Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Great Devotions for Young and Old

Today is a 2-for-1 review just in time for Christmas! 

Have you been trying to find that perfect gift for the busy woman or young lady in your life?  Something they can use to breathe the Word of God into their day and grow them in faith?  I found it in these 2 great books:

The One Year Home & Garden Devotions by Sandra Byrd is a wonderful daily devotion perfect for any Home & Garden-minded woman.  I used it along side my regular Bible study for that little extra personal tid-bit in my day.  I loved pondering the scripture passages in relation to the regular hum-drum of daily life in home and family.  Each month is introduced by an inviting "recipe" for either something tasty to eat or something spiffy to do and spice up the decor and/or care in your home.  The month then proceeds with dated devotions.  This book is not year specific so it can be used again and again (if you miss a few days of the devotions) and would also make a great guest-bedroom bedside book for weary travelers to soak in some Peace!

The More for Girls Only Devotions by Carolyn Larsen has been a wonderful experience for my almost 13 year old.  She has enjoyed this devotion so much we purchased extras for her to give to friends.  (One, she delivered as a baptism gift!)  This devotion is set up in an easy-to-follow format with self quizzes to assess where a young lady is in her Journey.  It then shares a scripture lesson and encouraging quotes to get girls thinking more about God's plans for their lives and how they can think of others verses the more age-typical default setting of thinking of self.  My daughter's only disappointment is that she will soon be done with the book and there is not another one to follow!!

So, whether you are looking for Spiritual gifts for young or old, these two books are sure-winners and fairly priced for all ladies on your list!


*I received a complimentary copy of these books from Tyndale House for my review. This review is my opinion alone.

Pondering Christmas

As crisp December air pushes at the car windows and we take in the lights of houses sliding by, I am often reminded of an article I wrote a few years ago about what I call the Parable of St. Nicholas.  This year it is especially poignant as the first year in 21 where no anxious children will be spending a sleepless Christmas eve listening for sleigh bells.  Brooke, our last, found out the hard truth this year, though I delivered it, as always, in a classic Yes, Virginia, form. 

What does it all mean?  To suddenly switch views of the man in red from anticipation to remembrance?  My grandmother often says Christmas isn't the same without children around.  While her faith is strong, I believe the hardships of life have given her a certain measure of Christmas cynicism.  While a Child is at the heart of Christmas, we don't have to be children, wide-eyed in wonder expecting a jolly man with a white beard, to see the wonder that makes Christmas magical.

  But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
- Luke 2:19

As all the glorious events culminated at the birth of Christ; the shepherds, the star, the angels; one line is slipped in their midst... Mary treasured.... pondering them in her heart.  She couldn't return to those moments again.  There was no magic re-wind button or instant replay.  It happened.... and then it was done.  Decades would pass before the full scope and significance would come into view.  Before all would truly understand what it meant that the Christ child had been born.  Yet Mary treasured and pondered.  

I wonder; did she look on her son, thirty-some-odd years later, hanging battered and torn on the cross and still ponder that one magnificent, significant day so many years before in meager beginnings when shepherds carried news of angels and stars?  Or kings and wise men came with gifts of great value?  Did her mind cast to a chili night in a stable and celebrate the culmination of something truly magnificent and wonderful?  Thirty-some-odd years later there are no gifts, no child any longer...  simply the gravity of the great gift of salvation for the world.

We don't know.

But there is more.  

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.
18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them
 Luke 2:17-18,20

The shepherds response.

They made known what the angels told them about Jesus.  And people wondered.  They visited Mary and Joseph and Jesus and when they returned they glorified and praised God for it all.  How long did this 'magic' last?  How long were their Spirits lifted and the glory and wonder of it all?  Did they, too, stand in the crowd and watch this baby-grown-to-man hang in disgrace?  Did they feel the earth tremble and see the tombs open that fateful day?  Were they some who Jesus visited in his 40 days before ascension?  Where they in the crowds at Pentecost, remembering and praising and marveling how they saw it all at the start?

We don't know.

I still believe Santa is a modern day parable.  But just like Jesus' parables in each of the Gospels, he isn't the story.  He is merely symbolic of something greater we can't fathom or understand.  He isn't where our faith and joy rest, he is simply the model of faith and joy to man. And like those whom Jesus shared parables with then... many simply can't grasp the significance of faith and giving without a parable now.

Santa will still come down my chimney this Christmas while my brood nestles cozy in their beds.  Milk and cookies will still set out and gift tags may bare his name... but not because we worship him.  Not because he is why we celebrate.  Simply because he reminds us what giving selflessly, like Christ did, is all about.  He makes us children at heart, even if no children abound, so that we might treasure, ponder, make known and glorify and praise God for all He has done in Christmases and years past to hope for all God might do through the years and Christmases future.  

The only child I need around at Christmas is the child CHRISTmas is all about.  I pray your Christmas is CHRIST filled too!


*To understand how and where we place Santa at Christmas, read my blog article from December 2011, Parable in Modern Form

Monday, December 14, 2015

Menu Monday: Week of December 14th

I sure missed posting last week, but, the extra time with the kids in an already crazy week was nice. 

We kicked off our busiest week of the season with our first ever attendance to a live performance of Handle's Messiah on Sunday.  Friend Nathan and his mom made the trip into town to join us (pictured at end of row of my kids)

 Daily rehearsals to prepare for the weekend's performances were a lot of fun.  Waiting was the hardest part!

We all had a bit of opening night jitters.  Everything went well though and, with much prayer, our hearts hoped many found peace and Hope for this Christmas season through the message we were blessed to be a part of.  (Love came down at Christmas ... Jesus is the reason for the Season!)  ((In-text links are some songs we sang)) Some highlights:

The Angles were my favorite (bottom) and a wonderful climax to the Story.  Mary and Joseph's song, The Prayer, was beautiful. (Hubby had wing seats so pictures are fuzzy)
In the midst of rehearsals, homeschool, and the kids prepping for their annual Christmas video, we were still more than ready to welcome our house guest for half the week (Wednesday - Saturday).

Nathan was the first non-family member to stay in our new hospitality/guest house!  He is a young man we met a few years ago working with Christian Youth in Action.  He was in town this past week to do some recruiting for CYIA's summer 2016 outreach.  I offered cookie baking his first day here and he chose sugar cookies so he and the kids had fun with cut-outs, frosting and sprinkles! 

We also decorated the guest house Christmas tree with ornaments the kids have been given over the years.  Nathan had fun helping since our oldest, Zach, couldn't be here, he took over Zach's ornaments for the day.  Ashely, being a senior this year, got to put the angel on top of the tree.  Yes, I teared up a bit as I took the picture!

You can watch for a Bible study series coming soon from Nathan which he wrote and I offered to share here on the blog in the new year.  He is a very Holy Spirit inspired young man preparing to head to Bible College to become a youth pastor.

I couldn't help sharing this picture, taken when a friend stopped for a visit Friday with her brood which included a newborn baby (I got to hold!!!) and a toddler.  Her toddler was playing with baby dolls in this high chair but when she walked away for a few minutes, our fluff-ball Aslan took over.  He seriously put himself in this chair like that and he thinks it is his seat, though he is getting much to big for it.  The kids thought the hat would make him cute, however, Santa gives toys, he doesn't take them!

This week will seem dull compared to last week's business!  We are expecting a snowstorm any minute now... literally!  If it hits with all the force predicted then we won't be doing both youth groups this week... which will devastate the kids since they missed a lot last week due to our involvement in the church production.  Ashley has some last minute Christmas shopping to do for friends which I need to run her to tonight if weather permits. Youth groups Tuesday, Wednesday and then Friday is a Christmas party get-together for the Middle School youth group kids (Brooke will attend).  I'm hoping to do my grocery shopping during the day Friday to beat the crowds so my menu for Friday/Saturday is hopeful!

Saturday evening my husband's boss graciously offered to take his department to see the new Star Wars movie.  Each employee and their spouse.  My husband is super excited though I must confess I am sort of Star Wars-ed out!  He desperately wants me by his side though so I will go and we will be bringing Brenden since he absolutely can't wait to see it!  Buying just one ticket is much more cost effective and we appreciate the generous gift his boss is providing for the rest.

Brooke and I are working on mug rugs for a few Christmas gifts.  hopefully the studio stays warm enough to get them finished!

Menu for this week...


- oatmeal
- cereal
- pancakes

hubby: leftover Pork Fried Rice
me and kids: leftovers, Ham or Bologna sandwiches


Pork Steaks, Green Beans, Baked Yellow Squash
We have been trying to make healthy tweeks to our dinners.  I switched fried Squash to baked and breaded it with bread crumbs and Parmesan and it was delicious (even the kids loved it!).  I am still perfecting the process and can share more details when I get them done!


Chicken Pot Pie
I think I will use small Christmas tree cookie cutters to cut the vent holes!

Steak and Broccoli Stir Fry
I have a small amount of steak left over from a package I got on bargain and split for two meals.  Stir Fry is always a great way to stretch small amounts of meat for a larger family!

Ground Turkey Sloppy Jo, Mac N Cheese and Potato Bake

Costco Chicken and Cheese Chimichangas

Burgers and Home Fries


What are you cooking this week?


Saturday, December 5, 2015

Counting Down Christmas

The Christmas season is finally here.  No one looks at me strange anymore when they walk into a room I'm busy in and the air is filled with the familiar tunes of Christmastime!  Our tree was up within a couple days of Thanksgiving and preparations began for the bustling month of December.

One tradition we have in our family is the advent calendar.  Most years we have done it as a Christmas Paper chain... but with a twist.  When my children were still very young I wanted to instill in them the understanding that Christmas wasn't just the gift getting season, as Lucy would say in the Peanuts Classic.  I wanted them to grow with compassion and an eye to help others, big and small. 

Our Christmas chain was set up to have one link tore off each day and on that link would be a task.  I intertwine goodwill tasks with family fun so there is an even balance of both throughout the season. Some goodwill projects: buying a gift for another in need or sending a 'thinking of you' message to someone far away.  Even the animals around the yard were blessed by my children's pre-Christmas activity when the chain told us to make them a special treat (pine cones, peanut butter and bird seed, so easy!).  Some of the chain-links were simple Christmas fun as a family.  My favorite was to go for a walk or drive to look at Christmas lights... preferably while singing carols!  The kids' fave is pizza picnic in front of the Christmas tree!

No matter the activity, it has provided TWO essential elements to every Christmas season: they don't just think of themselves in what could be a very me-centered holiday AND I rarely hear "I'm bored... how much longer till Christmas?"!  Waiting for Christmas is FUN and I am almost bummed when it actually gets here!

Here is a PDF of the count-down calendar we are using this year.  The 'directions' are on page 2 of the document. The chain has become more difficult in recent years because we are not always able to do said activities ON the day and then they pile up and become difficult to enjoy when en-mass.  This year I made a calendar with a list at the bottom so we can pick and choose what works best that day.  The kids (ages 12-17 [still at home]) are having a blast with it! 
Click image to go to PDF

It isn't too late to use the above calendar or make your own on paper-chain OR list form. For a complete list of ideas, click on the image below.  this is the general list I have collected over the years and draw from each November as I make our Christmas Count-down.

To make your own paper chain:
  • start a list of days till Christmas
  • note any events on each of those days which might affect what you can do for advent.  For example, if I know we will be out-and-about late, I will schedule a look at Christmas lights activity that day.
  • begin to filter in the activities you think your family would enjoy on the given days.
  • Cut strips of red and green construction paper across the width about 1" thick
  • in the center of the paper strip, write the day on one side in marker
  • in the center of the opposite side, write the activity in pen
  • attach links with tape or glue stick and re-enforce with a Christmas sticker (optional)  (you can use a stapler but the other method is 'prettier!)
  • hang your chain in a central location
  • take turns each day taking off a link
One year my youngest (age 10 at the time) asked if our count-down chain could be the story of baby Jesus in stead!  We were traveling a lot through Christmas that year for missions work so we were already outward thinking and it was especially perfect since all other typical advent happenings just weren't possible.  This special count-down inspired a advent study on our ministry website you can see by visiting here

click image to go to study

To make this chain, follow the directions for the advent chain above, however, instead of writing the activity, write the scripture passage reference (not the WHOLE passage, just write, for example, Luke 1:26-27) and when that link is pulled, everyone opens their Bibles together and shares the passage.

I pray your Christmas season is filled with joy!

How do you spend the advent season?