keeping-christmas-simple

How to Keep Christmas Simple

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I am a huge fan of Christmas!

HUGE!

I love the feeling in the air, the decorations, the lights, the glitter, the way stores are decorated (in December… NOT September), and giving to my family.

But how many years did I go into the Christmas season with gusto and grand ideas only to burn myself out mid-December? Pretty much every year.

Each year I go into the Christmas season with the idea that this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

keeping-christmas-simple

I figure out how many fun Christmas related activities we can fit into our schedule, and I cram all of our days and weekends with something to do.

My kids end up tired.

I end up frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I put into making this the best Christmas ever.

And then we are ready for Christmas to be over and done with and to move into the New Year.

But not this year…

I have always been a fan of simple living, of not making things more complicated than necessary, of believing that less is more. But Christmastime has never reflected that.

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we don’t have to see every Christmas pageant in our county.

This year, we don’t have to attend every Christmas party or activity.

This year, we don’t have to plan to do something Christmas related every night.

This year, we don’t have to have an advent calendar that involves a ton of extra gifts for me to purchase, wrap, and remember to distribute each day.

Instead…

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we’ll stay home more evenings than we go out and watch the old Christmas cartoons I grew up watching like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. And because I homeschool my kids, we can stay up as late as we want to watch these shows and sleep as long as we need to the next morning.

This year we will delight in the simple joy of finding our little monkey pal, Melk, in the mornings and learn something about the character of God.

This year, we will limit the parties we go to, and, if bringing an exchange gift is necessary, we’ll bring something simple but sweet.

This year, if there isn’t a Christmas moment on the calendar, we won’t make one up just for the sake of it. We’ll just carry on as usual.

This year, we will make paper chains and countdown to Christmas the old fashioned way.

Because…

Satan’s mission has always been to destroy what God has created- to interfere with the message that God loved us and sent his Son (Awana Cubbies key verse). How are we supposed to stop and reflect on the purpose of Christmas Day if, during the time of the year that we are supposed to remember and recognize the giving of God’s gift to us, we get so busy and distracted and we keep our kids running from one activity to another?

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, rather than focusing on the “show” of Christmas, I want to focus on the message. That God loved His creation and gave us a gift, the most precious gift He could give- His Son.

Trendy wrapping paper with a perfect bow was not the wrapping of this gift. Strips of cloth were the wrappings of this gift.

His surroundings were not Pinterest worthy. A barn with hay and animals was the setting for His birth.

Those who came to see him that night did not come with $5 gifts for a gift exchange. They came with empty hands, but sincere hearts.

I want our Christmas to reflect those ideals.

So here is your Christmas challenge…

Before you are swept up in the tinsel and show of Christmas…

Before you are knee deep in the quicksand of activities and parties…

Before you find yourself drowning in receipts and wrapping paper…

Take an hour one evening to think through what you want your Christmas to look like.

Figure out your non-negotiable calendar items.

Next, determine in advance how many activities you will be a part of.

Decide how many $5 dollar exchange gifts your budget will allow for.

For your sanity to be kept in tact, set in stone how many evenings you need to stay home each week.

Establish your gift giving list early and stick to it.

And then, sit back and enjoy this Christmas with your family and closest friends.

simple Christmas

chocolate peanut butter treats

Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats

I look forward to the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. This is the season of family get togethers, good food, laughing till it hurts, cousins sitting around the living room remember when we were kids while watching our kids play together, and eating desserts that typically only come out at this time of year.

One dessert I pass everything else up for is a three ingredient treasure- chocolate, peanut butter, and Ritz crackers.

That’s it.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

We just call them Chocolate Peanut Butter Ritz Treats, but they should have a better name considering how delicious they are. And don’t expect them to fall under any of the “healthy” categories of food these days…

…we’ll just pretend they are calorie free!

You can definitely involve your children in making these treats. One can spread the peanut butter…

…one can sandwich the crackers…

…and Mom can dip them in the melted chocolate.

How easy was that!

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

At this time of year, you can often find the ingredients on sale. Does it get any better than that?

These treats are so easy to make and are so loved, my sister requested my aunt (maker of this treat) to make them with white chocolate instead of milk chocolate as favors at her wedding. She had them boxed in little white boxes with ribbon to match her wedding colors and placed at each table setting. Simply beautiful.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

Ingredients:

Ritz crackers
Peanut butter
Melted dipping chocolate (packaged as almond bars)

Directions:

  1. Using peanut butter and Ritz crackers, make little sandwiches.
  2. Dip Ritz peanut butter sandwiches in melted chocolate.
  3. Set on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  4. Sit back and enjoy.

I would love to hear of any quick or simple recipes you enjoy around the holidays. Feel free to share with us your recipe or the link to one on your own blog in the comments.

The original post can be found here.

chocolate peanut butter ritz treats

Grocery Store Meltdowns & the Opportunities They Offer

must have Christmas book

Your Must-Have Christmas Book

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Every holiday has one iconic book that traditionally gets pulled out year after year. For our family at Christmas, this will become that book.

Christmas Love Letters From God by Glenys Nellist is the third in her “Love Letters” series. These beautifully written and illustrated books have one purpose- to remind children that God loves them and has a great purpose for their lives.

must have Christmas book

From the moment I looked through Christmas Love Letters from God, I was in love. The colors, the illustrations, the story-telling, the poetry, the “God’s promise” verse, and, of course, the letter all blended together to make a perfect Christmas experience on paper.

The Illustrations

Choosing where to begin was a hard decision. With each turn of the page, I always let my eyes settle on the illustrations. Rachel Clowes has followed the style of illustrations found in Love Letters from God and Little Letters from God and has done a brilliant job. From the main focus illustration to the little accents scattered around the page, the eyes of your little ones will always have someplace to look as you read the story aloud. The illustrations tell the story for little ones who cannot yet read.

Colors definitely set the tone of this book, yet instead of being harsh, the muted shades of red, green, and blue bring the feel of Christmas without harshness, and draw you in. I couldn’t help but grab a cup of coffee, sit in the living room with the fireplace on, and just look through each and every page, soaking in the illustrations and colors, before I even read the words.

must have Christmas book

The Story-Telling and Poetry

I have yet to meet or talk to author Glenys Nellist in person, but I imagine her having the gentlest, softest, most peaceful voice based on her style of writing. She chooses words that are quiet, effective, and beautiful. She tells the story concisely with enough words to keep the attention of little ones, but in a way where nothing is lost.

I love how Glenys began her book with the Prophet Isaiah. A surprising way to begin a Christmas book, yet a very appropriate way. Isaiah’s prophecy is featured in Handel’s Messiah, yet so many Christmas accounts overlook him. It makes for a great conversation starter in sharing how long God’s people had been waiting for their Messiah.

In the midst of the narrative story-telling, Glenys does what she does best. She takes a quick detour and tells part of the story through poetry. I am always amazed at how she is able to find the right words to tell the story with rhythm and rhyme.

must have Christmas book

God’s Perfect Promise

When you turn the page, you will find the story for the evening finishing up, and “God’s Perfect Promise”- a quick Bible verse promise that wraps up the part of the account just read printed on an illustrated tag. The verse is paraphrased so it is easy for little ones to understand and even memorize.

The Letter

Our favorite part is the “letter from God”, which is where the book gets its name. Each letter is a lift-the-flap attachment on the page. Paraphrasing Scripture and making it personally applicable, she begins each letter with “Dear ____________”. The rest of the letter is God’s promises personalized and related to the account just read. After reading the account of Jospeh, children are reminded in the letter that when God asks them to do something, He will also give them the grace to accomplish it.

A beautiful addition to this book which is different from the previous letter books is life-the-flap letter from the child to God. When my daughter saw it, she was so excited! After reading and hearing all of the letters from God to her, she was going to be able to write one to him!

Christmas Love Letters from God has already become my favorite Christmas book. I look forward to reading it with my children again and again over the next two months. Whether you choose to read a chapter each night or use it over the course of Advent (which could most definitely be a use for this book), it is a definite must for any home’s library.

must have Christmas book

thanksgiving resources

My 8 Favorite Thanksgiving Resources for Kids

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November 1 begins my two favorite months of the year. I love the fall, the feel in the air of anticipation, the warmth of the colors associated with the holidays, and the goodness of the food typically only made at this time of year.

thanksgiving resources

In our home, this is also when my favorite resources come out of storage, and we do a little more in the arts and crafts department. These are always fun because we can either tie in our history learning or we can just have some fun with paper, scissors, tape, glue, and anything else we can find. If you are looking for ideas for crafts and fun activities you can follow our Thanksgiving Pinterest board. 

My Favorite Thanksgiving Books

thanksgiving resources

Thanksgiving (A FamilyLife Book): A Time to Remember (Family Life Books) by Rainey, Barbara published by Crossway (2003)  

This is probably my favorite Thanksgiving book. Barbara Rainey has written it with the entire family in mind, and it can grow with your family throughout the years. She has written it to be read one of two ways- the larger print is to be read to preschoolers and younger elementary students, and the entire book to be read to mid elementary and above.

After reading a thorough history of the Pilgrims and their journey to America and understanding the importance of thankfulness, the back of the book has a place where thankfulness can be recorded by the family and revisited year after year. This year I will be writing all of the items on the leaves of our Thankful Tree into the back of the book and dating it. It will be fun in a few years to see what our family has been thankful for.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto, Friend Of The Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

If there has ever been a story of God’s sovereignty, it’s the story of Squanto. Sometimes our circumstances seem unfair, yet God can use our past to bring us to the place where he can use us for his glory and the benefit of others. That is the lessons behind the story of Squanto. Although this is not a Christian based book, as a believer, I have used Romans 8:28 while reading this to my children. This is definitely another favorite of mine.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas may be a little long for little ones, but the illustrations are beautiful. One thing we do when a good book seems a little long is to break it up into several parts and read it over the course of several days. This book is definitely written from a Christian perspective and is a must for every family library. Squanto’s story is one that my children know well. I believe that they need to know that our stories are not all traveled on smooth paths, but that God can take even the rockiest of paths and use them to further His purposes and for His glory.

thanksgiving resources

The Mayflower Adventure (The American Adventure Series #1) by Colleen L. Reece

I have had this book since my teaching days, but I have never actually read it. However, this year, we will be reading it. I don’t have much to say about this one, but I am looking forward to reading it finally.

thanksgiving resources

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh 

We purchased this two years ago and enjoyed the story very much. This story is told through time travel as Rush Revere time travels with two of his middle school students on the Mayflower and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I learned quite a bit of the history of Plymouth Colony through this story, and my daughter who was six at the time, enjoyed it. It is written more for middle schoolers is interesting enough that even young children with a solid vocabulary can understand it and get involved in the story.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Movies

thanksgiving resources

Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale

Have I mentioned how much I love the story of Squanto? After we read our books on the life of Squanto, we sit down for an evening of popcorn and a movie. I believe in having my children exposed to the book form of a story first so they can recognize the inconsistencies in the movie. Although this movie takes some creative license, it does a great job of telling the bigger story of Squanto’s life. It is a tradition that we watch this movie every November.

thanksgiving resources

Mouse on the mayflower I remember watching this movie when I was in elementary school. It was always one of my favorite movies to watch at Thanksgiving and now it is become a favorite for my littles. It can be purchased as a VHS recording, but we watch it on YouTube. It is a beautiful retelling of the Pilgrims voyage to America. And although it was secularly made, it is overtly Christian in the message. It isn’t officially Thanksgiving until we have seen this movie.

thanksgiving resourcesA Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: The Mayflower Voyagers Again, this was a childhood favorite of mine that I had to share with my children. Charles Schultz and his Peanuts gang do a wonderful job of retelling the voyage of the Pilgrims with humor and accuracy.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday with a rich story to tell our children. They need to hear of God’s faithfulness to his people. Our children need to understand that although hard times come, God can use them and their experiences to bless others.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving resources? Share them with us in the comments.

Thanksgiving resources

Others “May”…You May Not

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Don’t ask me the situations…..

I won’t even remember the specifics.

What I will recall from these times after being hurt by others during my teen to younger adult years, though, is my dad pulling a book from his library shelf and opening to a chapter with the following quote:

“Others ‘May’… You May Not.”

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No…It wasn’t always an easy pill to swallow or the lesson you wanted to hear at the time…

Especially not when you’re “needing support”…(or so you think).

No, in these moments, you want validation for wanting to respond in a reactionary way to others.

No…It’s in these times you want someone in your “corner”.

Someone to say, “You’re right and they’re wrong. It’s okay. Go ahead and give that sarcastic and witty comeback response that will knock them off their feet.” (Not that I’ve ever been good at comeback responses anyway… It’s usually more like a delayed comeback response…… And in my head, no less, long after the fact..)

But no. Instead of support and validation for reactions I may have felt were justified, what did I hear instead?

“Others ‘May’… You May Not…”

A beautiful quote right?

Ummmm….? Let me think about that one for a bit….

To me…? In that moment…?

No.

But to God?  Um…. Yes.

To God… It was beautiful… (1 Peter 3:4)

And afterall, that’s really all that matters anyway, right?

a-sad-girl

Now in mid-life, looking back at this important lesson my dad reminded me of during my younger years, I stand very appreciative…

…Because rather than adding fuel to my fire, he instead steered me in a direction that I would need to grow and mature… not only as an adult interacting with others but more importantly as a Christian.

And I would learn more from this lesson than if my momentary feelings had gained his support. In fact, as I said earlier…I can’t even remember the specifics of the situations in which I had been hurt, but I still remember to this day the “take-away”.

In this life, people will hurt, offend, and reject. They will be rude, sarcastic, and unkind….

And you know what?

“Others ‘May’… You May Not…”

Now, I’m not saying I’m perfect at applying this lesson in my own life.

I still struggle at times… Especially when others don’t respond in ways I hoped they would.

And yet, what is it that God asks of me during these times?

To do what is right… No. Matter. What.

Yes.

“Others ‘May’… You May Not…”

Bible-blog-post-others-may

Here’s what the Bible has to say specifically regarding this point…

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.” Matthew 5:39 NIV

“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9 NIV

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil.” Psalm 37:7-8 NIV

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” Romans 12:17 NIV

Oh…It’s so easy to want to shelve it out as easily as others have given to us at times, and yet as Christians we are called to be different.

We are called to follow a different path.

A path that dies to “self” and lives for God, truly representing the Savior we boldy claim to follow, not only through our words but also by our actions…

And even more importantly from our hearts.

If the thought of living like this is still hard to swallow, consider the following example from the life of Jesus…

“When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” Luke 23:33-34 NIV

carry-your-cross-follow-Jesus

Can you imagine how Jesus was feeling as He watched the people around Him?

He came to be their Rescue. Their Help. Their Hope. Their Peace.  Their bridge back to a right relationship with God.

The angels announced “good tidings of great joy for all people” at His birth. (Luke 2:10) His life, death, and resurrection would change and restore any person who came to God through Him. And not only would those who turned to Him find their lives changed and healed, but He also promised an eternity with God through faith in Him.

The words He taught, the miracles He did…. All He ever did was good. There was no reason for any of this.

And yet, here He is on the cross watching the faces of those who are glad to see him hanging there, hearing the mockery of those watching, and observing as people cast lots to see who will get to keep his clothes.

But what message do Jesus’ actions speak from the cross?

Do good, love, and forgive no matter what others do or have done.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” Romans 12:14 NIV

“Others ‘May’… You May Not…”

Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re the one on the receiving end of pain, hurt, and rudeness…

And yet, Jesus left us a perfect example to follow.

An easy one?

…No. Not on our own.

But thankfully…We’re not on our own.

a-path-others-may-you-may-not

Jesus has given those of us who have place our trust in Him His Holy Spirit to indwell us. And the more we yield ourselves to Him and His leading, the more we will be able to respond in ways that Jesus would in times of conflict.

“Others ‘May’… You May Not…”

Why not?

Because we follow a different way… A path that was marked out by our Savior, showing us by His own life how we are to respond even when others treat us wrong.

others may

words hard say

When the Words Are Hard to Say

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There are moments in our lives that create opportunities for us to grow. Sometimes those opportunities are beautiful and bring a rush of joy and excitement… but most of the time, those moments are hard.

It’s the hard moments that either grow our faith or uproot us. We either choose to dig in and stay strong, or we give up and let our circumstances blow us around leaving us battered, bruised, and lifeless at the end of our storm.

We can either learn the lesson of the storm, or we experience another storm similar the previous one in order to finally learn the lesson God is trying to teach us.

These storms come in many forms- a broken or strained marriage, a financial crisis, the sudden loss of a loved one, a physical illness, children who have strayed from the faith, or an unexpected diagnosis.

words hard say
But remember, dear friends, we are not alone.

God has included the account of Job in His Word for our benefit, as our reminder that we are not the only ones to experience storms. It is a reminder that we are not the only ones who have walked this path. Job is God’s gentle reminder that someone else has had it worse.

Job experienced the great losses of his riches, family, and health. Everything he owned was taken away from him stripping him of his wealth. His children were all killed when the home they were in fell on top of them, crushing them. Job himself was struck with a disease which caused his body to break out in boils. He was in such pain he wished he had never been born. Yet, in his storm, instead of cursing God, he chose to say, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

And those are not easy words to say…

My storm

I began thinking about Job soon after Mom went home to be with the Lord. She was no longer here, but, as I thought of my loss, I felt the ever-present movement of a little person who would be making an appearance exactly two weeks after her passing.

My storm was struggling with the whys of my mother’s passing. Mom was still in her 50’s. She was going to be a grandmother for the first time. My mom was one of the most faithful followers of Christ that I knew. She was the kind of woman who would change her plans if we needed her. I couldn’t understand why God would allow her die at the time when I needed her the most.

This was my time to either stand firm in my faith in God and His sovereignty or let the storm beat me down and shred my faith.

After our daughter, Addie, was born, the thought that “He gives and takes away” kept going through my mind. My mother was gone, yet I had been given the beautiful gift of a baby girl.

words hard say

My cousin, Lisa, had given us a DVD from the Praise Baby Collection (highly recommend!). One of the songs on the DVD was the praise chorus “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”. I would sit with my baby, move her hands to the music, and sing along… until it came to the lines “He gives and takes away, He gives and takes away, My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.”

Then I would stop.

Until one day as I was washing out bottles at the kitchen sink and the DVD was playing. I stopped washing, and I forced myself to sing those lines.

Yes, it was a struggle, and, yes, I cried the whole time I sang. But after that first time of forcing myself to verbally acknowledge God’s sovereignty in my situation, I was able to sing those lines without crying. Now when I hear that song, those lines remind me of my response to the storm. It has become “our song”- a song with a special meaning between my Heavenly Father and me.

God does give, and He does take away, but we have to choose in our hearts to bless His name in the storm, regardless of our agreement with His decisions. God is sovereign and all-knowing. He understands the “whys” so much better than we do. Eventually, He allows us to see glimpses of His purposes and reasons, but He is not required to.

He is God, and I am not.

And my heart does choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name.

words hard say