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.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas

It’s strange to return from November on the Equator to December in full swing in the Lone Star. To an unlit house, undecorated tree, unwrapped gifts. And six days of unturned Advent pages.

Motherhood and Christmas go together. It’s mostly up to Mom to hang the stockings over the mantle with care, to make the house happy and bright, to play Santa if she so chooses, to handle the wrapping and coordinate the baking and to keep Christ in Christmas…. It’s a pleasure and pressure pot, all this merry-making.

And throw in hectic calendars, three school band concerts this week, a 6 year old turning 7, a basketball game and the emotional ups and downs that sometimes accompany the holidays… oh, and jury duty on a Monday.

It’s enough for an undoing.

“Mom, we are so behind on Christmas,” my 6 year old said as I stood over an intimidating pile of unwashed laundry and unpacked suitcases.

She wanted to do the things of Christmas. And I was about to come unraveled.

Her words matched my own holiday To Do list, the one that reminded me that if we were really going to capture the magic, we would have to chase it down, and fill our days with pin-worthy recipes and memory-making and house-decorating, shopping and crafting, parties and handmade gifts in recycled jars.

She precariously carried a box of ornaments from upstairs where they’d been sitting since November-something. Itching to catch up, I opened the plastic lid and held a red glass Santa, a favorite from my childhood. And it slipped right thru my fingers and shattered.

Into a thousand bright pieces against the unforgiving tile.

Broken.

It left me feeling shaky.

It left me looking around for something stable.

how to have a stable christmas

My oldest rushed into the room frantically looking for her winter scarf that matched the cozy sweater that went with the tall brown boots. She turned the house and the atmosphere upside down as only a teen girl can do and before I could say ho ho ho, it was a winter storm of attitude and anger.

Peace, it’s what I crave. Not just in my home, but in my heart this Christmas.

Peace that says Rest.

Stop.

Don’t Do.

Be. Still.

Because this year, I’ve decided we won’t catch up. We won’t mark it all off our list. We won’t get the best cyber deals or go ice skating at the mall (thankfully). We won’t make homemade ornaments or trim our tree to be magazine worthy. There won’t be an Elf on our Shelf.

We will be behind this Christmas.

But isn’t that was followers do…stay behind? They are led. By a Leader. The One searchers found swaddled in a barn, born to die. To be the gift we unwrap this Christmas.

And He is saying Peace, be still. Not as the world gives, but as I give.

I swept up the glass on the floor and asked this Savior born in a messy stable and a broken world to give me a stable home this Christmas.

To fill me with peace, not more pieces, to quiet the raging, waiting list and help me focus on the unending gift of His presence. The Present.

How to Have a Stable Home This Christmas With Your Children:

1. Do less Stuff: Resist the urge to do it all. You don’t have to make all your gifts, compete with the neighbors, be Mom of the Year this season. It’s easy to get so tangled in the festivities that we are left exhausted and undone. I remember having a meltdown one year because I missed a couple of devotions on the Advent Calendar with my children. Oh, y’all. Christmas is not about doing and I’ve learned that the hard way.

2. Be the Gift: Want to bless those in your life? Want to give your kids the most memorable gift ever? Be the gift. Give your love and time. Turn off the distractions and live.

2. Stop Keeping Up: I’m not visiting Pinterest these days. Once I decided I can’t keep up with all the perfection of matching Christmas pajamas and hand stamped gift wrapping, the desire to keep up left me. We can get so wrapped up in doing Christmas, we miss the true meaning altogether.

3. Seek Peace: If you long for peace this season-in your home and heart- find Jesus. If you’re kids need peace, your marriage, He’s there. That’s where we will find peace.  Jesus is Peace.

4. Be Still: I love Ann’s new Advent Devotional, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas. If I could recommend one resource, this is it:  It’s short, daily, doable chunks of inspiration (even if we are days behind). It’s a moment for our family to connect around the table, add an ornament to our simple Jesse Tree and pause our busy lives. I especially love the fill in the blank spaces for reflection.

5.  Be Led: Instead of following our culture down a sparkly-lighted path that demands more is more, be a follower. Be a disciple of Jesus, our leader. The great thing about our children is they will generally follow where we lead. He will guide us if we let Him.

Sometimes life can feel precarious and uncertain this time of year.

The only way to remain unshaken is to start at the stable.

What Christmas is Really About

I try to see it thru her eyes: the wonder of Christmas.

I try to shield her from the darkness in our world. The evil that would dare destroy innocent children during Advent.

She only knows what I’ve told her, her viewfinder is so narrow.

Time and space are still abstract in her 6 year old thoughts. She thinks hard and asks if I remember my first Christmas with her Daddy because 18 years ago is like 100 in her mind.

Yes! I say. And then she wonders aloud, “Was that the year Jesus was born?”

I smile and realize I look really good for my age, she is embarrassed at her question, but it gives me a greater glimpse into her understanding.  And I can’t tell her everything because I want to protect her as long as possible.

But we’ve made our lives about this Jesus. And momma? What is Christmas really about?

We tell stories, sing songs, read Scripture, light candles, we limit gifts, talk about His birthday, but what is Christmas really about? Her question pierces thru the annual visit to Santa, the stockings hung with care. It dims the twinkly lights and it begs me to answer.

Her question makes me question my own answers. Because I don’t have them for the horrifying events our world saw unfold in an elementary school last week.

I ask the same question.

What is Christmas really about?

I can’t shake the sadness that comes with the death of innocent children, the empty arms of parents, the evil of our world. The joy of the season has dimmed and my heart cries one phrase.

O Come Emmanuel

I try to describe the stable, the smells, the sacred moment when Heaven kissed earth. I try to shield my children from the darkness that makes no place safe. Our Pastor tells of the 400 years between prophecy and fulfillment.

The quiet.

The long waiting.

The expectancy.

The desperate world.

The longing for a Savior.

The evil men who threatened the unborn Messiah

The need for Him to come.

He was born into poverty, he was unwanted by this world, evidenced in his lowly stinking surroundings. His coming foreshadowed what was to come.

Jesus came 2000 years ago–just when the world needed Him. The earth held her breath in expectancy. Waiting, hoping.

We live in a world that has pushed him away, banned him. But He is still exactly what we need.

Our world cries out for justice, peace, for Him.

O Come Emmanuel.

And that’s what Christmas is about.

It’s a foreshadowing for us today. Because we desperately need Jesus to come again.

I pull her close and I whisper, praying it’s imparted in her soul. I try to protect my children from the darkness that seeks to destroy. I try not to be afraid of it myself. Jesus comes when we need Him most. He arrives when we can’t hang on another moment. He delivers us from the enemy, He rescues us from ourselves.

Christmas is about Him coming.

And it brings with it the great foreshadowing that He will come again.

O Come Emmanuel.

—————-

As our world grieves the Connecticut massacre, we hold fast to Jesus. I join millions of others, lifting up these precious families during this Holy season.

30 Ways to Keep Christ in Christmas

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):

  • 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].
  • Hide baby Jesus and “seek” Him Christmas morning before opening gifts. [I did this first thing last year. Here’s how I found it half an hour later. Turns out Mary had a little Snowman. I love little kids].

  • (or) Gift wrap baby Jesus in your nativity and let this be your first unwrapped gift Christmas morning.
  • Take a cue from the Magi and limit the gifts and reminding kids it’s not their birthday, it’s His.
  • Have a daily family devotion that unwraps Christmas, here’s ours for this year; Advent Tabletop Devotional. [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.]
  • Participate in Advent. Last year, we did the Jesse Tree Advent. And I love this 25 day free printable Advent idea!
  • Light an Advent wreath each day leading up to Christmas.
  • Have a birthday cake for Jesus or go all out and make it a birthday party!
  • Watch DVDS like Why Do We Call It Christmas? that help you tell the real story of Christmas.
  • 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.
  • Or buy something that blesses twice and changes lives (Mercy Shop).
  • 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.
  • Make the Nativity interactive with tools like What God Wants for Christmas. It’s from the creators of Resurrection Eggs.
  • 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.
  • Talk with your kids about giving God a gift. What does He want from us?
  • Hang a stocking for Christ. Fill it with notes just for Him.
  • Invite someone to share Christmas dinner with your family.
  • Shop for single mom. This year playing secret santa and dropping off gifts for a single mom!
  • Don’t participate in the excessive commercialism. Enough said.
  • 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.
  • Help your kids shop for their siblings.
  • Talk about the symbols of Christmas.
  • Be generous as a family at Christmas-baking, giving, doing.
  • 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.
  • Bake, make or buy a special gift for your Pastor. We did Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls year before last. What a gift!
  • Cherish traditions with your family. Start a new one! Like the next one:
  • When preparing your Christmas meal, set a literal place for Jesus, your honored guest.
  • Attend church on Christmas Eve.
  • Read Luke 2 together on Christmas Eve or morning. We’ve been doing this since before we had kids.
  • Leave a Nativity out all year long. I did this last year and it was really special.
How do you keep Christ in Christmas?
[edited repost]

Cultivating Gratitude {Family Resource}

It’s the one thing I long for my family to learn, live:

Gratitude.

It’s the one thing I teach by example (or lack of), a heart full of thanksgiving, overflowing on my husband, surrounding my children. They are watching, waiting. Not just for the outward, polite, mandatory “thank you.” But the grateful heart that spills out and is contagious.

Gratitude is the one thing that gets me through a hard day.

It’s about choosing to be grateful, when I want to complain, opting for thanksgiving when I long to whine, it’s looking for the good when it all feels bad. The best kind of gratitude is when I don’t feel it at all.

It’s not just the gratefulness for new things, a comforter on sale for my daughter’s bed brings praise, “thank you, Mom!” It’s thankfulness in the trials, the hard times, the difficult spots we find ourselves. These are the moments that define us: digging deep when gratitude isn’t easy.

Thankfulness isn’t inherited. It often doesn’t come easy. It needs to be practiced, made a priority.

Gratitude is what will change our home.

How to Stir Up Thanksgiving in Your Family:

  • Record your gratitude-write it down!
  • Read past entries aloud
  • Reflect on the day, the good and bad. We “play” highs and lows. What is your high for the day. How can we encourage each other in the lows.
  • Reinforce-no gratitude is too small.
  • Resolve to give thanks, in all things

As we head into fall, I’m excited about this new family resource to help cultivate gratitude as we move towards the Thanksgiving season. It’s called the  12 Day Holiday Countdown by Dayspring.

I believe it has the potential to be a very meaningful family tradition. I love it because it’s perfect for the entire family, from the smallest to the oldest. It’s multi-functional and it’s designed to be used at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with corresponding story blocks and scripture!

Each small box holds a card for the day and corresponds with the included guidebook. You can add a slip of paper or small treat to the box as you countdown to Thanksgiving (Christmas and Easter).

Sample Text from guidebook:
THANKSGIVING
Day #1 FRIENDS
We’re thankful for friends.I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his
master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I
learned from My Father I have made known to you.  John 15:15 NIVGod is a friend to us.What does it mean to be God’s friend?

And get this, for the next 4 days, the Holiday Countdown is on sale for ONLY $10! Reg. $24.

Dayspring sent me one to try with my kiddos. It came yesterday and before I could hide it, they saw it and are begging to celebrate something. I just know your kids will love this intentional time together too.

Get one today at a great price!

*I’m a Dayspring affiliate and the links in this post are affiliate links.