A New Year and New Outlook

All the Christmas chaos is over. The tree and decorations are packed away. The house feels almost empty with the space previously filled with garland and presents returned to its clean state. The fridge is slowly emptying of holiday treats and leftover decadence. It will be refilled soon enough with the stuff salads and healthy entrees are made of. A Christmas Story and Elf have been replaced with football and parades. Today is New Year's Day and though I am an absolute nut over Christmas, today is one of my favorite days of the year. It's calm and quiet and restful.

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After staying up to celebrate the ball drop with the Eastern Time Zone (yes that was an hour early), we slept in this morning. Like a large part of the country, we've been hit hard with an unusually cold bit of weather and us Alabama folk will be taking no part in the 16 degree weather outside our door. So we've enjoyed the morning with cups of coffee, a fire in the fireplace, completing a puzzle and watching an endless carousel of birds, all puffed up to protect themselves from the cold eat at the feeder. We're watching for deer at our backyard feeders and are enjoying the last of the days when no one rushes off to work or school. Our pup is spoiled rotten and snuggled up by the fire or buried under the blankets on our bed. It's a cold, cozy day of just being together. It's a perfect day to be still.

Be still and know that I am God.
— Psalm 46:10

My husband asked me the other day what resolutions I had for this year, and in truth, I really don't have any this year. I have, however, spent quite a bit of time in the last few days thinking back over all that 2017 had to offer. Last year was an adventurous, chaotic, exciting rebuilding year for us. We started fresh in so many ways... new job, new city, starting kindergarten, new ways to volunteer in the community, new church, new friends. It was an emotional year of goodbyes and of working hard to stay connected to friends that are now just out of arms length. It was a hope filled year of new relationships and new opportunities as we settled in to our new home. It was a truly wonderful year of trusting in God through some big changes and being rewarded with seeing His incredible provision. But it was also a year that brought a lot of distractions that often come with big changes. So today, Day 1 of 2018 just seems like the quintessential day to start off a year that I pray will bring calmness, rest and a renewed focus on God and where He is leading our family to serve. 

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2018 will be a year of serving others in our community, in our schools and place of work, in our neighborhood. I pray this year will be one where we focus on remaining unhurried and get comfortable leaving empty spaces on the calendar so that there is plenty of time to love and encourage each other and those God places in our paths. May this be a year that is life giving to all those around us and one that leaves us catching our breath this time next year, not because of the busy rat race we run, but because of all the goodness and mercy and grace we take the time to notice, experience and soak up. May 2018 be a year of blessing for us all and one that puts God first and foremost above every dream, schedule and to do list we have. May this be a year we learn to turn over every anxiety and prayer to Him and trust in His eternal goodness as we wait on His answers, comfort, peace and guidance. 

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My sweet ONSEL friends, that is my prayer over each of you as we begin this new year together. As always, if there is anything I can pray specifically for with you, please jump over to our prayer page and let me know! 

Happy New Year my friends! May God bless each and every one of you!

With Love and Laughter,

courtney signature.png
 

It's Time to Thrive

There are times that my heart just aches... for each of you and where you are on your journeys through infertility or fighting for your health; for our country as the past few months have been hard hitting with disaster after disaster. Whether we're facing our own individual storms of another failed cycle and another discarded pregnancy test or facing frightening news of a diagnosis and the uphill battle that lies ahead of us as we fight for our health; or we're seeing hurricane devastation to entire cities and states or crazed madmen terrorizing a city of innocent victims, there's an awful lot of emotion to deal with.

I struggle to find the words that can explain all of the hurts. I wish I knew the right thing to say that could make it all better. It feels like sometimes we're just surviving. One step at a time, facing one battle after another, just surviving. But that's not the life God intended for any of us.

I had no sooner typed those words and was struggling to find the right way to describe everything in my heart when the next song started on my Pandora station...

Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died

Like a tree planted by the water
We will never run dry

So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our soul
With one desire

Just to know You and to make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun made darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It’s time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
— Casting Crowns, Thrive

It is time for us to more than just survive. We were made to thrive. 

Jesus Himself told us there would be trouble in our world. It shouldn't surprise us when we turn on the news or sit face-to-face with a doctor as he tells us what the test results show. "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) When we face these times of trouble and we find that our heart is aching, it's a call to action. It's a call to dig deep in His word, to seek after His perfect will with all of our heart. It's a time to trust and thank Him profusely that in Him alone we find peace - true peace - a peace that isn't all rainbows and unicorns, but deeper than that. Peace that means that even if the world spins out of control around us, our souls are still at rest. Peace that allows us to find comfort in a scripture verse and a whisper from the Holy Spirit on the same day we find out we are miscarrying. Peace that allows us to lend a helping hand to our neighbor even when we also just lost everything. Peace that allows us to rise up together as a community and pray for each other, together, as we battle our own uncertain futures. The peace and power of the Holy Spirit that can allow us to thrive in the middle of our own individual heartbreaks, is also the same peace that will be a beacon to the world when the hurricanes hit or the madman attacks a city or you step into your inner city to serve the homeless and help the poor. 

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With the peace that comes only from Jesus Christ Himself, we are equipped to more than just survive. We can truly thrive, even if... We can cling to our faith and put a smile on our face as we shed tears, because our future does not depend on our current circumstances, but on our future in Christ. We can take comfort in knowing that God alone knows our paths, our dreams and our futures and He is good. If the dreams we have aren't meant to be, we can trust that if we surrender them over to His mighty hands, He will replace them with something so much better. We can thrive. 

Facing these times of adversity allows us the unique experience of realizing our painful times are so much bigger than ourselves. They are times that help our faith grow deep. They can teach us lessons that we would never experience otherwise. They give us the opportunity to have a platform to help others when they encounter similar pain. They give us the chance to stretch out our hands in love and show others just how much God loves us. Our pain can hurt deeply. Our circumstances can bring us to our knees and knocked the air out of us. It can break our hearts. But it cannot steal our hope and peace because in Jesus, we know our broken circumstances are temporary and not without purpose if we trust that we were meant to more than just survive.

The Slate is Clean, Now What?

It has been a roller coaster of a year, but as I sit here with coffee in hand, watching birds eat from the feeder on our new deck, I'm ready to dust off the keys and let you in on a little something I've been learning over the past few months. Sometimes, an answered prayer isn't the end of the story, but rather the beginning. What you think may be the ending of a book is just the birth of the sequel. Sometimes the answer to prayer is going to be simultaneously more wonderful and more difficult than you ever thought. A fresh start is anything but a clean slate... but a reminder that we all carry baggage with us, that has to be occasionally purged, sorted and reorganized. But that's not a bad thing at all if we remember where it came from and why it comes with a great importance.

The beginning of this year, my family moved across the state. We went from a terribly stressful, hectic, out of balance life to one that brought the freedom to breathe easier, to play together, to start fresh. God answered our family prayers in a big way. He led us to an amazing opportunity to place priorities back in the right order; to give my husband a dream job that suits both his personality and his passion; to bring us back to my hometown, closer to family and the exciting opportunities a bigger city offers for raising a child. It was a dream come true... except for after years of making life and marriage work in spite of the stresses and unrelenting schedules, I now felt completely lost in the freedom and fresh start this answer to prayer brought.

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Over the summer we stayed incredibly busy exploring our new home, settling in and decorating the new house, traveling with my husband's job, meeting new friends and soaking up every minute the last few months brought before my baby girl started to big kid school in the fall. It was a challenging but wonderfully sweet time for us as me and my mini-me learned that extroverts could survive while rebuilding a a social world that had suddenly become very small. Fast forward to the fall and to school days, and our days are now filled with getting my big girl up and ready in time to catch the bus in the mornings and making sure I'm home in the afternoons to welcome her home with a big hug, a bowl of ice cream and listen to stories of how her day went. But in the time in-between the bus routes, I've come face to face with the task God had laid before me years ago.

I had become distracted with all that life was throwing at us. I was trying to just keep my head above water. I was tired, spent and just wanting to hide from anything that might add to my stress. I needed to take a break from writing for a while to get through all the transitions and find my voice again, and then it just became easier to not write that first post. I was selfish and I was scared. But God wouldn't - won't - let me step away from what He's called me to.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
— 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

When we find ourselves in a distressed stage of life, it's hard to keep that bigger picture. It's hard to not make things all about us. But God is wanting us to trust Him to bring us comfort, so that we can do the same for others around us and point them to God's unfailing goodness. He has reminded me of this time and time again. He allowed us a season of infertility, loss and fear so that we could see His goodness, experience His comfort and see His bigger purpose. It's my honor and privilege to keep telling our story, to listen and invest in yours, to pray with you that you will experience the same comfort I did and see just how much God loves you as He rescues you from your pain.

In reading through the Old Testament this year, one thing has been made exceptionally clear, God doesn't show up in pillars of fire and burning bushes and divided seas very often. He sometimes uses the dramatic to make Himself and His direction known in a very clear way. Then He fully expects and asks us to faithfully follow Him in joyful obedience. He will keep us on the path He originally set out for us, confirming and encouraging us in His precious whispers until it is His plan to use us another way. So I was praying for a change in direction and God was answering me with making the passion that started this website stronger. I prayed for the easy way out and He answered with emails of prayer requests and relationships to remind me of the importance of just following Him faithfully. Encouraging you, praying with you, listening to you and walking through difficult seasons with you is truly a beautiful gift and an honor. The pain I once went through with infertility isn't baggage at all... it's an opportunity to serve Him passionately and to be rewarded with the gift of some amazingly wonderful friends along the way. I have seen God do so many amazing things through friends that came alongside me when I was hurting and continue to see that repeated time and time again when I have the privilege of helping you through your pain. God works miracles through relationships when we aren't scared or too tired or too timid to put ourselves out there to be used and to open up ourselves to let others see our vulnerabilities. When we are weak, He is strong. His Word never changes and He loves us too much to let us hurt alone if we will just be open to His plans for our life. 

God answered our prayers for a fresh start that has turned out to be the beginning to the sequel He started through this blog and ministry years ago. That is to walk alongside you, to encourage you, to listen to you and your story because, my friend, your story matters so much and sometimes we all need a reminder that we are not alone.

With much love and prayers,

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Exchanging My Pain for His Glory

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November of last year.  It shook us to our core.  It was aggressive and seemed to come out of nowhere.  Fast forward to earlier this year, and she sat at her very first day of chemotherapy – anxious and afraid like all the others that surrounded her.  Some were there alone, some were young, some were old.  I knew their fears because I knew my moms.  As I sat there in that room that day, I knew God was stirring something inside of me to do.  I just didn’t know what at that moment.

It was an open room surrounded by thirty other patients sitting reclined in their chairs, all with IV lines hooked up to ports in their chests.  They were there just like my mom receiving their four hours of chemotherapy treatment.  The weight of the magnitude of people battling the beast of cancer came crashing down on me and I found it hard to breathe.  This is one office in one city.  There are thirty patients twice a day.  Multiply that by at least four days a week.  That’s close to 250 patients in a week’s time in a single office.  I fought tears and I felt the lump rise in my throat.  I couldn’t speak.  I felt paralyzed by the amount of pain and fear that surrounded me.

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Unlocking the Myth: God Won't Give You More Than You Can Handle

It all started like a perfectly normal day, and then catastrophe struck. My daughter needed some medicine. So as I rustled around in the cabinet, I didn't see the brand new bottle of dark red fingernail polish sitting near the edge in the corner of the freshly painted white cabinet. As I moved the box of band-aids out of the way, I knocked it off the shelf and, in slow motion, it fell to the new tile floor, shattering into the tiniest shards of glass you've ever seen. My foot was sliced with little razor blade cuts and deep burgundy was thrown all over me, the floor and the face of the fresh white paint. It looked like a crime scene...

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In Good Times and Bad... and When You're Under Attack!

Yesterday proved to be a traumatic day. It started off simple enough before taking a drastic turn. I ripped the sheets off the bed to wash them and started to pile the clean laundry up on the bed so I could fold it and put it away. I know I'm not the only one that has discovered this trick... make the clothes and lack of sheets an actual obstacle and the likelihood they get properly put away before you go to sleep increases dramatically. If you haven't figured out this little play-tricks-on-your-own-brain trick of housekeeping yet, well... you're welcome.

Anyway... back to the story. As I started to put the pile of CLEAN clothes on the bed, a giant ninja roach jumped off the top of the pile, on to my arm and then hit the floor before the worst imaginable thing possible happened. IT SCURRIED, VERY MUCH ALIVE, UNDER THE BED! Yes... the bed where just hours later, I planned to go to sleep. I screamed, had a small heart attack, saw the bright lights of heaven's gate before I came to and regained my breathing. In and out... in and out... in and out...

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Life Lessons from Some Old Dinosaurs

This past weekend we finally took our son to see The Good Dinosaur at the discount theater.  I know it’s on DVD already but some things (like dinosaurs and animals) just deserve the full experience to him.  I have to say the movie surpassed my expectations, and Disney once again siphoned tears out of me that I didn’t even shed at my own wedding (mainly because I want to inappropriately laugh when I’m a bag of nerves). Even more, I was amazed at the life lessons that I, as a nearly middle aged (oh my gosh is that hurts typing it) woman learned from Poppa, Arlo’s (the main character’s) dad.  He even had a bit of the James Earl Jones voice which we all know has to be a close resemblance to God’s voice.  Bear with me here.  I’m actually going somewhere with this and not just doing a movie review.

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What We Do Isn't Who We Are

"Let me get this straight? You were an engineer and gave that all up to be just a mom? I could never do that!" The words stung for longer than I would have liked. I wanted to just laugh them off and chalk it up to differing opinions on what is best for each individual family. But I couldn't this time.  

They brought me back to the days in that first year of being a stay at home mom when I felt like I was having an identity crisis. The sting wasn't coming from choosing what is right for our family and whether to work full time, part time or stay at home. This was about something much deeper. The words struck me so hard because I had once again become lulled in by the mundane and lost sight of myself over the piles of never ending laundry. I had forgotten that what I do does not define who I am. 

Motherhood is a tricky thing. It's a phase of life filled with the irony of helping our little ones discover just who they are while simultaneously giving up so much of who we thought we were. But with that sacrifice, motherhood ushers in a beautiful opportunity to find out exactly who we were meant to be. We just have to make sure we are looking to the right place to find our standard of measure.

Before I became a mom, I had a really great career as an engineer. I thrived on the long hours spent solving technical problems, but I knew I wanted to stay home with our child. When that time finally came for our family, I hung up my hardhat and replaced it with a diaper bag slung over my shoulder. I dove right in to being a full time mom and loved every tiring minute of it. As the sleep deprived months of the newborn stage began to wane and routine finally began to return, a strange feeling of being misplaced crept in with it. For so long, I wanted nothing more than to be a mom and I loved it. Why did I feel so conflicted and lost? Why was I not sure who I was anymore?

Wrestling with and praying through these questions reminded me of something a friend had said during our struggle to have a baby. After our first round of IVF and pregnancy ended in a heart breaking miscarriage, a friend who knew the pain of miscarriage all too well herself, graced me with a new perspective. She suggested that perhaps our lost pregnancy was more of a gift of hope and a future possibility than it was a loss of life and a dream. She reminded me that though it was my dream to become a mother, motherhood itself wasn't about me at all. It was about my child being born at the perfect time for his or her life to begin.

He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.
— Psalm 113:9

Motherhood gives us an amazing opportunity to have a front row seat to watch our children being born into the lives God has designed for them to live. If they come six months too early then they will miss out on the life God has planned for them, for the friendships they will develop, for the careers they will one day hold and for the lives they are meant to influence. Only He knows the perfect timing and what our future holds.  So when I find myself being overwhelmed with the daily grind of motherhood, her wisdom helps me step back and refocus. Motherhood isn't about me getting to be a mom as much as it is helping my daughter discover who God intends her to be. Guiding my daughter through her own self discovery is making me realize how mistaken I can be on how I define myself.  

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9

These early days of imagination come with so many little discovery stepping stones. My daughter recently came home with an adorable little construction paper crafted "Me Book" that was all about her favorite things and how she saw herself in the world. My heart soared when we looked through it and saw all the possibility, confidence and creativity. The one little fill in the blank statement said it all...

When I grow up I want to be: Wonder Woman and help people who need helping

Do I think she will actually fly an invisible jet and catch bad guys with her magic lasso? Of course not. But I do think she has the heart to reach super hero status when it comes to her ability to love the people in her life.

Whether we are dressed up in costumes role playing princesses or super heroes, firemen or teachers, or sitting around the dinner table talking about dreams, we want to impress one thing on their growing minds and personalities. When you grow up you can be anything you want to be. We want them facing this big world with a confidence of who they are and understanding what talents they bring. We see them through the eyes of loving parents; one who sees all their characteristics and talents, personality and possibilities. We see them for who they are and because of who they are, we know all that they are capable of doing. 

That's how our parents raised us. We became one of those things we dreamed of being and we're good at it, but something can happen in that phase of our lives. If we're not really careful, we start listening to how the world defines us and assigns our worth. We begin answering the question "who are you?" with what we are known by and what roles we play. Over time, we find ourselves assigning our own worth by where we see the importance our role plays in society. 

Not long ago I had that startling conversation with a new friend. As she asked "Who are you and what do you do?" I began telling her about myself. "I was an engineer for almost 10 years until we started our family. Now I'm a stay at home mom, a blogger and Bible study leader." Frankly, I was feeling pretty good about my answer. At one point in my life I was pretty smart and had a pretty reputable career. Now I'm really good at counting to 10 and saying my ABC's, but I do all these volunteer, Godly things and raise the child we worked so hard to have. I'm very happy with my life and what I'm doing. But her response was so shocking and threw me for a loop. "You were an engineer and just gave that all up? You're just a mom now? I could never do that." It stung... for days. It bugged me that it bothered me so much until I realized it wasn't about the working mom versus stay at home mom viewpoint. It was because I had once again adopted the world's standard of what defines me and my worth. I had forgotten how my Heavenly Father sees me and who He says I am.  

Something crucial gets lost along the way to living out our dreams. We get comfortable in our roles. We get lulled by routine and we stop seeing ourselves as the loving parent sees us. We stop defining ourselves by who we are and start ranking our worth by what we do. Our lives, the roles we play and the titles we bare become medals and plaques we used to compare ourselves to the world around us and thereby judge what we deem to be our worth. Comparison is by definition subjective and puts us in the precarious position of assigning our own value in a sea of shifting standards and neglecting the standard Christ has already established for us. 

Right now I am a stay at home mother to our daughter, a blogger and leader of Bible study groups. But that is not who I am. Just like you, I am the daughter of our Heavenly King and Father who looks down on us and says, "My beautiful child, you can be anything you want to be because I see your heart, your personality, your characteristics, your talents. I see my reflection in your creation. You are mine and you are worthy."

You aren’t what you do. Your profession isn’t who you are. You aren’t defined by your roles; career woman, wife, mom, sister, brother, husband, etc. Those are gifts that you have, and they are purposes that you fulfill. But they don’t define the core of your being. You aren’t the sum of your mistakes or the messed up identity you once wore like an albatross around your neck. Your identity is simple. It’s clear. It’s beautiful. Your identity is purely who God says you are. Beautiful, redeemed, renamed, engraved on the hands of Christ where you will never be forgotten.
— Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith

 

What we do every day matters. If we want to reach our full potential in the roles we play and want our children to truly believe what we tell them about who God says they are, we have to believe it ourselves. Now is the time to use all our talents and gifts to build a firm foundation for our children to build upon. In doing that, we have the incredible chance to come out of our shells and become confident, courageous women that step up to the task God has set out before us. Buried right in the middle of the runny noses, scraped knees and piles of laundry lies a beautiful truth. Just like Queen Esther, perhaps we have come to our position for such a time as this. {Adapted from Esther 4:14} That confident woman isn't found in comparisons and competitions. She is found rooted deeply in Scripture, in prayer, in encouragement from other Godly women. She is found in cheering on one another as we excel in the roles we are meant to play and in reminding one another that who we really are is far more important that what we do. 


At a recent speaking engagement with our local MOPS International group, we talked about defining ourselves and encouraging one another to fulfill our roles as moms. Thank you so much for the opportunity to come speak to your amazing ladies. You were all so welcoming and encouraging. Moms need other moms and Mops is an amazing place to find that wonderful support that we all need!

5 Simple Ways to Celebrate Advent

I love Santa (and even the creepy little Elf on the Shelf) so much.  It brings so much magic to our Christmas season, and brings out the little child in all of us.  But what I love more is being able to celebrate the real magic of the season – the birth of our Savior.  And no it’s not magic at all, it is very real.  But it gives us that sense of awe and reverence.  It reminds us of what is truly important and focuses us on our King. Some find it hard to mesh the two – Santa and Jesus – or chose not to.  And you know what, that is ok.  Honestly God doesn’t care if we celebrate Santa or not (shhhh!).  But what He does care about is that we don’t elevate Santa to the same level as Jesus. 

But alas, this is not a post about the great debate of Jesus versus Santa though.  There are a gazillion of those out there and everyone has their opinion.  And that is OK.  Seriously – it is OK people. 

What I do want to share with you are a few ways that we can bring more focus to the birth of Jesus this Advent season.  Whether or not you include Santa or the Elf on the Shelf is really irrelevant.  (Although our “Elfie” does bring all our Advent material to our son, and leaves him many notes about Jesus and giving to others.)

Also, is it just me or do your children go completely “wild banshee” mode (more so than usual) when you put them on lockdown for your nightly Advent readings?!?  It’s a complete three-ring circus and for heaven’s sake “YOU WILL SIT STILL AND HEAR ABOUT JESUS!!!” Am I right? 

 

I’m not here to tell you I have it all figured out because I don’t.  I have one of those “spirited” children.  But what I do want to share are a few easy ways for you and your family to celebrate Advent without losing your marbles.  And listen closely – it is OK if you miss some nights.  It drives the OCD in me crazy.  But Jesus cares more about our hearts and our intensions than our checklists.  Grace people, grace.

FAMILY ADVENT READINGS/DEVOTIONS

There are TONS of these out there.  Literally it can make your head spin to try to figure out which Advent activity or reading to do with your family. I’ve broken some of my favorites down into age groups to help you out.

Toddler/Preschooler/Grade School – The Jesse Tree

This one is great for all ages but especially the little ones who are constantly on the go. It’s our current selection and we love it.  It is based on Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.”  This refers to the lineage of Jesus and about His birth.  We have 25 ornaments that are mostly handmade (although you can purchase them) that correspond to a symbol and a verse.  Our son hangs the ornament on special tree and then we read the story (where the verse came from) out of The Jesus Storybook Bible (you don’t have to use this version but it easily follows along with the verses for the Jesse Tree).  Pinterest has TONS of great ideas for how to make ornaments, either with your kids or with small groups, which adds to the fun. 

Grade School – Grow with Me and Focus on the Family

Grace for Moms has a great Advent Devotional plan for the whole family called Grow with Me.  It includes a parent devotional, a family memory verse, and discussion/activity ideas for specific age groups.  You can download it right off of the Grace for Moms blog site.

Honestly you can just never go wrong with Focus on theFamily material.  Dr. James Dobson and his team are amazing and speak truths right to our hearts.  They get to the basics of what is truly important to family.  They have a great (free) downloadable family advent reading plan on their website that you can have emailed to you.

Middle School/High School/Adult – Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift”

This is one of my favorites and in Ann’s poetic style, she brings the Jesse Tree to life for older children and adults alike.  It includes a book with the verses and corresponding devotions, as well as 25 beautiful ornaments that go along with them.  The ornaments are extremely fragile so that’s why I recommend this one for the older audience.  Again, this is a simple yet straight to the heart of Jesus way to celebrate the Advent season. 

 Photo Courtesy of Ann Voskamp

Photo Courtesy of Ann Voskamp

ADVENT WITH A PURPOSE

This may be one of my favorite things because it combines Advent along with a fun way to give back.  Our Elf on the Shelf actually brings this to our son for us to begin along with our Jesse Tree.  Lifesong forOrphans publishes a free Advent for Orphans calendar each year.  Each day (on the back) there is a specific prayer for orphaned and vulnerable children in different areas of the world.  Then there is a flap that you lift each day that tells you ways you can give, which are very simple.  You can order your free copy from Lifesong for Orphans website, but generally they do run out by mid-November so keep this one in mind for next year.  This is a great way to not only focus on Advent, but to get your children focused on giving instead of receiving. 

ADVENT CALENDARS/CARDS

Ok this may be the easiest way to celebrate Advent yet.  I love, love, love these Advent Calendars/Cards created by Naptime Diaries and Persimmon Prints.  They are beautiful and can be used to decorate your home, and they are a super easy way to celebrate Advent without going into full lockdown mode with your kids.  Honestly I would leave these up all year and then you can bring them into conversation at any time.  Talking about Jesus doesn’t have to always be sooooo structured.  Keep it simple!

 Photo Courtesy of Naptime Diaries

Photo Courtesy of Naptime Diaries

 Photo Courtesy of Persimmon Prints

Photo Courtesy of Persimmon Prints

ADVENT GIFT TAGS

My friend Logan Wolfram has designed Advent Gift Tags this year and I love them!  This is another free download and comes with 25 fun facts about Christmas and scriptures to celebrate Advent.  This would make a great gift, or the tags would be perfect if you like to have tiny gifts for your children to open each day of Advent.

 Photo Courtesy of Logan Wolfram

Photo Courtesy of Logan Wolfram

PERSONAL ADVENT DEVOTIONAL

I love having the Jesse Tree and combining it with supporting orphan care through the Lifesong for Orphans Advent calendar.  It’s great for family time.  But I also need my own time with the Lord each day and I love having something that focuses me in my personal study of Advent.  My favorite daily devotional team, She Reads Truth, does a fantastic study each year for Advent.  You can follow along in three ways – purchase the devotional from their website, read along for free on their website, or download the She Reads Truth App.  I can’t recommend She Reads Truth enough!  I follow along with them all year long.

 Photo Courtesy of She Reads Truth

Photo Courtesy of She Reads Truth

I hope these ideas for celebrating Advent have been helpful and somewhat liberating.  Just remember that God cares about our hearts, not our checklists.  Grace upon grace.

Merry Christmas!

XOXO,

In Communities, We Thrive

Fall... It's my absolute favorite time of year. It's the perfect time for get-togethers, neighborhood kids playing in the afternoons, coffee with friends in the mornings. This is the perfect opportunity to start (or join) a small group and really take advantage of having a consistent time to get to know some women, or couples, really well. 

If something in this post strikes a chord with you or you have been considering starting, leading or joining a small group, now is the perfect time! Embrace this fall as the opportunity to meet together with glad and sincere hearts, to praise God and enjoy the friends in your life.

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