Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

How We Love ~ Grace and Truth Week 5

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about love. How we love our husbands, how we love our children, how we love neighbors and friends and even the church. The agape love we are called to is a mighty force when we see it in action. It’s a beautiful, awe-inspiring thing!  Unfortunately, we often miss opportunities to demonstrate such sacrificial love in our homes, our communities, and our churches.

At the end of last week, I wrote about loving even when marriage is difficult. So, of course, the title of Christy’s (from Faith Like Dirty Diapers) post immediately intrigued me, and I wasn’t disappointed!  This is one of my favorite lines from what she wrote: “What I built in my sinful flesh has to be dismantled by “divine power.” I CANNOT do this alone. I need the Spirit of God to intervene in a mighty way.”

Amen, sister!  I’m realizing that over the last decade or so, the Lord has been tearing down the human constructs in my marriage and rebuilding new ones based on Christ!  Be sure to stop by and read the post for yourself. You can also catch Christy on facebook.

I pray that as we go into Valentine’s weekend, we’ll be overwhelmed by the Father’s love, which will overflow in agape love towards all of the people in our lives!

Jen 🙂

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Grace & Truth : A Weekly Christian Link Up

Grace & Truth exists to point people to Jesus! We hope this link-up will be a source of encouragement each and every week. If you’re a blogger our hope is that you’ll use this space as a way to meet new friends within the Christian blogging community. If you’re a reader our hope is that you’ll meet new bloggers that love Jesus just as much as you do! Most of all, we hope you’ll meet Jesus here.

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Welcome to the New Christian Living Link-up ~ #GraceTruth

I’m beyond excited to introduce you all to something that has been in the works for several weeks now. Faithful readers and Lofter buddies know that we’ve hosted a link-up called #TheLoft for some months now. Recently our hosting group was offered an opportunity to merge with quite a few other like-minded faith bloggers in a new, bigger weekly link-up. Although we’re sad to lose a little of the intimacy that a smaller group allows for, we are enthusiastic about the opportunities this new link-up brings for all faith bloggers.

So, without further ado, I invite you to join us for Grace & Truth, a weekly Christian link-up!

Jen 🙂

Grace & Truth : A Weekly Christian Link Up

Grace & Truth exists to point people to Jesus! We hope this link-up will be a source of encouragement each and every week. If you’re a blogger our hope is that you’ll use this space as a way to meet new friends within the Christian blogging community. If you’re a reader our hope is that you’ll meet new bloggers that love Jesus just as much as you do! Most of all, we hope you’ll meet Jesus here.

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How To Give Your Kids a Good Christmas

I woke up feeling a little sorry for myself this morning, sorry for my family, too.  It hasn’t been the Christmas season we expected or wanted, and I’m left wondering: how do you give your kids a good Christmas when nothing seems right in your world?

We’ve spent the entire month of December ill now.  Influenza spread slowly from one family member to another.  Several children ended up with sinus and ear infections. My asthmatic lungs were hit hard and our physician threatened me with hospital time.  Thankfully, it was just bronchitis and not pneumonia.

Just bronchitis, ha. 🙂

A pharmacy worth of medicines clutters our kitchen counters still – fever reducers, cough meds, antibiotics – you name it, we probably have it right now. Or at least that’s the way it feels.

How To Give Your Kids a Good Christmas, Christmas, Advent, trials, suffering, joy, salvation

Then, this weekend during our church Christmas program practice, our middle boy began complaining of stomach pain. By the time we had removed costumes and were ready to leave, he was on the floor curled up in a ball, crying. It frightened me because he is our tough cookie, the kid who rarely complains of pain.

So, when he started to scream that his stomach hurt, I left immediately for the closest ER!

We spent a day and a half at the hospital under observation, with many people praying – the world over. The surgeon mentioned appendicitis, but his symptoms didn’t fit exactly. Finally, his white blood cell count dropped, his pain subsided and we were able to go home.

We were overjoyed!  He talked about playing with his little brother and sister and how happy he was to come home in time for Christmas.  I grinned in the front seat, glad to have my funny, enthusiastic boy back. We were almost home.

All seemed right in the world again.

And then, suddenly it wasn’t.

Our oldest son woke in the middle of the night with an asthma attack. Then, I got sick and so did he.  On top of that, the only little one who didn’t get an ear infection before complained that his ear hurt.

I’ll admit, friends, my heart travelled straight from rejoicing to complaining because it’s almost Christmas and it just doesn’t seem fair, really.  Our children were back at school for a week, and already ill again!

How can you give your kids a good Christmas when everything goes wrong? How?

 

I know I’m not the only one struggling for joy right now.  In fact, I’m certain that many of you are experiencing trials much deeper and more painful than ours.  If I really knew the depth of them, I’d probably be ashamed of my own complaining.

And maybe you’re a mom like me who doesn’t really mind so much for herself, but for the kids!  Maybe you lie awake at night worrying about life circumstances.  Maybe you’re experiencing the pain of loss or separation from loved ones. Maybe you catch hold of joy for a few moments only to  quickly lose it again.

Whatever your lot might be this Christmas, know this: you can still give your kids a good Christmas.

You can give your kids a good Christmas without health, without money, without extravagance. You can give your kids a good Christmas in spite of pain, loss, broken relationships, and whatever other trials you might be experiencing.

You can because He came.

Luke 2

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He came!  Emmanuel, God WITH us – that’s what Christmas is really about. Christ, the Hope of the world, in human flesh, for love of our wandering hearts.

We have to let go of this expectation of holiday perfection and embrace the reality that human life is flawed, messy, painful, even at Christmas. Christ came right into the midst of that mess, born in a stable – there’s nothing clean about that.

You want to give your kids a good Christmas? Let go of the worry.

Embrace Christ.

How To Give Your Kids a Good Christmas, Christmas, Advent, Jesus, Hope, Salvation

Show them Hope, Love and Peace.

Teach them of the Savior who willingly left Heaven’s splendor to suffer alongside us here on Earth. That’s a Love like no other, my sisters in Christ. He chose us. He chose pain. He chose death, so that we might experience life in abundance. He did it for you, for me, for them. He did it “for all the people.”

The wonder of Christmas has little to do with presents and food and fun. The wonder of Christmas is the keeping of a thousands-of-years-old promise, hundreds of promises, really.  The wonder of Christmas is Christ.

Romans 8

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves,waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Do you feel it, sisters?  The joy of Christmas is spreading right through us. It cannot be contained. The whole of creation leaps with joy – He is born! Promise fulfilled, salvation at hand, redemption nigh. Hope in human flesh.

How to Give Your Kids a Good Christmas, Christmas, Christ, trials, suffering, hope, joy, peace

Here’s how to give your kids a good Christmas: tell them the story of Jesus.

It’s the only thing that truly matters.

Clinging to hope and joy along with you this Christmas season,

Jen 🙂

Also sharing with: Monday Parenting Pin It Party, Mama Moments, Mom’s the Word, Wholehearted Home, Missional Women

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Fighting Fear With Pre-approval

In just two days time, I’ll be bearing a bit of my heart here on this blog.  I’ll be sharing my story, my part of the Thursday series – Verdict on Value.  And once again, I find myself a little afraid. 🙂

It happens sometimes when you write, especially when the subject matter brings up conflicting emotions. You may feel confident at first, but then you begin to doubt. Will the words really matter?  Will others understand?  Have I handled this subject fairly?

And the worst of all fears. What will people think?

That’s really what it boils down to: how others might receive those carefully penned or typed words, some that brought forth smiles and fond memories and others that brought forth tears and sorrow.  I’ve been learning my whole life it seems how to let go of that pressure, the pressure to be perfect.  And not that anyone ever told me I had to be, because they didn’t, but that I convinced myself it was necessary, like so many other undesired sacrifices.

I wanted to be the good girl, the best girl, and if I’m being really honest there is still some little part of me that wants this, too. I wanted to be praiseworthy, a flesh-strong desire for recognition. I wanted to be perfect lest anyone find a reason to fault me, a defense mechanism of sorts.

I see it now even in one of my young sons.  He yearns for praise.  I often catch him bragging because he yearns for others to see how wonderful he is.  And truly, he is wonderful (at least in this mama’s eyes!), but it hurts me to see him striving so at such a young age.  At the same time it reminds me that I still struggle myself.  So, how can I help him to see the truths that I’m still learning to recognize?

I can only hope that being honest, taking down the facade, and admitting my own failings will help him to recognize that we all fall short, we all do.  Ever since the days of paradise and a forbidden apple eaten, we all fall short.

I can only hope that teaching him of a Savior who turns those weaknesses into strengths, who has a plan for him, who loves him just for who he is and not what he does, who cherished him even before he was born, who welcomes him with open arms when he fails – I can only hope that such knowledge will sink deep roots into his young heart much earlier than those truths began to sink into mine.

I’ve been reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s posts about our Love Idols (would love to get her new book, too!), and realizing how early it starts, this yearning to be approved by this world when we are already approved by the Maker of this world.

Even from those early toddler calls of “Look at me, mommy!”, we want to be seen, to be valued, to be approved.

 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?

Or am I striving to please men?”

Gal. 1:10 (a)

Sadly, some of us, yes even us Christ-followers, will spend our entire lives chasing that approval, all the while fearing that we just aren’t good enough. We’ll miss the irony that we are already pre-approved by the most powerful Person in all of creation because of His Son!  If we could only grasp that early on and not waste precious years searching for something we already have in our possession.

fear, approval, self-worth, identity in Christ, worth in Christ

But we can, sisters.

We can begin right now.  We can ferret out those love idols in our lives and hand them over to our gracious and loving Father.  We can cling to the hope of imperfect progress and proclaim the bold truths of Philippians 1:6 (see sidebar).  We can share with others what we are doing and ask them to do the same.  We can speak truth to our children about this pre-approval, bought at the price of a one and only Son.

I’m asking the Lord to help me lay down my love idols, my need for human approval and perceived perfection.  I’m asking Him to work in the hearts of my children, that they will learn early on what it means to be cherished by the One True God, King of Kings, Sovereign Lord, the Most High.  I’m asking the Father to open their eyes wide to these truths.

And I’m asking for you, too, my sisters, that you will see how fearfully and wonderfully made you are in the eyes of your Creator.

We who’ve been painted red that we might be white as snow.

I’m banishing fear for tonight in favor of truth.

Join me, will you?

Jen 🙂

For more information on the Love Idol movement, check out the facebook page!

I may be sharing this with any of these lovely blogs and here:

 The Time Warp Wife, Rich Faith Rising, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Wholehearted Home, A Little R&R,

Woman to Woman,Titus 2 Tuesday,Cornerstone Confessions,

 

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More Than a Visit

It’s Five Minute Friday, and the word for this week is “visit.”

Visit.

He came into the world squalling, screeching more like it – his cry so sharp and loud that it was unmistakable, our long-awaited, second-born boy.  When we brought him home, we quickly learned he would be nothing like his even-tempered older brother.  This one, this tiny red-faced infant, would make his demands known.  He would be a challenge to our previous parenting prowess.

Visit, New Baby, Motherhood, baby won't sleep

Sleepless nights turned into weeks, and eventually months, the worn carpet in the hallway testifying to the demands of our newest family member.  We loved him dearly, but sometimes we just wished for peace and quiet or that he would nap longer than thirty minutes.  He never slept “like a newborn” and even today, no matter how late he stays up, he wakes at the crack of dawn.  His Grandad affectionately nick-named him “The Raptor.”

At that time, Daddy had a second-shift job and little time off. He worked hard and long.  And we did, too, trying to just survive that long and lonely winter.

Aside from prayer, it was Grandma’s visits that got us through.  She’d often call at the end of her workday just to check in because she had a squalling, colicky baby once, too – me.  I was known as the baby who cried. all. the. time.  According to my aunt, she once came to visit us only to find my mother sitting on the front stoop crying while I lay peacefully in her arms, worn out by hours of fussing. My mother knew the frustration of the long nights and even longer days of mothering a cranky baby.

“How’s it going today, Jen?”

On the good days I answered, “Fine.” And then I told a story of something new one of the boys learned or something funny the oldest said that day.

On the bad days my silence betrayed me, a silence born of threatening tears.

Knowingly, she asked, “Want me to bring McDonald’s for supper?”

Gratefully I gulped out, “Yeah, that would be good.”

fussy baby, motherhood, colic

And so we waited, the five-year-old boy, and the fussy baby, and me.  We waited for the visit, for the promise of another set of hands and the comfort food they brought.  Her presence itself calmed me as the fear that so often comes with loneliness slowly ebbed away.  When it was time for her to leave, we wore smiles once again, determined to face the challenges of the evening with faith and hope for better days ahead.

brothers, cranky infant, baby

it gets better, new mommy, tired mommy, fussy baby

She always called when I needed it most, it seemed.  She often still does today.  I have no way to explain her uncanny awareness except to say that she’s close with the Lord, and I guess He must let her know when we’re in need. 🙂

I’ll never forget those supper visits, nor the time she gave willingly to be the hands and feet of Jesus to my weary-mama soul.

It was just a visit,

but to me it meant the world.

Matthew 25

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me;I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

John 13

34 Anew commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jen 🙂

It’s Five Minute Friday, so I’m linking up with the brave and creative crew over at Lisa Jo Baker’s place.  She gives us a one-word prompt and we freewrite for five minutes (-ish). 🙂   No planning, no editing, no stressing.  Come on over and join us if you like!

You may also find me at any of these lovely places.

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Cultivating Christmas: The Christmas Adventure Box

The Christmas Adventure Box ~ an easy, kid-friendly advent for the whole family!

Last week I noticed a not-so-subtle change in our four-year-old daughter.  She contracted a terrible case of the “I needs.”  She needs a new doll for Christmas.  She needs a Barbie house for Christmas.  She really, really neeeeeeeeeeds a bike for Christmas…

While I understand her four-year-old behavior is typical, I dislike that her attitude can so easily become prevalent in our home during the Christmas season.  It happens so quickly.  We look at a few store ads, watch a few commercials, and we easily become convinced, even us grown-ups, that we have needs we have never had before!! 🙂

My husband and I purposed to combat the commercialism of Christmas and cultivate true Christmas spirit in our home many years ago. We looked for resources to use for our young and growing family.  We invested in Veggietales dvds about the true meaning of Christmas and a kid-friendly nativity set.  We participated in Operation Christmas Child, and we worked at local outreach events.   We read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

But we still felt like our children needed to be better educated about why we do some of the traditional things we do at Christmas time. Enter the Christmas Adventure Box – a family Advent activity.

The Christmas Adventure Box, family advent, kid-friendly holiday fun, Christmas traditions, advent for kids

 

 

My friend  and fellow blogger Lana introduced us to the Christmas Adventure Box, a family advent activity/program that she developed for her own family.   The idea of the box was to complete daily (or several times weekly, for us) advent activities to help us remember the Greatest Gift of All, Jesus.  It was an immediate hit with our oldest two boys, especially with the word “adventure” in the title!

I know the last thing we all need during the Christmas season is yet another item for our “lists” of things to do (so please, please don’t feel pressured).  However, this family advent plan takes literally less than an hour to organize and the activities can take as little as five minutes or as long as 20-30 minutes depending on how involved you wish to make it (or how long your four year olds will sit still…) It really is a simple, but fun way to focus on the reason for the season! 🙂

Update: it’s even easier this year because I’ve added FREE printables that you can attach directly to the items in your box! Just click the link above. 🙂

Lana has created a blog specifically for the Christmas Adventure Box which you can find here.  If you want a full 25 day advent list, then I recommend visiting her site.  It’s very detailed and even has a lesson-plan type of format that would be particularly helpful for those who homeschool, teach children’s church, etc.

However, for our family, I’ve found that it’s less stressful to schedule only a few nights a week of kid-friendly advent activity.  So with permission, I’ve modified the Christmas Adventure Box to fit our schedule and even added in a few items that were important to us, such as spending one day on global missions.  That’s the beauty of this family advent activity – you can tailor it to fit the needs or even the traditions of your family! 🙂

Here’s how to get started:
Choose which activities you’ll be using (from the list below or from Lana’s site) for your family advent and wrap the according items.  Don’t forget to download and print the cards to attach to each item! Put all of the items into a large box (The Christmas Adventure Box) and wrap it as well.   Each day that you plan to use the Christmas Adventure Box, you’ll unwrap one (0r more) of the items and complete that day’s devotional/activity.

The Greatest Gift  –  read John 3:16 – unwrap the Christmas Adventure Box.

This will be the first activity on the advent list because it sets up the whole idea of the Christmas Adventure Box.  However, once you’ve completed this day, you can do any of the following days in whichever order you choose.    First, bring out the large, wrapped Christmas Adventure Box.  Explain to your children that you will be unwrapping an item a few times a week in order to learn more about Jesus this Christmas season.  Read John 3:16 and talk about how Jesus is the greatest gift of all.  You can also read prophecies from Isaiah about the Promised Deliverer.  Feel free to share the full gospel with your children and pray together as a family.

Nativity, The Christmas Adventure Box, kid-friendly advent, family advent, Christmas traditions, fun Christmas activity

 

Joseph and Mary – read Luke 1:30-33 – unwrap Joseph and Mary from your nativity set.

We purchased a fisher price little people nativity set several years ago when our twins were born, which makes it easier to let them “play” with the figures.  If you have littles in the house, be sure to choose a non-breakable set to work with.  On this day, you’ll read the story of Jesus’ parents learning that Mary was with child!  Discuss the prophecies fulfilled by Mary and Joseph found in Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 7:14.  Talk about promises God has kept for your family and pray together.

Baby Jesus – read Luke 2:6-7 – unwrap the baby Jesus figure from your nativity set.

Today you can discuss once again that Jesus was a gift, not only to His parents, but to the whole world.  Talk about the birth stories of each one of your children – how you planned for them, waited for them, and the joy of experiencing their birth.  Ask your children to find similarities and differences between their births and Jesus’ birth.  Pray together as a family, thanking Him for each family member and most of all, for the gift of a Savior.

Shepherds and Angels – read Luke 2:8-20 – unwrap the shepherd and angel figures from your nativity set.

Discuss a time when your family had exciting news to share.  Think about how the angels and shepherds must have felt sharing such important news.  Talk about how important it is that we continue to share the story of Jesus with anyone who hasn’t yet heard and pray together, especially for any unsaved relatives or friends.

The Wise Men – read Mt. 2:1-2, 10-11 – unwrap the wise men from your nativity set.

Talk about how the wise men had never heard about a Savior being born, but they still knew to follow the star.  Discuss the ways that God reveals himself to us today.  Pray together as a family that your knowledge of God’s ways would increase.

Kid-friendly advent activities for Christmas

Light of the World – read Mt. 5:14-16 – unwrap a notecard that says “Christmas Adventure!” on it.

Discuss light and dark.  Ask your children how Jesus is the Light of the World.  Then, pile everyone into your vehicle and go on an adventure to see some Christmas lights!  (You can continue discussion as you travel).  Be sure to pray together as a family.  *I try to schedule this night on a weekend so that we can allow the children to have  sleepover by the Christmas tree.  It’s one of our boys’ favorite traditions.

Legend of the Candy Cane – read Isaiah 53:5 – unwrap a candy cane.

Read your children a brief version of the legend of the candy cane and discuss why we use them in our Christmas decorations.  And yes, Pray together.

Joy to the World – read Mt. 28:19-20 – unwrap a small globe or picture of the world.

Tell your children about things we have in America that help us to know who God is (a Bible in our own language, churches we can attend, freedom of religion, etc.).  Discuss how other countries may or may not have these items.  Explain the importance of reaching the whole world with the Good News about the Greatest Gift.  Pray as a family for most unreached people groups of the world (if you need an easy way to pray for the most unreached peoples, use the T.H.U.M.B. method here.)

The Legend of Saint Nicholas – read Gal. 2:10 – unwrap socks or a stocking.

Read a brief version of the Legend of Saint Nicholas to your children.  Talk about ways your family can pass on the gift of Christmas to others by being generous.  Watch the Veggietales video, Saint Nicholas:  The Joy of Giving. (Hint: many veggietales videos can be found on Netflix, including this one.  No need to purchase!)  Pray together for a generous spirit during this season rather than a coveting spirit.  *This would be the perfect place to include a service project such as Operation Christmas Child or serving at a local soup kitchen.

Christmas Adventure Box, family advent

Christmas Caroling – read Rev. 5:12 – unwrap a note that reads “Christmas Adventure!”

Talk about the importance of singing God’s praises.  Take the whole family for an adventure in Christmas caroling and spread some cheer to your neighbors or even shut-ins from your church.  Local nursing homes usually welcome carolers, as well!  Pray together as a family.

The Baker’s Hand – read Isaiah 64:8 – unwrap cookie cutters.

Make and decorate sugar cookies (if you have small or impatient children as I do, it’s a good idea to make the dough ahead of time).  While you are working, discuss how God shapes us according to His purposes and how we are each uniquely created and uniquely gifted by Him.  Pray as a family, asking the Lord to help each one remember that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Christmas Adventure Box, kid-friendly Advent activity

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – read Thessalonians 2:15-16 – unwrap a nativity story dvd or a “Christmas Adventure!” notecard.

We have two different takes on this day’s advent activity.  In the past we have used one or the other, or sometimes both!  The first is to watch a dvd about the Christmas story, such as A Nativity Story. The second is to attend a local candlelight service, if you have one near you.  Both options will work to help you review what you have learned throughout the month of December and to celebrate this special evening.  Our family also has a tradition of an evening meal of summer sausage, crackers, cheese, and hot cocoa.  I know it sounds weird, but most of those items were obtainable when we lived in Papua New Guinea during my MK years.  I have such fond memories of making the most of Christmas in a tropical country that we decided to continue it once we were married. 🙂

Christmas Day – read Luke 2:1-20 and unwrap a Bible (shhh – don’t tell, but this year we plan to get preschool Bibles as gifts for our twins!).

Today, enjoy family and gift-giving and fun all within the context of celebrating Jesus’ birthday! 🙂

The Christmas Adventure Box collage, Nativity, Christmas, Advent activities for families, kid-friendly advent, Christmas traditions, fun Christmas activities, family fun

That’s it!  The Christmas Adventure Box is a simple, kid-friendly advent activity to emphasize Christ in your home this Christmas season.  The best part?  It doesn’t cost a dime!  Just pick the days you wish to use or even add a few of your own, wrap up the necessary items, and you are ready to go. Remember, I’ve only included my favorites here, so if you want a full list, visit Lana’s site.  Enjoy!

Jen 🙂

If you are looking for additional Christ-centered Christmas resources to use in your home or at your church, check out Buck Denver’s Asks…What’s in the Bible series for Christmas!

You might find me linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing with: Beauty Through Imperfection, Missional Call, Mom’s The Word,

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The Pumpkin Gospel

pumpkin gospel, pumpkin parable

A few days ago, I shared about how our views on Halloween have changed over the years from complete avoidance to an attempt at redemption.  So, for today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share a fun fall activity for redeeming a traditional Halloween object.  You can teach a bible lesson, a science lesson, and be a purposeful parent at the same time! 🙂

Two years ago during the harvest season, I was searching for a good object lesson for our group of AWANA kids.  I wanted something fall-themed and something that they could remember year after year.  I found a lot of  great Thanksgiving craft ideas and even Halloween ideas, but nothing that really struck me, until I ran across the Pumpkin Gospel, also known as the Pumpkin Parable.

I realize that carving pumpkins is traditionally a Halloween activity, one some Christ-followers might not deem very “Christian.” And it’s okay with me if we agree to disagree on that. 🙂 But as I read the story of the pumpkin gospel, I knew the parable made sense and would really stick with children.  And I’m learning that even pagan holidays like Halloween can be redeemed!

Kids love holidays.  They love pumpkins and carving pumpkins.  They also love stories.  Additionally, they need to be exposed to ideas over and over again for information to take root.  The Pumpkin Gospel was a perfect fit!

Preparations:  

You will need a table to stand at and a medium to large sized, prepared pumpkin.  To prepare the pumpkin:

  • cut out a hole in the top and clean out the majority of the goo, but save it.
  •  Next, cut out a face with eyes, nose and a smiling mouth, but save the pieces you remove.
  • Then, put the removed pieces back into place so that the pumpkin looks uncut.
  • Set aside a few of the cleaner seeds to use at the beginning.
  • Then, put the rest of the gooey seeds and pulp back in the middle of the pumpkin and replace the top.

The idea is to have the majority of the work done ahead of time so that you don’t have long pauses in your story/object lesson.  You will also need a cookie sheet or tablecloth to contain the pumpkin mess during your story, and a candle and matches.

Story:

Once there was a Gardener who planted seeds in His garden (show pumpkin seeds).  Each day the Gardener cared for the seeds.  He watered them, pulled weeds from around them, and sheltered them from the heat of the sun.  The seeds grew into seedlings, which developed into plants, until one day, they produced fruit – pumpkins!  The pleased Gardener looked out at His garden and said, “It is good!”

pumpkins1

One day, the Gardener went out into his field and picked a special pumpkin (place pumpkin on the table – on top of a cookie sheet or tablecloth, etc. with the uncarved side facing the audience).  It was a bit dirty from laying in the garden, so he brought it inside and gently wiped it off (wipe off exterior of pumpkin).  Now the pumpkin looked clean on the outside, but what about the inside?

The Gardener took a knife and cut open the top of the pumpkin (pretend to cut open the top again and take it off).  And what did He find?  A bunch of slimy, yucky goo! (show kids the goop – maybe even let them touch it if you have a small enough group).  The Gardener wanted His special pumpkin to be beautiful, so He carefully scraped out all of the goo inside until the pumpkin was as clean inside as it was on the outside! (Remove goo and throw away. Show children the clean interior)

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin.  He decided it needed a face!  So, He carefully cut out two eyes, a nose, and a big smiling mouth (Turn the carved side of the pumpkin to face the audience. Poke out the eyes, nose and mouth you carved out previously).  Now the Gardener’s special pumpkin looked clean AND happy.

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin.  So, He put a light inside of it (insert candle and light it).  The pumpkin glowed so beautifully!  The Gardener’s special project was complete.

When friends and neighbors saw the Gardeners special pumpkin, they marveled at how He took something ordinary from His garden, cleaned it inside and out, put His light inside, and made it something extraordinary!

Explanation:

We are like pumpkins and God is  the Gardener.  God creates us and cares for us. He “chooses” us from all of the other pumpkins, but inside we all have the yucky goo – sin. (Read Rom. 3:23 and Rom. 6:23)

Just like the Gardener cleaned out his pumpkin’s goo, God wants to clean out all our sin, too. So, He sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins, to take the punishment we deserved. (Read Rom. 5:8, John 3:16, and 1 John 1:9)

Just like the Gardener gave the pumpkin a new face, God makes us a new creation! (Read 2 Cor. 5:17)

Just like the Gardener put His light into the pumpkin to make it shine, so God gives us His light to shine through us!  (Read 2 Cor. 4:6 and Mt. 5:16)

So, when we let God clean out  our sin, by believing that Jesus died to pay the punishment that we deserve, He turns us into new creations that can shine for Him!  And when others see our light, then they might want to learn how to have a light of their own, too!

Pumpkin Gospel object lesson

In an alternate version, you can also demonstrate the difference between being saved by grace and trying to “earn” salvation through works.  All you will need is a second pumpkin with a face that is painted on (rather than cut out).  The story about this pumpkin is along the lines of wanting to be “chosen” but not allowing the Gardener to clean out the inside.

So, the pumpkin wears a painted face (tries to make itself acceptable on the outside), but inside, it’s still full of yucky goo.  Without removing the goo, there’s no room for the Gardener’s light, so the pumpkin cannot shine.

Many people try to make themselves acceptable to God in their own way ( just like Adam and Eve in the Garden).  They might go to church and act like Christians, and they might even believe in God.  But unless they trust that Jesus paid the price for their sins, then the sin remains on the inside.  They cannot become new creatures without allowing Christ to remove their sin.  So, the light of Christ cannot be in them.   (Read Eph. 2:8-10) This lesson would work especially well with older children, perhaps even youth age.

Note: I have recently learned that there are a variety of books available to help with this object lesson.  Just look up the pumpkin gospel or pumpkin parable on amazon.  If you want a more detailed script for the object lesson, you might consider purchasing one of these books to use year after year.

So, if you’re looking for a fall family activity or even an object lesson for your church or homeschool group, consider redeeming a little bit of Halloween and using the Pumpkin Gospel.  Year after year when children see pumpkins lit up, they can remember the story of Who put the light inside of them!

If you have other ideas or stories for redeeming Halloween, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Jen 🙂

You may find this post linked up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing this post with: The Mommy Club at Crystal and Co.

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Halloween Redemption?

Halloween and Christians

I’ve seen it in the gentle coloring of the trees outside of our home, that yearly reminder that Fall is here.  Right along with Fall comes the harvest season: cornstalks and hay bales and apples and pumpkins… and the “holiday” of Halloween, possibly one of the most controversial holidays for those who are in Christ.

I’m not sure about you, but the Halloween issue is something I’ve always struggled with as a Christ-follower (it’s right up there with what to do with Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.).  What to do with Halloween is one of those be-in-the-world-but-not-of-the-world gray areas that seems to so often divide Christians.  Believe me, I’ve researched both the pagan roots for the holiday and it’s Catholic counterpart, All Saint’s Day. And I’ve read a few articles lately about what Christians should or should not do in regards to this day.  I’m just not sure I agree anymore.

When I was growing up, my family did not dress-up or trick-or-treat, but we did hand out candy from our house during the years that we were not in missionary training (before we went overseas). However, my husband (who also grew up in a Bible believing home) and his siblings donned costumes and went door-to-door up through their teenage years! 🙂

So, when our firstborn came along, we weren’t sure which path to choose.  We had the desire to please the Lord in our parenting choices, but we honestly weren’t really sure where to draw the line between freedom in Christ and being “set apart” in this area.

At first, we decided to participate only in our church’s fall festival, a Halloween alternative which was held on the same evening as Halloween, without costumes, but with games and candy.  It was so much fun for the whole family!

However,  my philosophical brain rejected the idea that it would be somehow “acceptable” to participate in a candy-oriented event on the same night as Halloween as long as we called it by another name and held it at a church yet  “unacceptable” to dress in a costume and go trick-or-treating.  Weren’t we still celebrating the holiday, just in a different way?

And what about our other “Christian” holidays, like Christmas and Easter.  Weren’t those dates  and even  traditions borrowed from pagan holidays as well? (I know I was shocked when I researched the origins of Christmas in particular.)  Over the centuries, we’ve managed to bring Christ into the center of those holidays.

Furthermore, what exactly does the Bible have to say about such celebrations?  In the Old Testament we find many yearly festivals celebrated that always served as reminders to God’s chosen people, such as Passover, etc.  But after Christ, the only command to repeat any such “celebration” for the purpose of remembering was that of what we now call communion – “do this in remembrance of me.”

In Galatians 5, Paul advises:

 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

He’s talking to the Galatians specifically about circumcision and how futile it is now that Christ has come.  In fact, in verse 2 he warns that if they allow themselves to be circumcised, then Christ will not be “of value” to them.  Why?  Because they are trusting in the Law rather than a Savior.  Then, in verse 6, he offers this truth:

“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

The outward acts that made up so much of the OT Law no longer matter!  What matters is that faith relationship we have because of Jesus.  When we read even further on in this chapter, we find once again that the only thing that matters is love:

13 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.

14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

It seems to me that in gray areas that the Bible doesn’t specifically address, there is grace.  Because of Christ, we have freedom from human regulation.  The most important thing is not what we “do” in that regards, but in how we love, through faith – each other, as well as the lost.

Since the Bible does not take a clear stance on the celebrating of specific holidays such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter, and so forth we finally decided to err on the side of grace in this gray area.

So, for a few years, we allowed our children to trick-or-treat at select locations, usually church events around town (for safety reasons).   We took the opportunity to discuss why Halloween can be an evil day, depending on how it is celebrated.  We talked a lot about good vs. evil and how the spiritual realm is real and present, but that we need not fear it because “God is bigger than the boogeyman” (to steal a line from the Veggietales tune).

Then, two years ago, my husband decided to return to full-time ministry as the pastor of a small, country church.

And one of the things we decided to do as an outreach event in our new-to-us, small-town community was to host a trunk-r-treat event. If you haven’t heard of trunk-r-treats, people line up their opened car trunks, decorated in various themes, in a parking lot or downtown, and  hand out candy from their trunks instead of from their homes.  For our small church, it was a big deal!

The big night arrived, cold and wet.  We drove to the downtown parking lot we had chosen for the event, spirits high in spite of the bad weather.  The sprinkling slowed a bit to a slight mist and trunks began to open as we set up our decorations.  We had Star Wars themed trunks, farm trunks, and even one trunk that looked like a giant mouth with razor-sharp teeth!

Trunk-or-treat, Christians and Halloween

Then the costumed families began to arrive, and for an hour and a half, we had a steady stream of trick-or-treaters.  We smiled at them.  We gave them candy.  We served hot drinks in the unseasonably cold weather.  We told parents about our children’s program and youth group.  We laughed at inventive costumes. We invited them to fellowship with us.  We handed out gospel literature. And eventually, we actually ran out of candy!

In the weeks that followed, we saw very little tangible results from our first trunk-r-treat.  No new families stopped by our church to visit.  Some might even call it a failed outreach event.  But that event marked the beginning of a slow change in our people, a willingness to start thinking outside of the “church” box.  They began to see, with fresh eyes, the lost in our community.  They realized that even small churches can serve in big ways!

This year will be our second attempt at the trunk-r-treat event.  I hope we will reach even more of our community. We plan to utilize the Pumpkin Gospel object lesson to demonstrate the gospel in visual form (kids love stories!).  Whether or not it’s the best way to deal with a historically evil holiday, I know the Lord sees past the exterior to the desires and the motives of our hearts.  I hope what our children take away from this in the future is that Halloween is a day to remember that we live in a fallen world.  Evil is real, but so is God.  We have a light to shine in the darkness!

So, maybe, just maybe, making the right choice for Halloween is not so much about the details of how we “celebrate” but the why behind it.  And any day with Jesus as the focus is a good day, in my opinion.

I just have to wonder what satan thinks about a bunch of Christ-loving people hijacking his evil day in an attempt to demonstrate the gospel to an entire community?

If sinners can be redeemed, and Christmas can be redeemed, and Easter can be redeemed…..

then maybe Halloween can, too??

And if the best way for you to overcome evil is to follow convictions about abstaining, then by all means, follow your own convictions!  It’s okay for the Body of Christ to disagree on how to best glorify the Lord on this one day, really it is. 🙂

Perhaps the best way to be a light in the darkness is to quit biting and devouring one another and focus on loving each other instead.

Romans 12:21

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Jen 🙂

You might find me linking up with any of these lovely blogs.

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Work-in-Progress Parenting: Emotional Children

Last night, our second-born, strong-willed, ball-of-energy-and-strength-and-passion son was showing me a few of his latest “tricks.” I watched somewhat half-heartedly and made the typical distracted mom comments such as “Wow!” or “That’s crazy!” or “How do you DO that?” until he made this horrible grimace. He effectively described it as “putting pressure” on his face. I happened to notice that it looked a lot like his typical angry face. 🙂

Curious, I asked him why he would do that – put pressure on his face. He matter-of-factly explained that it helps him get his anger out when he’s frustrated or feeling angry. Then he showed me another of his typical angry poses (fisted hands clenched tightly at his sides) and told me that putting pressure on his body helps him get anger out, too. Once he was done with the demonstration, he sauntered away, like it was no big deal for a seven-year-old to have such knowledge of his own emotions and body.
parenting emotional children, boy mom, angry child, intense child, strong-willed child, work-in-progress child, children are uniquely created, work-in-progress parenting

 

I sat there stunned.  Not because our son is so intelligent, although he truly is, but because a posture that I tend to “read” as angry disrespect  or rebellion was, in fact, the complete opposite of what I had assumed.  His tense posture was actually an attempt at self-control!  And here I had been scolding him to “have a better attitude” whenever the “pressure” face and those “pressure” hands appeared.

He understood his own emotions (and boy, does he have b-i-g ones) better than I sometimes understand my own.  He was learning self-control methods that work for him, without any help from me.

The conversation reminded me that even though I have now logged over thirteen years of parenting experience, I don’t know it all.  In fact, I never will! Each child is created uniquely and requires unique parenting, a truth I tend to forget.

What I perceived as defiance or disrespect was the most self-controlled, respectful thing my son was capable of in his angry moments.

parenting emotional children

I hope I never again tell him to change his attitude when I see the “pressure face.”  I hope I remember that he’s making a greater effort than I ever realized and applaud him for maintaining self-control in the face of anger.  He has come so far in the area of emotions and self-control in the last few years, and I’m so quick to forget that in a heated moment! I’m so quick to forget that he, too, is a work-in-progress, just like his siblings, just like his parents, just like every other human on the face of the earth.

It wasn’t a proud moment for me, rather it was a thank-you-Lord moment.  I couldn’t take credit for his heart changes; in fact, I was unintentionally discouraging some of the progress he was making.  But God can take credit.  Because our little boy who is so quickly growing into a young man accepted the free gift of salvation a year or so ago.  And in a week, he’ll publicly proclaim his son-ship in Christ before family and friends as he wades into the baptismal waters.

I see the work the Lord is doing in his young heart and mind already.  Even though our son’s passion and energy often cause trouble for him, I have faith that someday he will use those gifts to be a great leader and a bold truth-teller.

What faithfulness on the Lord’s behalf!

My sisters in Christ, when you find yourself in the midst of a season of seeming lack of progress, take heart.  Continue to follow the Lord in your parenting, and wait to see what happens. Pray for their little hearts and minds to open to the Father’s touch.

Look for progress in the little things, the still, small moments.  Remember who your child has been created to be.  He’s created to be different than your other children and different even than you.

Take every opportunity to rejoice over the slightest step forward.

Because God knows what He’s doing.  He created these children, these gifts, purposefully.

Only He can see where that purpose might lead them.

Jen 🙂

As usual, you might find me linking with any of these lovely blogs.

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Hands-on Color Activities

mama mondays2

As promised in last week’s Mama Mondays post on Pre-K resources for homeschooling, I have some color learning activities to share with you today. 🙂  I did not spend a penny on creating these activities and probably only spent an hour or two of my time.  Unfortunately, the laminating machine and I did not get along at first, so it took a little longer.  If you do not have access to a laminating machine (I used our church’s), check with a local church or library.  And learn from my mistakes – practice on some scrap paper first.  Also, you might consider using clear contact paper as an alternative.

Here are the color learning activities we made this week:

Color Go-Fish

On pinterest, I saw an idea for cutting activities using paint chips from the store, similar to this color matching activity. So, the next time my husband went to the hardware store, I asked him to pick some up. Instead of the variegated kind, he brought home solid colors, but he did remember to get several of each.  Since they weren’t the kind I wanted for cutting practice, I decided to make a Color Go-fish game out of them.  The samples themselves were pretty flimsy, so we glued them onto card-stock.  If you don’t have card-stock on hand, try using index cards.  The twins were happy to practice using their glue-sticks, and I was glad for an adhesive that dries quickly. If you don’t plan to laminate them, I would use a better adhesive, though.

paint chips for Go-Fish color edition

I was already planning on doing some laminating, so I decided to laminate them as well.  Now they’re practically indestructible, which is good for our son. 🙂  Our daughter picked up on this color learning game rather quickly, but our son is still learning the rules and the right questions to ask.  They both really enjoyed it, though, and have asked to play again since the first time we played.  Color Go-Fish is a really fun, hands-on way to learn colors, and we’ll probably use it for shapes, numbers, and letters as soon as I can make up more cards.

Color/Shape Hop

Our son lacks interest for much table work, so I’ve been searching for some more active ways to practice shapes and colors.  One neat idea I found on pinterest  was to use masking tape to make shapes on the floor.  However, since I want to work on colors, as well, I decided to cut out large shapes from colored card-stock and laminate them.   Then, we put them out on the floor and say, “Hop on red!”  or if  you want to include the shape as well, you could say, “Hop on the red heart!”  Since we have two preschoolers, I’ll probably give each child his or her own turn so that they don’t fight over the shapes.  Once we practice colors, then we use the same activity to practice shapes.

Color Sorting Mats

My husband picked up enough paint chips that I had extras once I made the Color Go-Fish game.  I decided to laminate the extra set and use them for color sorting.  At the moment, all we had to sort were some colored pom-poms and some beads, so I had our second-grader use one of my scrap-booking paper punches to punch out stars from the leftover shape paper scraps.  He had a lot of fun using the punch and now I have stars for our preschoolers to color sort, as well!

Color Go-Fish

I also plan to use our Hi-Ho Cherry-O game for some color sorting.  Our twins love to play with the game pieces, so I figure it’s the perfect opportunity for some hands-on learning.  We’ll probably practice counting while we’re at it, too. 🙂

For more ideas on Color learning activities:

http://www.childcareland.com/teach10.html

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/59532026297549568/

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/59532026297549599/

Last week we focused on the color green, and this week we plan to focus on the color blue.  For our daughter, who already understands color, I’ll do more patterning activities to give her more of a challenge.

That’s all for this week!

Jen 🙂

You may find me linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

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