How to Make Christmas Last Long After Tomorrow

The whole month has been building, much of the world anticipating, counting down to one glorious day. We have decorated, shopped, wrapped, baked in preparation.

We have been waiting. We are expectant.
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And it’s here, Christmas Day, is ready to be unwrapped.

We like to make Christmas morning last at our house. We don’t rip into gift wrapping before the sun is up. We are slow, methodical. We read about the first Christmas so long ago and we feast on a special breakfast and then we watch our children open their handful of gifts one at a time.

We savor it.

Because it ends.

All the hubbub, the busy calendar, the stuff we do to prepare for Christmas, it’s all over in a sunset.

And then we have what remains: leftover turkey, a fraction of a pie, a half-dead tree, decorations that seemed to have multiplied and more stuff to put away.

More often then not, instead of filling full of Christmas the day after, we feel empty. All the doing and building and expectancy of the season can leave us tired and hopeless.

Did you know it’s possible to miss your maker? 

We are always looking, always searching, trying to fill the emptiness. And our culture refills the empty shelves of Christmas with the next holiday on the calendar before we can blink.

Because it’s entirely possible to see Jesus, even celebrate him, his birthday, but miss him all together. We wouldn’t be the first.

“He was in the world,
the world was there with him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.” -John 1:10-11

Christmas isn’t a day. It’s not a religious celebration.

It doesn’t end the day after tomorrow. It begins.

We can’t buy Christmas or spend it.

Because Christmas is a person. And a believer never stops living Christmas.

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“When you really believe in Christmas, you believe there really is hope for everyone. When you get Christmas, people get hope from you-they don’t lose it.” -Ann Voskamp

Advent brings hope. Hope is Emmanuel, God with us.

When you wake on Thursday and the high of Christmas leaves you feeling low, there’s only one way to make it last: it’s to live Christmas every day, to unwrap the wonder of our Savior, to love and give to others.

Emmanuel. God with us. And the great thing is, He never leaves us.

The Light has come. It will never burn out again.

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This is Christmas, not one day a year, but a year of days unwrapping the greatest gift.


That Time We Went to Paris in December

Every time we fly to or from Kenya, we have a layover in a different country. So far, we’ve seen the inside of the London, Amsterdam and Istanbul airports.

We use a humanitarian travel agent who gets us discounted tickets (we pay for our children) and when she emailed that our layover would be in Paris this time, I sort of hyperventilated. And then when she said it didn’t cost a dime more to spend the night in the city of love, I headed straight for Expedia to look up cheap hotel rooms for a couple of nights. Because I’m wild and crazy like that.

What I didn’t do was figure out how to get out of the airport once we landed at zero-dark-thirty. Our deal of a hotel room was actually more than an hour from the city in the French countryside.

We might have been *thisclose* to a family fight in the Paris airport. Thankfully, there was a bakery and chocolate-filled beignets that CHANGED MY LIFE.

Or at least my attitude.

We finally braved the confusing train system, to which my kids asked over and over? Why does it smell like pee and cigarette smoke everywhere we go?

Ahh, Paris.

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AAannndd four hours later we found our hotel room in a 17th century farmhouse-turned golf course, completely vacant, because who golfs in the dead of winter? We don’t, but we did get a cute apartment and had a lovely (expensive) traditional french “winter lunch” that I’m still dreaming about. Oh, Expedia. And Euros, you have a way of surprising us. Apparently, I’m very motivated by food.

And who can blame me? Our family got food poisoning at the Mercy House graduation ceremony and we ended up having Ramen Noodles on Thanksgiving Day. Ahhh…. memories.

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The fun thing about visiting a country in which you cannot speak ONE word of the language is boundless. And also, my husband’s impersonation of a French man over lunch. Ooh la la.

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So, after a good night sleep and by that I mean, we fell into bed. We did all of this in one day:

We visited the Arc de Triomphe, the oldest, largest arc in the world built by Napoleon. It was bitterly cold.

I had three pair of pants on in case you’re wondering.

I know, impressive.

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And then we got back on the underground train and when we walked up the steps, this was our amazing view:

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Oh, but we didn’t stop there. We decided to climb the Eiffel Tower. Oh, my children, they do not get their energy from me.

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Because I nearly died on this step:

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The view from step 700 and something:

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Our day was just getting started, next we stopped at the historic, cathedral Notre Dame.

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This was such a sacred, holy place.

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And the stained glass story telling of our Savior?  I WILL NEVER FORGET IT.VpF8rTybwkPAXtqitzxKmtC4LqaRoxm3nmz-a2XkEjE

Our final stop of the day/night (which definitely pushed our exhaustion level to a whole new level) was the incredible Louve Museum. We didn’t have time or energy, but we needed to see this lady:

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To which my 6 year old kept saying in a weary whisper, “Who is Mona anyway??”

Paris in December? I highly recommend it.


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.

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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.


A Wedding to Remember

Kenyan weddings deserve their very own post.

When Maureen visited us in America in January 2013 for meetings and speaking engagements, a generous friend of mine secretly took Maureen and I wedding dress shopping.

Because we knew (hoped) this day was coming a few months later. I had the honor of being there when the big question was asked.

Over the past few years, Maureen and I have had many Skype conversations praying and talking about her future husband, someone for her to share her life and calling with. And so, we knew if we could arrange the delicate timing of our next trip, it needed to include one very special Kenyan wedding.

And after Maureen lost her beautiful mother suddenly in June and asked if I would stand in as Mother of the Bride, I knew we had to be there.

Y’all.

You haven’t really celebrated joy until you’ve attended a Kenyan wedding. The day started very early in the lasted until sunset. And there was a lot of waiting for the bride to make her special appearance. It can sometimes take a bride up to an hour to s-l-o-w-l-y walk down the aisle. Thankfully, Maureen has too much spunk for that.

Here we are waiting…

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Here comes the bride (just a few seconds of what went on for HOURS):

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Then there was dancing and singing and more dancing and more singing. And we repeated this about 27 times.

Possibly the world’s cutest flower girl and ringbearer (the two firstborn babies of Mercy House):
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I mean, SERIOUSLY.

The Mother of the Bride got to take care of Precious and Travis. It was hard work! I might have fed them tick tacks and Pringles the entire ceremony. After Travis had about 12 chips, he started to lick the salt off and pass them down the row. Awesome.

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The Mercy House babies loved dancing (as well as several hundred other guests!)

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Maureen was a stunning bride. And her joy was evident.

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Dear Maureen and Oliver,

What a day! Thank you for sharing your amazing day with us. You are an example of purity and  faithfulness-a beauty for ashes story-to the girls at Mercy House. You’ve given them a fairytale to look forward to someday. We pray God blesses your union and His face continues to shine on you.

Love,  the Welch family

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The bride and groom presented a cake at the reception to our family and the residents of Rehema House.

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And then we danced some more…

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And just because, this needs to happen again:

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Photos by my friend and photographer, Suzanne Box


For the Fatherless this Christmas Season

It was lunchtime in Kenya.

And if the clanging of pots and pans and fragrant smells from the kitchen didn’t make that clear, the hungry toddlers did.

Huge spoonfuls of rice and beans in colorful bowls were on the menu and we laughed and talked and babies ate.

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These young mamas love seeing pictures from America and they pile around and ask questions and giggle any time we show them.

I was holding a bubbly baby Jennifer (actually, fighting my daughter to hold her), 5 months old and precious while my husband was showing the girls a picture of his family from his phone.

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“Wait,” Edith stopped him. “You have a father still?” Lucy sat next to her feeding Duncan and added, “How can you have a father?”

Terrell showed them a picture of his father and his mother and they girls shook their heads.

“We don’t have fathers,” they said. Babies begged for another mouthful and the conversation skipped on. There wasn’t a dramatic pause or a heavy spirit in the room. But I stopped bouncing baby Jennifer on my hip and I realized again how much I take for granted.

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All of our young mommas are fatherless. And so are their babies.

Men our missing from Mercy House and it’s a tangible absence.

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Being fatherless is common in this country.

Having a father is the uncommon.

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Four of the girls graduated from Phase 1 and are moving on to Phase 2 as a part of their transformation and journey to reintegration. Every girl has a unique background and story. And so every momma has a unique plan and future. It’s not an exact science and we lean heavily on God for wisdom. It’s a two-step forward, one-step back kind of life.

A local pastor at the ceremony stood up to encourage the girls and shared how he grew up fatherless. And this vacant spot around the table? It’s not just a poverty problem. Because poverty isn’t really about what you have or what you don’t have.

Poverty is about an empty space in your soul that you’re trying to fill up with holiday spirit and more stuff. It’s about a missing Presence in your life.

Poverty is about brokenness.

And how many people in our own culture have present fathers who are absent?

A present father provides five things in our lives:

  • A father is present, a physical, important role in the home
  • A father is a provider, the one who supplies our needs
  • A father is our protector, one who watches over us
  • A father is a priest of the home teaching values, faith Jesus
  • A father is a prophet, or encourager, warning us to make right choices

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads forth the prisoners with singing….  Psalm 68:5-6″

Maybe you have an absent dad or you are a dad who is absent or one who has failed you, leaving you wounded. You are not alone. Because this–THIS- is the answer. He is the answer. God is our Father.

So, sweet Lucy and beautiful Edith and dear reader, you are not common.

The Father sent a baby to save the world and He will fill the empty place. You are not fatherless.