Tips for celebrating Advent with Kids

The beginning of the Advent season is just a few short days away, and I have been thrilled to hear that so many of you are planning to use my Advent reading “Tracing Glory: The Christmas Story Through the Bible” (to get a link to this FREE resource, see the previous blog post). I am praying God uses this resource to draw hearts to Him and lead us to worship!

I wanted to share a few quick tips for using “Tracing Glory” with kiddos. I have found with my own kids that visuals are necessary for them to better grasp what we are reading together. Also, visuals make the Advent reading more fun! For this reason, I made (or bought) an ornament to correspond with each day’s reading. I have provided pictures of each of my ornaments at the end of the Advent resource (several have asked for written instructions for making the ornaments, but I have not had a chance to pull that together this year). If you do not have the time or supplies to make your own set of ornaments, one easy way to provide visuals for kids is to cut out the pictures I provided. You can glue the pictures on 3×5 index cards (I cut the cards in half), punch a hole, and add ribbon. Voila! You have an ornament. I added a short Christ connection on the two examples below.

If you are planning to use ornaments, putting them in an Advent calendar or wrapping them separately for your kids to open each day adds some suspense and excitement (my kids love unwrapping, and our ornaments don’t fit in our Advent calendar this year :)). You can see in the the picture below how I have wrapped and labeled ornaments for the first two days of December. Another option is to gather supplies and make an ornament with your child/children each day. That option is a lot of work, but creative kids love it! 

Another way to make the Advent celebration exciting is to have a little sweet treat for your kiddos to find in the Advent calendar each day (if you don’t have an Advent Calendar, just give it to them before or after the reading). We usually do our Advent reading after dinner, so I try to have a small Christmas cookie, candy cane or some other special treat for the boys. On the first day of Advent, we usually do Christmas PEZ and dispensers.

Finally, Christ Connection cards are another easy visual you can make to help kids remember the main point of each particular day’s reading. They don’t need to be anything fancy! I made these using index cards and a sharpie. I didn’t write out the entire Christ connection from the end of each day’s reading—-just came up with a shorter version of it.

I hope these tips are helpful as you plan for a special Advent celebration! The goal is to figure out what works best for your family depending on the ages of your children. Be flexible and willing to change things up as you go if something isn’t working! As I’ve come up with visuals for my kids, I’ve had my oldest child (7) in mind. Remember, this is a resource for very young children to grow into.

Praying for a blessed Advent season for all as we reflect on the first coming of Christ and anxiously await His glorious return!

First Podcast – The Glass House

Adam recently asked me to start a podcast with him. My first reaction was “HA! In what time?” Our lives are full to the brim, and starting a podcast hasn’t even been on my radar. But through some convincing from Adam and encouragement from others, I began to realize this could be a valuable ministry and way to encourage others with truth and gospel hope. So, here we are. We’ve recorded our first episode!

We discuss the reason, purpose and hopes for our podcast. Then, we move on to the main topic of this episode: Christmas (even though it’s Thanksgiving week…sorry)! We talk about practical ways to exalt Christ in our own hearts and in our families during the Advent season and why this is vitally important in a culture of distraction.

We hope you’ll listen, comment your thoughts, and share with someone who might be encouraged or challenged! The Glass House will be coming to iTunes soon.

Recommended Resources for Advent:

Books
Good News of Great Joy by John Piper
Come Now Long Expected Jesus, Edited by Nancy Gutherie
Come, Let us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional by Paul David Tripp
She Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World 
He Reads Truth Advent- Joy to the World
The ADVENTure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions by Lisa Whelchel
Truth in the Tinsel (ebook) by Amanda White

St. Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones

Music:
Behold The Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson
Prepare Him Room by Sovereign Grace Music
JOY: An Irish Christmas by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Glory in the Highest: A Christmas Record by Shane & Shane
Receive our King by Meredith Andrews
Sing the Bible Family Christmas by Randall Goodgame (Slugs & Bugs)

The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

The Home as the Hub of Life on Mission

Our family is in the process of moving from one house to another, and I’m kind of feeling all the feels about it. There’s the nostalgia and twinge of sadness as we say goodbye to a house where we’ve made sweet memories and grown as a family, but there’s also the excitement about a new place for a new season. All these feelings brought about by our upcoming change of address have gotten me thinking about the fact that a home is much more than just brick and mortar.

When we think of a house, we may think of shelter or a space to decorate according to our various styles. When we think of a home, we might envision a refuge or place of belonging. But in the Kingdom of God, does a home have a deeper purpose than even these good things? Does the Bible have anything to say about God’s purpose for the home?

Women who are familiar with the Bible may remember that in Titus chapter two, the work of the home is mentioned. Here, the apostle Paul exhorts Titus to teach what accords with sound doctrine (the gospel): Older women are to train younger women to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home . . . that the word of God will not be reviled” (2:4-5). Paul is not here saying that women should only work in the home. The point Paul makes is that the home is significant in God’s gospel mission; therefore, the work of the home is extremely valuable to Him. The Bible is clear that the mission of believers is to spread God’s glory to all the world by making disciples through the power of the gospel (Matt 28:19-20, Rom 1:16). This mission is not disconnected from Paul’s exhortations to women concerning work in the home. When Titus chapter two is interpreted in light of Christ’s great commission mandate, women will begin to see that their homes can serve as a “hub” or effective center for living a life on mission for Christ .

The mission begins within the walls.

I love Mother Teresa’s thought provoking words: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Al Mohler recently made a similar statement: “If we can’t reach our children, we can’t reach the world.” Our mission to reach the world with the gospel starts at home. The people who live within our walls {spouses, children, roommates} are our closest neighbors and usually the people with whom God has given us the greatest influence. Hearts and minds are shaped early and, as parents, we have the hearts of our children first. As we are faithful to love and care for our kids in the day-to-day, we have thousands of opportunities to make intentional deposits of gospel truth into their hearts and lives while praying for God to bring transformation and growth.

When we view the home as the hub of our mission efforts, even the most mundane and exhausting work required in keeping a house and caring for those we love is important and meaningful; yet, at the same time, it doesn’t rule us. Christ rules us. We can work faithfully by His strength and for His glory while recognizing that our joy is not dependent on whether or not we have a beautifully decorated and tidy home, a thankful spouse, or well-behaved children.

To use our homes as the hub of our mission efforts does not mean we are domestic goddesses who keep picture-perfect homes and never make mistakes in front of those who live in our home. In fact, it’s really just the opposite. Being on mission within the walls of our homes means that we really get the gospel ourselves. We understand that apart from Christ we are broken and flawed and weak. We recognize that every failure–every bad attitude, impatient word or careless act–is an opportunity to point to the Perfect One whose righteousness has been credited to us through faith and who is slowly transforming our hearts as we turn from our sin and look to Him alone. The ugly things in our hearts that are exposed in front of those we love give us the chance to demonstrate humility and true repentance as we shout the good news that the gospel of Jesus is our greatest hope in our weakest moments. To be on mission in our homes, we must model our deep need and highlight God’s great grace.

The mission moves beyond the walls when the door is open.

God has provided us earthly homes as temporary places of refuge, not that we may sequester ourselves behind closed doors and only minister to those within our walls, but that we may open our doors and bid others to come in and  see that the it is The Lord is good. These physical structures we live in are just temporary dwellings, but they can be a powerful  tool to point others forward to our eternal dwelling in Christ if we will simply open our doors.

A missional home is an open home, not a perfect home. Are we willing to welcome others into our imperfect (and in my case, messy) homes to share of our time, our food, and ourselves? In the book of Acts, Luke records that the early Church did life together. Followers of Christ gathered daily to learn, worship, break bread, and remember the gospel together. They also applied the gospel together as they generously gave of what they had to meet the needs of others. In short, they lived life with a “what’s mine is yours” mentality. “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were beings saved” (Acts 2:47b). As they lived life together with open homes and hands, the gospel spread.

We live in an individualistic culture of locked doors, drawn curtains and privacy fences. The American mentality is “you can only count on what you earn”. But if our homes are going to function as little gospel outposts for taking the good news to the world, we must work by Christ’s strength to keep our doors open regardless of how uncomfortable or costly it may feel.

We each need to ask ourselves questions such as these: Is my home open to those in the Body of Christ? Do I regularly welcome believers in to share a meal or coffee and speak about the things of the Lord together? Is my home a refuge for others in need of a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, godly counsel or just a free place to spend the night? As I welcome the Body of Christ, am I intentionally seeking to build relationships with the lost in my circle of influence while petitioning the Lord to add to [our] number those who are being saved? Do I speak to neighbors and try to get to know them through time? Do I develop friendships with lost coworkers who do not know the Lord and invite them into my home? Do I pray for them and ask the Lord for opportunities? There are countless creative ways to use our homes for God’s Kingdom mission if we will open our eyes and ask daily for his strength and help.

Lest we become easily discouraged, let us remember that we will not be perfect in managing our homes for effective gospel mission. We will struggle and always have room to grow, but weakness itself is a gift. It reminds us that our hope is in something greater than our home and our own efforts at faithful obedience. In the hard moments, let us shift our perspective to the truth that Gloria Furman communicates so well:

The remnant Israelites learned that their home was not their refuge. In our modern time, we need to know this too. We need to know that our home is not a projection of our image but a space in which we work to display the image of Christ. Home points to a peace that is beyond color schemes and adornments. It points to the fact that the Lord is our refuge. Jesus Christ is the greatest missional home manager the world has ever seen. He builds his house, and he sets his house in order. He is head over his church, and he loves her perfectly. He nourishes her with his word. Christ reigns in sovereign superiority; he is the basis of all our joy. We must live our lives focused on his sovereign lordship over the cosmos.“

Yes. And amen.

 

Reflections on 2016

I’ve had writer’s block for a year.

Well, that’s not entirely true. So many thoughts have fluttered back and forth between my heart and head that have just never made it out through my hand. More often than not, my thoughts have found a page by necessity. Typically, it’s been impossible to keep them in. Writing is how I have processed, meditated, and spoken truth to my own heart. Writing is how I have remembered. But not this year.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I’ve been too exhausted to write for an entire year. Never really a coffee person, I have found coffee a dear friend of late.

I asked Adam how he would describe 2016. He responded, “Hard!” without even looking up from his computer. And I feel the same way. There has been no major crisis in our family. No one is sick. No one has died. We have numerous blessings to count and countless reasons to give thanks. Nonetheless, the year has been hard. And that is ok. Because hard and good aren’t mutually exclusive. Testings and blessings are often two sides of the same coin.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried . . . we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. -Psalm 66:10,12b

At the close of 2015, just when {I thought} I was finally getting the hang of life with two little boys, we welcomed our third baby boy into the family. What a precious, undeserved Christmas gift! Truly, I could not have picked a sweeter baby. What joy it is to have three sons to love and nurture in the admonition of the Lord–what fun to trod this unlikely journey of “life with boys” —a journey I certainly never anticipated or could have orchestrated for my own life. What a gift for them to have the camaraderie and deep love of brotherhood. Nevertheless, I would be lying if I said the journey has been easy thus far.

Trials and testings are part of living in world that is fractured by the curse of sin. Sometimes testings come in powerful, shocking blows of crisis that knock us off our feet and send us into what feels like a tailspin. In other seasons, trials and testings are more subtle. They come in the form of a daily grind that feels like a weight so heavy it might eventually crush us–a responsibility so demanding that we feel sucked in and fear we might be drowned in the quicksand. Sometimes challenges take the form of numerous little life stresses that compile to wear and tear. Different personalities respond to hardship in various ways, but regardless of the form it takes, hard is hard and very real nonetheless. And no one is exempt.

This year held a lot of adjustment for us. If I’m being honest, it held a lot of “daily grind hard” in both parenthood and ministry. It held a host of real life, real world stress. I could not have imagined the heavy demands wrapped up in the beautiful blessing of caring for three small boys. No one can prepare you for it. And eight years ago, when we moved nine hours from home to start seminary with nothing but about five hundred dollars and {rather weak} faith, I never could have imagined the strength of faith I would need for the journey of vocational ministry–a faith God is still growing in me 8 years later. There were times during 2016 that I distinctly longed for 2017…a new year and a fresh start…an easier day-to-day that hopefully involved more sleep and time to sit in a chair and read.

But when I reflect on 2016, I see more than the hard. I see the good. I see the refinement in us. I am reminded that our God is so merciful that he uses the hardships of a world broken by our making to accomplish his own good and perfect purposes. He uses the fire to refine us until He sees His own image. Beauty from ashes.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

Were we not laid bare in the hardships and trials of day-to-day life, would we ever really see our need? Would we ever cling to God as our ultimate provider and be amazed at his consistent and abundant faithfulness to us? Would our hearts ever cry out with the Psalmist, Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides you, I desire nothing on earth! My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. God is so kind to show us our constant need for him–to force us out of ourselves and into Him. To show us that He is willing to be our portion, a portion that will fill and satisfy. 

The constant demands of marriage and  motherhood have exposed my tendency to worship so many golden calves–self-sufficiency, productivity, order, ease, and “me-time” to name a few. Though I would not trade this season, at times I have mourned what it has required me to lay down. In addition, the unknowns of ministry have exposed my desire for control and my struggle to really trust the sovereign God I proclaim. But where I am weak, God is strong. He is so patient and forgiving–an ever-present help in times of need. He is a Father who loves to give good gifts to His Children and a perfect husband who is burning away impurities and preparing for Himself a holy and beautiful bride.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. {Matt 10:39}

But when we ourselves become refined like silver to the glory of God, the transformation pays back what has been lost or owed. We are not yet “gold”; that awaits the restoration of all things. On this side of heaven, the closest we become is silvered. We gain this gleam from walking with the God who walks with us, and giving Him back the glory and the praise. Our silvering reflects him to a world much in need of reflection. {Carolyn Weber, in Holy is the Day}

God has been faithful every step of the way–through every beautiful and hard moment of 2016. What a joy it has been to see his love and care for us–His perfect {and sometimes unexpected} provision and his abundant grace! I don’t know what 2017 will hold, but I can march forward without fear or angst because our times are in His hands, and He has proven time and again that He is good.

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. {Corrie Ten Boom}

What I want for you Most

To my boys…my little arrows…my warriors in training:

I often think about what I want for you most.  Hopes deep within my soul turn into prayers poured  from my heart and oftentimes whispered from my lips throughout my days. Do I want you to have good health and talent and success and a life of happiness? Well, certainly those things would be wonderful blessings. Do I desire for you a well-adjusted childhood? Academic and athletic achievement? Loyal friends? A solid career? Financial stability and ease? What parent wouldn’t want these good gifts for their children. I hope God sees fit to bless each of you in some or all of these ways during your life on earth, but the truth is that I rarely pray any of these things for you. They are not the most important things. They are not what I want for you most, and they are not what I want for you at all if they come at the expense of what I want most.

What I desire for each of you more than anything is that God would grow you into mighty warriors for the Kingdom of Christ–the Kingdom of Light. In Psalm 127, God tells us that you boys are a heritage to your dad and me. You are a reward to us from God Himself. As children born into a household built by the Lord, God’s Word describes you as “arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior.” The passage goes on to say that warriors who fill their quiver with these arrows are  abundantly blessed. While your dad and I are not warriors in a physical sense, we are very much warriors in a spiritual sense. Ephesians 6 tells us that, as followers of Jesus, we are warriors in a battle that we cannot see with our eyes but a battle that is very real and very intense, nonetheless. This battle is not against flesh and blood, but it is a battle against a very present darkness in our world–a battle against spiritual forces of evil.

You will not have to live long in our world to see this darkness. It is pervasive. It has left our world broken and seemingly beyond repair. Broken hearts. Broken bodies. Hatred. Violence. Abuse. Dysfunction. Destruction. Despair. Death. Things are not as they should be and it hurts so deeply. No one is unaffected. Suffering comes to all, and the burdens of this present darkness are too many and too heavy for us to bear. The worst part of it all is that the darkness starts in you and me—in the deepest crevices of our own hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), and God’s Word says that we love this darkness (John 3:19). My precious boys, you will never become warriors against this great darkness in our world until you first recognize and mourn the great darkness in your own hearts. You will never fight for the light until a supernatural and transformative Light shines in your own hearts. This Light is my greatest hope and prayer for you.

. . .the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord . . . For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Only Jesus has borne the full burden of our brokenness through His death in our place on the cross of Calvary. Jesus alone is the Light that will shine in our hearts and vanquish the darkness. Look to Him, little Arrows, look to Him. And one day, I pray you will fly from our quiver and into the world as strong Warriors–full of integrity and kindness– ready to do battle for The Light as you love others deeply and make an eternal difference here on Earth to the glory of God. May every part of my parenting be shaped by this deep desire of my heart—what I want for you most.

I Love you deeply.

The Beauty and Pain of Mother’s Day

IMG_0476

This Sunday is Mother’s Day–an entire day set aside to acknowledge the irreplaceable role of “mother” and the invaluable work of “mothering” in its various forms. It is a day to honor and thank those who have given themselves to that essential, albeit challenging, work of mothering both in our own lives and in the lives of others. In His great wisdom, God chose daughters of Eve, the “mother of all living”, to bear and nurture life in fulfillment of His great purposes in the world. Thus, “mothers” and those who “mother” are essential to both the existence and sustenance of life itself. Mother’s Day is beautiful.

But Mother’s Day is also painful. From the time humanity fell into sin until now, women have experienced  deep pain in childbearing and all related issues. For women waiting and longing to mother children not yet received, there is pain. For women grieving children who have died before them, there is pain. For women watching children walk a path of suffering or a path of foolishness and destruction, there is pain. For women struggling under the hard work of mothering difficult children in difficult seasons, there is pain. For women grieving their own sins and inadequacies in mothering, there is pain. For women who don’t long for children of their own or fit the typical mold of “mother” but are seeking to discover how God has equipped them to nurture life in His world, there may be feelings of loneliness, estrangement, or pain. On Mother’s Day, the pain in childbearing is especially raw and real for so many women.

Every day, but especially on Mother’s Day, women must keep the gospel in view. God created women in His image with the capacity to bear and nurture life. All women, even those who are not mothers of biological or adopted children, are created to “mother”. . . to nurture God-given life in some sense. But because of sin, our world is terribly broken. Motherhood is broken. Things are not as they should be. Women struggle with their identity. Wombs are barren. Children die. Mothers grieve. Mothers cry. Mothers sin. Mothers fail. Mothers feel lost and unsure. Mothers feel lonely. Motherhood is hard.

But GOD….

How glorious to discover that God hasn’t left us alone in the struggles and hardships of our womanhood. The good news of the gospel is that our God redeems brokenness through His son Jesus Christ. “In him we have redemption through his [Christ’s] blood, the forgiveness of our tresspasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and spiritual insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God is redeeming a people for himself through the work of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross in order that He might one day reconcile a sin-corrupted world back to himself. Wrongs made right. Brokenness healed. Beauty in the place of ashes. All things new. For every woman who is turning away from sin and looking to Jesus as the only way to be healed and made right with God, there is hope for the brokenness of motherhood and womanhood in general. This is the good news that overcomes deep pain. And for the woman who is in Christ, there is assurance that God does not waste any pain that comes through childbearing, or any pain at all for that matter. Even the bitter pain itself has a role in God’s story of redemption and reconciliation as he uses it to refine His children, to make them strong and beautiful, to make them more like Christ. Romans 8:28 tells us that God is using all things (even pain) to work for the believer’s ultimate good in conforming us to the image of His Son.

So, on this Mother’s Day, let’s acknowledge both the beauty and the pain. Let’s highly esteem the work of mothering and give thanks to those who “mother”. Let’s honor and praise the precious mothers who birthed and raised us, but let’s also broaden our view of motherhood to see all the women around us who nurture life in various ways every day: grandmothers, spiritual mothers in the faith, teachers, caretakers of children, physicians, and many others. These women have much to give and our lives are richer because of them. On this Mother’s Day, let’s also be sensitive to the countless women who are struggling with “pain in childbearing” in all its various forms. So many women struggle to see the beauty in this day because the depth of their pain is so overwhelming. Hug a friend. Say a prayer. Send a text that acknowledges the hurt. Encourage the weary.  Above all, let’s hope in the good news of the gospel this Mother’s Day and hold it out to others. Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the redeemer, the healer, the true giver and sustainer of life, and the one takes deep pain and turns it into glorious beauty.

2 months with Nate

Our Natey baby boy has been with us two whole months, and even though we’re still sort of stumbling through the newborn fog, we absolutely adore him. He is truly the sweetest baby. Rarely cries, sleeps well, and does not seem one bit bothered by his brothers’ wild antics, loud screaming, and inability to give him personal space at times. This one knows how to go with the flow.

With Luke and John Wicks, I wrote detailed blog posts to record their milestones for each month of their first year(s). Not sure I’m gonna be able to pull that off for my little Nathan. Third child probs. Most days, I feel a tad overwhelmed with all that needs to be done to care for three little (very) dependent people, and blogging has fallen way down the priority totem pole. But I’m hoping to carve out some time here and there to record little updates.

I prayed that #3 would be an easy baby, and God was gracious. Nate slept for most of his first month of life it seems, and he’s finally started waking up this past month. He loves to lay on his playmat, kick his legs and arms, and stare intently at the colorful star toy above him. He nurses about every 3 hours during the day and has never had a bottle, mostly because I just haven’t wanted to take the time to pump and fix him one when it’s so much quicker to just nurse. Poor guy has LOTS of gas and had to have some tests run because of a very bloated stomach and frequent projectile vomiting. Everything checked out fine, and he seems to be spitting up less and less. To have so much gas, he is still a very calm baby.

I’ve been less stringent with the Baby Wise schedule that I used with L and JW, but Nate has still pretty naturally fallen into an eat, wake, sleep pattern.  Like his brothers, he’s not great at taking long naps in his bassinet, but he’s sleeping 4 to 6 hour stretches at night. He sleeps great in his car seat when we’re on the go.

I call him “Mr. Serious” because he’s pretty hard to impress, but we are starting to get sweet smiles more frequently. This time around, I’ve been much more intentional about trying to relax and enjoy this fleeting season.

Sweet Natey, I’ve loved every second of these first two months. You are a joy and a blessing to our family. I can’t wait to watch you grow and see God’s plans for you unfold, and I’m praying that he’ll make you a mighty warrior for His Kingdom.