A New Year: Thrive 1/30

a-new-year-thriveI love listening to K-LOVE and hearing stories of how God speaks to people through song. Whether it be words of encouragement, an answer to prayer, direction in times of need, or affirmation, I find these stories an encouraging reminder of God’s love for us.
It also reminds me of times when I felt God speaking to me in unique ways.
Having been diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), I knew conceiving a child might prove difficult, if not impossible. Even so, I had not given it much thought.
For several years, including the first three years of marriage, I was working as a substitute teacher at an elementary school. I had dropped my class off for lunch and was walking back to my classroom, when I noticed a little girl walking beside me. She looked up at me and asked if I was Caitlin’s mom.  I said no, but she kept staring at me and walking right alongside me.  So I asked her if I looked like Caitlin’s mom, and she said yeah. We both went to our respective classrooms.
I finished the day, sent my students home, cleaned my classroom, wrote notes for the returning teacher, and signed out to go home myself. As I was walking to my car, I saw this same little girl playing at the flagpole. It is noteworthy to mention she probably should not have been there. All buses had left, car riders had been picked up, and those that walked home were likely home by now. But this little girl was playing unsupervised outside the school. As I walked by her, she once again engaged me in conversation. She said to me, “If you want a baby, you should ask God for a baby. That’s what my mom did. She asked God for a baby and He gave her one.” Taken aback I responded, “Well, maybe I will do that.” With an excited matter-of-fact tone, she said, “When you get home. Yes, that is it! When you get home ask God to give you a baby. And He will!”
That day I did not ask God for a baby, I thanked Him for giving me a baby. I thanked Him for the child I had not yet conceived. I knew that He had sent this little girl to tell me a prayer I had not even prayed had already been answered. How amazing is our God that He takes the time to meet our needs, sometimes even before we ask? He meets us where we are and comforts us, encourages us, and reminds us He is in control. His timing is perfect.
Fast forward about six months and I found myself at a fertility doctor, trying to have a baby. I was praying for that child!  I was also wearing a prayer bracelet with one charm attached. The charm was a small silver box that opened to hold a hand-written prayer. I had typed my prayer on the computer using a teeny tiny font. I printed it, cut it out, and carefully rolled it up into a tiny scroll before placing it in my bracelet. I wore this piece of jewelry everyday, taking it off at night and putting it back on in the morning. I prayed through that prayer throughout the days for about six months.
One evening I was getting ready for bed and I pulled back the blankets to find this little rolled up piece of paper. “That looks like my prayer,” I thought. I unrolled it to find it was in fact the prayer that was suppose to be in my charm. I must have slept in my bracelet that night and somehow, my prayer fell out of my bracelet. This might not have seemed strange except that the box on this bracelet was not easy to open. I often had to use my thumb nail to forcibly flick the latch open. So while I was sleeping, this hard to open bracelet “accidentally” opened, my prayer fell out, and the box re-latched itself.
Once again, God had spoken to me in a unique and personal way, not through a child, but through a piece of jewelry. I knew at that moment God was telling me, “This prayer has been answered.” I put that little piece of paper in my jewelry box and said another prayer, asking for a healthy, happy baby. I was in fact pregnant!
Before, it was ever confirmed by a doctor, my Heavenly Father comforted and reassured me that my prayers had been heard.
How amazing is our God that when we pray He always hears us!
How amazing that the creator of the universe takes the time to speak to us!
Be encouraged. He hears your prayers, He listens, and He always answers them…in His perfect timing and in His perfect way.
Lynda Martinson
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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!