Category Archives: Holiday

Get Your Hearts Ready

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“Advent is for adoring Jesus”

Joy and Peace

We have just begun Advent!!  I LOVE this time of year.  And even though I have not been able to pull myself together and get any Christmas decorations up yet, we are enjoying our nightly candle-lighting and story reading as much as the kids are!  (See this post for what we’re reading).

But Jeffrey and I are also seeking to go a little deeper in our own personal devotion time this advent season, and here is a great way to do it:


Desiring God ( offers two free resources available for download – each with 25 devotional readings (for Dec 1-25). You can find out more by going here.

Jeffrey read the first devotion (from Good News of Great Joy) to us over supper tonight, and it was a great conversation starter and catalyst for priming our hearts to tune into the real focus of Christmas.

Even with all the interruptions from little talkative people, and an animated baby throwing her spoon of sweet potatoes, I was able to glean a meaningful truth from the reading.

Tonight’s takeaway for me? We need to make room in our hearts for Christ.  And in order to do that, I need to de-clutter my heart: take a real inventory of the sin and complacency I’ve let build up, and see with fresh eyes how much I desperately need Jesus. And then he read this:

“Christmas is first an indictment before it’s a delight…”

That part really struck me.  We are all familiar with the delight of Christmas – you can’t walk in any store after October and not be thrust into the full swing of the holiday cheer.  But Christmas an indictment?  Huh?

I explained the definition to the kids: an accusation.  Being accused of a crime and having to go before the judge for sentencing.

Christmas is all because a Savior was born…. why?
Because we needed one!

Christmas is first an accusation of our sin and need of a Savior… and then it is a delight!  Because we couldn’t save ourselves and Jesus came and changed the ending of our story! Christmas is all about the Gospel. The Good News of Great Joy!

When we spend Advent preparing our hearts with this kind of message, Christmas takes on a new depth.  And we experience it with more joy!

So even if we haven’t decluttered the house enough to get the Christmas decor out of the garage, we can begin to make room in our hearts.

Do yourself a favor and let the elf sit on the shelf this year.
And pull something more important into focus for the next 24 days.

It’s not too late to do this!  Trust me, we’re already 2 days behind in our reading of Bartholomew’s passage, but we’ll catch up and it will all work out by Christmas.  (By the way, if you’re interested but you haven’t ordered the book, you can get it on Kindle for $2.99 here!)

Can you tell I really love Advent? :)  Our Advent celebration has never Pinterest-perfect.  But it’s always been worth it.  Jump in with us.  Let’s get our hearts ready.

Keeping Advent Simple

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So we’re less than a week out from Thanksgiving.  I’m a stickler for not even mentioning the Christmas tree until we have appropriately celebrated Thanksgiving to it’s fullest- it remains one of my favorite weekends all year long.

But since we started celebrating the Advent season about seven or eight years ago, I have to at least be thinking a little ahead, since the season always begins shortly after Thanksgiving.

If you’ve never really celebrated Advent, don’t stress. I didn’t really understand anything about it until several years ago.  As we remind our kids each year, “Advent” means “the Coming” – and of course what we’re talking about here is the coming of Jesus Christ – the sole reason we celebrate Christmas.

The season of Advent helps us get our hearts and minds into a joyful expectation for Jesus.

So, there’s a lot out there as far as what you can use during this time to make it fun and meaningful for your family.  But I gotta be honest – for us it just works really well to simply stick with what we know.  I’m often tempted to get on a bunch of blogs I really like and see what’s new or what everyone else is doing… not to even mention Pinterest… but if I’m not careful I’ll get bigger ideas than what we can really attain right now, and I’ll end up making it stressful and hectic – which is the exact opposite of the atmosphere we want in our home during Christmastime.

We found a few things years ago that remain meaningful and traditional in our home – so let me share them with you:



  • The Jotham’s Journey Series
    This is a series of Advent books written by Arnold Ytreeide.  There are four books (Tabitha’s Travels is not shown above), and truly you can go in any order.  You read one book per year, and each story is about a young boy or girl who has some kind of adventure (sometimes perilous or dangerous) and in the journey, the main character ends up hearing about the coming Messiah… and I won’t tell you what happens :)  Each story stands alone but each story is also interwoven into the others.inside

    Our family has LOVED these books.  Since you read a different one each year, it will be years before you will repeat a story, and it’s always just as enjoyable as the first time you read it.  The book is broken down into sections to be read aloud each evening leading up to Christmas Eve. Even our younger children enjoy listening (Jeff and I often want to read ahead), and we’re always sad it’s over at the end.

    Last Advent we read the new book that Ytreeide had just released, “Ishtar’s Odyssey” and it didn’t disappoint.  We read by candlelight around the table each evening.  At one point during the story, Ishtar enjoys some baklava.  The next day we happened upon a package of the yummy treat at Sam’s and brought it home so we could all enjoy some baklava during the next evening’s reading.  Our kids are still talking about it.  Our older kids ask to get these books off the shelf all year long, but we make everyone wait until Advent.


  • Getting Ready For Christmas
    It looks like this one isn’t available on Amazon, except as a used book from other sellers.  Bummer. But if you can get it on time, and you have very small children, we found this to be a great beginning to celebrating Advent.  We first used this when Maggie and Lilly were ages 2 and 3 (and still have some of the sweet little homemade ornaments they made while going through this book).  And this year I’ll be using it with Olivia (4) and Carson (6)… and hopefully with Jessa in a few years. :)
    Each day leading up to Advent, there are simple pictures, a short reading, and a verse.  Each day also offers something to do with your child.  Some days it’s helping them with a homemade ornament; other days, it’s as simple as looking at the stars outside.inside-2
    This book is one our little ones have really enjoyed going through with us, and it’s a very stress-free way to begin celebrating Advent.  And this is a way for me to spend some quality time with my younger kids during the day during Advent season.  However, there are some readings in this book where I have to add a bit when talking with my kids in order to connect it to Jesus coming.  So just be aware of that.

These books, which we purchased years ago, along with candles, and sometimes desserts or hot cocoa are all we need to keep Advent season simple, memorable, and most of all, meaningful.

I’d love to hear what you’re doing for Advent this year, or how you keep Christmastime meaningful for your family. Tell me in the comments. I promise not to compare! :)

Here’s some pics from Advent over the years…  eek, they were so little!

Eager ListenersAdventNativity
Reading Getting Ready for ChristmasHot CocoaCocoa Mustache

How to Have an Imperfect Christmastime

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When the tree is lit with a single strand of lights – despite that the ‘experts’ insist I need about 300 more bulbs – I am already too weary to bring the box of ornaments down from the attic.

Someone tell me again – why is it we do this?  There isn’t going to be a single gift under this tree.  Hasn’t been for nearly nine years – that’s the way of things here.  So, why all this effort?

At least I wrap the ribbon.  The same ribbon that has snuggled our tree the last six years.  I love it for the golden stars, reminds me of the star-lit journey…

So when the sweet friend pops in unexpectedly and she’s holding stacks of wonderfully printed handwriting pages and crafts for my kids to do and these paper strips with the Names of God… I know.

She goes on about how she doesn’t know why she’s standing here, with the extra things she’s printed – how odd it would be that she felt the urge to bring them to me.  But I know.

So the shiny balls and sparkly stars stay in the attic this year.  And what was meant for an advent paper chain to count down the days – it’s counting up instead.  All around our tree.  All the things God IS.

I punch holes in those strips like there were holes punched in Him and we hang the Names of God on the tree just like God hung on the tree – because Christmas is only really celebrated because after he laid on the wood of the trough — then He laid on the wood of a tree…  There is only reason to celebrate His birth because of His death.

So we string up those attributes – the only ornaments on our tree.  And we see it every day as we sit at the table and break bread.

And sometimes we drink hot cocoa to soothe away the disappointment of not going to see Papa on his birthday – because the weather was too fierce.

That chocolate has a way of curling up the sad lips.

And we lay out the Advent book on the table and read it at night.  And the tree-lights reflect in all the little wide eyes as the story unfolds each night.

Tabitha’s Travels

And sometimes we double-up to make up for the night we missed when the day was too long and weary.  But I guess if anyone understands about a day being long and weary, it’s the One who knows about holes and trees.

And some days there’s nothing ‘holly jolly’ about the mess in this place.  The mess you can see, and the mess stuffed up in prideful hearts.  And some days the schooling only consists of reading aloud to listening ears…

And learning to enjoy new skills while your hands are busy making something for another.

Learning is Looming

And no, the stockings aren’t actually hung yet, but they’ll be ready… and no, there hasn’t been a gingerbread house, but there is a little manger in the nativity….

The one with only two wise men, because little hands dropped and shattered the third. I suppose even wise men don’t live forever.

At least Joseph only has a hand broken off…. or is that a shepherd.

The Broken Shepherd.

And on a quiet night I sit by twinkling white lights and hear snoring from the other room… and try to ignore the pile of laundry sitting beside me.   Because it isn’t about a perfect Christmas.

Thank God it’s about how He chose to come in to the mess of this life and on a quiet night like this the first announcement was made to a most unlikely audience – Good tidings of great JOY – here in the midst of the ugly imperfection – the Savior has come.

God.  With us.

Christmastime Around Here

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Are you joining me-  In all our imperfection?  Are you making this season different? Making room for more of Him?

We managed to get most of the sawdust swept away, the clutter moved aside, the laundry settled down {for now}.

We managed to get the tree up (that took an hour longer than I expected with about 372 artificial branches to attach – I vow that next year we will go real tree or nothing.)  So now our humble tree is lit, but the ornaments remain in storage another day… as does the nativity, and the stockings…

But we are celebrating Advent.  In gratefulness the past two evenings I’ve sat at sturdy, hand built table and run my fingers along the smooth boards while we watched the candle glow and listened to our Advent story.  And prayed for God to make much of Himself in our hearts and our home.

Our small, imperfect hearts and home.

You asked how we ‘do’ Christmastime around here… so come on… enjoy a warm drink and prop your tired feet up on my paint-chipped coffee table.  {Lots of cars and army men and tea cups and babies play ’round that table.}

Sit, I’ll tell you about it…

Christmas morning. It begins quiet.

Of course the kids are up early – just like every day – and they are excited.  Each one has a new book to unwrapa tradition my mother began when I was an eager kid on Christmas mornings…

New stories are unwrapped and pages are flipped while we sip on coffee and the aroma of breakfast makes our mouths water -cinnamon rolls – our traditional Christmas Morning Breakfast.  Sometimes from scratch, sometimes Pilsbury.

And then afterwards we gather ’round.  It’s time to pull the letters from our stockings.  Mom & Dad’s hold the most folded or rolled up paper treasures.  Nine years of Christmas Morning letters… one-by-one, we read our letter to each of the children.  Sometimes we read them letters from Christmas past.

Letters aren’t all we open this morning – we also open the Word.

We read the story from Luke 2.  The one both Mama and Daddy can recite by heart.

The gift we celebrate today is Jesus.  His grace.  His hope. The few small gifts that come wrapped in paper – they can wait ’til New Years.

Today we want nothing to compete for our hearts’ affection…

Maybe now the children will snuggle up on couches and re-watch the Nativity, even though we all watched it together the night before, while the turkey was cooking for Christmas lunch.

Granna will come.  Sometimes others will come.  Aunt and Uncle.  Neighbor.  Friend.  We’ll gather around the table for turkey and dressing – my grandmother’s ‘recipe’ {although she never really measured the ingredients.  Neither does my mother.  Neither do I.

We thank God for our meal – thank Him for the bread, and the Bread of Life… and around the table we eat and talk and laugh.

And we light the last candle.  The white one, there, in the middle.  It’s what we’ve been getting ready for these last four weeks.  We have our final Advent activities, almost sad that we’ll put it away until next year…

No one ever eats the pie right after lunch; we’re all so full.  {That’s my Mom’s recipe, and that one we do measure.}

Slowly we come away from the table.  Satisfied.

The kids will nap or have quiet time on their beds.  We’ll sit around with Granna {and sometimes others} on sofas and enjoy the afternoon coffee – we’ll eventually make it around to that pie.

And as the evening unfolds, we will reminisce.  We will talk about God’s goodness.

We will celebrate…. His coming.



It’s Not Too Late for Advent

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Here we are the first night of advent, and instead of lighting our candle tonight, and reading our story or making an ornament for the tree – instead we shuffle through sawdust on the kitchen floor. We skirt around power tools and try to keep the baby from eating wood chips.  We eat our meals picnic style on the floor and around the coffee table and piano bench.  And where there would be standing a Christmas tree – where there would be the soft glow of Christmas lights if we were that family who had it all together – there are stacks of homeschooling books and craft supplies that lost their home and got shuffled around when the re-arranging of the dining room and the building of our big farmhouse table began.

It’s day 2 of December.  First day of Advent.  And it ain’t pretty around here.

{ ‘Ain’t’ is what I say when I really want to emphasize something.  Because, being the grammar nazi that I am, I still believe it ain’t a real word.}

No, once again, this is not what I had envisioned.  But it rarely is.

That’s how life looks when you’re just a broken family in need of grace, just striving to put on the Armor every day and put one foot in front of the other.

And not trip because you’re a boy (or girl) wearing King-sized armor.

But I’ve learned that just because it isn’t perfect, doesn’t mean you ‘scrap’ it.

Our beautiful table finally finished, we’ll just begin our Advent tomorrow.  Maybe the tree will be up. Maybe it won’t.  Maybe the greenery and the wreath will be assembled.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe there will be the soft glow of Christmas lights…. or not.

More than likely I’ll have a half-painted dining room wall, and the school books and craft supplies  will still be a cluttered mess, but we’ll celebrate Advent anyway.

We’ll celebrate His coming.

No, it won’t be perfect.  But come to think of it, that’s kind of how the birth of Christ was anyway.

Everything about the story of Christ’s entry into our earthly world was pretty much the opposite of perfect.  Instead it was unexpected.  Messy.  Scandalous, even. Ridiculous, if you want to get right down to it.

I mean really – the Word – the Creator lowering Himself to wear our skin and walk our dirt?

I guess if the Creator of the universe – the King of Kings – can be born to an unmarried young mother in quiet anonymity amongst some hay and animals – well then, I guess He doesn’t mind us celebrating His Coming in the imperfection of half-hung lights and a saw-dusty floor.

Because what matters is that we do celebrate.  We do remember. We do something.

Even if that something is just “Be still and know that I am God.”

Even if you’ve never celebrated Advent before – it’s not too late for you either.  It’s not too late to teach your family to celebrate His coming!  This – this is what we’re celebrating this season!

Joy to the World, the Lord is come!  

I heard someone today say that we as Christians have the most reason to sing Christmas Carols!  We are the ones to be celebrating His coming!

He has come!  He is coming!

Do it!  Do it late; do it imperfectly, just do it!

Don’t worry about having special books to read, or a special candle display.  You traditionally use four pink/purple candles (light a new one each Sunday in December leading up to Christmas) and a white candle (lit on Christmas day) – if you can get out today and get those, great.  But if not, just light a candle….

If you don’t have a special advent book, just read Psalm 23, for the first night.  And talk to your family about God being our shepherd.  And talk about why God might call us sheep.  And why do sheep need a shepherd?  And if you have some cotton balls and construction paper, let the kids make a little sheep ornament to hang on the tree.

Or if you’re looking for a little more, print out this beautiful free Advent Christmas Devotional from Ann Voskamp.

Make it more this year.  Not more lights or greenery.  Not more gifts or baked goods.

More of Him.  More of looking for Him

It’s not too late.