Receiving!

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Is there anything like watching a little kid open a present? This was my four-year-old opening a package sent from his grandmother this week.

 

Oh, the joy!

During the Christmas season we often teach our children about giving, but I believe we have much to learn from our children about receiving.

Because somewhere along the way, as we grow older, we lose the art of it. In the moment John received his power ranger, he didn’t think a minute about paying his grandmother back. He knows he can’t! And I’m pretty sure he didn’t envision writing her a thank you note later like I did. None of that crossed his mind. He was completely fixated on the gift that was now his! And nothing delighted his grandmother more.

There’s a reason families arrange travel plans to be wherever the kids are on Christmas morning. We’ll do anything to be able to see those faces the moment they are overcome by surprise and wonder! We don’t want credit for the gifts; sometimes we even attribute them to a man in a red suit. It’s not about keeping score. We plot and plan and spend without counting the cost because…it’s a joy like none other to watch a child receive a gift.

We love it because, in many ways, we’ve lost it. As adults, we have a harder time receiving. We feel awkward accepting a compliment. We feel uncomfortable when someone gives us a gift and we can’t repay them. We feel unworthy. We’d rather earn it.

We focus our attention this season on giving. And giving is an incredibly beautiful thing. But, as children of God, the birth of Jesus is perhaps more of a time for us to receive. A time to receive a gift with wonder and awe that’s impossible to pay back. A time to receive a love that pursues us relentlessly despite how short we fall. A time to see that we are indeed unworthy, but accepting that somehow we’ve been miraculously—chosen. A time for us to become as Jesus said, “like little children.” (Matthew 18:3)

The birth of Jesus into our lives is a time when our Heavenly Daddy gets to see those of us who know we’ve been tragically naughty receive the gift of extravagant grace with the same foot-stomping excitement that John received his power ranger.

The joy is ours.

The joy is His.

Let earth receive her King!

 

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the precious joy we get to see in little children this time of year. Please help us learn from them how to anticipate with great hope and how to receive in exuberant joy. Please open our hearts by the power of Your Holy Spirit to receive the extravagant gift of Your Son. Thank you for joyfully receiving us as Your children. May the miracle of grace fall so fresh on us that we can’t help but dance a jig!

Amen.

 

Christmas in June

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We hear a lot about baby Jesus in December, but not much this time of year, so I wanted to share this little heartwarming moment today. We love to read children’s Bibles with our kids, and it is neat see each child identify with the stories. John’s favorite is David and Goliath and every time Goliath dies, John slaps the book as hard as he can and roars. It usually scares his sisters, but he is a precious little warrior. Mary’s favorite stories include the Marys; Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and Jesus’s momma all captivate her because she shares their name.

But Anna, at age (almost) 2, usually just wiggles around and tries to eat the books. She has just started talking more and wanting to read books by herself, so I handed her the Jesus Storybook Bible the other night. There was one (and only one) person she wanted to find:

“Oh baabeee Jeeee-Zus….Where are euuu?

She flipped and flipped and flipped the pages until she found Him lying in a manger, and then her face lit up with joy.

“Der’s baby Jeeee-Zus!” she squealed with joy when she found him.

It blows my mind that the One who made the gigantic sun became as tiny as a baby. The One with all Heavenly power arrived powerless. The One who can hold all creation in His hands needed His mother to hold Him.

The Living Word had to learn how to talk just like Anna. And so she, one of the the least of these, can relate to Him! I find it incredible that we don’t have to change and grow to get close to God, but that He changed and became small to grow close to us. What a beautiful upside-down Kingdom; what an amazing love!

As Anna was pointing to baby Jesus in glee, I asked her if she remembered his momma’s name.

“Mar-wee!” she said with excitement.

“That’s right! And what about his daddy?” I asked.

“Moses!” she said confidently.

I chuckled. Anna may not know Jesus’s earthly father’s name yet, and she may not know His Heavenly Father either. But…He knows little Anna. And He loves her so much that He made Himself small so that she could know Him too. She may be little, but she matters in a big way to that baby Jesus.

And that is worth a joyful squeal!

Sharing ideas, Mommas!

Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all of the Mommas!

One of the things that blesses me most as a mom is having a village of people to share advice, wisdom and creative ideas when it comes to life with kids. I am beyond thankful for the fingerprints other creative moms have left on our home. Motherhood is a daily challenge for me, as I believe it is for all of us who aim to do it well! It’s hard to know how to make the most of the mundane, see the big picture in the day-to-day, and capture the time that flies so quickly. Today, I wanted to share some of the ideas at work in our home (some original, some adopted) in hopes you might doing enjoy some of them with your own kids or pass them on. And, I would love for you share some of your own ideas in the comments below. When it comes to raising little ones, we are definitely better together! I’d love to hear from you!

Birthday Letters

Will and I started this tradition by writing a letter to our first-born when I was pregnant. Ever since then, we’ve written each of our kids a letter on their birthday. We try to limit them to one page to hit the highlights. We include special memories and milestones of the year as well as general impressions of them. I love reading the letters from years before because that thing we thought we’d never forget is brought back again – and was totally forgotten! If you are crafty, you could make this keepsake look more impressive. A binder from Publix and plastic dividers was what worked for us, but regardless, these letters are a treasure! One mom asked me if it’s too late to start if you didn’t at birth, and I don’t think it’s ever too late! If my Mom and Dad had written me a letter every year since I was eight, I would love it!

My Quotable Kid

A friend gave this to us when our third child was born, and it is AWESOME! It is a great way to capture those hilarious things your kids say. Ours lives in the kitchen because ninety percent of the quotes are said there. As soon as they come out of their mouths, I jot them down. Again, you think you’ll never forget these things, but with new memories always coming, it’s crazy how much we forget. This book is a gift to the whole extended family and they have all contributed!

Prayer Journals

Last summer I bought one of these for each of my kids. When my oldest went to Kindergarten, I started writing specific prayers for her. It is great to pray Scripture over them, pray for their future spouses, call forth qualities I see in them, pray protection, etc. They live in my nightstand and I love praying intentionally for each of them as time allows and the Spirit leads.

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Memory Quilt

Someone gave me this idea when I was cleaning out closets and having a hard time parting with certain things my kids had outgrown. It wasn’t necessarily the most fancy items that were hard to let go of (though I love those too) but the ones they wore so much. Like this shirt:

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John has worn it at least 100 times this past year. If I dress him in something else, he changes back into “Fly Guy”. If this shirt could talk, oh, the stories it could tell! At my friend’s suggestion, I am going to start putting these special items in a box for each kid, and will one day make (I mean, have someone else make) them into a quilt!

Summer Goal List

We started doing this a few years ago, and it has been a neat way to be intentional about summer. This year, a friend suggested starting by asking the kids what summer means to them. As a mom, I feel pressure to plan grand adventures for them to waterparks, activities and resorts (which we do love), but their list was so simple. It included catching a lightening bug, climbing trees, feeding ducks, going swimming at the neighborhood pool, playing tag and eating ice cream somewhere new each week. We have it on the fridge and my oldest is eager to start checking things off! Setting goals together is rewarding and makes our family feel like a team!

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This is new this year, but with the combination of nappers and non-nappers, my family spends a lot of our summer days at home. I want to make this time intentional and fun for them. Since school gets out this month, I’ve been collecting items and putting them in “the summer box”. You can do this on a dime; most of these items came from the Dollar Tree. The box includes things like an aunt farm, sidewalk chalk, water guns, puzzles, mazes, sticker mosaics, bubbles, games, etc. They are each going to get to play with one thing from the summer box per day, and it will have to go back in at the end of the day (so it keeps its “limited-time-only” status). We’ll see how this works, but they have seen the box in the laundry room, and can’t wait for summer to come so they can open it! It’s just the same old stuff, but made into a game so it seems more special.

This Mother’s Day, I am thankful for the mommas who have inspired and encouraged me. If you’re a mom of little kids, by the time you’ve read to here, you probably have someone crying, hurt or standing on the counter! But if you have a moment, please pass on one of your family’s ideas. You may not even think it’s special, but I assure you, someone else will. We all have unique gifts, influences and things we’ve learned along the way; I’d love to hear from you!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Possess the Gates

Hi Friends,

Today, I wanted to say how much I appreciate you as someone who reads my blog. Thank you for sharing life with me! I hope your Valentine’s Day was filled with extraordinary love. Today’s post is on OurCityOnAHill. Please click below to read. YOU OWN THOSE GATES! Read, and you’ll see what I mean!

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As a mom at Christmas, I write a script in my mind for how the magical moments of this season should unfold. I have these special memories of Christmas as a child; they were probably messy and chaotic, but when looking at frozen pictures of the past, they appear to be Norman Rockwell esque. So as I prepare meals, shop for gifts and make plans, I envision these magical moments with my family. The script in my mind is perfection.

But…for some reason, it doesn’t usually play out that way. This happened last week. Mary asked for an experience for Christmas this year…an ice skating date with mommy. Then dinner at her favorite pizza place right next to the rink, a cozy restaurant below the art museum that looks at the tinsel trail of trees. You can imagine the visions I had of gliding on the ice together while Christmas music played and then nestling in at that special restaurant in the middle of the park.

And, as we walked up to the rink in our three pairs of socks, two coats, and two pairs of pants in the surprise record low temperatures that hit on the date we chose, we saw the hip hop radio station’s van. Rather than Christmas music, we heard the bop of the nnst, nnst, nnst. As we walked up, they were blasting a song about “dropping your a..” at full blast, and we could hardly hear each other. Perhaps fitting for what was happening on the ice, but not fitting for the precious Christmas experience I envisioned with my five year old. Oh dear. Maybe we should come back another night. But then I remembered the efforts of stuffing our three-socked feet into our boots and zipping up all our zippers. There was no turning back!

At check in, Mary proudly told the woman how this was her Christmas gift. We stuffed our feet into the heavy skates and bravely made our way onto the ice. It was quite hard. As soon as our skates hit that awaited ice, the dj in charge told everyone to clear off for their game of turkey bowling. Clear the ice. We just got on. The woman in charge saw the looks on our faces and quietly told us that we could stay.  So, we had the entire ice rink to ourselves which, for safety reasons, was very helpful. While the dj manned the turkey bowling game, the Christmas music resumed. It was fabulous! But not exactly the gliding together I had envisioned because Mary was determined to skate without a helping hand from me. We laughed as she fell about forty times, and thankfully didn’t hit her hard little head. It was wet ice mixed with crashes and cold wind. But she loved it. She would not quit until she did a whole loop by herself. It looked like a painful disaster to me, but Mary was thrilled. And she finally did it!

Then we walked to the pizza restaurant, starving. It was full of people and the hostess greeted us with the news it was closed for a private party. What in the world?! On our night?! This was absolutely not part of the plan. Rather than head home, where my numb feet wanted to go, I drove Mary to a little place down the road that I hoped would still be open. It was empty and they told us we could sit anywhere. Mary chose the bar, the high seats, of course. She ordered sweet potato fries that came with a chocolate dipping sauce – something, Mary told me, is only at fancy restaurants. This was way better than pizza.

As the wait staff gathered around us and rolled silverware, Mary told them all about her ice skating adventure. They were thoroughly entertained by their small visitor. She told them all about her excitement for Christmas and her love for baby Jesus, a topic that was warmly welcomed out of the mouth of Mary. Wine was poured, Christmas was celebrated, more stories were told, and laughs lingered as we all embraced our unexpected, warm moment before braving the cold again. Mary did about eighty percent of the talking and beamed with glee as the center of attention. As the ice melted off my legs, I looked around at our new friends and at her windburned, laughing face with chocolate all over it…somehow the magic I was hoping for found its way to us.

I made this picture into an ornament as a gift to Mary to remember the gift of her experience.

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But really, it is a gift to me. It’s a reminder that in our failed quest for perfection, sometimes we find ourselves enveloped by a better storyline…that in the midst of unexpected cold, hard falls, closed doors, and moments we’d never put on the script, perfection makes its way to us. And that is the great joy of Christmas.

When You Miss Someone At Christmas

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Each year at Christmas, new memories are made and old ones are relived. As I opened the box of our tree ornaments, memories from over the years spilled out into the room. Remember that trip? Here’s that one from my childhood! Awe look, the year we got married? And look, our first Christmas with a baby! Years and years of memories all hung in one place. And then I pulled out the little wooden sleigh from her…my aunt Kitty.  

Kitty was my mom’s older sister who lived a few doors down. My childhood memories are flooded with Aunt Kitty. Our grandparents lived far away and she was a grandmother and an aunt all wrapped into one. She was so jolly and had a belly laugh that made you feel so good and special when you were with her. She gave out king-sized candy bars to hundreds of neighbors on Halloween; she was recklessly generous. And when I say she did Christmas, I mean she DID Christmas!

That’s why I will never forget twelve years ago on Christmas Eve when we got a call from a neighbor saying there was an ambulance at her house. We hung up the landline and my sister and I sped over. The stockings were hung, the gifts were wrapped, the food was made, she had worked so hard preparing a magical Christmas that only Kitty could prepare for her eleven grandchildren. She went to sleep on the couch after a long day of finishing touches, and she never woke up. As soon as we pulled up to her home, we knew. We just knew.

As I sat in Kitty’s funeral next to my younger sister and saw her fingers shake as she held the program…those fingers that had dialed the numbers to Kitty’s landline at least once a week since she was old enough to talk…I looked around at those Christmas trees in the front of the church and just sobbed. Christmas Eve. She was taken from us on Christmas Eve. It just didn’t seem right.

Twelve years have passed, I have gotten married and now have three precious children to soak in the magic of Christmas. They are absolutely adorable and hilarious this time of year. But even as new memories are made, I can’t get through this season without thinking of Kitty and having at least one good cry.

Because I miss her.

Maybe there is someone you miss this time of year too. It’s the happiest time of the year, and I dearly love it, but Christmas also brings us memories of people who are no longer here to share in the season; the family member who isn’t at the dinner table any more, the address in the Christmas card list you have to delete. Death is real. And it hurts. It’s not how it is supposed to be.

And this year as I got out that wooden sleigh, I feel like God was right there with me. And He reassured me that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to have a good cry. It’s okay to have these emotions and not feel the need to stuff them down. It’s okay not to be okay with death.

Because He isn’t.

At the tomb of His dear friend, Jesus wept. I know He would have wept with us that day in Kitty’s living room. He felt the sting of grief I know so well, and He too cried. And then He did something about it. He commanded his friend Lazarus to come out of that grave. And shortly after that, He did something even more miraculous. He went to the cross.

He came in all humanity and all power to look death straight in the eye and swallow it so we wouldn’t have to. He loves us so much He came to set us free of the shackles of sin and the sting of death. Because we matter.

We miss our loved ones, but we won’t always have to. “He will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.” (Isaiah 25:7-8) That hole in our hearts that yearns for things to be made whole again…He came to fill it, and He’s the only One big enough.

My wish list is long and exciting, but I think what we all desire most deeply this time of year is for the death of the people we love, and the brokenness both inside and around us, to be overcome and gone forever. That’s the cry of my heart and I believe that’s what Christmas promises.

Yes, there is death and darkness. But the birth of Jesus introduces us to the life and light that cuts straight through the heart of it, victorious.

“In him (Jesus) was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

There is something stronger than death; the love that broke into the universe on Christmas Day. The love that is making all things new.

And sometimes new memories shine light on the old. My children asked today if we could get out our birthday sign for Jesus. I told them not yet, and reminded them they needed to wait until the 25th. John, who is three, started jumping up and down. “Are we going to heaven, mama!? Are we going to get to sing to him in heaven?! Can we go and see him on his birthday, mama, please!? Can we go…”

I listened to his joyful request as his precious words began to cut straight through the heart of such a painful memory…it was the moment I lost it this year. I immediately thought of Kitty and how she went home to be with Jesus on the Eve of His birthday. She was with Him that night. John asked about my emotions, and I reminded him about Kitty. He was thrilled to know that she made it to heaven just in time to sing.

As I rejoiced with John, the words of “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, my favorite Christmas hymn and one that comforted me greatly in the years after Kitty’s death, played through my mind,

Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation, Sing all ye citizens of heaven above…Glory to God…Now in flesh appearing…

Those of us who miss loved ones at Christmas, we are invited to sing along triumphantly with all of the citizens of heaven, and perhaps with more volume than before,

Oh, come let us adore Him…Christ the Lord!