Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advent 2013

"Build God-centered anticipation and expectancy and excitement into your home—especially for the children. 
If you are excited about Christ, they will be too. 
If you can only make Christmas exciting with material things, 
how will the children get a thirst for God?  
Bend the efforts of your imagination to make the wonder of the King’s arrival visible for the children." - John Piper

noun The coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important: the advent of the computer.
Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.  During the entire month of November, there is gratitude and thankfulness around every corner.  In our home, we love our tradition of a Thankful Tree, displayed prominently on our dining room table.  It's made out of sticks from the neighborhood and popcorn kernels and punched out scrapbook paper circles.  We add our bits of gratitude to it all month long:

It helps ready our hearts in the most perfect way for the next season: Advent.  
the coming or arrival, especially of something extremely important.



From now until Christmas, we will throw ourselves fully into marveling together as a family at the coming arrival of Jesus.  Looking back toward the time His people awaited His first arrival.  Looking ahead to when we will see His second coming.  Spurgeon said God's people have always been a waiting people, and isn't that just so?

As we wait for Christmas morning, we have some traditions that help us remember who God is, what He's done, and who we are in light of that.

Jesse Tree
A Jesse Tree is a way of telling the story of God's plan from the beginning of time to redeem His people by sending a Savior. The name is taken from Isaiah 11:1, in which Jesus is referred to as a shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse, the father of David.  The tree itself is nothing fancy: we just use a small artificial tree.  Each day, we read a story from Scripture, beginning with Genesis 1, and talk about how it points us toward Jesus.  Then we hang a corresponding ornament on the tree.  The ornaments on the Jesse tree tell of God's salvation plan all throughout the Bible.

For years, our ornaments have been very simple paper ones.  Do a quick google search for "free printable jesse tree ornaments" and you'll find lots of good ones.  We have always used Ann Voskamp's printable ornaments and devotional: click here for a pdf of the ornaments and devotional.  I really like this one because I could read the devotion she wrote in advance and felt prepared to teach my children about what we were reading.  
Here's a link to another one I found just this week: click here.

This year, we are looking forward to using a new set of ornaments!  My friend Mindy lives in California, and when she decided to lead a group for a Jesse Tree project, she included me!  We did an ornament exchange, and now we have 24 gorgeous handmade ornaments.

Most years, we have used The Jesus Storybook Bible for our daily readings.  This version has been so helpful for our entire family as we've learned how the entire Bible points to Jesus.  Instead of teaching Scripture as segmented stories to our children, we've learned together through this amazing storybook Bible, that Jesus IS the story!  

However, we just finished reading through that one again as a family this past month, so we are going to use the DK Children's Illustrated Bible this year just to change it up.  I like it because it uses mostly Biblical wording, and I am comfortable now with being able to tie what we're reading in Scripture to what it's teaching us about Jesus and God's salvation plan for us.

December 2: put up the Jesse Tree together.

December 3 ~ Isaiah 11:1-3
the stump of Jesse, the father of David

December 4 ~ Creation
Genesis 1 and 2

December 5 ~ The Fall
Genesis 3

December 6 ~ Noah
Genesis 6-9 

December 7 ~ God's covenant with Abraham
Genesis 11-13, 15

December 8 ~ Offering of Isaac
Genesis 22

December 4 ~ Jacob's dream
Genesis 25, 27-28

December 10 ~ Joseph
Genesis 37

December 11 ~ Passover
Exodus 7-12

December 12 ~ Ten Commandments
Exodus 19-20

December 13 ~ Joshua at Jericho
Joshua 3-6

December 14 ~ Ruth & Boaz
Ruth 1-4

December 15 ~ King David
1 Samuel 16, 11 Samuel 5-6

December 6 ~ Elijah and the fire
1 Kings 18

December 17 ~ Isaiah and the prophecies
Isaiah 6, 35, 40

December 18 ~ Daniel
Daniel 1-3, 5-6

December 19 ~ Esther
Esther 1-9

December 20 ~ Jonah
Jonah 1-4

December 21 ~ Minor prophets
No scripture - people waited in years of darkness and silence for the coming Light.

December 22 ~ John the Baptist
Luke 1 and 3

December 23 ~ Mary & Joseph
Luke 1

December 24 ~ waiting
No ornament.  Reread Luke 1.

December 25 ~ Christ is born!
Matthew 1 and Luke 2

Also on December 25 ~ God's announcement
Luke 2 

December 26 ~ Wise Men
Matthew 2

I cherish our Jesse Tree, and the time we spend each day focusing on the birth of Christ through the Old Testament.  

Advent House
Our children declare our Advent house their favorite Christmas tradition:
I found this cute little house on clearance at Target one year, with an extra discount because of a banged up corner.  Inside each little door, I put a piece of chocolate for each of the children, and a little slip of paper with a special activity we will do that day.  Some of the activities are things that we are doing anyway: going to a Christmas parade, visiting a live Nativity, watching a Christmas movie and drinking hot chocolate.  I can look at my calendar and fill in those days easily.  Then I fill the rest of the days with acts of kindness and things that focus on others: taking cookies to our neighbors, taping quarters to vending machines, surprising their teachers with their favorite cup of coffee, choosing something from the Samaritan's Purse catalog to order, etc.  I use this as much as possible to take the focus off of us and put it on loving those around us during this season.

The kids wake up each morning and race to that little house, to open the little door and see what the days holds.  and to eat chocolate before breakfast, of course.

Jotham's Journey is an advent storybook that friends introduced us to last year.  It was still over Tucker's head last year, but Lana loved it, and it helps build our excitement in the days leading up to Christmas.  It's a great read-aloud for families with children of all ages. It follows a little boy through Israel, with lots of adventure and plenty of historical facts.  I'd like to light advent candles this year as we read, but advent wreaths are pretty expensive.

What about Santa?
From Lana's first Christmas, we were thinking and talking about how to handle Santa.  Opinions vary wildly on what role the ol Jolly guy should play in the Christmas season for believers.  After lots of prayer and discussion, here's where we've landed: we don't "do" Santa Clause (for reasons you can read more about here), but we don't demonize him, either.  We choose to spend most of our thoughts and energy and words and time and devotion on Jesus during December, just as we want to do every other day and month of the year.
Here are a couple of really super articles that explain our reasoning, in words far better than I 
could come up with:
Why We Don't "Do" Santa (It's Not What You Think)
Who Needs Santa When You've Got Jesus?

I've read blog after blog after blog already this year, with parents lamenting how much our children already have, and how we don't want our children to become entitled.  Yet even those of us with the best of intentions end up over-doing it when it comes to buying gifts for our children.  I'm speaking from experience: every year, we have intended to keep things small, and every year, we end up with too much.  We spend so much of our time and energy during advent helping our children focus on Christ, and then it's such a letdown on Christmas morning when Jesus gets lost in a blur of gifts and paper and toys.  Of course, like all parents, we want to give our children good gifts, and we want to celebrate this season of the Giver of Life in a way that honors Him and blesses our children.

This year, we're trying something new.  Each person in our family, Dan & I included, will receive a gift for each of these categories:
something you want
something you need
something to wear
something to read
something to give

For our stockings, we will have a few small items inside, but we are starting a new tradition with those, also.  On the table near the fireplace where the stockings are hung, I am going to put a basket with red and green paper, and a bucket of pencils and pens.  We will write notes to each other throughout the month of December and put them in each other's stockings, almost like a mailbox, so that when we look in our stockings Christmas morning, there will be a few small happies, but they will be mostly filled with our love and words to each other.

Every year, I realize that I don't get close to capturing the true wonder of Advent.  It is our great hope that each year, though, we do a little better.  Next year, we will add the celebration of Saint Nicholas to our advent calendar (on December 6), and I am hopeful that we will also add this breathtaking advent wreath as a visual reminder of our waiting.  

Celebrate God all day, every day.
I mean, revel in Him!
Make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, 
working with them and not against them.
Help them see that the Master is about to arrive. 
He could show up any minute!”

Pushing back the darkness with thankfulness.

In the spirit of Ann Voskamp's 1,000 gifts, we are counting the days of November with deliberate, intentional gratitude.

There is a constant, very real struggle with the darkness, in this world and in my heart and in my mind. In my own heart and mind, the battle is often waged against me with words like "If only...." "When ____ happens," "It's not fair that...." I have learned that I can keep all of that at bay by heeding the words of that old hymn, Count Your Many Blessings
When up life's billows you are tempest tossed
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly
And you will keep singing as the days go by.

Count your blessings, name them one by one......

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your blessings.  Wealth can never buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high.

Count your blessings....

So amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey's end.

Count your blessings...

1.  3 gifts eaten: a bite of Tucker's candy bar, melty from his hand, offered to his mama because "Mama, you like chocolate."  homemade chicken noodle soup from the freezer stash.  meatloaf, cooked for Dan's dinner because we are glad he is home from retreat.

2.  3 gifts worn: pajamas, while watching cartoons with Lana and Tucker.  fuzzy socks on cold feet.  the Mother/Daughter necklace that Lana bought while shopping at a friend's birthday party for she and I to wear.

3.  3 gifts that start with N: neighbors, Tim and Mary.  netflix, for mornings home with feverish children.  nighttime, when all the house is quiet and still.  

4.  a gift gathered, given, good. sushi, dropped off at my front door by mark & valita & josh at just the right moment.  Dan out of town, kids sick....the thought of it meant more than even the sushi.

5.  3 gifts, acorn small: a rock, chosen just for me by my boy.  the clap song, taught to me by my daughter - nothing tangible at all, but it connects us.  a kiss, on the top of my head, for no reason at all from my Dan.

6.  3 gifts government: revealing how desperately we need Jesus.  doing the job the church isn't doing: caring for the poor.  roads to drive on.  (and not in that particular order.)

7.  3 gifts from your window: palm trees.  the cul-de-sac where my kids ride their bikes.  the jeep that my father-in-law generously let us borrow when we were down a vehicle.

8.  a gift sweet, salty, sipped: thieves tea, to ward off the yuckies.

9.  3 gifts harvest: honeycrisp apples, special this time of year.  rows of fluffy white cotton, southern snow.  Young Living oils, from seed to seal.

10.  3 gifts found in Bible reading: 2 Corinthians 1:20.  Colossians 1:17.  Colossians 2:13-15.

11.  3 gifts of remembrance:

12.  3 gifts at noon: a morning spent cleaning house.  a breeze, blowing through open windows and rustling the branches of our palm trees.  a text from Dan, just to say hi.

13.  3 gifts behind a door: students behind my classroom door, my vacuum cleaner behind a closet door, a reliable vehicle behind a garage door.

14.  3 gifts silent: diffuser for my oils.  Dan's hand holding mine in the night.  my new study bible (except that isn't really silent, is it?)

15.  3 gifts golden: wedding rings.  painting from Dan's mom.  "pirate treasure," left on a shelf in my closet for safekeeping.

16.  3 gifts hard Eucharisto: forgiving, even as the hurt continues.

17.  3 gifts of laughter: donut frosting from ear to ear.  mis-pronounced words and phrases.  Tucker scaring me to death underneath the table.

18. a gift made, shared, passed on: Keurig, hand delivered to our door by Jon & Ashley Andrews.

19. 3 gifts autumn: slower schedule, with those dark early nights.  warm drinks.  cozy candles.

20.  3 gifts of tradition: Thanksgiving tree.  Advent house.  nightly family worship.

21.  3 gifts family: all 4 of us at Tucker's Thanksgiving feast.  friends who are like family, who will perhaps be geographically closer to us soon.  "museum kisses."

22.  a gift grateful: taking a half day off teaching to be with my family for Tucker's feast, and having a principal tell me she is proud of me for doing that.  having a boss who prioritizes family is nothing short of grace.

23.  3 gifts only in Christ: forgiveness.  identity.  purpose.

24.  3 gifts humble: Tucker's last bite of oreo.  Lana setting up for night of thanks.  Dan cleaning.

25.  3 gifts ugly-beautiful: for the aftermath of a boy with food poisoning - a washing machine, a bathtub with warm water, lysol and clorox.

26.  3 gifts preparing: jesse tree ornaments.  daily advent scripture readings.  acts of Christmas kindness list.

27.  a gift handmade, held, happy. ornaments from the Jesse Tree exchange.  so thankful for my friend Mindy including me!  we met in Paris, spent just a week and a half together, and she is a sister of my soul.

28.  3 gifts in community: borrowing books and playing with puppies at the Scanlan's.  Dan hunting.  Knowing that they "have our back."

29.  3 gifts red: coca cola, in a can.  Advent house, bought on clearance from Target.  J-O-Y, hung in large letters on my mantle for Christmas.

30.  3 gifts astonishing! how a nap can work wonders.  making room in our budget to be able to give more.  hope.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Front Porch Songs: Lana's 2nd Grade Musical

This morning was Lana's 2nd grade musical.  
They did a production called "Front Porch Songs" with lots of folk songs.

Love this one of her coming in and spotting us - can you see her?

She is such a joy!

This is Mr. Passmore, one of our school's music teachers.
The artwork you see behind him was done by art students and one of the art teachers.
We are so thankful to be in a school where the arts are still important!

Getting ready to sing...

Lana's class sang "There's a Hole in My Bucket."
Here's her special part in the introduction: click here

class singing - we weren't quite sure what she was doing here, ha!
They had done the musical every morning that week, so it was her 5th or 6th time.
I think she was kind of done, funny girl!

She was very happy that her PawPaw and Nana came:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tucker's Thanksgiving Feast

Today was Tucker's Thanksgiving Feast at his preschool - it is absolutely one of our very favorite things that they do all year long.  We love Hillcrest so much - it reminds me of my beloved Little Lambs in Raleigh, in all the best ways.  They just seek to love our babies, and tell them about Jesus, and really, could you want anything more during these early years?

This was Tucker's placemat, showing us which table to sit at:

I got a sub for a half a day, and checked this beauty out of school - we make these things a family event.  I love everything Team Davis.

Look at this expression when he got on stage and saw us!

I cannot believe how grown up and handsome he looked up on that stage.
He will always be my baby boy:

And then, after all the classes had done their sweet songs,
Mrs. Amy (the director) dismissed everyone to sit with their parents except my buddy.

He was totally, truly fearless as he sang this song!
Singing "Amazing Grace"

The backstory:
I sing hymns to the kids every night at bedtime.
Amazing Grace is Tucker's very favorite, and most often requested one.
One day at preschool, they were singing songs, and his teacher was taking requests.
He suggested "Amazing Grace," and apparently when his friends didn't know it, he offered to teach them.  As the feast approached, Mrs. Kathy mentioned to him that perhaps he could sing Amazing Grace for the parents.  

"Sure!" he said.
In the weeks leading up the feast, he wouldn't practice it at all, at home or school.
He said he was "saving it for the feast."
Finally, yesterday, Mrs. Kathy told him he needed to practice with the microphone.
She gave him the choice to have his friends stand with him, or to sing by himself.
He chose to sing by himself.  Total confidence.

He never even hesitated today.
I don't know that anything could make my heart happier than to hear
these ancient, gospel, life-giving words coming from my boy.
May this always be the anthem of his heart.

So, so blessed and thankful to be the mama of Team Davis.

After Tucker's song, and the pastor's prayer of blessing,
we got to enjoy a true Thanksgiving feast!

Tucker with Mrs. Amy, the director of his preschool:
The way Mrs. Amy leads her program is amazing.  She is so calm, and sweet, and careful to know each child and what they need.  She is the one who suggested moving Tucker up to the 4 year old class this year, since he just barely missed the cut-off.  It was absolutely the right decision, and I still remember talking with her about my concern that Tucker might be behind academically because he's so young, and her calm reassurance that preschool wasn't about academics - it was about preschool, and that he would be just fine.  She could not have been more right.  I'm so thankful for a director who was willing to consider my one individual child, even among the needs of all.

And here he is with Mrs. Kathy, his beloved teacher.  
She is completely gifted to be a preK teacher, and she may be the very best one I've ever known.  Every single day, she has something to tell me about my Tucker: a funny story, sometime he particularly enjoyed, etc.  She SEES him, you know?  And she loves him - I can tell just by the way she talks to him.  He is absolutely thriving in her classroom - she truly brings out the very best in him.

What a wonderful day!  My heart is full.