Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Traditions

     It's hard to believe that the season of Advent is already here.  I was caught a bit unprepared and had to rush to uncover the Christmas decoration boxes from the basement in time to light the Advent wreath on Sunday.  I have the one that I used growing up, since my brothers don't have families of their own yet.  Perhaps some day...

     Now that the girls are a bit older, I think it's time to start a few new Advent traditions. So each night of Advent this year, we will light the Advent wreath and follow along in this book, The Christmas Countdown: Creating 25 Days of New Advent Traditions for Families.  I purchased the book on Amazon and downloaded it to the Kindle app on my iPad.  It was quick, easy, and inexpensive.  So far, we've had some interesting dinner table discussions from the prompts given in the book. I love that we're repeating old traditions, like lighting the Advent wreath and setting up our nativity set, but also creating new ones as a family.  For example, one of the suggestions from yesterday is to have the girls "make" wrapping paper.  They love arts and crafts, and I love a great "green" Christmas idea. 
     What Advent traditions do you have in your family?  Did you have them growing up, or did you create them on your own?  I'd love to hear from you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Too Much

"Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you." (1 John 2:15 NLT)

Our family recently decided to get rid of our cable service. This was for a number of reasons. We could certainly use the extra $$$ in our bank account each month. We also found that having the TV on during family time = loud chaotic mess. But the following reason trumps all others: I hate commercials. I am especially intolerant of ads targeted at my kids, fueling a constant chorus of, "I want that, I need that, buy that for me!" And so on.

This is especially challenging at the holidays. I admit that I haven't seen much TV lately, but I happened to turn on the Dancing With the Stars finale for maybe10 minutes last night and was horrified, not at the program (that's another blog post altogether), but at the commercials. The blonde lady on the Target commercials is a bit disturbing. She gets completely worked up about preparing herself for Black Friday shopping deals. Now, I like a deal as much as the next person, but nothing in this world is worth that kind of mania.  It also seems that we've lost the meaning of the holiday itself: giving thanks for what we have and for our many blessings, not for 20% off a purchase of $50 or more. 

The heart of my problem is this: how can I teach my children that happiness and holiness isn't found in things but in relationships, when the world at-large gives such a different message? Sure, my kids still want stuff, even without being bombarded with TV commercials.  When the American Girl Doll catalog comes to the house Maddie quickly circles the items she wants. Ava imitates her big sister, making wild crayon circles on every page.  Maddie has to do chores to earn money, which she divides among spending, saving, and giving jars.  One of our family rules is to "give thanks for everything", which we repeat and discuss when the children have a case of the "gimmies".  I feel that as a family, we do our best to think before we buy.  But it's a constant battle.

I want to teach the girls what the author of the above verse says: if you're focused on the things of the world, you take your eyes off what really matters: Jesus. But the message is deeper than that.  Our desire for stuff not only blocks out our clear view to Jesus, but it also has consequences for our environment and our world.  Check out the YouTube video below. It's just a further explanation about how consumerism imbalances our world's resources and wealth.

I don't mean to diminish the special family bonds that can form over Black Friday shopping.  But I hope we can all think twice about how we spend our money, and our time, over the holidays. Have a safe and blessed Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Running the Run

I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.(1 Corinthians 9:27 NLT)

I turned thirty-one this past September. I'm officially "in my thirties" now. The reality of my impending age wasn't sitting too well with me last spring. Here I was, a wife of nine years, a mother of two, a hardworking educator, and a bit chubbier than I wanted to be. I wasn't getting any younger, either.

That "baby weight" from Ava, then almost two years old, didn't melt off the way the books and pop culture said it would. I had no idea where I would find the time to exercise in my already too-overscheduled day.

And then my school did a Biggest Loser-type competition. I was all in! My competitive nature kicked in and I began to view my weight loss as a goal rather than a burden. All participants weighed in weekly and our percentage of weight lost was calculated. I wasn't the "biggest loser" in the end, but I did come away about 10 pounds lighter and a clothing size smaller. Somehow, I found the time to exercise and eat better.

I realized as I began committing to an exercise routine that if I wanted healthy, active children , I had to model healthy, active behavior.

Once the weather warmed up, I would take one or both kids with me in the jogging stroller. It started as a brisk walk. Then it built to a light jog. I began to go for longer and longer runs. And I got bored. Just like with the weight loss challenge, I knew that I needed something to work for. So I did something very unlike me, something impulsive: I signed up for the Detroit Free Press 5K.

I had never run before this past summer. I swam competitively in high school, but swimming is a totally different sport. What was I thinking!? But that competitive nature kicked in again and gave me something to work towards.

So three to four times a week, I got out for a run, sometimes in the still, early morning before the kiddos awoke, sometimes in the calm, early evening with a kiddo or two in the jogging stroller. Slowly, one foot in front of the other, I progressed.

I ran the 5K on a blustery October morning. And I didn't die. So, I signed up for the Big Bird 4K, which I completed this morning. I'm not fast. I'm not skilled in any way. But I'm giving it my best. And perhaps most importantly, I'm showing my girls how to reach for their goals.

Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians referenced above, is telling his audience to "walk the walk" so that they might preach the gospel message to the world without feeling shame or inadequacy. I identify with that message. I have to model appropriate Christian behavior to my children, students, and coworkers everyday. I often feel like a hypocrite, asking others to do things that I have a hard time doing myself. But it's my goal to do my best.

Our world is moving way faster than Paul's was. Our world doesn't walk anymore. We often need to run to keep up. The lessons I've learned about myself, my body, my limitations, and my strengths, helps me maintain a steady pace. And keep running toward my goals.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thirty Days of Thanks

That I may make the voice of thanksgiving to be heard, And tell of all thy wondrous works. (Psalm 26:7 ASV)

November is here, and to me that means giving thanks. After thumbing through one of the many catalogs that comes in the mail this time of year trying to sell me "holiday cheer," I saw a cute opportunity for a family project.

The inspiration (see left) came from Pottery Barn Kids.  Due to demand, they are sold out of the item and it's no longer on their website. But being crafty (and cheep!) I figured that I could do something similar for way less money and involve the entire family. So off I went to Michaels...

The materials I chose were:
-Scrap booking paper (a large book of monthly themed papers, on sale!), cut into fourths.
-Tiny clothespins ($3.00 for 50)
-Fall-themed tracers (I Googled "fall tracing patterns", saved the images I liked, put them in a Word document, adjusted their size, and printed them off. I may even laminate them for easier tracing...)
-Gold sparkly ribbon (on sale in the Christmas wrapping area!)

I used some Command hooks that I already had laying around the house and tied the ends of the ribbon to the hooks. I eyeballed the length and center of the wall and put up the hooks. Remarkably, it looks even.

Here's the fun part: building the project. Each day in November, one family member will add something he or she is thankful for to the ribbon-clothesline. He/she will trace the chosen shape onto the chosen paper, cut it out, and write the item for which he/she is thankful. It's a great activity for Maddie and Ava, who are very excited to trace and cut. I use a permanent marker to write the thankful sentiment, but Maddie can help me sound out the words.

This project has led to some tender family discussions around the dinner table. What are you doing to prepare your heart to give thanks this holiday season?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sweating the Small Stuff

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:27 NLT)

As I wrote last week, I've been going through a difficult season lately. All around me I see death, suffering, frustration, outright spiritual warfare...it's a lot to take in at once. I'm feeling out of balance and utterly exhausted.  In short, it's been "one of those weeks". 

But our benevolent God spoke to me through my pastor's sermon on Sunday, and I was comforted. I have a love-hate relationship with the scripture selection that was read on Sunday: Matthew 6:25-34. I love it because God spoke it to me through my weekly Bible study last spring as my family was going through a very difficult financial situation. He spoke it to me again a week later when it was the subject of the Sunday school lesson I was assigned to teach that week. I've encountered it in personal prayer time. And it came up again this past weekend. Each time, I heard God's message loud and clear. But here comes the hate part: I still struggle with the application of His message. I sweat the small stuff.

I worry about the day-to-day things many people worry about: Did I remember to put eggs on the shopping list? Did I remind Todd to check the ingredient list for tree nuts before he buys cereal? Does Maddie have clean uniform shirts? Will I be able to make it to that meeting at school or church and still spend a few moments with Ava this evening?

Telling me NOT to worry will not help. But perhaps shifting my nervous energy to focus on "important worries" will: Am I raising my children in a way that honors God? Is my home a happy and healthy place? Am I paying attention to the needs of my husband, too? Focusing on these things will still not add a single moment to my life. But they might help enhance it. And that's no small stuff.