Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Introduction: Motherhood on a Dime

Driving home from my parents' house last night, my husband said something about us having been married almost 16 years.

"Have you really been married that long?" came the question from the back seat.

"Yes, we have," we answered.

"That's a long time," said my oldest.

Sixteen years is a long time, but it seems to have sped by. I think the older we get the faster time seems to pass. I remember that a year seemed a whole lot longer when I was a kid.

As we bring 2011 to a close, it's a good time to reflect on the year just past and look forward to the year to come. I love the start of a new year. I love to get out my new calendar and see all the blank pages just waiting to be filled. At the start of a new year, we get a clean slate, a chance to do new things and walk new paths.

I'm not much for new year's resolutions. I find I always lose interest after a few weeks, but I do think the beginning of the new year is a great time to set goals -- whether they be spiritual, physical or monetary. It's a great time to focus on things we want to do differently, whether it's reading a new book or changing the way we deal with our children.

Set aside some time in the next few days to sit down with a notebook, your calendar and God. Ask God to help you decide what your goals should be for the year. We can make all the plans we want, but if God isn't in them, we'll never succeed. Proverbs 16:3 says "Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans." Spend some time praying over your new calendar. Commit your days and your plans for this year to Him. Ask Him to guide your steps as you walk into the new year.

Sometimes making plans and setting goals can seem overwhelming. Where do you start? If you need some help getting started, check out the goal brainstorming questions over at Motherhood on a Dime. This is a great resource for getting started on figuring out your goals for the year.

If we start our year with our eyes focused on the goals God wants us to have, then our homes, our families and our co-workers will all benefit. Make time in your life to hear what God has to say about where He wants you to go in this new year.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Plenty of Time to Play and Have Fun

My youngest daughter is playing a 3-on-3 hockey tournament this weekend. I got an email from the tournament director today that essentially said his goal for the tournament was for the kids to have plenty of time to play and have fun. The emphasis for him would not be on winning but on making sure every child has an enjoyable tournament experience.

Now, my daughter is pretty focused on her team doing well in the tournament. She doesn't play anything without wanting to win. She hated playing kindergarten soccer because they didn't keep score, and "why play if you can't win?"

Too much of our kids' world is focused on competing and winning (this from a mom with two very competitive kids). Our kids are expected to excel in everything -- from state assessments at school to the sports field to the school choir. We have toddlers entering beauty pageants and 12-year-olds being touted as the next Michael Jordan.

Somewhere we've lost the attitude that our kids should have plenty of time to play and have fun. We've lost sight of the fact that some of the greatest memories are made and the most worthy lessons taught not in competition but in cooperation and sharing. We're so busy pushing our kids to succeed that we forget to let them just have fun.

We live in a world where parents put their names on waiting lists before their kids are born to be sure they get into the "right" preschool. Our schools have become focused almost solely on state test scores, leaving little room for the creative experiences that help our kids learn to solve problems and work together.

Solomon was the wisest man on earth. He had succeeded in everything, yet when he neared the end of his life, here is what he had to say, "'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' What do people gain from all their labors at which they toil under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2)

Despite the fact that he had spent his whole life achieving things, Solomon felt his work was meaningless. He looked back and found nothing of worth in all he had accomplished. We want our kids to find meaning in their lives, which can only be found in Jesus.
Our kids need time to enjoy life. They need time to learn about God. They can't do that if the only focus in their lives is to compete and achieve. Make time to play and have fun with your kids. Use the teachable moments that come during those times to point your kids toward God.
  • Don't structure everything in your child's life. Leave room for creative play and spontaneity.
  • Remember your child does not have to be the best at everything they do. If they enjoy a sport or an activity, let them enjoy it without pushing them to be the next world champion.
  • Be willing to encourage your child's passions but set limits on the number of activities you're willing to let them be involved in at the same time.
  • Look for teachable moments with your kids. Be aware that those moments often come when they are least expected and not always when they're convenient.
When we leave plenty of time for our kids to play and have fun, we leave time for teachable moments. And we leave time for God to work.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good Gifts

I'm sure the neighbors heard my oldest daughter jumping up and down and screaming on Christmas morning. Unbeknownst to this Santa, the other Santa in our house purchased and placed a tablet computer beneath the tree.

If you remember this post, you'll know how much my daughter wanted a tablet for Christmas. I had told her not to be disappointed when there wasn't one under the tree. So, imagine both her and my surprise when we opened the last present under the tree, addressed to everyone, and found a tablet.

It's always fun when our wishes get fulfilled. We react with joy and enthusiasm. We're excited, and we feel special.

God sometimes surprises us with the unexpected. Like my daughter, we ask for something, but we don't think we'll receive it. When we do, we act surprised that God could and would give us what we asked for.

We really shouldn't be surprised, though, when God provides what we need or want. God wants us to have an abundant life. He wants our lives to be filled with the joy of knowing that He can and does provide. God isn't Santa Claus. He doesn't simply give us everything our little brains can dream up. He provides what we need and gives us what's best for us. But He hears our requests, and He loves to give us what we need.

Matthew 7:9-11 says "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" God wants us to ask Him for what we want. He wants to give us good gifts. And we shouldn't be surprised when He gives them to us.

Help your kids understand that God wants to give us good gifts. The next time your kids ask for something small, surprise them by giving it to them. Talk about how getting that gift made them feel. Explain that we can ask God for the things that we need -- from good grades at school to healing an illness to guidance in a decision. When we ask God for something, we should be prepared for Him to answer our request. Talk with your kids about how God never leaves a request unanswered. Even when He says no, God still answers. Talk with your kids about how God loves to give us good gifts. Share Matthew 7:9-11 with your kids. Sometimes those gifts come in a different form than we expect, but God always gives us good things.

The next time you or your kids ask God for something, don't be surprised when He answers.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All You Have to Do is Be There

Last week, we said goodbye to some long-time friends. Today, they are moving to Colorado. Our friends have four kids. Their oldest two are each a couple of weeks younger than my girls. On Thursday night, we went to a going away party for this family.

My youngest cried all the way to the party and all the way home. She was so upset that her friend was moving. We reassured her that we would visit her friend when we go to Colorado to see my husband's family this summer, but it didn't make a difference. Her friend was leaving, and her heart was broken.

I think the toughest part of being a parent is watching your kids hurt and not being able to do anything about it. I can't change the fact that our friends are moving. I can't shelter my girls from mean people. I can't create a bubble around them that keeps out any illness, sadness or hurt.

What I can do is be there for my kids. I can hold their hands when they hurt. I can wipe their tears when they cry. I can pray with them when their little hearts are breaking.

And, sometimes, that's what our kids need most. They don't need us to fix all their problems. They don't need us to protect them from every hurt. They don't need us to choose their friends or make the ground smooth. They simply need us to be there. They need us to be available. They need us to offer good advice. They need us to boost their spirits.

As our kids grow and become independent, we have to let them begin to walk some roads alone. We have to let them outside of our sheltering arms and let them be vulnerable to all the hurts, the trials and the difficulties that come with growing up. Yet, we can take comfort in knowing that although our kids have stepped outside the shelter we can provide, our kids never have to step outside the sheltering arms of God. Psalm 91:1 says "Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."

When you can't protect your kids from the hurt and disappointment that come their way, remember tat God is right there to keep your kids under His sheltering arms. And sometimes all they need from you is for you to be there, too.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking Back -- and Ahead

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. We celebrated with presents, two fabulous meals and a birthday cake for Jesus. We started our day in the spirit of Gladys Herdman from "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" with a shouted welcome to the grandparents "Hey, unto you a child is born!" Then we shared in the joy of the day with laughter and fun. We made some new memories -- the look on my youngest daughter's face when she realized the three pieces of paper in the bag she was holding were tickets to an NHL game will go down as one of my favorite Christmas moments ever -- and held on to some old traditions. I hope your day was just as wonderful as ours.

After a busy Christmas week, I'm taking the day off from blogging to sleep in and hang out with my family. I'll be back tomorrow ready to blog away for another year. For today, start reflecting on the year past. Here's some questions from a previous blog to get you started.

It's the end of another year. I don't know about you, but it seems the older I get, the faster the years seem to go by. With only a few days left in 2011, I want to urge you to take a few minutes to reflect on how God has worked in your life and the lives of your children this year.

As I look back over 2011, I see how God has changed me to be able to share my passion for training our children with you. Even just two years ago I would have told you that you were crazy if you suggested that I would write a daily blog encouraging other moms to teach their children about God. Yet, here I am at the end of 2011 with a passion to share, a blog that reaches people all over the world and an excitement about what God has in store for all of us in 2012.

Reflection is an important part of making a difference for God -- in our children's lives and in the lives of those around us. In the Old Testament, God admonishes the Israelites over and over to not forget what He has done for them. Deuteronomy 15:15 says "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you." In the same way, we need to take a moment and look back at our year to remember the things that God has done for us. Ask yourself these questions:
  • How did God work in my life this year?
  • How did I see God work in my children's lives this year?
  • In what direction is God moving me in my work, my parenting and my ministry?
As you're remembering what God has done for you and your family this year, take a moment, as well, to evaluate the things you have done with your children this year. Examine how you have been teaching, encouraging and loving your kids this year. Ask yourself these questions:
  • What did my children learn about God this year?
  • What worked with my kids this year? What didn't work?
  • In what direction do I see God leading my kids?
Finally, take a few minutes to think about where you think God is leading you in 2012. The entire purpose of this blog is to help you be intentional about teaching your children about God. We can only be intentional if we start with a plan. Start 2012 with an outline in mind of the general direction that you want to go in your own life and in teaching your children. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Where do I think God is leading me in the next year? Are there any steps that He is asking me to take to get there?
  • What do I want to focus on teaching my children in 2012? Do I need to focus on different things with each of my children?
  • What do I need to do be deliberate in teaching my kids in 2012?
An end-of-the-year time of refelction allows us to evaluate where we've been and set a direction for where we'd like to go. Pray over these questions and spend some time thinking them through. Then take the steps God is leading you to take in the direction He wants you to go in 2012. I can't wait to see where He takes you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Unto Us a Child is Born

Christmas is only two days away, and my girls are excited. I've been doing my best to keep them both busy this week. We've had playdates and parties and hockey clinics, so they haven't really had a whole lot of time to get antsy for Christmas.

Kids anticipate Christmas better than any of us. They get excited about the day long before it gets here. When it finally arrives, no one is more excited than a young child, waking on Christmas morning and rushing to see what gifts are under the tree.

Christmas is exciting, not just because there are gifts to be opened and good food to eat. On a dark, Christmas eve night more than 2,000 years ago, a couple of shepherds rushed to see a gift in a stable. They were the first outside His family to see Jesus. They were the first to hear the good news of His birth.

As we approach Christmas (just two more days), we want to be as excited as a young child and as awed as the shepherds. It's easy to let the gift of Jesus become routine. Going to church on Christmas Eve can become rote. Talking about Jesus' birth can become an afterthought. We can miss the joy and wonder without realizing it.

As you celebrate Christmas on Sunday, make it a point to slow down, to look around and to see Jesus. As big as we've made Christmas, it's easy to miss that Christmas is a personal holiday. Jesus came to save each one of us. He loves us enough to die for us. He loves you enough to die for you.

When you hear the good news of Jesus' birth, let your heart be filled with wonder. Take time to talk with your kids about how amazing it is that Jesus became a man because He loves us. Use this simple illustration:

Give your child a crown or a tiara. Ask him what the crown or tiara signifies. Talk about what it means to be a king. Talk about all the perks and trappings that come with being royalty. Ask your kids if they think it would be hard to give all of that up. Explain that Jesus was more powerful than any king -- He is God. Yet he took off His crown and came to earth as a baby so He could die for our sins and create a path for us to be near God. Explain that that is what we celebrate on Christmas.

Jesus willingly gave up His rightful place at God's side to come to us. He came as a baby, the most helpless of creatures. He depended on a mom and dad to help Him grow. He learned a trade. He spent three years ministering to others. Then He made the ultimate sacrifice in dying on the cross. But He didn't stay dead. He defeated death and created a way for us to have a relationship with God.

When Isaiah said "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6), he was giving us a glimpse of all that Jesus would be and do.

As you celebrate Christmas this weekend, remember that while Jesus came to save the world, He also came to save you.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Three Gifts

We exchanged Christmas gifts with my parents at their house last night. My youngest daughter was so excited because my parents had gotten her a remote-control yellow Camaro. She has been asking for a remote-control Camaro for months. To have it show up underneath the tree was bliss.

We were finishing up a game of Pictionary on the Wii when my youngest came up the steps with her car and remote control in hand. She set them in the chair and burst into sobs. Looking over, I saw the antenna for the remote control -- in two pieces.

My daughter was distraught. It took me half an hour to persuade her the broken antenna was not the end of the world. She was upset that the antenna was broken, but she was most upset that this gift that my parents had chosen for her was in pieces. Despite the fact that we can replace the antenna, my daughter was upset that her special gift was broken.

I know my parents searched high and low for the "perfect" remote-control car for my daughter. They checked out remote-control cars online and in stores. They pondered the features and asked the salesperson for help. This was not a gift that was an afterthought. It was a considered, well-researched purchase.

Gifts are special when they are given with the recipient in mind. The wise men in the account of Jesus' birth knew this. Matthew 2:11 says "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh."

Now, gold, frankincense and myrrh might seem like strange gifts to bring a baby, but the wise men knew their recipient. When we look at these gifts, we can learn a lot about gift-giving from the Magi.

Gold. They brought a gift that recognized Jesus' true nature. Gold represented royalty. By presenting Jesus with gold, the wise men were acknowledging His status as King of Kings.

When we give gifts, we want to acknowledge the recipient's true nature. We want to choose things that appeal to the recipient's likes and interests. I wouldn't give my older daughter a skirt for a gift because she's more of a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. When we choose gifts with the recipient's true nature in mind, we let him know that we value him.

Frankincense. The Magi brought a gift of sacrifice. Frankincense was burned on the altar in the Old Testament as a sacrifice to God. The gift of frankincense acknowledged that Jesus would become a sacrifice.

We, too, can give a gift of sacrifice. We can give gifts that require a sacrifice of time or something else that's important to us. When we give a gift that requires a sacrifice of some kind, we let the recipient know that we think she is worth giving up something for. Gifts of sacrifice can be small or large. You can give a friend the gift of baby-sitting once a week, or you can give your kids' friends an outing with you as the chaperone. You can give up  your daily cup of coffee to buy your friend a special gift. Gifts that require sacrifice are precious and priceless.

Myrrh. The wise men brought a gift that looked to the future. Myrrh was a resin used in the embalming process. By giving Jesus myrrh, the Magi were looking toward the future when Jesus would die and be raised again.

Whether it's a toy that grows with a child or an investment in a college fund, give gifts that look to the future. From music lessons to teaching cooking skills, think about giving gifts that teach a skill that will last. These types of gifts may stick with a child for a lifetime, even as they are fun now.

Help your kids choose gifts for others based on what the wise men gave. Make gift-giving a considered exercise, not a mad dash through the store. Gifts that are given with thought and planning make the recipient feel special.

The wise men knew a lot about gift giving. Follow their lead this year and give gifts that recognize the recipient's nature, require a sacrifice and look to the future. You might still have some broken antennas, but you'll also have gifts that last much longer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Good Gifts Require Thought

There are four shopping days left until Christmas. The hustle and bustle of this season is quickly winding down. We still have parties to attend, celebrations to host and presents to buy. I'll be taking the girls out to finish their Christmas shopping today.

Shopping with my oldest is a breeze. She usually knows exactly what she wants and chooses something quickly. Shopping with my youngest is a different story. Let's just say you'd best have lots of time on your hands. She wants to consider all the options, then make a decision. My oldest does all her thinking before we leave home. My youngest does all of her thinking in the store aisle.

No matter how we do our thinking, the best gifts are the ones that we've thought about -- the ones that we've painstakingly chosen. God spent thousands of years thinking about His gift for us. He came up with a plan for redemption way back when Adam and Eve first sinned. He spent thousands of years getting us ready for that gift. Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." God sent Jesus as a gift to us, then he wrapped Him in an unexpected package.

My mom likes to put little gifts in big packages. She disguises the shape of what you're getting by putting it in an unusual package. God did that. He sent the Savior of the world to earth -- not as a king -- but as a baby.

As we shop for gifts this year, remember that God put a lot of thought into His Christmas gift to us. Even though it didn't come in the "package" many people were expecting, it is the best present we could ever receive.

Help your kids understand the unusual "wrapping" God put on Jesus and the time and planning that went into His gift.
  • Take your kids shopping for a gift for someone else. While your child is deciding what to get, talk about how a good gift requires thinking about what the other person needs. Talk about how God gave us the gift of Jesus because He knew what we needed.
  • Wrap up something obvious like a book. Don't add any extra packaging. Ask your kids what they think is in the package. Wrap another book in an odd package. Ask your kids if they can guess what's in that package. Unwrap both presents. Talk about how God could have sent Jesus as a mighty warrior to overthrow the Romans, but instead He sent a baby because God knew we needed a Savior, not a warrior.
As you and your family and friends exchange gifts this year, remember that God sent Jesus in an unexpected "package" so we could have what we needed to bridge the gap between us and God. And that's the best gift anyone could get.

There's still time to create special moments with your kids this Christmas, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Just Cookies

It's one of my favorite days of the Christmas season. Shortly after lunch 16 kids will descend on my home. We'll decorate cookies, play some games, make a big mess and have a whole lot of fun. It's cookie party day.

Eight years ago, when my oldest was 2 and my youngest was just a baby, we invited a couple of friends over to decorate cookies. The party has grown and grown since then. This year, I made 138 cookies, and when I get done writing this blog, I'm going to go make several pounds of frosting. By the time everyone leaves, there will be sprinkles all over my kitchen.

At 2:30, though, 14 kids will walk out my door, having had a good time. They will have spent two hours knowing they are loved. They will have experienced some of the joy of Christmas in our home.

The cookie party is a lot of work. It's two hours of high energy, exhausting fun. And it's my best chance to be an influence on my kids' friends during the Christmas season. This year's theme is "A Charlie Brown Christmas." We've turned the party into an opportunity to help others. Everyone is bringing a couple of cans of food to donate to a local food bank. We're also going to make blankets for Project Linus, which provides blankets to kids who are in the hospital. There will be plenty of fun and food, but by the time they, leave these kids will have taken a few minutes to focus on the needs of others during this season in which kids often focus only on their own wants and wishes.

We're also planning to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which is a way to sneak in the true meaning of Christmas with these kids. Our cookie party offers us a chance to influence the lives of kids who are not our own, even if it's in a small way.

We all have opportunities to be an influence on the kids who come through the front doors of our homes. We don't have to go halfway around the world to influence people for Jesus. We can do it in our own homes. We can have conversations with our kids' friends. We can slip Jesus into a party. We can be an example of what a family centered on Jesus looks like.

Don't be afraid to be an example of Jesus to the kids in your life. Don't be afraid to offer Godly advice. Don't be afraid to slip Jesus into the conversation. Isaiah 52:7 says "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news." We want to have beautiful feet when it comes to our kids and their friends.

You may be the only Jesus some of the kids in your life ever see. Use the opportunities God sends your way to be an influence for Him. You never know, you may be the instrument God uses to change a child's life.

There's still time to create special moments with your kids this Christmas, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Don't Miss the Moment

Warning: If you read this devotional with your kids, be warned that this one will spoil the Santa secret.

This is the first year no one in our house believes in Santa. One night at dinner during the summer our youngest daughter announced that everyone knows Santa isn't real. When we asked what gave it away, she looked at us, raised her eyebrows, waved her fork and said, "Flying reindeer, really?"

I have to tell you it's a bittersweet moment. I'm proud of my girls as they grow up into lovely young women. Part of growing up is letting go of some of your childhood fantasies, but as we approach Christmas this year, I'm a bit sad, too. Some of the wonder and excitement of childhood has disappeared.

I heard the song "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" on the radio as I was baking cookies the other day. I had to smile as I remembered how indignant my grandmother would get when my brother would play that song and announce that it was his favorite. My grandmother would put on this big show about how awful that song was, then she and my brother would laugh about it.

I miss those moments. My grandmother is now in a nursing home with very little awareness of what is going on around her. We didn't know several years ago when we celebrated Christmas together, it would be the last time she and my brother would have the "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" conversation.

As we start this last week before Christmas, I want to encourage you to stop and focus on the moment. I know there is baking to be done, there are gifts to be wrapped and parties to attend. But you never know which moments won't come again. If we miss them this year, we may never get to experience them again.

I know that this year, I don't want to miss any of those moments. I don't want to miss a minute of the shared laughter with my kids. I don't want to miss the love from my family. I don't want to miss the wonder in the eyes of my kids. And I don't want to miss the baby that came on a "silent night" nearly 2,000 years ago.

Psalm 46:10 says "Cease striving and know that I am God" (NASB). If we get so caught up in the to-do lists of the week before Christmas, we will miss the important moments in these special days. Cease striving for the perfect Christmas and focus on the fleeting moments because your kids will grow up, your family will change, and you'll never be able to capture this moment again.

God will give you plenty of moments this week to enjoy the celebration of His Son's birth. He will offer up teachable moments for your kids by the dozens. The question is, will you be too busy to notice them or will you "cease striving" and treasure the moment?

There's still time to create special moments with your kids this Christmas, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Introduction: Truth in the Tinsel

Last year, I participated in a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. For those of you who don't know what a Jesse Tree is, it's a tree (or a branch) on which you hang ornaments that represent the entire story of the Bible. Each of the 24 ornaments matches up to a set of verses and a short family devotional. It's a great way to help your kids see how Jesus' birth relates to the Old Testament. It's called a Jesse Tree because Isaiah 11:1 says this about Jesus: "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit."

It's important for us to connect Christmas with all that God did in the Old Testament. Without understanding the rules of the law and the way God provided for the Israelites, we can't appreciate the sacrifice Jesus made. If we don't understand how sin came into the world, we can't understand how it separates us from God. The Jesse Tree is one way to help your kids grasp these concepts.

Over the years, I've heard from people who are frustrated with the Jesse Tree because it's too in-depth for their young kids. They love the concept but have trouble breaking down the verses for their younger kids.

Today, I want to introduce you to a solution to that problem, Truth in the Tinsel. This e-book takes the idea of the Jesse Tree and makes it accessible for younger kids. Each day you make a printable ornament that helps your child connect the stories in the Bible together. The material is aimed at children ages 3 to 5.

Whether you use Truth in Tinsel, a Jesse Tree or another method, use Christmas as a time to help your kids see that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of the promises God made in the Old Testament. When we connect the dots for our kids, they can see that God is always faithful, and He always keeps His promises.

For more practical ways to get your kids focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. Give one as a gift, to pack away with the Christmas decoration so it's ready for next Christmas. Everyday Christmas is available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Filling the Hole

For the past couple of years, we've given teachers and coaches a plate of Christmas cookies as part of their Christmas gifts. Yesterday was our day to make the cookies. We went over to my parents' house and made a mess of my mom's kitchen. We made chocolate thumbprint cookies, peanut butter cup cookies, Greek butter cookies and stained glass window cookies.

The stained glass window cookies are my oldest daughter's favorite cookie to make. They are sugar cookie cutouts with a hole in the center. You fill the hole with crushed up hard candy. When you bake them, the candy melts and leaves an opaque colored center in your cookie. My daughter loves how the powdered candy melts into something beautiful.

Our cutouts last night were gingerbread men and women, snowmen and stars. My daughter's job was to cut the holes and fill them with candy. As she was taking a tray to her station, she said "They're hungry, and I'm filling up their stomachs." She stopped, thought for a minute, then said, "No, it's more like they need Jesus, and I'm filling them up with Him."

I stopped for a moment and thought about what she had said. In a single sentence, my daughter had summed up the need for Christmas. We all have a need for Jesus, a hole in our lives that isn't full unless Jesus is a part of them. When we fill ourselves up with Jesus, when we let Him have control of our lives, He melts the powdered dust of our lives into something beautiful.

Just like our stained glass window cookies, we become a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." We may look the same on the outside, but on the inside our hearts are different. We need Christmas because nothing else in the world can fill that Jesus-sized hole we have in our hearts. We can try to fill it with activity, people and misguided beliefs, but only Jesus can take our broken, powdered lives and turn them into a thing of beauty.

At Christmas, it's easy to focus on the picture of Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the manger. The celebrations, the food and the family all add to our joy in Jesus' birth. But we need to remember we celebrate Christmas because God was meeting our need for Jesus. He sent Jesus so we could return to God without needing to make a sacrifice every time we sinned. Christmas is all about filling the hole in our lives.

Illustrate this idea for your kids. Help them understand that only Jesus can fill the "hole" in their lives.
  • Give your kids a piece of paper with a circle cut in it. Give them different shapes to try to fit in the hole. Make it so they could put several pieces in the hole. Ask them to fill the whole up with the shapes. Talk about how while they can put things in the hole, none of them actually fit. Explain that those different shapes are like the things we try to put in our lives in place of Jesus. Talk about how God created us with a need for Jesus that only He can fill. When we try to put other things like accomplishments or friends or even other religions in that hole, they never really fill it.
  • Make sugar cookie cutouts with your kids. You can find the recipe here. As you make them, talk about how we are like the cookies. Jesus fills the hole in our lives and makes something beautiful out of it, even when it seems our lives are crumbled and messy like the powdered candy.
This Christmas season, focus on letting Jesus fill the hole in your life. Ask Him to make something beautiful out of your life. Encourage your kids to remember that we have Christmas because we need Jesus.

For more practical ways to get your kids focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Don't Overlook Joseph

My youngest daughter grabs attention wherever she goes. First, she looks like a pixie with blond, curly hair and a petite body. Second, her personality far exceeds her body size. Most people don't even realize she's small because her personality overwhelms them. If she has an opinion, you'll know it. When she walks in the room, she's the life of the party. She's a natural-born leader and has no trouble getting others to follow where she wants them to go.

My oldest daughter, on the other hand, is much more subdued. She doesn't like to be the center of attention in public. She's generally thoughtful and studious. She has a dry sense of humor. She would prefer not to be the center of attention -- ever. She's beautiful, too, but in a quiet, understated way. I wouldn't go so far as to say she's quiet (she chatters like a magpie), but she's only talkative in situations where she feels comfortable. She tends to have lots of acquaintances and a few friends. It's not hard to overlook her in a crowd, but many times she is the one who has the profound answers.

When we look at the story of Jesus' birth, Mary tends to get all of the attention. She's like my youngest. It seems all the important stuff happened to her, which is fitting. She was, after all, the one who was pregnant.

But, there's another equally important person in this account -- Joseph. We don't know much about Joseph. We know he was a carpenter and clearly a man of integrity, as evidenced by his refusal to have Mary publicly humiliated. But Joseph is the quiet person in the account of Jesus' birth. Like my older daughter, he is the one who can be overlooked. But if we overlook Joseph, we miss the opportunity to learn from him.

Joseph obeyed. Imagine how Joseph felt when Mary told him she was pregnant with the son of God. Can you imagine his disbelief? I imagine him sitting there, thinking Mary had not only broken her vows but lost her mind as well. The Bible tells us he didn't believe her because he made plans to end their engagement quietly.

Then an angel shows up in his dreams and tells Joseph to go ahead and marry Mary. The angel confirms what Mary told him. Joseph could have ignored the dream. He was well within his rights to cast Mary off. Yet, when God spoke, Joseph listened. Matthew 1:24 says "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife."

Joseph provided. In Luke 2, we find Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem. What an inconvenient time for a census to take place. Can you imagine traveling on a dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem when you were nine months pregnant? We have an image in our heads of Mary riding on a donkey all the way to Bethlehem, but we don't know that she didn't walk the distance. Can you imagine how scared Joseph was that Mary wouldn't be able to make the journey or that something would happen to her along the way?

They get to Bethlehem and there's no place to stay. It wasn't like today. Joseph couldn't call the local Holiday Inn to get reservations. It was first come, first serve at the inns, and clearly Mary and Joseph did not have relatives in Bethlehem. The only place offered to them was a dirty stable. Joseph could have turned away, thinking that a stable wasn't the best place for them. Imagine how much humility it took to accept lodging for you and your pregnant wife in a stable. But Mary needed shelter, so Joseph set aside his pride to provide what she needed.

Joseph protected. After Jesus was born and all the visitors had come and gone, Herod wanted to kill Jesus. Herod was afraid when he heard that Jesus was to be a king. He thought Jesus had come to take his throne away, so he ordered killed all the boys under the age of 2.

God told Joseph to protect his family by taking them to Egypt. The Bible tells us that Joseph got up in the middle of the night and took his family away. He protected Jesus.

God knew that Jesus would need an earthly mother and father. He chose Joseph, who may not have been the most gregarious guy on the block, to provide for and protect Jesus. Joseph's unquestioning obedience tends to make him the afterthought in most tellings of the Christmas story. But this quiet figure gives us a picture of how God provided for Jesus.

When you're reading the account of the first Christmas with your kids this year, don't just skip over the part about Joseph. Talk with your kids about the important role that he played in Jesus' life. Encourage your kids to look at Joseph as God's provision for Jesus. Help them understand all the things that Joseph did, so Jesus could grow up to do His ministry.

This year, look beyond the attention-grabbing people in the Christmas account to the quiet guy in the background. You'll be surprised at what you can learn from him.

For more practical ways to get your kids focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bailing on God (Guest post by Mary Southerland)

On Friday, I introduced you to the book Trusting God. Today is release day for that book, and my friend, Mary Southerland, has been gracious enough to let me share one of her devotionals from the book with you. As we enter the home stretch of the Christmas season, we can't truly appreciate all that God offers us in the gift of Jesus unless we trust Him. Surrendering and trusting that God will catch us when we fall, allows us to fully participate in all that a relationship with Him has to offer. Find out what it mains to "bail" on God, and check out the rest of the book here.

Today’s Truth

“Trust God from the bottom of your heart” (Proverbs 3:5, The Message)

 Friend to Friend

I absolutely love being a grandmother and wholeheartedly agree with the familiar adage, “If I had known grandchildren were so wonderful, I would have had them first!” Our fifteen-month-old granddaughter, Lelia Kay, sparkles with joy and has an infectious laugh that instantly captures your heart and compels you to laugh along with her. Consequently, our son, Jered, is always looking for ways to make her laugh. On a recent visit, he proudly demonstrated one of the new “tricks” he had taught Lelia. I was horrified!

Jered came home from work, scooped up his squealing daughter in his arms and grabbed her in a big hug. Lelia wrapped her little arms around her daddy’s neck and then firmly planted a noisy kiss on his cheek. Tears filled my eyes when I heard Jered whisper, “I love you, Lelia.” It was definitely a Kodak moment that left me totally unprepared for the moment that followed.

Lelia giggled, grabbed her daddy’s shirt with both hands and looked up at Jered, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. I instantly recognized that sparkle and mentally added it to the list of things she had inherited from her daddy. Jered looked over at me and said, “Watch, Mom!” He tightened his hold on his daughter’s chubby little legs, and said, “Bail, Lelia!” Surely, I had heard him wrong. Nope! My precious grandbaby immediately fell backwards through the air, arms and hands dangling loosely over her head, swinging her little body through her daddy’s firmly planted legs, laughing hysterically. My stomach fell and my mouth flew open as I watched her repeat this terrifying toddler version of bungee jumping. Not once did Lelia seem to be afraid. As far as I could tell, there was not the slightest hesitation on her part. I did not see an ounce of caution as she totally abandoned herself to the security of her father’s arms – creating a beautiful and profound illustration of childlike faith.  

That picture of faith took on a whole new meaning as we replayed it over dinner. Jered said, “I have to be careful. Lelia will sometimes bail on me when I’m not expecting it.” (Yes, that statement did increase my prayer life.) I looked at my son and like so many times over the years, marveled at his strength, thinking of the countless hours he has spent lifting weights, playing football and now building and remodeling homes. Jered’s massive arms and shoulders are a testimony of discipline and power. No wonder Lelia feels safe and secure in those arms. 

I decided then and there that I want to be like Lelia. I want my faith in God to grow to the place where I can bail on God and totally abandon myself to my Father’s safe, strong arms, secure in the knowledge that He will catch me when I fall. I want to obey God without fear, trusting Him to be all I need. I want to depend on and experience God’s power and strength as I plunge into His plan for my life, knowing that He is aware of every step I take, that He monitors every breath I breathe and sees every tear I cry.

It can be scary to trust God if we insist on fully understanding the step of faith He is asking us to take. Proverbs 3:5 assures us that we really can trust God from the bottom of our heart - with every part of our entire life. We tend to focus on what we can see and explain instead of choosing to focus on God and His promises. We need to grow and mature in Christ but we also need to remain childlike in our faith.

Jered has never dropped Lelia. It probably has not even occurred to her that her father could or would drop her. Lelia’s trust in her daddy is complete and whole. And I can assure you Jered delights in that trust and will do everything he can to protect it. God is like that. He celebrates even our tiniest step of faith and rejoices when we abandon our self to Him. How about you? Are you ready to bail into the arms of God?

Let’s Pray

Father, I thank You for the strength and power of Your love. I praise You for Your faithfulness in my life. I long to believe You wholly and want to walk in a radical obedience to Your truth. Help me to choose faith over fear and trust over doubt. Teach me to rest in Your arms and trust Your heart, even when I don’t understand Your process. I choose to place my faith in You.   

In Jesus’ name,


Now it’s Your Turn

Read Psalm 20:7 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  In your own words, describe the “chariots” and “horses” in your life. Where do you place your trust? In whom or what do you trust? Are you satisfied with the results?

The New Century Version of the Bible translates today’s key verse in Proverbs 3:5 as “Trust the Lord with all your heart and don’t depend on your own understanding.”  What part does human understanding play in the process of strengthening our faith in God?  What does the word “all” mean to you when it comes to obedience to God? 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Memory Monday: Getting What We Need (Isaiah 9:6)

My 10-year-old daughter went to a birthday party this weekend, and she was the only girl there without a cell phone. She really wants a phone for Christmas.

I feel for my daughter. I know it can't be easy being the only one without a phone. Nearly every child in her class has one. But she's not getting a phone for Christmas.

While clearly the majority of the world doesn't agree with us, we don't see any reason for our 10-year-old to have her own phone. She doesn't walk home from school, she never comes home to an empty house, she rarely goes places where she would not have access to a phone and she doesn't talk on our land line that often. It's an extra expense that we don't need right now, and we don't want her tied to an electronic device, texting her friends, when we can't see what's being said at the time it's being said.

Sometime in the next couple of years, we'll probably get her a phone. When she's in middle school and needs a phone to call us to come pick her up after school and goes more places without us we'll probably add another phone to our cell plan. But our daughter is going to be disappointed this Christmas.

This is really the first year we haven't fulfilled the big wish on her Christmas list. She's gotten used to waking up on Christmas morning and finding the one thing she wanted more than anything in the world under the tree. This is the first year we've had to say, "we don't think what you want is the best thing for you."

I think my daughter will get an inkling of how the Jewish people felt when God sent Jesus. You see, the Jews were living under Roman rule. They were oppressed and taxed by the Romans. They had few rights and were subject to laws in which they had no say. It had been centuries since the Jews had been their own nation.

When they read the prophecies about Jesus, they were expecting a warrior -- not a baby. They wanted someone who would save them from their current situation, someone who would overthrow the Romans. They didn't expect that when the prophecy of Isaiah 9:6 was fulfilled -- "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." -- that it would be fulfilled in Jesus.

When they heard that "the government will be on his shoulders," they thought He would rule over them. After years of exile and mistreatment, the Jews thought their Savior would finally put them in charge.

Instead, God fulfilled His prophecies with a tiny baby, born in a smelly stable. He gave all of us what we needed, not what the Jewish people wanted. His Christmas gift didn't fulfill the wishes of the Jews. No, it was much better than that. God's Christmas gift fulfilled the needs of all mankind.

Two thousand years later, we realize that God's gift of Jesus was perfect. We have forgotten the disappointment of many of the Jews. When Jesus died, it was a crushing blow to many Jews. They couldn't see the rest of God's plan.

Our kids need to know that not everyone in Jesus' time was thrilled with God's gift. They need to know that the Jews were expecting something different. And they need to know that God's plan is always perfect.

Illustrate this for your kids by putting something really practical in a box and giving it to them. Put it in a box that's the same size as something they really want. When they open the box and find socks, ask them how they feel. Remind them that they need socks. Socks will keep their feet warm. Talk about how sometimes God gives us what we need rather than what we think we want. Remind them that the Jews wanted a warrior -- someone to throw off the burden of Roman rule. God gave them Jesus who would give them eternal salvation -- not just salvation from their current situation.

Talk with your kids about how God is still giving us the things we need, rather than the things we want. His plan sometimes requires that He withhold the things we think we want because we need something different. And that different thing is always better.

A savior for the world was a much better gift than a savior from Roman rule, don't you think?

For more practical ways to get your kids focused on Jesus during the Christmas season, check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas. It's available for Kindle, Nook and as a PDF file.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday Introductions: Trusting God

"Why can't we see God?' my 8-year-old asked.

"Because that's not how God chooses to communicate with us," I said.

"Why not? He could do it," she said.

"You're right, he could. But it doesn't take any faith to trust in what you can see. God wants us to have faith in Him," I said.

When my daughter asked this question the other day, I was reminded of how often we all struggle with trusting God. We trust in things we can't see every day. I don't know how my car's engine works, but I trust that it will start when I turn the key. I can't see the inner workings of my microwave, but when I push start, I trust that it will warm up my food.

Yet when it comes to God, we're often like a child who is scared of going off the diving board. We run up to the edge, look down and run back to safety. God challenges us to step off that diving board, not knowing what's underneath. He promises to catch us, but because we can't see Him, we waver. We think about it. We make lists of the pros and cons of doing what He asks. Instead of jumping, we find reasons not to jump.

God wants us to follow after Him with our whole hearts. Proverbs 3:5-6 says "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight." God wants us to to trust Him -- even though we can't see Him and don't always know where He's taking us.

If you struggle with trusting God, you definitely want to get a copy of today's Friday Introduction. Trusting God is a 12-week devotional study. Written by Sharon Jaynes, Gwen Smith and Mary Southerland, Trusting God will walk you through what trusting God looks like and how to let go and simply trust Him. Sharing intimate snapshots of their lives as they go Sharon, Gwen and Mary -- you might know them from the Girlfriends in God daily devotional -- take you on a journey of trust.

The book is set up to be used individually or in a group. Each section ends with a Bible study guide and space for journaling to help you get the most out of the book.

During this season where we celebrate Jesus' birth, take a step toward enjoying all the benefits that a relationship with God brings. When we truly trust God, it opens up a world of possibilities for us and our families. Learning to trust God yourself will help you to teach your children what it really means to jump off the end of that diving board, knowing that God will catch you.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

You Never Know

My youngest daughter got a new hat and gloves the other day. She picked them out herself. They are bright pink, and the hat has a cute, little brim on the front of it. She looks adorable, and the color is striking with her black coat.

She wore them to school for the first time on Monday, and some kid decided to make fun of them because they were pink. Personally, I couldn't figure out the insult in making fun of a girl for wearing pink, but it hurt my daughter's feelings. She came home in tears.

Then, two things happened. We went to hockey practice that night, walked into the locker room and the first thing out of our goalie's mouth was "I like your hat." I could have hugged the kid. He had no idea that kids had teased my daughter about her hat. It lifted her spirits and made the day better.

When she came home from school on Tuesday, I asked if anyone had made fun of her hat. She said one little boy did, but it was a joke. This little boy had taken pink gloves from his sister and was hiding his hands in his pockets. He asked Carolyn why she was wearing a pink hat. Then pulled out his pink-clad hands and said "because I think you took my hat."

Both these little boys lifted my daughter's spirits and counteracted the mean words of another child. Our goalie did it without knowing she had been hurt. The other little boy went out of his way to make her feel better.

These boys illustrated the point that our words and actions toward others matter. Proverbs 12:18 says "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." One recklessly spoken word can do more damage than we know, but one uplifting and kind word can heal hurts we may not even know exist.

The Christmas season is a time when old hurts run close to the surface. Wounds we may not even know about, losses we've never shared and stress we can't see can all cause the people we come into contact with every day to be hurting without us knowing it.

Be cautious with your words all the time, but especially during this season. Look for opportunities to say an encouraging word to others. You never know what that person is going through. Your words might be the difference in their day.

Encourage your kids to offer kind words to their friends. Talk with them about looking for opportunities to lift others up. If you see a child who is upset, encourage your kids to find out what's wrong and offer that child encouragement.

You never know when your words will make a difference. You never know when what you say will be the balm that heals the wounds caused by the piercing words of others. You just never know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quiet Acceptance

For about the past year, I've been hearing God tell me to spend more time and energy on this blog and my writing and speaking. But, you know what? I've been comfortable and busy with paying freelance work. I tossed a few things off my plate with the intent of writing more. I've picked up a few speaking engagements at local churches. I even asked God to clear my plate a bit, but I was pretty happy with my life.

Well, in the past month one of my major freelance clients hasn't had much work. It's been frustrating and a little concerning. I've been hunting for new clients, but so far not much has turned up. I know God has a plan, but I really liked my life the way it was. On the plus side, I've been able to put more time into the Everyday Truth blog, I've published Everyday Christmas and I'm working on a new website and some exciting plans for next year. They're all great things, but I can't measure them monetarily.

In studying Mary for this week's blogs, I find I wish I had her spirit. Here's a young girl, probably 15 or so, who is just going about her business one day when an angel shows up. He doesn't just want to tell Mary she's doing a great job. He wants to tell her she's about to become the mother of God's Son. Mary's engaged to Joseph, and she has to know that he's not going to take the news that she's pregnant very well. This was actually a crime punishable by stoning.

Now, I don't know about you, but I probably would have been having a major freak-out session. I would have been scared and worried. I mean, how was she going to tell her parents? No one else saw the angel. But not Mary. She doesn't even ask the angel very many questions. She simply says "I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

That's some pretty calm acceptance from someone whose life has just been radically changed. Mary didn't appear worried about the future. She accepted God's will and the blessings that came with it.

Change inevitably comes to our lives. Our children get older and we go from diapers and rattles to soccer balls and hockey sticks to dating and choosing a college. Our professional careers change as well. We may find ourselves jobless for a time or changing direction in our careers. And sometimes we fight that change with all we have. We don't trust God. We get mad because He's taken our comfort zone away.

Yet God has a plan. He has great things for you and me and our kids to do. When we spend our energy fighting His plan, we make it difficult for Him to work through us. It takes us twice as long to get where God wants us to go.

Mary's life probably ended up looking a lot different than what she had planned. Yet, more than 2,000 years later, she is remembered by the world. Her quiet acceptance of God's will earned her a precious place in God's plan.

When God wants to change things up in your life or in your kids' lives, remember that He has a plan. His plan is so much better than what we can do our own. We can reach more people and be more effective when we follow His plan than when we try to walk our own path.

A little of Mary's quiet acceptance goes a long way toward putting us on the path to the amazing things God has in store for us. What is God asking you or your kids to accept today?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Difficult Christmas Visitors

Christmas is a time for family. If you have a wonderful family, your home is probably filled with joy and laughter. You anxiously anticipate the arrival of family members from far-off places. Though your home might feel cramped with the addition of so many bodies, you happily boot the children from their beds and carve out space on the floor for sleeping bags.

If this is the scenario in your home, count yourself blessed. For other families, old wounds and continued slights make the holidays a time of stress. Maybe you have a family member who says hurtful things. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe one of your family members plays favorites with your kids. All of these things can add up to a feeling of dread when it's time for a family visit.

When it comes to dealing with visitors during the holidays, we should take a page out of Mary's book. Let me set the scene for you. Mary has just given birth in a smelly, dirty stable. As we all know, having a baby isn't a clean process. It's also exhausting. I'm sure she would have simply liked to take a nap afterward. Yet, what happens after she lays Jesus in the manger? Some guys she's never met show up to see the baby. Not only are they strangers, but they smell like sheep. And these guys don't even bring gifts.

Now, I would have been tempted to tell these shepherds to go away and come back at a better time. But, obviously, Mary and Joseph let them into the stable to see Jesus because Luke 2:16-18 says "So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them."

Because Mary was gracious enough to let the shepherds in to see Jesus -- even though it wasn't the ideal time for her -- the shepherds were able to be the first to spread the good news of Jesus. Because of Mary's hospitality, perfect strangers were "amazed." Whether we're dealing with unexpected visitors or planned ones, our attitude toward their visit gives them an impression of God. If we're warm and welcoming, showing them our hospitality, then they can leave having felt the love of God.

I know some people are hard to love, others are high-maintenance visitors, some arrive at inopportune times, but every time we welcome someone into our homes, we are given an opportunity to be a picture of God's love to them. No matter how we feel about someone, God loves them.

Being gracious and doing our best to let God love our difficult family members through us also gives our kids an example of God's love. Our kids can tell from our actions whether we enjoy somone else's company. But we never want our kids to form a poor impression of their relatives because we're hanging onto a grudge or refusing to let God open our eyes to see that person as He sees them. Our attitude toward those who enter our homes during the holidays makes an impression on our kids.

If your kids have trouble getting along with some of your extended family members, remind your kids that God wants us to show love to everyone. Ask them to help you think of ways you can show love to that person while they are in your home. Explain that we won't always receive that love back, but God wants us to love the other person, no matter what their response.

Don't let another person suck the joy out of your holiday season. View a difficult visit as an opportunity for your entire family to be the hands and feet of Christ in showing love to that person. It may be just what they need and they may leave as amazed by the love of God as the shepherds.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Memory Monday: Moments to Treasure (Luke 2:19)

The whirlwind of the Christmas season has started. We've already been to a live nativity and helped with gingerbread house making and cookie decorating. We still have band concerts, parties, shopping and a cookie party to come. All of this on top of our regular regimen of practice, Girl Scouts and music lessons.

It's easy to get so busy simply getting where we need to be somewhere close to the time we need to be there that we forget to stop and treasure the moments. It's easy to go through the motions -- attend church, see a Christmas pageant, read our favorite Christmas books, go caroling and gather with family -- without ever really enjoying the season.

Unfortunately, the most joyous time of the year turns into a time of stress, and sometimes hurt, for many. When our stress level rises, we're less likely to offer grace and patience to family and friends. We're less likely to enjoy the shopping, the baking and the schedule juggling. And we're less likely to savor the precious moments of awe and discovery with our kids.

We took our kids to a live nativity last night. It was actually a walk through the events leading up to Jesus' birth. We heard the story of Adam and Eve from Moses, the prophecies of Christ's birth from David, Isaiah and Micah and saw all of the events involving Mary and Joseph. The highlight was the manger scene, with a real baby and a real cow -- even in the 28-degree weather. The scene was awe-inspiring. It really brought home the reality of a baby born in a stable and what that meant for us.

Watching my kids stand next to the baby, I could see in my mind the shepherds -- some of whom probably weren't that much older than my oldest daughter -- gathered around Mary and Joseph. They had come to see this baby that a host of angels had told them about. And now, I was sharing that moment with my kids. It was a moment to treasure.

Yet, we almost missed that moment. The only time we could get to go to the nativity was nearly at bedtime. It was cold. My youngest was having a tough day. We contemplated staying home or leaving my youngest and daddy at home. I'm so glad we didn't. I'm so glad we decided the moment was more important than our comfort.

This Christmas, do what Mary did when the shepherds came to visit. "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). Enjoy the moments of awe and discovery with your kids. When you or one of your kids recognizes the awesomeness of Jesus coming to earth, stop and ponder the moment. Share a conversation with your child. Pray together. Sing a song of worship. But stop in the middle of the hustle and bustle and treasure the moment in your heart.

Christmas is a busy time. There's no sense in pretending that we can clear the decks on our schedules and simply ignore the family gatherings, the office parties and the kids' obligations. What we can do is take a moment, just a moment, in the midst of the busyness and treasure the times when we or our kids find Jesus in the season.

Looking for ways to create moments to treasure with your kids? Check out Lori's new e-book Everyday Christmas: Helping your kids find Jesus in the everyday moments of the season. You can find it on, or as a PDF download at

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Introduction: The Bible in Rhyme (and another give-away)

The Bible in Rhyme

When I was growing up, we would read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke 2 on Christmas Eve. We read it from the King James Version of the Bible. I think I was 8 or 9 years old before I understood that "sore afraid" meant the shepherds were very scared, not in pain.

The Bible can be confusing and hard to understand sometimes, even for adults. Sometimes the language is difficult, and sometimes the way the sentences are structured makes reading it out loud difficult. The Bible is supposed to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105), but if we can't understand what it says, then we miss out on its illuminating wisdom.

For millennia, the Bible was a shared oral experience. Most people couldn't read, so the priests and scribes would read it out loud. That tradition has been mostly lost, but reading the Bible together as a family is an important way for our kids to learn about God. Unfortunately, the difficulty level of the Bible makes it hard for kids to wrap their minds around what's being said.

That's why I think today's Friday Introduction is such a great tool for families. The Bible in Rhyme is just what it sounds like. It's a paraphrase of the Bible, written entirely in rhyme. It's easy to read and easy to understand. Written by Kyle Holt, The Bible in Rhyme is designed to be read out loud.

This is what Kyle has to say about  it:

"It’s a great tool for parents to share the Bible as a family.  Small children love to hear the rhythm and rhyme.  Older kids can join in the reading.  But this is the whole Bible.  The good, the bad, and the particularly nasty.  So it’s probably a good idea to either know the section you’re about to read, or read it before hand and make sure that you aren’t about to read the story of Lot and his daughters, or something in that vein.

One other point, and it goes back to my No. 1 goal in this.  If you’re a parent who thinks, 'I don’t really know the Bible myself,' then The Bible in Rhyme is perfect for you and your family.  Your children get the stories as well as the rhythm and rhyme, which is great.  And you get a chance to learn the stories yourself without it being super-abridged for little kids, and without it being the extremely HARD to understand full version.  This book is really intended for people who need an easier way into the real Bible.  Get the message and beauty of the Bible in a fun way…then go experience the holy texts themselves with a much clearer understanding."

It took Kyle a year and a half to write The Bible in Rhyme, and he originally thought the task was too large and too difficult. With a background in songwriting and poetry, Kyle chose one style of rhyme for the whole project -- except the Psalms. And it's not just for kids.

"I want this to be something that adults get into.  This is a paraphrase of the whole Bible – it’s not a children’s Bible.  It contains all the bad stuff too, murder, betrayal, incest and hate, and it doesn’t sugarcoat it just because it happens to rhyme.  I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they read a section of The Bible in Rhyme and thought, 'The Bible doesn’t really say that.'  Then they go and look and realize that no matter how many times they read the Bible, they had not understood some passage or section.  I want everyone to get to the heart of the message."

When he's not rhyming the Bible, Kyle is the president and co-founder of U Inc., a software company in Overland Park, Kan. He lives in Overland Park with his wife, Kim, and their three children. He is currently working on a new project to continue his goal of making the Bible more accessible to more people around the world. You can learn more about him on His website.

The Bible in Rhyme is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in both a paper e-book formats.

Kyle is giving away a copy of The Bible in Rhyme to one of the Everyday Truth blog readers today. All you have to do is head over to his Facebook page, like it, and leave a comment saying you heard about The Bible in Rhyme at Everyday Truth for a chance to win.

This is a fantastic tool for families to use to make the Bible more accessible for everyone. It's not a Bible you want to study from, but it's a great way to get both you and your kids interested in learning more. Check it out and avoid the "sore" shepherds in your Christmas reading this year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting Ready for Christmas (and a give-away)

I flipped the calendar to December yesterday. It's a sea of ink. We have extra band concerts, parties and activities. We have gifts to buy, cookies to bake and traditions to continue. It's an all-our sprint from now to Christmas.

Too often, December flies by and Christmas gets here before I'm ready. Dec. 25 rolls around before I've even had a chance to focus on what the season is all about. In all the activity, I miss the manger. I miss the good news the angels told "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11). And, if I miss focusing on Jesus during December, so does my family. If my focus is on all the things we have to do instead of on the reason we're celebrating, then that's where my kids' focus will be, too.

I know I'm not the only one of us who rushes through the month, thinking I'll have time tomorrow to focus my, and my kids', attention on Jesus. Instead, we need to take advantage of the opportunities God gives us. It takes being intentional and using the moments we have to keep our hearts and minds focused on the important and not the urgent.

Thankfully, Christmas provides us with endless opportunities to talk with our kids about Jesus. We can use the everyday moments of this season, just like we seek out the everyday moments throughout the rest of the year. We can fill up our souls with Jesus, so we can help our kids find reminders of Him through the ordinary trappings of the season -- from lights to wreaths to snow.

But how do we do that? We're going to focus on the Christmas story all this month on the blog. But if you're looking for more, check out my new Christmas devotional e-book, Everyday Christmas: Helping your kids find Jesus in the everyday moments of the season. Right now, it's available for Kindle and as a PDF download. It should be available for Nook soon.

(If you purchase the PDF download, after you finish your PayPal transaction, click on return to, and it will take you to the page where you can download the book.)

Everyday Christmas offers a daily devotional for you that focuses on a common Christmas sight, sound or activity. The devotional is to refresh your soul and get you thinking about the everyday things of Christmas in a different way. Each devotional is followed by a page of conversation starters, verses and activities for you to use with your kids. If you're looking for a way to focus your family's attention on Jesus this Christmas season, check it out.

All month on the Facebook page, we'll be talking about each day's devotional and ideas. Join in, whether you buy the book or not.

Today, I'm giving away a copy of the PDF download for free. All you have to do to win is comment either here or on the Everyday Truth Facebook page.

I'm hoping that this is the Christmas you and your family find Jesus in the everyday.