Issue 11: my favorite new Christmas traditions | learn from her: Taja Mack View in browser
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Issue 11: December 25, 2019
my favorite new Christmas traditions | learn from her: Taja Mack

Dear Sisters,

Our essay is a little shorter and more informal this week, so I've beefed up the Helpful Happies and am sharing my friend Taja Mack's story of battling lupus in the "Learn From Her" section. 

I'd LOVE to hear what you enjoyed most about Christmas this year. Please email me and share your traditions, favorite gifts, travels... whatever you did (or didn't do) that you just can't get over! 


I do want to share one quick thought, as this is the last issue of 2019. Between Christmas and the New Year, many of us may do some reflecting on the past year (and the past decade!) as well as some dreaming about the future. 

There are a lot of influencers out there these days selling the Gospel of the Hustle. "Girl, no more excuses! Chase your dreams! Start fresh in 2020 and GET IT!" That kind of thing. 

While, yes, sometimes we just need to dive in and make those big decisions to invest in our futures, I just want to throw out an alternate thought: lasting change and progress usually takes place over the span of years, not weeks or months. 

The soul-level change we're craving rarely happens because we signed up for that weight loss program or decided to sell makeup or read that book or volunteered for that thing or whatever else people will be pushing the next few weeks. 

Healthy, sustainable change (for me, anyway) usually comes through boring things that take a long time like therapy, mentorship, spiritual practice, self-care and honestly, just getting older. 

Making small changes over longer spans of time eventually adds up to big changes that naturally become part of who we are and don't require constant hustling to maintain. This kind of change is so much less likely to end with the dreaded shame spiral—because we've allowed ourselves to grow at our own pace rather than forcing it. 

Maybe instead of jumping into one big new thing, try paying attention to the paths you're already on, and put some intentionality into those things!

To illustrate, here are three things I'm focusing on in 2020:

-If you read last week's essay, you know 2019 involved a bit of a spiritual crisis for me. So in 2020, I've signed up for a six-week class for spiritual seekers through our new church to allow myself to start fresh with faith and ask some of my hard questions in a safe environment. In the past, when joining a new church, I would've jumped right into serving or a community group. This time, I'm showing my hand up front: even though I've been a Christian for 20 years, I need some help figuring out what I really believe. I need some support and some mentorship. So as uncomfortable as I am doing this, I'm going to sit in a class on the basics of Christianity and simply be a learner and a listener. 

-We're having another baby in March, so I'm focusing on embracing my role as a mama and not pursuing as many "side hustles." It's very hard for me to say no to any type of paid work, but I've got to get picky about what work I pursue so I don't overfill my plate. Having little kids is a short, but incredibly important season, and it's a season I want to LOVE! 

-I want to continue writing The Hump Day Happy and improving it for you guys. I love doing this so much, and it brings me a ton of intrinsic satisfaction, so I think it's a healthy endeavor to pursue.

That's it! Those are the only things I'm really focusing on as we head into 2020. There's not much hustle involved, and I'm SUPER fine with that. ❤️

Love, Jill

My favorite new traditions from this year's Christmas season: feel free too borrow any of these and tuck them away for next year!
My kind of Christmas music

This station has been playing nonstop the month of December at our house! We're not huge fans of the seven Christmas songs played over and over on the radio (Santa Baby and the like), and something about this kind of jazz just makes me feel so cozy and warm (it has that Charlie Brown Christmas feel). 

For Christmas hymns, this Sovereign Grace Christmas Youtube Playlist is solid!

Homemade wrapping paper by Julia

I truly do not know where I got this idea, but I was already thinking of using the giant roll of butcher paper we use for coloring to wrap presents to keep things simple, cheap and environmentally friendly...... and to avoid storing rolls of Christmas paper in our limited closet space the rest of the year only to have to go out and buy more because there wasn't quite enough and then storing the excess again... 

Anyway, Julia received these amazing paint sticks called Kwik Stix from a friend for her birthday, and they were the perfect way to paint our wrapping paper—bold enough to show up on the brown paper, but they dry almost instantly, so NO MESS! I strategically gave her Christmas colors only and let her color her heart out on a large section of butcher paper. 

The thickness of the paper made it a bit harder to wrap the presents, so I had to use a lot more tape than normal. The tape also showed up a lot more on the brown paper. I think a nice addition for next year would be some cute Christmas Washi tape

Dirty Santa / Secret Santa

Scott and I both have a lot of siblings, and those siblings are all beginning to get married and have kids. I LOVE giving high quality, thoughtful gifts, but between the two of us, there are 22 people in our immediate families. 

We've traditionally gotten gifts for all of our siblings as well as our parents, but this year I initiated a Dirty Santa gift swap among siblings in my family and a Secret Santa gift swap with Scott's siblings. So instead of shopping for 22 and giving everyone a cheap gift, we were able to pick out nice gifts for our parents and all the kids. 

Siblings in my family agreed not to buy each other gifts, but instead play Dirty Santa with a gift everyone would actually like (no gag gifts).

In Scott's family, we were all paired up with another sibling and purchased only for our person (with a specific dollar amount guideline). We sent my mother-in-law our wish lists, she picked what she was going to buy off of them and then forwarded the rest to our Secret Santa. 

If you are from a big family and are stressing about shopping for everyone, rest assured that the other members of your family probably are, too. It's OK to bring this up and suggest a new plan! It has made shopping a joy this year! 

Age-Appropriate Christmas "Baking"

I love the idea of Christmas baking with kids: making tons of goodies, packaging them up and giving them out to everyone we know. It's really a lovely practice, and I have dreams of turning our kitchen into a baked goods factory at Christmastime one day. 

But right now, we have a just-turned-2-year-old, and I don't want to get too ambitious and end up rolling out sugar cookie dough at midnight because my toddler lost interest five minutes into it. Not really fun for anyone, ya know? 

So we started small this year with these EASY pretzel-Rolos-M&M treats. You don't even need me to share instructions, y'all. You know how to do this. It was so simple, but provided plenty of fun for Julia and yielded a delicious treat! 

Loving your spouse during the holidays

Scott and I have never been great about giving each other gifts during the holidays. We're always traveling, spending all of our money on gifts for other people and just plain too lazy to do a lot for each other at Christmas. 

This year, we did exchange gifts, which was so nice! My favorite, though, was the "coupon book" we made for each other with five thoughtful "time" type gifts (no coupons for cleaning, intimacy, caring for our child or other things we should just do for each other without having to use a coupon 🤣). 

My coupons for Scott:

1. A Saturday of niche cooking adventures: homemade sausage, bacon, burgers, etc. I will shop, prep the kitchen and materials and be fully responsible for Julia that day so you can enjoy cooking!

2. A night out at the Brickstore (a beer pub in our town Scott loves)... alone! Get home from work, eat dinner and walk downtown. I'll handle bath and bedtime. 

3. A wide open Saturday devoted to hiking somewhere fun. 

4. A chocolate Guinness cake with cream cheese icing (or other dessert of your choice) 

5. My encouragement, full support, baby care and budget/scheduling consideration for you to go on an offload rally or event in 2020. 

And here were Scott's coupons for me!

1. Four date nights planned by Scott. He will say five nice things during said date nights (Words of affirmation is my top love language and his bottom. It can be a struggle 😅)

2. Gourmet home cooked feast 

3. Two 8-hour work sessions in which Scott takes the kid(s) for a full 8 hours so I can write/work for a big long uninterrupted stretch. 🤩

4. One double date with another couple 

5. A mystery gift

My friend Michelle is about 10 years older than me and is #goals for that wife and mom life. I am always so in awe about how she so joyfully and genuinely loves her family. Seriously, I could write an entire essay about how Michelle has inspired me through her example to ENJOY motherhood and make it magical with a little intentionality... hmmm... I really should write that! 😉

Anyway, Michelle also did a new tradition this year to love on her husband during the 12 days leading up to Christmas, and I thought it was so special and wanted to share it with y'all. 

It's very similar to our coupons, but she did these cute envelopes! I loved how simple, yet thoughtful, this was. A couple examples: 

Day 1: She gave him his favorite Christmas craft beer, "Bad Santa," with a bow on it. 

Day 3: She sent him for a walk in the woods because she knows he enjoys it (you know how sometimes you just need someone to tell you to go do what you love to do?) 

Day 7: She gave him a barbershop-style shave like with a hot towel and everything! SO cool. Pretty sure Scott would never trust my clumsy self with a razor anywhere near his face, but I love this idea. 😅

 I want to be the kind of person who shows my family I love them through intentionality. It doesn't have to be over-the-top, expensive, ooey-gooey romantic or overly complicated. A little thoughtfulness goes a LONG way, and I have PLENTY of room to improve in that area! Can't wait to plan ahead next year and do more for my people. 

Recipe: Christmas Cracker Jack

This is what Cracker Jack is supposed to taste like! With the addition of some red and green M&Ms, this is the perfect Christmas snack to give away to family and friends—salty, sweet and ADDICTING.

Christmas Cracker Jack

Recipe adapted from The New York Times

Start-to-finish: 1 hour

  • 3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda

  1. Heat oven to 300 F, and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking sheet.
  2. In a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, heat oil and 3 popcorn kernels over medium-high with lid on top. When kernels pop, add remaining kernels to pot, lower heat to medium-low, and crack the lid open a sliver, facing away from you, to release steam. (Alternatively, you could cover the pot with a mesh deep-frying screen, or an upside-down colander or strainer.) Cook, shaking the pot occasionally, until the popping stops.
  3. Transfer popcorn to a heatproof bowl, discarding any unpopped kernels. Add peanuts to bowl.
  4. In a medium pot, bring maple syrup, butter and brown sugar to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until butter and sugar have melted (the mixture should be foamy). Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 240 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from heat, and stir in salt, vanilla and baking soda. (Mixture may bubble up.)
  5. Immediately pour hot syrup over popcorn mixture, and use a spatula to mix it well. Scrape popcorn onto prepared baking sheet in one layer. Bake, rotating the pan after 15 minutes, for 25 to 35 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when you can remove a piece of the popcorn, and after letting it cool for about a minute, it’s crisp when you bite into it. Taste and sprinkle lightly with more salt if you like. Let cool before serving.
    Taja Mack

    I met Taja at our wonderful church in Mobile, 3Circle Midtown like... four years ago? Maybe five? I've watched her beautiful babies grow up and even had the privilege to baptize her daughter Taylor before we moved to Atlanta. 😭 Taja is a RARE soul. She doesn't let anything stop her from loving others, especially her family. Taja is always the first person to sign up to volunteer at church and brings so much fun, common sense and hard work to everything she does. 

    When I found out about Taja's health struggles, I was SHOCKED. I had no idea how woman who was dealing with so much could stay so dedicated, dependable and positive. 

    Please check out Taja's words even if you don't struggle with a chronic illness. I think you'll be inspired. 

    Q: Introduce yourself and your family!

    A: My name is Taja Mack and I'm 31. I'm the wife of Lebaron and Mother to Taylor (11) and Coby (6). My favorite things to do are reading, baking, and just plain ol napping!

    Q: Can you share with readers your medical situation and what that looks like for you and your family?

    A: My medical situation is quite complex. I have systemic lupus, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. Lupus is the toughest of them all, but they all play a part in my daily life. Daily pills, weekly chemo shots, and pain are things I deal with daily. It's not fun at all, but I refuse to let it worry me!

    Q: How is your life different now than it was before you were diagnosed?

    A: I was first diagnosed with lupus in 2014. I'd never had a broken bone or cavity before being diagnosed. I woke one morning unable to walk, and it all began from there. Before lupus, I conquered working 12-hour shifts at a psychiatric hospital, and I walked without aching. Before lupus I was very active!

    Q: What is the hardest part of battling a chronic illness, and how do you stay so positive and involved in so many things?

    A: The hardest part about having a chronic illness is feeling like you're a burden to those around you. I've always hated asking others for help. I'd rather suffer in silence. I had to learn that it was OK to seek help. God always places people in your life who don't mind helping. I stay positive because I have two little faces that only see me as a strong Warrior. I have Lupus. Lupus does NOT have me. I smile because I know things could be worse, and I know God favors me. 

    Even though I don't clock into a job anymore because of my illness, I find great joy in being able to serve others. There is nothing like being a blessing to others. God is always blessing me. 

    Q: What advice would you give someone who has just been diagnosed with a chronic illness?

    A: My advice is to FIGHT! Ask questions. Pray. Be your own advocate! Not everyone's experience is going to be the same as yours. Take what you need from their experience, and keep it pushing. Most importantly, PRAY. Seek God in it all. Know that he is there even when you feel like you can't take it anymore. Pray. Lose the Pride. It's OK to say no to events if you're not up to it. Know that there is someone that's doing a lot worse than you are. Speak LIFE over your life and not DEATH. Encourage yourself!

    Remember during all of this, there are little faces who don't understand what's going on. Be patient with them. Love them. Kids see and hear a lot. Even when I'm in pain, I make sure my kids know God loves me. He is not failing me or them. And even when I'm in pain, God is always good.

    Q: How can people who have friends or family struggling with medical issues help them feel like they aren't alone? How can people help emotionally and practically? 

    A: Family and friends can help by being present. Instead of saying, "Do you need anything?" or "Let me know if you need anything," offer to bring dinner. Offer to help come fold a load of clothes or even to help clean up a touch. Even with insurance, medical care is extremely expensive. Medicine alone with a chronic illness takes away any extra funds. Most people with a chronic illness can't work. I thank God for my husband being able to work and provide for us. It still sometimes gets tough financially. Offer help with a bill if you can. Sometimes just sitting and listening is the best thing you can do. Having a chronic illness can be depressing. Just be a listening ear! See that sometimes help is needed with the kiddos! They love going out for ice cream! 😉

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