Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Having Fun Celebrating Jesus!

"It's the most wonderful time of the year!" Every time I think about Christmas, I can hear Andy Williams singing this song in my head. I SERIOUSLY love Christmas! Even more than birthdays. I like every part of it! I like the parties and the lights and the food and the music and the smells and the weather and the bell ringers and the presents and deep down I don't even mind all the craziness and people in the stores. I get a warm fuzzy feeling from Thanksgiving until December 25th and I LOVE it! But amidst all the hustle and bustle and fairytale feelings, it can be easy for me, even as an adult, to lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas. Last year Matt and I spent a lot of time talking about ways that we can make sure that even though all this other stuff is fun, Christ remains the focus in our home. Here's a few Christmas traditions we came up with or copied off of others: The day after Thanksgiving gift- We like to decorate and get all of our Christmas stuff out the day after Thanksgiving. That's when Christmas officially starts for us. One thing we decided to do is to give a collective gift to our children on that day that focuses on Christ and that they can enjoy the whole season and help them focus on him. Ideas include: books and videos about his birth, ornaments (I just saw a super cool set at Hobby Lobby today that could be used to decorate a tree in their room... maybe next year?:)), toys (Fisher Price has a toddler Nativity set), advent calendars, activities, etc. Each year that stuff comes back out and you add something else to it and the idea is that they'll be surrounded with fun things that celebrate Christ and will remind them of the meaning of Christmas when they see and play with them. Three Gifts- Several people gave us the idea of giving 3 gifts to each child to represent the 3 gifts the wise men gave to Jesus. Nothing spiritual about it, just another reminder. This year with Isaac, we got him some "smaller" gifts (puzzles, videos and board games). Because none of them were super expensive and our budget this year allowed it, we got him several of each and we're wrapping them as "themed" gifts. Silas is getting 3 "bigger" items. Santa- How can you not love that big, jolly guy? We struggled with how to allow Santa Claus to be a part of our holiday season without him stealing the show. We finally decided on stockings. We got these super cute stockings last year with Santa on them and each year on Christmas morning they will find it stuffed full of fun things from him. We really don't want to be Scrooges, but we do want to be Christ centered. Everyone has their opinions on this, but this is what we've decided for our family and I'm super excited about it. Isaac's getting some Thomas trains in his this year and I'm pretty sure he'll be more excited about those than anything else he gets. Silas, well, he's getting a rubber ducky and some socks. :) Breakfast- This year we'd like to implement a fun breakfast tradition. To minimize stress on an already crazy morning/week, I think we're going to do cinnamon rolls out of a can. When it's time to eat we'll light a candle and sing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus. Quick and fun and one more way to bring it back around to the reason we're celebrating. Reading the Christmas story- Of course we'll be reading the story of Jesus' birth a lot over the next month, but when I was growing up, we always read the story out of Luke before we opened presents as a family. I like that idea and think we'll continue it with our family, though we may use a more toddler/baby friendly version for the next couple of years. Theme days- I'll be doing 1 or 2 themed Christmas days with Isaac to reinforce what he's been learning about the birth of Christ. So that's how we're going to try and stay focused this year and how we hope to pass down to our children the amazing Gift that was given to us by our Father at Christmas time. What are some of your traditions that help you celebrate Jesus? Does anyone have any good traditions between them and their spouse? I'm all about getting some more good ideas and tweaking or changing or adding to what we already have!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Looking AT the windshield instead of THROUGH it

Prayer. It's been my focus as of late. I think I may have had a mini-breakthrough. I've already lamented about how prayer has always been a struggle for me and that I've been fighting to make it a more vibrant part of my life. I recently finished up A Praying Life by Paul Miller and found it to be a fresh perspective that left me feeling hopeful that perhaps progress can be made in this area of my life. In his chapter on listening to God, Miller uses a word picture that really struck me. He was actually using it in reference to elevating an experience with God over God himself but he said, "Without realizing it, we can look at the windshield instead of through it." All at once it hit me that that's what I've been doing with prayer. I want to pray "right," so I study the topic of prayer. I read books on Scripture. I read Scripture itself. I have books that give amazing testimony to the power of prayer. I get all "motivated up" and then give it a shot. I think, "Okay, now I know what the Bible says about it and the effects it can have, so let's do this!" And I fizzle out again and come out on the other side discouraged. Okay, so then Miller talks about how a "praying life" can look and gives some practical advice to get there. He focuses on Scripture and how it is such an important part of praying. He talks about finding passages of Scripture to help you "pray biblically" about specific circumstances. Not an idea that's completely foreign to me. Then it all came together in my mind: I left Scripture alone once I learned what the Bible said about the topic. I used my intellect and my emotions, but rarely the Word of God. Sure, I occasionally prayed through a Psalm as a praise offering or lament or let a passage (such as the Lord's Prayer) guide my praying, but for the most part, Scripture was not a part of the praying process. Enter confusion. I second guess myself as I pray because I don't know whether to pray "in faith" or pray "your will be done" or give it up all together because deep down I don't believe it does anything. Doest that make sense? I'm looking AT the windshield (theology of prayer) instead of THROUGH it? I then become paralyzed by the idea of praying correctly. Aiyayay! I've seriously been doing this for years!!!! He suggests something that I've embarrassingly never even thought of. Make my "prayer list" using Scripture. Novel idea. Here's how it looks: He has an index card for specific members of his family and areas of his life (people who are suffering, friends, non-Christians, church leadership, missionaries and ministries, cultural issues, work, co-workers, repentance, hopes/dream, etc.). He considers the things they need prayer for and then finds a verse or passage in Scripture to guide his prayer for that person. Brilliant! No more second guessing! (Or at least less of it, anyway!) I think it will make more sense if you read the book or look at my cards, so I'll give some examples. Isaac, as most two year old are, is struggling with obedience and whining right now. So here's what his card says: ISAAC Obedience- "Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." (Eph. 6:1) Whining- "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation..." (Phi. 2:14-15) Salvation- "For 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Rom. 10:13) These are things I am praying for Isaac right now. Instead of just praying that Isaac won't whine (which in reality would really be a prayer for me because I can't stand listening to it!!!), I can pray that he would not whine for his character's sake and for God's glory; that he would grow up to be a blameless and pure child of God even in the midst of the evil going on in the world around him. Here's a personal card with areas that I struggle with and am continually coming back to the Lord for forgiveness and help. REPENTANCE Selfishness with others (especially Matt)- "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." (Phil. 2:3-4) Laziness in household responsibilities- "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men." (Col. 3:23) Pride-When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Prov. 11:2) That's about all the dirty laundry that I'm willing to share, but you get the idea. I have a lot of friends from Moody who are either on the mission field or are getting ready to go and this is my prayer card for them (some names are X'ed out because they're in sensitive areas and I'm not sure that it's good to have "missionary" next to their name on a public site). MISSIONARIES XXXXXX and XXXXXX Matt and Pam XXXXXX and XXXXXX Kevin and Alyssa Nate and Kelley "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Gal. 6:9) I LOVE it. My "prayer list" items don't change much, but the WAY I pray for those things do! Such a breath of fresh air! Miller doesn't pray through every prayer card everyday and he suggests using your designated prayer time to make these cards if you don't feel you have a lot of extra time (which is what I'm trying to do). He also gives a sneak peek into his prayer life and gives a real life representation of the 20-25 min. he spent in his "set aside prayer time" and what it looked like with interruptions and all. It was encouraging to me to see a guy who takes prayer so seriously yet doesn't spend hours in a prayer closet uninterrupted before God (not that that isn't AMAZING if you do it, but not extremely practical for me right now unless I were to get up in the middle of the night.) I'll once again recommend this book. It's not perfect, but it sure is a fresh perspective and unlike any other book I've read on the subject. That's all for now. I am still very open to suggestions and would love to hear how your prayer life works. For now, I'm grateful for the mini-breakthrough and pray that the Lord continues to work on me in this area of weakness.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Noah Day

Okay, this post has been a long time coming. I did a "Noah Day" with Isaac a while back and am just now getting around to posting pictures. I must admit that it was a little harder to do it by myself and a LOT harder to get good 'in the moment' pics. These don't do it justice, but will give you an idea of what our morning looked like. All in all, it went well and we had a lot of fun. Our coffee table is becoming my new best friend. This time I turned it upside down and took advantage of it's bow-shaped legs and made it into an ark with postal paper and threw a blanket in the bottom to cover up the staples and unfinished wood. I thought it turned out pretty cute.
Silas doing his normal laid back thing.
This is the "Noah" puppet from the set I ordered a while back. He helped me read the books and tell the story and it really helped keep Isaac's attention. (P.S. I know Noah looks kinda creepy here, but I had a hard time getting him far enough away from the camera on my arm... he really is cute, I promise.)
We have the Playskool Noah's Ark set and I got an extra set of animal pairs. We dumped all the animals out on the floor and he had to find the matches and march them two by two into the ark. When I saw this picture at first I thought the animals looked way too small for our large "coffee table boat," but then I got to thinking about it and this is probably more to scale than we might inititally think. Can you imagine how large the ark must have looked in comparison to even the most giant of beasts?!?
Once they were all on, "God" shut the door and Isaac played the with the animals inside the boat for a while. He thought it was pretty cool, but the paper boat took a beating and didn't last too long after this round of fun. :)
In between each activity, we read the story of Noah's ark again. There are no shortage of children's book on this one, so I had a lot to choose from. Sometimes the puppet helped me, sometimes he didn't, but repetition is helpful and with the wide variety, Isaac stayed engaged. Next we moved on to making a lion mask. I cut out the pattern beforehand and he simply colored it and then we stapled on the "Stretch Magic" string.
He got creative and colored with two crayons at once. :)
Lest you think the morning was all fun and games, here's proof that it was not. He screamed his head off when I put the mask on him. He is not a fan of things on his head or face...
We also made an elephant finger puppet where your finger acts as a trunk. I thought it was so cute and it suited him a little better. :)
We told the story again using a paper dove and a branch from a tree in our backyard. There are so many fun things you can focus on in the story. (As well as some not fun things.... like God in his wrath wiping out everything on earth save those people and animals on the ark... but we didn't focus on that this time... ;) My pastor jokes about how people decorate their nursery in Noah's ark, not thinking about what a sobering story it truly is in many ways.) Moving on... We then painted a rainbow to use in a picture we made later. I helped him with this one as he told me the colors and then I let him make one of his own.
I think his turned out pretty cute! :)
While the paint dried, we went to work building the ark.
He is ALL boy!
Next on to some animal puzzles!
After the paint dried, we put together this Noah's ark picture. I got the idea from my new friend Mandy who did an awesome Noah day with her kiddos and some friends over the summer. We also had an animal cracker snack with all of our leftovers. Yummy! What a fun morning!