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.]

25 Intentional Ways to Enjoy Fall With Your Family

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love everything about the changing colors, the cooler weather, the comfort food, and any excuse to wear boots. Oh, and I enjoy being outdoors with my family. The days are long, but the years are short. Let’s make them count. Here are 25 meaningful ways to enjoy them (some affiliate links included):

25 Intentional ways to enjoy fall with your family

  1. Our number one favorite fall activity for one-on-one time? We lay in this together. Oh my goodness. Every family needs a giant hammock. But an old blanket in the yard will work too. It’s the perfect place to whisper and read books and be together.
  2. Go on a walk, hunt for leaves, acorns and fall flare
  3. Get outside-toss a football or chase each other. We gave this very fun outdoor game to my husband for his birthday. It’s a favorite for all ages!
  4. Create this [framed leaf art] or make a nature garland with your finds.
  5. Have each family member write down what they are thankful for every night of November and put the secret notes in a jar on your table. Read them on Thanksgiving.
  6. Make applesauce or something apple-y. Apple crisp, bob for apples, This little toolmakes it easy.
  7. Read outside. (I love catching my kids doing this!) IMG_7322
  8. This activity is a huge Thanksgiving memory-maker.
  9. Visit a local farmer’s market. Eat fresh and choose a new veggie (our latest: Spaghetti squash. This healthy recipe.)
  10. Invite friends over for s’mores. I love this s’mores in a jar idea!
  11. Have your family devotion outside. (I love these printable family gratitude devotions for November) Anytime we can read a few scriptures or an inspiring story away from our normal routine, we engage so much more with our kids. Some days we lay on the trampoline or just take a long walk and talk.
  12. Rake the leaves just to jump in them.
  13. Go camping. I’m not much of a “happy camper.” I love my bed too much. But we try and go at least once a year and I’m never sorry when we do.
  14. Bake bread. Make bread bowl soup (kids love it!)
  15. Create a family tree (get messy) fall hand tree art.
  16. Go on a family bike ride.
  17. Make and play the Gratitude Game
  18. Collect acorns, put them in a simple jar and call it a centerpiece. Lovely.
  19. Create a thankful tree.
  20. Write in your Gratitude: A Journal
  21. Pick something from this list to do this season.
  22. Visit an orchard and pick apples.
  23. Bake a pie from scratch.
  24. Take a family picture (I just told my husband I want to keep the tripod in the trunk for impromptu photos on some of our fall hikes)
  25. Don’t feel pressure or guilt to DO anything on this list. Just be together and be grateful.

edited post from the archives

I’m Still Not Brave

I have lists for my lists, a stocked pantry, a few meals in the freezer and a detailed schedule to help my hubby juggle the kids, home and school in-between working, while I’m in Kenya working at Mercy House.

I’ve had a lump in my throat for days.

This morning before I head to the airport, I’m hiding love notes for my family.

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We just added 3 new pregnant girls in the house, so that makes 11 girls, 8 babies and 3 on the way (one of the girls is 38 weeks pregnant!) It’s rainy season and traffic is at an all-time high and there hasn’t been power at the maternity home in 3 days. I have a layover in Turkey (the country) and will be missing 2 nights of sleep.

This is the 4th time I’ve traveled across the ocean to Africa and I still don’t feel brave.

[I’m about to get vulnerable. I hope that’s okay.]

As I went over a list with my husband yesterday morning, I stopped and I gave a voice to the struggle, “Will this ever get easier? In 5 years, will it still be this hard to go there, to stay here and do this work? Will my heart always be half-as-willing to follow God?”

Because y’all. I’m still just that little mom who said yes to a big dream.

Then he said something I didn’t expect, “Last night, I felt the same way.” He’s in the middle of gathering tax info for our accountant, being stretched paper thin, frustrated with computer issues, overwhelmed. “I want to help rescue girls, I want babies to be born, I want that good part, but the rest…”

His words, although raw, were comforting, because I want that part, too. But we both know as we’ve counted the cost these past 3 years, the good part doesn’t happen without the hard.

I carry anxiety pills in my pocket for traveling and I feel unqualified and overwhelmed at the task. I miss my family with every breath and sometimes I’m so scared I can’t stop shaking inside.

I’m good at organizing my family, carline pickup, making dinner (well, sort of). I’m good at mothering and helping moms, but running Mercy House continually stretches me further than I’ve ever been. As my husband held me, I whispered, “I just wish I was more brave.”

He said, “Maybe that’s why God called you, us. Because we’re not. But he is everything we’re not and everything we need.”

If I have learned anything in this journey, it’s this: the good  makes the hard worth it.

Meet our three newest girls at Mercy House:

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I’m thankful I’m not alone. Neither are you.

“What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” Gen. 28:15

I’m taking you with me. I pray you’re brave enough to go.

Your Family’s Greatest Mission

“I love what your family is doing, but we could never do that. We are just too _______ [insert one of 1000 reasons].

I cringe every time I hear the words.

I also understand them.

I feel the same way about 364 days a year. “I can’t do this mission. Our family is too human. We don’t know what we’re doing, I can’t even keep up with laundry. I yell at my kids. We are argue and live this grace thing out in ugly ways some days…”

My list of “I can’t and I shouldn’t” is endless.

But living on a mission doesn’t start with doing something for God. It begins with what he has done for us.

“We serve a missionary God. He is all about the sending. We are a missionary people. We are about the going.” -*Jason Johnson.

By nature we are a sent people. That’s our identity. It’s the why of our lives.

The question isn’t Is my family called to a mission? That question has already been answered.

We are called to GO.

Do you wonder what his will is for your family? It’s to go fulfill his mission. We wonder where, what, when… and often get bogged down in the unknown details.

Where are you going today? The grocery store. The school. The neighbor’s house. Wherever you go, fulfill your mission and shine Jesus. Your small step of obedience might lead you to great destinations or it might just lead you to the dog food aisle. Either way, going is half the victory. Because that is your family’s greatest mission.

“If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music … Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” -Martin Luther King Jr.

He isn’t waiting for us to be perfect or get our acts together, so we can change the world; He specializes in  using the less-than-perfect places in our lives for His glory.

It’s your mission if you choose to accept it.

*Thanks to my pastor for inspiring this post.

Why Every Family Needs a Mission Statement {Project}

I’m terrible at directions.

Getting lost is a way of life for me.

Before I drive to a new place, I print out clear instructions and program my hubby’s GPS to yell in my ear, TURN HERE.

Recomputing.

I have to know where I’m going or I wander and turn around often, take long roads out of the way and end up lost.

If you don’t know where you are going, you might have a difficult time getting there.

I firmly believe it’s the same with our families.

Our family sat down and wrote out a family mission statement towards the end of 2009. (I shared a simple formula here, but if you don’t know where to start, Simple Mom wrote a great post about putting one together with your family.) We didn’t really have profound reasons for doing so, we just wanted to verbalize our goals as family. We decided to try and make our activities, time spent and ultimately, our lives flow from this statement.

To make a difference in the world, a single light, shining brightly in such a way that we keep Jesus our focus, listen closely to His voice & enjoy life. So that we can say at the end of the day, we’ve touched others & thrived.

Three months after we typed this up and framed it, I traveled to Kenya. I truly believe this simple exercise helped direct our family in saying yes to God. It gave us direction when big decisions were in front of us.

For months, I’ve been wanting to move our family missions statement from paper to hanging on the wall, loud and large. I thought about putting it on a canvas (which I discovered is quite expensive).  But instead, this felt right (and was nearly free!):

This project took about two hours and very few supplies. I had a lot of fun being creative with the help and input from my family.

Supplies:

pallet (you can usually find old pallets behind stores. We just asked if we could have one and got it for free).

paint, sponge brush

stencil letters

I thought about hanging ours on a big open wall, but once we set it on the mantle, it turned out to be the perfect home.

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” -Ernest Hemingway

So, whatever you do, be aware that you’re leading your family to a destination. Having clear instructions helps you find your way!