Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Activities

Okay, so yesterday I briefly explained what Advent is and what it's already meant to me this year.
Now I want to share some ways you can participate in Advent!
First of all, I recommend the Advent study from Good Morning Girls.  The Scriptures are short, the activities are easy, and they've already put everything together for you.  You can do it on your own or include your family.  Personally, I've enjoyed the family activities and my kids have too.  Today we made peppermint bark and you should have seen my kiddos whacking those candy canes to bits - they didn't stand a chance!
If you don't want to follow an actual study, you could read Bible verses related to Jesus' birth each day in December leading up to Christmas.  Nothing brings you closer to Jesus than reading about Him in the Bible!  Here's a list of 25 Christmas related Scriptures.  And if you have kids, you can print this list out and make it into a Christmas countdown paper chain!
One of my favorite ideas is a Jesse Tree.  According to Christmas Your Way, a Jesse Tree is an Advent activity in which you place one ornament each day on a Christmas tree of your choice.  Each ornament has a picture which represents "a bit of lineage of Christ," beginning from creation and traveling through the Old and New Testaments to Jesus' birth.  The inspiration comes from Isaiah 11:1, which says, "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit."  Jesus is that Branch.
 Christmas Your Way has a super kid-friendly printable ornaments that your kids can color each day and place on your Jesse Tree.  The illustrations are blank and look like pictures from a coloring book.  (This is what we're going to use this year!  Now I just have to come up with a Jesse Tree by tomorrow...)
I found more printable ornaments from A Holy Experience which are already colored and look a little more grown up.  Or you can print them off in black and white to be colored by your kids.  (Or you.)  They even offer a downloadable Jesse Tree Advent ebook with short devotionals for each day.  You should check it out!

You could make an Advent wreath, or make/buy an Advent calendar.  The possibilities are endless with a calendar!  You could choose to buy one (believe me, there are a TON out there!), or you could make one.  I've seen a Nativity calendar on which you add a part of the scene each day, ending with Jesus on Christmas day, and I've seen one shaped like a Christmas tree on which you add an "ornament" each day.  I've even seen a handmade Santa calendar on which you place a cotton ball each day to complete Santa's beard by Christmas.  (Thank you Pinterest!)

 Some Advent calendars are made to hold something small for each day, like little gifts or candy.  My sweet friend over at More Sweet Tea Please? is filling hers with slips of paper containing random acts of kindness which she's planning on doing with her 3 year old.

 And if you don't have an official Advent calendar or countdown to use, you could always just come up with a list of 25 activities to do.  They could be acts of kindness, Christmas crafts, baking, or fun family activities.  Or a combination!  There's a lot of freedom here.  I've started a list for my family and tomorrow we'll be kicking things off by making a coundown paper chain.

So I've shared just a few ways to celebrate Advent.  I encourage you to find a way to celebrate by yourself or with your family!  Any Christian would benefit greatly by making it a point to focus on Jesus this season.  We all know how easy it is to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but celebrating Advent, however you choose, can prepare your heart to fully feel the hope and joy of the miracle of Jesus' birth, the love and grace we receive every day, and the promise of His return!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-Romans 15:13

What is Advent?

A few months ago I participated in an online Bible study through Good Morning Girls and I loved it! 
Then I saw they were doing an Advent study which they claimed would prepare my heart for Christmas.  And it included family activities!  I've never done anything special to prepare my heart for Christmas, and now I have kids who need to know the true meaning of Christmas, so I decided to sign up.
But what exactly was Advent?
I'd heard the word "Advent" before, and I knew it was some sort of Christmas tradition involving candles and a countdown calendar, but that's it.  I had no idea what it was about.
I still don't know everything about it, but I think understand the important parts a little better now.
The Advent study began this week, but before it started Good Morning Girls shared a post titled What is "Advent" Anyway...  Perfect!
It explained that the word advent means "the waiting on the arrival of something important."  At Christmastime that 'something important' is, of course, Jesus.
But Advent isn't just a time to celebrate Jesus' birth, it's also a time to prepare for Christ's return.
The post went on to say that it is a time to see God "in our past, our future and our present," and that "Advent is a deep daily focus on Jesus."
There were also two vidoes that explained Advent even more in depth which I found very helpful.  One of them said that Advent is "expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation, and cheerful preparation."  The other said Advent is a time to feel great joy that Jesus came and that He's coming again!
I'm only four days into the study, but I know I'm already more excited and focused on "The Reason for the Season" than I ever have been before.  I've always known what Christmas was truly about, but I have never been this deeply focused.
Yesterday I read the daily scripture which was Jeremiah 33:14-15 -
" 'The days are coming,' declared the Lord, 'when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
" 'In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land.
As I read I felt excited and hopeful about God's good promise!  About the righteous Branch!  About Jesus' impending arrival!
Then I laughed a little and thought, "Jesus already came!"
I felt like I was about to witness a miracle, but in reality I already have!  I'm already a part of that miracle - that good promise from God.  We all are!
I felt a little disappointed in myself for not having felt that excitement and hope before.  And not just at Christmastime, but every day of every year!
Because yes, our Savior did come, but there's still more to this story:  He's coming back.  Praise God!
I hope this makes you as excited as it makes me!
I encourage you to take part in Advent, whether you actually call it "Advent" or just "getting into the spirit of Christmas."  There are so many ways to observe Advent and to keep Jesus in the spotlight this Christmas.  And it's so easy to include your kids!
Tomorrow I'll share some ways to celebrate Advent, and most of them are kid-friendly, so check back soon!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Real Courage

Courage [kur-ij] noun  1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery (from
In the past few weeks, two women I know displayed great courage.  They didn't face a life or death situation, but they did face their own problems.  Even more than that, they shared their difficulties with others.  They opened up and they were honest.
Sometimes honesty takes a whole lot of courage.
Because being honest means letting your guard down.  It means no secrets.  It means showing others the good...and the bad.  It means opening up the possibility of a negative response.  That takes courage!
It's not that these women were dishonest to others in some way and then had to come clean.  That's not what I mean at all.  I mean they owned their problems, dealt with them (and are continuing to deal with them), and then shared their problems as well as their progress. 
And they held nothing back.
Let me tell you, I admire these two women greatly!  They are such an encouragement and inspiration to me!
They could have easily kept everything to themselves, dealing with their problems on their own, and avoiding the possibility of judgement from others.  They took a risk.  A big risk.  And their honesty had a huge impact on me.
Their raw honesty represented hope to me.  Hope of overcoming difficulty.  Hope of moving on.  Hope of second chances.  Hope of change.  Hope of a softened heart.
Their honesty was also a comfort to me.  To see these women who had gone through something, who had learned and grown from it, and then were confident and brave enough open up and even use their experiences to encourage others...and then to be totally accepted.  I find that very comforting!
What if I'm in that situation some day?  What if I'm the one sharing my heart and being completely honest about my struggles?  I know I'd be nervous and scared, and would probably be devising multiple escape plans! 
 I also know I wouldn't want to be judged, looked down upon, or gossiped about.  I would need a lot of courage to be honest on the level these women were.
And you know where that courage comes from?
Isaiah 41:10 says, "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
Joshua 1:9 says, "...Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
That's what made these women truly courageous.  They turned to God, and God strengthened them. 
And God used them to encourage others. 
...To encourage me.
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up..."
(1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


No, I'm not talking about the popular vehicles-turned-robots from another world whose sole purpose is to establish peace...although we have plenty of them lying around the house...
I'm talking about my kids.
It never ceases to amaze me how different my kids can seem from one day to the next.  They change constantly.  They transform.  It's such a bittersweet (and sometimes frustrating) but beautiful thing to see!
They're my little transformers.  But I don't get to twist them here, bend them there, and change them into something new!
I do have a major influence on their development, but they are their own little persons.  They change.  They learn.  They grow.  (And if anyone is getting twisted and bent into something new, it's me, not them!)
I get to help shape them, but regardless of what I say or do, a part of them will keep changing and transforming all on its own - and I pray it's according to God's will for them.
God made each of my kids unique, and He made them just as He wanted them to be.
He also made plans for them (Jeremiah 29:11).  So just like a toy transformer starts out as one thing and then converts to another, I believe God had a specific transformation in mind for each of my children when He first thought of them.
But let's point out that transformers are not shape-shifters.  They don't turn into anything they want.  They don't morph into something entirely different from what they started as.
Every single piece of them moves and shifts and rearranges into something new, but all the original parts are still there.
I believe my first job as their mom is to love and embrace each and every one of their "parts."  My second job is to then teach them to love and embrace all that they are.  Then we seek God's will and let the transformation begin!
As any parent would, I hope and pray I get to see my kids transform according to God's plan.  I want to know they've become what God planned for them to be.  But I know it's probably not going to be that simple.
Their transformations probably won't be seamless.  Sometimes it takes a few tries and a few wrong moves to figure out how to transform that vehicle into its robot counterpart.  And sometimes it's confusing and frustrating and the transformer is left in an awkward inbetween state.
I'm pretty sure I've been in that awkward inbetween state for a long time!  And maybe everyone else is too.  Maybe life here on Earth is one long awkward inbetween state and we're not fully transformed until the end of our days.
In that case, the important thing is to recognize God has a plan for us.  And even if we can't recognize exactly what that plan is, we must have faith and allow God to slowly transform us, one piece at a time.  
The alternative is to end up as an unrecognizable jumbled up mess, stuck somewhere in the middle, and I know I don't want that for myself or my kids!
And just as it's a beautiful thing to see our little ones constantly changing and growing before our eyes, God must love to see our progress, not matter how imperfect it is.
And as parents, let's remember that God's plan for our children is more important than ours.  Let us fully enjoy every little change we see in our kids, all while encouraging them to seek God's will and to let God transform them.  Let us pray to God that our plans for our children never get in the way of His.  And let us not forget that we're also still a work in progress!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give Thanks

I'm not going to say a lot today.  I shouldn't even be saying this much!

I am scrambling around (as I'm sure many of you are too) doing dishes and laundry, packing bags, cleaning, and taking care of any other last minute thing that needs done before a trip.  It's amazing how much work goes into leaving the house for just one night!  Throw a couple kids into the mix and things get really crazy!

Anyway, I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and remind everyone to take the time to truly be thankful.

Before you sink into your turkey coma and then apply your war paint a few hours later for Black Friday, just stop and count your blessings.  Be grateful for your family and friends you get to spend time with.  Be grateful for a warm house and great food.  Be grateful to be alive!  

There are so many people who will be spending Thanksgiving alone and many families with nothing to eat.  So go ahead and eat as much as you can, but remember to be truly grateful for the abundance of food in front of you.  And before your roll your eyes and get annoyed with that off-the-wall relative you only see once a year, remember to be truly grateful you have family to spend the day with...then it's fair game :)

And please please please remember and recognize who you're giving thanks to!

Everything we have comes from God.  Our God is good and He provides!  He provides us with so much more than we could ever ask for...yet we sure do ask for a lot sometimes.

And many of us will be asking for a lot on Friday and spending our hard earned money at the Black Friday sales, which is okay, just remember to be grateful you have the means to do so!  Don't let your thankfulness end at 12 midnight when the first store opens and the craziness begins.

I know you already know all of this, but sometimes it's easy to forget.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Operation: FAILED. Almost...

Okay, so this year I decided to fill and send two shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child.  I was so excited to do it, and even more excited to include my kids in the process.

If you don't know what Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is, follow the link above and check it out.  It's a really neat ministry, and it's so fun to be a part of! 

Here's OCC's mission, as stated on their website: "The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God's love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ."
Two Sundays ago I grabbed a couple shoeboxes and immediately started telling my kids all about the OCC ministry.  I decided to do a girl age 2-4 box and a boy age 2-4 box to make it more personal for us.  We've talked about it every day since then and I've been especially proud of my son, who's really been interested and trying hard to understand the concept that other kids aren't as fortunate as he is.
I went shopping multiple times throughout this past week for items to fill up the boxes, and spent a lot of time packing and re-packing them (after my kids "helped" me) to get everything to fit just right. 
Yesterday was the last day to drop off the shoe boxes, and I finally finished and was satisfied with ours Sunday evening.  I hadn't intended on waiting to the last minute to drop them off, and there was suprisingly no procrastination on this project.  (I'm normally a HUGE proctrastinator!)  I just really put a lot of time and thought into the boxes and wanted to get them perfect.
Yesterday morning the kids and I slept in a bit, ate a late breakfast, had company over mid-morning, then ate lunch, got ready to leave (we were all still in PJs at this point), waited for a friend to drop something by the house, and finally pulled out of the driveway at 2:30.  For those of you who were more on the ball about Operation Christmas Child than I was are saying "You missed the deadline!  It was at 10:00 am!"
Ugh.  What a disappointment!  Not only for me, but for the kids I've been praying for that were supposed to receive our boxes!  Status of our operation:  FAILED.
Now here's where my husband comes into the story.  He is always trying to fix problems and comes up with 4 answers for every question.  And it's always so obvious to him.  Most of the time it drives me crazy!  But yesterday I was so grateful for this characteristic!  He simply said, "Once the boxes are picked up from the drop-off location they have to go somewhere - so find out where they go and ship your boxes there."
So that's what I did.  I found the address for the OCC headquarters and shipped our boxes this morning.
So now 1 more little boy and 1 more little girl will get a shoebox full of gifts this Christmas.  And more importantly, they'll hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Amen!
For those of you who are interested, you can still be a part of Operation Christmas Child.  They take donations year round, and you can send a packed shoebox year round as well.  (You can find all of this information on their website.)
Or you can pray:
-Pray for the processing and shipping of the boxes. 
-Pray that God directs those boxes into just the right little hands. 
-Pray that God uses OCC to bring joy to kids facing poverty, sickness, or war. 
-Pray the boxes will open doors for those children to hear the Good News. 
-Pray for all the people helping making this ministry possible - the volunteers, contributors, the  National Leadership Team - and every hand who touches one of the shoe boxes.
-And pray for those children, those beautiful children, whose hardships we can't even begin to imagine, and who will surely be blessed by the OCC ministry!
"...for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.' And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them." (Mark 10:14b-16)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Today I'm Thankful For...

So here we are on November 16, over halfway through 30 Days of Gratitude.  I'm assuming by the number of "thankful for" posts I've been seeing on my Facebook newsfeed that many of you are doing this, or something like it, as well.
Hasn't it blessed you? We've been doing it as a family and it has definitely blessed us!
My husband and I thoroughly enjoy hearing what our kids say they're thankful for each night.  They say the most precious things!  And they really put some thought into it, too.  Our not-even-two year old has contributed every night, which has surprised both my husband and me...even if sometimes she seems to look around and say the first thing that comes to her mind (like teeth, and light), and even if she's said the same thing for the last 5 days...
And our 4 year old has been so enthusiastic about the 30 Days of Gratitude that he says things he's thankful for throughout the day, unprompted, and then at night, when we do it together, he makes sure I write what he says down...right there, right then.
Now my husband and I, on the other hand, seem to get so excited to hear what our kids are thankful for that we sometimes forget to write something down ourselves.  That happens a lot as parents, doesn't it?!  We get too busy focusing on our kids that we forget about ourselves.
But this is important for us too!  In fact, I think it's more important as parents to have a truly grateful heart!  No matter how often we have our kids say something they're thankful for, they're probably not going to fully understand the concept unless they see Mommy and Daddy showing honest gratitude.
And as adults, parent or not, I think it's so easy to get caught up in the things around us and lose sight of all that we've been blessed with.  We complain, we worry, we work hard for bigger and better things, and we forget that our God has already given us everything we need and more.
So today, among many other things, I am thankful that God provides.  And I'm thankful for the privilege, honor, and responsibility of being a parent to two beautiful children.  I pray that I can show them what it looks like to have a thankful heart and that I can instill gratitude in them.
I am also grateful to be back on the internet today and sharing my heart again; it's been too long!  Have a great weekend!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Month of Gratitude

My Facebook newsfeed has been taken over by posts of gratitude since yesterday!
I enjoy reading what everyone is thankful for, but isn't it interesting we all wait until November each year to give thanks consistently?
Now I'm not about to claim that I know how grateful or ungrateful the next person is throughout the rest of the year, because I don't.  I'm also not claiming I am grateful every day, all the time, because I'm not.  All I know is that if we took the time and effort to focus on and share with others what we're grateful for on a daily basis - WOW, would our general attitudes towards life be different!  Can you imagine?!
Just think about it.  It's positive psychology: you think positive, you feel positive.  Or in this case, you think grateful, you feel grateful.
Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17 that "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."
Notice he says "whatever" you do, not "some things" you do.
This is reinforced in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 - "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
ALL circumstances.
Psalm 118:24 reminds us be grateful we're here and alive.  It says, "This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."

That's every day - not just 30 days out of each year.
And more than just giving thanks, the Bible tells us to have "thankfulness in [our] hearts to God (Colossians 3:16)."  We are to be genuinely grateful and thankful in our hearts to offer honest thanks to our Lord.  So again, we think grateful, we feel grateful.
I want to have a grateful heart, all the time, in every circumstance.  So I need to start by thinking grateful, like so many others are doing now.  I probably won't publicly share something new on Facebook each day, but I did find a great little printout over at Motherhood on a Dime.

printable gratitude journal

It's a 30 day gratitude journal that the blogger created to use with her family throughout the month of November.  I love the idea of doing this with my family!  She says, "the idea is to simply get in the habit of saying thanks to God and to those around us."  And my hope is that if my family can do this together for 30 days, we can remain grateful each day after.  It will be our mindset, and it will be in our hearts.

I can't wait to get started!  I especially can't wait to see what our son says when I ask him what he's thankful for.  But I'll begin by sharing what I'm thankful for right now:  My family, and the God-given opportunity to think grateful, feel grateful, and change our hearts together.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

From House to Home and Beyond

I have none.
Okay, maybe a little.
But not much.
So here I am today, feeling like I'm about to make a New Year's resolution...on November 1st.  (There's nothing wrong with getting a head start, right?)  I, Carrie, resolve to have a more disciplined life!
Last week I got to read and review an eBook called 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life, and I absolutely loved it!  It was such an easy read and had some great, practical tips for achieving more self-discipline in your life, which is something I desperately need!
I truly believe the tips and suggestions in the eBook are very feasible - if you actually follow them.  But that's where my problem is.  I have a million things in my life that I'd like to be more disciplined in, and I say over and over again with all good intention that I'm going to change my habits...and then I just don't do it.
Then I read this eBook, and as soon as I finished it I was inspired enough to get up and accomplish something - right then!  So I tackled a project I'd been ingnoring for a while and really made a lot of progress.  Since then, I've not really done anything else.
So here I am again, starting over.  I'm re-reading the eBook, and following the 21-Day Self-Discipline Challenge, which I am so excited about! I'm go glad for the bloggers who organized this challenge, which is inspired by 21 Days to a More Disciplined Life.
The challenge for Day 1 is to complete a small task that has been nagging me, choose a "mega project" to work on over the next 21 days, break it down into 21 bite-size chunks, and then complete the first chunk.
Just typing that sounds a little overwhelming, but I'm not backing down.  Chapter 1 of the eBook puts it plain and simple:  "I am the problem, but I am also the solution."  Convicting, yet encouraging...So no excuses this time!
Since we officially sold our old house last week, we finally have everything moved.  And "everything" is a lot!  But there's this one laundry basket that has been sitting in the corner of my bedroom for weeks now, so I chose it for my nagging task to complete.  I finally found a place for everything in it, and I am so glad to see it empty!  (Now I can actually use it for the 20 loads of laundry I do each day!)
Now, my mega project:  No, it's not unpacking all the boxes from the move - although it probably should be!  I want to decorate our house.  Most of the walls in our new place are completely bare, and I am more than ready to make this place look like a home, not an apartment.
So each day for the next 21 days, I am going to get materials for decorating projects, work on those projects, and watch our house get a whole lot more "homey."  Today I have no materials (just a ton of ideas), so the first chunk of my mega project is simply choosing which pictures from our recent family photo shoot to print and display.
Easy enough, right?  And the way things are broken down, each day should be pretty easy.  Then, after 21 days, I'll have accomplished a lot!  Not only will my house look more like a home, I'll have completed a project, from beginning to end.  I'll have achieved a little more self-confidence and self-discipline.  And I honestly believe it's going to overflow into other areas of my life and encourage me to keep going strong.  This is just the beginning guys!
Follow me over the next 21 days - once a week I'll give an update on my progress.  Better yet, follow the 21-Day Challege button below and start your own journey to a more disciplined life!
21 Day Self Discipline Challenge