An Advent Roundup

I’ll never forget eight December’s ago when I had my youngest child seven weeks early.

Gifts weren’t bought or wrapped, stockings weren’t hung with care.

I wasn’t prepared.

That year changed Christmas for me.  Most of my adult life, I had overdone Christmas-bought too many gifts, spent too much money, focused on the temporal and not the eternal. But that year, I had to let so much go and focus all my energy and strength on what really mattered.

Christmas has never been the same. It’s the year we prayed for a miracle and got it. It’s the year we gave and received the Greatest Gift. It’s the year we finally understood Advent.

Advent is a special time in December. With all the commercialism, busy activities and full calendars, it’s the best way to keep Christ in Christmas. Advent is preparing our hearts for Christmas.

There are so many way to celebrate this time with your family. We’ve done it well, we’ve done it hurried. We’ve skipped days and some years, we haven’t missed one. And some years, we’ve laughed, cried and fought our way to Dec. 25.  The point is we try.

There’s still plenty of time to prepare for a memorable Advent season with your family. Here are some of our favorite resources (there are a couple of affiliate links in this post):

1. Cradle to Cross Wooden Countdown Wreath: Activity

Every year no matter how else we count down to Christmas, we always set out our beautiful wooden wreath and light our candles and move the small wooden Holy family through the layers of the wreath until they are home. I love this tradition (even though my kids usually fight over who gets to light the candles or I catch them dipping their fingers in the wax.) It’s a beautiful tradition. It also comes with an extra wooden ring and a wooden Jesus carrying the cross to countdown the Lenten season to Easter.

2. Truth in the Tinsel: For Little Hands

I’m a big fan of this little ebook for preschool to elementary-aged kids. It’s affordable, easy to download and fun to complete with your kids. You get 24 days of Scripture reading, ornament crafts, talking points and extension activities. Plus fun printables and templates!

truthinthetinsel-468

3. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

Christmas is about tradition. I can’t wait to walk through Ann’s newest book with my family. This book is a gorgeous heirloom to pass down with vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, questions and answers to engage your family and moving scenes from the Bible, this book is a gift your whole family can unwrap each day leading up to Christmas.

4. Advent Tabletop Devotional: A Simple Daily Reflection

For years, I have kept one of Dayspring’s tabletop Advent devotionals on the table. Because let’s face it: the best laid plans during a busy Christmas season can get lost in the hustle and bustle. Each day has a short Scripture and thoughtful reminder to keep Jesus in the season.  And if you order it soon, you can get it FREE with any $50 purchase at Dayspring with code: PREPARE50 (P.S. Dayspring just added 8 more favorite items to their rock bottom Early Black Friday Markdown Items).

Redeemed Christmas - The Heart of Jesus - Advent Tabletop Devotional

5. Kindness Elf:  Daily Countdown in Action

I’m excited to introduce this idea to my youngest this year. We’ve never done the Elf on the Shelf, but I like this twist that suggests a daily practical reminder to be kind to others. Our Kindness Elf (I just got a little stuffed one) will show up at the door on Dec. 1 with a letter to remember that Christmas is about Jesus and for others. Each day the elf (I’ve roped my two older kids into managing this) will have a kindness suggestion like “Make cookies for the postman” or “Write your sponsored child a letter.” I think it will be fun and will keep the focus on what matters.

WFMW: Gratitude Changes Everything

YesWFMW

If you’re like me, you want to raise kids who are grateful. And not just one day a year. Cultivating gratitude isn’t easy and it’s not an annual thing. It’s a way of living.

I’ve been thinking about how to cultivate it in my family. How to stir it up in my own heart. How the gift of thankfulness changes everything.

Our favorite book is Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong and we spent several weeks it together last year. It’s the story of an Olympic runner who was a Lost Boy of Sudan. My kids were mesmerized and begged my husband to continue at the end of every chapter. It’s a painful story to hear–so much suffering, but it’s also miraculous and amazing.  We are about to start the book again because it has done one thing: it changed our perspective.

It’s hard to complain about dinner or cleaning up dishes when you’ve just read about a 6 year old boy who digs sand out of his handful of grain he gets every other day, as he’s being forced to be a child soldier.

4 Ways to Change Your Family’s Perspective and Spontaneously Create Gratitude:

  1. Exposure: let your kids see those with less–take them on a missions trip, even if it’s to the nearest nursing home or homeless spot under the bridge. Take blankets and food and share them. Sometimes we are reminded how much we have, by simply seeing how little others have. It’s powerful.
  2. Service: There’s just something extraordinary that happens when we serve others.  Not only can everyone serve, everyone needs to. It’s the key to unlocking fullness in life.
  3. Work: Complaining is the opposite of thanking. When my kids are griping about things in their life, it’s often best to combat it by turning the tables and letting them try a hand at hard work (laundry, making dinner, cleaning, etc). It immediately changes their perspective because it’s often not as easy as it looks!
  4. Introduction: Read books to your kids about different cultures. It easy to live in a safe, abundant bubble. Step out of it through reading and stir up gratitude. Here are some books that will do just that (that are family-friendly) are Running for My LifeKisses from Katie and The Hiding Place.

Gratitude is a way of life. Thankfulness is stopping long enough to say it or show it and making sure we pause in our busy day to receive it. In our abundance, being thankful is an act of beauty and acknowledging and appreciating the gifts in our lives makes us want to give them away.

edited repost

Your Christmas List Just Got Easier (Deal Alert)

An online friend visited my house once and said it looked like a Dayspring catalog.

It was a total compliment.

I’ve written for them for more than 5 years and they’ve paid me mostly with cute stuff to give and keep.

Their sales are my favorite for gift-giving and this year they are doing an early Black Friday sale (which I love since I’m planning on unplugging  during Thanksgiving.)

Dayspring has deeply discounted 8 of their most popular items this week (and they will be adding more to this amazing list!) Check them all out here by clicking on my affiliate links:  Early Black Friday Markdown Items

Here are a few of my favorites. I’ve given more than these than I can count:


Give Thanks – Wooden Caddy
Only $9.99 (Reg. $22.99)

Currently on my dining room table…


Blessings of God – Dough Bowl
 –Only $24.99 (reg. $64.99)

I gave this to my Mom last Christmas…


Redeemed – Redeemed & Blessed – Ceramic Cookie Jar
 –Only $14.99 (reg. $59.99)

Edited:  30% off the entire store! Begins on Monday, November 24th, this Black Friday coupon will go live: 30FRIDAY14. The coupon is good towards the entire store (includes clearance, excludes Markdown Specials) and is valid through 12/1.

Happy shopping!

What I Want My Teen Daughter To Know About What She Sees on the Internet

We gave our daughter a smart phone three days before she started high school.

She’d been asking for one since the 5th grade.

So, it was sort of a big deal for all of us.

We said no about 243,000 times during those years. We had our reasons.

Sometimes it’s fun to get to say yes.

She eagerly signed the contract we presented and agreed to our restrictions.

For the last three months, we’ve navigated this new season with our teenaged daughter. We’ve reminded her to plug in her phone in the kitchen by 9pm. We’ve asked her not to walk and text, to be present in conversation and not on her phone all the time in the car. We’ve not apologized for the parental restrictions that slow down her phone. As we’ve monitored her texts (yes, all of them), we’ve been pleased that she’s honored God, us and herself. We’ve exchanged payment for her bill for babysitting her little sister so we can take regular date nights. We asked her not to pin hair tutorials during geometry class anymore and we’ve reminded her to call friends instead of text entire conversations. We said no to Facebook, but yes to Instagram. Yes to Pinterest, no to Snapchat.

What I want my daughter to know about what she sees on the Internet

We monitor all of it.

It’s been a whole new world and a lot of work. We’ve had some tension and tears and taken the time to talk it out. Allowing our daughter to have Internet access and some social media has made me really glad we waited until now and it’s really made me question allowing it all.

But this is her world and rather than resist it, we’ve chosen to journey it with her. Every family needs to carefully consider the consequences of saying yes and no. Passive parenting and technology don’t mix well. We know our daughter will see good and be exposed to bad and we want to help her navigate her way through both.

Because there are things on the Internet I don’t want my daughter to see.

What I Want My Daughter to Know About What She Sees on the Internet

I don’t want her to know about the millions of pornographic images that degrade and demean women. I don’t want her to know they exist because people want to see them.

I don’t want her to count her worth based on how many Instagram likes she gets or how friends rank her occasional selfies. I don’t want her to feel defeated because she doesn’t measure up on Pinterest.

I don’t want my daughter to see viral nude pictures of Kim Kardashian and know that some women choose to devalue themselves for money and attention.

I don’t want my daughter to see herself as the Internet sees women.

I want her to see the beauty I have seen on the Internet.

I want her to see the women who help those in need.

I want her to see the people who use it to change the world.

I want her pin pictures of fair trade finds and capture selfies of her high school Bible club. I want her to keep tweeting about the Compassion kids we sponsor and share Scripture on her feeds.

I want to her to know that her worth is not based on followers, fans or friends. I want her to believe her beauty is not defined by pins.

But she won’t learn this on the Internet.

Culture reminds our girls regularly they have to work harder, try faster, do more, to get ahead. Media values beauty over brains.Whether or not you’ve given your daughter access to the Internet and social media, don’t doubt for a minute that it’s influencing her. Ask your 5 year old what a selfie is and see what she says.

My daughter doesn’t really want me in her online world. But that’s not enough reason for me to stay out of it. I allowed it and as far as I’m concerned, it’s my job to be involved.

She needs to know this about what she sees on the Internet:

  • She is worth more than the perfect selfie.
  • She is beautiful with or without a thigh gap.
  • She is enough, with or without the perfect winter Pinterest wardrobe.
  • She isn’t valued by shares or what others say about her.
  • She is valued because she is valuable.
  • She is lovely exactly like God created her.

And she doesn’t need a filter to prove it.

When we allow our daughters online, we are essentially giving them the choice to believe what they see or say what they believe. Some days it’s not an easy or clear choice.

And that’s why they have us.

Let’s Give Differently This Holiday Season | 3 Ways to Change Christmas

Last week I had lunch with two women from Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, but oppressive country situated at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

They have heartbreaking, but hopeful stories and use their testimonies to work with women who are escaping violence and oppression in the Middle East. We talked about partnering together.

It was humbling to sit with these former Muslim women who daily risk their lives to follow Jesus.

It made me want to live differently, so I can give differently. 

With the gift-giving season around the corner, I want to encourage you to think and shop differently this year. Dad doesn’t want another tie and mom has enough cardigans. For the same amount of money, you can give a unique gift and change someone’s world.

Here are three ways to give differently this season:

1. Give a gift in someone’s name:

Rehema House Gift Catalog-Mercy House supports impoverished moms and babies at Rehema House in Kenya. Not only can you impact lives in Kenya, you can also do so in someone’s name. For every gift you give, you can have an e-card sent to the person of your choice. [Gift options start at $10. For example, you can gift this for $10 in  your teen daughter’s name and this for $50 in your grandma’s name.]  It’s an easy way to change the world. Check out the Gift Catalog here.

rehemagiftslide

Compassion Gift Catalog-I love Compassion and I believe in what they do. I have seen their work behind the scenes in Kenya and elsewhere and they change lives.

2. Give a gift twice:

Fair Trade Friday-Fair Trade Friday is a fun monthly subscription club (with more than 500 members) that delivers 3-4 fair trade items to your door. The items are created by impoverished women all over the world who are supported by your purchase. Join the Club or give a Fair Trade Friday Gift Box to someone who’s been extra good on your list. Get $5 off a one-time Fair Trade Friday gift box with this code:  5off 

The Refugee Project-Gorgeous hand knitted and crochet items are always on everyone’s list! Every purchase benefits a refugee who has been relocated to the USA from a refugee camp, struggling to make ends meet in their new home. I spend my Friday’s with these beautiful ladies.

the refugee project

No. 41-When you buy a lovely sewn burlap and kitenge bag from Rwanda, it not only supports the young lady who created it after she’s aged out of an orphanage, it also feeds one child, one meal, every day for one year.

Zambia Soap Company -THE PERFECT STOCKING STUFFER -Scented Organic Handmade Soaps and Lipbalms (Families harvest organically grown herbs. Workers distill the herbs to make essential oils for soap, while women widowed by the AIDS epidemic weave gift baskets and attach labels.all overseen by local Zambian churches)

3. Give a gift that provides for a future:

The Mercy Shop-A large percentage of every purchase from the Mercy Shop goes into an account for each of the Rehema House residents who created the items. After graduation, she will be able to use that money to provide school fees for her baby (while Mercy House continues to pay her school fees). So, every purchase helps provide for the future of the babies that Mercy House supports!

the mercy shop

Caring for Korah- We believe in child sponsorship. We just added our 11th child to the family (besides 3 of our own). Our dear friends are saving lives in Ethiopia and you can give a child a future this Christmas.

Let’s change Christmas this year.