Category Archives: Balanced Living

Five ways to celebrate Advent with children

The Advent season officially kicks off this week. Many churches celebrate Advent every year as a fixed part of the church calendar. But if you didn’t grow up in one of these churches or aren’t sure what Advent is all about, here’s a simple definition, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Advent is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

I love this definition because it describes the season (December 2-24) as both a time of “expectant waiting” and a time of “preparation”. What a wonderful way to view the Christmas season! Not just as a time to prepare our homes with decorations, presents, and cookies; not only as a time to wait expectantly for the big guy in the red suit. But a time to prepare our hearts for Christ and for whatever God is calling us to do, as well as a time to reflect on the glorious gift He gave us, excitedly counting down the days to when we declare “for unto us a child is born”!

If you’re like my family, sometimes the other side of Christmas can get in the way of true Christ-centered waiting and preparation. But here are five ways you and your family, no matter what age your kids are, can celebrate Advent this year:

1. With a daily Advent devotion

A few years ago I bought Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to read with my kids. It’s a beautiful book that takes your family through the journey of God’s people leading right up to the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Each day’s reading includes a story and related scripture, and it was a great way for us to all come together as a family each evening and focus our attention on the reason for this season. I would recommend this for families with children 8 years and up as the readings are a bit long for little ones. However, since buying Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Voskamp has come out with a pop-up book called The Wonder of the Greatest Gift that looks like it would be more suitable for younger children, although I personally have not seen it in person.

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Photo credit: “Reading” by Sarah Elizabeth Altendorf

2. A Jesse Tree 

I first heard about the Jesse Tree when reading Ann Voskamp’s book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. The Jesse Tree is an interactive way to tell the stories of the Bible that lead up to the birth of Jesus. Each day there is a scripture reading and an associated ornament to represent that day’s lesson. Your family can either hang the ornaments on your Christmas Tree or have a small separate “Jesse Tree” just for this tradition. There are lots of places to buy Jesse Tree ornaments, but you can also make them yourself. I especially love this tutorial from Faith and Fabric.

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Photo credit: Weihnachtsdekoration mit Rentier-Kissen und Weihnachtsbaum by marcoverch

3. With an Advent Elf or Kindness Elf 

By now we all know about the “Elf on the Shelf”; but if incorporating that little North Pole spy and all of his crazy antics into your Christmas traditions is not for you, here are some alternative ideas that stick close to the heart of the Advent Season:

  • My friend Lauren from Blacktop to Dirt Road has the Kindness Elf show up to her house each year, beginning December 1st and staying through the Advent season. This cute little guy encourages Lauren’s family to do something kind each day, reminding them of the kindness and character Christ first exhibited for us.
  • Another friend of mine, Anne from Once Upon a Mom has introduced the Advent Elves into her family tradition. These elves help her family with their Jesse Tree by showing up each morning with that day’s ornament. So cute!

4. Intentional prayer as a family

Sometimes something as simple as time set-aside each day to pray together as a family is all you need to keep your heart focused on what’s truly special about Advent. Ask each member of the family to report on how they saw Jesus in action that day, what they did to shine His light to others, and who they saw that needs help or is hurting. Then pray together, praising God for His faithfulness and action, and lifting up those in need. This is simple and requires no pre-planning or materials.

However, if you’d like something a little more structured, check out this Advent Prayer Guide from my friend Bailey Suzio at The Thin Place.

Family hold hands around the kitchen table before their meal

5. Seek Peace Together

Let’s face it, this time of year can be one of the busiest we face, and in our rush and haste it’s easy to lose focus on the real reason for the season, coasting into December 25th exhausted, grumpy, and stressed out. A simple way to combat that is to be intentional in seeking peace. This will look different for each family. For some it may mean cutting back on extra-curricular activities and/or saying no to certain events in order to be home more in the evenings and on the weekends. For others it may mean scheduling family dinners a few nights a week. For my family it means protecting Sundays as our day of rest, as much as possible.

Take it a step further and use that down-time to read what God has to say about peace. You can download my free 31 Days of Seeking Peace scripture calendar and use it as a guide for you and your family. The readings are short, so this can easily be incorporated into prayer time, a Jesse Tree, or other Advent tradition.

 

31 Days of Seeking Peace

Whatever you do, I believe by spending a little bit of time each day to come together as a family and remember the special gift that God gave us not only keeps us focused on the reason for this season, it prepares our hearts to celebrate and accept that gift today and throughout the year.

If you or your family have other traditions for celebrating Advent, I’d love to hear about them!

 

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Thirty-one days of seeking peace – A free gift for you

Most of my life I have believed that peace was something that happened based on circumstances. I thought that while I could try to create peace by eliminating unnecessary stress, noise, or chaos, more often than not, peace was something that was the result of (or not the result of) things outside of my control.

But after studying Galatians 5 earlier this year, I started to discover a different view of peace. Galatians 5:16-25 tells us peace is a fruit of the Spirit.  It explains that if we have chosen to be followers of Jesus then we should leave behind the worldly things that tempt us and distract us and live by the Spirit. Which means that these fruits are not just nice-to-have personality traits or warm, fuzzy feelings. It means we are called to live out each day practicing these fruits, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

When we consider peace in that context, then we must now recognize that peace is not just a result of our circumstances —it is a calling, a choice, and a requirement for living a life guided by the Holy Spirit.

To have real Godly peace in our life we must seek after it , not just wait for our circumstances to deliver it. In fact, Psalm 34:14 says, “Seek peace and work to maintain it.”

But how do we do that? How do we work to maintain peace in our lives? I believe that it all comes back to God’s word. His word lights our way (Psalm 119:105), and provides nourishment for our soul, the way food nourishes our bodies (Matthew 4:4, Psalm 1:2-3). If we are seeking after peace and not relying on God’s word to guide us, it is like we’re stumbling around in the dark, depleted and hungry.

I don’t know where each of you are in your walk with God. I don’t know if His word is the first thing you read each morning, or just something that you go to on occasion. I can tell you that I go through periods in my life where I am in the Word every day and others when I am not. And during those periods when I am not in God’s word every day? I do not have peace. In fact, usually I am struggling to feel joy and even to love those around me (both also fruits of the Spirit, by the way).

So I created this calendar of 31 different verses related to peace as a way to help keep me focused on seeking and maintaining peace in my life. And now, I’d like to share it with you.

This calendar is a tool to help you start on your journey to peace by relying on God’s word. Each day includes one-to-three verses to read on a specific element of peace. You can start small and just read the verses on the calendar, or you can expand your reading to include the full chapter. How long you spend reading is up to you, but try not to skip a day.

After reading and meditating on the daily scripture, spend a few minutes in prayer. Invite God into your life — messes and all — and ask Him to give you peace, instead of relying on your circumstances.

31 Days of Seeking Peace

It is my fervent hope that this calendar is just the beginning. A place for you to start, giving you the basic tools you need to actively seek peace and maintain it. At the end of the thirty-one days be sure to drop me a note and let me know how God has spoken to you through His word, and where you are on your journey to peace.

Click here to download your free 31 Days to Seeking Peace calendar.

 

photo credit: amseaman Grandma’s Bible via photopin (license)

Maybe it’s time

In a few days I will have another birthday. I will take one step further into middle age. I will leave the year of 40 and enter the year of 41.

Birthdays aren’t really that big of deal any more, although I confess at one time they were. You reach a certain point where it all just seems silly, and big celebrations become needless. As long as I get my black forest cake from my favorite baker, I’m good.

But last year felt like a big deal. Turning 40 felt like a really big deal. So I decided to celebrate it, rather than dread it. Entering both my 20’s and my 30’s had seen big celebrations and major bucket-list items were checked-off with each. Forty was to be the same. I made a list of 40 things I wanted to accomplish. I even gave myself an additional four months, starting the list in January last year instead of on my actual birthday. But the truth is many of those items, maybe even the majority, went unchecked.

They are still on that list, staring me in the face, as I reconcile the fact that I will not be able to visit 10 more states, hike 25 more miles, squeeze in 30 more dates with my husband, or lose 40 pounds in the next four days.

It’s hard not to feel a sense of disappointment, like I let myself down. Forty was going to be a year of celebration and also a year of self-care. Care that I have woefully neglected for way too long. But it wasn’t.

I didn’t start that exercise routine, I didn’t run those 40 miles. I didn’t do those push-ups and I didn’t lose a single pound (in fact, I went in the opposite direction). I also didn’t go to bed earlier, cut back on TV and social media, or finish that writing project that’s been in my head for over a year.

I could tell you that I have some really good excuses for not accomplishing these things. And maybe I do. My husband had a stroke a few days after I turned 40. My son was diagnosed with two mental illnesses 3 months later. My grandmother moved to my town so I could help care for her 6 months after that, and a lot of other stuff happened in between.

My year of 40 became a year of caring for others, of which I don’t regret or wish away one single moment. I felt, and still do, privileged to be able to do the things that I have for the people I love. But somewhere along the way, despite a few positive starts (like finally getting that check-up and blood work done), I decided I had to trade my self care for the care of others. Self care for me became sleeping in on a Saturday because I was so exhausted from the week, and binge-watching The Crown and Outlander until 2 a.m. because once the house was quiet and no one needed me, I needed to escape to another world for a while. But it felt less like self-care and more like survival mode for much of the time.

So here I sit. The list still staring me in the face. And I have to make a choice: Do I wallow in the failure, the let-downs, the “should haves” and “could haves”? Do I only focus on the things I did accomplish (and there were quite a few of those) and say “to hell with the rest”? Or do I dare try to be brave enough to say, “This year! Forty-one is the year. I will get this self-care thing right,” and try again?

Honestly, I don’t know what to choose. But I think maybe I don’t have to pick just one. Maybe I can say “Good job on these 12 things you did do, Jelise. Cross them off the list and celebrate. But don’t give up on the things you haven’t finished yet. They’re still important. And you can learn from your mistakes and do better.”

That’s what I would say to one of my kids, isn’t it?

Maybe 41 is the year of self-grace and shortening the “to-do” list instead of adding to it. Maybe 41 is the year to say “less is more”. Maybe my 40’s are the time for slowing down and savoring what I already have; what’s already been accomplished. Maybe this decade doesn’t start with giant celebrations and major bucket-list items but ends with peace and contentment, knowing that each day was celebrated for the gift it is, and that I tried to love well. And maybe this season is when I finally choose self-care — not just once or in some big, bold way — but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

Maybe it’s time.

I finally choose self-care. Not just once or in some big, bold way, but every day in small, meaningful ways that strengthen my body and nourish my soul.

The failure of trying to be everyone’s person

I’m going through a phase right now where I feel like I’m constantly failing. I say it’s a phase for two reasons: 1. I’ve been in this place before, and 2. I trust God to never let me stay here for too long.

The problem really isn’t so much about failure to accomplish goals or tasks (although there is an element of that). The problem lies in my desire to be everyone’s person.

The mom who shows up for every game, concert, and recital for my kids while also making healthy meals, helping them study and prepare for school, predicting their needs, comforting their hurts, and creating space to snuggle, cuddle or talk about life so they always feel connected to me.

The wife who prays for her husband daily, offers an empathetic ear when he’s had a bad day, acts as his biggest cheerleader, supportive of all of his endeavors and interests, all while trying not to be too needy or selfish with my own stuff.

The employee who thinks creatively and innovatively, never misses a deadline, maintains 100% focus while at work and doesn’t let her personal life interfere with her work life.

The daughter/niece/sister/grand-daughter who remembers to call, to visit regularly, to send those thank-you notes, to let everyone know how much they mean to her.

The friend who listens, who shows up with soup when you’re sick, and prays with you when you’re struggling. Who remembers to call or send a text to say “good luck at that interview/doctor’s appointment/meeting/etc.” Who never cancels lunch plans, or misses out on celebrating a big life event.

The women’s ministry leader who makes every woman who walks through the doors of that church feel welcomed and loved. Who prays for each woman by name, knows who is struggling and needs help, and makes time for coffee, to offer up encouragement and friendship to each woman, and always says just the right thing.

Some days I get some of the things right with some of the people. But most days I just get it all wrong and feel like I’ve failed all of the people. The forgetful friend, the frazzled mom, the tired wife, the absent daughter, the rushed ministry leader, the distracted employee. None of it feels good.

And the thing is, I don’t do any of it for a pat on the back or praise and thanks. I do it because I’m a relational person. I value relationships immensely and I’m incredibly grateful for each relationship and role I’ve been blessed with in life.

I genuinely love people (yes, introverts can love people, too). I especially love the people in my life. For so many years I felt terrible loneliness so I don’t take it for granted that I have all of these beautiful people in my life. When I think of how much I love them it knocks the wind right out of me and I want them — want you — to know it.

But instead, what ends up happening is inevitably someone feels left out. They feel slighted, shorted, overlooked, or forgotten. Or they don’t. But because there isn’t enough time for me to invest in the relationship the way I want to, they move on. They can’t wait for me to make time, so they find someone who can.

So here I sit. In this place of fear and worry of disappointing and failing them all. But even more so, I sit with fear of being left behind. That I tried to do so much I was left with nothing.

Then all of the thoughts come: I should have said yes to that; I should have said no to that; I should have called her back sooner; I should have double checked that date; I should have gotten more done yesterday; I should have gotten more rest last night; I should have stayed up later; I should have…

It’s overwhelming. It can be paralyzing. It makes me tired.

So, so tired.

Just before my head hits the pillow I read my daily devotional and it speaks like it was written just for me at this exact moment. God’s voice comes through the words on the page and says, “yep, life is pretty crazy right now. I know you don’t like it this way. I know you do better when everything is neat and orderly. I know you feel overwhelmed and like you are failing. I know you are worried people will leave you or be angry. I know.

But I’m here. You can’t do it all by yourself. You have to trust me. I will help you. I will comfort you and give you rest. I will help guide you on what to do next. I will never leave you to do it all alone.”

For a few moments I have peace. I am able to sleep.

Until the morning when it starts all over again.

Thankfully God has an infinite supply of patience.

Thankfully He never lets me stay stuck here for too long.

 

photo credit: Silvia Sala  via photopin (license)

Are your core values what’s driving you?

I clicked the button to confirm my account and the first question popped up: “What are your core values?”

And I had to stop and think. I wasn’t expecting such a deep question from an app.

I was working in my new goal tracking app, Lifetick, and thinking I would just enter in my goals for 2018 and a set a few deadlines and notifications and be done with it. But before I could do that, this app wanted to know my core values.

You see the app takes a pyramid approach where you first identify core values, then set goals based on each core value, and lastly you can set-up specific tasks tied to each goal. This approach is not unfamiliar to me, as it’s very similar to how I’ve had to approach every marketing or business plan I’ve ever worked on (hello grad school, thanks for drilling that into my head!). But for some reason I had never stopped to take that same kind of tiered approach to my personal life. And as I sat there staring at that question on the screen it was a total epiphany moment for me.

Why would I spend my time doing anything or striving for any goal if I couldn’t tie it back to a core value? Or another way of putting that, if I couldn’t identify how my daily tasks and goals were supporting one of my core values, maybe it was time to rethink how I spend my time.

After some thought and reflection, here are the three core values I came up with:

  1. To pursue a relationship with Jesus Christ.
  2. To be a good steward of all that God has given me.
  3. To let the light of Jesus shine through me.

These might seem pretty altruistic or simplistic to you, but when I thought about what I valued most, what I wanted my life to look like at the core, these were it. And you know what, tying goals to these is not very hard.

For example one of my goals is to get moving for 20 minutes a day for the next 30 days. This directly aligns with core value #2 because God gave me this body, and if I don’t take care of it I’m not being a good steward of the gift He’s offered.

It also made me re-look at some of my goals and see if things were a bit imbalanced in my life or didn’t tie-back to a core value. Did I have any goals set that would directly support my core value of pursuing a relationship with Jesus? How did my work goals support my core values?

For now, I’ve only set-up four goals. I’m sure there will be more to come over time, but by keeping a focus on my core values, I was able to give myself permission to take a few things off my list. I’m making sure all of my time and energy is spent pursuing things that tie into the core of who I strive to be as a person. It’s also given me a greater sense of purpose for each of these goals because I can see the big picture. Getting fit isn’t just something I should be doing because everyone says so, or because I feel pressure to do so, it’s something I should be doing to honor God and take care of the body He gave me. That certainly lends a level of motivation I didn’t have before.

Do you know what your core values are? Do you see a direct link between your goals and daily tasks and these values? Maybe spend some time thinking about this and writing down your values. You don’t need an app to do this, but Lifetick is free and so far has been very easy to use!

 

 

photo credit: wuestenigel 2018 Goals in Notebook with a Pen via photopin (license)