. We are here to serve and be worn to the bone. Mothers do things so many things so many times over that go largely unnoticed. It’s the part of motherhood that scares me the most – the constant giving and serving – without applause and sometimes without a break.

Before my son’s second birthday party, my mom washed my floors on her hands and knees. How many times had my mother washed floors over the years, and I never noticed…even on Mother’s Day? But that day, I noticed. Because I was pouring myself out in the same way for my son – cleaning the house, decorating, wrapping gifts, making party favors, baking the cake. I was pouring myself out as my mother did for me. It is the truest devotion, isn’t it? The willingness to be poured out again and again until you are gone.

I realize people caution, Make time for yourself. Take care of you. There is truth to that. But when you are a parent, you realize a perfect balance is impossible. And while you are unprepared for the challenge ahead, you are equally unprepared for the desire within you to give of yourself OR the joy that comes from loving your child like Christ loved (still does love) you.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” (John 15:13) Or wash their floors. Or make their food every day, three times a day. Or wipe their bottoms. Or kiss their boo-boos. Or read them the same book a thousand times. Or wake with them at night. Or hold them when they’re sick or sad. Or listen to them talk when you’d rather have quiet. There’s more than one way to lay down your life. As a mother, there are probably a million ways.

Like my mother before me, I am walking the road Jesus did. I am placing one foot in front of the other. And I am surrendering a little more, every day, my need for applause.

Hot Mess Jess & Awkward Conversations with Children

I am working on a book (in my free time, haha). Not sure what will become of it. But here is an excerpt. This is a rough draft, so sorry for errors and improper formatting.

And, yes, this actually happened…


[On Halloween night]

A girl in costume approaches my front porch.

“Hi there! Are you a character from Harry Potter?” I ask. Finally, a costume I recognize.

Girl nods.

My mind starts racing. Who are the characters in Harry Potter? Never read the books. Never watched the movies.

“Are you Harry Potter?” I ask. Ok, surely you didn’t just ask this poor girl if she dressed like a boy for Halloween. I mean, no, you don’t know any other Harry Potter characters. And, yes, she looks like Harry Potter with slightly longer hair. But she is still a girl. And no girl wants to dress like a boy for Halloween…Well, most girls don’t. But maybe she just really likes Harry Potter. Maybe she doesn’t care if she’s a girl dressed like a boy for Halloween. I mean, it isn’t politically correct to be gender specific anymore…Then again, maybe she isn’t a girl at all. Maybe she is a boy with really long hair…Gasp!

“No,“ Girl (or boy with long hair) say…and looks confused.

“Of course not, you’re a girl,” I say a little too loudly. Did my voice just go up at the end as to infer that was a question and not a statement of fact?

“You’re the girl in Harry Potter! What’s her name?” Is it just me or is it unseasonably warm for October? I start to sweat.

Girl mumbles the name.

“Her-mi-un?” I pronounce awkwardly. “Her-mine.” I try again. It is like I am speaking a second language.

Girl mumbles the name again, correcting me.

“Her-mi-un.” Ok, I just pronounced it the same as the first time, but slower.

Girl looks annoyed.

 Do eight year olds get annoyed? Is she eight? Maybe she’s, like, 12. Really? I can’t guess this kid’s gender OR age?!

“You know what, I don’t watch Harry Potter movies so,…” I put my hands up defensively and shrug my shoulders. Why am I defending myself? And what is wrong with me? You don’t say that to a kid who likes Harry Potter movies…who dresses like Harry Potter characters…who you just insinuated may look like a boy. It’s a slap in the face. I might as well have said, “Your world isn’t important to me,” OR “I don’t care about what you care about.”

“You know what…have a few more spider rings and a Kit Kat!” I drop another handful into her pillowcase.

Girl walks away. I muster an awkward wave to her bewildered parents who are, right now, silently planning how they will help her through the terrible trauma of being called a boy on Halloween night by the lady at [house number].

“Happy Halloween!” I exclaim, a bit too cheerfully. Then I eat another Kit Kat.

Great Expectations

As mothers, we can’t help but have great expectations for Mother’s Day. And Hallmark commercials don’t help. I can always tell a Hallmark commercial by its simple, no fuss storyline and soft piano music. Also because nothing else on television, in 60 seconds or less, sends me on a more frantic search for the nearest tissue box.  Of course, if I stop to compare myself to the mother in the commercial, I am sorely missing one cardigan sweater set, one meticulously clean kitchen complete with spotless counter tops and stainless steel appliances and one white mug of steaming hot cocoa.

To emulate this picture-perfect portrait of Hallmark motherhood, I am toying with the idea of hiring someone to come clean my house next Mother’s Day. How perfect would it be to come home from a sermon on the virtues of motherhood to a pristine house and a roast in the oven. (Notice I did not use a question mark in that last sentence, because there is no universe in which this would not be a good thing.)

My First Mother’s Day (2011)

Last year marked my very first Mother’s Day when my newborn son had me so exhausted and in love, I almost forgot about this holiday entirely. This year, I am still absorbing the seismic shift my life has undergone. Before becoming a mother, I understood motherhood like a college student understands his vocation – in theories and hypotheticals. I could appreciate my own mother’s devotion to me the only way I knew how – as the recipient of it. I was thankful, but only on a cerebral level.

The scales fell from my eyes the weeks following my son’s birth, when the sound of his cry gave me a sense of emotional urgency that my heart and body had never known. No matter how tired I was, that little call pierced my heart with such pinpoint accuracy and evoked such immediate joy and surrender, there existed nothing in this world or beyond that could keep me from answering it. I was the one he needed more than anyone else in the world. Then and only then, I realized what my mother did for me that no other person could do. I also finally understood what she needed on Mother’s Day. More than a shower of cards (even Hallmark cards) and scented body washes, Girlfriend needed a break!!

We all desire, even expect, to receive that much-needed break on Mother’s Day of all days. But this, like the Hallmark housewife, is also an illusion. Why? Because, one must fully commit to motherhood. Her work can be suspended, liking hitting a “pause” button, but it cannot be relinquished. Mother is always on call.

Maybe, the best we can do on Mother’s Day is to practice acceptance and gratitude. We can concede that the mess and chaos are hallmarks (pun intended!) of this season in our lives. And we can handle unmet expectations with grace – by focusing on what we have, not what we don’t have. We can choose to enjoy motherhood for what it is – a role that will always be ours.

This is the part you were meant to play, and one for which there is no understudy. That’s what makes motherhood the best thing on the planet.