Beauty in Weakness

After months of slacking off on exercise, I was determined to start this week out right. To get up early and exercise, shower, and read before the kids got up. At six o’clock Monday morning I was up, but was glued to the bathroom, sick with a stomach bug.

I was going to homeschool with enthusiasm, because I want to finish the school year strong. We didn’t crack open a single book. Instead the kids played with each other and entertained Edmund while I laid and watched.

Beauty-in-weakness

I was actually looking forward to cleaning after the weekend, because the twenty minute cleaning challenge has been so invigorating. Instead we munched on crackers and the carpet gathered a thick layer of crumbs. But not just crumbs, oh no! In their sweet efforts to entertain Ned, the kids turned the house upside down. Toys and cars and books and Tupperware littered every square inch of the living room and spilled over into the kitchen and school room.

I was going to catch up on the ironing for Joshua, but instead he stayed home late to care for me, brought home dinner after work, and conquered the messes the day created with a tenderness that must have rubbed off on the kids.

There was so much I had planned for my Monday, and not a single bit of it got done. But I have rarely felt as blessed as I did laying there on the couch. I want to teach my children to serve others cheerfully, I just don’t want to be the one they are serving. I’m Mom, after all. I’m the one who is supposed to care for them. But the tender enthusiasm they poured into serving me made my heart melt.

They brought me crackers and water and blankets, entertained Ned, and played quietly together. At lunchtime, Rose set up a picnic on the kitchen floor, spread butter on bread, and read a Fancy Nancy story aloud while the kids ate.

Once I’d laid Ned down for a nap, Rose said with a smile, “You go take a nap too. I’ll read a story to Meg and tuck her in.” I gratefully crept up the stairs, and sank under the covers. When I finally woke up, the three oldest exclaimed, “Don’t come downstairs until we say you can. We have a surprise for you.”

Part of me really hoped the surprise was that they cleaned up all of their own accord and the floor was visible again. But even though I love a tidy home, I pushed the thought aside because I knew that whatever the surprise was, it was a heartfelt token of their love for me.

Minutes ticked by as snippets of their frantic preparation drifted up the stairs. Finally, the surprise was ready. They led me down the stairs with my eyes closed. When I opened my eyes, three glowing faces stared up at me.

A superman cape was taped across the kitchen entry. Inside, they’d set up an assembly. Rose read a short speech (the main point of which was “we love you and hope you feel better soon!”) and then they pulled out presents: Will had made a paper picture puzzle. Meg drew a rainbow. Rose had a sweet note. And they all had hugs and kisses.

By the time I inched up the stairs to bed at night, my heart was overcome with blessing and my mind was mulling over the day. So often I think that in order to have a happy home, I need to be strong and busy all day. Monday I was neither strong nor busy. But when sickness laid me out, the children responded to my weakness with a tenderness and love that astounded and challenged me.

I tend to think that the house needs to be (mostly) tidy in order for there to be any hope of a peaceful home. I’m not sure such a messy home has ever greeted Josh after work, but despite the mess, we were at peace. Sometimes love (especially the love of four little kids) is messy. But love creates peace in the midst of a mess.

Thankfully, the stomach bug was short-lived and by Tuesday I was able to take the stairs two at a time again instead of creeping up them like a snail. (Which was a good thing since I wasn’t the last to get sick!) But I don’t want to forget to imitate the tenderness of my children, learn to see the love beyond the mess, and remember that even though we should aspire to diligence, sometimes the love of Jesus shines most clearly through our weakness.

Year-End Child’s Interview

Every once in a while, I think to pull out my phone and capture a hilarious or tender moment on video. I don’t do it nearly often enough though.

As I was thinking about this and wondering what memories my children would really love to look back on someday, I had an idea. Why not end each year with an interview of sorts. Don’t you think it would be fun to look back and see what your five-year-old self wanted to be when you grew up or what your absolute favorite movie was at the ripe old age of seven?

I do. So I’ve put together a year-end interview for my children. Each year as they grow, I plan to repeat the interview and when they’re all grown up, give them the collection of their growing-up interviews.

Capture fun glimpses of your child's growing up years on video with a year end interview.

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Year-End Child’s Interview

How old are you?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What is your favorite Bible verse? (Will you recite it for me?)

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite food?

What is your favorite book?

What is your favorite movie?

What is your favorite poem? (Will you recite it for me?)

What was the funniest thing that happened to you this year?

What is your best memory from this year?

What is your favorite song? (Will you sing it for me?)

If you could pick just one fun thing to do this next year, what would it be?

Create Your Own Interview

If you, like me, want to capture your children’s growing up years on video, but don’t remember to as often as you like, won’t you join me in yearly kid “interviews”? I just know my kids will love to look back on them someday… and so will I.

Keeping Sight of the Big Picture

Brown shoes. I couldn’t get my mind off the brown shoes and pink-trimmed socks that clashed terribly with the adorable red, green, and black Christmas dress Meg was wearing.

An annoyed shudder passed down my spine as I tried to shake the thought of her shoes from my mind and focus on the words of the Christmas hymn we were singing. “O come let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him…” 

After a whirlwind last few days, I had frantically rummaged through travel bags and under piles trying to find her cute black shoes before heading out the door for church. All to no avail. I remembered on the way to our Christmas service that I had taken the shoes to grandparents’ house and forgotten them there. Grrrr.

It's so ridiculously easy to lose sight of the big picture in the many details that crowd our minds. Keep the big picture in view! Again, I tried shaking the thought of her clashing shoes from my mind. Did she really have to get up on stage in such an outfit? And stand in front? Maybe I could sneak away and buy her some shoes that actually matched her outfit before the kids’ performance. “O come let us adore Him, Christ the LORD!” the chorus repeated.  

My mind struggled between annoyed thoughts of Meg’s brown shoes and actually paying attention to the words of the hymns and sermon. Then the complete silliness of my obsession hit me in the face.

Here I was fretting because my three-year-old’s cute brown shoes didn’t match her outfit while hearing the incredible story of God becoming man. Not in a beautiful palace, but in a dirty, noisy manger. His tiny feet were wrapped in swaddling rags, and I was annoyed that I couldn’t find the right pair of Meg’s dress shoes.

So often and so quickly I lose sight of the big picture of God’s grand story as I wallow in annoyance over something as silly as brown shoes.

“…. but Mary treasured these things in her heart…” I want to be like Mary and treasure the life of Jesus. I want to keep my eyes on things above, even when my 3-year-old can’t find shoes to match her outfit.

Christmas Handprint Art

Turn handprints into an adorable Christmas reindeer!

If I did crafty projects more often I would A.) get faster, B.) be more realistic about how long the craft would take, or C.) both. Since the crafting bug only hits a few times per year, I guess I’ll continue to enjoy the process even though it is always longer and messier than I expected.

This time I thought the time and mess was worth it though. I loved getting to paint my children’s little hands or feet (though it made me realize just how fast they are growing. It’s crazy how the time flies!)

This Christmasy project would make a fun and simply DIY present for grandparents or great-grandparents.

Make darling DIY Christmas handprint art for grandparents or great-grandparents to enjoy.

Inspiration: Christmas tree, Jesus in the manger, snowman, reindeer/reindeer

Christmas Handprint Art

Supplies you’ll need:

  • Chipboard
  • Finger paints
  • Brushes
  • Hole punch
  • Ribbon
  • Little hands or feet

Make an adorable Christmas-themed wall-hanging with your children's handprints (or footprints!). Perfect DIY gift for grandparents.

Christmas Handprint Art Instructions

  1. Cut chipboard into 5×7 pieces. This is totally the hardest part. I made a line with a ruler then carefully cut along it with a sharp knife. Once it was in smaller pieces, I was able to trim it up in my paper cutter.
  2. Let your kids choose what design they want to make.
  3. Paint their hand (or foot) and press onto the chipboard. This is totally the funnest part!
  4. Add eyes, noses, hats, or other touches.
  5. Hole punch the corners of the chipboard
  6. Run ribbon through the holes.
  7. Sign and enjoy!

Do you do crafts very often? (Have you EVER done one that took less time than you expected?)

Ideas to Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas (without going crazy)

Looking for memorable ways to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, without wearing yourself thin? Here are a few simple ideas.

God became Man to redeem mankind. It’s a simply staggering fact. It’s such an important part of our faith, we have chosen to celebrate Christmas for 12 days.

That decision relieves a lot of the pressure I used to feel from trying to cram so much into such a short time. It also means thinking of ideas to celebrate for 12 whole days, without driving this minimalist Mama crazy.

If you’d like to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, but find the thought overwhelming, here are few ideas to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas simply. 

On each of the days of Christmas, the children have a surprise in their stocking. It isn’t always a gift. Sometimes it’s a certificate for a family activity. Sometimes it’s a note letting them know we’re hosting friends. Sometimes it’s a group game or gift. Sometimes it’s an opportunity to serve others together.

Here’s a peak at my plans for this year. (Assuming, of course, that I don’t come down with a terrible bug on New Years!)

Simple Ideas to Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas

  • Day 1: Celebrate with extended family.
  • Day 2: Make a Christmas-themed craft together.
  • Day 3: Buy a new game for the family. Play it together while eating homemade caramel corn (without corn syrup).
  • Day 4: Make cookies and bring it to someone we wanted to visit before Christmas, but couldn’t find time to.
  • Day 5: Give everyone a new book. (These are our favorite storybooks.) Read them aloud.
  • Day 6: Host a movie night of an old family favorite, like Follow Me Boys.
  • Day 7: Go bowling as a family.
  • Day 8: Sponsor a gift for children in need.
  • Day 9: Let them pick a family to invite over for dinner. Make it a feast.
  • Day 10: Give them passes for a favorite place (zoo, museum, amusement park, etc.)
  • Day 11: Go to the theater and watch a family movie together.
  • Day 12: (Twelfth Night) Celebrate Jesus being manifested to the Gentiles by hosting an internationally-themed potluck. Have each friend bring a favorite ethnic dish, dress up (if they want) and play fun ethnic music while we feast together. (If I’m feeling really ambitious, put on a skit of the wise men worshipping Christ.)

Looking for simple ways to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas? Here's how I keep it simple but memorable.

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As you can see, making the 12 days of Christmas a memorable occasion for your children doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Use these simple ideas to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas while relaxing and enjoying the holiday.

3 Reasons We Celebrate 12 Days of Christmas

For Christians, Christmas is a huge deal. That's one reason why we take 12 whole days to celebrate it.

Did you ever wake up the morning after Christmas as a child totally dejected that the celebration was over already? You spent weeks (or even months) anticipating the big day, and it was over in just a few hours. It almost seemed wrong. Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas extends the joy for almost two weeks.

For Christians, Christmas is a huge deal. We’re celebrating the staggering fact that God became a man.

Here are three reasons we celebrate the 12 days of Christmas.

Celebrating 12 Days of Christmas gives the holiday its proper weight.

The Israelites spent eight whole days celebrating Passover. They spent eight whole days celebrating the Feast of Booths.

The truth that God became Man to redeem mankind is even more incredible than Passover. Medieval Christians thought so, and so they reasoned that we should celebrate Christmas even longer than Passover was celebrated.

I think they got this right. That’s one reason why we’re celebrating the 12 days of Christmas.Celebrating 12 Days of Christmas lets us bask in the whole story

Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas also allows up to bask in the whole story.

While it’s totally possible to enjoy the whole Christmas story during advent and Christmas day, celebrating the 12 days of Christmas allows us to highlight and rejoice in each aspect: Jesus coming as Messiah, His humble birth in a manger, the visit of the Shepherds, the worship of the wise men.

It gives us time to grieve over the death of the innocent baby boys in Bethlehem and rejoice that Jesus came to conquer death.

Celebrating 12 Days of Christmas is practical

We’ve settled the point that Christmas deserves to be celebrated BIG, but the practical result if you try to cram all the bigness into one day, is totally overwhelmed kids (and moms.)

Of all the holidays, Christmas is the most material. It celebrates God becoming a Man after all. Real tangible gifts are one way to celebrate that. But sometimes the meaning can be completely drowned in piles of wrapping paper.

Since both of our family’s live in the area, this “problem” is compounded. We celebrate Christmas Eve with my family, then head over around midnight to spend Christmas day with Joshua’s family. (Yes, our families are crazy night owls.) Both celebrations result in a staggering amount of goodies.

Trying to squeeze our own family celebration into the mix is way too insane. With 11 more days to work with, we can spread out our gifts to the children instead of having them get lost in golden glitter at the grandparents.

Also, if you want to take advantage of after-Christmas sales (or, ahem, procrastinated) celebrating for twelve days gives you the flexibility to shop after Christmas!

Ever wonder what the 12 days of Christmas were about? This is why we celebrate them.

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Celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas

Christmas deserves to be celebrated big because God became man to redeem us. Celebrating the 12 days of Christmas allows us to give it more of the celebration it deserves, bask in the whole grand story, and avoid glitter overload.

But if the thought of finding 12 gifts for each child is totally overwhelming, you’re not alone. Here are some of the simple ways we celebrate without breaking the bank (or driving this minimalist mama crazy) while making wonderful memories.

Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims’ Five Kernels of Corn

What can moldy bread, an over-crowded ship, puking passengers, and five kernels of corn teach us about Thanksgiving?

A lot.

Several years ago I picked up William Bradford’s first hand account of life in Plymouth. I couldn’t wait to read about the first Thanksgiving and expected the great Thanksgiving feast to be the theme of the book.

Instead, I read chapter after chapter of trials and tribulations as the pilgrims journeyed to the “New World” and began their new lives.

The plymouth pilgrims faced many trials. At one point the daily rations were down to five kernels of corn. But even then, they chose gratitude...

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follow me over to Little Natural Cottage to read the rest

Simple Ways to Celebrate the Lord’s Day

The Lord’s Day isn’t a day of endless rules and boredom. It also isn’t just another day to cross stuff of the to-do list. The Lord’s Day is a day for worship, for fellowship, and for rest. In short, the Lord’s Day is a day to celebrate.

Sometimes though, it’s hard to find ways to rest when you are a mom with the “job that never ends”: when kids still get hungry, when the laundry pile still keeps growing, and the dishes still get dirty.

I wish I had a magic solution for keeping the laundry pile from growing. I don’t. But these are a few simple ways that have helped me rest, celebrate the Lord’s Day, and start the new week refreshed.

Psalm 91:2 is a Psalm for the sabbath day and highlights the goodness of singing praises to our Most High God.

Worship with the saints

Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together in His name, He is in their mist. Just think what this means when millions of His redeemed people gather together in His name?

Yes, a church is a bunch of fallen sinners gathered together. But when we gather to worship together, to be washed in His Word, to eat at His table, and to “provoke one another to love and good works”, He can use it to transform our messy lives a little more into His likeness.

Make it a “sweet day”

Save special treats for Sunday or make a special dessert.

Drinking coffee regularly gives me a headache. Most days I enjoy a cup of delicious peppermint tea instead. Much as I love peppermint tea, I greatly look forward to my Sunday cup of coffee coffee-flavored cream.

Train yourself (and your children) to anticipate Sunday as a sweet day. (Thanks for encouraging me in this, Peggy!)

Enlist help with meals

Joshua recently started a lovely Sunday morning tradition of making hootenanny with the kids on Sunday morning. I get to sleep in, the kids get to spend time with him, and we all get to enjoy a delicious breakfast. It’s a win on all counts.

If your husband isn’t a fan of playing in the kitchen, maybe you could buy some fun prepared treats just to enjoy on Sundays. Or make ahead mocha muffins, smorkaka, or another delicious freezer-friendly treat.

Use paper plates & utensils

Yes. I know. Not only have I eaten whales, now I’m recommending paper plates.

It may not score me any green points, but on Sunday we use paper products all day long. Joshua finally talked me into it, and it’s been one of the best decisions all year.

Enjoy the people (and activities) you love

Spend time with extended family and friends or do something memorable after church as a family. Sing together, take a long walk together, play volleyball, eat ice cream, play in the garden, win Cataan: in short, celebrate this day.

Ignore the never-ending chores

This one is the hardest for me. I try to get the house picked up Saturday evening, but the dirty laundry and crumbs still grow faster than fruit flies.

Monday morning will come around soon enough. When possible, choose to let your chores wait.

As moms, we have a job that literally "never ends". That doesn't mean the Lord's Day isn't a time of rest for us too. Here are few simple ways to celebrate the Lord's Day.

a cedar of Lebanon (Ps. 92)

Celebrate the Lord’s Day

In our modern fast-paced culture, getting to rest, and worship, and enjoy the Lord’s day is an incredible blessing. Just as Jesus said almost 2,000 years ago, God didn’t make us for the Sabbath, He made the Sabbath for us.

These are just a few simple ways that have helped me celebrate this gift.

How do YOU celebrate the Lord’s Day? (Any magic laundry tricks to share? )

Celebrate the Lord’s Day

Life in the Little House on the Prairie held a sweet charm for me as a girl. I wished I could live out on the prairie with Mary and Laura in a little log cabin, pick wild berries along the creek bed, and run through unending prairie … until Laura described their Sundays.

Sundays were miserable, confining, and seemed to drag on for an eternity.

Thankfully, celebrating the Lord’s Day does not require intense boredom and stiff shoes. God could have sung the world into existence in a moment. He could have chosen to create it slowly over the course of millions of years.

Instead, he chose to speak it into existence over the course of a week as a pattern for us, His image-bearers.

The Lord's Day: a day of worship, rest, and gladness

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Unlike many ancient cultures, where all but the wealthiest worked every single day, God commanded us to work faithfully for six days. And then, for our sake, He blessed the seventh day as a day of rest. Of celebration. Of worship. Of refreshment. Of fellowship.

With the glorious resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the day has switched. Now we celebrate at the beginning of the week, to commemorate the most important event in history: the defeat of death.

The day switched, but the purpose remains: to worship, fellowship, and rest.

Worship exuberantly with the saints

Sunday isn’t just about “going to church”.

What happens (or should happen) at church is much, much greater than getting a spiritual pep talk. We get to join with saints around the globe and raise joyful voices in worship of our Savior. We get to feast upon the Lord’s table, and be changed a little more into the likeness of Christ. We get to encourage one another to “love and good works” as we celebrate the Lord’s Day.

Rest from your work

God created this day as gift for us. As Jesus said, “the sabbath was created for man, not man for the sabbath!”

Don’t celebrate it with one eye glancing over your shoulder to make sure that everyone around you knows you’re doing it right. What is work to one person might be rest to another. As our pastor explained, if you have a family farm and raise food to sell, resting on Sunday likely means not spending the whole afternoon installing a new irrigation system.

On the other hand, if gardening is your most relaxing hobby, sitting in the warm sun on a Sunday afternoon and pulling weeds could be the most restful way to celebrate the day.

What if your main job is a homemaker? Kids tummies still get empty. Dishes still get used. And their clothes most certainly still get dirty. Sunday is still supposed to be a day of rest for us.

Here are a few simple ways to celebrate the day of rest, even if you have the “job that never ends.”

Sunday isn't just one more day to get stuff done. It's one of God's many gifts to us to celebrate and enjoy.

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Celebrate the Lord’s Day

Whether you work a full-time job or stay home with your kids all week, Sundays are a gift God has given us. They are days to worship and fellowship, rest and enjoy. So let’s celebrate them!

A Peek at Our Winter (Family Update)

After the coldest winter I remember since moving from Greenland at the age of six, the buds are swelling on the trees and the birds are singing a noisy welcome to spring. Before waving a happy farewell to winter myself, I thought I’d highlight a few memories because I forget so easily and have had requests for baby pictures.

1-2-3 Go! Cheesy faces everyone! 

We welcomed in the new year with debilitating fevers, lingering coughs, and a stomach flu. When I wasn’t sick in bed or snowed in, I spent most of my spare hours in January painting, scrubbing, and fixing up the home we bought when we where first married [and rented out to family when we moved for law school].

I naively thought that we could knock out the house in a day or two. For most of January we spent our Saturdays and free evenings over at the house as a family.

During the week, I went with the kids. I’m not sure why, but the kiddos thought hanging out in the empty house was a blast. They packed school books and a few favorite toys and spent many happy hours playing in bare rooms and building houses in empty closets while I scrubbed and painted.

By the time February rolled around, we were finally ready to list the home. We decided to try the For Sale By Owner route first. We advertised an open house on Zillow and Craigslist, stuck signs in the yard, and then we waited. A grand total of zero people showed up for the open house.

It was kind of discouraging. And funny. We decided a realtor was worth the expense. (As of St. Patrick’s Day, the house is under contract! Hurray!)

Rose, Will, and my sister Kathryn helping my Mom and me scrub the tile. Despite having her own huge projects, she spent hours helping us! <3

Teeth have also played an important part in the lives of our oldest and youngest this winter. For months, Rose has given us excited updates on the wigglyness of her teeth and has looked forward to losing her very first tooth. She finally attained this badge of growing up. The next day Edmund began cutting his first teeth. Rose was definitely more excited about losing her tooth than he is about gaining his.

Not only did Rose lose her first tooth this winter, after weeks of begging me to teach her how to make something all by herself, I let her make pancakes one evening for dinner with a little supervision. Last weekend we were treated to a delicious pile of pancakes she made all by herself (with Will’s help).

Legos made their way into our home at Christmas. Since then the Legos have provided dozens of hours of entertainment. William especially loves designing. His space ships, airplanes and hospitals are the center of many creative stories.

All the kids would love for us to get a dog, but I’ve told them that though I absolutely love having four children to care for and train, I don’t want to have to train a dog too. A few weeks later the kids were talking and Will said, “When I grow up I want to be a farmer and have lots and lots of animals,” he continued a bit sadly, “so I can’t get married and have kids.” I assured him that animals and families go very well together. just don’t have the energy or desire to train a dog right now.

(I did just find out that our city allows SIX chickens per household, not four like I thought. For some reason that makes raising them seem so much more worthwhile, since, ahem, I know it would be so much easier than having a dog. Right?)

Partly because she’s so tall and partly because she’s very independent, strangers regularly assume Meg is at least three. Sometimes even I forget she’s only two. She loves trying everything the big kids do…with varied degrees of success. Her latest obsession is puzzles and she spends hours each week building and rebuilding them.

Except when he’s teething, Edmund is one of the cheerfullest fellows around and loves the attention his big sisters and brother lavish on him. He giggles and coos and constantly thumps everything around him. He’s perfecting the art of rolling around, scooting in circles, and trapping himself in awkward positions.

There are few things like watching your children grow up to make the fleetingness sink in! I find myself forgetting things so quickly and am making a conscious effort to stop and enjoy.

How has your winter been?