Christmas

When You're Too Tired for Christmas

God created beauty out of the struggle. The savior of the world was born. And in the midst of their joy, I’m sure Mary and Joseph struggled to see the plan laid out for them. I’m sure they were scared. I’m sure they were often uncertain about what to do next.
— Lori Fairchild
 photo credit:  designblossoms.com

photo credit: designblossoms.com

Christmas is in four days. My house is decorated. My kids are excited. And I am tired.

This year has worn me out. 2015 has been a long, hard slog from January to December. Every time I thought we had conquered the mountain in front of us, we reached the peak to find a taller mountain behind it.

Illness after illness has hit our family hard. Stroke, meningitis, thyroid, liver. You name it. We had a taste of it this year. This year has been so tough that both my daughter and I completely forgot she broke her hand in October. You know it's been a rough year when broken bones don't even make the Top 10 Events of the Year list.

And, yet, there have been moments in this year that I wouldn't trade for the world. The precious perspective that my 14-year-old has gained embodied in the words she said the other day, "Just think, six months ago my biggest worry was staying on my soccer team. That doesn't even register now."

The shared moments with my husband where we tried to tackle the mountain together, knowing that when one failed, the other would pick them up.

The intentional moments with my 12-year-old created because she simply needed some time with her mom.

Because in the midst of the trial, in the midst of what seems like never-ending struggle, there is beauty. God is creating a better perspective, a stronger family and a sheer reliance on Him.

So, as I sit here four days before Christmas, I am reminded that the very first Christmas was probably the end of a very long year for Mary and Joseph. Unmarried and pregnant in a culture that had no allowance for that. Miraculously pregnant, but with a story no one would believe. I imagine Mary and Joseph felt very alone and very afraid. They knew God was creating something wonderful, but they were the only ones that knew it.

Two young people, teenagers, really, on the road to Bethlehem. No place for them to stay. A baby on the way.

And, yet, God created beauty out of the struggle. The savior of the world was born. And in the midst of their joy, I'm sure Mary and Joseph struggled to see the plan laid out for them. I'm sure they were scared. I'm sure they were often uncertain about what to do next.

God creates beauty out of chaos. His plan to save the world started with two young people having a baby in a cave in Bethlehem.

And, I'm reminded this Christmas, that if God can do that, He can make something amazing out of the crazy that has been our year.

So, this Christmas, if you're struggling to just put one foot in front of the other, if the weight of the world is on your shoulders, remember this: God specializes in making great things out of difficult times. Jesus' birth is proof of that.

Christmas Priorities

Christmas priorities Our Christmas tree is up and there are lights on the outside of our house. That's about the extent of the Christmas decorating that has happened here at our house. I'm thinking I might get some more decorations out this afternoon, but I might not get there. And that's OK.

Usually by Dec. 8, Christmas has exploded in our house. We have decorations everywhere, but this year has been crazy. There's not been a lot of time to put up decorations.

But while the decorations still sit in their boxes, I've baked cookies with my mom and my daughters. My husband, daughters and I went to see the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens perform a one-man show of A Christmas Carol. I took my older daughter to see one of her best friends perform in a version of The Nutcracker last night. We've shopped for a foster family. My girls have packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. I threw a Christmas party for my older daughter's soccer team. This Friday evening we're having a family night of dinner out, looking at Christmas lights and maybe a Christmas movie.

Because this year, I came to the conclusion that our Christmas season would be so much better if we spent it doing things we love with people we love than doing the things we think we have to do to make it Christmas. Because isn't that what Christmas really is about?

It's about a God who loved us so much that He sent His Son to be with us, to be one of us. He sent Jesus to spend time with us here on earth so that we could know Him and so, through His sacrifice, He could create a bridge between us and God.

As my kids get older, Christmas becomes less about the toys and the decorations and more about creating memories. It becomes about focusing on the baby in the manger and what that means for how we live our lives. It becomes about drawing together as a family so that we can grow closer to God together.

So, my advent calendar may be eight days behind. My house may be sparsely decorated. But that doesn't mean there's any less Christmas spirit. It doesn't mean there's any less joy in the season. It just means that the priorities have shifted. And that's not a bad thing.

Fingerprints

fingerprints I wrestle with little white lights to cover the burnt-out section of a well-loved tree…

And I find fingerprints.

I squeeze underneath the bristly branches as the bell on the skirt sings a jingle jangle…

And I find fingerprints.

I hang each stocking marked with silver, glitter-splotched letters from berries of red…

And I find fingerprints.

I gingerly pull each ornament out as if to gently touch each memory it holds…

And I find fingerprints.

I string the garland, tie the bows and polish the candlesticks...

And I still find fingerprints.

I set the timers and the lights aglow to the sound of little voices in shades of “oohs” and “ahs”…

And once again, I find fingerprints.

Everywhere, there are fingerprints…

My daddy’s fingerprints.

Found most alive on our mantle where a merry little Santa sits. A little something that was left in my hospital room last year so that when I came back from surgery, I would see it. His way of telling his Christmas-loving girl that even though he wasn’t there to say it, he loved her.

And just like the little ones that fill my windows halfway up, my daddy’s fingerprints are a beautiful and indelible sign of life and love.

As much as it aches, it also reminds me not only of the love he gave me here on earth but also of the love he left behind. And as I trim the tree and bake the cookies and play with the Little People nativity set, I am very aware that I am also leaving fingerprints behind on my four little loves. I am writing, marking and leaving them changed.

So this season, this remarkable life-changing season, I am asking myself what kind of mama-prints will be left in my coming and going--what marks will I use to say I have loved them and will love them even when I am not here to say it…

Will my prints speak of love and mercy? Will they write a story of grace? Will they sound clearly through the noise?

Will they sing of my Jesus? Or will they speak more of me?

Will they write agenda and control in my babies’ hearts? Will they shout frustration and anger as our years are unpacked and counted? Will they hurt or will they salve?

And what will my loves remember when I am gone and they wrestle with the twinkly lights and hang the stockings and string the garland?

Jesus, I want it to be You.

I want it to be You in me, through me and in spite of me.

Mark every print with Your unshakeable peace and every word with Your mercy and every mess-up with Your grace so that when the moment for life without me comes and only memories are left, they still hear with resounding clarity, “I loved you then…I love you now…and I love you for all the years to come.”

Sara Cormany guest posts on the first Friday of each month. Sara is mommy to six-year-old Grace, four-year-old Drew, one-year-old Sophie, and her new little miracle Maddie.  When she is not wiping noses, changing diapers or chasing her kids, she is a sometimes writer and a sometimes teacher to teenagers.  But her most cherished role is that of one who is perfectly held by Jesus. She loves watching Him take the broken, the messy and the seemingly mundane of her everyday and turn it into something beautiful. She recently began her own blog called Where Feet May Fail. Be sure to check it out.

 

 

 

Everyday Christmas

I had a great time today speaking to the ladies at the MOPS group at Lawrence Free Methodist church about how to incorporate Jesus into our existing Christmas traditions. If you're looking for a Christmas devotional, check out my e-book Everyday Christmas, which offers food for your soul and some great ideas about how to incorporate Jesus quickly and simply into your Christmas traditions.

New cover

Something Precious

A

I have a mommy confession.

Wait.

Scratch that.

It’s more like I have a mommy obsession.

Every fall, I find myself in valiant pursuit of that one precious all-the-children picture.

And every year, there is one backdrop that has never let me down…

The Weston Red Barn Farm.

It’s rustic and charming and surrounded by all things precious.

But this year, as I pulled out my camera, I sensed failure when my husband said, “Honey, do you think we should just go to the grocery store fall thing?  I mean Weston is a hike and…”

To which I interrupted with, “But it’s tradition and lovely and the kids can ride the pony and remember the apple donuts?  DO NOT forget about the apple donuts.  Heaven in a bag, babe.”

(Truth be told, I had him at the word “donut.”)

So we went to the charming farm.

I knew we were toast the second we got out of the van and Drew said, “Mom, I am SOOOOOOO hot.  I think I might die.” But I still shot him my “Suck it up, kid.  It may be 80 + degrees and your long-sleeved black Halloween shirt may be an oven but this is for posterity.”

B

Not two minutes later, I was with him, dying and all.

My sweatshirt was now a sauna. My hormones, a hellish monster. And had another minute passed, I would have wholeheartedly launched into the pig trough for sweet relief but mercifully, I was distracted when I heard the word “pony.”

(Sweet heavens, if I hadn’t promised them all a pony ride.)

The pony was up the hill…the heinous hill of no return.

Combine the not-so-sturdy Snap and Go with pebbled terrain and my not-so-graceful gait and we might as well have been climbing Everest.

Not to mention that I had already said “excuse me” more times in that one hour than I have my entire life.  Every time I tripped and stumbled, I bumped someone. Because to the point, THERE WERE SO MANY BLESSED PEOPLE THERE.

(I swear someone told them about the donuts.)

But for tradition’s sake, we still oomphed and umphed and excused ourselves up the hill. It was only after reaching the top of the precious thing that we came to the tragic realization that THERE WERE NO PONY RIDES.

Bless. My. Sweatshirt.

So we turned around, trod back down the pebbled path and just about the time I convinced myself that the disappointment would build character, my dear eldest pipes in with, “This is boring,” which prompts me to say, “I’ve got nothing, sister…just go jump in the straw.”

C

(Try not to be intimidated by such mom awesomeness.)

It was at this point my hubs felt the need to reiterate, “I think the fall festival two miles away would have been a way better tradition.” I didn’t even protest. “Ugh…you are probably right…why did I think this would be magical?!?!?

The hubs wisely stayed silent.

But as we made our way back to the pumpkins, I barfed the most unholy words,

“Let’s just try for one more picture.”

So we did.

And then it happened…

D

Children screamed.  Babies were almost dropped.  Sophie bolted through the barbed wire.

And I kept promising donuts to anyone who would listen to me.

Then the picture-taking devolved into pumpkin-picking and to the entire public that visited the farm, I wholeheartedly apologize.

We were yelling.

Not “I’m so mad” yelling.  But the “Lord-please-don’t-let-us-lose-a-child-now” kind. We were just so close, so focused, so intent on getting the hoot out of there that we just had to keep it together.

It was ugly. Full-on. U-G-L-Y.

But remember the donuts? Across the street? The ones I referred to as heaven in a bag?

Well, I ate FIVE...and it helped.

Seriously, y’all.

IT. DID.

But even as the cinnamon and sugar dripped most gloriously from my mouth, I came to a conclusion.

Precious pictures are needed.  They remind this memory-challenged mama of how I really feel at the end of day when all the chaos has quieted.  When I can run my hands through their sweaty bedheads and touch their perfect little noses and see the messy beautiful so clearly in each of them.

But I’m finally to a place where I need the 29 ridiculously accurate pictures too.

If only to shout, “WE ARE A REAL FAMILY!!!!”

One that messes up and falters and falls.  One that skins their knees and has to apologize.  One that can plan to have a magical experience and end up with the pumpkin patch on steroids.

One that needs Jesus, people.

Oh, how we need Him.

So as you plan the Thanksgiving dinners and take Christmas card pictures and deck the halls and all that jazz, remember my family and the yelling and the donut therapy and rejoice in this:

Real people have real families that really need Jesus.

And even though we may have more pictures that end up awkward and bizarre and more crazy than cute, in the end, when we’ve tripped and stumbled and fallen all over ourselves, when we’ve tried and failed through all those 29 moments in-between, He surprises us with what we have been looking for all along…

Something precious.

E

Sara Cormany guest posts on the first Friday of each month. Sara is mommy to six-year-old Grace, four-year-old Drew, one-year-old Sophie, and her new little miracle Maddie.  When she is not wiping noses, changing diapers or chasing her kids, she is a sometimes writer and a sometimes teacher to teenagers.  But her most cherished role is that of one who is perfectly held by Jesus. She loves watching Him take the broken, the messy and the seemingly mundane of her everyday and turn it into something beautiful. She recently began her own blog called Where Feet May Fail. Be sure to check it out.

Christmas Night

After Christmas The packages had all been opened. The Christmas dinner was history. Presents had been played with and put away. And one tired 10-year-old was headed to bed -- in tears.

As she laid her head on the pillow, I heard the words "Christmas is over. I don't want it to be over." At first, I thought she was sad because it's a whole year until she gets more presents, but, oh, how wrong I was.

"For just a day, everyone was so happy. We were all together. No one had anything to do. Tomorrow we go back to our too busy, crazy lives," she said through her tears.

I stopped. The small smile I had been wearing when I thought those tears were about presents slipped away. Because she was right. Christmas is one of the few days of the year when the world stops. It's a day where we take the time to enjoy the company of our families. It's a day when the focus moves from what we have to do next to simply enjoying what we have now.

It's a day for family -- with all its complications and flaws. It's a day for smiles and laughter. It's a day when the jokes in the new jokebook your kids got for Christmas are actually funny. It's a day when we gather with friends and family and we simply let that be the focus.

For us, today is filled with doctor's appointments and errands. Tomorrow we dive back into a hockey tournament. But Christmas day was a blessed moment of rest. A moment of peace. A moment of love.

The truth is that we can't recreate Christmas throughout the year. The rest of the world doesn't stop. But we can create moments with our families that give us those same moments of rest, peace and love. We can make time to play a game, bake cookies, go for a walk, or have our extended family over for dinner. We can choose to create Christmas-style moments throughout the year.

Because Jesus wasn't born in a stable all those years ago so we could run ourselves ragged and miss having a relationship with Him. Jesus didn't die on a cross and defeat death so we could become so focused on our own lives that we miss the opportunities to share His love with those around us.

As we head to the new year, take a moment to reflect on your Christmas moments. Think about how you can create those moments of love, rest and peace throughout the year. Then be intentional in making it happen.

Because those blessed moments of love, rest and peace don't have to be a once-a-year event.

When Christmas Disappoints

Magic We exchanged gifts with my parents last night, and my older daughter was a little disappointed. She's at that tough age where she's outgrown toys, but she isn't yet excited by clothes and she's not much into video games. She didn't ask for much, so I kept most of the things she asked for to put under our own tree. There were no big, exciting gifts at my parents' house.

It's hard when something you've been looking forward to doesn't live up to your expectations. I've had Christmases that didn't live up to my expectations either. Christmases where it was obvious my husband wasn't much into the whole gift-giving thing, Christmases where the whole holiday season was more chore than fun.

My older daughter isn't usually focused on what she gets. She's actually really good at focusing on others. But as she's caught in this difficult in-between age, it's harder and harder to surprise her. It's harder to find that one thing that she really wants for Christmas. And it's hard to remember that as grown-up as she sometimes acts, she's still just a little girl of 12 who wants Christmas to still be magical.

And that's why it's so important to keep Christ at the center of our Christmas. Because eventually we all grow up, and the trappings of Christmas begin to lose some of their magic.

But the fact that God sent His Son to die on a cross, defeat death and rise again to save us should never become less than what it is -- completely awe-inspiring. When we put Jesus at the center of our Christmas celebrations, then we discover that Christmas never loses its ability to amaze us.

When we're little, the whole Christmas season seems magical -- from the twinkling lights to the presents under the tree. As we get older, though, we tend to see the "man behind the curtain" of the Christmas season. We're the ones who have to string the lights. We're the ones who bake the cookies and wrap all the gifts. Some years it becomes more chore than pleasure.

Yet as we close in on the end of this year's Christmas season, remember this: Nothing can match the gift that God gave us on that first Christmas morning -- a tiny baby in a manger who came to save the world. While the "magic" of Christmas may fade, the awesomeness of the very first Christmas gift never will.

So, if you or your kids find yourselves disappointed with Christmas this year, return your focus to the stable, to the baby in the manger. Because there's nothing more awe-inspiring than the events of that first Christmas morning.

 

From Party to Serving Others

Cookie party Today is my favorite day of the Christmas season. It's cookie party day. The girls have eight friends coming over this morning for our annual cookie party. We're going to go serve others by sorting books for a local charity followed by a pizza lunch and some cookie decorating.

As my girls have gotten older the look of this party has changed. We started when my older daughter was 2 with just cookie decorating (because when they're 2, that's a party in and of itself). As they grew, we added games and crafts to our cookie decorating. We also added a donation component -- all their friends would bring something to donate to a local charity. One year we did canned food. One year we collected art supplies, and last year we collected shoes. I wanted all the kids to realize that while we can have fun together, it's important that we serve others, too.

This year, we've decided to take that service component one step further and make it be the vast majority of our party. We're going to spend most of our party serving others. The kids still get to hang out with their friends, but they get to do it in a way that also helps other kids.

Since my girls were very small, we've tried to instill in them a desire to serve others. My parents have always made it a point to take the girls to the grocery to fill a wishlist for Harvesters, our local food pantry. We've rung the Salvation Army bell, taken the kids on daylong mission trips, and encouraged them to serve at church. We've done all this in the hopes that they will form a habit of service, that they will spend their lives living out the words of Galatians 5:13-14: "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

We are called to serve others. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus to our community. Teaching our kids to serve teaches them to be like Jesus. And this time of the year is a perfect time to start getting your kids focused on serving others. It takes the emphasis off of getting and puts it on giving. Kids don't usually have a lot of money, so creating opportunities for them to serve others with their gifts and talents and just their manual labor teaches them that they don't have to be monetarily rich to serve.

More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus came to earth in the ultimate act of service to us. He came so that we could have a relationship with God. He came so that we could have an abundant life because of His sacrifice. His life is an example of how we should serve others.

As we go through this Christmas season, look for ways to teach your kids to serve others. Be deliberate in creating opportunities for them to do so. (If you're looking for some great ideas for service projects, especially for younger kids, check out Teach Me to Serve by Kristen Summers.) Because every time we serve others, we walk in Jesus' footsteps. I can't think of a better gift to give Him this Christmas season.

Find the Manger and Ignore the Mess

Missing My older daughter hurt her shoulder at soccer practice on Tuesday night. We're no stranger to injury in this house. With two kids playing sports, injuries happen. We own a brace for almost all appendages. But we've never injured a shoulder before. I knew we were in trouble when I took her to the doctor yesterday, and she just stared at my daughter with a puzzled look on her face and recommended we go see an orthopedist.

We spent five hours yesterday going to the doctor and to get X-rays. We go to a different doctor today. My daughter missed her social studies test, we got stuck in traffic twice, and we couldn't find the X-ray place because they moved. At the end of the day, I didn't know much more about my daughter's injury than I did when we started. It was a long, frustrating day. By the end of the day, my patience, my joy, and my Christmas spirit had gone poof!

I have eight kids coming to my house for a cookie party tomorrow. I'll be honest. My house is a mess. I have laundry to fold, floors to vacuum, bathrooms to clean and cookies to make. I also have a mountain of work waiting to be done. We're going to see The Nutcracker tonight because one of my older daughter's friends is in the production -- and we're supposed to have freezing rain. We're having Christmas with my parents and brother on Sunday, and I still have presents to buy. I haven't wrapped a single present for anyone.

I feel like anything Satan can do to remove my focus from Jesus in this season, he's doing. It's hard to focus on Christmas when I'm trying to do 14 things I didn't plan to do along with five things I did plan to do. It's hard to see the manger for the to-do list. It's hard to find the joy in the midst of the frustration.

All week I've been writing about finding Jesus in the middle of the Christmas trappings, and I sit here on this Thursday morning trying to follow my own advice. So, in the middle of the chaos that this week has become, I've decided to be still. I've decided to set aside 15 minutes today to simply be focused on the manger. I'm going to read the scriptures about Jesus' birth. I'm going to let go of my to-do list to find my joy. I've decided that the important things will get done, and the unimportant ones didn't need to be done anyway.

Because this season isn't about the trappings, the gifts or the cookies. This season is about joy. It's about Jesus. And if I let the roadblocks of the week steal that away, then I've lost out. And my family has lost out. We've let the everydayness of life steal a precious moment in time from us. We've let Satan's roadblocks become a barrier between us and the baby in the manger. And I don't want that.

So, if the eight kids who come to my house to decorate cookies tomorrow have one less cookie apiece to decorate, it's OK. If my daughter's injury requires more doctor visits, it's OK. If presents don't get bought or wrapped until the night before, it's OK. I'm still going to try to find joy in the moment. I'm still going to look for Jesus in the manger. I'm still going to find time to spend just being still and focusing on the joy of the season.

Because if I don't, then Satan wins. If I sit on Christmas morning and shake my head, thinking "I missed it," then I've lost something precious. And I don't want that.

So, if you're struggling to find your joy today. If you're missing the manger in the midst of your mess, just be still. Set aside 15 minutes to simply sit and be. Read the scriptures about Jesus' birth. Be awestruck by their power and the joy that comes with knowing that Jesus came to earth so that God could have a relationship with you. Don't lose your joy because of the circumstances. Be joyful despite them. Find the manger and ignore the mess.

Don't Miss the Wonder

Trappings My younger daughter played a hockey game on her rink's outdoor sheet of ice on Sunday. The weather was gorgeous -- 45 degrees with a brilliant sunset for a background. Most of us quit watching the game simply to watch the sunset. The kids were awestruck as well, turning around on the bench to take a look. It was as if God had taken a paintbrush and painted the sky just for us. For a few moments in time, we were all struck by His amazing creation.

When I think about that sunset, I'm reminded that too often, especially at this time of the year, I miss the wonder. I miss the awe in Christmas. I miss the unbelievable fact that God sent His Son to earth to live as a man. I miss the wonder inherent in that act. I miss the jaw-dropping splendor in the idea that the Creator of the universe left His heavenly throne simply so that He could have a relationship with me.

We don't celebrate Christmas because of a legend about a jolly elf who comes down the chimney. We don't celebrate Christmas because we like to put trees in our houses. We celebrate Christmas because it commemorates the most awe-inspiring event in history -- Jesus coming to earth as a baby so He could grow up and save the world.

But in all the trappings, all the holiday gatherings, all the presents, it's become so easy to miss the wonder and the awe. It's become too easy for our kids to miss Jesus.

So, this year, take some time to contemplate the awe and wonder of Christmas. Talk with your kids about how amazing it is that the God of the universe would want anything to do with us. Make sure they understand that Jesus' birth isn't the end of the story: It's simply the beginning of God's plan to bridge the gap between Him and us. Christmas is the beginning, but the empty tomb is the end.

Enjoy this season with your family. Read the scriptures about Jesus' birth together. Be awed by them. Don't let the trappings of the season cause you to miss the wonder of the baby in a manger.

The Perfect Christmas

Perfect Christmas The nativity scene that sits on my hearth is a mess. Someone has moved all the people around. The stable is leaning against the fireplace. Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus are out in the field with the shepherds, and the only person in the stable is a wise man. It looks less like the scene of Jesus' birth and more like a crowd at a baseball game. It's definitely not the perfect nativity scene.

So much of what we do in this season leading up to Christmas is based on a quest for perfection. We want our kids to have the "perfect" Christmas, so we run around looking for the toys that they want. We bake yummy food. We place the perfect bows on carefully wrapped packages despite the fact that paper is going to last all of five seconds on Christmas morning.

And when something interrupts our quest for perfection, we get frustrated. Sometimes we act like a change in plans or a gift we couldn't find is going to be the end of the "perfect" Christmas. We can get so caught up in our pursuit of perfection that we lose sight of the fact that God already created the perfect Christmas.

God's perfect Christmas included a smelly stable, a pregnant teenage bride, burial spices for gifts, and a bunch of shepherds who came uninvited to the party. Think about that. All the trappings of Christmas -- the tree, the presents, the bows -- weren't at the first Christmas. Instead, we find a young bride giving birth in a stable, a bunch of angels singing in the field, and a group of shepherds who showed up to worship.

The trappings of Christmas are fun. Traditions are important. But if all that stuff is pulling us away from being able to focus on the perfection of that first Christmas, if the cookie baking, the shopping and the get-togethers are taking our focus away from the day that God sent His perfect son to earth, then we need to change our focus.

Because our kids don't need the perfect Christmas. They don't need the perfect gift, the perfect meal, the perfect tree. Our kids need a perfect God. They needed a perfect sacrifice on the cross. They need to know that more than 2,000 years ago, God gave us the perfect gift -- a baby born in a stable who would grow up to save the world.

We can't top the perfection of that night so many years ago, and we need to stop trying. Instead, we need to turn our focus to praising God and thanking Him for His perfect plan, His perfect gift. Because if that's not the focus of our Christmas, then we're missing the point.

Love's Pure Light

Christmas love I like to tell my kids that Christmas shouldn't be all about the getting. It should be about the giving. It sounds good, right? Christmas is about giving to others. It's a noble idea. And it's not wrong. Christmas is about giving to others, about being a picture of Jesus to others.

But that's not what Christmas is primarily about. Somewhere in the middle of the tinsel and the wrapping paper and the focus on giving and getting, we can miss the most important aspect of Christmas. Christmas is about love.

Christmas is about a God who loves us so much that He sent His Son to come and live on earth in human form with the primary purpose of defeating death so that He could bridge the gap between God and us.

Christmas is about Jesus, who gave up his heavenly throne to be born in a dirty, smelly stable in a world that simply didn't care enough to give His earthly parents a decent bed.

Christmas is about a God who wants so badly to have a relationship with us that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Without love, none of that happens. Without God's all-consuming love, we would be left to live eternity separated from Him. We can't begin to understand the greatness of God's love. Ephesians 3:17-18 says "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." God's love is higher, wider, longer and deeper than we can imagine. It wraps us up and fills us up, and it is the reason we have Christmas.

As you wrap the presents and place them under the tree, as you sit down to Christmas dinner with family and friends, and as you finish out these last days of the Christmas season, help your family remember that while gifts are nice and traditions are fun, love is the primary reason for Christmas. Help your family remember that the words of Silent Night really are true -- Jesus is "love's pure light," and as we hustle and bustle through this season, we need to remember to spread His love to others. Whether that's through a gift, a few kind words, or a kind act, when we act in love toward others, we are truly living in the spirit of the Christmas season.

Sharing the Good News

Ding Dong Ditch

I started this month off by talking about our tradition of ding-dong ditching the neighbors. Well, tonight's the night we start our 12 Days of Christmas with the neighbors. This year's theme is Simple Reminders of Jesus.

We do this every year for a couple of reasons. First, it's fun. How often do my kids get to ding-dong ditch anyone with the full support of their parents? Second, it helps to remind us to keep our hearts focused on Jesus. As we put together the gifts each year, it's a great opportunity to talk with my own kids about what Christmas really means. Third, it lets our neighbors know we love them.

You see, we are truly blessed. We know God must have hand-picked our next-door neighbors. If we need anything from a cup of flour to some help with an emergency run to the ER in the middle of the night, our neighbors are always willing to pitch in. Our girls spend their summers outside together or running back and forth between our houses. We could not have asked for better neighbors. And what better time than Christmas to remind us and them of how grateful we are that God placed us next door to one another.

So, this year, I wanted to share with you our ding-dong ditch plan so that you, too, can shower someone in your neighborhood with a 12 Days of Christmas surprise. Within this blog post, you'll find the list of things we're leaving. If you click on the picture, you'll find the notes we're leaving with the gifts.

Day 1: A string of lights to remind them that Jesus is the light of the world.

Day 2: Fake snow to remind them that Jesus washes away our sins and makes us whiter than snow.

Day 3: Christmas cookies to remind them that we are the aroma of Christ.

Day 4: A small Christmas tree to remind them that God's love is evergreen (eternal).

Day 5: A star to remind them that wise men and women still seek Jesus.

Day 6: A sheep (not a real one) to remind them to worship the baby in the manger in this season.

Day 7: Birthday party hats to remind them that this is a season for celebration.

Day 8: A gingerbread house to remind them that Jesus is the cornerstone of our lives

Day 9: A Christmas CD to remind them that God loves a joyful noise in praise of His son.

Day 10: A small wreath to remind them that like the circle, God has no beginning and no end.

Day 11: A notebook to remind them to keep track of all the ways that God is faithful in the coming year.

Day 12: A cross to remind them that while we celebrate Jesus' birth on Christmas, it's his death and resurrection that save us all.

These are all simple, inexpensive things to give, yet they add up to a meaningful reminder of Jesus. They help both my neighbor's family and my own keep their eyes on Jesus through these final days leading up to Christmas.

No matter what you choose to do to keep your eyes and hearts focused on Jesus, do it with a spirit of joy and awe. Because Jesus was born in a stable so He could grow up, die on a cross, defeat death, and rise again -- all so that we could no longer be separated from God. If that's not cause for joy, I don't know what is.

Finding Quiet Moments

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At this time of year, I love to sit in the dark. Well, not the dark, exactly. I turn the Christmas tree on, turn off the lights and simply enjoy the glow.

I know that Christmas trees don't really have anything to do with Jesus' birth. They're a pagan tradition that we have co-opted for our Christmas celebrations. But I find that when I turn out the lights and turn on the tree, I'm able to really focus on what that baby in a manger means. I can quiet my heart, enjoy the beauty of my tree and draw near to the throne of God.

Maybe it's the quiet. Maybe it's the darkness. Maybe it's the lights shining in the darkness. I don't know, but during this busy season every year there's something about sitting quietly next to my tree as it's bulbs shine light into the darkness that allows my heart to quiet, that lets the to-do list fall to the wayside, that lets my brain take a rest, and that lets me simply be.

Those stolen moments in the darkness beside the tree let me be still. They let me focus on Jesus. They give my heart rest, and they refresh my soul. Because Christmas shouldn't always be about the doing. It shouldn't always be about the next party, the next gift, the next children's choir performance.

It should be about a baby. In a manger. On a starry night. So long ago.

It should be about a child. Who came to save the world.

It should be about angels singing. Shepherds quaking. A king being worshiped.

It's the quiet moments beside the Christmas tree that let me focus on what Christmas is about. It's those silent moments that allow me to fill up my soul with the God's perfect love. It's those moments in the darkness that let my soul feel its worth.

And it's those moments that let me help my family focus on Jesus during this busiest time of the year. No matter how much I want to keep my kids focused on Jesus this holiday season, I can't do that without turning my own heart to him. I can't change their focus if I don't change my own.

Christmas is less than two weeks away. If you're so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that you've lost sight of the manger, find the moments that refresh your soul, the moments that bring you to the throne of God in awe of what He did on that Christmas night so long ago. Whether it's sitting in the dark watching your Christmas tree shine its light, listening to your favorite Christmas carols or taking a quiet moment with a cup of tea or coffee, find the moments that let you focus on Jesus so that you can help your families do the same.

Don't Miss the Blessing

Blessing I listened last night as my husband and my younger daughter turned my back door into a nerf-gun shooting range. A dry-erase marker, two nerf pistols and some suction-cup bullets were all it took. As I listened to them laugh and argue over a nerf bullet that sat on the line between two point ranges, I was struck by how blessed I am. And how often I miss enjoying the blessing.

Life is busy, especially in this season. There are practices to attend, parties to plan, tournaments and games to shuttle kids to, trees to decorate, and gifts to buy. There are days that my husband and I might see each other for 20 minutes before we go to bed. But in the midst of it all, this life, this family, this day is a blessing. And I don't want to miss it.

Oh, there are days when I would give all I own for just five minutes to myself. There are moments as I stand outside at yet another freezing cold hockey or soccer game when I wish my kids would just sit at home and read books. There are nights when I fall into bed exhausted from juggling the roles of mom, wife, freelancer, blogger, and volunteer.

But I don't want those moments, those times of frustration, to steal the blessing from me. I don't want my kids to feel like they're a burden rather than a blessing. I don't want my husband to feel like he's just my roommate. I don't want my family to be overlooked in the midst of the busy.

I want to savor the blessing. I want to enjoy this abundant life that God has blessed me with. I want to look at my kids and see that "children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3). I don't want to-do lists and schedules to become a replacement for spontaneous trips out for ice cream and nights spent playing cards. I  I don't want the blessing to become a burden.

So, in this busy, busy season, I'm going to savor the moment. I'm going to enjoy every smile on my kids' faces. I'm going to focus on the blessing and not the to-do list. I'm going to find joy in the little things. Because I am blessed. And I don't want to miss the blessing.

When Christmas is a Struggle

Struggle A year ago today, my phone rang in the middle of church. It was my dad, calling to tell me that my grandma had died. In a heartbeat, our Christmas season had radically changed. Instead of band concerts and parties, we spent the next week traveling to Kentucky and planning a funeral. Though we knew my grandma was having her best Christmas ever, getting to spend it with Jesus, we were left to grieve the passing of someone we loved dearly. Much of the Christmas spirit was lost in our family.

As I write this today, the immediate pain of my grandma's death has lessened. She was so miserable those last few years that her death was a blessing for her. But the finality of that death still stings on occasion. A year later, I still miss her laugh, her hugs and her love a of a good date cookie at Christmastime -- and I probably always will. Christmas is especially bittersweet as she was a Christmas baby, sharing her birthday with Jesus. As the holiday approaches again, we've found our Christmas spirit again, but for me, there's still a gap, a hole that won't be filled until I see her again in heaven.

While Christmas is the "most wonderful time of the year," it's also a time of the year that magnifies loss. It's a time of the year that opens old wounds. So much of the way we celebrate the holidays revolves around family celebrations. And that means those who have lost family members or those who have a difficult relationship with their families or even those who are just far from home on the holiday may be struggling to find the joy of the season.

It's important to remember as we enter the Christmas season that there are people around us who are hurting. There are people around us who don't view the holiday with as much as joy as they do with dread. There are people who have lost a loved one, people who have no place to go for Christmas dinner, people who are celebrating the first holiday after a divorce, and people who aren't looking forward to sharing time and space with family members who have hurt them.

Psalm 34:18 says "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." Jesus came to earth to offer peace to everyone, including the brokenhearted. He commanded us to love our neighbors. As you walk through this Christmas season, be on the lookout for the hurting, for the people who are struggling through this season. Then find a way to love them. Find a way to show them that God cares about them, and you care about them. Be Jesus with skin on for those people.

Include your kids in loving on a family or person who is struggling this season. Maybe you know a family who is hurting from the loss of a mom or dad this Christmas season. Put a Christmas party in a box and leave it on their doorstep. Include cookies, sprinkles and frosting along with a small gift or two.

Invite someone who has no family nearby to spend Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner with you. Include them in your celebrations so they, too, are surrounded by family and friends.

Be respectful of someone else's struggles this season. If you have a friend who needs to grieve a loss, do what you can to ease the load. Offer to do some shopping or baking for them.

There are so many ways we can help the hurting this Christmas season. We just have to open our eyes and look around to see those in our midst who are struggling in the middle of this "most wonderful time of the year."

Reevaluating Tradition (Thirty-One Gifts Giveaway)

Tradition When we had my second daughter, we quit traveling at Christmas time.  We're in the rather unique situation of having the only grandchildren on either side of the family. We explained that we wanted our kids to wake up in their own home on Christmas morning. Grandparents were welcome, but we were staying home.

That one decision (and I realize it's not one that everyone can make) has made a huge difference in our Christmases for the past 10 years. Not having to travel has removed a lot of stress and preparation from our holiday season.

So much of what we do at the holidays, so many of our traditions, often add stress and pull our focus away from Jesus. We get so caught up in the perfect tree, the perfect dinner, the perfect gift, or the perfectly decorated house that we forget that the reason for all of those things is a tiny baby in a manger. And when our focus is on the tradition, on having everything be perfect, we teach our kids that the tradition, the perfection, is more important than the baby who came to save us from our imperfections.

A baby in a manger. A child sent to save the world. That's what Christmas is all about. Traditions are great. Traveling to see family is fun. But if those traditions and travels are pulling us away from Jesus, then we need to reevaluate. We need to pare down what we're doing until we can see Jesus in the midst of all the tinsel, shopping, and parties.

The heart of Christmas is this: "I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!" (Luke 2:10-11). If the busyness of this season keeps us from remembering this, from having time to dwell on this, then we're too busy. If our Christmas season includes more stress than joy, then it's time to reevaluate what we're doing. It may be time to make some tough decisions about the things that we choose to do in December.

Christmas is a great time to help our families focus on Jesus, but we can't do that if we're so busy running around doing that we forget to spend time with God. We can't convey the wonder and the joy of Christmas if we're too busy trying to make the season perfect.

Today, I want to urge you to consider what your December looks like. Is it filled with joy over Jesus' birth or is it one stressful activity after another? Evaluate all you're doing this December and decide if each activity really needs to happen. Does it add to the joy of the season or are you just doing it because that's what you've always done? Spend some time in prayer asking God to show you which things you need to do and which things you can let go. Then follow through. You'll find more joy and peace this season when you can focus on Jesus rather than perfection.

cosmetic bagIt's the last day of our giveaway week, and today's prize is perfect for those of you who do travel at the holidays. It's a cosmetic bag from my friend Amanda at Thirty-One Gifts. I love the bags Thirty-One Gifts offers. My utility tote is one of my most-used bags. Check out what they have to offer as they make great Christmas gifts. To enter to win this cosmetic bag (the pattern on the one you win may be different), just leave a comment here or on the Everyday Truth Facebook page.

What's in a Name? (Knowing God By Name Giveaway)

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Shakespeare once said "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," meaning that a name doesn't really matter. If we called a rose a banana, it would still smell the same, right?

While that statement is true, it misses something important about names. You see, when it comes to our names and God's names, a name is how we are known. It's a piece of our identity. It's an important part of who we are.

God thought names were important. At Christmastime, we often focus on a passage in Isaiah that talks about Jesus' names. Isaiah 9:6 says "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Each one of those names tells us something important about who Jesus is and how He relates to us. Knowing His names helps us to know Him better.

We can use God's names to teach our kids about who He is. Kids are very concrete thinkers. God is very abstract, so sometimes it's hard for our kids to wrap their heads around who God is. When we introduce our children to God through His names, we make God more concrete for them because each of God's names identifies a part of His character.

The thing is, though, we can't teach our kids about who God is unless we know ourselves. That's why I'm so excited to offer up today's giveaway: Knowing God by Name: A Girlfriends in God Faith Adventure by Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith and Mary Southerland. This devotional journey takes you through 40 names of God. In the style of their popular Girlfriends in God devotions, each day contains a scripture passage, a short devotion, and a prayer. At the end of each chapter, you'll find a study guide over that week's devotions.

While this isn't a book you'll probably read with your kids, it is a book that will help you better understand God. It will help you draw closer to Him and gain a better understanding of who He is. And that understanding will be something that you can pass on to your children. From God the Creator to God the Living God, you'll uncover a little more of God's character every day.

Names are important. They often tell us a lot about someone. And names are especially important when it comes to God. Spend some time this Christmas season understanding God's names so you can better understand Him.

To enter the giveaway for Knowing God by Name: A Girlfriends in God Faith Adventure simply leave a comment either here or on the Everyday Truth Facebook page.

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Teaching Our Kids to Pray (Joy Prayer Cards Giveaway)

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The Christmas season is the perfect time to focus on prayer with your kids. With so much of our energy focused on keeping our families' hearts turned toward Jesus, what better way to do that than with prayer?

Yet, too often, our kids' prayers (and even our own) become tired and rote. Instead of being a time of interaction with God, our prayer time becomes a simple litany of the things that we want God to do for us. Our kids' prayers may seem like the same prayer over and over again.

Prayer isn't just our wish list of the things we want God to do for us. It's a time of interacting with God. It's a time where we talk and God talks. It's a time for our hearts to draw close to the one who made us. It's a constant conversation throughout the day. It's a time when God can work on changing us to be more like Him.

But those things only happen when we use our prayer time well. Those things only happen when we put our focus on God and on the things that He wants. When we do that, when we begin to abide in Him, our prayers become a reflection of who God wants us to be, not a reflection of our wish list for God.

So, how do we help our kids learn to have that kind of prayer time? How do we teach them that praying is more than just asking God for things?

First, we have to lead by example. If our prayers sound similar to our kids' prayers, then we have to change the way we pray. We have to start having authentic communication with God, asking Him to change us so that we can better follow His leading. We have to show our kids how to pray.

Second, we need to give our kids tools to learn to pray. Whether it's a book about prayer for older kids or a simple box of notecards with things to pray about listed on them, our kids need tools to learn to turn their prayer time from a wish list to a time of fellowship with God.

One great tool is these Joy Prayer Cards from Kim over at Not Consumed. Each card contains a scripture about Jesus, someone to pray for, and something to pray for about yourself. These cards are colorful and cute, and they direct your kids' prayers to a deeper level than just "Thank you for today, and thank you for my mom." You can pair them with a pretty journal and cute pen and have a great gift for your kids for Christmas.

Every card is set up to use the acronym JOY (Jesus, Others, Yourself), which is a simple system for kids to remember to use even when they don't have the cards. There are four weeks worth of cards, each focused on a different topic: my family, my community, my nation, and my world. You can purchase a set of Joy Prayer Cards here for $4.99, but be sure to enter today's giveaway of a set of these great cards. To enter just leave a comment here or on the Everyday Truth Facebook page.

As you and your family enter this Christmas season, use this opportunity to teach your kids that prayer is more than just a list. Be an example to them of how to have open communication with God. Give them the tools to enrich their own prayer lives. It's a habit you won't regret teaching them.

Getting the Focus on Jesus (My Christmas Wish giveaway)

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December always flies by. It's definitely the busiest time of year around here. Besides our regular activities, there's all the Christmas extras that fill the calendar -- from band concerts to holiday hockey tournaments to Christmas parties. Some days it can be tough to squeeze it all in.

And it's really easy to lose sight of what we're celebrating. With all the focus on gifts and parties, we can often find ourselves focusing on our to-do lists rather than enjoying the celebration of Jesus' birth. When that happens, our whole family can lose sight of what's important at Christmas.

Often, kids become focused on all the gifts they are about to receive and forget about the gift that came on that night so long ago in the form of a baby. Keeping our kids' attention on Jesus instead of on all the trappings of the holiday is difficult. What's better than getting presents, right?

Helping our kids understand the wonder and joy found in celebrating Jesus' birth is a challenge every year. Fighting the secular trappings of the season gets more and more difficult. Finding Jesus in the midst of the tinsel and the shopping can be tough.

Family devotions, nativity scenes, and daily discussions about Jesus can help, but it often seems like if we don't have some structure, those things can get lost in the busyness of the day. That's why I'm so excited to share with you a new resource for the Christmas season. If you have younger elementary-aged children, My Christmas Wish is a must-have this Christmas season.

My Christmas Wish: A Devotional Prayer Journal for Kids is a great tool for keeping your kids' hearts focused on Jesus this holiday season. Its simple structure -- each day follows the simple WISH format: write, investigate, share, hear -- makes it a perfect addition to any child's day. Each day includes a question for them to answer, something to dig deeper into, a way to serve others, and a scripture to listen to you read. It's the perfect length and set-up for any child that can write. It's designed for children ages 4-12, but it could be modified for older kids. I also think you could do it together as a family devotional.

This 15-day journey leads your child through five topics: obedience, love, joy, charity, and peace. Each day they learn a little bit about one of these topics and how they relate to Jesus' birth. It's a refreshing change of pace for kids who already know the story of Jesus' birth, forcing them to think a little harder about what Christmas means for them. My Christmas Wish is usually $7.99, but it's on sale today for $2.99. You can check it out here.

I'm so excited to be giving away a copy of My Christmas Wish today. To enter, simply leave a comment on today's blog or hop on over to the Everyday Truth Facebook page and leave a comment there.

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