Tag Archives: peace

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)

Guest post: An Uncluttered Heart

Y’all, I am so excited to introduce you to my friend April Lakata Cao! I first met April nearly 25 years ago in 8th grade chorus class. I was the new girl — socially awkward and going through an unfortunate “Blossom” phase. But I remember April as the beautiful girl, with quiet confidence. Even back in 8th grade she seemed to have a wisdom beyond her years. We shared many classes throughout highschool, but never really got to know each other well. After graduation we lost touch, but thanks to Facebook we reconnected a few years ago.

April shared her writing on Facebook and as I started to read some of her blog posts I was instantly moved. I felt a sisterhood for this fellow wife and mother, and like I’d found a kindred spirit in this woman who wrote her heart, and openly shared her struggles in order to encourage others. April’s passion and love for the Lord comes through in everything she writes. She has a gift for weaving words into a beautiful tapestry of truth, encouragement and conviction. This post is no exception! When I first read it all I could think was “Yes! Me, too!” It’s a message I think so many of us can relate to.

So now, without further ado, some encouragement for living life with an uncluttered heart:

When you crave an uncluttered heart

The closets are being emptied and the hallways filled with bins of stuff we’ll never see again. How is it possible to have accumulated so much? Things we spent money on only to have thrown in a corner to collect dust. I look at it all; piles of clothes spilling over. A tangle of faded colors and worn knees and outgrown elbows pushed aside.

I look at it all and mentally add up the cost. An invisible, growing receipt that could have paid for a future semester of college or the meager beginnings of a down payment for our first home.
Stuff cluttered and taking up space in the house as much as in my heart because I see the things I’ve held on to hoping they would fill me; remain a constant reminder of those early years in love or rocking babies.

There are preemie clothes stuffed into Ziploc bags and his first outfit home folded neatly. The toys we sent across the world and the red dress with cherries for her first birthday that she wore that first time we saw her walk through that door. The white plastic bands that circled identical newborn wrists, our claim to them in that place before going home.

This past Sunday, our Pastor talked about how easy it is for children to move on from the hard things. The bickering and arguments that seem impossible to mend are over and forgotten before they’ve had time to take root.

But as adults we cling to the things that hurt us or remind us of the past. Whether it’s a blanket sewn lovingly with their name or an offense cultivated in quiet moments, we refuse to loosen our grip on the memories. We become owners of dog-eared books and bitter grudges.

In some ways I envy the childlike ability to cast things aside-even the good stuff they beg for yet manage to quickly forget. As adults we’ve learned to hold on tight to everything. We take more ownership of what shouldn’t matter and we proudly stake our claim to trophy homes and family feuds.

We react to a child’s ability to treat their things as disposable with great frustration because we automatically associate it with an utter disregard for what we’ve selflessly provided. And while that is often true of children (they must learn to care for their belongings respectfully) we unwittingly teach them to take greater pride in material possessions before lasting gifts such as integrity and honesty. We often stress the pride and care of possessions before the care and feeding of their soul.

I will be the first to admit that I have been more upset over a messy room than a messy heart. I have fussed and scolded for the way they’ve abandoned expensive Legos before grabbing a Bible and praying with them after a lie told or unkind words exchanged. I realize I have been more proud of how they behave in a group of strangers than a moment of tenderness between them after a scraped knee or that first, unassisted back handspring.

We reprimand for the littering of toys and scribbled walls. We praise for character that spotlights our well-done parenting. Ours is a death grip on the things of this world when the world cares little for us and eventually, this becomes their legacy, too.

I look at these growing piles and stretched thin plastic bags and the desire for them to be gone is overwhelming. Just hauled out to the curb with no care for where they go but just gone. Gone away where they can no longer remind me that I haven’t always been a good steward of the blessings we’ve been given. Gone so I can start over with empty drawers and maybe this time only fill them half way.

The long road paved with good intentions might be smoother but it’s not without steep hills and sharp bends. I wonder why it’s taken so long to feel overwhelmed by the clutter. Why I worry needlessly about their good manners and rigid obedience when clearly the time should be spent nurturing a humble heart longing to be close to Jesus.

When Christ called the Twelve to Him, when He spoke about them going into the world to proclaim the Good News, He told them to go with nothing. No bag filled with a change of clothes or toiletries. No staff to keep their back upright as they walked one dusty, rocky road to another. No leather, designer bag to prove their worth or validate their societal hierarchy. Not even bread to sustain them when they journeyed from one town to another.

They traveled with empty hands but full hearts. They needed nothing outside of what God would graciously provide. And isn’t that the blessing? That nothing carried or accumulated can ever fill the cracks in our hearts? That perfect love doesn’t just cast out fear, but fills the void left empty apart from God?

How much easier the journey must be when we’re not weighed down with stuff, but heavy and spilling over with the love of Jesus.

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April Lakata CaoApril Lakata Cao is the homeschool mom of four beautiful kids and military wife of sixteen years. Wannabe morning person by day and freelance writer by night, April is currently writing her first book while blogging her heart into words at www.aWellDoneLife.com