25 Days of Advent

Let’s be honest, we have plenty of stuff, what we need is more Jesus.

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year!

But I think that all too often, we make it more about presents and getting what we want than celebrating it’s true purpose: Christ.

Each year our family tries to focus more on Christ than on stuff. Let’s be honest, we have plenty of stuff, what we need is more Jesus. Part of that process is to delve a little deeper into Advent. Last year, I put out 24 daily verses on Facebook that parents could share with their children. They were the same exact verses we recite in our home, and that worked well enough. But this year, I decided to put all of those verses on one page and to go one step further. We now have 25 daily verses because shouldn’t you have one on Christmas day too??

These verses are broken into the various categories surrounding Jesus: the Purpose and Glory of Christ, Prophecy of the Coming Christ, Birth of Christ, Journeys After the Birth of Christ, and we wrap it up with another dose of the Purpose and Glory of Christ. I would not begin to claim that I have an exhaustive list of verses that someone could use, but I feel as though these give us a great overview of the entire story.

I’d be honored if you’d take this simple sheet, post it in your home, and read over these with your family each day starting December 1st.

The blessing you see as they connect the Old Testament with the New Testament is absolutely precious.

Merry Christmas!

25 Days of Advent

Christmas Season Makeover

More than a few years ago, I found myself storing unopened Christmas presents for my children in our hall closet.  This was not on account of being a cruel mom interested in destroying the joy of Christmas for my children.  No, this was an attempt to neatly store all of the toys that we simply didn’t have any more room for in their bedrooms.  These were the “left over” gifts.

It took me stuffing my closet full of unopened presents to realize that I may need to rethink this gift-giving thing.  You see, my husband and I had gotten into the habit of starting our Christmas shopping early.  Think “July.”  I even requested a special key-locking knob to be placed on that closet door just so I could stock up all year long and not worry about needing to hide my “stash.”

We had simply allowed ourselves to become obsessed with presents.  And for what?  It’s not as though our children could possibly have needed, wanted, or even played with all of those things.  To make matters worse, our children had no concept of what Christmas was really about.  Admittedly, they were too young to truly grasp the entire concept, but we weren’t even trying to put Christ in Christmas.  Our idea of an Advent season simply consisted of a Candy Count-Down Calendar.

We knew we needed to make a change.  We didn’t want to raise children who were only interested in Christmas for what stuff they could get out of it.  We wanted our children to understand what made it so special.

We decided to start our Christmas Season Make-Over by rethinking our Advent calendar.  I wanted the count-down to Christmas to reflect the real Christmas story, not just the one with Santa and Frosty.  So I went to my Bible and started compiling verses that chronicled the birth of Jesus, beginning with Prophecy in the Old Testament and ending with Luke 19:10, the reason for His coming.

Next, I divided those verses into 24 days, the idea being to begin on December 1st and finish on Christmas Eve.  The verses were printed on slips of paper which we attached to a small token or candy placed under our special Advent tree.  Our children loved getting to dig under the tree to find that day’s verse.  Once it was found, we would gather together on the sofa to summarize the previous days and to add the new verse into the overall story.  Once Christmas came, we would read the entire story from the book of Luke again before opening our presents.

We also decided to alter the amount of presents we were gifting.  I had been doing some “research” on Pinterest and came upon this nifty gift-giving guide.  The idea was to give four presents.  Maybe you’ve seen it.  “Something you want.  Something you need.  Something to wear.  Something to Read.” 

Somehow I convinced my husband that this would be the perfect solution to our need to reduce.  As we purchased the few items on our list that year, I was absolutely sure we had found a winning combination between our new Advent and gift-giving.

Unfortunately, on Christmas morning, after having a beautiful spiritual experience with our two small children, we were forced to face the reality of my choice.  My children couldn’t read very well and what kid really wants clothes for Christmas??  The thought was a good one; it was the execution that needed some work.  We decided balance would be the way to go.

By the next year, we had found that balance.  Our Advent season went beautifully as we were able to help our children read the verses themselves.  They were even able to recall the story from the previous year, allowing us to expand our discussions with them.  They still enjoyed finding those verses under the tree.

We continued to refrain from over-indulging with presents while still retaining the magic of Christmas morning.  We did go ahead and get more books and maybe a cute outfit or two, but we supplemented with a few things from their wish list as well.

What we ended up with was a Christmas Season that included Christ and a celebration of the greatest gift ever given.


The Problem With #Sunday Fun Day

I see quite a few social media posts with the hashtag (which used to be the number or pound sign when I was growing up) of “Sunday Fun Day.”  Now, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having fun on a Sunday.  After all, God gave us the Sabbath as a day of rest.  It’s the execution that gives way to a problem.  It’s not the fun after church I’m talking about.  It’s the fun instead of church.

As a trend, meaning it’s not true for everyone, there seems to be a decline in corporate worship on Sunday mornings, especially within the Young and Median Adult age groups (20 – 45 years).  Why is that?  Well, for a few reasons.

For many of us, it’s because we’re busy.  We’ve piled so much into our schedule that we’ve allowed it to over-run our need for worship.  Maybe it’s a work schedule, or just a need to take care of household duties, or maybe we simply want to sit and veg out after a busy weekend of running around.  Sometimes that bed looks a whole lot more inviting than that church pew.

In other cases, we make plans to have a family get together or outing and getting an early start or an extended visit does look inviting.  If you’re from my neck of the woods, that Canton shopping weekend really is fun, especially if you can score some of those delicious German-roasted nuts.  Our family likes to camp and many times we will go out for a long weekend just to soak it all in.

Then there’s the sports life.  Around here we’ve got baseball, soccer, football, cheer, track, swim, volleyball… You name it, we got it.  (Except maybe hockey or lacrosse.  You don’t hear much about those in Central Texas.)  You could easily have a “select” team playing a game or tournament on a Sunday.  Not to mention the games on the television!

Those are the main reasons we’re not in church on a Sunday morning.  Obviously, I’m not talking about missing due to illness.  I’m talking about the sporadic worshiper.  Basically, we’re young and we’re living life.  Church seems to be that thing you do when you get older, your children are grown, and you have nothing better to do than to get up, get coffee, and get some Jesus.

The only problem is that the Bible doesn’t support that.  In fact, in Hebrews 10:25 we are told to not give up meeting together … but to encourage one another.  And why is it that we are told to come together?  Why is it important?  Because we are some backsliding, fickle sinners.

If we are not actively seeking out fellowship and worship with other believers that can encourage, disciple, and, when needed, rebuke us, then we only have ourselves to keep us on the right path.  And let’s face it, we’re pretty lenient when it comes to us.  One of the greatest lines I hear Christians say on this matter is, “I can worship God anywhere.”  And that’s true.  You can.  It just doesn’t usually happen when you’re watching that football game or walking around the zoo, or trimming those bushes.  Out of sight.  Out of mind.

But that’s the affect on us adults.  Let’s think about what it does to our children.  Right off the bat, it tells them that church isn’t important.  It tells them that having fun and living life is more important than worshiping and learning about the One who gave us this life.  And when we teach our children this at an early age, it should be no surprise when those same children walk away from the faith all together.

Allowing this compromise on God’s word opens the door for other compromises down the road.  Is it really important that I remain humble?  Modest?  Serve others?  Does it really matter if I have premarital relations?  Do I really have to respect authority?  Isn’t that just part of that outdated religion?

The signals we send our children are important and lasting.

Now, am I saying that my family has never or will never miss a Sunday worship?  No.  I’d be lying if I did.  As I said, we like to go camping and sometimes that runs over into Sunday.  But it’s not the norm.  We choose not to schedule major commitments on that day.  And yes, that means that we choose not to participate in some of those activities that take place on Sundays.

For us, Sundays are about worship, family, and rest.  And that sure does make Monday a whole lot easier to face.


My Kids Have An Addiction And It’s All My Fault

Yes, it’s true, my children have an addiction.  (More than one if I’m being honest, but that post is for another day.)

Recently, on a quest to find a misplaced library book, I dared to step foot in my youngest’s bedroom, on the far side of the bed.  No Man’s Land.

One look told me that I may find more “treasures” than just a book.  Perhaps Jimmy Hoffa??  I was not disappointed.  I began looking in totes and under the bed.  Not surprising, I found crumpled up papers I had supplied to her for study practice over the summer.  (Incomplete I might add.)  What did surprise me were the various pieces of food container trash that I found among the Barbies.  (Pretty sure it’s okay to let go of that applesauce container, kid.)

It took me exactly three pieces of garbage, two minutes on my knees, and four occurrences of shoving my hair out of my face to become exasperated.  Exasperated is a nice term.  I was actually angry.  I looked around at that mess and just Lost My Patience.

Now, the unfortunate side of this is that out of all of us, myself included, the little one is the most organized.  I know that, but it didn’t stop me from increasing the volume of my voice while I expressed my disappointment.  I’d like to tell you that I sat her down and had a reasonable conversation about the proper way to keep her room.  But that’s not what I did.

Instead, I let her know that I was fully capable of cleaning her room myself – with the help of a nice, big trash bag – if she couldn’t handle it.  And then I reminded her that she is told to pick up her room every single day.  And since I know she’s cleaning the other side of her bed (the side that’s visible from the doorway), there must be something more important to her than finishing up.  That’s when it hit me: devices.

She’s rushing to get done so she can use devices.  Again, I’d like to say that I handled that realization calmly, but no.  It was just more fuel for the fire.  In no uncertain terms, I let her know that just wasn’t going to cut it anymore, and since her big sister happened to be in the room at the same time, she got to hear the whole fiasco too.  My parting instructions were to get it clean.  End of story.

I went about the business of getting ready for the day, and decided to go tell the big one something.  She was sitting on her floor organizing her Legos in an attempt to clean up her room like I’d instructed.  Good.  But then she looked up at me and said, “I’m sorry we made you mad.”

It was just like a slap in the face.  A big part of me wanted to say, “That’s right!  You should do better.”  But what came out was, “It’s not your fault.  It’s mine.”  And I’m not talking about being angry (though that’s totally my fault, too), I’m talking about the cause: the overwhelming desire to utilize devices to the point that you abandon other things.  That’s my fault.

My girls were just being kids.  They were only doing what I allowed them to do.  I’m the one that gave them the devices, and over time, they’ve become just as addicted to them as I have.  This addiction has affected our relationships with each other, family, and friends.

Our girls would rather watch Netflix than go outside to play.  I would too!  In a group setting, the kids are all playing games on their devices and I’m on Facebook.  (Though I really don’t know why.  People are mostly posting recipes and I don’t cook.  I guess that’s what makes it an addiction.  There’s no good reason to use it, but you do anyway.)  The girls are rushing through chores and I’m neglecting responsibilities.

Well, no more.  Right then and there all the devices were gathered up and brought to a central location for safe-keeping.  (I don’t even mind locking up remote controls if I have to.)  Now, we don’t take devices in the car, we talk to each other. If they have friends over, they play Legos, or dolls, or go outside.  We don’t come home and veg out, we handle our business.  And if all of our responsibilities and chores are taken care of at the end of the day, we are allowed 30 minutes to watch a show or play a game.

I’m not saying kids can’t have devices, I think it’s important for them to know how to use technology, I’m just saying there has to be a balance.  And it has to start with me.  I’ve even decided to give up my devotional apps and return to the printed versions because I’m just to easily swayed to turn to social media.  I’m on a quest to establish our devices as a communication tool, not a mindless, time-wasting addiction.

God meant for our lives to be so much more that just a life lived in front of a screen.

Since then, I’ve gotten to hear more details about school than ever before.  And I promise I’ve never seen those girls ride their bikes so much, or have so much clean laundry, or be so creative with fort building or skits or drawings.  Who knew the imagination could be so big when you take the time to entertain yourself?

Speaking of, I think I’ll go out and check on those chickens now.


Why We Gave Up on the Disney Channel

Yes, we have given up on the Disney channel.  Don’t get me wrong, I love classic Disney, Disney movies, and even Disney World.  It’s the most magical place on Earth after all!  But have you seen the shows that are “meant” for children coming from the Disney channel lately?  Take a close look.

These shows depict families in which parents are portrayed as imbeciles and the children run the house.  That’s if a parent is present at all.  For example, Jessie has a nanny doing the parenting job.  Suite Life has an absentee mother who only rarely shows up, allowing her sons to run wild around their hotel home.  Those are just a few examples, the last of which was an episode of Walk the Prank where a group of young children sitting at a bar called the adult behind it “pathetic” and “an idiot.”  Excuse me?!  These have all been banned from our house, and none give an honest assessment of how adult/child relationships really occur.

(As a disclaimer, I do realize that there are children who are working to raise themselves and their siblings due to neglect.  These are not the situations being shown.  If they were, I may actually watch that as a teaching tool on the consequences of our decision making and why we are called to show love and kindness to one another.)

To be fair, shows and movies from my childhood weren’t without their faults.  The Simpsons have an idiot dad and an out of control son.  (It also has a “Christian” depicted as an over-the-top nut case, which really did affect the way I viewed Christians as a child.)  There was Blank Check, a movie about a young boy stealing a million dollars and having the time of his life!  Home Alone gave Kevin a new-found freedom from his parents.  Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.  Camp Nowhere.  Goonies!  As a kid, I thought they were great!  How amazing would it be to be in charge of myself?!

(TV Land shows not withstanding.  Those old black and white shows were wonderful!)

The difference is that each one of those ended with the child/ren realizing just how much they really did need their parents.  And that’s big, but you won’t see that in today’s shows.

The problem with that is that this is not a kid’s world.  This is a fallen world full of fallen people.  Our children are prey.  They are preyed upon by people seeking to destroy their innocence and the family unit, people with an agenda.  They are told that it’s okay to grow up quickly, to rebel against leadership, and that they can make it just fine on their own.

Children are subjected to adult themes at younger and younger ages.  Recently I had to make a broad and general ban on any show that had a teenage character in it.  Because if there is a teenager, they will discuss teenage matters, and my two little girls just don’t need to know about that yet.  My girls also don’t need the lie that they don’t need me.

Yes, I a raising capable, independent children like I should be, and even though they can cook and do their own laundry, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to leave the nest just yet.  Because I’m still teaching them how to think.  To think like a follower of Christ.

They don’t need to worry about boy/girl relationships.  They’re still learning what it means to be a good friend.  They don’t need to know about fashion styles and makeup.  We’re learning what it means to be modest.  They don’t need to see the rich and famous glamorized.  They need to know the blessings of being humble.  They certainly don’t need even more of “it’s all about me” when they should be learning how to serve.  And they don’t need to believe that we are equals or even friends.  We’re not.

I love them to no end, but I’m still their parent.  I am the authority figure.  I am the counselor providing guidance.  I am not a friend, contrary to what they see on these shows.

Just the other day I had a long talk with my youngest on what being a friend should look like.  She has been struggling for a while over the treatment that she has been given by others.  (This is not an issue I ever expected to have with an eight year old, but we did address it.)  When we finished our talk, she said, “Thank you for being my friend.”  I have her a big hug and gently said,

I love you very much and you can always come talk to me, but I can’t be your friend.  Not yet.  Right now, I have to be your mommy.  One day, when you are all grown up, we can be really great friends.

And just for the record, they’re not “all grown up” when they’re 16 either.  That’s still not the right time to be their friend.  That’s when they need guidance the most, because that’s when the pressures of this world really set in.  We can be friends after college.  Maybe.

In the mean time, I’m going to be on the lookout for wholesome, family-honoring shows that will come along side me in this parenting thing, perhaps even some in color.

Got any suggestions??

Every Kid Lies

In the final years of my teaching career, I made the decision to use the first day of school as a “Get to know Mrs. Dragoo.” Now, normally, the first day of school is usually spent getting to know each other, the rules, and the procedures.  But here’s how I saw it: if you have a good understanding of me, then my rules and procedures would be much more readily understood and followed.

So I began every year with a little Powerpoint presentation of the Top 12 Things You Need to Know about Mrs. Dragoo.  I had things like, “I’m a rule follower and perfectionist,” and “I like to joke around so try not to be offended,” but the one that always caused a commotion was, “I don’t trust you.”  Which I followed with, “Kids lie, steal and cheat.  Yes, you do.”

You might be surprised at how offended children will become when you tell them you don’t trust them.  This is when I would be bombarded with, “No, I don’t.  I’m a good kid.”  This would, of course, lead to a lengthy conversation in which I game this example:

If you know that I have a hard and fast rule to have a pencil for my class (which I do), but realize when you get here that you don’t have one, and you see my own supply on my desk, even knowing that my things are off limits (which they are), would you still go get one or risk the consequence?

And that’s when it hits them: they really are liars, thieves, and cheaters.  At this point, I would go on to explain that while those tendencies are “normal,” they wouldn’t be tolerated, and they wouldn’t stop me from loving each one of them.

Because I’m on a mission to show Jesus to these kids.  And just like those kids, Jesus knows that I’m a sinner, flawed and prone to self-preservation, but that doesn’t stop him from correcting me or, above all, loving me.

Once the children know that they won’t be fooling me with their practiced “innocent” routine, it leads to a much more honest relationship in which they are allowed to be real, and so am I.  Because we are sinners, but it’s important that we don’t enable each other to live in our sin.

And this is how I work to raise my own daughters, recognizing that they are sinners, but not enabling them to live in their sin.  This is especially difficult for the younger children to recognize.  When the time comes for correction, they most assuredly will take the route of immediate self-preservation, not considering the consequences.  As we grow older, we finally come to understand that it is easier to take the one correction than to compound it with lies upon lies.

For example, my girls have a daily requirement to study.  I’m very flexible about what that can be: math problems, spelling, handwriting, Bible study, or just about anything they can come up with.  Everyday I ask them what they chose to study.  Recently, I had the feeling that the little one hadn’t been completing her study time as faithfully as she should be, so when she told me that she had studied her Bible that day, I requested a more detailed version.  What exactly had she studied?

Jonah was her answer, but she couldn’t remember a single detail from the book of Jonah.  Red Flag.  I explained that I needed to take care of a chore and that when I returned, I expected to hear more about Jonah’s life.  When I came back to her a few moments later, she informed me that it had not been Jonah that she read about.  In fact, it had been Moses.  Very well, tell me about Moses.  She put on her most “Matter of Fact” face and began to tell me all about how Moses had built a great big boat and filled it with lots of animals.

Unfortunately for her, I’ve read my Bible.

I instructed her to stop her informational session, looked directly into her big, blue eyes, and said, “This is your last chance to tell the truth.  Did you study today?”  Finally, the truth came out, as if I didn’t already know.

It’s no secret what-so-ever that John and I do not tolerate lying.  The punishment will always be more severe if you lie to us.  We feel that having an honest relationship is critical if we are to raise up trustworthy adults.  We’re working on it, but we’re not there yet.  Obviously.

I let her know that she would be receiving a consequence, not for her failure to study, but for her insistence to lie about it.  Then I told her to meet me in my bedroom.

She was more than a little surprised to see me come in with her Bible in my hand.  I explained to her that since she had apparently not been paying attention to her Bible stories, that she was now required to go back into her Bible to study Jonah, Moses, and Noah, you know, the guy with the boat.  (Ge 6-9)  Plus she had to use her Concordance to look up the word “liar” and see what the Bible said about that.  She then had to write a report about everything she learned and where she found it.

And then she got her punishment.

I needed her to know that I care about her, and why it’s important to be honest with me.  I needed her to realize that I already know when she’s hiding something from me, and it only puts a distance in our relationship.  Just like when I try and keep my sin from Jesus.  It’s pointless.  He already knows.  I’m not hurting anyone but myself, because the correction is coming.  How much easier is it to acknowledge my sin and turn from it than to hide it and continue to turn to it?

It took her four days to get through the life of Moses, and everyday I got a report.  Not exactly the circumstances I desired for her to have when studying her Bible, but I dare say she won’t confuse Moses and Noah ever again.

I have really great kids.  They love Jesus, love us, love each other, and love others, but that doesn’t give me the false hope that they aren’t flawed and fallen sinners.  Because they are.  We all are.  My job as their parent is to recognize their sinful nature, love them in spite of it, and work to teach them a better, more honorable way.  They way of Jesus who says,

Neither do I condemn you.  Go now and leave your life of sin. (Jn. 8:11)