Counting Beautiful Things


With it being the week of Thanksgiving, I am posting this week’s column a bit early so that I am able to spend time with my family. Enjoy your week, and thank you for reading!

Dear Ellie:

The holidays are coming up, and I am already upset about it. I have a close-knit family, and we have lots of traditions and fun events planned for this season, but something about all of the hurrying about to get things done stresses me out every year to the point that I can’t even enjoy what Thanksgiving and the winter holidays should be about – gratitude, giving, and being together.

I know it might sound silly, but how do I find peace in the middle of all of this? How do I stop doing everything that I feel like I’m supposed to do so that I will, for once, look back on this holiday season and not feel terribly about how I treated the people around me? 


Holiday-ed Out

Oh, Holiday-ed Out. I hear you loud and clear. The holidays are a struggle for me and, quite honestly, I think they are a struggle for probably most people out there. We let the expectations of others – and even our own expectations – bog us down to the point where we cannot show up for our life in a meaningful way.

Here are some boundaries I’ve drawn to protect my heart and mind and family this year. Maybe they will be helpful for you, too!

I am buying ALL gifts before December 1st. If it isn’t purchased before December 1st, it ain’t going under our tree. I want to reserve the month of December for being with my family and enjoying the holiday season. Running in and out of stores and voraciously shopping online into all hours of the night is not something I’m going to do this year. It means that my kids are going to have to get me their wish lists quicker (I already have them in hand!), but I refuse to wear myself out in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas just so I can cram a corner in our family room full of wrapped presents.

I am reinstating my practice of counting beautiful things. Several years ago, when I was going through my divorce, I started journaling things that I was grateful for every night before bed. It was such a healing practice and helped me find joy in the middle of a really painful season of my life. This ritual reminds me that there is beauty all around us… we just have to look for it and call it out into the light. Even if it’s a list you keep on your phone or if you go all fancy and order a gratitude journal to guide you, look for things to be grateful for every day and keep a list somewhere. It will slow you down and help you practice gratitude, which is an important discipline for all of us. On the darker days, I still read back over my list of beautiful things. They are a guiding light when life feels heavy and dark.

I am saying “no” and “yes” on purpose. Instead of immediately responding to invitations for parties and events and meet-ups, I am going to say, “Thank you so much for thinking of me! Let me look at our family’s commitments and get back to you by tomorrow.” And then I am really going to do that and make sure that the thing I’m saying yes to is something that I (or my family) should really do. Remember that when you say yes to something, you are also saying no to something else. Instead of feeling pressured to respond right then to an invitation, give yourself a chance to evaluate if the thing to which you’re committing yourself is more important than the thing you are not going to be able to do. Sometimes, a quiet night at home is better for my mind and heart than going out with friends. And that is okay. :)

I am asking for what I need. From my children, from my husband, from my family and friends and co-workers. If I need space or a minute to think or a walk around the lake all by myself, then I am going to ask for those things and not feel bad about it. Mamas feel the brunt of the holidays because (usually) we are the ones buying gifts and decorating the house and wrapping the gifts and planning the meals and shopping for groceries and preparing for guests and all the things that make the holidays so beautifully difficult. Don’t get me wrong. I love doing these things for the people that I love. I find a lot of joy in all of it. But I also work full-time and am raising two young men. So I am going to pay attention to what I need in the midst of all of the holiday crazy, and instead of getting stressed and angry and alienating the people I care about, I’m going to ask them to help me. Even if helping me means please don’t talk to me for 30 minutes unless you need me to call an ambulance.

I am sitting still. For at least 15 minutes a day, I am going to sit in my favorite place in our home and be. still. I might read one of the three books currently stacked on my nightstand or I might take a little snooze in the sunshine or I might pray. But I will take time to be alone with myself and my thoughts and give my mind a bit of space to breathe. No phone, no laptop, no iPad. Just me and my thoughts (and maybe a book or my journal).

I hope this list is helpful for you. Whatever boundaries you decide to put into place, remember that you are in charge of your life. You get to decide what holidays look like for you. If your family members have expectations that drain you, have a conversation before it all goes down so they know that you’re moving through the holidays a bit differently this year. Since you say y’all are close, I believe they will support any changes you make. (And they might even follow your lead!)

More than anything, I want to remind you to give yourself the kind of grace and understanding you would give a good friend. You will lose your temper and you will be stressed from time to time. That is the nature of the holiday season. But don’t let a few hiccups keep you from trying to do better again the next time. I hope you are able to look back on the 2017 holiday season and remember the peace you gave yourself. :)



If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.

Published by

Ellie Talley

Ellie is a writer and teacher. She lives in Tennessee with her husband and children.

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