When the Holidays are Hard.

Things are about to get real Christmasy up in here. I'm going to have a few sponsored posts, a gift guide or two,  simple decorating for small spaces, and a few other seasoned themed posts. Those kinds of things just go with the territory of being a blogger, but before I jump into that and get all holiday'ed out, I know I need to step back and remember that for some of us, the holidays can be filled with stress and dread and inadequacy.

Last year was tough for us. This year has been tough as well, but last year at this time was immeasurably exhausting and sad. We couldn't pay rent, our cell phones had been shut off for months, we ate a lot of cheap food, and we depended on the kindness of others to get by. Strangers sent presents to my boys and gift cards to us. People from our church (who didn't really know the extent of what we were going through) dropped checks in the offering plate with our names on them. We were able to buy Jonah one present with a Sears rebate card from a tire change. We bought him the last Buzz Lightyear action figure we could find and watching him open that toy on Christmas morning was the coolest feeling ever. That boy had plenty of presents under the tree, but it was that one, the only one we were able to give him, that meant everything to us. We were glad when Christmas was over, but overwhelmingly thankful that the grace of God and the kindness of others carried us through.

It's emotionally draining to be in need during the Christmas season. You see people posting photos on instagram and facebook of their shopping trips, their holiday hauls, the deals at target they just snagged and when you're barely able to put food on the table, those types of posts seem patronizing and cruel. How can so many people have so much when you have so little? Part of the fun of Christmas is shopping with friends and family, going to Christmas shows and events, walking around downtown with your family while you drink hot chocolate and the kids beg to go look at all the toys in the shop windows. You want to keep the magic alive and create memories for your family, but you're not sure how you can do that when all that consumes your mind is bills and necessities and how desperate you are for a miracle. I get it. I so get it.

When the holidays are hard, just remember that this season is not about how much money you spend and how many presents you can fit under the tree. I mean, sure. You can make it about that, but it doesn't have to be. Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to make your Christmas look like the ones you see on TV or instagram or wherever. Make your holidays whatever you want them to be and live within your means. Don't get a credit card or borrow money just so you keep up with the joneses. It's not worth it. Really. Embrace this season and determine to make it an incredible one, regardless of your circumstances.

Try to stay positive and focus on what's going right. If the first thought in your mind when you read that was, "Easy for you to say, but nothing is going right for us!" Take a deep breath. Let's try this again. Take one step outside of your frustration and the fog that the struggle causes and really look at what's going on. I'm 100% certain that you can find something that is going right. Even if it's a small something, it's something. Don't be a victim of your life. Tough times are mostly circumstantial. You can thrive in spite of your circumstances, I can assure you that, but the first thing that needs to change is your attitude. Refuse to be a victim. If life keeps throwing junk at you, stand taller, fight harder, and refuse to let it define you. Being broke and being poor are two different things. Broke people don't have money. Poor people don't have money, or joy, or happiness, or quality of life. Don't have a poor attitude and stop calling yourself poor! You're broke and you're going to get through this.

I know you might not have a lot of resources to go around, but a little creativity can go a long way. Put some time and effort into browsing thrift stores and craigslist and freecycle for used toys that you can easily clean up and repair to make new again. Grab all the free samples you can find at the mall and make a "spa" package for your mom or sister. Dust off those crochet hooks or knitting needles and make a scarf or coffee cup cozies or dishtowels. Make cookies or pies! Everyone loves pie.

If you're really strapped for cash and you couldn't make something to save your life, there are a few organizations that can help you get through the season. Toys for Tots and Operation Santa are both organizations that help provide gifts for kids for Christmas. The Salvation Army offers assistance for the whole family, as do many local churches and charities. Make a few phone calls, tell them your story and see if they can help you. But please, really think about what you have and what you can do and don't apply to those organizations unless you really, really, really, need help. It'd be so easy to take advantage of the free gifts, but unless you absolutely have no other choice, don't. Gifts mean so much more when they are a labor of love.

In the LaValley home, regardless of our finances, we only give our kids three gifts. We want the Christmas season to be about loving other people and giving of ourselves, our time, and our resources. This year, Jonah's really starting to understand what Christmas is all about and although he still asks for a hundred different toys, I heard him telling his Nonna on the phone the other day, "Mommy said I can have THREE presents. Only three." Warmed my heart something special. There are so many ways to celebrate and create memories without breaking the bank and falling into the fast paced Christmas scene. This is a great list of activities that are mostly (if not all) free and simple ways to have some good times and make your kids forget all about that mommy and daddy being broke thing.

I don't know what it is, but struggling at Christmas time is just a whole other level of sad. I know it's hard. I know you might feel like you're not good enough, or that your kids are missing out, or that they'll hate you forever because you can't give them all the things they're asking for, but it's just not true. Seasons come and seasons go. Embrace the good ones and embrace the tough ones. You might not be able to control or change your circumstances, but you can choose joy in every terrible moment. I don't tell you these things in retrospect, as someone who has been through it and now has all the 20/20 vision and wisdom to share. I tell you all this because we're still in it. We're not as bad off as we were last year, I'll give you that, but we're definitely not financially secure yet. Christmas will not be a time of extravagance and lavish gift giving, but we are happier than we've ever been. We are content and we are thriving because we choose to be that way. I'll say it again : Don't be a victim of your life. Choose joy and embrace this season with grace.