Lissa Marie Niederer

Thoughts about faith, family, books, and how I'm trying to make them all fit together!


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Looking Forward

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2016 was a crazy storm of things I did not expect, and I find myself in that reflective space that encircles so many of us at the turn of the new year. I had both the most amazing summer of my life this year, AND the most excruciatingly difficult fall. There were lessons and beauty in each.

Maybe just a few highlights.

There was summer. In the summer we made decisions that probably caused people to think we were crazy, and maybe we were. We left our jobs and spent every day of the entire summer with the kids – camping, swimming, hosting loads of family from out of state, and in August, joining my parents on their anniversary trip to Alaska. It was an amazing adventure. I did things I never thought I would do, like riding a river raft into a waterfall of glacial runoff, dog sledding, and panning for gold. Alaska was wild. It made me feel alive.

Summer was about family, and warmth, and adventure.

Fall came. It tends to do that when the summer ends. In the fall we learned about allowing others to really see us, even when we didn’t have it all together. Especially when we didn’t have it all together. We leaned on God hard. We prayed a lot and talked a lot and allowed our loved ones to help us, even if it felt uncomfortable. And it did. We spent time appreciating the simple pleasures – a walk in the woods, the sound of the kids laughing, an afternoon spent emptying milkweed pockets of their wispy “seed fairies.”14908328_10157856107185347_3756187966519931284_n

Fall was about faith, and humility, and patience.

Christmas came in the form of kindness from friends, family, and complete strangers. Somehow this year, the twinkle lights were brighter, the cookies were sweeter, the spirit that is Christmas – the real, true spirit – swelled in my heart more than I can remember it doing any year before. 15390900_10158076449450347_5624485579260826058_n

The week winter officially started was also the week our family officially started a new way to be. Instead of Hans working and me staying home for a while, as we had planned, we swapped. Now Hans is a freshly ordained stay-at-home-dad (He’s blogging about it – check him out!), and I get to work every day with some amazing people who have an amazing mission at a job that I’m pretty sure was made for me.

Looking back can be fun, instructive even, but I find myself far more focused this year on the looking forward. The poet/novelist Rainer Maria Rilke is quoted as once having written “And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” And I love that! I’m so excited to see all the things that haven’t “been” yet, new unexpected things that are equally as laden with lessons and beauty.

Happy New Year to you and yours. Lift each other up this year. Love hard. Lean on your neighbor when you have to. (They can handle it.) We’re all going to be just fine.

Cheers.


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Spike the Christmas Dragon

Dear Friends and Family,

This year we have decided to work on a family project as a gift for you all. This is a “pass along story.” Each of us wrote a part, and then we passed it along to someone else, and around and around until we had a complete(-ish) story. We hope you enjoy reading it, and figuring out who added what bits! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Love,

Hans, Lissa, Matthias, Sam, and Kinsey

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Spike the Christmas Dragon

On Christmas Eve, Spike stretched his papery wings as he clambered out of a hole in the trunk of the Niederer family’s Balsam fir. It had been a long year, and his scales ached as he emerged for this one night of magic – the night which Spike (and all Christmas dragons for that matter) considered to be his purpose in life. He reared up and blew a celebratory orb of fire into the Niederer’s living room, no bigger than the flame of a matchstick. He couldn’t wait to get started.

“I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas!” Kinsey Niederer shouted.

“Just one more day now,” Dad said.

“Can we play hide and seek?” asked the five year old girl.

Sam, the younger of her two older brothers, counted, waiting for the others to hide. Even Matthias, who was eleven and who considered himself “too old” for most of their games, joined in.

Kinsey rushed about looking for a good spot. Under the tree, she thought. When she got under, she could swear she saw a little green-winged shape at the base of the tree. She pushed one of the lower boughs out of her way and squinted. “Spike?”

Now everyone knew that in very rare occurrences a small dragon would sometimes make its home in tree trunks. They were called, as it were, “Christmas Dragons.” When I say that everyone knew about them, I really mean no one did, but they will now.

Spike quickly got inside a present to hide from Kinsey. He couldn’t be seen yet.

Spike was afraid inside the present. So Spike decided to get out of the present. So Spike decided to go outside and fly in the wind and the icy icy snow. But even though he got buried he was not dead. Then he came back inside to warm up.

Apparently, in his excitement, Spike had emerged rather earlier than he had intended. The human family that brought home his nesting tree was still awake, and now he had the challenge of staying hidden from them until nightfall. The small girl had seen him, he was quite sure. Would his acts of kindness count if he was seen? Would his Christmas luck work? He’d never been seen by a human before; he didn’t know! Spike quickly pressed his body against the trunk and curled his tiny spiked tail around himself, trying to hide from the little girl.

“Spike! It is you!” Kinsey said. “I’ve seen you before! Are you a Christmas dragon now?”

Spike opened one eye to look into the girl’s excited face. It was too late. His cover was definitely blown.

“Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, FORTY! Ready or not, here I come!” Matthias shouted. Kinsey ran right up to him. “Found you, Kinsey, heh heh! What are you doing? Go hide. I’ll re-do it. One, two-”

“No!” Kinsey shouted. “Spike the Christmas dragon! He’s in the house!”

“Yeaaaahhh…right. The Christmas dragon. There’s totally a magic reptile in our house. Grow up, Kinsey.” Matthias was the oldest of the three siblings, and he was often mean to his little brother Sam and little sister Kinsey.

But when the boys were really seeing Spike, they really saw him. “He’s real!” the boys said.

Kinsey said, “He looks like the real green dragon you made out of clay, Matthias and Mom put him in the oven and he melted! He must have come to life!”

Matthias and Sam laughed at Kinsey, but that was in fact, precisely what had happened. A year ago, Matthias had pressed a fist-sized lump of green clay into a muscular little dragon with a wide, sloping face and powerful wings. Unfortunately, the clay had not been the bakeable kind as the children’s mother had thought, and the dragon sculpture was soon reduced to a pancake of green on Mrs. Niederer’s best cookie sheet. The children had cried over the loss of what had promised to make a fine new toy for them to share, but something magical and mysterious was happening. Outside in a snow-laden fir grove nearby, just as Matthias’s first tear was dropping onto his t-shirt, Spike was suddenly materializing, alive and as real as can be.

Spike did not know this of course at the time, but this is the way all Christmas dragons come to be. Anytime a child draws a dragon, or writes about a dragon, or molds one from clay, or imagines one in the deep of a dark night, its spirit earns a living body. It hides and waits for the arrival of the next Christmas, the day it can return to its family and repay its gratefulness for being alive. Only, it’s supposed to be a secret!

Spike grunted in frustration and stamped his foot because the people found him. He sighed a little dragon sigh and darted back in the tree. It was then that Kris Kringle himself magically transported four presents down the trunk of the tree, as if it were a chimney and Spike’s hole were the fireplace. The presents were labeled “Matthias” “Sam” “Kinsey” and “Spike.” Saint Nicholas gave a present to him? Little dragon Spike? He brought them out one by one and put them under the tree, except his own, which he left in the opening of the tree to open later. Sam got a little action figure, Kinsey got a rainbow ornament, and for Matthias, a lump of coal.

All the things that Spike the dragon always knew included not to open his present before it was Christmas morning. Dragons use lumps of coal to smash nuts. Real big lumps of coal to smash real big gigantic nuts. All because Spike was a teensy dragon. When he melted in the oven he was always never going to melt again.

Spike felt it hard to believe that coal could be a proper present. He hadn’t opened his present yet but he felt compelled to give it to Matthias. Sure, Matthias had had a less than desireable attitude toward his brother and sister and perhaps that’s why he got the coal in the first place. But this was Christmas, and Spike could see how disappointed Matthias was. He gave his present a push and it tumbled down the trunk of the tree, landing right next to Matthias. The boy picked it up and could see his name scorched into the side of the present. “I guess this one is for me!” he said.

It was fishlegs.

Spike would have loved those fishlegs. But he gave them willingly to make his boy happy. Matthias loved the fishlegs, too, and his heart was suddenly so full of Christmas he apologized to Sam and Kinsey, and they got along splendidly from that moment on. Most of the time anyway.

Do you know what fishlegs are? Neither do we, quite frankly. But it doesn’t matter really. The point of the story remains the same. Spike did not need magic to make Christmas special for his human family. All he needed was a dragon heart full of thankfulness, a heart that knew he had been made to be more than just a lump of clay. To show others love, that was what mattered.

 

THE END

 


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10 Reasons I Can’t Write Right Now

  1. writers-blockThe closet at the end of my upstairs hallway is overflowing with shoes that don’t fit anybody in the house.  If I don’t purge and organize this closet right now, the world might implode.
  2. It has been four days since I baked chocolate chip cookies.
  3. It’s nice outside. I should go outside. I should probably take up gardening while I’m out there.
  4. The guinea pig cage is stinky. This chore belongs to my sons, but I can’t concentrate when the den smells like wet hay.
  5. I’m out of corn starch. There is not an immediate need for corn starch, but doesn’t that seem like one of those things you want readily available for emergencies?
  6. Gastronomic necessity requires I drive to Manchester for an apple cider doughnut.
  7. The baseboards haven’t been scrubbed in… Have I ever scrubbed my baseboards?
  8. If there were menus written out for the next couple weeks, I’d feel much more organized. Maybe I could come up with some kind of alphabetized system. A few crockpot meals wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
  9. I haven’t checked Facebook in, like, twenty minutes. Something monumental might have happened while I was procrastinating – I mean being a conscientious homemaker/writer of words.
  10. Preparation is the mother of success. I should
    • research
    • brainstorm
    • outline
    • read something
    • write some character sketches
    • make sure there’s plenty of paper in the printer
    • tidy the desk area
    • dust
    • take that weird can of compressed air to the keyboard
    • blog a list of things that might distract me from writing


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The Feast in the Famine

You know those days? Those days when you wake up and you just know things aren’t going to go as you’d hoped they would? Well, without trying to sound like too much of a Debbie Downer, I’ve had quite a few of those in a row now. Monday morning started with a missed alarm clock, a broken fruit bowl in the mad rush to catch the school bus, and some bad news from a friend. Tuesday followed, a local three-year-old girl went missing and a community went up in arms to bring her home. Our collective hearts were sick for her. Not to mention Hans’s new job hasn’t been the easiest of transitions.

Then this morning we woke up and had to make a difficult decision right off the bat, after which we decided to take Kinsey, our own sweet little girl, to our favorite spot for a walk in the woods. To relax. Unwind. Connect with nature. Well, my car wouldn’t start, which doesn’t bode well when neither of you have seen a paycheck since June, and then when we got to our favorite trail in the woods, we were met by a fleet of logging trucks. They’d already clearcut the area, and we found ourselves standing in the midst of a forest graveyard – just a ghost of an area we love very much.

Everything felt thin, and fragile. Lean. Worrying about finances and our stupid broken dining room table and the fact that we’re eating a bit more cheap spaghetti than most families would prefer – it was too much in that moment. I thought I might just sit down in the field and cry. But here’s where the story turns around. Don’t give up on me yet.

My husband, the eternal optimist, and our sweet baby girl who wore her “twirly” dress today and was ready for a walk, grabbed my hands and off we went on our walk, as planned. Over the rubble, around the diggers and dump trucks, and down a new path.

While I worked on readjusting my attitude, Kinsey set to the important task of collecting wildflowers. “Help me, Mumma,” she said. So of course, I obliged. I can’t say no when she calls me “Mumma.”

We started with one wide black-eyed Susan, and filled the collection in as we went along. Queen Anne’s lace, clover, Indian paintbrushes. When I handed her a smattering of unidentified little purple blooms, she just beamed. “This bouquet is a feast,” she said.

A feast.

Now, logically I realize that Kinsey has the vocabulary of.. well, a four year old, and probably didn’t intend to affix such a label to her wildflowers as would suggest that she consume them at any point in time. We laughed about how cute and funny it was, but as I watched her ascend the hill into the sunshine, clutching that little fistful of blossoms as if they were made of gold, I started to think perhaps it wasn’t such a misnomer after all.

Things have been rough, but our children wouldn’t know it. Our house is incredibly full of love. All of our bills are paid and we have a warm house to live in, and even if there isn’t a lot of extra cash floating around, our broken dining room table boasts as its centerpiece the most perfect little mason jar of wildflowers that I’ve ever seen.

Some days, its hard not to focus on the struggles that stretch before us. They are the famine. But amidst them nestle so many tiny miracles. Simple things. The things that we will remember when we are old. The things that matter, if we remember to look. They are the feast.

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Kinsey’s wildflower “feast”


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Still Celebrating

celebrating_toastNormally, the day after Christmas, I wake up and can not wait to get the tree down, the gifts put away, the sweets out of my kitchen, and order returned to reign over the chaos that is the holidays with three young children. Normally, by New Year’s Eve, I am ready to sit down and set a list of very specific goals for myself for the upcoming 365 days – usually fairly inflexible and quantitatively measurable things like:

  • I will cut out every single granule of unnatural sugar from my diet.
  • I will read 5 chapters of my Bible each morning, rising promptly and happily at 5:45 a.m. so as to take advantage of a quiet house. (Ha! Do I know myself AT ALL?!)
  • I will write 10,000 words every single day, no exceptions, even if I am feeling sick or uncreative, or if the coffee pot is broken, or if I just reallyreallydontwanna.
  • I will exercise 6 days a week, without complaining.

These are nice thoughts. They capture the spirit of things that I know would make me better if I actually did them. And typically, while my resolutions tend to be unrealistic, they provide me with a star for which to shoot and then I land somewhere shy of my goal but better than I was before. Which I guess is the idea. But I digress.

Here’s my point. Frankly, 2015 was so amazing, I’m still celebrating its awesomeness.

Yes, I gained 15 pounds back of the 80 I lost the previous year. Yes, I probably overspent a little and ate too many fish filets from McDonalds. I didn’t make as much progress on Close To Me as I intended. But I got something back this year that I had been missing for a while – ME.

Long story short? I was depressed, and now I’m not. I was anxious and now I’m… well… less anxious. I can take some guesses about how things changed, but today what matters is THAT they changed, not how. Here I am, at the end of this incredible year during which nothing particularly stunning happened, except for this:

I played music really loudly and danced in my kitchen. I sat and I looked at a Christmas tree. There wasn’t much under it, but the little white lights were so beautiful, I cried. I ate things that tasted delicious and felt not an ounce of guilt for the fact that they absolutely contributed to my needing to buy new jeans. I lounged in a messy living room and was able to stare past the disorder at my ginormous, beautiful children, who I know will leave me one day in a much cleaner, much emptier house. I went to restaurants and meetings and parties with people I didn’t know and enjoyed the new scenery and new conversation. I prayed and painted and laughed and kissed and ate lots of chocolate. And I just don’t want it to be over.

Okay. I KNOW it’s not OVER. What I mean is, I think my resolution this year will be to PURPOSEFULLY practice the things that I discovered this year about being me. And I think I will try a different set of vocabulary words. More “try” and “some.” Fewer specific numbers and “no exceptions.” Things like:

  • I resolve to continue seeking joy for myself and to do what I can to spread it to others, to fill needs where I am able, and to “give it to God.”
  • I resolve to continue working on patience, mindfulness, and courage.
  • I  resolve to cut myself (and my family) some slack and focus on the things that matter.
  • I resolve to recognize, identify, and express gratitude for the blessings that stand before me in the here and now.

So I’m not taking the tree down yet. Not only did I NOT clear the kitchen of all the Christmas goodies, I am planning on baking a pineapple upside down cake for my husband this afternoon. We will all put on our pajamas later and have a family board game night, and then I’ll snuggle up on the couch with Hans and a slice of that cake and a glass of sparkling cider and think about how good it is, for now, to feast.


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Remembering Life

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This is a hard thing to say.

People tend to hide the less glamorous aspects of their true selves, I think — things that we might feel scared of, or ashamed of. Things that, when we are suffering under the weight of them, seem like no one else in the world could possibly know the weight or the depth of the darkness. Like depression. Like anxiety. After all, I live a blessed life. Super hot, loving husband, three awesome kids, a job I’m passionate about, decent physical health. I have no right to feel down, to feel worried. These emotions occasionally plague me without reason, and for a long time I was embarrassed to admit that I felt them. I “brave faced” it. I played the part of the happy momma because that is what I thought was expected of me. I didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the wonderful life I had, and I didn’t want people to think I was crazy or broken. And I didn’t want to make any changes because that meant admitting that something really wasn’t right.

But it wasn’t.

Eventually I needed to reach out for help, and it was then that I realized I was absolutely not alone. Talking about it with people I trust sucked the power out of it, made me realize that there are so many others who suffer quietly. Woman after woman after woman told me that they had struggled with similar issues at one point or another during their life, especially after becoming a mother. I believe that the more we speak about it, the less isolated people will feel in their fear and their unmarked sadness, and that the more we share the burden, the lighter it will be for each of us. Don’t be scared or ashamed. It’s hard; I know. But speak! Speak, and the darkness will cower.

I’d been a stay-at-home mom for the last ten years, and while I would make that choice again, I would do a better job taking care of myself during that period of time. I have definitely been isolated, but now, the season is changing. I am remembering life.

The kids are older, and we are meeting families through school and in the neighborhood. I have a part time job with wonderful people who care fiercely about what we do. I have joined a MOPS group, and this whole world of brave, beautiful women who are there to connect has opened up to me. I am amazed how the same we all are. How different, but how the same. In it together.

I could spend time explaining what depression and anxiety feel like, but I don’t want to. (Maybe another day.) Right now I’m just remembering life. Praise God, I feel like me! I feel excited for the next thing, the next trip, the next challenge. Things still scare me, for sure. My job terrifies me, but I do it anyway, and I’m good at it! Traveling scares me. But I do it anyway because there’s this whole big world I haven’t seen, and I don’t want these ugly chains confining me to a small life.

I don’t feel this brave every day. If you don’t feel brave today, remember this: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) Pray for me, so I remember it tomorrow.

This isn’t really what I set out to write today. But I haven’t written in a long time, and so this is something.

Speak. Reach out. Be blessed.


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My New Pursuit

Be present.

I am working on being present.

So often I find myself staring at one of my children. hourglassTake Matthias for example. I could be looking right at him, watching his little mouth move. It’s likely that he is telling me about a new species of six-legged, mountain-dwelling dragon that he has invented, because he’s quite clever about these things, and I could be nodding my head and saying “cool, buddy, good idea,” and listening to him. But it would be the kind of listening that only lasts for a second. In one ear and out the other, as they say. Sometimes I feel impatient, waiting for him to finish his story so I can move on to dinner, or that phone call I need to make, or even a show I want to finish watching. Or maybe I’m supervising my daughter Kinsey with the watercolor paints, but working on a grocery list, and only half paying attention when she says “Mumma paint me bubbafly?” Hans reads us all a chapter of a book before the kids go to bed every night, and so often I find that he finishes up, puts the book away, and I couldn’t tell you what he’d just read if my coffee depended on it. It’s the same when I pray; sometimes my mind just drifts off to other things I should be doing.

Why the lack of total recall? Why the feeling of pressure, pressure, pressure all the time? Why the constant inability to focus on one thing at a time?

It’s because I’m always thinking of the question that I think so many people get stuck on, WHATCOMESNEXT?!?!?

I am not advocating that we give up on the practice of planning ahead, making goals, thinking about the future. Certainly those are good things, and are encouraged scripturally. (Being good stewards of our time, working hard, sowing crops…) But I think I, for one, could afford to live a little more in the moment.

I’ve recently learned about the words ‘chronos’ and ‘kairos.’ Do you know them? They are Greek words, ‘chronos’ referring to the passage of time, from past through the present and into the future, measured by minutes, hours, days, etc. ‘Kairos’ also means time, but not in the way that we think of it typically. It has more of a feeling of “moments,” a God-given moment, a moment heavy with choice or meaning, the “perfect” moment for a particular thing to happen. It might take me three minutes of ‘chronos’ time to listen to Matthias tell me about his dragons. But in terms of kairos, that time is priceless. I am building up my child, forming a bond with him that will help him feel creative, empowered, important, and heard. I want my children to grow up feeling like they can talk to me about anything. And be heard. Really, really heard.

And since I’ve been focusing on this new endeavor of being present in the moment I’m in, you know what’s happened? Not only are my children happier, but my anxiety level is wayyyy low. I am happier. I am more at peace.

The Bible has plenty to say about this. Matthew 6:27 says “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” 34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So if I am thinking about having to get to a particular task or thought while I am not listening to the dragon story or painting a butterfly or praying for a friend, it is taking up the chronos time twice over–the time when I’m thinking about doing/thinking it and the time after that when I’m actually doing/thinking it. Worrying about it and thinking WHATCOMESNEXT?!?!? is robbing me of my chronos AND my kairos, and I can’t afford to lose both.

My kairos, my time with my husband and my children, my prayer time, the time it might take me to put my own agenda aside for a minute or three or twenty or a day, to be the hands and feet and ears of Christ, is invaluable, precious, irreplaceable. I’m not promised the moments ahead, only these ones. And when I am in them, and I mean really, completely all in, I can see, without a doubt or a worry, how numbered they are, and how beautiful.

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