Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas ISN'T over.....really!

When the last of the wrappings are thrown in the trash,
and the nativity and lights are put away for the year,
and the emptiness creeps back to envelop your heart.....
Emmanuel, "God with us," is still here.

He was there with you yesterday as you planned your menu and shopped for those gifts,
and He will be there tomorrow....the Eternal "I AM."

"I am with you alway.."  Matthew 28:20

Filling the hunger within.....He is "the Bread of Life...."
Come to us from Bethlehem...the "house of bread."

Quenching the dry thirst of 
of fear,
of insecurity, 
of abuse,
of uncertainty.....
because He is "the Living Water."

"I will pour water upon him that is thirsty."  Isaiah 44:3

As you begin to tuck away Christmas dishes and holiday wreaths,
and the thoughts of what the new year holds makes you catch your breath in fear,
He is "the Light of the World."

He lights our way,
and replaces the cold and darkness of uncertainty with the warmth of His presence.

Fear is simply denying the presence of God in your life.

This light of Jesus should shine through our hearts to point others,
who live in the darkness,
to His love.

He shepherds us through our rocky days,
and comforts us with His staff.
He is "the Good Shepherd...." 
who only gives us good things.

Good things often disguised as pain,
or loss,
or tragedy,
or a frightening diagnosis,
or inconvenience,
or irritation......
To make us look closer,
see things the way He sees them,
to value the things He values.

If you're at a crossroads in your life
and facing some difficult decision.....
the joy of Christmas gone....
unsure of which way to go....

Jesus is "the way."
He is "the truth."
He is "the door" you're searching for.

When the day seems empty as you wave good-bye to those you love,
and shut the door behind you to face too much quiet ahead....

Look to Jesus.
He IS the reason for the season.

He still IS.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Favorite memories of Christmas Day 2011

After getting dressed for church services,
the children couldn't wait to see the presents!

We let them open ONE gift before church.....

Everyone was excited to see what Daddy got!

After we were home for the afternoon, and had enjoyed lunch together...

 Birthday Party for Jesus!!

Reading the
 "birth announcement" from Luke 2

Daddy lighting everyone's candle

Singing carols together

Friday, December 23, 2011

Friday's Fabulous Family {Christmas} Recipe!! Cranberry Orange Struesel Muffins

Since moving toward a more plant-based diet with waaaaaaaay less processed food and sugar, I was looking for some alternatives to our traditional Christmas breakfast of cinnamon rolls from the can.
They are pretty and all.......
so easy to put together on a busy morning.....
and druglike in their addictive qualities.....
can you say......sugar buzz??
So I found these this week,
and whipped up a batch......
and they are just a bite of heavenly!!!

**  As a disclaimer:
These muffins still have plenty of sugar in them, but you can reduce that amount and still offset
the tartness of the cranberries.
I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour,
olive oil for the canola oil (I also tried it with applesauce in place of oil if you go with no oil),
and water for the milk (you could also replace the cow's milk with almond milk......I was just out of it).
You could also skip the confectioner's sugar glaze poured over the streusal to additionally cut down
on some of the sugar.
It's almost better without it!!

You can find the recipe here along with some prettier pictures than mine!!  ;)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Children's Christmas

Every December, all 6 of our children have the opportunity to participate in a Christmas program
with a choir of other children their age.
The first Sunday in December is designated for the Primary Choir (ages 3- 1st grade).
Both Aryn and Garrett participated last year, but this year Garrett (who is now 5)
has developed a disdain for singing with his choir, so he did not participate this year.
Aryn showed no fear and loved being on stage!!

The second Sunday in December is designated for the Junior Choir (2nd-6th grade).
It was the first year Abby (2nd grade) performed with this choir, 
and the last year for Ashlyn (6th grade) to perform with this choir.

Grant had the most unusual entrance to his first ever solo!!
He had forgotten to be in his place in front of the mic at the beginning of the song,
and I was starting to panic as I realized he was about to miss it.
Watch what happens!!

Here is Abby's sweet little piece:

Ashlyn was so excited to have a speaking part in this year's Children's Christmas Program.
She did such a great job and worked so hard learning her part.
Unfortunately what little video we did take of her did not turn out good enough to keep.
We're going to get a hold of better copy from our church!!
She is in the center of the picture below (with the black/white skirt).

Finally, the third Sunday in December is designated for the adult choir to perform their annual
Christmas Cantata.
It is usually also the Sunday for the teen choir to perform at some point.
This year the teen choir performed two beautiful pieces during our morning church service.
The video of both numbers was too long to post here, 
so we trimmed it down to just the first piece.

Our oldest (far right) with her friends after their choir performance.

How Christmas Makes Me A Better Parent

This year, I've been intentionally looking and listening for Christmas.
Don't get me wrong here.
I don't mean all the lights, and frantic shopping, and long lines at the mall, and getting.
I mean... the giving.
I want to know how to communicate to my babies the truth about Christmas.
Why the virgin birth is miraculous and was essential to their salvation.
Why God's willingness to wrap Himself in human skin makes any difference to my daily living.
And I found something the other day.
In a devotional I was reading.
It challenged me to read 1 Corinthians 13 in a way I had never done before.
I've read that passage of scripture at least 2,345 times (well, something like that.)
I've memorized it at some point in my early years.
But the devotional challenged me to read verses 4-8 and to substitute "Jesus" for the word "love."
I read verses 1-3 the same way:

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
but do not have Jesus,
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and know all mysteries and all knowledge;
and if I have all faith, 
so as to remove all mountains,
but do not have Jesus,
I am nothing.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor,
and If I deliver my body to be burned,
but do not have Jesus,
it profits me nothing.
Jesus is patient.
Jesus is kind,
and is not jealous.
Jesus does not brag
and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
Jesus does not seek His own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Jesus does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth.
Jesus bears all things,
Jesus believes all things,
Jesus hopes all things,
Jesus endures all things.
Jesus never fails"

~1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a (NASB)

Shouldn't my greatest mentor as a parent be the One who came to this earth to reveal what true love looks like?
What if my name were put in the places where I put Jesus name in the above scriptures?  
What would that look like to my children?
Would my children agree with that passage then?

"For God so loved (Brenda) that He gave..."
~John 3:16

"The one who does not love does not know God,
for God is love."
1 John 4:8

**Repost from the archives**

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why celebrating Christmas IS our family

Recently, I've been confronted,
 from several different sources, 
with this idea that celebrating Christmas
is a bad idea.

That it has its roots in paganism.
{Ever checked out the origin of the traditional Christmas "tree"?}

That we shouldn't be instilling a sense in our children that we are untruthful
and inconsistent when we encourage them to believe in Santa.

That we are trapped in a culture of commercialism and materialism,
and we've set aside our brains and are just following the tsunami of people around us into
a frantic race to get the best gift for our kids {or whoever else}
and to throw ourselves willingly into debt to get this gift!!

That Jesus Christ wasn't born in December anyway, 
so there's no reason to celebrate His "birthday."

That simply trying to "Christianize" a historically Roman holiday celebrating the winter solstice
and their sun gods is nothing less than justifying why we ignore scripture.


I certainly don't mean to offend those families who feel very strongly about 
living authentically and Biblically.

I certainly agree with nearly all of those points mentioned above.
But I want my children to know why we do the things WE do.
That's why I keep this journal.......
so if I fail to verbalize something to them in our everyday walk together,
that they will have it in writing here.....
as a sort of "landmark."

There are several reasons that our family has deliberately chosen to "celebrate" 
the season of Advent.....Christmas {if you will.}

We just have a little bit different motivation.
There are some things we recognize as myth and not true to the Bible,
and we are trying to be faithful to point those things out to our children.

Yes, I know that the birth of Christ was most likely NOT during the month of December.
The shepherds were probably not "keeping watch over their flocks by night" with wintery weather.
Some scholars believe that based on the patterns of shepherds during that time period,
Christ's birth was more likely during the fall season.

Yes, I understand that the "wise men" did not show up at the stable/cave where the newborn Christ lay.
In fact, there is no mention in scripture that there were only THREE wise men.
I guess we've picked up that traditional belief from the fact that only 3 gifts were mentioned
{gold, frankincense, and myrrh}.
It has trickled down into our traditional Christmas music {We Three Kings of Orient Are},
as well into many of the Nativity sets we use to decorate our homes at this time of year.

So what?
Does that mean I shouldn't share the story of Christ's humble, yet glorious,
Does that mean I have to lose the wonder and anticipation of "Advent."
That period of waiting for the culmination of our hopes and the promises of God?
I think not.
Of course, we could be extremely authentic and counter-cultural and "celebrate" His birth in October.
I really could.
And that wouldn't be wrong either.
I really don't believe though that our Heavenly Father sits on His throne and is crossing His arms,
displeased that we are following the traditions of men in the month of December.
I believe that what really matters to Him is our worship.
And what we are worshipping....

I have to admit here that I am not a fan of Santa.
I'm sorry.
I'm just not.
There is only one person who
"sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake,
he knows if you've been bad or good...."
and my Bible puts it this way....

"O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me.
Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up;
Thou dost understand my thought from afar.
Though dost scrutinize my path and my lying down,
and art intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all.....
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me...

Whither can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy presence?"
Psalm 139: 1-7

I want my children to be motivated to do the right thing,
not because an imaginary person will give them presents if they are good,
but because it's the RIGHT thing, and pleasing to the God who created them,
loves them with an everlasting love, and gave His life for them.

So we don't do Santa in any way shape or form......including the stocking thing.
I know....Bah-Humbug!!
But why do stockings when they are supposed to be 
"hung by the chimneys with care in hopes that Saint Nicholas will be there?"

I just prefer that my children understand that their gifts come from real people.
I don't want them thinking that I {as their parent} am teaching them to lie and believe lies.
It's the same thing with the "Tooth Fairy" and the "Easter Bunny."
We don't do them either.
I know......Bah-Humbug.

Children have to be taught how to still themselves and learn to worship.
They have to be taught NOT to be think outside of their own little worlds.
What better way than to point them to the God who GAVE!!
Gave of Himself,
Gave up the splendor of Heaven,
to come into the middle of our stinking mess.....
to be that once for all sacrificial Lamb to permanently cover our sin,
and to provide that bridge to cover the separation between Himself and us.

Why not use this time of year to teach our children about giving.
Not just to our friends who already have more than they could possibly need,
and could easily give back something in return.
Why not teach them the meaning of SACRIFICIAL giving.
I know of families who don't give gifts to family members at all.
Instead, they go through catalogs where you can buy chickens, and wells of water, 
and goats, and seeds for a garden
for people in third world countries who have nothing.
No opportunities for work.
No way of providing food for their children.
No carpet, or indoor plumbing, or running water, or washing machines,
or dishwashers, or refrigerators....
Why not sponsor a child from a horrific situation for a little bit a month.
I love how Ann Voskamp challenges our thinking on this and dares us to rename Christmas.....
Because isn't that what it's all about anyway?

We enjoy giving gifts to our children at Christmas.
It's part of that anticipation.
But we don't go into debt to do that.
And we don't go crazy trying to get them everything they want.
Instead, we spend much of this Advent season
talking about giving to others.
What can we make to express love and joy to those who've blessed us?

We enjoy being together as a family,
creating yummy goodies in the kitchen,
taking time to work together,
learn new flavors,
create family traditions that are meaningful
and that teach the truth!

As we go through the month of December we fill our home with glorious music that speaks
of the wonder of His birth,
the wonder of the shepherds...
..the lowly outcasts tending the lambs for the sin sacrifices in the local temple who had the privilege of being among the first to see our One and Only sacrificial Lamb.
We use THIS to walk with our children through the names of Jesus that further
unwrap Who He is and What He is to us.
Preparing our hearts for the anticipation of His coming.
We know that He has already come to earth once to die for Us,
but it also teaches us to anticipate that Second Coming of Christ when He will set up His reign here on earth for a millenium.
It naturally prepares us to worship!!

Christmas should not be a burden.
Christmas should not be exhausting to us.
Christ came to lift our burdens and carry our loads.
If we are burdened and stressed, we are doing more than Christ expected us to do.
Naturally, when we are creating things in our kitchen for those we enjoy,
and with those little ones we love to be with,
it can be physically tiring and stressful at times.
But does that mean I should avoid ALL stress for the sake of making things easier for myself?
Again, I think not.

But if you are dreading Christmas time in OCTOBER because of the busyness 
that is facing you, maybe that's a signal to rethink your purpose for what you do.
Maybe you can skip 1 or 3 of the "parties" that you're expected to bring a plate of something to.
We have not sent out Christmas cards for the second year in a row.
I just can't get to that.
We have over 100 people on our friends list, 
and that doesn't include the 100's of "church family" members.
It was becoming such a big job for me.
Not a priority.
What more can I say in a card that I haven't already communicated on facebook or this blog?

It's not about doing....but stilling.
Stilling ourselves to worship before that newborn.
Not with twinkling lights, and tinsel, and wrapping paper, and toys.
But remember that Christmas is....
the love...
the joy....
the wonder....
the gift....
of Jesus.
For every day....all year round.

"Celebrate a Christmas that cannot be bought, or created, or made by hand.
A Christmas that isn’t a product to wrap — but a Person to unwrap.
A Christmas that can only be found —
in the creche…  in the cradling trough…  in the mire and the stench and the unexpected and the unlikely.
Only in the person of Christ."
-Ann Voskamp

Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Funday: The Art Museum!!

Several weeks ago we had the delicious pleasure of taking part in a program that our local art museum puts on every month called "First Tuesdays."
I know.
It's not a Monday.
But first Tuesdays are FREE.
So I just bump up our field trip day by one day......because I can.
It's one of the perks of a homeschooling schedule!

Anyway, on "First Tuesdays" they have all kinds of activities available for children to participate in,
and there is a theme that these activities revolve around.
I've always been impressed with how engaging and encouraging the folks who direct and guide these projects are.
It helps me to relax and enjoy the things my children are creating.