Posted in From The Altar, Under Our Roof, With The Kids

Advent Family Devotion Tips and Tricks

Celebrating Advent is big in our house. Some people think that because we choose to skip the Santa and Elf on the Shelf bits of Christmas, we somehow miss the magic. Let me tell you, we do not. Part of what makes Advent the special, magic time for our family is my intentionality in how we go through this time of year. As Mama Bear, I set the tone of my household and I set the rhythm of our lives. (Not that The Pastor isn’t an important part of this balance, but let’s be honest, Mama’s. We know that we are the ones that make the magic happen.) It doesn’t always unfold like I planned. I remember plenty of years when I really wasn’t feeling the magic myself. (Specifically, I recall being pregnant with Topher during Advent. End of the first trimester. I puked an average of 12 times a day with that child. B vitamins and Benadryl helped me sleep through most of my first trimester. I definitely was not feeling magical. I was sleeping and puking my days away.) But I have decided that regardless of how I feel, I am going to try to set the rhythm and tone of our household in the best direction for those in it. (Even that pukey Advent, I managed to keep the magic on track.) It does take work on my part, but what aspect of parenting isn’t work? So, yes, Dad’s get on board. And in your house, it may be Dad that keeps the rhythm flowing. For us, the atmosphere and rhythm is set by me. So here are my tips for you. (Please note, I also have general tips for surviving the holiday season. These are specific to this devotion, but you can read and apply the others, as well.)

·        You do not have to give up the fat man. We simply choose to do without the Santa aspects of Christmas. I just only have so much time and energy. You may be far more energetic than I am. You can fit it in. You can make it beneficial to a Christian Christmas. Just be aware of where the focus is. Shift the focus to the manger as much as you can. Let the Christmas extras compliment the baby in the manger.

·        You cannot do it all. Accept it now. All activities listed are OPTIONAL. Very, very optional. Everything you do or do not do is up to you. Intentionally choose what fits your family and best points them to Jesus. Leave the rest with no guilt.

·        For this devotional, we’ll be using Advent candles. You’ll need 5 candles. 1 for each week and then one for Christmas.  The candles add so much of the magic to Advent. Just that holy glow and atmosphere is so calming and centering. You can buy an Advent wreath with the candle holders made into it. You can buy a box set of Advent candles. Traditionally, there are 3 purple candles, 1 pink candle, and 1 white candle. (The order is week one- purple, week two- purple, week three- pink, week four- purple, Christmas- white.) Now, any 5 candles will work. If you want all white candles, all gold candles, all neon yellow candles, whatever. Just choose five candles. (The candle color is mentioned in the devotions, but that doesn’t mean you have to use them.) Last year, I bought scented candles in jars. (3 purpley gray, 1 pink, 1 white) I’ll likely do the same this year because I am not a taper candle person. You’ll be burning the candles quite a bit, so you probably don’t want tea lights or something super small unless you plan to replace them. You’ll light these candles during the devotion each week. (Week one, you light week one’s candle. Week two, you like week one and week two’s candles. And so on.) You can light them at other times during the week. (Though, for me, I will only burn the appropriate candles for the week. So week one, I won’t light more than the week one candle.) You can light them while you sing carols or do other family devotions or during dinner or during reading time. It is up to you how much you light and burn your candles. Usually, they are arranged with the colored candles circling the white candle. I lined mine up. With two purple on one side, then the white candle in the middle, then the pink candle and the remaining purple candle.

·        There are several verses each week to look up and read together. I would usually include those in the devotional, but I have been working with my kids on looking up Scripture. If your kids aren’t old enough to read, you may want to just look them up and mark them in advance. I have each of my kids look up and read a different passage.

·        I encourage you to do the personal devotional journal aspect of this, as well. It is optional. It is just a chance for you to go a little deeper while the whole family is still on the same page. If your kids are older, you can encourage them to do the personal devotion aspect, as well.

·        This Advent, remember, that busy isn’t always better. Your family needs time to breathe, center themselves, and enjoy the season. Don’t let them get overbooked. Carve out the time for family and personal devotion time.

·        Play Christmas songs, burn scented candles, make hot cocoa! Do the things that trigger those warm, fuzzy holiday feelings. Set the atmosphere of the house in a way that directs everyone’s thoughts and moods toward Jesus. Get the fire going. Break out the cozy blankets for the living room. Make your home atmosphere reflect the season so that the hearts and minds of your family go toward the manger.

·        Choose your devotional location to be somewhere that sets the right tone. You’ll need to be near the candles. You may find that best at your dining room table. Maybe your living room is more inviting. Maybe your parlor is less distracting. (I don’t have a parlor, but you might.) Keep your location consistent each week.

·        There is only one devotion per week. These should be done at the beginning of the week. On Sunday or Monday. Remind your family of the topic through the week. Add in the optional activities on the other days of the week. Do your personal devotions through the week. Your family will be moving through this together. Each week brings about a new idea and aspect as we look toward the coming baby in the manger. Write the time into your calendar. Make sure you prioritize it.

To give credit where it is due, this entire family devotional is adapted from a devotional written by The Pastor for our church for Advent. I did tweak it just a little, but the guts of it remain his. You can find his blog here. You can find our church website here. You can e-mail him at adam@faithmethodistchurch.org .

Posted in From The Altar, Under Our Roof, With The Kids

The Benefits of Advent

Most people haven’t heard of Advent, or if they have, it isn’t something Protestants do. I’m here to tell you, if you aren’t taking advantage of the Advent season, you are missing out. Advent is the beginning of our church year. This is our new beginning. Advent isn’t Christmas. In Christmas we celebrate a Savior born. In Advent, we wait in hope for a Savior to come.

“My mercy and justice are coming soon. My salvation is on the way. My strong arm will bring justice to the nations. All distant lands will look to me and wait in hope for my powerful arm.” – Isaiah 51:5

pip tangeled

          Most of our celebration of Christmas is really about Advent. The preparation, the expectation, the hope- the things that lead to Immanuel. Most of our Christmas songs are Advent songs. Songs about the waiting. The hope that comes before. That is what we are celebrating in Advent. And not just the hope of that first coming of Jesus, but also looking forward and preparing for that second coming.

          The color of the season is purple. It reflects both royalty and mourning. Wait, why mourning? No, I’m not bringing the Easter message into the Advent one. But when you are faced with the coming Messiah, there is preparation that must take place, preparation of the heart. It is a hopeful, but reflective time. Am I ready for that second coming? Am I living in this light or do I need my light refreshed this season?

          Hopefully, you’re beginning to see the importance and how deeply meaningful celebrating Advent can be. I’m going to push that thinking even further, still.

          Culturally, we bemoan the Christmas trees popping up after Halloween. We yell, “Wait! You’re missing something! It isn’t time yet!” We lament that our culture has taken our holiday and turned it into something else. We tell them, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” And indeed He is. But when we look at our lives, our homes, and our rhythms, our December’s look an awful lot like the rest of the culture. The culture we want to shame, we imitate. Advent keeps us from that habit. It gives us a time for the festivities to begin. It gives us landmarks for the season. It focuses our minds on what we are celebrating and remembering. Instead of getting swept up in whether the kids should get 4 gifts, 3 gifts, or unlimited gifts- our focus is that Jesus is coming! Instead of getting sucked into the busy of the season, we have set aside this as a holy season for reflection and focus, not just for getting through before the big day. (And Christmas is more than one day people. December 25th is the 1st day of Christmas.

          It gives a rhythm to our lives. We begin our Christian year in expectant hope, in searching our own hearts and lives, and in preparing the way for the Savior. This is an excellent way to start the year. It is a much needed reminder. Some say tradition is dead. It is only dead if we are going through motions out of obligations. We are forgetful people. We have to write things down. We have to repeat them. We have to keep reminding ourselves of the truth and beauty in this world or we forget it is there. We get busy. We forget. Celebrating Advent will help you slow down and not forget.

          How do you go about celebrating Advent? Well, I have a few things for you to consider doing. I say consider because we all adapt what we need for our situation and lifestyle. What works for me as a homeschooling mom of a large family may not work for you, even if you are a homeschooling mom of a large family. Things are funny that way. My real hope for you would be that you think through the Advent season and develop a plan to go through it intentionally with your family, whoever that might include. (I’ll also have an Advent Family Devotional to help you along if you desire as well as The Pastor’s personal reading plan for yourself through Advent.) My hope is that you’ll give Advent a good try and see if you can develop a closer relationship with Christ this Advent season.

       Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week has a theme to focus on. There are numerous ways to divide the weeks. We divide them this way: Week One- Expectation, Week Two- Preparation, Week Three- Celebration, Week Four- Incarnation. I’ll be using these, but if you want to use others, feel free. In Advent, you’ll often see an Advent wreath. And you can certainly find them for your home. (Last year, I just bought 3 purple, 1 pink, and 1 white candle in a jar instead of using a wreath. It just fit our home better. Weeks 1, 2, and 4 use a purple candle. Week 3 uses a pink candle. Christmas gets the white candle. The candles are lit each week, including the candles from previous weeks. So the anticipation really grows. In our house, we light the candles every time we sit for Advent family devotion. In church, we light them once a week on Sunday morning. Evergreens are another Advent decoration with significant meaning. (Representative of eternal life.)

          To celebrate Advent, set aside time as a family to focus on the themes of Advent. (Expectation, preparation, celebration, and incarnation) I’d encourage you to read the Bible, use a devotional, sing carols, etc. that have to do with the theme. It is a great time to start some new traditions from your family that reflect Christ, not the culture. Even if it is only once a week, make it a priority. Show your kids what is the most important in your life. (As a side note, you can check out my Advent family devotional if you are needing something, or use one of the recommendations at the end of this post.)

          For you personally, commit to reading through a reading plan or devotional yourself this Advent. (I just so happen to have both that you can take advantage of for free!) Take the time to reflect personally and intentionally set your mind and heart on the season at hand. This only comes once a year. Fully experience expectation in week one. Fully experience preparation in week two. We don’t put up our Christmas decorations until week two of Advent. It falls under preparation, so that is the week we prepare. It keeps us all focused on one thing at a time. Don’t neglect your our spiritual walk in trying to be everyone’s everything this season. Cookies can wait. You don’t have to see every family member seventeen times. They’ll deal. Do something that makes you stop and focus. If you can commit to this daily, fabulous. If you can only commit a few days a week, do that. Just commit and stick to it. Grab a cup of hot cocoa or hot tea and sit by the fire or tree and focus on Jesus this Advent.

          Another thing we do in our family for Advent is the automatic no. I’ve talked about that here before, but I’ll explain again. To avoid overcommitting ourselves during the most busy season of the year, we say no to almost everything. Our default answer becomes no. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything, but we don’t feel obligated to do anything. Our biggest priority is our family and focusing them on the coming Messiah. We say no to plenty of good things. But a good thing that comes in the way of the most important thing becomes a not good thing. We carefully choose what we will do or not do during Advent. It is a holy time, so we are careful not to waste it. We don’t travel all over to see family. We don’t attend more than one Christmas party. Don’t get me wrong, we do a lot. But what we do is intentional and adds to our celebration.

          Don’t rush it. We have a tendency to rush things. It is part of that not being good at waiting bit. Don’t rush through the weeks. Don’t rush through your devotional time. I know we are busy. But we have to learn to slow down and take the time for the things that matter. This matters.

          Go to church. I wish this didn’t need to be said. But it does. Commit to being at church every Sunday during Advent. 4 weeks. You can do it. Going to church will add to your Advent experience, especially if your church is on board with Advent celebration. But even if they are not, go. God has something for you there. You are part of the body. And as the big toe, you cannot stay home! (Just kidding about the big toe bit. You might be an ear. I don’t know. I think I am the trachea of the church. Sometimes irritated, but very loud.) Go to church. Share with your small group or Sunday school class what you are experiencing through the week by embracing Advent. Sing the hymns, carols, and songs with all your heart. I think you’ll find yourself more open and more reflective during this time.

          Make it a point to not get swept away by the current of materialism. It is so easy this time of year to try to keep up with the Joneses. To obsesses over what you want to buy, buy, buy. Though not specifically Advent related, you’ll spare up a lot of time for God if you can let go of this particular burden. You can obsess in how much you buy or in how little you buy. My point is, don’t become obsessed. Buy your kids gifts, don’t buy your kids gifts, and move on. This is easier said than done. Focus on what you want your children to see this season. Focus on the WHY of gift giving. And then let the rest go. No guilt here. Don’t give this holiday to the mall.

“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we cant take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.”

          I hope you’ll take the time to embrace this Advent season. I think you will find that you will grow so much more than you imagined when you do. I think you’ll also find your family greatly benefitted.

If you want my tips on thriving during the Holidays, click here.

A list of resources for you this Advent:

Advent Wreaths (or make your own)

Advent Devotionals:

          Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

          Waiting Here for You by Louie Giglio

          God Is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

          Watch for the Light by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

          From Heaven by A.W. Tozer

          And/Or Use Mine for Free!

Advent Reading:

          Keep Herod in Christmas by Stan Key

Advent Extras for Kids:

          The Nativity Movie

          Jesus Storybook Bible

          Fisher Price Little People Nativity Set

          Melissa and Doug Nativity Set

**This post contains affiliate links. These links do benefit my family when you use them.**

Posted in From The Altar, With The Kids

Becoming A Thankful Family

Thanksgiving is upon us. I love this time of year. I love taking the time to really focus on my blessings. I put together a devotional to help guide our family toward more grateful hearts.

Advent and Christmas are coming. The pressures of materialism are going to be high. The “More! More! More!” season is coming. Let’s stop the monster before it begins. Let’s focus on what we have for this month.

I have put together one devotion per week. It is super easy and super simple. This is a great intro to doing family devotionals, if you don’t already. Family devotions will be a blessing to your family, and this simple one for the four weeks of November leading up to Advent will be easy to commit to and succeed. One day a week. That’s all.

Some tips when it comes to family devotions: Expect to get as much out of it as your children. This is for the benefit of everyone in the family, not just the kids. Let yourself be open and vulnerable during this time. Schedule the time to do the devotional, and don’t let it be optional. Don’t let yourself put it off. Put it on the family calendar for a time that works for your family, and do it. Follow up on the other days of the week. Remind your kids what you are working on. Do the optional activities on the “off” days. Make sure to pray. You can take prayer requests or not, but make sure to include prayer in your devotion time.

My prayer for you is that you center yourself on Jesus and recognize how blessed you are. I pray you will be challenged to be a blessing to others. I pray your family will see the world through the lens of gratitude. May the Lord be with you and yours.

Week One

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Week Two

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Week Three

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Week Four

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Posted in Out Of My Head

My Favorite Things in October

favorite-things-october

I had a surprisingly difficult time choosing my favorite things this month. It was hard because I couldn’t list something like a feeling. (That walking through the grass that is smattered with leaves in the fall while you are alone is one of my favorite feelings. It reminds me of college, because I walked to class across campus and rarely used the side walks.) I also had my share of things that just were not my favorite. Some, I thought were sure to be on the list and then they just weren’t.

  1. Pressing Pause by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk

 

pause

This book is lovely. It is a hardcover devotional book for moms. It is really geared toward moms with kids at home. It just takes a few minutes a day to read through each devotion and Scripture. They even include a prayer each day. No mom brain excuses for not getting your devotions done. There is also space to journal your thoughts to a few questions each day. I skip the journaling part, since I am usually feeding a baby while I do this devotion. I just think about the questions instead. This book is beautiful and would make a lovely gift. I’ve included this book in my Favorite Things Giveaway. It is just that good.

2. Majestic Bible Tabs

bible-tabs

I took on the task of adding Bible tabs to each of my kids’ Bibles. For homeschooling, we have pew Bibles, so everyone’s is the exact same. But for personal use, my kids who can read have their own Bible. They were talking about how it sometimes takes them a long time in church to find the passage and they can’t follow along because by the time they find it, Daddy is halfway through reading it. So, I bought tabs for each of their Bibles and put them in for them. I got the boys the rainbow kid version and Imo got the purple princess version. The majestic tabs come with a template, so you can easily line each tab up and not have to guess and they all end up pretty much even. The kids love them. They work really well. It did take me a few hours to tab all three Bibles, but the result is lasting and awesome. Now they can look up verses more quickly so they can follow along.

I’m including a set of tabs in my Favorite Things Giveaway basket!

3. Casemate Pocket Journals

Walmart carries these little 2 pack pocket journals and they are awesome. They are cheap. ($1.88 for a 2 pack) They are cute. (I love the periwinkle and pink pack.) They have satin bookmarks built in. Each journal has 80 lined pages. These are perfect for taking sermon notes, jotting yourself quick reminders, or whatever. I love them. I’m including a pack in my giveaway basket!

4. Recollections Divider Tabs

I get these at Michaels and they are really nice and super handy. Just a simple sticker that you put on a page to make it have a tab. They come in a rainbow of colors. I love using them in my Bible to mark things that are important. They are pretty permanent, so don’t use them for temporary page saving. They are great for journaling, bullet journaling, planning, organizing, etc. I’m including a pack of these in my giveaway basket!

5. Treat Yo Self Mug

treat-yo-self

I got this massive cup at Walmart for $2.88. It has provided so much amusement. Seriously. I put my coffee in this cup (or my Pumpkin Spice and Chill cup) every single day and it gets a little smile and laugh every single time. I just love it. I love the font choice, the color, the saying, the size. It is my little happy in every morning. I’m including one in my favorite things basket!

6. Glitter Nail Polish Technique

Just watch this video on YouTube. It shows you how to apply glitter nail polish so it looks stunning. And it works! I saw the video, had to try it. Imo and I were pretty impressed. Even super cheap polish looks high end with this technique. (Which was great because who spends good money on Halloween nail polish?)

7. Glitter Washi Tape

washi

I know I have already confessed this obsession many times, but it just has not ceased. Sure, glitter washi is a little thicker than regular washi and when you put it on every single page of your planner it will bulk up, but it is worth it. This month, I used it to disappear some mistakes I made in my planner. Next month, I’ll use it to fancy up my birth certificate. Just kidding. Maybe. I don’t know what it is about me and glitter all the sudden. I’m just into it like a 10 year old. I’m including some glitter washi tape in My Favorite Things basket. (And if you click on that link and think, but do I NEED 6 rolls of gold glitter washi tape, the answer is yes, yes you definitely do. But you can buy single rolls at Walmart.)

8. Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink

This is a little bit of a weird one. I have been getting into hand lettering. It is so much fun and it is relaxing.

signI made this canvas at a local art place. (Project Studio, which is an amazing place, if you’re in the area.)  This along with the above linked book kind of got me started. However, at home, I wasn’t very happy with how my letters turned out with acrylic paint. I had to really water it down to get it to the consistency I wanted. Enter India Ink. The perfect consistency for hand lettering with a paint brush. You can add water or not. Either way, it is wonderfully smooth and perfect for this use. They also make a pretty big assortment of colors. Of course, black is my go to, but I am trying to branch out.

9. Spry Gum

This is weird, I know. But this has been a staple for me. For some reason, my teeth clenching has returned, so gum is a must. But I don’t want sugar gum. But I don’t want aspartame gum either. Spry is sweetened entirely with xylitol, which is good for your teeth. Boom! I’m really loving the spearmint flavor right now. And yes, I buy the big jars of it. I need it. Green Tea was my go to flavor, but I am apparently switching it up this month.

10. Kate Spade Live Colorfully Perfume

This is another weird one coming from me. I am not a perfume person. I never have been. I like smelling nice. But perfume has just never really been my thing. But this perfume, it makes me feel like a grown up. I feel together. I feel beautiful. It smells adult, but not too adult. I just love it. And I have enjoyed wearing it. Probably freaked some people out that I suddenly smelled like a grown woman. Such is life.

This post does contain affiliate links. Use them! That supports me. And I like to be supported.

 

 

Posted in Among The Homeschool, Uncategorized

Godbold Academy Geography

We are homeschoolers, as I am sure you are aware. This is the little geography program I put together this year for my kids. I do this for pre-k through upper elementary. I think it would work well for any age, though. I plan to continue this program forever.

My goal in geography was for the kids to know generally where countries are and for them to have a broader worldview. It is hard to fathom the world that isn’t right outside your front door. I want my kids to have the knowledge of geography along with a heart for the people of the world.

map trek

I start the school year going over the 7 continents and 5 oceans. We review this every single year. The older kids know it, but it gives the younger kids a chance to learn it every year. I use the Map Trek CDs to print out maps for the kids to color and label. This book and CD set is a little on the pricey side, but I use this so much year after year. Buy it. Use it. It is great. You can print out as many maps as you need. Historical maps. World maps. It is awesome. We’ll have some contests and such to learn all the continents and oceans with the older ones helping the younger ones. We usually only spend a week or two on this review. It is just an annual refresher.

operation world

Operation World is the next piece of our geography curriculum. Each week, we choose a country and commit to praying for that country for the week. I use my Map Trek CD to print out maps. Each child keeps a master world map in their notebook where they label each country we study that year. The Operation World book lists the basic stats for each country. Things like land size, population, climate, etc. We talk about those things and compare them to what we have here. Would we have more neighbors? Less? Would it be warmer? Colder? Operation World also gives a brief summary of the economy and politics of each country. Then you have a break down of the religions of each country. You’ll also find a prayer list for each country, including things to thank God for that are answers to prayer there.

We might make some food from that country this week. Or we might try some art that is known for being associated with that country. Or we might only do the map and pray for the country. Sometimes I’ll find and print out the country’s flag for the kids to color. The details change week to week, but the bones of the program remain the same.

(1) Locate the country on a world map.

(2) Label your master world map.

(3) Write the country name on the prayer wall and commit to praying for that country this week.

(4) Read about the country. What language do they speak? How many people live there? What kind of work do these people do?  What challenges does this country face? How can we be praying for these people? Do we know any missionaries in this country?

The kids have really enjoyed this program and we’ve learned a lot about many countries. I chose countries where we knew missionaries first or we were learning about in history. I don’t think the order of countries is so important. Operation World is set up by continent, so you could go in that order and learn all the countries of one continent before moving to the next. I just choose randomly, though might go back and do the continent route at some point. As the kids get older, there is more discussion about things. What is the difference in a monarchy and a republic? What about a democracy? Why does it matter how many people are in poverty? How does history effect the current economic and political issues in a country? The little ones seem to focus on the climate and number of people. You can really delve deeper or keep it to 15 minutes reading the info in Operation World and locating the country on the World Map. It is really up to you and your child(ren).

**Post contains affiliate links. **

Posted in Concerning Strangers, From The Altar, Out Of My Head

How Else Will They Know?

no neutral

My brother and I used to do these goofy plays. Don’t think Shakespeare in the living room. This was more like SNL. Anyway, the big ending to one of our plays was, “Somebody must tell them!” said very dramatically to the audience with great pause. (Then my brother would say, “The Meme!” which we thought was oh so hilarious, but no one else got, which was what made it so funny! Note, this was not yet a thing, since this was 1996. Nonsense was the name of our game. But that bit doesn’t pertain to this right now.) We find ourselves at a place in our culture where we all yell, “Somebody must tell them!” We neglect to see that *we* are telling *them* every single day with every single interaction.

Have you ever thought about the above quote? That you will either build someone up or tear them down in each exchange you have with them? That is some heavy weight. That burden is not feeling light about now. But you know you’ve been there.

Sitting in a waiting room trying to wrangle all six kids to be quiet, don’t touch the fake plants, do not tear out all the cards from the magazines, don’t put their feet on the couches, dear Lord stay off the ground! A woman looks over and says not to you, but to the air, “Some people should not have kids!” And just like that- pfft. Punched in the gut. All your air is gone. Your struggle just ended in defeat. You’ll question what you could have done better. Then your humiliation will turn to anger. And you’ll be mad at that idiot. Mad at the world. Mad at your culture.

Sitting in a waiting room trying to wrangle all six kids to be quiet, don’t touch the fake plants, do not tear out all the cards from the magazines, don’t put their feet on the couches, dear Lord stay off the ground! A woman looks over and says, “You are doing a good job. They are well behaved and lucky to have you to teach them.” And just like that- you feel lighter. All that work and someone noticed! She said you’re doing a good job! She knows you are trying. She sees the kids really are trying and doing a really great job considered how long you’ve all been sitting here. You are happy. You are doing this hard work well! What a great community to build one another up.

I have literally had both of those things happen to me. Not on the same day, mind you. Different days. Different people. Different waiting room. Same me. Same kids. Same eternal struggle. And there were some people who said nothing, but gave me that judgy look. That unhappy to be sharing the same space with you look. And others that give you the “been there, done that” smile and nod. They’re with you. They understand.

We all have this power. Every day. Every interaction. I can build this person up. I can make their day a little brighter. I can be a little bit of sunshine. OR I can tear them down. I can make their day a little darker. I can be the rain on their parade. That is a lot of power. A lot of power in the small things.

John 13:34-35 I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.

I have a funny t-shirt that I still wear that was The Pastor’s in college. It says, “They will know we are Christians by our t-shirts.” And it was funny tongue-in-cheek poking fun at the Christian culture of the day. Wear your Jesus shirt, slap an ichthus on your car, burn your secular CDs and we all know you love Jesus, right? I don’t know what our modern equivalent is. Maybe tell everyone how perfectly broken you are, Instagram your devo time, and talk about how authentic you are? Maybe that isn’t fair. The point is, the WAY to know we are Christians is by our LOVE for each other. So simple. We haven’t grown past this. This is basic. God loves us. He LOVES us. Like, love loves us. We are loved. And what do we do? We love!

This common courtesy is honey. It draws people in. It builds them up. It plants seeds in their life that will grow when the soil is ready.

“Healing becomes the opportunity to pass off to another human being what I have received from the Lord Jesus.” -Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God.

But WHY? I don’t have time. I am busy. Can’t I just ignore everyone and keep my head down and get through? (1) Where is the victory in that? (2) No. Sorry. This isn’t about you. If you are too busy to show some common courtesy, you need to reevaluate your calendar. If you are too busy to be kind, you need to evaluate your priorities. If you need more reason…

“According to that mysterious substitution of Christ for the Christian, what we do to one another we do to Jesus.” -Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God.

 Galatians 5:13 You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.

“Lodged in your heart is the power to walk into somebody’s life and give him or her what the bright Paul Tillich called “the courage to be.” Can you fathom that? You have the power to give someone the courage to be simply by the touch of your affirmation.” – Brennan Manning, The Furious Longing of God.

I’d like to leave you with the following challenge. go in love

Posted in Concerning Strangers, From The Altar, On The Reading Chair, Out Of My Head

Affirm Their Worth

So, what is this common courtesy business? Well, I consider it a spiritual discipline. In fact, this spiritual discipline is more difficult for me than prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, hospitality- anything else. When God first started working on my heart about common grace, you could feel my soul yelling, “Anything but this!” Seriously. Some people find this sort of thing easy. I do not. A punk rock teen grew up to be a punk in adult’s clothing. Polite is almost the opposite of my core. To me, polite felt like a lie. It felt wrong. Chit-chat seemed like wasted meaningless words. A waste of the limited time we are given! Oh how wrong I was. I mean, I thought I was right. My logic made sense. But God has a way of taking those things we hold as true and exposing them to light, and we see that we only saw a shadow of the issue at hand.

“Once we get over our egocentric arrogance about the fact that people don’t really want to know how we are when they say “How are you?” we can see that it is just an American way of acknowledging our presence. We can wave and acknowledge their presence too without feeling the need to give a prognosis on our latest headache.” – Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Did that hit you as it hit me? Honestly, that single concept took me years to master. Years. And I still think I struggle with it from time to time. My brutal and completely open honesty struggles with this concept.

“The specific acts will vary from culture to culture, but the purpose is always the same: to acknowledge others and affirm their worth.” -Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

You read that? Read it again. Let that sink in. Does my need for this ideal of brutal honesty mean more than the worth of the person in front of me? No. Does my internal punk screaming for truth matter more than this moment to affirm this person’s worth? No. In these seemingly small moments, we make people. We breathe into them that thing we find in our Great God- worth. We shine a light into their darkness and say, “Hey, you! You’re worth my time and my attention.”

Titus 3:2 (CEB) They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone.

pip handYears ago, the thought of someone touching my baby would have sent me into a tizzy. You’ve seen that Steve Harvey video? No, not the Miss Universe one, the one about the woman who didn’t want strangers touching her baby. (I linked that for ya, just in case you somehow haven’t seen it.) Well, that is the world’s wisdom. And years ago, I would have been the first person and the loudest person saying, “If you want to touch a baby, have your own baby!” But you know how God works in ways different than the world? And you know how God changes us sometimes, even those pieces we didn’t think needed to be changed? Well, that is what He did to me.

Not long ago, in a coffee shop, I had Pip all wrapped up snug. It wasn’t cold out, and his feet are so dang fat socks are just not an option unless he really might freeze without them. So, I am standing and waiting on my café au lait, and a woman approaches me. She says, “Oh! Those feet!” Now, the judgement police sirens are going off in my head. I am sure I am about to get a lecture about how he will certainly catch pneumonia and die in 70 degree weather. I smile and mention that his feet are too fat for socks. She says, “May I?” Nodding to his fat little foot poking out of the carrier. I say, “Sure.” The lady proceeds to just hold and rub Pip’s foot for a minute. She has this sad kind of smile while she does. Pip is just grinning at her, because that is what Pip does. She then says, “Thank you so much for sharing him with me today. You have no idea how much holding that fat foot meant to me.” And then she walks off.

Now, five years ago, I would have in no polite way told her that she may not touch his foot! I would have likely acted like I couldn’t hear her when she first spoke to me, since I assumed she was just being Judgy McJudgyPants. But God was working on me. And in this moment, I chose to just show simple kindness. We’re not talking about some incredible heroic act. I was simply kind and polite. I shared my baby’s foot with a stranger for a minute. I’ll never know what that woman was going through. And I will never know what that moment meant to her. But to me, it seems Pip and I were there as an act of grace to her that day. We simply acknowledged her, and somehow we brought a little light.

Common courtesy is a simple act of compassion. It is a small act of service. Are you like I was, unable to small talk because of your own ideals? Perhaps those assumptions of others are keeping you from the smallest kindness? Will you acknowledge others and affirm their worth? Will you pray for opportunities to practice small kindnesses to strangers?

Posted in Concerning Strangers, From The Altar, On The Reading Chair, Out Of My Head

Common Courtesy

Common courtesy. Small talk. A smile. Giving a little of your time to make the day of a stranger a little better. On the one hand, we gravitate toward stories of the small “random acts of kindness”. We post them on social media. They might bring a tear to our eye. But when it is us in a situation where we could use a little common courtesy, how often do we find ourselves showing that small grace?

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Usually our reasons to not be courteous seem valid.

We’re busy! We need to get home and get dinner started or we won’t have time to feed the kids before they need to be at the ball field. We have a ticking clock in our heads telling us there are not enough hours in the day to make our obligations. We certainly have no time for chit chat. We certainly have too much on our plate for patience.

We’re stressed! All those million things that jam pack our schedule full all fall on us my shoulders right this second. If the kids are late, my fault. If their homework isn’t done to perfection, my fault. If their dinner isn’t healthy & nutritious enough, my fault. It all falls on me and it is all bearing down every second of every day. Stressed seems too tame a word for what we feel!

We’re tired! Burning the candle at both ends, trying to make all of this work. Kids finally get in bed and we’ve still get a few hours worth of work before we can tuck in. And just as we do, someone is crying in the night needing us. We haven’t slept in a decade and that never seems to be ending soon!

We’re selfish! Let’s stop pretending. We don’t want to chit chat when we could be reading our e-mails or playing Candy Crush in a moment of zoned out peace. We like to talk about “me” time and try to sneak it any way we can.

We feel judged! Usually because we judge ourselves. We feel like every statement is somehow a commentary on our lives. We may find we are quick to judge others, and assume the same. And yes, sometimes this really is the truth, but so are all the other things I listed.

We’re oblivious! You might say, “Well, this belongs under selfish!” Stop judging me and let me talk! (Ha! JK) This is when the selfishness gets so engrained, that it literally doesn’t even occur to us to think of someone else. You might argue, but we’re parents, we are always thinking of others! Thinking of your kids and thinking of complete strangers are two completely different things. But too often we get so into our own lives that we are completely oblivious to the lives of others.

I have absolutely been there. God has been working on me with this issue for years. Honestly. You can ask some of my small group peoples. I don’t do common courtesy. Until this past year or so, that is. This anti-chit-chat girl has become friendly to strangers. It didn’t happen overnight. And I still have to actively force myself into this common courtesy business. But I think this is something we all need to hear. I think this is something God is calling us back to in our culture. I’m not talking about online. Redeeming social media is another discussion completely. I’m talking about real life. We’re talking about loving the neighbor right in front of you right now.

I’m breaking this down into smaller bites, because what I have to say may get long. And you may need time to digest each piece. I know I did. This is also written to Christians. I don’t expect the World to live like Christ. I expect that of Christians. So, my secular readers, read on if you find interest in the inner workings of Christian life, but know where I am coming from, The Cross.

Posted in Concerning Strangers, From The Altar

Am I Crazy?

the crew

Of course the answer to that question is almost always yes, otherwise, I wouldn’t need to ask. But really, am I crazy or are people seeming nicer these days? Are people seeming to come out of their narcissism or cynicism or what ever kind of -ism they find themselves, and notice the whole world around them? It seems that way to me, at least, in my little community, at least.

Peregrin Happy Bubbles

There was a time when I dreaded leaving my house. And not for the usual mom reasons. It wasn’t about someone will inevitably pee their pants and it will never be the child you brought a change of clothes for. Someone will start crying that they are hungry and refuse the only snack on your person and proceed to whine for 45 minutes straight. There will be someone who will loose a shoe, a dinosaur, a book, a hair bow, a quarter- something they just can’t live without and you’ll spend 30 minutes in Target searching for said item. It wasn’t about those things. Those come with the territory. It was about *them*. Those mean people who would make jokes about my family size. (*Ahem.* Not funny.) Those people who would act shocked and make rude comments about me within earshot or directly to me. Those people who seemed to always seemed to send my kids the message that they were unwanted in my community; that our family was the wrong kind of family. They could turn a simple run to the grocery store into a nightmare for me. I have six kids, which means I do not need the added stress in my life of meanies. Not that anyone with one kid , two kids, twelve kids, or no kids needs that kind of meanie stress.

aidan 3

But slowly things started to change. First, it was just a few people. The random person who would tell us we had a lovely family. The passing stranger who would comment how lucky my kids were to have so many siblings. The outrageously generous person who paid for our meal last year around Christmas because she remembered how tight things get with having kids around the holidays, particularly for large families. Suddenly there were small sparks of light out there. And going out and mingling with the community didn’t seem quite so bad anymore. (As an introvert with General Anxiety Disorder, it is always somewhat of a difficulty for me to be new places talking to new people. However, I am talking about this added stress that made it almost unbearable to be part of life outside our safe walls.)

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We went from having the worst experience imaginable at one Waffle House where the waitress was downright rude and nasty to my family. To a few months later experiencing a wonderful brunch at Waffle House because people were just so kind. (By people, I mean the other customers. The waitresses were at least not rude this time.) One older gentleman even paid for every kid’s meal because he said they were so polite.

Ransom 2

Something changed out there. And I don’t know what it was. Maybe the people in our community are just used to us. But I think people are just becoming nicer. I know that sounds completely naïve, but I really believe they just might be nicer. People are finally realizing what an impact they have on others, on complete strangers. They are finally seeing the power in their words and glances and interactions. And they see they can make the world better, happier. They have the power to change their world. They can help a stressed mom out by telling her they appreciate her efforts in raising the next generation. (Yes, I have been told that by a complete stranger. I was having a hard time getting my kids to behave like normal people, you know those days. So I felt like I was doing nothing but correcting them and correcting them and correcting them. It was getting old. Then someone acknowledged the work I was putting into getting my kids to sit in that waiting room. They told me that I was doing a good job in raising the next generation and my kids were lucky to have a mom who cared enough to help them.)

Topher

So what changed? Are there less jerks in the world? No. I highly doubt there are. But those neutral people, those people who minded their own business before, they are stepping up in a big way. Those little lights are burning bright out there. I now see more light than darkness. The darkness is still there, but people are kindling their fires. Why? I think social media has a little to do with it. We see articles and posts all the time about the downfalls of social media and how it is removing our ties to one another. And maybe that was true, but I think we’re starting to build them back. We see uplifting videos, get inspirational words send to us daily, and we kindle our fires, burn a little brighter, and pass the light on.

Emery

We look at the news at say “Where is God?!” But I see Him out there. I see Him in my neighbors. I see him in a teenager helping an elderly lady in the parking lot by returning her buggy (I’m Southern, I don’t know what the rest of y’all call those things) to the store. I see Him in a lady stopping to help another woman at the store when she knocked over a display of cheese. I see Him when I am greeted with a smile and not a scowl, when the words on the lips of others is not scorn, but encouragement. Those bright lights, they’re the sparks of life in us, the breath of God. We share the grace we receive. Sure, bad things happen all around the world. I have honestly had one of the absolutely worst years of my life- I’m not even kidding, it has been truly awful. I have no idea how I can even hold my head up with how beat down I have been this year. Crushed and then crushed and then crushed a little more. But then I’m offered some grace- some word of encouragement, some pleasant compliment, some hope- and I see God is with us. I see that God is with me. I see broken people offering hope and light, even when they need some themselves. That is self giving love. That is God.

pip hand

So, keep it up people. Your words are powerful. Even when you can’t help in other ways, words are free, and words are healing. When words fail you, smiles and friendly looks will suffice. A small act of kindness to help you fellow man (or mama). I can see us changing and I like the change in us. “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”- St. Francis of Assissi

Posted in Around The Church, Out Of My Head

Fundraising, Charity, and The Church

funraising, and the church

I’m writing this blog post for the Church. Not just my church, but the Church. This isn’t for those outside the Church. Just the Church. I’m also writing this as a Protestant. And I’m writing this as someone knows the inner working of churches. That makes it a little more awkward. And I’ll tell you, most of the pastors I know, including the one I am married to, have a hard time talking to you, the people, about this. First, it directly affects them. Their livelihood comes from the Church. Second, some pastors, and we won’t name any names, give giving a bad name. They are self-centered and have no vision for the Kingdom, only their wallets. But the majority of pastors I know aren’t like that. The majority of the ones I know live on small salaries, sometimes working more than one job to provide for their own family, all while trying to do the thing God has called them to do. They often don’t know if they’ll have income by the end of the year. They often don’t know if they’ll have income next month. So, drop your preconceived notion about pastor millionaires flying around on personal jets. Now, on to the money talk.

I’ve been listening to quite a few podcasts lately. It is just something I do while washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking dinner. While folding laundry and listening to an old Freakonomics Podcast (called How To Raise Money Without Killing A Kitten) about charity giving and the economics and research behind Americans giving, it just really hit me that (1) Christians aren’t the super charitable people they like to think they are and (2) the Church often tries to pull a lot of the same “tricks” other organizations do to compete for the Christian’s dollar.

Now, there are a couple of issues going on here. And I don’t call myself an expert, and really this is more of a rant to raise awareness than anything.

The average American gives 2% of their income to charity. Now, a Gallup poll in 2008 said 77% of Americans identify as Christians. (Who do they poll? I’ve never been polled. Anyway, moving on.) I think that is a very high estimate. Huffpo in 2013 said 20% of Americans no longer identify with any religion. (This source says 83% identify as Christian.  This source says 70.6%.  This source says there are 247 million Christians in the US.) My point is, something is wrong. The majority of the country is Christian, yet they obviously aren’t tithing.

Dun. Dun. Dun. I said the big bad word in today’s evangelical circles. Tithing. It is a Biblical concept you’re all aware of. Give God 10%. Now, we can debate gross or net. You can even try to debate that tithing is an Old Testament concept not relevant for a New Testament Church. And if you want to go there, fine. Pattern your life after the New Testament Church in Acts 2 when they sold everything they had and gave the profits to the poor and lived sharing everything with one another. That’s cool. I was just asking for 10%. But I guess everything works, too.

So, disconnect number one is that 2% of income from Americans is going to charity (all of them, not just the Church). Shouldn’t that number be higher since the majority of America is “Christian”? (I use the quotes because I am not sure we have that many followers of Christ; I think more of them are cultural Christians.) So, clearly, some of you (again, talking to the Church, here) aren’t giving as you should. (I should also note here that neither I nor the Pastor has now or ever known how much any individual or family in any church we’ve been in have given. We’ve made it a point to not know those things. I don’t want you thinking I cooked you dinner when you were having a tough time because you gave the church money. We’ve also made it a point not to touch the money. So, I have never seen a single check in the offering plate or a single name on the PayPal summary. I really have no clue.) And you can justify that decision until you are blue in the face, but the facts will not change. You need to be giving 10% to YOUR CHURCH. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care where you attend. You need to be tithing to your church. If you don’t trust them with your money, why are you trusting them with your spiritual health and the spiritual health of your family? You can dislike this if you want, but you need to be giving 10% to your church. You don’t need to be earmarking it for what you want it to be used on. You need to let go and give it to God. Period. No strings attached. No splitting the amount between all the good things you want to give to. 10% to your church. Then give to the other things. (And don’t forget to give of your time and talents as well.)

Back to the podcast, they listed six reasons people give to charities: (1) altruism– you really want to help the person or cause; (2) “warm glow” altruism or as I called it, selfish altruism– you want to feel good about giving, you want bragging rights, you want the warm fuzzies knowing you are a good person or knowing other think you are a good person; (3) guilt– you feel bad not giving, you don’t want to look bad by not giving; (4) herd giving– you give because others around you are giving or someone you look up to gives; (5) private good– you give to get or keep (not loose) something you want; (6) public good– you want the thing to exist, not just for yourself, but for your community or others. Now, often your reasons are a mix of things. And often churches use these same things to get you to give. (I don’t necessarily think it is intentional for the most part, just something that happens when we do things because it is the way things are done. Think about passing the offering plate for a minute. You play on herd giving: everyone else is doing it, possibly even someone I look up to. You play on guilt: I don’t want to look bad not giving. You play on public and private good: I need to give for the church to continue and I really like this or that program; plus, I want this place to exist for my community. “Warm glow” altruism: you feel good by giving; some churches will even tell you the blessings of God are directly tied to your giving. Altruism: you really do want to support the Church and the cause of Christ. Now, clearly all those are not bad things. There are a few negatives, but some positives. We don’t pass a plate at our church because of the negatives. I don’t think passing a plate is wrong. We just don’t do it.) But isn’t there another BIG reason to give to your church? Yes, I hope there is altruism in your gift. But isn’t there something else? Obedience. It is a dirty word in our culture. Obedience. But that is how we grow. That is how we grow as children. That is how we grow as Christians. I don’t know how to put others before myself until I practice it. I don’t know how to become less self-centric until I practice it. I don’t know how to be obedient until I practice it. Tithing is bare-minimum obedience practice. It is the absolute easiest form of obedience. God asks us first for the small things. When that becomes easier, it becomes easier to give the big things. To give up our lives for full-time ministry. To give up our children for full-time ministry. To give up our time for someone in need. To give up our comfort for someone else. To give up ourselves for the cross. 10% of your money is the starting point.

So why is it so hard? Why are churches closing the doors because they don’t have the funds to carry on? Why are pastors working two or three jobs just to be able to bring God’s word to God’s people? Why are churches not being planted? 70% giving 10%– we shouldn’t have problems funding any aspect of Christian work. The widows should easily be taken care of. The orphans should be well loved and cared for. The missionaries shouldn’t have to come home to beg, but come home to share the fire in their bellies for the people. Why is 10% so hard for us to let go of? And is 10% in your pocket really worth limiting the Church?

So what do donors or givers like to get? Well, according to the podcast, they like getting something in return. An inflated ego, for sure. They want to win something. They want to gain something. They want control. Sadly, how much does this all sound like Christians? (Ahem. Especially that control part. Ahem.)

But what do we actually get by tithing? What is in it for you? Well, the fact that we ask that question highlights the problem. If you’re more concerned about yourself than others then you clearly haven’t quite gotten the message of Christ.

Now, I could go through the list of what your pastor does, what your church does. I could add copies of the budget and account for hours spent and what they were spent doing. But really, the bottom-line is obedience. And your church shouldn’t have to use gimmicks and tactics to get your support. You should support them because you love God and you love the Church. You should give because you are invested in the Gospel of Christ. We should give because God tells us we should. The Christian life is a life lived for others– from our pocket books to the hours in our days. Giving isn’t to make you feel good. It isn’t to make you feel bad. It isn’t to purchase your mansion in glory. Giving is about obedience to God and love for others.

Now, I know my editor is going to give me grief about this post. All I have to say to him is that I was led to say something and that I did it out of love, not self. I think it is a message worth sharing.