Holiday Traditions- Part 2

I decided to blog on holiday traditions after our MOPs group came up with a wonderful list of ideas to inspire anyone looking for some traditions to throw into their holiday fun.  They are great ways to make memories and bless your family!

For anyone who is interested and missed Part 1, you can find it here.  Part 1 focused on Thanksgiving traditions- now we are moving onto Christmas!

1) Ornament exchanges.  If you do a Christmas tree, one memorable thing to do is to exchange ornaments each year.  I grew up with my parents exchanging with each other and my brother and I exchanging.  We typically did it Christmas Eve and an added benefit of this as little ones was that it always gave us one gift to open early.  An added bonus of this idea is that when we were both older and starting our own families, we already had a wonderful collection of ornaments to decorate our first “grown-up” trees with!

2) Reading Luke’s account of the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve.  There are tons of variations on this- some families tie this to setting out their nativity set (adding in a new figure as they get to that part of the story).  Another option is to set up the nativity set on Christmas morning- have family members look at the nativity set on Christmas morning before eating or opening gifts as a parent reads Christmas story in Luke. However it is done, it is a great way to keep our focus on the reason we celebrate Christmas.

3) Making Jesus a birthday cake.  We started doing this once we began having children, and it is one of my favorite traditions.  It is a terrific, concrete, and enticing way to help children grasp the reason for Christmas!

4) Speaking of sweet things, one way to bless others is to make an abundance of Christmas cookies, fudge, etc and deliver to neighbors, various local ministries, local law enforcement, and friends.  We like to make cinnamon rolls and share them with others.

5) Getting hot chocolate and riding around to look at Christmas lights.  Or a twist on this…Living by the Light, where one evening, choose to do everything by candlelight.  Talk about the verse 1 John 1:5 “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.”  Talk about what life would be like without light, and what life would be like without the light of Christ.  Then get in the car and go look at Christmas lights!

6)  Another one we personally incorporate is giving three gifts per child, to symbolize the three gifts given to Christ by the Magi.  Not only does this also relate directly to why we celebrate Christmas (even though the Magi didn’t visit Christ until he was a couple of years older), but it helps keep the craziness of commercialism down a bit!  There are also variations on this idea (you could do something like a gift to wear, a gift to read, and a gift to play with; or one family does a play off the gold/frankincense/myrrh idea- gold is something to give that is valuable, so something that the child really wants, their heart’s desire; frankincense was a spice used in the temple during prayer and fasting, so this gift could draw the child closer to God- a Bible, a Noah’s ark toy, etc.- myrrh was a fluid used upon death that covered the whole body, so perhaps something like pajamas, a sweater, jeans, etc.). Another idea with gift-giving is to give gifts to various ministries in the name of a loved one- World Vision has a great catalog that explains how you can bless families living in poverty with a goat or cow to provide milk, or hens to lay eggs.

7)  I can’t wait to start this one this year!  25 Names of Jesus for 25 days of ornaments- 1 to hang each day.  The idea is that you either take ornaments and write 25 names that are used for Christ, ie Wonderful Counselor, Alpha and Omega, Rock of Ages, etc.  You can make your own or use store-bought.  I came across this idea at http://www.iammommahearmeroar.net/2011/11/christmas-kojo-designs.html and think it is fabulous!

8) Christmas movie traditions.  This is a common one, as many people and/or families may choose to have certain movies they watch annually, like It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, and so forth. 🙂

9) Another one I hope to start incorporating is that of Christmas Mail: sometime a few weeks before Christmas, family members write letters to each other and use stockings as mailboxes.  Family members read their letters quietly at the same time on Christmas Eve.  Obviously with really young ones this could be tricky, but pictures can be drawn or short letters can be dictated also.

10) For those that are fans of crafting or baking, one tradition that could be fun are incorporating parties with friends as you make handmade gifts.  Bring potluck and enjoy time together while preparing gifts.  Cookie swaps can fall into this category.

And as always, there are many ways to serve others with the love of Christ- mentioned above are giving gifts through groups like World Vision and making baked goods or items to serve to others.  As in the Thanksgiving post, you can invite others to share a Christmas meal with you.  You can visit nursing homes and pass out handmade cards or sing some Christmas songs.  There is such wonderful joy in giving to others, especially to glorify the One who gave all for us.  My family is trying to do a better job of remembering this and putting it into practice!

I’ll stop there to prevent this from becoming way too long! If you want more ideas, a great resource is this site, which has a list of 50 Christmas ideas (some from this site are in my list above): http://www.defrumpme.com/2011/11/50-things-to-do-at-christmas-25-days-of.html

And feel free to share any of your traditions in the comments below!

Culture, Faith

A never fail diet.

It’s been a hard few weeks if you live in the state of NC, especially if you happen to frequent social media and have friends/acquaintances on both sides of the Amendment One issue.  My heart breaks over the hateful/inflammatory comments from both sides, the pain felt by people on both sides, and the division.  Especially the division amongst Christians.

I considered writing about the amendment and my perspective, but 1) I’m not sure I can do that right now, and 2)  I’m not sure it’s necessary.  I do feel a need to continue to process, but that can be done privately and given the current state of affairs, probably should be.  I don’t presume to think anything I have to say on these topics needs to be heard right now, at least not via a blog or social media outlet.  I think that is one of our current problems, trying to have serious, heartfelt discussions on heavily-charged issues using superficial forums like Facebook.  That’s another post though.

Related to all of this, however, is how to deal with the range of emotions all of this conflict has resulted in both personally and vicariously.  My heart has been heavy and I’ve vacillated between sorrow, anger, and feeling almost numb.  Today, as I continue to ponder all of this, I am doing it in between homeschooling, cleaning, and taking extra care of my 2 year old who seems to have a cold complete with runny nose and  fever.  As lunchtime rolled around, he initially only wanted yogurt to eat (one of his all-time faves) and I could tell he was in desperate need of nap (read:  SUPER CRANKY).  I found myself hoping he would eat something else but reminded myself that the yogurt may be all he can manage right now.  Thankfully, as he watched his sister gobble down a piece of peanut butter and jelly toast, my little guy decided that it looked rather appealing and managed a piece of PB&J toast as well.  I breathed a sigh of relief and recalled a few weeks ago when his 4 year old sister had a 24 hour stomach bug and could barely eat anything for a few hours.  Then I think back to when I was nursing both of them and how one of my biggest struggles as a new mom was worrying that they weren’t getting enough milk, that their growth was somehow being impacted, or that they would become ill or malnourished.

Even as they grow into toddlerhood and beyond, however, and their health and growth is much better established, our responsibility and desire for their continued nourishment and well-being does not change.  As parents, we know that eating healthy foods and getting enough water (and milk) is critical to their growth.  When it appears that they are not receiving adequate nourishment, whether sick or for another reason, we do our best to give them what they need, be it through encouraging, imploring, begging, bribing, supporting…we do what it takes because we know what can happen if their nourishment is inadequate.  They become weak, frail, and growth slows.

As I made my son his peanut butter toast, I had the realization that just as I am concerned about my kids’ nourishment, my Father in heaven is concerned about mine.  There are many scriptures that talk about our spiritual nourishment; one of the most significant ones to me is John 6:35: “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  This verse alone is absolutely incredible when you really think about what it means.  When you factor in all the verses about the word of God serving as nourishment, such as Matthew 4:4 (But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”) and you equate the fact that in John 1:1 Jesus is described as being the Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”), the enormity of what it all means is overwhelmingly wonderful!  Jesus is the bread of life, He is also the Word, and we are instructed to live by every word from the mouth of God.  We live by Christ.  He is our sustenance.  He is our nourishment.  Without Him, we become weak, frail, and our growth slows.  And ultimately stops.

This is not a new concept to me personally- I have heard sermons on the above scriptures and have read through them multiple times.  But no matter how many times I think about the above truths, whether it be the first or the fiftieth, the beauty and significance of those truths grabs a hold of me tightly, yet in a way that frees me.

What did catch me entirely anew earlier today as I made lunch for my kids is the thought of how God may feel when we choose not to eat the Bread He offers us.  How my Father feels when we are too sick to eat, or too picky…thinking something else will satisfy.  Or, in the most desperate of times, when we don’t believe we deserve to be loved and feel so much despair that our interest in eating wanes and we slowly punish ourselves by depriving ourselves of the One Thing (Person) that would bring peace to our souls and joy to our lives.  I believe He is concerned for us, He encourages us, He implores us to seek Him.  To find our fulfillment in Him.  To satiate our deepest hunger and quench our never-ending thirst, and to answer our soul’s cry of “Am I loved?” with a resounding, passionate YES!

Without Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Word of God, all the heartaches, misunderstandings, sinful situations, and conflict would be overwhelming, hopeless, and spirit-crushing.  Only through seeking Him in the current situations we are facing do I find peace, the truth that is to be gently taught, and the love in which we are to show to others to point others to HIm.   And truthfully, I say in love that ultimately, Jesus is the answer we are all seeking and only through Him will you find the sustenance needed for your soul.

Faith, Family

The Card

Eila has a new thing she likes to do.  And like many toddlers, she likes to do it over and over again.

It started this past week.  She brought me a card she found in a stack of papers and other things that needed to be sorted.  It happened to be the Valentine’s Day card that Will and I gave her this year, one with a little cat holding a basket (she loves cats- all animals, really).  Anyway, she asked me to read it to her, so I did.  Then she asked me to read it to her again, and then again.  It honestly got a little frustrating to read it over and over, but then I noticed something.  As I read the personal little messages from her father and I, her smile grew increasingly wider.  Both Will and I had written how sweet she is and how much we love her and value her.  She couldn’t get enough of it, and after I would read each message, Eila would say “Mommy wrote “you” that” and “Daddy wrote “you” that” (you=me).  And then she would ask for it to be read aloud again, with little giggles and eyes twinkling.

She has been doing that the past few days now.

I was thinking about this the other day, as I watched her face light up yet again as we looked at the card, and I had a sudden realization.  I realized how, like that card, God has a message for us that He wants us to delight in hearing.   A message that is also full of love and of how valuable He finds us.  A message that is sealed into His Word.  Why I initially found it slightly irritating to hear “again”, “again” from my child, God wants us, His children, to cry out that very thing.  Because He delights in telling us of His love.  He wants us to seek Him, to read the words He has for us.  And not only that, but He wants us to know that His message left the perfection of heaven and became flesh and dwelt among us.  And loved us so much that that same Message died for us, for all the bad things we have ever done and will ever do, and rose again. And in dying and rising again that third day, our sin was defeated.  Death was defeated, because the penalty for our sins was death.  For God’s word isn’t only found in the Bible, but also in the person of Jesus.  But we have to accept Jesus as our Savior.  He already is…He saved us.  The gift has been offered. We have to choose to accept it, and invite Him to be the Lord of our life.

God our Father delights in seeing our eyes light up with pleasure and our faces break into wide smiles as the truth of His love is realized.  Like the delight in seeing the face of a child learning each day of her parents’ love.

May you all be hit with the beautiful realization of His love for you today– Happy Easter!

“But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”  ~Psalm 13:5


Full to Bursting

Many of us may have heard the children’s song “This is the day, this is the day, that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made…we will rejoice, we will rejoice and be glad in it, and be glad in it…”

This song was based off of Psalm 118:24, which says (of course!) “This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

So, this song is on my mind because I am so full of gratitude to God for today.  Now, before you roll your eyes and stop reading (well, you can if you want too), let me put this in context.  I’ve had a cruddy week.  Mostly because I have some mystery health issues that have required too many doctor’s visits (note: one or more is too many).  It’s nothing serious, just some consistent pain and a general feeling of “blah”.  And being tired.  Okay, that last one could be due to my kids.

I’ve been moping around, being the Eeyore of the family for the past few days.  But today, thanks to clear blue skies, a nice breeze, and gorgeous sunshine, in combination with the chance to get out and take a walk with my two little ones and my crazy dog, open windows, online radio (I vacillate between Pandora or Last.fm), and now, a very small bowl of Breyer’s Heath ice cream, I have that wonderful “heart-is-full-of-joy” feeling that I treasure and thank God for.  One of my favorite verses is “The joy of the Lord will be my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), and while I know I am called to be joyful in all circumstances (because I have Christ in my life), I would be lying to state that I always succeed at that.  So on days where I just feel the pure joy of living and stop focusing on all the bad things so I can focus on all the blessings, my heart is full.  Thank you Lord for all these “little things”.

I am now going to return to my ice cream and watch my baby boy sleep some more while his sister naps upstairs (two more blessings).  No, not just the sleeping part, but the kids themselves too.

Culture, Faith

Mary vs. Martha (the predecessor to the American 2010 woman)

As I prepare to wrap up my (publicly) shared thoughts on being a Proverbs 31 woman in light of all the recent changes in my life, I am led to the story of Mary and Martha.  In Luke 10:38-42, we find the story of Jesus going to the home of Mary and Martha…

38Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

*Just a note- for a great take on this passage and related issues, read this. It is scary how my mother and I think alike, as we have both been contemplating these issues yet had not discussed our thoughts with each other until she wrote this.

Anyway, I long to be a Mary.  Well, more honestly, part of me longs to be a Mary and part of me is satisfied as Martha, at least until I get to that last verse…You see, I am good at being anxious and troubled, and I am even good at staying busy keeping things nice around the house (although never nice enough in my opinion–and in comparison to others).  Uh-oh, comparisons, now THOSE can be dangerous and man, am I good at comparisons (clearly nothing to brag about as they can be quite sinful).  Anyway, I like staying busy, it makes me feel good about myself when my house is clean and everything is as I feel it should be.  And perhaps that is okay…to a point.  Where I think (okay, KNOW) it becomes a problem is when it supercedes spending time with Jesus.  I may be good at keeping things picked up (as good as one can be when they have a toddler, newborn, and crazy dog) but you know what?  I am not so good at prioritizing my time with the Lord.

I often forget to do my quiet time with God, or to take time to not only talk to Him, but to REALLY listen.  I forget this even though one of my regular prayers (and regular admissions of sin) is that I would do a better job of consistently spending time with my Lord because I stink at it currently.

It is incredibly easy to fall into Martha mode.  Especially now that I am at home with my children.  I guess, for me, this is because I feel that I need to be doing something all the time since I’m not “working” (clearly, I realize the ridiculousness of this statement since the calling to be a mother and devoting your entire day to raising your children certainly qualifies as “doing something”…).  But I think for women in general, Martha mode is something we all struggle with.  Is this because so many of us define our worth based on what we do rather than Who we should do it for?

It is much harder to take time to be with Jesus than it is to stay busy.  Staying busy is what the American 2010 woman is supposed to be all about.  Work a full-time job, be a wife, a mother, host parties, engage in church activities, do charity events, serve as chef, chauffeur, etc, etc.  I have already decided that I do not want to be one of those families that has something scheduled every night of the week.  We aren’t teaching our kids how to  to be satisified just playing outside or using their imagination, because as adults, we don’t model the art of just “being” rather than doing.  When Jesus says to Martha that Mary has “taken the good portion, which will not be taken from her”, I want to learn to take that seriously and apply it to my life.  If Mary, not Martha, has the good portion because she is taking time from busy-ness to be with Jesus, then that is quite the lesson for me.  This does not promote idleness, as Mary wasn’t in front of the television all day while there were things to be done.  Rather, it promotes servanthood in a higher form than Martha’s (as she was serving her guests as well).  Servanthood in denying a woman’s natural tendency to be busy in order to do what we are called to do.  Servanthood in submitting to a higher calling than wife and mother.  A calling to “love the Lord God with all our heart, souls, and might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)…servanthood to the King.

That is the kind of woman God calls us to be, as evidenced in the contrast of Mary and Martha.  Combining this with what is learned from the Proverbs 31 woman and in Titus 2, I feel both freedom and a challenge.  Freedom to explore how to become this woman, and the challenge to do so.  Big challenge, Big God.  This is going to take some work, but I’m not in it alone.  What a comfort that God promises to complete the good work He began in us (Philippians 1:6)-  He has a long way to go with me!