This is What Hope Looks Like

Updated to add: less than 24 hours after publishing this post, Cindy had a beautiful baby boy. 6 pounds, 2 ounces of perfection!

She had the focused look of concentration as she held the tightly rolled paper with one hand, glue in the other, applying. Squeezing. Creating.

We were in Africa, teaching our Mercy House girls their first skill: rolling paper. Recycled magazine paper that would become jewelry, home decor, art.

It’s surreal. The memory.

Their hard work is producing beautiful products now.

Volunteers pack my cold garage and we line up order after order to fill from the exported items. Shelves are stacked with creations from our girls. The scent of varnish is heavy. It’s one of my favorite places to be.

I was filling a few orders the other night: paper coaster sets. It was late and I was tired, but that’s when I noticed the colors.

The first couple of months, the coasters made by still-learning hands were a work of art, in progress. Constantly improving, all one thing in common: muted, dull colors. When rolling the paper that is to become a coaster, each girl chooses a piece of paper from a used magazine. Sheet after sheet, our girls chose the drab colors.

I didn’t realize this at first. I just assumed the oil-based varnish muted the colors of the paper and gave our coasters a dark tone.

I didn’t realize it because I didn’t know what hope could do.

Something deep within me began to stir. I began pulling the older coaster sets from the back of the shelf, the ones that hadn’t sold from our first couple of months.

I lined them up next to the new sets of coasters we are now receiving each month. The difference was unbelievable: The small, dark coaster sets are lovely. But compared to the larger, brighter newer coaster sets, there is no comparison.

My eyes pooled and I heard the soul-whisper: This is what hope looks like.

Staring at the shelves, I saw a rainbow of hope, a constellation of promise.

My oldest child opened the door to the garage. She found me in tears. She wasn’t surprised (what can I say? This is emotional business).

I showed her the difference in the colors.

She said, “Mom, I was just reading an article about how color affects us. It was saying that we choose colors based on how we feel and what’s happening on the inside.”

I picked up the bright yellow coaster set. I fingered the tag with Cindy’s name on it. I closed my eyes and pictured her wide smile and the baby she carries. I remember watching her eat. She had only been in the home a few weeks when I met her face-to-face. She was so tiny, malnourished. I watched her begin to gain weight with every healthy bite.

I know her story well. It’s a heartbreaking tale of being used and abused. She’s sixteen. She’s a new believer.

I imagine her sitting on the wood floor in the living room at the maternity home. Papers scattered. Glue in hand. I see her open the magazine, pass the brown and black pages and choose the bright yellow.

She is what hope looks like. 

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Cindy is due this week! Please pray for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.

Buy your own coaster set and spread the hope.

WFMW: Family Message Board

I’m finding as my kids get older, our lives are getting busier.

I’m the keeper of the family calendar. I’m the one who says “No, you can’t miss dinner” or “Yes, you can go to that birthday party.” I have a central calendar where it gets written down, but I’ve found I need a place to hang important papers, reminders and invitations.

I give you: The Family Message Board-

Mine if from Blessings Unlimited. I love how big it is!

Here are a couple of magnetic DIY ones from Pinterest:

 

 

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Family message boards work for me!



Cash Back {Winner}

For years and years, I’ve kept a huge plastic container hidden in my garage. It contains gifts for friend’s birthday parties, family birthday gifts, little things I’ve found on sale or bought off-season and collected throughout the year. Most years by November, the container contains all the gifts we give for Christmas.

I sort of fell off the buying wagon with the busy year we’ve had.

This week when I got out some Christmas decorations, I opened the container. I was happy to see some holiday hand towels that would make nice teacher gifts. But other than that? It was empty.

Y’all: I have to Christmas shop now.

Good thing there’s a store in my garage. Ha!

This just reminded me that it’s good to put thought into saving, planning ahead and being intentional with buying. It not only saves money, it saves time.

I thought your comments on the post about the American Express Blue Cash Card were very interesting. It was good to know I was in the grocery shopping ballpark with other families like mine.

And now for the winner of the : I’m happy to announce that random tweeter:

UPDATED: Since the first winner never responded, here’s another random winner: Jessie C who, tweeted: http://twitter.com/#!/tcarolinep/status/138882571550466048
Now, about that container…

Click here to learn more at the Preferred Blue Cash card.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post by Blue Cash American Express. But the opinions are 100% mine.

An Advent Experience for Little Hands {Giveaway}

UPDATED WITH WINNERS:  Congratulations Deborah (comment #35), Zenobia (comment #47), Amy (comment #58), Sarah H. (comment #70), and Elizabeth (comment #80)

I’m anticipating Advent this year with my family! From yesterday’s post, you can see we do a variety of activities to celebrate the Season and I’m super excited to try out Truth in the Tinsel, an Advent experience for little hands. My kids LOVE crafts!

As I read thru the pages, I was so impressed with the tangible, practical ways to open up Christmas to even the smallest. Plus it’s neatly organized, easy to use and absolutely inspiring.

I really believe December is one of best times to impress God’s Word on your kids’ hearts. Our whole country turns its attention to Christmas–stores are playing songs of worship to the newborn king, movies are playing on cable that show the real meaning of Christmas and people even decorate their yard with Bible characters! -Amanda, author

This ebook is full of encouraging and tangible ways to  make Christmas about Him.

Along with this great little ebook, Amanda, is issuing a challenge on Impress Your Kids blog to “give” our kids the first 24 days of December by doing the book together & joining the Truth in the Tinsel Facebook page. It will be a place of encouragement every day during Advent (by posting pics of the craft you did, funny things your kids said while doing the activity, etc.)

The whole concept of the book is to read a portion of the Christmas Story directly from Scripture. Then make an ornament craft to go along with it. The talk about the event or the person in the story. It sounds simple but I know (and you do, too if you have kids) that when kids get to use their hands to create and they get to talk about something, it gets into them. I see these Advent activities in the book as kid-friendly ways to meditate on God’s Word. -Amanda

I hope you’ll give it a try with your little ones! The ebook is regularly $4.99, but you can save 20% with the code THATfamily. It’s only good for 24 hours, so hurry! [This post contains my referral link].

Today, I’m giving away FIVE copies. Leave a comment if you’d like to be entered.

Click here to get this great ebook!
This giveaway ends on Thursday.

Updated: the code is now working!

30 Ways to Make Christmas Meaningful

Our world makes it challenging to keep Christ in Christmas.

Anyone else notice that?

Don’t get me wrong: I love this season. The lights and festivities. I’m a Christmas baby and I find this time of year magical. I love experiencing it with my kids…the excuse to wear Christmas pajamas days on end, reading holiday books, sipping hot chocolate and eating cookies for lunch

But more than anything, I want to make it meaningful. I want Jesus to be the focus. I want my kids to know what the day and all the celebrating is really about. They won’t hear it at school or see it in the sales advertisements. They will know because we will show them.

Here are some ways we make Christmas meaningful (and a few ideas we plan to implement):

  1. Set up a Nativity and make it a focus in your home. [We put ours front and center on the entry table in our home].
  2. Hide baby Jesus and “seek” Him Christmas morning before opening gifts. [I did this first thing this year. Here's how I found it half an hour later. Turns out Mary had a little Snowman. I love little kids].
  3. (or) Gift wrap baby Jesus in your nativity and let this be your first unwrapped gift Christmas morning.
  4. Take a cue from the Magi and limit the gifts and reminding kids it’s not their birthday, it’s His.
  5. Have a daily family devotion that unwraps Christmas, here’s ours for this year. [This is perfect for families. It offers a verse for each day and a question or two that will hopefully lead to a meaningful discussion. You can get it for 30% off now with code SUPER30].
  6. Participate in Advent. Last year, we did the Jesse Tree Advent. And I love this Advent ebook for little hands.
  7. Light an Advent wreath each day leading up to Christmas.
  8. Have a birthday cake for Jesus or go all out and make it a birthday party! I love this Happy Birthday, Jesus! Celebration Kit. (Also 30% off with code: SUPER30)
  9. Watch DVDS like Why Do We Call It Christmas? that help you tell the real story of Christmas.
  10. Give your kids the gift of giving: Have them shop with purpose. This year we are giving our kids money to shop from the Compassion gift catalog.
  11. Or buy something that blesses twice and changes lives (Mercy Shop). Ahem.
  12. Don’t stress about things that really don’t matter this Season. I have been a Christmas hoarder in the past. Last year, I had two newlywed couples come and dig thru my decorations. I saved two boxes of things I value most and gave the rest away. It’s simple this year and I like it.
  13. Make the Nativity interactive with tools like What God Wants for Christmas. I’m really excited to try this out! It’s from the creators of Resurrection Eggs.
  14. Do something for someone else on Christmas Day. This will be our fifth year to visit the NICU (with treats) that saved our daughter’s life five Christmas’ ago.
  15. Talk with your kids about giving God a gift. What does He want from us?
  16. Hang a stocking for Christ. Fill it with notes just for Him.
  17. Invite someone to share Christmas dinner with your family. This is a goal for us this year.
  18. Shop for an impoverished child (Angel Tree). Our community group from church has adopted a family with five kids. We are so excited to shop for the kids and DELIVER a the gifts and a Christmas meal on Christmas Eve this year with our close friends!
  19. Don’t participate in the excessive commercialism. Enough said.
  20. Watch The Nativity Story together as a family. We started this tradition two years ago. I think this PG movie tells the greatest story ever told very well.
  21. Help your kids shop for their siblings.
  22. Talk about the symbols of Christmas.
  23. Be generous as a family at Christmas-baking, giving, doing.
  24. Hold a Yule log party: it’s an old European custom to bring in an enormous log on Christmas Eve and it in the fireplace (or fire pit) and say prayers. Today, Yule log cakes and eggnog are served. You can sing carols, read Scripture, tell stories, pray for the new year, and have good fellowship.
  25. Bake, make or buy a special gift for your Pastor. We did Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls year before last. What a gift!
  26. Cherish traditions with your family. Start a new one! Like the next one:
  27. When preparing your Christmas meal, set a literal place for Jesus, your honored guest.
  28. Attend church on Christmas Eve. This is a highlight for our family!
  29. Read Luke 2 together on Christmas Eve or morning. We’ve been doing this since before we had kids.
  30. Leave a Nativity out all year long. I did this last year and it was really special.
How do you keep Christ in Christmas?
[This post contains referral links]