New Year: Thrive (Day Twenty-Five)

a-new-year-thriveRecently the soundtrack from “The Greatest Showman” has been the only music playing in my house. In fact, as soon as we left the movie theater over Christmas Break, one of my kiddos pulled up the album on Spotify and “Project Learn All the Songs” commenced.

I have a tendency to completely immerse myself in an album if I am drawn in and love the music. Sometimes my family grows weary of hearing the same songs over and over and over again, but that’s how the music seeps down into the marrow of my bones. I turn the lyrics over slowly and repetitively on my tongue like a piece of ice on a hot summer day. The music melts in and becomes a part of me.

Most of our memories are wrapped up in some kind of sensory marker. If we see a picture, smell certain food, or go to a certain place, we can uncannily retrieve a memory attached to the sense engaged.

Music is the marker of my life and my life is full of musical Ebenezers (1 Samuel 7:12).

I remember the music from times of triumph and times of defeat.

I remember the music from times of joy and times of sadness.

I remember the music from times of love and times of heartbreak.

Just hearing certain music sets off a chain reaction of emotional memory and usually awakens a beautifully satisfying spiritual pilgrimage to past experiences.

I am currently going through the study, “Uninvited” by Lysa Terkeurst, a study I highly encourage you to go through!! Why? Unpack this statement, one of many nuggets of wisdom to take hold of memorize from the book:

“The mind feasts on what it focuses on. What consumes my thinking will be the making or the breaking of my identity.”

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How true is this?! I want to feast on the commands of God designed to bring me fullness of life and fullness of joy.

Knowing how I’m wired means 2018 is a year I am planning to immerse myself in songs that speak of God’s principles. And this spiritual discipline isn’t only for musicians. It’s biblical baby.

May the words of Psalm 119:54 ring true for ALL of us in 2018 as we journey on, singing songs along the way:

Thy statutes are my songs
In the house of my pilgrimage.”

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Only by songs of grace,

Sara Danielle

Pastor’s Wife & Director of Thrive Women’s Ministry

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It Isn’t Too Late

easter picPlease share this post. Someone needs to hear it isn’t too late.

I did not plan on posting today, but during my run God would not let go of me until I wrote this down.

Tomorrow is a colossal celebration. I have planned our menu, the kids’ meaningful gifts, and ultimately planned to protect our family time. Why? Well I can tell you it isn’t so my children can gorge themselves on candy from an Easter basket. I want my children to know this Sunday is different than all other Sundays. I need to be reminded this Sunday is different than all other Sundays. While every Sunday we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the week, tomorrow is a monumental Resurrection Sunday.

Over the course of the last few weeks, several fellow believers have suggested their family does not historically celebrate Easter as they do Christmas. “I mean, we celebrate, but it isn’t as big a holiday.” I wish I was shocked. The truth is the influence of culture is an obnoxious indoctrination, commonly leveraged undetected.

Without a doubt, we would not have a Saviour without His birth. However, without the resurrection, we don’t have Christianity! My faith in my future resurrection and eternal life is based on the resurrection of Christ.

Indeed, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

His resurrection means what I do now matters! It means my past, present, and future relationships matter for eternity (Galatians 6:7-8).

Maybe if we spent the weeks and months in between Christmas and Easter reflecting on the cycle of human rebellion and God’s grace that has existed since the garden of Eden, then just maybe Good Friday and The Resurrection Sunday would be “as big a holiday.”

I know who I am without Christ. I know He is ALL I have to boast in (Romans 15:17; Galatians 6:14; Philippians 3:3). Brothers and sisters, Christ’s resurrection is my only hope. If He had merely been born only to die on a cross, my life would be meaningless.

But His death was just the beginning. We have cause to celebrate tomorrow!

At Christmas we make less of the North Pole and more of the Manger. For the love of Christ, tomorrow make less of the Bunny and more of the Empty Tomb! It isn’t too late!

 

Christ is risen from the dead!

Trampling over death by death!

Come awake! Come awake!

Come and rise up from the grave!

(from “Christ Is Risen” by Matt Maher)

 

Advent Book Box – Top Christmas Book Picks

Our Advent Book Box

A tradition began years ago as my oldest daughter (then 3) and I hung our Advent Calendar. We filled each pocket with a piece of candy, as was the custom I grew up with, but also added little slips of paper. Each slip of paper had the name of a Christmas book we would read, and all books were nestled under in a Christmas box under our tree. Those first few years, I simply used Christmas books I had from my childhood or books given to my daughter. However, it was time to beef up our Christmas Book Box! I found several lists already floating around, but quickly realized many were specific to one particular faith or another. So I have created a list (in no particular order) for our family, focusing on the Savior’s birth and Christmas traditions. You will notice there are only 22 titles, and that is because the last few days leading up to Christmas Eve, we spend our treasured time reading the true story of Christ’s birth from the Scriptures. Also, several books might require more than one night to complete the reading depending on your children’s ages (i.e. A Christmas Carol). If you know of any other great titles, feel free to comment below and share! Each book title is linked to Amazon, the supplier of my book addiction. Enjoy!

1. The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
A dear friend gave this book to my family several Christmas’ ago, and it immediately held a special place in our hearts. Our hearts are encouraged as a little crippled lamb, Joshua, has his prayers amazingly answered. It speaks to God’s protection and guidance to all who feel alone. This title is a must read.

2. What Think Ye of Christmas by Ester Rasband 

This gem is striking because of the water-color illustrations. Each illustration represents one of the Christmas symbols. While simple, this book provides a rich springboard for discussing the various symbols of Christmas, all pointing to the Christ child.

3. Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer Humphrey

This cute narrative records Humphrey, one of the camels accompanying the wise men, as he adventurously journeys to Bethlehem. I love how this book entertains my littles while keeping Christ at the center.

4. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein 

The Giving Tree is an unforgettable, classic story of a boy who learns the gift of giving. So timely a parable, and a joy for all ages.

5. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston Year of Perfect Christmas Tree

This is a new title in our box this year and I am excited about reading it with my children. It is a story about Ruthie, a young girl who, while waiting for her father to return from war, must help her mother to provide the Christmas Tree for their church. In return, children see the sacrificial love of a mother as she improvises and works hard to prepare Ruthie a needed angel costume for the church pageant. I won’t summarize the ending because it is too good to spoil! Nevertheless, the picture of courage and family unity is beautiful in this sweet book.

6. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski 

This book needs no introduction. It is a true Christmas classic. A tale of a woodcarver, this story is an enchanting picture of loss, life, and restoration. We usually watch the movie after reading the book!

7. Christmas From Heaven as read by Tom BrokawChristmas From Heaven

This is another new title for our family this year. As the title suggests, it is the true story of the Berlin Candy Bomber, a pilot who brought hope to a war-ravaged land. I highly suggest watching the accompanying DVD, a captivating retelling by acclaimed journalist, Tom Brokaw, and accompanied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Stunning performance and memorable work of art.

8. Where, Oh Where, Is Santa Claus by Lisa Wheeler 

This cute tale is simply entertaining! One of my girls was given this book at one of their early Christmas’ and is therefore more nostalgic for us than anything else!

9. Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend by Julie Stiegemeyer 

While this book has taken artistic liberties in retelling the legend concerning the historical Nicholas, a very generous Christian bishop, our family has enjoyed it nonetheless! That God proved His love for us through His Son is an undeniable current throughout this treasure. Nicholas’ sacrificial giving helps to remind us that our giving is an act of worship, a response to the immense blessings God showers upon us.

10. White Christmas by Irving Berlin 

My children absolutely love this book. Its illustrations are rich and inspiring, and we can’t help but sing our way through!

11. The Berenstain Bears’ Christmas Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain 

I am honestly not sure how this book ended up under my roof. However, for several years we have enjoyed this cute tale of searching for the perfect Christmas tree, only to realize not cutting it down would save many of the Berenstain’s Bear Country friends. This book is an easy read, a light alternative to some of the more weighty titles in our box!

12. Christmas Oranges retold by Linda Bethers 

This short story captures the essence of Christmas and the importance of kindness and thoughtfulness above any other gift. Rose is an orphan who reminds us all the true meaning of Christmas. I read where some moms put oranges in the bottom of their children’s stockings every year to remind them of this tale. A neat idea and one I might steal this year!

13. I have two versions of the following title and can’t choose – we read them both and enjoy the illustrative beauty in each!

The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore 

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The Night Before Christmas by Clement Moore 

This book is another that needs no summary! Inevitably, this poem is read multiple times in my home throughout the season.

14. The Carpenter’s Gift by David Rubel 

The Carpenter’s Gift is a relatively new book (2011), depicting New York City during the Depression. The story tells of a father and son selling Christmas trees, and through a pay-it-forward type plot, eventually links the Rockefeller Tree and Habitat for Humanity. This is a new treasure in our box this year!

15. The Light of Christmas by Richard Paul Evans 

This is a beautiful fable of a young Alexander’s charitable act, and how he learns more important than what you have to give, is how you give of yourself. Rich reminder for the season that we all have something to give.

16. The Gift of the Christmas Cookie: Sharing the Meaning of Jesus’ Birth by Dandi Daley Mackall 

We love our Christmas Cookies. This beautifully illustrated tale narrates the legend of the Christmas Cookie and encourages my kiddos (and their mom), to make double batches to give away.

17. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck 

This book was originally published in 1955, but is the last new title for our box on my list! It is a captivating story of a young boy and his quest to find the perfect gift. What he finds will encourage any child to love as he is gifted.

18. The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg 

The Legend of the Candy Cane is a timeless tale of the mystery and miracle of Christmas. Of course, we drag out candy canes as we read this one! Meaningful symbolism and a title that will likely remain in our box for years.

19. The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne 

Similar to The Legend of the Candy Cane, this story recaptures the meaning behind the classic Christmas symbol. The depth of God’s love rings clear as children learn of the legend.

20. Jingle Bells by Iza Trapani 

One of my kids bought this book through a book sale at school and we decided it was a keeper for our box. We follow children as they ride around the world, experiencing traditions in Mexico, Sweden, the Philippines, Poland, Italy, Kenya, and the United States. And of course the music and lyrics are included!

21. The Twelve Days of Christmas by Hilary Knight

(this one is out of print, but other beautifully illustrated versions of this sing-song book are available!) 

The last of our sing-song titles, I do not think we have ever read this book in spoken voice. “Reading” this book usually involves crazy dancing in the living room, having silly fun with this timely and classic Christmas song. If any children stay seated during the song, they usually try to find and count each item in the verse. Great way to expose your children to Christmas musical classics!

22. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

This version is a picture book of Dicken’s classic tale. We usually divide this book into a two-night reading due to its length. Ebeneezer Scrooge transcends culture to keep the spirit of Christmas true at its core. We have had several different books with this title through the years, some easier to read than others. In fact, the last few years we read this story from a pop-up book! This selection is new to our box, while the story is not. I cannot ever see this classic missing from our pile as it is a family favorite!

Tips for Treasuring the Season: Celebrate Christmas With People, Not In Spite Of Them! (8)

A former church member once confessed she wished she loved people as much as I do. True to sanctification’s form, a short time later Jared and I went through a really rough period in our ministry and I realized how quickly love potion wears off. Some people are gifted in relational leadership. By that I mean they are just “good with people.” Others of us work hard in our relationships to stay genuine, vulnerable, honest, and loving. As I evaluate myself and my “wake”, as Dr. Henry Cloud describes our influence on those around us[1], I remember seasons I loved well and seasons I did not bear God’s image well to others. The trigger creating a loveless vacuum for me personally, is undoubtedly stress. When I become overwhelmed, I either lash out at those closest to me or completely withdraw. I justify my social withdrawal as protecting myself from ministerally “faking it.” I know my past efforts to “fake it” do not sell, as I usually wear on my face the overflow of my heart.

The bottom line:  we are called to love. In Genesis 1:26, Moses reminds the newly freed Israelites that God made His people in His image, calling them to represent Him. Psalm 145:9 tells us God has compassion on all He made, and 1 John 3 calls all believers to be known by Christ-like love. When we realize the height, depth, and width of God’s love for us, in spite of our unfaithfulness and idolatry, we cannot help but love others as we have been loved. And if you, like me, find the holiday season to be at times overwhelming and stressful, my tendency is to pull back and withdraw (ironically during a season when spreading the gospel takes very little effort)!  During these times of snowballing responsibilities, I rely heavily on the Holy Spirit’s reminder of God’s unfathomable love for me, so I may glorify Christ in my love for others.

Many families struggle during the Christmas season due to past, present, and potentially future conflicts amongst family members. Sometimes, we are tempted to withdraw and take the easier road when it comes to time spent with the ones we have the most difficulty loving. In our years of ministry, I have heard a few stories, shared tears with women as they anxiously anticipated Christmas family fallouts, and experienced a few in my own family. If you find yourself in that place this year, anxious and possibly dreading what is coming, I pray Christ’s love would propel you to a bird’s eye perspective. This perspective will enable you to see the eternal value in staying the course, love those He has connected you to, and find fulfillment and peace in the love He has for you. I pray Christmas this year is celebrated with people, not in spite of them. Christ’s love is sufficient!

Patrick Christmas 2007

Burt Family 2012

I leave you with a link and lyrics to a song I hope will be an encouragement to you this year as you pray over and plan for the season.

“By Our Love” by Christy Nockels

Brothers, let us come together

Walking in the Spirit, there’s much to be done…
We will come reaching, out from our comforts
And they will know us by our love…

Sisters, we were made for kindness
We can pierce the darkness as He shines through us…
We will come reaching, with a song of healing…
And they will know us by our love!

The time is now
Come Church arise…
Love with His hands
See with His eyes…
Bind it around you,
Let it never leave you,
And they will know us by our love…

Song on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hNnq4RjW3w


[1] Henry Cloud, Integrity : The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality (New York: Collins, 2006).

Tips for Treasuring the Season: Outreach at Christmas? (7)

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Jacob as baby Jesus, 2012

I have been looking forward to this tip from the outset! I am the most passionate about the gospel and the manner in which it can be fleshed out at Christmas. Honestly, I feel slightly silly writing a blog about ways to share the gospel at Christmas. I daresay Christ cannot be made more maximally obvious than in His birth. However, our cultural influences have unquestionably diminished the purpose for the celebration. I am greatly saddened by reading blogs written by believers, satirically and quite sarcastically pushing back against the bloggers writing to encourage awareness of consumerist influences dominating the season. The dichotomy they try to create is celebration, cheer, happiness vs. dogmatic religious piety. I think they are simply missing the point. Christmas is a celebration! Moreover, believers are celebrating the end to the quest for eternal life! We have found it in Jesus Christ!! Christians carve out a season to: 1) remember the birth of the Savior; 2) discuss and contemplate the generation we have been placed for His glory; 3) and look forward with anticipate and HOPE for His return! The crescendo of the gospel message intentionally begins now, climaxing at the resurrection on Easter. Believers possess great responsibility and great opportunity to spread the gospel during Christmas. In previous tips, I have already shared a few ways we start the music in our home. We strive to keep Christ central in our conversation through the weekly lighting of the Advent candles, books we daily read that are chosen from our Advent Calendar, etc. My Christmas cards this year will highlight the gospel message above boasting of our family’s successes through the year. Our celebratory traditions are balanced to include age-appropriate events that present the gospel (i.e. A Journey Through Bethlehem, watching The Nativity). My home will be decorated to proclaim Christ’s birth, hopefully sparking rich conversations with our non-believing guests through the season. My heart beats faster just thinking of all the opportunities! We have much to celebrate! I encourage you to fix a cup of coffee or cocoa, grab your calendar, and brainstorm ways you and your family can proclaim and herald the good news we have to share this season. Merry Christmas!

P.S. – I downloaded The Expected One Advent Guide and have been browsing it this past week. I am completely in love with it, theologically and practically! A plus- it is free until December 1st! It contains great resources for daily readings, music for the season, and ideas for family worship. Hope you enjoy!

https://itunes.apple.com/US/app/id736051191?mt=8

Tips for Treasuring the Season: Tradition or Rut? (5)

In thinking about this tip, we first must establish the differences between habits and traditions. For example, my family knows we take our shoes off at the back door before coming in the house. My family also anticipates reading the Christmas story on Christmas Eve because it is central to our family celebrations. One of these I consider to be a habit and one a tradition. What is the distinguishing factor? Its purpose. God set precedence for our traditions in the Scriptures. In setting the foundation for Passover, God made sure the Israelites understood the night of watching is “to the Lord” (cf. Exodus 12:42). God also made sure traditions were set in place to teach beliefs and worldview from one generation to another. Traditions rooted in Scripture create times to intentionally reach back into our history, remember, reset, and renew. I encourage you to make a list of “traditions” your family has participated in during past seasons. Jot out to the side their purposes. It may be that one of the traditions your family has participated in is just simply fun! The activity may be an event the entire family looks forward to for camaraderie, family unity, and laughter. Did you list any traditions promoting a decisive spiritual time of family reflection on the season and Christ? Balance is key and purpose is essential. The year I was pregnant with our first daughter, now 8, I remember pondering during the Christmas season what traditions I hoped to establish after her birth. I began writing them down on index cards. Eventually I put them in a file box, now divided by the month, so I can have easy access to our traditions.

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As our family has grown, I have modified a few and quite honestly, discarded the traditions that became ruts. Some of our early traditions took much time, and time is a hot commodity in my home! So while our traditions are treasured, don’t be afraid to modify or completely overhaul it. I have listed below some of our advent traditions. Feel free to share some of your family’s traditions so we can steal them! I love the wisdom in Socrates’ quote: “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for.”

Christmas Manger Play, 2012

Christmas Manger Play, 2012

Happy Birthday Jesus, 2011

Happy Birthday Jesus, 2011

Gumpy (Frank Teat) and Abigail, 2010

Gumpy (Frank Teat) and Abigail, 2010

  1. Advent Calendar: Each pocket contains a slip of paper with a different Christmas book. Stored on our fireplace hearth is a large box full of books that only appear during the Season.
  2. Advent Candle and corresponding Family Advent Readings at dinnertime.
  3. Trip to “Journey Through Bethlehem,” an interactive campground turned historical Bethlehem city in Huntsville, TX. The city is full of opportunities to weave baskets, make bricks, mock temple service, food tasting, Jewish wedding dancing, and of course, a live nativity.
  4. Cookie Baking Day paired with Gift Giving (discussed in Tip for Treasuring the Season: Rewrap Gift Giving).
  5. Christmas Story Reading on Christmas Eve.
  6. Family Movie Night: The Nativity.
  7. Happy Birthday Jesus cake.
  8. Fisher Price Little People Christmas manger set playtime.

Tips for Treasuring the Season: Christmas Food Junkie (4)

Making "Tea"(t) Cakes, 2010 (Elizabeth)

Making “Tea”(t) Cakes, 2010 (Elizabeth)

Making "Tea"(t) Cakes, 2010 (Abigail)

Making “Tea”(t) Cakes, 2010 (Abigail)

Next to Thanksgiving, my guess is grocery food chains profit the most during Christmas! From candies, fudge, and cookies to traditional casseroles, palettes of all pleasures are sure to be satisfied by the tastes of Christmas. My family knows there are certain foods we enjoy only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we anticipate the seasons to enjoy those foods. If the matriarchs in my family decided to forgo the gumbo for our family Christmas dinner, a mutiny would be inevitable. So while you may see something on Pinterest or on The Food Network that engages your Christmas creativity, you might want to make sure the traditional staples are still on the menu! Why do our Christmas cuisine traditions matter? You might be surprised. In the fascinating book, “Practicing Hospitality: The Joy of Serving Others,” Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock present several influences of family traditions. Among their list are:  1) traditions foster stability and security by establishing routines and 2) traditions emphasize God’s sovereign work, and I would add multi-generational thread, in our families.[1]

The degree and complexity of Christmas cooking will look different as dictated by seasons of life. For me, knee-deep in the child-raising season, my Christmas hospitality centers on my immediate family, lest I discredit my witness. You read that correctly. Proverbs 31:27 clearly states a wise woman will look well to the ways of her own household. I do not want to be a Christian event planner; I want to embrace biblical principles of hospitality. And if hospitality is defined as extending generosity and kindness to strangers[2], my witness would be discredited if I neglected generosity and kindness to my own family.  How and why we as women manage and provide for our homes should separate us as believers. My husband is crucial in filtering through what I ideally would like our Christmas dinners to look like and what realistically can happen in my season of life. If you read my first tip for Treasuring the Season, you’ll remember that the gap between expectations and reality is usually filled with anger and frustration. Therefore, wisely enlist someone as your sounding board to keep those two in balance.

Ultimately, the goal of spending hours in the kitchen around Christmastime is to encourage your family to gather around the table in fellowship. When all is said and done, life around the table enhances God’s gift of relationship.[3] If you are using the Christmas Countdown resources to help in planning for Christmas this year[4], then next week while you are planning out your holiday meals and possibly even doubling Thanksgiving recipes to freeze for Christmas dinners, I pray God will grant you excitement and anticipation for what the food will bring, fellowship with each other and with Christ! Here’s to Christmas food junkies on mission!


[1] Pat Ennis and Lisa Tatlock, Practicing Hospitality : The Joy of Serving Others (Wheaton, Ill.: Good News Publishers, 2007), 93.

[2] Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, Proverbs 12:14, Matthew 10:42, Hebrews 6:10.

[3] Joanne Thompson, Table Life : Savoring the Hospitality of Jesus in Your Home (Edina, MN: Beavers Pond Press, 2011), 15.