What I Learned to Embrace in 2020

We are two days into the New Year, and I find myself needing to wrap up 2020 somehow. I wish I could put a great big bow on it, but it wasn’t exactly that kind of year. Still, there was a lot of joy and a lot of growth, and I don’t want to accidentally leave those gifts behind.

I have never been one to choose a “word for the year” like so many others do, but last year a word chose me. I don’t even remember how it happened. I just know that as I prayed about whether or not I should consider choosing a word, God began to whisper the same word over and over to my heart. 

Embrace.

He whispered it in other places, too— songs on the radio, conversations with friends, in the pages of my devotional reading. Again and again the word appeared…. Embrace.

Immediately, it resonated with me, likely because I was filled with so much dread for 2020. Our oldest daughter was graduating from high school, and I was dreading all the “lasts”: her last show, her last prom, her graduation. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine driving her six and a half hours away to college and leaving her there without us! 

But God was telling me to EMBRACE those things, to soak them in and find joy instead of dread. 

So I learned to EMBRACE THE MOMENTS.

I prayed for time to slow down (and, boy, did it!). When the quarantine began, we were suddenly all home together, and I was prepared to embrace every moment. We baked cookies and made scones and watched movies together. We went on family hikes and made more cookies. We created videos and completed schoolwork and yes, we made more cookies. And we ate them. All. 

When Sarah’s Senior girls trip to Texas was cancelled, we went to the beach and swam with dolphins instead. When she missed our family Disney trip due to a Covid exposure, we snuck back down to the Mouse House for a couple days after Thanksgiving (yay for annual passes!). When yet another direct exposure ruined our Christmas day plans, we waved sadly to the grandparents and then embraced the moment, choosing to make a fun memory instead (it had something to do with chinese food and a crispy duck, but that’s a story for another day!).

And when Jeff and I dropped her off at college and I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest, I embraced all the things I was grateful for— that she was still able to be on campus with Covid, that she was making new friends and thriving, that she missed her crazy family after all…

So I am grateful that God prepared me to embrace each of those moments. However, my word ended up applying to so much more than just Sarah! The Lord had many other lessons for me to EMBRACE.

When the world shut down, life changed drastically in our home. We went from everyone going in different directions every evening to having dinner (and lunch… and breakfast… and dessert!) together at home every day. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.

I learned to EMBRACE REST.

There were so many projects I could have done around the house. There were closets and cabinets and a basement full of stuff calling my name. But my soul needed something different— rest

And so, contrary to my normal nature, I embraced it. I left the clutter where it was and curled up in a chair with a book. I snuggled on the couch with the kids and watched movies. I laced up my sneakers and took long walks. And I spent extended time talking and listening to my Father

The strangest thing happened, y’all— my soul began to breathe. It was as if I had been on a ventilator for a very long time, maybe years, and was suddenly beginning to breathe on my own again. It was shallow at first; uneven, gasping, gulps of air followed by periods of holding my breath; but eventually, as I embraced my new normal, it began to settle into a more consistent rhythm. 

I also learned to EMBRACE WRITING.

I have always found clarity through writing my thoughts. Stacks and stacks of prayer journals line my bookshelves. There are even a few (hilarious!) middle school “diaries” thrown in the mix. I have written hundreds of letters to friends over the years, and I have a folder of (mostly embarrassing) poetry hidden in my closet that will hopefully never be read by other humans! 

But around Thanksgiving last year, God began to stir in my heart the urge to write more consistently… and to share my words.

There is something extremely vulnerable about sharing my words with others. I want them to be real, not contrived or impersonal. I want them to touch people, to inspire and encourage and help those who read them. And if I’m honest, I want people to like them (stupid pride). But mostly, I want them to draw people’s hearts to Jesus, just as He draws my own heart to Him. 

And I don’t often know how to do that. 

But suddenly I had nothing else to do except EMBRACE what God was calling me to do. So I wrote about a lot of random things, praying God would use them. I published things faithfully on my blog, even though I had no idea if anyone was reading it. I joined hope*writers and began to learn about the discipline of writing, the craft of storytelling, and the machine that is involved if one ever hopes to publish: building a brand, a platform, a social media following, an email list, etc. 

It still overwhelms me! But through the process…

I have learned to EMBRACE GROWTH. 

I have tried new things and failed. I have written pieces and cringed after I published them. With the help of some friends, I designed a totally new website— that I still haven’t launched. I even submitted two articles for publication, both of which were rejected. But I did it! 

(And I was actually just featured as a guest blogger on a fellow hope*writer’s blog, so that’s fun! You can read that article here.

Overall, I have learned so much. I have even been able to share some of it with others, and it is all a result of embracing something new, of not being afraid to try.

Above all else, I have EMBRACED JESUS.

This year has given me the gift of time and space to just be with Jesus. I have had the freedom to study the Word; to read deep, reflective books; to pour out my heart to my Father; and to sit at His feet and listen. He has convicted and encouraged me, and faithfully been present. I have asked Him for answers and direction, and He has repeatedly reminded me to open my hands and trust Him. So I embrace His goodness, his faithfulness, His love; and I place myself in His hands, like clay in the hands of the Potter. Have your way with me, Lord!

Looking back, it’s funny to think of 2020 as a year to be embraced. Yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do, and I am so grateful. Think of all I would have missed out on if I had stayed focused on what I was losing and if the world had not shut down! 

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” —Romans 8:28 (NLT)

God has given me a new word for 2021 (I’ll share it here soon!), but I intend to continue embracing whatever He places before me, and I pray you will as well! 

Finding Joy in the Simple Things

The clock approaches midnight as I wipe off the counters and look over my list one more time. The children, all four under the age of ten, have been tucked into bed for a few precious hours now, and I am trying to organize myself for the holiday rush. Between holiday decorating, class parties, cookie baking, and all the other things that come along with Christmas, my list keeps growing longer as my time grows shorter. 

I long for the simplicity I see on the front of the Hallmark Christmas cards: candles glowing through the windows of a quiet, peaceful home; warmly bundled children with red caps and mittens, holding hands and singing praises; a blanket of snow shimmering beneath the glow of the Christmas star.

Simple. Joy.

But my children are young; these days will fly by…

(Or so they tell me.)

It is imperative that I make the most of every moment. After all, their childhood will be ruined if they don’t assemble gingerbread houses and find the elf and sing Christmas carols in their PJ’s and…

So I find myself in Mom of the Year mode, making a list of every Instagram-worthy idea I can think of, and even scheduling them on a daily calendar to make sure we don’t forget to do them. “Simplicity is for lazy moms!” I tell myself. Not me. 

I am intentional

I am purposeful

I can handle this.

And yet…

I forgot to pick up the cookie ingredients at the grocery store today. Again. The pile of Christmas books calls out to me, reminding me that we forgot to read one tonight at bedtime. Again. And I forgot to pick up gift assignments for the nursing home service project. 

Again.

The self-inflicted weight of my “perfect Christmas requirements” is so heavy, I can barely breath. I glance at my list one more time, wondering why I ever loved the Christmas season, and stumble up the stairs to bed, switching off the lights behind me.

As I drift off to sleep, the lyrics of well-loved Christmas hymns echo in my mind:

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…

Oh Come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord…

I wonder briefly if I’m missing something. But before I can unpack that thought, the darkness claims me and I drift off to sleep.

*************

That was many years ago, nearly a decade, and I am grateful to say Christmas looks a little different around here now. The pressure I once felt to be the perfect mom and make every moment matter has given way to a more realistic way of living. 

If COVID has had any positive impact on our society, it has been to slow us down and remind us of what really matters. I am reminded of that famous line from our favorite green-skinned Santy-claus:

“It came without ribbons, it came without tags,

It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

And he puzzled and puzzled ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

“What if Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?”

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss

Somewhere along the way, my desire to be intentional about every moment sucked the life right out of Christmas and left my spirit starving. So, while we still incorporate many of the same traditions and experiences from those early years, the pressure to make sure every. single. thing. is accomplished no longer drives our days.

Instead, I have learned to find joy in the simple things. 2020 has reinforced that habit, and I find myself treasuring the little things even more this season.

Here are a few simple things that are breathing joy into my soul this December…

Christmas music

There is just something about Christmas music that can give even the grumpiest Grinch a happy heart! It’s amazing how music can determine our mood. When I find myself feeling the stress of the season and need something to make me smile, turning on some Christmas tunes usually does the trick. Buddy the Elf had it right when he said, “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!” Go search a Christmas playlist on Spotify and sing yourself into the Christmas spirit!

Our Nativity Set tradition

I don’t really even know how this started, but when I was growing up, my little brother used to hide baby Jesus in different places around the nativity until Christmas morning, when He would finally make His way into the manger. Somehow this tradition evolved in our own family to moving all the nativity characters around. Throughout the season, you might see Mary on one side talking to the angel, the three wise men on another shelf feeding their camels, or the shepherd off chasing a wayward sheep.  (One year, Mary went missing for several days. We eventually found her under the couch with the shepherd…) Walking by this particular nativity set always makes me pause to see what our little friends are up to, adding a bit of adventure to the ordinary. Sounds just like Jesus!

The Book of Isaiah

I started reading through the book of Isaiah in late October, simply because it’s been a few years since I’ve read it straight through, and I felt my heart drawn there. Had I been more purposeful, I might have realized it would put me reading the prophesies of the Messiah during December; instead, it was a delightful surprise! In a year like 2020, how encouraging it is to remember that nothing happens apart from the Lord’s knowledge and purposes. What seems random and unpredictable to us has its origin in the heavens and is intended to draw our hearts to our Father. His promises are certain; His timing is perfect; His mercies, though often disguised, are for our good and His glory. The One who promised is faithful! If you need something to read, check out Isaiah. There is so much to be gleaned.

Quilted Christmas stockings

I wish I could take credit for this idea, but I read it somewhere, I’m sure. Each stocking is made out of that child’s baby clothes, and I have a tree skirt stitched from all four of their clothes. When I look at those patches of color, I can picture their little faces in each little outfit, each pair of pj’s, and it makes my heart so happy! Our girls are nearly grown now, and our boys won’t be far behind. These stockings capture a moment of time and enable me to enjoy it every year. 

The fragrances of Christmas 

There is nothing like the smells of Christmas! Whether it’s the aroma of baking cookies filling the kitchen, or the scent of my favorite winter candle (thanks, Pam!) when I walk in the living room, something about it just makes a house feel like a home. For all you crunchy oil-users, I love to put Siberian Fir and Cinnamon in the diffuser (On Guard with Grapefruit is another fave). What smells bring Christmas to life for you?

Hot chocolate bar

This is new to us this year. Our kids are big enough now that we don’t have to monitor all their snacks (there are some advantages to being the baby of four!), so I pulled out all our hot chocolate ingredients, stuck them in containers, and put them on a tray on the kitchen counter. Suddenly everyone’s drinking hot chocolate every day, and I’m the mom that gets to say “Yes!” Super simple, but brings lots of joy!

Names of Jesus Advent cards

I am always looking for ways to keep our hearts centered on Jesus during the Christmas season. I found these cards online a year or two ago, and I love them! The set contains 24 numbered cards with names for Jesus, along with twine and mini-clothespins to hang them with. When you purchase the cards, the author emails you each day with a short devotion to go along with the name for that day. We were a few days late putting it up this year due to travelling, and before I knew it, we were ten days in without doing a single devotional. But no stress, right, because I no longer have to be the perfect mom!

Instead, I came up with a brilliant idea (if I do say so myself!)! Our boys need some money to buy Christmas presents, so I told them I would give them each a dollar per card if they look up and write out the corresponding Bible verse.  They could only use the concordance in the back of the Bible- Eli used the computer to type up his verses since he’s learning to type correctly, but not for searching Bible verses. Do you see what I did there, y’all? Hiding the Word in their hearts. That is $48 well spent, my friends!

There are other things I treasure, of course— Christmas cards from friends far and near, hand-made ornaments on the tree, handprint art from when the children were small. Maybe next year I should share one simple thing a day! (See, there I go, turning it into something purposeful… old habits die hard, friends!) But for now, I simply wanted to share these ideas as an encouragement to you. 

Take time to pause and find joy in the simple things.

Where do you find yourself this Christmas? Is it a season of busyness for you, filled with endless to-dos and must-haves? Or are you a little more settled this year, content to do less, but with more peace? Either way, my hope is that you will take a breath and allow the power of Christ to remove the pressure we so often place on ourselves. 

You don’t have to be perfect or do more. That’s the whole reason Jesus came in the first place!

Friends, I’d love to hear what’s bringing you joy this season, and how you are finding peace in a slower pace. Bonus points for sharing pics!

Christmas Eve at Granny’s

   NOTE: Christmas is filled with great nostalgia for many of us. Family heirlooms, special recipes, and cherished traditions all have their place among our celebrations. I am excited to share this story with you, written by my sweet friend, Mel. You can read more about her and find ways to follow her writing at the end of this post. I am so thankful she agreed to be our guest author today! Feel free to share about some of your special traditions or treasured family heirlooms in the comments!

 The worn box appeared like it always did on Christmas Eve. Sitting on the floor in its usual spot, just waiting to be opened and its treasures displayed. Just like the box, every Christmas Eve, my sister, cousins, and I would arrive at my Granny’s house to decorate for Christmas. 

     My little cousins were not allowed to touch the box. Its contents were too special to trust to tiny hands that had not learned the significance of the items inside. My sister and I were the only ones old enough. It did not matter, though, how long I had been helping with that box. My hands still shook when I unwrapped the delicate figurines from their tissue paper. I understood what these figures represented. They were also my Granny’s most cherished possession. I did not want to be the one who accidentally dropped one, breaking it, and ruining Christmas. 

     One by one, my sister and I would pull the figures from their wrappings, then would fuss over how to arrange them. Most were chipped and faded from time, but they were beautiful to me. My favorite one and the one I loved unwrapping the most was baby Jesus. He was always the last figurine to be pulled from the box. My sister or I would feel extra special if we were the one chosen to unwrap him and gently place him on his little bed of straw. 

    Then we would decorate the Christmas tree. It was a 4-foot artificial tree, which we always placed on a low table in order to make it taller. Old ornaments were hung from its branches that had been in the family for years. The tiny red horns were a favorite because they actually made noise if you blew into them. I also loved the green cylinders with little spinning fan blades, and the white snowflakes with intricate patterns. The entire tree was then covered in strands of silver tinsel. It always annoyed me when my little cousins placed all the ornaments in one spot, but Granny never let me move them. She said it was beautiful because we had decorated it together. She always loved how that little tree looked~ the lights twinkling off the tinsel making the entire tree shine. 

    

 Later that evening, we were all brought back for a traditional dinner of family favorites and Kolachie cookies for dessert. Then everyone would exchange presents. The best part of the evening finally arriving for us kids! Torn wrapping paper covered the floor as toys were opened and played with. Everyone would then sit around long after the food had been put away, talking and laughing into the night. We kids would fall asleep on some random corner of furniture or sometimes snuggled up on the floor at the base of the tree. I can never remember the presents I got, but I always remember how much love and laughter was bursting through that little house.

     It has been years since I celebrated Christmas Eve in my Granny’s tiny house in the small town I grew up in. But those memories of the holidays from my childhood are so special to me and come rushing back every Christmas when I pull out my decorations. My Nativity is not as delicate as Granny’s, but my hands still shake when I pull the figurines from their boxes. I still have those tiny red horns, green cylinders, and white snowflakes with their intricate designs. They are so special to me, and just like my little cousins, my own children would often put all the ornaments in one section of the tree. I never moved them because I could hear my Granny’s voice telling me not to. She was right; the tree was always beautiful, no matter how the ornaments were placed, because we decorated it together.

**************

     Melinda Casilli is small town girl who loves coffee, libraries, and stories that take you to faraway lands. She’s been married to her best friend for 27 years and is the mom to three girls. When she’s not organizing a closet or taming teenage drama you can find her writing under her pen name Mel Havens at MelHavens.com or on Instagram.com/mel.havens.author.

Waiting for Hope

(**Note: This blogpost was originally published last December, but I am sharing it again with a few revisions as we finish up the first week of Advent. In a year like 2020, it seems we can all use a little more hope!)

Hope.

That is the word God has been whispering to my heart this week.

It has been in my devotional readings everyday. It has popped up in several Facebook posts. It was the theme running through our Midweek service. It was even written in glowing Christmas lights on my neighbor’s yard when I drove home last night! (I’m not kidding…talk about a sign!)

We just completed the first week of Advent in the Christian calendar, and the focus for this week was—you guessed it— hope.

As I think back on the beginning of the Christmas story, I am reminded that God’s people had been waiting for what must have seemed like forever for the promised Messiah to appear. Hundreds of years had gone by since the prophets proclaimed God’s message of the One who was to come. Their land had been torn apart by savages, their government overthrown, their people scattered among the nations. So much time had gone by that the stories of old were just that… ancient stories, passed down through generations, of a time long before when God had favored their people. 

But it was clear that God must have changed His mind and turned His back on them. 

Their great-great-great-great (you get it) grandparents had let Him down one too many times, trading long-term loyalty for a fast-food faith, and they were left living the repercussions. Sure, even in the midst of their betrayal, the Father had promised the Messiah, the One who would change everything. How they longed for Him to come! 

But that was a long time ago… 

Perhaps they forgot what it was like to hope.

**********

 Jeff and I were married for 5 years before we had our oldest daughter, Sarah. We spent three of those years trying to have a baby. At first, we waited patiently, trusting in God’s timing and continuing on with life as usual. After awhile, though, we knew something wasn’t right. We read all the articles, counted the days on the calendar, met with the doctors, ran all the tests. It was in God’s hands, we knew; still, our hearts broke a little with every negative test result.

At the same time, it seemed like every other young couple in our social circle chose that moment to start having babies. I remember buying hooded bath towels and lavender bath wash, smiling through all the baby showers and joking about not drinking the water, only to hide my tears in the bathroom where no one could see.  

The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into years

remember what it was like to long for someone I wasn’t sure would ever come. 

I, too, almost forgot how to hope.

**********

But then one day, out of the blue, when everyone was just going about their business as usual, an angel appeared to a teenage girl, and the message he delivered breathed HOPE back into the world once again! God had heard His people and He would no longer turn away. It was time. There would be a baby!

Wait, a baby? 

Yes. That baby changed everything.

*******

Our baby changed everything too. I was so in shock when the test was positive, I ran straight to Jeff’s study and handed him the pee stick.  No cute t-shirt or video announcement for us! No, we just sat cross-legged on the kitchen floor and cried at God’s faithfulness. We were so busy having faith that we hadn’t even realized we had lost hope, until suddenly our hearts were flooded with it once again!

I think I took at least four more tests after that just to be sure. It’s amazing what a little hope can do! God could have chosen to answer our prayer in a different way, and that would have been okay. Truly. Our hope came in the form of two lines on a stick that day, but ultimately our hope came in the promise fulfilled all those years ago, when Love chose to put on skin and dwell among us. Emmanuel. God with us! We are not alone.

That is our hope

And so, as we journey through this season of Advent, I want to remember what it was like to wait so long that I almost lost hope, to be afraid to be expectant after so much disappointment. I have been there. Some of you are still there, I know. 2020 has wreaked havoc on our ability to hope!

“But we cannot lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Friends, we must remember God’s unfailing faithfulness…

A Promise made.

A Baby given.

A Savior sent.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” -Hebrews 10:23

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” –Romans 15:4

“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

Let us remember… and hope. 

Preparing Your Heart for Christmas

It’s been nearly four months since we drove to Virginia to move Sarah in for her Freshman year of college. 

We spent most of the summer preparing for this new adventure. It seems so long ago now. 

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of preparation. After all, as the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Life can quickly become overwhelming, so being organized and planning ahead helps me avoid crisis situations. I knew Sarah going to college was going to be a big transition for all of us, and as with any new experience, I wanted her to be prepared.

So we started making lists.

We had a list for her dorm room, a list for her bathroom, a list for emergencies— I may even have had a list of all our lists!

When move-in day finally came, we loaded up the car, survived the tearful goodbyes with her siblings, and drove six and a half hours to her new home. We organized her closet and lofted her bed. We decorated her walls and set up her desk. Even with all our lists, Jeff had to run to the store to buy extra command hooks and a coffee cart for her Keurig. But when the day was done, her new home was ready, and there was only one thing left to do.

As we sat down for dinner munching on a bowl of chips and salsa, the three of us began to realize that the hard part was only beginning. By the time the waiter brought our food, we just sat and stared at it… we couldn’t even eat. The dread of what was waiting on the other side of that meal completely eradicated our appetite.

Before we knew it, the bill was paid, and the time came for us to say goodbye to our girl.

We hugged. Then we cried. Then we hugged and cried some more. And we dispensed every piece of parental advice we could possibly think of:  

Don’t walk anywhere alone at night.

Make sure you take your vitamins and drink enough water.

Call us if you need more clothes.

Don’t forget you have a COVID emergency bag in the top of your closet!

And on and on and on…

(It’s amazing how much you realize you never told your child when it is suddenly time for them to survive on their own!)

Finally, we gave her one last squeeze and watched her drive away. 

To her new home. 

Without us.

“What in the world are we doing?” Jeff asked, as her taillights disappeared from sight. The two of us were a sobbing mess. 

And that is when I realized our mistake.

We had made all the lists, followed all the advice, and bought all the things so she would be prepared for her new adventure.

But there was one thing we had failed to prepare:

Our hearts.

*************

Friends, as we approach the Christmas season, how are you preparing your heart?

I love Christmas like the next girl, but I’m not going to lie- I can easily get overwhelmed with ALL THE THINGS.  

Cookie swaps and class parties. 

Teacher gifts and family gatherings.

Stockings and garland and Christmas lights. (Oh my!)

On top of all that, or maybe hidden underneath, is the meaning of what we’re celebrating. And if I’m honest, as much as I love baby Jesus, He often gets left in the manger while I’m busy trying to do everything else. So I’ve learned that when it comes to the holidays, preparing my heart is so important.

In Luke 10, we read the story of two sisters who opened their home to Jesus. Apparently, they were not expecting Him, because Martha was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (v. 40, NIV) While she was busy sweeping the floor and kneading the dough and doing all the things, Mary was content to sit at Jesus’ feet. 

Seriously? 

Yet, when Martha complains to Jesus, he doesn’t jump to her defense. He shows compassion for her predicament, but He affirms Mary’s priorities. 

This used to bother me. If preparation is so important, shouldn’t Jesus have encouraged Mary to help Martha? Surely the One who washed His friends’ feet understands the value of serving others! 

So I knew there must be a deeper lesson.

I think the point Jesus was trying to make is that while physical preparation is important, spiritual preparation is imminently more valuable. 

While Martha was surprised by Jesus’ visit, we are not. As Christmas approaches, we know it is coming. 

We know Jesus was born in a stable because no one had prepared room for Him in the Inn. 

We know the wise men eventually found Him because they were prepared to follow the star.

And we know a teenage girl was chosen because she was prepared to be obedient, whatever the cost.

Intentional planning and hard work today pave the way for peace and rest later. Preparing in advance enables me to be fully present, and allows me to focus on what is most important. Yet so often, I focus on getting things ready on the outside, forgetting the inside altogether.

So, friends, as we make our shopping lists and stock the freezer with cookie dough, let’s also take time to sit at the Master’s feet. 

To hear His voice. 

To gaze in wonder at the One who changed everything!

***********

I have some really fun things planned for the blog this month, and I am hoping some of them will help you prepare in different ways. One of my greatest blessings during the pandemic was the opportunity to join a hope*circle of writing friends from various backgrounds, life stages, and parts of the country (and one Canadian!).

Sharing everything from devotions to recipes, these sweet friends are going to guest post for me this month, and I am super excited to introduce them to you! I think you’re going to love them! (I do!)

I hope you will take time to read their contributions and glean from their experiences.

It is my prayer that you will find a few things here on the blog this month that help you with the oh-so-important task of preparing your heart for Christmas this year!

How to Talk to Your Kids About the Election

My kids just watched our front running Presidential candidates behave in a way that is worse than behavior they themselves have lost phones and been grounded for. Awesome.”

This was posted by a friend of mine following the first Presidential debate of 2020. Whichever direction you lean, I believe we can all agree that debate was a train wreck! 

Regardless of the reasons, neither candidate represented themselves in a manner worthy of the highest office of this nation. I can’t count the number of times I have told my kids that our choices are not dependent on other people’s actions. If our Presidential candidates were our children, we would have taken away their microphones and sent them to bed without supper! 

Alas, that is not the case.

From my last blog post, you know I firmly believe in viewing challenges as teachable moments. Unfortunately—or fortunately— this election year is turning out to be a perfect opportunity to do just that.

I admit… it is a bit of a struggle. I find myself tempted to focus on:

  • The lack of integrity in our candidates
  • The division in America
  • The role of media bias & “fake news” from every side
  • Our tendency to choose “sides” and be “against” something
  • How mean and rude people can be to one another on social media regarding political issues and current events
  • The desire to throw something at the TV and stay home on election day! 

However, I’m not sure those topics would be the most beneficial to my kids. As easy as it is, it’s not enough to complain to our children about politics. No, how we talk about the election with our kids matters. 

This is one of those times I am reminding myself I have the opportunity to look at things from a different perspective and use the current situation to create constructive conversation. 

TALKING POINTS

Here are some revised talking points I came up with based on the frustrations I listed above:

  • Why we should vote for policy/platform and not a person. While it would be nice for our president to be an outstanding role model for future generations, unfortunately that is not often the case. Let’s be real— most of our leaders have had closets full of immorality and shameful behaviors… they just didn’t put them on display quite like our current candidates. In any case, one of the beautiful things about our government system is that it is designed so that the President’s personal power is limited. His or her main impact comes through the people he/she appoints. The President’s cabinet is made up of the heads of various departments. These are the people who oversee the areas that directly affect us as Americans—transportation, education, national security, etc. The President also nominates Supreme Court Justices, should an opening occur. The Supreme Court verdicts often have widespread implications and, subsequently, guide the morals of our nation. Thus, the people a President appoints generally play a much greater role in directing our nation than the President himself/herself. This is so important for our children (and us) to understand!
  • While America seems very divided, there are large areas of common ground in the middle.  In many cases, most Americans actually want the same thing, but see different ways of achieving it. Do you listen and communicate better with someone if you realize you mostly want the same things?
  • “I saw it on the internet (or TV or TikTok), so it must be true!” The reality is our kids DO tend to internalize what they watch and listen to, and so do we. And the more we trust our source, the more blindly we accept it. Unfortunately, NONE of our current news sources report anything objectively without bias. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is any source without an agenda. This is a GREAT opportunity to talk to our kids (and ourselves!) about the importance of implementing critical thinking skills. What does that look like? How do we pursue truth (even at the expense of our own opinions)? How do we recognize bias in a story? How can we tell when we are being manipulated? How do we check the validity of a source or a story? How do we research counter-arguments to make sure we have a more accurate perspective instead of just choosing articles that support our opinions? These are all great questions to walk through with our kids.
  • In this election more than any other, people are talking about their desire to vote “against” someone or something. As Christ-followers, there are obviously things we should stand up against. But mostly, I want my kids to be known for what (and who) they stand FOR. Do our children know what we believe in and why it matters to us, not just what we stand against? 
  • This election season is the first time I have ever used Facebook’s “Snooze for 30 days” feature. I realize we all have personal experiences, which create strong emotions, and Satan is having a field day with that! But somewhere along the way, some of us have forgotten about human decency. Seriously, y’all—if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all! However, this also creates a great opportunity to discuss the importance of listening with an open mind, sharing your words where they will have the best return, stepping away from the noise when you need to, and recognizing that POSTING about something is not the same thing as DOING something.
  • And yes, when I want to throw something at the TV, I remind myself of the privilege it is to have a voice in our elected officials and the responsibility that comes with it. Do our kids understand how this process works, how it is purposely different from other countries, and why that matters? Even at our worst, the ideals we stand for and our methods of maintaining them have tremendous value, and our kids need to know that. Otherwise, they will eventually forfeit those freedoms, and by the time they realize what they have lost, it will be too late. “History repeats itself” is a real thing.

Beyond that, the question I have been asking myself is what do our kids need to know specifically about how Jeff and I determine who to vote for? Basically, it comes down to two things: What matters to us and why.

WHAT MATTERS TO US AND WHY

1. KNOW YOUR WHAT

This is where our worldview comes into play. As Christ followers, we focus on what the Bible says. God gets to determine what is most important to us, not us. Our job is to critically think, pray, and determine which platform (not person) we believe lines up most with Biblical objectives and will do the most good for the most people.

2. KNOW YOUR WHY

“Because I don’t like the other candidate” is not a good enough reason to vote for someone. The privilege of voting comes with great responsibility, and we must take that seriously. Even with all our faults, the freedoms we enjoy in this country cannot be taken for granted. We cannot be led by the crowd in matters this important! Just because some person with a microphone says this candidate is going to help someone doesn’t mean they actually will. We must look deeper to understand WHY a person or platform is more worthy than the other of our vote.

IMPORTANT VALUES FOR OUR FAMILY

Some of you have asked me to share some of the Biblical values that are important to our family, so here are a few. Yours may be different, and that’s okay! Or yours may be similar, but you may have a different perspective on how to best achieve those values. That’s okay, too! Diversity of thought can actually make us better—but only if we learn how to listen, compromise, and work together for the greater good.  (Can you tell I’m an Enneagram 9? Lol!)

  • The freedom to worship God and to share our faith with others
  • The value of all human life, as every person, of every color, from the point of conception, is created in God’s image 
  • The pursuit of Biblical integrity and character traits such as personal responsibility, wise stewardship, hard work, generosity, and caring for those who cannot care for themselves 
  • The limited role of government—what it is intended to do in our lives and in our country, and what it is not intended to do. 
  • National security—not just for our own safety, but also for what it means for the protection and provision of liberty around the world.

There are many other things that matter to us, obviously, but these are a good place to start. Whatever your values are, I encourage you to make sure you discuss them with your children. Teens and young adults are particularly impressionable, and the world will share its values with them whether we like it or not. I continue to see more and more thoughtful, compassionate students embracing what they believe to be enlightened, revolutionary thinking, when in actuality, they are being manipulated with biased information and merely following a trend. 

PASSING ON OUR VALUES

Parents, please don’t forfeit the responsibility you have been given to pass on Biblical values to your children. Don’t assume they know your “what” or understand your “why” without explanation. Embrace the craziness of this next week as a teachable moment to discuss why voting matters, why you vote the way you do, and how the Bible influences (or in our case, determines) your choices.

And remind them that, above all, our hope lies in Jesus, not a political candidate. Whoever wins this election will do so under God’s sovereignty. We will pray and remain faithful, regardless of the outcome, and be grateful for the opportunity to vote again in four years.

“But Christians know that we are not at the mercy of chance. A loving hand, a great wisdom, and an omnipotent power rule our destiny. The government of all is on the mighty shoulders of Christ Himself, who sees all long before it happens. All is intended for our blessing. How different things look to us!”

-Elisabeth Elliot, Secure in the Everlasting Arms

In the words of Horatio Spafford’s famous hymn, we can teach our children to rest in this truth: “Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Teachable Moments: Taking the Fear and Stress Out of Parenting Challenges

“The stress of facing a crisis with my children is definitely my favorite part of parenting!” …said no parent ever!

Yet, have you ever noticed how we seem to learn the most during the hard times? One of the greatest lessons I have learned about parenting is not to fear the challenges our children face, but to be grateful for them because they become teachable moments we might not have otherwise.

When our children were much younger, Jeff and I found ourselves in what felt like a crisis situation with our neighbors. Every time we went outside to play in our backyard, their very friendly (but also very large) labradoodle would run over barking, jump up on our one year old, and push him to the ground. Their daughters would knock on the door to see if our girls could play, then hide in the bushes and throw things at them when they came outside. They called our girls words they had never heard before. They even stole our snowman out of our front yard… with Jeff watching!

I can tell you honestly, I was not thanking God for that “opportunity.” I was figuring out how we could move! 

But those encounters led to some really important conversations about how our faith determines our actions instead of our feelings and how what we see on the outside is often a reflection of something deeper going on beneath the surface. We talked about being kind and setting healthy boundaries— not something I planned to address with a four year old, but there we were!

Our neighbors obviously had some personal struggles going on; however, we didn’t know the extent until a few years later. Once those issues were addressed, their family dynamics became much healthier. We ran into them at the pool one day and my girls were surprised because they were actually kind! 

Learning the truth and seeing how their girls had changed became another teachable moment. It enabled us to talk about forgiveness, grace, and second chances. These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves.

And that is something to be grateful for!

“These are gospel conversations they might not have understood without experiencing it themselves. That is something to be grateful for!”

When your daughter is dealing with friend drama, you can call the other moms or seize the opportunity to talk with your girl about what real friendship looks like (and doesn’t look like), as well as what kind of person she wants to be, both now and when she grows up.

When your son and his friends make a dumb choice and get into some trouble, you can yell at him or cover for him, or you can take the opportunity to talk about peer pressure, consequences, listening to the Holy Spirit, and the power of influence. 

When your child has a personality struggle with a boss or teacher, you can rescue them or teach them how to adjust their actions to align with different leadership styles. This will serve them well in life as they find themselves under different authority figures, some of whom they likely will not completely agree with.

Now, don’t get me wrong. When we catch our kids searching for something inappropriate on-line or caught up in some sort of crazy friend drama, you will not find Jeff and I skipping in circles, singing Oh Happy Day! No, we are as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. But the advantage of having four kids is we’ve learned that most of these struggles are a normal part of growing up. They are not an exception; they should be expected. 

The important thing is how we handle them.

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Paul David Tripp mentions this idea throughout his book, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. He puts beautiful words to what my heart has learned over the years:

Be thankful for these little moments. Don’t look at them as the bad moments of parenting, as hassles and interruptions; these are the good moments of parenting. These are moments of grace… Parents, if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin and weakness of your children, it’s never an accident, it’s never a hassle, it’s never an interruption; it’s always grace. God loves your children and because He does, he has placed them in a family of faith so that you can be his tool of convicting, forgiving, and transforming grace. You are faced with the resistance of your children because God is a God of amazing grace. His grace has the power to turn very bad moments into very good moments. Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus Christ is about?

—Paul David Tripp

God is a Master at taking bad situations and transforming them into something good. King David’s indiscretions led to a conversation with the prophet, Nathan, which transformed David into a man after God’s own heart. Peter’s betrayal of Jesus led to a conversation of repentance and restoration which transformed not only Peter, but countless others as well. And God transformed Jesus’s death on the cross, arguably the worst thing that has ever happened, into the best thing that ever happened to us! 

We do not need to fear or stress over the difficult situations we face as parents. God can transform each one of them into something good! When Jeff and I find ourselves faced with yet another parenting challenge, we remind ourselves (or more often, he reminds me!) to take a breath and view it as a “moment of grace.” I am grateful our children are learning these lessons at home and that we’ve been given the opportunity to walk through it with them. That will not always be the case, I know. 

So, for now, we will be grateful and embrace these challenging moments as teachable opportunities.

This is grace.

Letting Go and Trusting God

The wind was blowing against my face as I stood there, trying not to look down. The harness was fastened securely to my body. The guide tied the rope around an enormous tree and then his 5,000 pound pickup truck, assuring me I was safe. 

The rope was not going to break. 

The tree was not going to uproot. 

Everything was ready… the rest was up to me.

“Now, all you have to do is let go and lean back,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as though he wasn’t really asking much. Didn’t he know we were standing on the edge of a cliff, several hundred feet in the air? 

The last thing I wanted to do was let go and lean back!

He must have noticed my white knuckles gripping the rope, because he went on to remind me of what would happen if I didn’t listen. 

“I know your instinct is to hold onto the rope and hug the side, but trust me, you don’t want to do that. If you lean forward, you’ll slam into the rocks and it won’t be pretty. This is what you came here for! Just trust me; count to three, let go, and lean back, parallel to the ground. I won’t let you fall. Trust me!”

Trust me.

I could feel the sweat on my forehead. I was about to either throw up or chicken out (or both), when a verse popped in my head: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your path straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6

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Friends, have you ever found yourself having a hard time letting go?

Honestly, this has always been a struggle for me. I hold onto:

  • Friendships and relationships 
  • Momentos- objects that remind me of the past, of things I don’t want to forget 
  • Traditions- they are the heart of our celebrations!
  • Expectations- both of myself and others
  • Regrets/past mistakes- I am pretty quick to forgive others, but not so easy on myself. 

Are there things on this list that sound familiar to you? Maybe you have a hard time letting go of control or fear or anxiety. Whatever it is, we all know what it’s like to struggle to let go of something we really want to hold onto. It’s not easy, for sure.

Which brings me to this weekend.

Tomorrow morning we are going to pack up our Yukon (with half a Target store full of matching dorm decor) and make the seven-hour drive to take our oldest daughter to college. We are so excited for her and so grateful she actually has the opportunity to go, given the ongoing pandemic!

But y’all. 

She’s my baby.

She’s the one who first made me a momma, the one we prayed about for years before the test finally came back positive. She’s the one that “mothers” her siblings and runs to the store for us and raps Hamilton songs in the Chick-fil-a drive-thru with me. 

How am I supposed to let go of my baby?

How do you take your heart out of your chest and just drive away? 

(And I thought teenage break-ups were hard! Sheesh!)

So, I find myself returning to these verses in Proverbs. I have prayed them over her strong-willed heart since she was little, and I will probably pray them over her every day of her life. But especially now, on this new adventure, these are the verses I’m praying. 

For her, yes.

But also for me.

Because it is not my natural instinct to let her go. No, my instinct is to hold her close, to protect her, to keep all my little birds gathered together in my nest, tucked safely beneath my wing. Why should she fly away when she can stay here with us?

Oh, wait. She was born to fly, wasn’t she?

It’s the reason we’re here. It’s the reason we’ve spent the past 18 years training her, discipling her, parenting her, and guiding her. We didn’t do all that work so she could stay home and watch Youtube! 

We did it so she could shine, so she could bring light to a world so full of darkness. 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will make your path straight.”

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Standing on that cliff, I knew it was time. The guide smiled at me and nodded encouragingly. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, let go of the rope and leaned back. I took one step, and then another, slowly gaining confidence that I wasn’t going to fall. Before long, I was pushing back from the mountain, leaping and laughing, embracing the freedom and living my best life on the way down. 

I trusted the guide. I believed the rope was going to hold me. 

He was right; this was what I came here for. I was made for this!

And so is she.

It’s time to trust the Guide and let go.

What is it you need to let go of? Expectations? Fear? Control?

I’m praying God will give you the strength to do it, and that you will find joy and freedom as you do.

And if you think about it, will you ask the Lord to fill my momma-heart with an extra dose of peace on Monday? And pray for Jeff… I’m not sure a daddy ever really lets go of his little girl.

Thanks, friends.

31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teens & College Students: Week 1

Hey Friends,

I am SUPER excited about partnering with you this month as we pray Scripture over our college students and teens! As mentioned in my previous post, these are not “perfect verses” or perfect prayers. They are simply a place to start! (You can read more about how I got the idea for 31 Days of praying Scripture over teens here!)

I encourage you to read the daily Scripture before you pray. I have done my best to keep the meaning of the verses in their intended context (we never want to pray Scripture for our own benefit in a way it wasn’t intended). Feel free to use the prayers I have written or pray your own- there is nothing magic or special about these prayers! And if these don’t resonate for your child in their given circumstance, hopefully it will spur you on to find some verses that do.

(Note: I selected these verses and wrote these prayers for young adults who are already walking with Jesus. If you are praying for a teen or young adult who is struggling with their faith or salvation, please reach out and I can give you some different verses to pray over them!)

There is power in prayer, but there is even more power in the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” As we pray the Word of God over the young adults and children in our lives, I believe that God will be working in ways we may not see here on earth, but that will impact His kingdom eternally. May it be so.

I also encourage you to pull out a photo of the college student or teen (or in my case, both!) who you are praying for and keep it with your Bible this month. As you pray, imagine the Lord placing a shield of faith around them, protecting them from the attacks of the enemy, so that these seeds of truth may be planted firmly in their hearts and minds without being stolen away.

Here’s a photo of our girls, just for fun:

I have several other students I will be praying for as well. Mamas, you know who you are- I’m covering your kids with you!

Now, onto the fun part…

Day 1:  Philippians 3:13b-14

Father, as ______________________ begins a new school year, please help them forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead. Let them step into this new adventure unhindered by the past, filled with hope for the days to come. May they press on towards the goal of knowing You, for which You have called them heavenward; may their relationship with You, both now and forever, be the prize they seek to gain. 

Day 2: Hebrews 10:35-11:1

Father, I pray you will fill ___________________ with confidence in Your Truth. Help them persevere when they face trials, trusting that You will honor their faithfulness as they do Your will. Help them not shrink back when they face doubts or opposition, but give them faith to believe in You. May they be sure of the hope they find in You and certainthat You are present and working, even when they can’t see or feel You. Open the eyes of their heart to know You are there.

Day 3: Psalm 1:1-3

Father, may ____________________ be blessed as they walk daily with You. May they not keep company with those who delight in doing bad things or who would draw them away from You. Instead, may they delight in meditating on Your Word and in keeping Your ways. May they be like a tree planted near streams of water, so that their faith will not wither under pressure, but instead will yield fruit over time. Lord, as they drink deeply from Your Word, may they prosper in whatever they do for Your glory.

Day 4: Proverbs 3:3-4

Father, I pray You will write Your love and faithfulness on the tablet of _____________’s heart. May they allow these virtues to flow in and through them to the people they encounter each day. As they seek to live out their love for You, may they win good favor in the eyes of those around them and, most importantly, with You.

Day 5: Joshua 1:7-8

Father, please help _____________________ be strong and courageous. As they face new situations and a new environment, may they be careful to obey Your instructions and listen to the Holy Spirit, not turning away from You even a little bit, so that they may be successful as they follow Your path. May they keep Your Word always on their lips; may they meditate on it day and night, so that it will influence their thoughts, choices, and actions. May they prosper and find success through their faithfulness to You.

Day 6: James 1:5

Father, when ___________________ lacks wisdom and is searching for answers, may they not be deceived by the abundance of information and opinions around them. Instead, may they seek the truth from You and from Your Word, knowing that You give generously to all who ask without finding fault. And when they do seek wisdom from You, Lord, may it be given to them along with a heart to apply it.

Day 7: Matthew 5:14-16

Father, help ____________ remember that they are the Light of the world, a reflection of You in a world of darkness. When they are tempted to hide their faith or their true self, give them courage and strength to let You shine through them. May others be drawn to You by the light they see in them.

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And that’s it for week one! Check back in next week for 31 Days of Praying Scripture Over Your Teen & College Student: Week 2!

Also, if you know of someone who might find these verses helpful, would you mind sharing it with them? And I would love to know if you are joining me in this prayer challenge. If so, would you mind giving a shout out in the comments (here or on FB)? Just type, “I’m praying” or the names of those you’re praying for. Thanks!

The Best Way to Prepare for Something New

School starts for us next week.

In two weeks, we will take Sarah and drop her off at college.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of preparation going on in our home right now!

What is the best way to prepare for something new? Do you make lists or make piles? Do you wing it until the last minute? 

I would imagine we all get ready in different ways.

I am a planner, and I have found that if I don’t prepare in advance, I miss things that are important. I might miss buying a Math book or forget to pack underwear. You know, important things.

We all know this school year is a bit different, what with the uncertainty of COVID and all. However, it was going to be different for our family anyway, with our oldest heading off to college! So a few weeks ago, amidst the growing piles of dorm stuff, I decided I needed to prepare.

I learned a long time ago that while my lists are helpful, the best thing I can do to prepare for something big is…

PRAY.

Yep, it’s true! When I forget to pack underwear, I just run to the store and buy more. It might be inconvenient, but it’s not exactly life changing. But when I forget to pray, I feel it. It changes everything.

Prayer makes all the difference.

I knew I wanted to cover Sarah (and her friends) with prayer as she steps out into her new college adventure (whatever that ends up looking like!), so I selected 31 Bible passages to pray over her, one for each day of the month. They are not the “perfect college verses” or even necessarily the most applicable; they are simply a good place to start. And I knew if I didn’t plan for it in advance, I would find myself scrambling to find something every day, or worse- forget altogether.

So I chose some verses, and then went ahead and wrote out some prayers.

If you are anything like me, I tend to pray either very generally for my kids (Lord, let them love You!) or very selfishly (Lord, keep them safe. Lord, don’t let me kill them if they sass me again!). While there is nothing wrong with these prayers- I am a firm believer that God loves for us to come to Him with whatever is on our hearts- I have found that praying God’s Word releases an entirely different kind of power.

Some of these passages are verses I already pray over my kids on a regular basis. Some of them were shared with me by sweet friends (thank you!), and some of them came from my time with the Lord this past month. While I wrote the prayers with college students in mind, they easily apply to all teenagers, and many can be adapted for younger children as well.

I have decided to share them on my blog, thinking they might be helpful for some of you who are walking this life stage along with me. I will post a week’s worth at a time, and it is my prayer that God will use our collective prayers to empower young adults everywhere to claim His truths. May they shine brightly with the love of Christ in a world so desperately in need of Light!  

Please feel free to share these Scriptures with anyone who might find them helpful. And start making a list of verses yourself… then share it with me! It takes a village, friends! 

Check back here tomorrow for the Week One of 31 Days of Praying Scripture over Your Teen & College Student! I am super excited about what the Lord is going to do!

Lord, hear our prayer!