4 Ways to Radically Impact Your Home in the New Year

We let the stack of breakfast dishes sit sticky and we stayed around the table… for three hours. What started out as conversation evolved into an epic board game battle while my daughter and I knitted scarves and I’m pretty sure my son refined his noise-making skills. Oh, junior high boys, you are a mystery.

It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t entirely peaceful.

There were arguments with winners and losers and tangled yarn battles and annoyances.

So, basically, you know, family life.

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But there was laughter and love and the one word that has impacted our home more than any other the past few years. Togetherness. There was intentional purpose to make time to be together.

I think in a perfect world, we equate togetherness with peace. But if your world is anything like mine, reality is often chaos. There are tears and fears and giggles and grumbling. It’s a hodgepodge of emotions. But through it all, we choose to be together and that has strengthened us.

We visited House Church (think midweek Bible Study for families) and we ended up at a house without children. The leader offered a TV to my kids, but I asked if we might stay together, study together. My children sat still as church mice on the leather couch in a stranger’s house, quietly listening and I could only think how bored they must be. But as soon as our van door closed, they all talked at once how much they enjoyed the Bible Study and declared being together was the best part and could we please do that again? I smiled wide in the dark car on the way home because I couldn’t agree more.

The world will pull our families apart if we let it. It will divide and separate us and interrupt dinner and encourage us to live for yourselves and forget others. It will tell you to buy into the American Dream for your family and move out of that starter home and build your own little Kingdom of worldly possessions.

But our culture won’t tell your family breaking bread and breaking your life and giving it away is the way to really keep it together.

If you want to change your family, the world, do it side-by-side. It doesn’t have to cost a dime or even that much time. It’s about getting back to the basics and getting back together.

Go to church together. Ride bikes together. Play games together. Clean the kitchen together. Look for opportunities to bond as a family in your every day life and a new year is the perfect time to start.

My kids are getting older and I feel a pull to draw them back in.

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Start with one or two of these four goals that can radically impact your home:

  1. Eat Together – This is as simple as it sounds, but it’s not always easy. And it’s definitely not a priority in many families (especially as kids get older). When I had toddlers around the table, I just got through many nights. But I did it because it set precedence and one day, your meal will last longer than 9 minutes. As children grow, the demand to move away from the table is strong with practices and rehearsals and games. Fight against it.
  2. Read Together –I don’t have to tell you that reading to your children will change their life. But so will reading with your kids. Several years ago, we moved from reading to our kids to reading books with them. You can check out some recommendations here (I’ve updated the list). Pick a book and read one-page-at-a-time until you’re done. You won’t regret this kind of togetherness. A perfect time to do so is at the dinner table (and a chalkboard table helps busy hands).
  3. Serve Together –By far, this has changed our family the most and kids are never too young or too old to give to others in some way. (I have a huge list of ideas here). After making this a priority in our lives, I’m beginning to see that my children are becoming servants. Start with one or two opportunities a year; it doesn’t have to be about quantity to give quality to your family and others.
  4. Gratitude Together – Get in the habit of sharing the highs and lows of your day together, write down your thanks. Keep a record. Thankfulness and giving our children opportunities to work hard are great ways to defeat entitlement in our home and stir up grateful reflection. I love this one for kids: My First Gratitude Journal: A Write-in, Draw-in Gratitude Journal for Kids.

Goals are just that –goals. We don’t eat together seven nights a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year. But we try to. We don’t schedule things during dinner. We look for opportunities to serve; we practice gratitude. We don’t always hit the mark, but we aim for it and hit much higher than we would if we led life lead us instead of the other way around.

Together.

 

This week, I’m reposting some of my most shared blog posts of 2014 with you. Thanks for being a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what 2015 brings!

Christmas Is For Nobodies

I spent two nights in New York City with my man this past weekend, celebrating 20 years.

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It was my first time there and it was magical.

But nothing makes you feel quite as small as a big city at Christmas.

We pressed through crowds on the streets, in the subways, in the stores.

There were people everywhere: nameless faces, a melting pot from all over the world.

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Terrell and I are people watchers. We wondered at the homeless man’s story, the girl crying on her phone in an alley, the stiletto-heeled lady in front of Saks 5th Avenue, the waiter in Chinatown and the Muslim taxicab driver who chatted with us about long work days in a place like New York City.

In a crowd, it’s easy to feel like a nobody.

But I was reminded that’s exactly who Christmas is for. The nobodies.

I couldn’t help but think about  the question my youngest asked before we left for the airport, “Is it Christmas everywhere? Even in Africa and New York City?”

Yes, Christmas is everywhere.

Because He came for everyone.

He came for the huge masses. He came for little you.

We’ve been studying our way verse-by-verse through the book of Nehemiah at church. Nehemiah, cupbearer to the King, was the son of a nobody. His dad was unknown. He came from a long line of regular, insignificant people.

And he was cupbearer to the King–not because it was a secure job, but because it’s where God put him.

He had a dream and yet he served faithfully, quietly.

Sometimes we think waiting is meaningless.

Sometimes we think in order to do something great, we have to be somebody.

But Jesus became a nobody at Christmas–a helpless, dependent babe-to show us He came for the nobodies.

God used a nobody like Nehemiah to rebuild and reestablish the city of Jerusalem, in the perfect time.

Because the place God puts us may not be the place we would put ourselves and we may not like where we are or who we are, but He doesn’t waste any of it.

And this Christmas Eve, wherever you are, whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re waiting on, it’s not a mistake. It takes faith to look past our present circumstances and see God has us right where you are for a reason.

God came to a stable as a nobody, so we could be somebody in Him.

Merry Christmas!

Mercy House Exists Because 12 Year Old Mothers Do {Special Opportunity}

I don’t want to live in a world where little girls become mothers. 

I don’t want to think about how Stella and Cecelia got pregnant. I don’t want to see their cramped homes with dirt floors and the mat on the floor that serves as a bed for six people.

I don’t want to hear how Lillian was passed around in her village like garbage. I don’t want to imagine the horrors she endured without a chance at education or a right to dignity.

I have seen the raw video footage of her rescue.  And when she wiped away silent tears at the thought of leaving her hell, the world should weep with her. Because for the first time in her broken life, she had hope.

I don’t want Mercy House to exist.

But it does because 12 year old mothers do.

I don’t want to think about these things…especially at Christmas.

But I have a 12 year old child and I can’t forget how girls in our world live especially during this time of year.  He came in a cradle so He could endure the cross for us and for them.
mercy house exists because 12 year old mothers do

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God wants you to see these faces, to  know these names. Mercy House depends on your knowing. It thrives on you not looking away, leaning into these hard, broken stories.

Three years ago, Edith was rescued. When she was discovered, her premature baby was starving to death because she’d been feeding her water dripped from a rag, not knowing her own body produced life-saving food. She hadn’t even realized she was pregnant until she went into labor.

She wrote these words for you:

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When you become a part of the story, you become a part of the success.

In the next couple of months, six residents will transition out of the residential facilities that Mercy House supports in Kenya.

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Today, we are excited to announce the brand new Mother Child Graduate Sponsorship Program.

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Every teen mother at Rehema House (supported by Mercy House) has a story. And although they are all unique, each girl has endured unspeakable trauma and unimaginable hardships.  But that’ s not the only thing they have in common: Every mother hopes for a better future for herself and her child and often that dream starts with education. From the beginning of every rescue, Rehema House’s holistic, Biblical approach works to transform each mom emotionally, physically, socially and economically in Jesus’ name, while simultaneously seeks to reconcile each girl back home or with a caring guardian when possible.  It’s a beauty from ashes story over and over again.

Our new Mother & Child Graduate Program will provide school fees, uniforms and books for four years to the graduates who are transitioning from Rehema’s residential facility back to their homes, supported by their families. The sponsorship program will also help meet any medical needs that might arise for their children. As part of the resident’s economic growth, every graduate will be able to pay for her child’s education from the account that has been set aside from the product she has made during her residential stay (No money will exchange hands, Rehema will facilitate these accounts). It’s a beautiful way to help a teen mom, help herself and her child. Sponsors will receive up to 4 letters a year via mail, along with updates on each sponsor page.

We need 60 people to step into six young mothers lives and go the extra mile to support her and her child. For as little as $20 a month, you can do just that.

I can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas.

We are so happy to announce that this program was fully sponsored within 48 hours! Please consider helping us bring in new residents for 2015:

 

What The Poor Really Want For Christmas

“Okay, help me pick a family,” I told my kids as we stood at the table at the back of the church and looked over the spreadsheets. Each one had several names and ages of children, with their shirt and shoe sizes listed. Next to each name was a single toy suggestion for Christmas. It’s our church’s annual version of an Angel Tree for needy children in our community.

As we looked over the families to “sponsor,” I could hear my youngest read the items on the list. Barbie doll, she whispered, and with her finger she moved to the next name, Music CD.

“Mom, is this all they will get for Christmas?” she asked.

I could tell she was trying to understand need in her world of more than enough.

We finally chose 3 kids near the ages of mine who loved music. Three kids just like mine.

This time of year, there are so many opportunities to give something to someone in need. And I’m first in line. Angel Tree-yes; Food Pantry-count us in; Fair trade gifts that employ women, you bet, dropping of secret Santa gifts to a needy family-wouldn’t miss it.

What better way to remind my kids–and myself–how much we have than by teaching them to share with those who have less?

Perspective changes Christmas. It not only shows us the needs of others, it shows us our need.

And with her finger pointing to a girl’s name, just about her age, she asked, “Is this all she wants for Christmas?”

“No, honey. She wants much more than what’s on that list. She and millions like her want one thing for Christmas:

They want to be remembered.

What the Poor Really Want for Christmas

We live in a culture that lives in excess. We have so much and we want so much more. It’s so easy to get sucked in and think everyone lives the way we do:  Everyone spends money decorating their homes, everyone bakes 8 varieties of holiday cookies, everyone gets the best cyber deals and everyone has the opportunity to make Christmas magical for their kids.

And it’s easy to forget those who don’t live like “everyone” else.

I love traditions and magical moments as much as the next person and I don’t think we should necessarily forego or forget these special holiday moments. But at the same time, we must remember the poor. When we hang our stockings with care, we must not forget those hanging on by a thread. When we bake and eat treats and sweets, we must not forget those with empty stomachs. When we light up our tree and our house, we must not forget those who live in darkness.

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And if we look around us, we will see the poor in our communities and across the globe.

This is real balanced living.

If we were all made rich alike, if God had given us all abundance, we should never know the value of his mercies, but he puts the poor side by side with us, to make their trials, like a dark shadow, set forth the brightness which he is pleased to give to us in temporal matters,” Spurgeon said.

The poor don’t want a handout this Christmas.

They don’t want platitudes.

They don’t want pity.

They don’t want our crap.

They just don’t want us to forget them.

Because do you know what really happens when we take care of someone who cannot take care of themselves?

We see the face of God.

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When we spend our lives remembering the poor, they aren’t the only ones who receive a gift.

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want.” -Proverbs 28:27

Challenge: From now until Christmas, buy in twos (one for your family, one for another). Give and give a little more. You won’t be sorry.

This is Christmas.

The Beauty of Unwrapping Christmas Every Day (Even the Ugly Ones)

I had grand plans for the first night of Advent.

Just imagine the setting with me: Holy Christmas music in the background, my family breaking bread together over a lovely home cooked meal, while we politely asked about each other’s day and write down a long list of our blessings. We would listen intently to the daily reading, reflect quietly as we pondered the truth and then gather around our Jesse tree to place the first ornament on it together.

But somehow on the first night of Advent, we ended up eating overpriced sandwiches at Schlotzsky’s across from our church because our kids were running late for youth group. We had a lovely family fight (complete with teen eye rolls, tween grumbling and whining from the whole lot) for good measure.  By the time I remembered the new Advent book I tucked into my purse at the last minute, I felt like a failure.

I’m pretty sure everyone sighed loudly when they saw it, too. Because failure is good at convincing us it’s too late, even before we even start.

Terrell pushed through and read Ann’s words aloud in that sandwich shop: “There was this family-Jesse’s family. A family that was like yours…a family that loved each other and hurt each other and forgave each other and failed each other. A family that failed God….They failed and fell and were like a fallen tree.”

I smiled at him as he read on about the miraculous shoot springing up from that hopeless family stump…”out of the stump came one tender branch that would grow right into a crown of thorns, right into a rugged cross, right into a ladder back to God….”

I swallowed down my frustration and in the first few sentences of this book, I didn’t remember my failure.

I remembered what God can do with it.

When we got home, I asked my baby to place the first Jesse tree ornament on the tree. There was no music and it was far from holy. And she reminded me twice she wasn’t a baby.

But even without the perfect setting, it was still important.

We can’t quit, even on the ugly days.

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Because it’s not the gifts under the tree our children will remember–the must-have electronics, the hottest toys–it’s the traditions.

This week, she wanted the stockings hung in order, just so. She asked for loud Christmas music while we decorated the tree and she arranged and rearranged  Baby Jesus as the Star of Season- just like last year and the one before.

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Traditions are more than hot chocolate while looking at Christmas lights or opening new matching pajamas on Christmas Eve while listening to Dad read The Night Before Christmas.

And that’s why we push through our failed plans and our own failures. Because traditions are the act of passing down what we believe to our children.

It’s not just a great idea; it’s a gift we give our kids. We practice and retell truth and it works it’s way into their hearts.

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And there is no better opportunity to teach these important truths this time of year.

Because the Gift has come.

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Christmas is for The Unwrapping.

More than anything, I long to slow down the rush of the Season, to linger, to focus on the meaning behind the traditions. I want to remember why we remember and I want to pass the Truth to my children.

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Counting down the days to Christmas isn’t just a fun family activity. It’s not just another thing to add to our list. Celebrating Advent makes us reflect on the meaning behind the grand tree and gifts we give to each other. It makes us pause in the craziness of the season and remember the reason for it.

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Advent is the best tradition to unwrap Christmas with our family because it’s the best way to pass down Truth.

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It’s the retelling of the Greatest Story. And it’s not just for the first 24 days of December.

It’s the intentional, meaningful, day-by-day unwrapping of the Greatest Gift ever given.

Even on the ugly days.

Especially then.

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The book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas
The ornaments pictured above. Or download ornaments.

[This post is sponsored by Tyndale Publishers. All opinions and ideas are mine.]

Dear Exhausted Mothers of the World:

I lay awake with an unsettled feeling. I searched my mind going over my day, picturing names and faces until I settled on one of my kid’s tucked in bed upstairs.

Yes, that’s the one. She’s keeping me up tonight.

I thought about the tough day, the words we’d flung at each other and I prayed for her. And I prayed for me.

The night before I started thinking about how expensive college is going to be and stayed up an extra hour pondering it.

Two nights earlier, I didn’t rest well because of a tension headache from overthinking all I needed to get done.

The week before that is was the flu, strain A, that put a feverish second grader on a pallet wheezing through the night and I slept with one eye open.

I keep a notepad next to my bed and it’s always got something on it in the morning. Some worry, some reminder, some whispered prayer, something to do.

This morning’s said, “Call ortho. Tell son to stop eating chips.”

Dear Exhausted Mothers of the World

Every season of parenting is different and the same. We never move past the worry, the wonder, the what-the-heck-am-I-doing-wrong thoughts, or the bone-tired weary responsibility of raising these little people.

We work hard.

We love harder.

We look ahead at the weeks To Do List of grocery shopping and cleaning and baking and thawing that turkey followed by weeks of Christmas shopping and tree decorating and merry making and we are tired. And not just the sleepy kind (although yes, what a day in bed wouldn’t fix).

Exhausted.

Bone-weary, worn out.

Can you feel it? The noise, the never-ending piles of laundry, dishes and demands.

And some days I think we just need permission to leave the worry and the doubts, the fear and the unknown. To walk away. To turn it off. To say no. To take time for ourselves. To lay down the burden.

Here it is.

Here’s the permission to rest, to be quiet, to reflect. To be.

We can kill ourselves trying to create a perfect holiday season or rest in the fact that perfection is overrated.

Dear Exhausted Mothers of the World

This week as we prepare for company and cooking, family and friends, let’s put ourselves on the list.

God didn’t tell us to be thankful.

He told us to give thanks.

And we know all about giving, don’t we? 

We give our kids the last cookie we were saving for ourselves.

We give them our hoodie off our own back because they are cold at the park. We shiver through.

We give to our children first. Because that’s what we do.

Giving thanks might just sound like another thing on our list. Someone else who needs something from us.

But here’s the beauty of giving him Thanks when we’re empty, tired and worn down, worried and burdened:

In exchange, He gives us rest. 

‘But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31
I’m taking my own advice to rest with my family this week. We are tucked away for a quiet few days.  I’m letting go of a lot of things…
This week, take a moment to put your feet up. Trade your worry and doubt for peace and rest. Give God your exhaustion and He will renew you. “He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s,” Psalm 103:4
Remind yourself you’re a good mom.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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!

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.