Children, Christmas, Family

We Got To Spread Cheer Across the World!

operation christmas childWe were so excited, this year we got to spread cheer across the world! Well, to one little boy between the ages of 5 and 9. We participated in an awesome program called Operation Christmas Child, which is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse.

I had brought home an excitingly colorful shoebox and the kids were curious as to what this was. After all, who doesn’t like a bright red box with little cartoon children on the side and a decorated airplane on top, right?!

Once we cleared up the fact that this was not a gift to our children (maybe a teeny bit of disappointment for the kiddos) and started to tell them who this special box was for, they couldn’t wait to go shopping for their new little friend they most likely would never meet.

What a wonderful experience this was! We chose a boy between ages 5 and 9. After all, we know a little bit about boys in that ages group. And off to the store we went. Now, sometimes it can be a little difficult for young children to understand that the toys are for someone else. I’m not going to lie, there may have been a few tears shed because the shopping excursion did not yield a special present for our kids. But this is all part of the experience!

It was a great opportunity to remind our kids how the recipient of this box lived. What he had for toys, a home and what his life was generally like. We showed our kids a video of the kids receiving and opening their Christmas boxes and it was electric to watch the joy and happiness on the faces of the children who received a gift.

operation christmas childSo we thought about what we could get for this little boy. What kind of things he would enjoy and how we could get as much stuff into that box as possible! Fun things, silly things, crayons. A notebook for drawing, lots of Match Box cars, a stuffed animal and a cool football! Oh, and some cozy socks!

We got home and laid out all the gifts onto the kitchen table. “How are we gonna get all of that stuff into this little box?!” But you know what? It all fit! Perfectly!

We said a little prayer over this box and sealed it up, complete with a special sticker on the front that connects us to the box. That way, we can track the box and see where it goes! 

So once our box was ready, Daddy and the kids took it to the drop-off location. What a fantastic operation that was, too! Who knew so many loving and caring people were involved in such a great world-wide operation!

operation christmas child

At the drop-off, we got to see the entire process from when we first get the box to after we drop it off. It was so neat to see where all the box goes before its final destination into the hands of an excited little boy on the other side of the world!

We also got to see all the volunteers who locally coordinate receiving filled boxes. They prepped them for packaging and delivery to the place where more volunteers will then load them for international shipment. These boxes will be delivered to more than 200 countries around the world and ours will be one of them!

The only down-side to this is that our kids don’t get to see the little boy’s face when he opens his gift. But we can only pray that he enjoys these special items picked out just for him. And that along with those gifts, his little heart and mind are open to the message of the Gospel that’s coming with it. 

What a fun project this was, and it was kind of a last-minute idea, too. I just happened to walk by a stack of empty boxes and picked one up, but I assure you that this is a new family tradition that we will enjoy doing to begin the  Christmas season!

operation christmas child

Children, Christmas, Family

Watch. Wait. Hope. A Season of Advent

Watch Wait HopeIt’s a difficult thing…keeping children’s focus of Christmas on Jesus instead of Santa. That’s some tough competition in the eyes of a child. Especially when everything around them reaffirms the wonder of the old man in the red suit with all the magic to make children’s toy dreams come true.

We decided that Santa would be a welcome part of our Christmas holiday. And though he is a welcome part, we have been sure to always intertwine him into the Christmas story so that Santa, while a wonderful part of the Christmas season, is not the highlight.

We talk about Santa as a special man who honors Jesus and Jesus’ selfless gift of Salvation by giving gifts to others. The act of giving to someone else, of caring so much for someone else, of wanting to see joy and happiness in someone else…that’s Santa’s role here.

Santa is not the reason for Christmas. Jesus is.

So over the course of the Christmas season, we watch for Jesus.

Something visual we do is advent candles at our dinner table. Before kids and since having kids, we light the advent candles. One candle each week. And we watch the light increase as it signals the impending birth of Jesus- the light of the world.

img_1906-jpgSince having kids, we also have special readings and prayers as we light those candles. This year we found an adorable children’s book that’s actually for bedtime but the passages work wonderfully for the days and weeks leading up to Christmas.

We read about how God knows us. He chose our families, he knows how many hairs are on our heads, what our names would be, who our mothers and fathers would be.

How Mary was visited by an angel and how through her fear, she became the mother of baby Jesus.

How shepherds were doing the ordinary. Tending their sheep…their own helpless beings. How frightened they must have been when an angel suddenly appeared to give the glad news of Great Joy! How the shepherds left their own sheep to see the Lamb of God.

Over the course of the Christmas season, we wait for Jesus.

It’s so hard to wait. There’s so much expectation about Christmas morning. As we wait, we talk about how the people who knew that someday Jesus would come had to wait. They didn’t know the day or the year. They only knew He was coming. They had to endure so much while they waited and they didn’t even know when He was coming…only that He was coming. What a wait that must’ve been.

Over the course of the Christmas season, we hope for Jesus.

We hope for His return. We talk about Heaven and how, though all we know is what we’ve experienced, Heaven is better than the best things and the best days we’ve ever known. How we all may be called Home before our children get to be grown, before they have children of their own. Even though there may be disappointment in that, Heaven is better than the best Earth has to offer.

And Heaven is better than the best Earth has to offer because Jesus was born that quiet night under that beautiful star.

 

Children, Christmas, Family

Come with 3, leave with 3!

fullsizerender-jpg-1Christmas!

Just let that wash over you…and almost drown you with the sudden realization that there is much to do and little time in which to do it!

Thankfully, despite all that “goes wrong” each season what floats to the top of everyone’s memory banks long after this season is over is only the happy memories.

Last week, we made a deposit into the happy memories bank by going to our town’s annual Christmas tree lighting event, complete with parade and arrival of Santa himself. I have it on good authority that this was, in fact, the real Santa as dear husband was participating in the parade so he had close access. It. was. Santa.

Did you pick up on that just now? Hubs was participating in the parade. You know what that means, right?

That means that I am going to be managing the Christmas magic and wonder of three little children at dusk and into the evening, surrounded by thousands of strangers….all by myself.

Sweet Jesus and all the angels, please help me keep track of these children and please make them listen to me.

First things first. We had to cross a major state highway to get to the city hall lawn. No big deal…except we quickly realize that baby girl has a much smaller pace than the others so we quickly fall behind. A quick scoop of baby girl into my arms and a reminder to boy child and girl child to stay right by me and we make it across the road just before the light turns.

Next…we are early so I begin one of my enlightening speeches about how we aren’t buying anything right now and not to ask and I’m not made of money and nothing’s open yet and just be patient. I’m sure you have a similar speech in your repertoire. The kids love it.

img_1740-jpgA couple of “hey, we’re having a great time! Not worried about this situation at all!” pics and then we head into where the grand tree is sitting in all it’s unlit glory.

We approach a vendor tent as they are setting up and out of nowhere this lady hands us all light sabers and lighted giant candy cane sticks! For free! My gut reaction in all honesty was “crap, now I have three awkward toys to hold all evening once the kids tire of holding them.” But then I quickly realized how I was looking at this situation all wrong! These were access points to each child…and they wouldn’t let go of these new treasures if they were given the ultimatum of handing them over or leaving before seeing Santa. (For the record, no such ultimatum was given…but these kids were hardcore about these light sticks!)

I have three children but only two hands so I rate the children on possible flight risk. Baby girl is through the roof so she always needs to hold my hand. Boy child, God bless him, will follow a butterfly into another city if given the chance so he gets my other hand. Girl child is Miss Responsible…I love this quality about her.

So, with a finger free from boy child’s grasp, I grab girl child’s light saber. This connects us into a gnarly clump of smiling children adorned with light sabers and blinky candy cane glory.

In a lull as we wait for the parade to start, I take this opportunity to remind the children to stay close to me and to not get lost. They also love this speech.

The parade goes off like Christmas magic…Daddy on the lead float playing Christmas music on his cornet and we yell and holler for him as he passes by. The parade ends with Santa and everyone immediately gets up to walk toward the Christmas tree in the square.

The children all seem to know what I’m looking for…a little hand, a larger hand and a light saber. Once I have these, we join the crowd and walk over to the tree and it’s only then in the darkness, surrounded by what I believe/hope are all lovely people, but strangers none the less…it hits me what I can tell the kids so they have a way to find me if they get lost.

“Kids!! If you get lost or we get separated…come to this giant tree and stand at the base of it. I will come find you here!” Parenting gold right there.

Of course it’s like two hours into this event and we are in our last twenty or so minutes.

But still. Better late than never, right?

All I can say is…I started out with three children at this event and I left with three children. And they got a good deposit into their happy memories bank account. And they got light sabers. And some candy.

 

 

Children, Christmas, Uncategorized

Wrapping Presents

Last night, the children wrapped the gifts they had picked out for each other. I did the complicated folding parts but they picked out the wrapping paper, applied the tape, added the perfect bow and addressed the gift tag themselves.

This is the first year the children have picked out gifts for others in the family. They have delivered hand-made cards and goodies to neighbors, nursing homes and police stations in years past, but this was their first opportunity to shop for their family for the perfect gift.

 

It was captivating to listen to each child talk about why the gift they were wrapping was going to be so special to the recipient. Each present was lovingly wrapped and such care was taken to pick out the perfect bow and special gift tag. So much care in each gift and so much anticipation for the day they got to see those gifts opened and the contents revealed.

We had a little time to talk about why there are presents at Christmas, aside from the whole Santa aspect of things, and we decided that presents we give to each other are a reminder of the Gift that was given to us so long ago in a stinky, dirty stable.

It’s fun to give and get gifts, but it’s so important to remember why we celebrate Christmas. In everything we do during this season, there is a gift we have received that we can never match or repay. It was the perfect present. And it was so lovingly given to us. So lovingly. And it was for each of us because we are so important and valuable to God. This gift was tenderly wrapped in the arms of Mary and tagged with the most beautiful star.

It’s yours if you want it.

 “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Luke 2 11-12

Children, Christmas, Family, Uncategorized

Sprinkles and Tinkles

IMG_8090Recently, I took our two older children to the mall to man a kettle on behalf of The Salvation Army. You’ve seen these red buckets and heard the “dingy” bell as my son calls it. It’s a staple of Christmas time and it’s a good opportunity to help out others with nothing more than the change in your pockets.

I planned for our two-hour time slot, which was in the early evening hours. We were going to be outside the food court area, under a shelter but exposed to the evening air. The weather that evening was chilly (not cold, though) and rainy. So, I packed a folded picnic blanket for the kids to sit on if they needed to rest and a fluffy blanket to wrap up in if they became cold. Like I said, it was chilly and not cold, but standing outside for two hours can make anyone feel cold after a bit. I also got the kids some dinner and took them to the restroom and made sure we all tinkled before starting our shift.

We arrived at our kettle, donned our volunteer aprons and acquired our bells from the previous workers. We ran through the rules one final time:

  1. No asking people for money
  2. No touching the kettle (this was extremely hard!)
  3. Say ‘Thank you!”
  4. Say “Merry Christmas!”
  5. Smile!
  6. Have a great time!

So we began our shift. The kids did great…they dinged their bells to carolers favorites such as ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and ‘Jingle Bells’. They were little “Johnny One Notes” with their bells but soon enough their work began paying off. And because there were two children, many folks took extra care to honor both children with two “monies” as the kids call them instead of one. So instead of one dollar, they put in two dollars and most thanked the children for their work.

They were beaming! And the boy child was a little fidgety. A little too fidgety.

He calls me to him so he could whisper to me “Mommy, I have to go potty!” This is ten minutes into our two-hour shift.

Oh no!!!! I am alone with my two small children and we are guarding a bright red kettle full of money at a packed mall!

“Hold it!” I tell him, knowing there’s no way he can hold it for two hours. I pray someone I know happens to cross our path so they can take him to the bathroom for me. I text official people to see what to do in this situation…but no response.

He gets worse and worse to the point where he’s actually holding himself and ringing his bell.

I look at my girl child, who sees the seriousness in my eyes and instantly steps up to the occasion. I can count on her, she’s so responsible. I keep telling myself that…

“Girl child, take boy child to the potty. You remember where it is? Go past the carousel and turn right, then go down the hallway.” She’s intently looking at me, nodding at my instructions.

“DO NOT TALK TO ANYONE! DO NOT LET ANYONE TOUCH YOU! WATCH OUT FOR BOY CHILD! GO RIGHT THERE AND COME RIGHT BACK!”

“OK, Mommy! I promise.” She tells me. She takes boy child’s hand and tells him “Boy child, come with me…hold my hand and follow my instructions!” Even boy child knew the seriousness of this mission and he, against his usual tendency, followed girl child’s lead.

And just like that, they walk into the mall…without me.

And just like that, I felt like the worst mother in the entire world. And I felt like I just made the worst decision ever. I was no longer focused on the kettle or the bell ringing because I sent my entire world into a busy mall food court alone.

I instantly started praying, “Lord please keep them safe. Keep your warrior angels all around them. Guide them to the bathroom and guide them back to me. Watch over them. Keep them safe. Oh God, keep them safe.”

An eternity passed as I kind of thanked folks for donating to the kettle and sort of wished people a Merry Christmas while watching the path my children took intently…waiting for their polka dot and camouflage coats to appear. This was taking too long…

I decided I would abandon the kettle and go after my children when suddenly, the boy child came skipping through the door right to me and my girl child followed him, beaming at how successfully responsible she had been. I was so relieved to see them and I hugged them both as they told me how brave they were while they were on their adventure together!

Whew. (I do not need a lecture, by the way…)

Back to bell ringing and kettle donation collecting.

Girl child tugs at my coat a bit and motions me with her little finger to her for a secret. Then she tells me that she prayed to God for Him to put the strongest bubble around her and boy child as they went to the bathroom together. She asked for that bubble to be the strongest bubble that no one could break through…not the sharpest knife or anything. And she said that bubble kept them safe because God put it all around them.

I believed in the power of my prayer but let me tell you how confident I was in her prayer. Her prayer was the one that went straight to God and her prayer is what kept her and boy child safe. I clung to her answered prayer and thanked God for hearing her.

I will still continue to pray for my children but I am so encouraged by prayers initiated by my children and how they call out for their Heavenly Father when they need to. They know He is listening to them and their faith in Him is astounding. I need their faith…the faith of an innocent child.

Children, Christmas, Uncategorized

The Gift

Guys, here’s a very special artwork I did last year and it has so much meaning to me. (The link is at the bottom of this post- just click to watch.) I think it best encapsulates Christmas story (Luke 2: 8-14) the way I pray my children envision it and how I had seen it in my mind when I was a child.

This is the Christmas story told through the movement of sand and set to beautifully contemplative music by Mannheim Steamroller called Stille Nacht.

I would love two things…

1. I do hope you enjoy this and

2. I hope you will share it with others. Not for my glory, but to spread this wonderful message with others. To remind them of this Gift.

God’s Son is the best Gift we could ever receive.

The Gift