Simple Advent

Simple Advent

My ideas for Advent may not be the most stellar, cute, or original, but they are Advent traditions that work well for our family. I have found that simple is what gets done around here, so that is what we stick with!

 I really like the simplicity and Christ-centeredness of our current traditions. And that is my goal….to make Christmas all about Christ!

The Advent Book. I love this book. Each day has a beautiful door for kids to open, revealing more of the story of Christ’s birth (word for word from the Bible). Since every day you begin at the beginning and continue until you open the new door, by Christmas Day the kids have all of Luke 2 memorized!

A Simple Advent Book and Candleholder

We are using this book from Elyse Fitzpatrick this year. I love it because it is simple, Gospel-centered, and has readings for adults and kids, along with some super easy activity ideas. You can find it here. In this book, they recommended this Irish Advent Candleholder, so we will be using it as well.41h7ZLRHN1L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_

Advent Calendar. A sweet friend made one of these for us.  A simple felt calendar with beautiful clay ornaments representing the daily Scripture, one for each day leading up to Christmas. Simple and special. We brought it in our suitcase from Indonesia to ensure we would have it this year.

 

Shepherd’s Pouches. An idea I found in the book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions by Noel Piper. Each child gets a pouch in which to collect money to give to Jesus on Christmas Day. We are going to use our money to buy relief packets for those suffering from Typhoon Haiyan. It will be interesting to see how my kids come up with ways to make money.

Birthday Party. On Christmas Day, we will celebrate Jesus’ birth by having cake, giving Him our Shepherd’s Pouches, and singing carols to Him!

I am looking forward to a Christmas season spent with my wonderful family and focusing on Him!

Yes, that is our tree in the picture above. It is from last year, when we lived in Indonesia. And, yes, it’s fake.{grin}

What are your favorite traditions? I would love to hear!

Battle Discontent with Thankfulness

{A follow up post to yesterday’s post, this one is also from the archives, but I felt it was timely for this season.}

I wish I had an easy-peasy answer.  But the truth is that I haven’t arrived.  It is still a struggle for me to choose to be content, to choose to “bloom” where I am planted.

The one thing that I have learned is that it is extremely difficult to be discontent when I am actively thankful.

“Today, when stress mounts, I pray to dismount it with gratitude.  I can only feel one feeling at a time, and I choose to give thanks at all times. Fight feeling with feeling!”- Ann Voskamp

Let’s take my couches for example (the couch is outside for this picture, but it’s normally in my living room…so just imagine it inside of a living room, m-kay?!):

Yes, I think that the couches are ugly. They are getting eaten by termites and I have to clean up mounds of termite shavings every day. They are outside couches. They don’t belong in a living room. I could go on….

BUT, when I look at this picture of my beautiful family, I am struck by just HOW much I have to be thankful for and suddenly the couches seem so insignificant. (By the way, that is Abi. She lives with us and helps me with the household tasks. She is a part of our family and we love her dearly.)

How can I dare to be discontent with something so trite, when I have been given SO much?

And, what’s more, how can I be discontent when people living right around me would be more than thankful for things like running water, a roof that doesn’t leak, and 3 meals in their day?  That really puts it into perspective for me. Ouch.

In the book, Calm My Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow, she speaks of a missionary woman she knew.  This lady lived in Africa, in a mud hut.  And Linda said she was one of the most content people she had ever met.  She asked the missionary woman for her secret to contentment and this was her response:

1. Never allow yourself to complain about anything, not even the weather.

2. Never picture yourself in a different circumstance or someplace else.

3. Never compare your lot with the lot of another.

4. Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.

5. Never dwell on tomorrow.  Remember it is God’s, and not ours.

And, to this I would add,

6. Choose to be thankful for exactly where you are and exactly what you have.

Thankfulness. Let’s do it!

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Photo credit: Tripp Flythe

Contentment Makes a Home Beautiful

{This is a slightly edited version of a post written in 2011 featured at Women Living Well. Enjoy!}

As a child, I dreamed of a little farmhouse with a cute picket fence beckoning you to come to the porch and sit a while.

Fast forward to the life of a missionary in a tropical city.  My dream house never included gecko poop on the walls or pythons in the backyard. I never dreamed of the mold in the corner of every cabinet, ants marching in at every stray crumb left on the counter, or my couches that are meant to be “outside” couches but, alas, are in my living room.

And I struggled (still do at times). And, I would sigh, and dream of a walk down Target aisles.  A trip to the craft store.  And wish that my life looked different.

Over several months God began teaching me contentment.  He brought this verse to me, the words of Paul,

 “… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” Philippians 4:11

Contentment Makes a Home Beautiful | Grace Full Mama

He showed me I can to be thankful for the gifts that I already have, showed me that the beauty of my home comes from who fills it, not what things fill it.  Thankfulness grows when I shift my focus to all the gifts right around me.  Embracing the beauty that has been given to me, the beauty all around me, and using what I have to create more beauty in my home.

And what comes of choosing contentment? Peace.  Love.  Joy.

And it frees me up to be more creative.  It has forced me to think outside the box, look for different ways to create.  No, I am no decorator, but it is a space that is beautiful for my precious family and for those who visit, and that is what is important, isn’t it?!

 A while ago, a friend paid me a huge compliment.  She said I have a talent for decorating with the senses…. peaceful music, good smelling candles, and soft lighting.  I was thrilled, because that is exactly what I want for my home.  And they are 3 three things that are simple AND cheap!

 Do I still struggle with contentment?  Sure I do, every time I look at my couches!  But, as I choose to embrace the things that the Lord has given me, I cannot help but be grateful; and that translates into a welcoming, peaceful home for all that enter.

 Now, go and make your home beautiful by choosing contentment and watch the peace, love, and joy grow in your home! It’s the best way to decorate for the holidays!

My Booty and God’s Glory

I pull up my jeans and they stretch over my thighs, a bit snug. Immediately my frenemies, those words that have been with me these long thirty-something years, come for a visit. I sigh and let their hurtful words wash over my mind. “You need to lose weight. You aren’t worth anything. You are so ugly,” they whisper in their mocking voice.

I head to a party and I see her. She looks great, and rather than being happy for her, rather than saying the words I know would make her day, I invite my insidious pals back into my head for a pow-wow. “I need to cut back. I can’t enjoy this food. I have to start running again. I’m no good,” they shriek with increasing volume.

I push the grocery cart through the gauntlet of magazines. The latest and greatest new perfect-looking celebrity has lost weight. Doesn’t she look amazing? The glossy photos call to me, their siren song of, “You’re not good enough. If only you’d try this one thing.….”

And so it goes. 

Maybe you’re thinking, what does she have to worry about, she’s slim. I’m so tired of thin girls crying about your weight. I hear you.

But I want to point this out: SHAME KNOWS NO SIZE.

Shaming words don’t care if you are size two or twenty-two, size four or forty-four. They speak to us the same. 

Shame has been with me each and every day. Until now.

I’m done. I’m so done.

I’m declaring war on my selfish, self-focused pride. The pride that says my worth is tied to my weight, rather than to the One who died for me.

I’m done looking at myself, instead of at Him. As Tim Keller says, “By comparing ourselves to other people and trying to make ourselves look better than others, we are boasting. Trying to recommend ourselves, trying to create a self-esteem resume because we are desperate to fill our sense of inadequacy and emptiness. The ego is so busy. So busy all the time.” {The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness}

My ego has been too busy and it has left me deflated and exhausted. Looking at the Gospel and God’s glory, on the other hand, leaves me feeling full.

Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less….A truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a gospel-humble person.” {Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness}

I want that. I want to be neither a self-hating person or a self-loving person. I want to be a gospel-humble person.

Here is my prescription:

1. Take a good hard look at the Gospel and God’s glory. Let His glory expand and let Him become BIG in my heart and life. Worship HIM instead of myself.

2. Focus on what really matters…eternity, and not my booty.

2. Take those thoughts captive. Kick them out.And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Romans 12:2

3. Believe this: My worth is NOT equal to my weight. Look to Christ for my worth and nothing else. “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14

4. Walk in freedom! Live in the light and love of God’s amazing grace!

What does this mean for me? A lot more grace for my body. A lot more acceptance. A lot more, well, maybe a lot more booty.
If you see me, my booty might be a bit bigger, but so is my view of God’s glory. 

Do you struggle with these things? Do you want to join me? What is YOUR story? Please share in the comments!

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*I am not saying that being healthy and exercising is bad or wrong! Not at all. I’m simply sharing that over-focusing on outward appearance can be.*

On Where I’ve Been and Where I’m Going

It’s been a while, a looong while since I’ve been in this space. I’d like to apologize, but the truth is I’m not really sorry. Sort of. I’m sorry for being inconsistent and flaky, but I’m not sorry for being gone.

Gone is a fitting word. I’ve been gone. A bit of everywhere and nowhere.

Our family packed up and left our life in Indonesia in late May. It was planned, as our Heavenly Father asked us to continue our story in a new and different country. However, I had no idea just how difficult it would be to leave our home {still is}. 

The grief of leaving loved ones and a life, that, although difficult was made beautiful by HIM, was painful. Really painful. Still painful. 

Indonesia will be forever etched on my heart, and the people carried with me everywhere I go in this world.

And, as we came back to the States for a furlough before we head out again, people welcomed us back by saying, “Welcome Home.” But the thing is, America is no longer home for this nomadic family. 

Yes, we love the good ol’ US of A, our family, friends, and Taco Bell, and all the cheese sandwiches we can eat, but we feel so, well foreign. And I didn’t expect it. And so, this born and bred American had to grieve twice. Once for leaving our Indonesian home and once for coming “home” that doesn’t feel like home. It was difficult to arrive in Indonesia eight years ago, feeling like we didn’t fit, and it is equally difficult coming back “home” and realizing you don’t fit here either.

And to be honest? This missionary mama is tired and burned out. Weary. These bones are weary. Really weary.  And I’ve learned to accept brokenness as a gift.

A good gift from Him. HE is showing me to place my trust in Him alone, not on my physical address. He gives me hope. “And hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5 

As I look at what Christ did for me on the Cross, my inheritance here and now, and in the future, my heart sings. Eternity feels close. My REAL home, the home my nesting heart is longing for, is with Him in heaven. So each day, I have to remind this heart so prone to wander, to, as Jonathan Edwards said, “Stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” When I lose perspective, I find myself feeling overwhelmed and anxious, but when I turn my eyes on my dear Heavenly Father, His Son, and His Word, my soul is strengthened.

As I meditate on His Words, my soul is refreshed…

Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26,27

And as He strengthens me, He has begun to fill my heart with love for our next earthly home….

A little country in the east of Africa, and Lord-willing our sojourning family will land there in February. To go again.To begin again. To fall in love again. To feel uncomfortable again. To be driven to our knees in sweet surrender all over again.

The country called Uganda will be our new address. But our HOME is with HIM. Amen.

Living Slow

I love hanging up the laundry.  I love answering the question, “Can we read one more story?” with a resounding yes. I love feeling excitement instead of stress when I hear my squeaky gate open announcing a visitor. I love taking time to steep myself in His Word throughout the day. I love stopping to smell the roses {literally! My roses smell amazing.}. I love having the time to spend visiting a new friend at the hospital. I love making bread. I love sipping coffee. I love laughing as I sit and watch all the neighborhood boys join in a game of soccer in my front yard.

I love living slow. I love living deep instead of fast. I love finding God in all of these moments in my day.

Some people manage to do all these things AND do an amazing job at blogging. Apparently I am not one of those people. I love blogging, but I also love not blogging. How is that for confusing? 

I am spending time figuring out how to do life well as I have come back to Indonesia after a time of rest in the US. I am figuring out who I am and what I am about.

Just thought I’d let you know.

If you are in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by. I will be excited to hear the gate open. You can smell the roses on your way in, join in the soccer game, and be sure to grab a piece of bread. Come on out back, I’ll be hanging up the laundry. We can sit and sip some coffee and chat.

For now I am going to be quiet. But not forever. 

When You Feel Like You’ve Failed

 This is my story, my before Indonesia story. It brings tears in the telling, and the pain still rings true today. But rather than a story of failure and depression, it is a story of God’s faithfulness and the hope that is found in Him.

It begins in high school. Every summer I worked in the Alaskan “bush” at a Bible camp. I lived and breathed Alaska. I ate up all of the showerless days, canoe rides, fishing, and endless long talks about God with searching children and teens. During college, I continued to go to Alaska in the summers because my heart was forever intertwined with its beautiful people.

A few years later, Dave and I met, fell in love, and married. He finished flight training at Moody Aviation, and fresh out of college, the Lord called us to Alaska.

We raised support in record time and set off to the Alaskan bush, with a bouncing baby boy, Britton, not yet one year old.

The first few months of life in the Alaskan bush were wonderful. The little village, above the Arctic Circle, was full of beautiful native people who became fast friends . . . especially the kids and teens.  Living in a small 380 square foot cabin, with no running water and hunting our own food didn’t phase me. I loved the adventure of it all.

And then. And then. Winter came {in August} and the days became shorter and melded into non-existent, with the sun grazing the horizon at noon. The temperatures continued to drop, and drop, and drop, until they settled in around negative fifty degrees on most days, with negative seventy on the coldest days.

As the snow swirled outside our thin plywood walls, the perfect storm began to swirl in my heart and soul.

The teens and children began to open up, to share, and it broke my heart.  I was totally unprepared for the reality these children shared with me, the reality they faced in their lives on a daily basis.  Our home became a refuge for children when their parents were drinking, or worse, and I began to take on each and every one’s pain.  Words like sexual abuse, suicide, neglect and alcohol abuse became faces, instead of just words. And I was devastated.

I desperately hung on to my little family and tried to guard young Britton while dealing with the morning sickness of a new pregnancy, Hannah.

And as the storm of depression, anxiety, and pain swirled in me, it erupted onto my relationship with Dave. Married less than three years and so young and naive, we began to take out our stress and pain on each other with angry words.

Ultimately, I felt as though I was drowning in a sea of despair with no way out.

And as I imploded, I hardly knew how to ask for help. It went from bad to worse, and, after two years, we left that dear little village in Alaska. We returned home, battered, beaten up, and what I viewed as “failures.”

I was officially done with mission work of any and ALL kind, and wanted nothing to do with the topic.  We returned to our hometown and Dave got a job in construction.

There, in the midst of “failure”, God showed up.  In so many little ways, He brought people to love on us. He brought us into a community of God lovin’ people who didn’t care how messed up and burned out I was. Over time, He restored my soul, so that this girl who never wanted to hear “missions” mentioned again was excited, even thrilled, to head overseas to an island in Indonesia we now call home. He showed me He is in control….He doesn’t need me to accomplish His work, I just get to be a part of it!

 The right circumstances, the right words from Him, to restore my soul.

He took my anger, my depression, my failure, and turned it into wisdom, experience, and hope. It took what I thought to be a colossal failure and made it into the best “boot camp” experience of my life.

If you are feeling broken, worn down, depressed today, I hope my story of brokenness can give you hope.

Remember beauty really does come from the ashes, and in God’s family, there are no failures, or better yet, there are nothing BUT failures. We are all failures. If we weren’t failures the cross would not have been needed.  But it is and we are.

So, what do you need if you are feeling broken?

1.Community. Find those people who will love on you . . . the ones who will speak truth, allow you to be broken, but also point you to the cross.

2. Christ. He died and covered ALL failings, big and small. Turn to Him with your pain and your failure.  Allow Him to carry the burden of your pain.

3. Confidence. Confidence to be a mess in front of people. Confidence in God’s plan for your life. You have no idea how God might use today’s failings in tomorrow’s triumphs. Cling to hope. If He has overcome the world, He can surely overcome your current mess.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:32-33

God is in the business of using broken, used-up people for His glory!
If you are feeling broken, I Invite you to leave a comment, anonymous or otherwise, so I might say a word of prayer for you today.

Refresh

At the beginning of this year, I wrote this post thinking over what I wanted to focus on for this year.  As I am re-evaluating at the “half-way” mark, I thought I would repost it to remind myself of my goals. 

Our family just returned from an amazing family vacation that involved a lot of swimming, eating, and reading.

The Lord knew exactly what I needed to fill my soul…quiet time alone with Him, lots of fun family time, and lots of books.  I have come back with a tan, a full heart, and I feel refreshed for the New Year.

I soaked up Sally’s thoughts in her book, Dancing with My Father, and it touched deep into my soul.  She talked about cultivating joy through a deep relationship with the Father, “Joy is established in the secret places of our heart, where we receive the love of our King and love Him back.

 So, at the risk of sounding narcissistic {my name is Joy, ya know}, my year is going to be about pursuing joy, true joy, in His presence.In Your presence there is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11 

And, as an overflow of that, this is a full picture of my hopes for this year…..

I want to…..

Cultivate and Reflect Joy

Create A Life-Giving Home

Be Here and Now

Fill My Soul With Truth, Beauty, and Goodness

Live in Grace

Make Home a Sanctuary

Rest, Enjoy, Quiet

Create a Haven

Pursue Simplicity

Savor the Moments of My Life

Embrace Serving

Worship

Enjoy Stillness

Find the Glorious in the Mundane

Perhaps these things don’t sound very radical, very world-changing, very big and flashy {especially for a missionary!}…. they aren’t.  
But I strongly believe these are the things that will radically change the world.
 
I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5

Care to join me?

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One Thing

I shared yesterday about how to be a radical, and in keeping with that, I have dedicated this summer to one thing.

What is that one thing?

Come over and join me at The Better Mom to find out, and I hope that you will make it YOUR one thing too!

Thanks for joining me here! I invite you to subscribe to Grace Full Mama here.

The Best Way to be Radical

I love the big, grand, sweeping stories.  The moments that take your breath away.  I love big radical movements, ones where the speaker calls you to the front to give something away, something big.  Ones that are inspiring, that change the course of your life in a single moment.  I cry reading books like Through Gates of Splendor or Safely Home where the people in the story make a sacrifice so great, it takes your breath away.

I also cry my eyes out over less sacrificial, but still moving moments. In an episode of the show, Little House on the Prairie, Pa gets hurt and can’t work. If the Ingalls family can’t harvest their crops, then they will have no food,  and they will die of starvation that winter. And then, just when you think all is lost, the whole town marches across the horizon to help him harvest his crop and Pa {Michael Landon} bursts into tears {which, by the way, he does in pretty much every episode}. And I am right there with him, bawling my eyes out.  

We all love story. We love feeling something deep in our soul that inspires us and incites change.  I don’t think I am much different.  And, by and large, it is so good.  I see people rising up, being inspired to change, and not settle for status quo.  Again, so, so good.  My only thought is that there are times where we as Christians get the cart before the horse, a sort of Mary versus Martha scenario.

I am wondering if we are so caught up in the surrender, the “doing big things for God” and being radical, that we are forgetting to spend time with Him? Am I? Michael Horton in his book, Christless Christianity says this, “We can lose Christ by distraction as easily as by denial. ‘Christless Christianity’ can happen through addition as well as subtraction.”

And, if we are forgetting to know and love God first, what does all the “good works” really mean? Aren’t we just a bunch of good people, “doing” social justice, and forgetting the thing that is most important of all? Are we seeking Him? According to the Westminster Catechism in answer to the question,What is the chief end of man? the answer is, To glorify God and enjoy Him forever, or as John Piper puts it, “To glorify God by enjoying Him forever.

I am convicted more and more that the most radical thing that you and I can do is to spend time with Him, at His feet, in His Word, in prayer, and in worship.  These things are unseen but have a huge ripple effect into the rest of  life.  

I want to remember this: “I am not primarily a worker for God; I am first and foremost a lover of God.  This is who I am.” -Linda Dillow, Satisfy My Thirsty Soul

And, all those little, quiet moments spent on our knees turn into one big, sweeping  life that is radical.

“More than that, I count all things to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him…..” Philippians 3:8

 

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Linking up with The Better Mom, Women Living Well, and Time Warp Wife

 

 

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