The Best Gift We Can Give

Guest Post by Mallory Allen

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December is here. Christmas is just around the corner. It really is a warm (literally in the South these days) and fuzzy time of year and, some might add, stressful at times. During this time of year, many of us add the extra roles of interior decorator, professional shopper and tradition keeper to our already long, everyday list of to-dos. We pull out boxes of ornaments, lights and the many other festive things Hobby Lobby has convinced us we “need” to make over our house for one month. We carve out time to comb the mall (or surf the web), trying to find the perfect gift for each of our family members. We strive to keep traditions alive from not only our childhoods, but those of our husbands’ as well, while also forming new traditions as a family. We spend time wrapping gifts, attending church musicals and Christmas parties, organizing a large meal, and sending out Christmas cards; but somewhere along the way we must really decide what is most important in these busy 24 days leading to THE day that is Christmas.

I love giving gifts. My husband jokes with me and says I may love it a little too much! This year I was taking “inventory” on what presents I had and what I still needed to get when my 3-year-old came in and asked me, “Mom, why do we buy everybody presents for Christmas?” I decided this may be a good time to put down the list for a teaching moment. Being three, he is just learning what this whole Christmas thing is all about and understanding enough to ask questions and really get into it. For about six months now I have been telling him the story of baby Jesus. So I took this moment to teach him that baby Jesus was the best gift ever given to us. He would later go on to give us the ultimate gift by dying on the cross for our sins and raising to new life so that we could be forgiven. When we disobey or do bad things, we can now be forgiven because of Jesus, and have Him come to live in our hearts if we simply ask Him.

So simple. So profound. So easily grasped by the heart of a child. After reviewing this with him, I went on to tell him that we give gifts to others whom we love, to celebrate the best gift given to us on that first Christmas. This really connected with him. So now he will tell you the best gift is baby Jesus, followed closely by a new bike, as to be expected for a 3-year-old.

His simple question helped put things back into perspective in my own heart, as it is so easy to get caught up in to-do lists and lose Christ in our Christmas.

My husband and I want to give our kids the best gift we can give each Christmas, and that is to point them toward Christ. Everything else comes after this main goal.

It’s not easy though. Slowing down in the midst of the craziness is impossible unless planned. We are a young family, with a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old, and by no means know exactly what this should look like. We are still learning what works for our family each year. But I want to share with you a few ideas we have picked up along the way and watched other godly parents we look up to do with their children to prioritize Christ in Christmas: Continue reading →

The Gift of Advent

by Laura Jones

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“There is something about saying, ‘We always do this,’ which helps keep the years together. Time is such an elusive thing that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting, but never do it, year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness being expressed in making gifts, surprises, charming table settings, and familiar, favorite food. Tradition is a good gift intended to guard the best gifts.” 

 Edith Schaeffer (Christmas Spirit, 1999)

As a little girl, I remember thumbing through the ornaments on the felted advent calendar at my grandmother’s house. Year after year, she would hang it up four weeks before Christmas. The sequined ornament shapes were intricate and reminded me of jeweled candies. Oh, the tension of waiting; it took forever to reach Christmas! Day after day, I snapped on the ornaments and counted down. Would Jesus’s birthday ever come? It seemed like forever.

And here I am as a mom, watching my own children fight over whose turn it is to hang the sparkly felted ornaments. They feel the tension of waiting and longing every time they count down to Christmas day. This is the tension that we, as Christians, must embrace as we wait for what God has already promised through Jesus but not yet fulfilled here on Earth. That is the beauty of practicing advent in tangible ways around the house. It teaches us to lean into the longing; it guides us into reflection and repentance.  And this is where we meet Jesus.

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Advent is a centuries old liturgical practice that looks backwards and forwards simultaneously. It looks back to Jesus’ miraculous Incarnation and leans forward into the reality of the Lord’s prayer: heaven is coming down to Earth. Christ will return and put this broken world to rights. Advent pushes pause on the frenzy of the season where good things tend to crowd out the Best Thing. All the parties, all the gifts, all the dinners are good gifts. But the greatest gift is the Gospel of Christ. Practicing Advent allows us as families to sit down, exhale, and contemplate what Christ has done in the past and what He will do in the future when He returns in glory.  Continue reading →

The Journey to Jesus

by Heather Neese

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“And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him; and opening their treasures they presented to Him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.” (Matthew 2:11)

So often during this time of the year, I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season—presents to buy, trees to decorate, memories to create and maintain, celebrations to attend, and food to prepare.  And I do all of this while trying to keep my focus clearly centered on the true meaning of Christmas.  It can most definitely be a whirlwind. At times when all is said and done—when gifts have all been unwrapped, the Christmas dishes are in the dishwasher and put up for another year, and guests have departed—we find ourselves exhausted.

I am certain many of us have asked ourselves, “How do I more effectively make Christ the center of my Christmas?”  

I have pondered this question over the past few days. Because let’s just be honest with each other. Along with the joys of the season, come the harsh realities as well. As I sit here typing, I am overwhelmed by the vast grief I have witnessed or have been made aware of over the past several months: Continue reading →

God’s Word for the Barren Womb

by Melissa Langley

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If infertility strikes a woman by surprise, how much more unexpected is the struggle of secondary infertility? Secondary infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term, following the birth of one or more biological children. Statistics show 20 percent of women experience secondary infertility, which is twice the number of cases reported for primary infertility.

Infertility is a silent struggle.  A woman feels alone and invisible at times.  On the other hand, her struggle is very obvious: she has no children!  But for the woman who has conceived and birthed a child “effortlessly” and then finds herself in this unknown world of secondary infertility, her struggle is unexpected and even perplexing. She finds herself dealing with the passing of time and maybe even the pain of losing a child through miscarriage. A new set of emotions and thoughts floods her mind – “Will I ever experience the miracle of pregnancy again?”  “Will I ever hold a newborn in my arms again?”  “Will I be able to give the gift of a sibling to my first child?”

Continue reading →

What is my child really learning when I discipline?

We are excited to share a guest post by Jim and Lynne Jackson, co-founders of Connected Families and co-authors of Discipline that Connects with Your Child’s Heart. If you are in need of fresh wisdom in the area of discipline, we hope this post encourages and equips you as you seek to train your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Thank you for sharing with our readers today, Jim and Lynne!

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When our three lively kids were young, we were frequently exasperated and scrambling for behavior management methods and ideas—whatever we could find to calm the chaos. Like many other well-intentioned parents, we learned a tough form of parenting and were typically firm and stern when kids acted up. “It is NOT OKAY to treat your sister like that!”—or—“What is with you? I’m so tired of you arguing about your chores!” We handed out various punishments and consequences in our effort to “be the parents,” hoping the kids would learn their lessons.

Our intentions were good, but the harder we tried to contain and discipline the kids’ wild behavior, the more it discouraged all of us. The firm approaches we’d learned seemed to be hurting more than helping. Momentum was building and we needed a better way. After seeking numerous resources that didn’t seem to help, and talking a bunch about it, we came to believe that our typical approach was communicating unintended messages. We began to realize we were communicating negative messages with our intensitY—through facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice when irritated or firm. These messages were unspoken but powerful: “You are a problem!” “You are selfish.” “You are lazy.” “You are a disappointment!”

The subtle, but powerful messages parents unintentionally communicate during discipline can shape identity as they become a child’s inner voice.   Continue reading →

Christmas GIVEAWAY!!—The Shepherd’s Treasure

by Lindsey Wingo

It is officially that time of year again! Christmas is on the horizon and, if you are like me, you may or may not be prepared for it! After my experience last Christmas, I am determined to approach this December with joy, gratitude, and a healthy dose of realistic expectations. 😉

I do love the excitement and sweet traditions Christmas brings, though. And this year, our family is starting a brand new tradition I wanted to share with each of you!

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The Shepherd’s Treasure is a faith-based alternative to the Elf Tradition. During the month of December, children follow their Shepherd on a fun, interactive treasure hunt to find the true meaning of Christmas. On Christmas morning, they find their Shepherd kneeling before the greatest treasure of all time: JESUS! This is a great new family tradition that we hope will teach little ones to truly seek Jesus both during the Christmas season and after it’s over!”

When we were contacted recently about sharing “The Shepherd’s Treasure” with our readers and trying it out for ourselves, we were thrilled to jump at the opportunity! The following is a brief word from Stephanie Parker, the mom behind the whole idea:

“Hi!

 

I thought I’d take a moment to share a little of my heart with you and explain why I decided to write this book, “The Shepherd’s Treasure,” in the first place! My husband and I own the company Sleepingbaby.com. We were featured on Shark Tank for a product called the Zipade-Zip that I created for our little girl when she wasn’t sleeping well at night. God has truly blessed that business more than we could have imagined, for which we are incredibly grateful!

 

My heart’s prayer has always been to do what I can to give God glory through our business, because without Him, none of it would have been possible.

 

So where does the Shepherd come in? Well, last year, I did the Elf on the Shelf tradition with my kids. Although this tradition might be a wonderful fit for a lot of families, I really struggled with it as it took their focus off of Jesus and turned it towards the presents they were going to be getting IF they were good when the elf was watching them. I found myself un-explaining the Elf’s presence in our home because of how hard it became to refocus our children’s minds on the TRUE meaning of the season and on giving instead of receiving.

 

I remember praying about how I could instill the truth of Jesus in the hearts of my little ones AND how we could use the business God had given us to also be a light for other families.

 

We had managed to affect little ones’ sleep with the Zipadee-Zip but I wanted to find a way to touch their HEARTS. That is when I felt like The Shepherd’s Treasure book was laid on my heart. And when I say it was ‘laid on my heart’, it was like God had attached 100lbs weights to it until I actually made it happen!

 

I felt so called to be obedient to God and write this but I felt like I TOTALLY lacked the skills to do it! I had never dreamed or desired to write a book in my life! BUT I did want to honor Jesus. It’s amazing how things just fall into place when our hearts are in the right place! I’m so humbled by this whole process as I’ve watched God’s hand in it all! I’m thankful to play a very small part in His bigger plan!”

This past week my family received our Shepherd’s Treasure doll and book set along with the advent cards to use each day leading up to Christmas.

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One of the things I love about this set is the scripture cards that are included with the dolls and book. There is even a detailed list of ideas for what your little shepherd could be doing each day to coordinate with that day’s advent card. I decided a while ago that I do much better with these sorts of things when the work is pretty much laid out for me, and there is very little prep work on my part! This fits the bill.

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I love the sweet story Stephanie wrote to go along with the little Shepherd. It all points to the most important gift of all and the true meaning of Christmas—Jesus! The following images are of the note from the Shepherd that comes after the story in the book.

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We can’t wait to journey with our shepherd! (The girls are still deciding on a name but are leaning toward either “Shep” or “Staffy” 😉 )

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And that’s not all! Stephanie has graciously offered to give one of our readers their own Shepherd’s Treasure box set just in time for December! See below for giveaway details. A winner will be chosen Tuesday night, November 22. Be on the lookout on Facebook and Instagram for the announcement of the winner! And be sure to use PROMO CODE: HEAVENLY to receive a discount on the purchase of your own Shepherd’s Treasure adventure!

Here’s how to enter:

Giveaway Closed 11/22/16. Winner ~ Kacie Wilbur 🙂 

Giveaway Details

  • Like AND share The Shepherd’s Treasure Facebook page.
  • Comment below THIS post with what you are most excited about this Christmas.
    • It has come to our attention that some users are having trouble leaving comments on this post. If you have trouble leaving a comment below, visit our Facebook page and leave a comment below The Shepherd’s Treasure post and we will be sure to include you in the giveaway. We are looking into this issue. Thank you for your patience!
  • A winner will be chosen Tuesday night, November 22 in order to give the winner time to receive their gift!
  • Be on the lookout on Facebook and Instagram for the announcement of the winner as well as a promo code for our readers to enjoy a discount on orders of The Shepherd’s Treasure.

*We do not receive compensation for any orders of The Shepherd’s Treasure. While we did receive a free gift set to use and review, the opinions of this post are honest and unbiased. We simply want to provide you information about helpful resources to use with your own families!

Lindsey Wingo

LindseyWingo

Home Phones and Haircuts: Eight Things I Didn’t Expect About Foster Care

This is the second post this week by Erin about her foster care journey. If you missed the first one, see the previous post for more of Erin’s story!

by Erin Grasham

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Before I met my first foster kids, I read all the books and asked all the questions. Still, there were plenty of things about life as a foster mom that nothing could have prepared me for.

  • I didn’t expect to need answers for “They look just like you!”

I have a confession. The chances of my foster child being a minority were fairly high, and I was excited about that. I had imagined the day that someone would say, “Oh how precious! Where are they from?”, so I could respond with a cheeky, “Umm, North Nashville.”

That wasn’t the case with my kids. Instead, I usually heard, “They really take after you, huh?” Initially, I tried to form a fantastic response, but it didn’t take long to settle into “thank you” if it was all I had time for. I have to say, I kind of loved it.

  • I didn’t expect to be cussed out regularly by a two year old.

When my little girl showed up with her bouncy blonde curls, she had me wrapped pretty quickly. I imagined spending lots of time reading and snuggling and putting matching bows on tiny pigtails.

I did not imagine that the first discernible words I would hear from her would be “No b****!” or that I would hear them twenty-seven times a day for a while. I thought I might have noticed them at first, but when her big brother mentioned one day, “That’s what Daddy always said,” I knew I heard her correctly. I also grew patience with a long shelf-life.

  • I didn’t expect to be a hoarder.

I guess you know you’re a foster mom when you hoard beds. I have eight. And three car seats, three boosters, pajamas in every size, and a mini-van. I bought a house three doors down from the day care in our community that accepts the foster care voucher. (Yes, child care is free when foster parents work full-time.) You don’t have to be this obsessed, but sometimes it happens when you’re not looking.  Continue reading →

Choosing Goodbyes: Reunifying a Family Through Foster Care

We are thrilled to share two posts this week from a sweet foster mom, Erin Grasham. Today’s post is a glimpse into Erin’s foster care journey. Thank you for sharing your heart and story, Erin!

by Erin Grasham

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Foster care is confusing. Frustrating for many. Messy, broken, reckless, loud. What would you expect from something born of loss? But foster care is also the dance in the rain, the muddy gospel footprints tracked into the living room.

“Do you have kids?” It’s a normal question. One of many effortlessly taking up space in conversation for most of us. But it’s a loaded one for me. Sometimes, the answer is yes. Sometimes, it is no. Always, it is, “I am a foster mom. And I love it.”

Responses are predictable, often uncomfortable, but quickly shifting. I love telling the story and letting people step into it, so I engage them as often as they allow.

But one response, the most common one, never gets easier to hear.

“I could never do that. I could never give them back.”

I’m not sure it really changes until it changes. I guess that’s the risk. But this is not a matter of risk. It’s a matter of must. Continue reading →

When You’re Shaken

by Caroline Saunders

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As I drive around, the world seems peaceful: the shining sun, the green trees, the orderly stop-and-go of cars, the drivers’ mindless obedience to the traffic lights’ color commands. But the outside orderliness does not match my shaken insides. The outsides are certain and sure: green means go, red means stop. But inside, I don’t know what anything means. What once felt solid now seems broken; what once seemed like a period is now a question mark.

No one at the grocery store knows I am shaken. The list in my hand is clear, my feet instinctively know every aisle, and my mouth still remembers how to smile at the cashier. My fingers still know how to punch in my pen number, and I’m back in the car again, aware that the internal war of uncertainty sounds louder when my body is still.

I’ve spent my life chasing certainty, stability—“everything will be fine when ___”—but three decades of filling in the blank have proved fruitless. “Almost there,” I think, and then a violent left turn. “If I try a little bit harder,” I theorize, and then a new bill arrives in the mailbox.

Money, achievements, relationships—all of it is uncertain. When we stick them in the blank, when we press our hope into them, they fold in on themselves like a broken lawn chair or just slowly pull us off our path, like a float in the ocean.

But words of certainty found their way into my uncertain heart the other day, in a song I’ve sung a million times: “But God, who calls me here below, will be forever mine.”

“Forever mine” are words of stability. “Forever mine” are words of solid footing. “Forever mine” are the words we should scribble on the bottom of our shoes so that we walk with certainty, even as the world crumbles beneath us. It’s strangely similar to my seventh grade memory of a friend writing test answers on the bottom of her flip flops—we can stand on the answer to every question life throws at us: “God will be forever mine.” Continue reading →

Feeling Overlooked and Forgotten, Dear Mom?

by Amy Wages

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“I really hope this isn’t going to be one of those life lesson moments!” Those were the words that came out of my mouth as my 12-year-old daughter nervously marched onto the soccer field with four of her teammates, preparing for game-deciding penalty kicks. This was the first game of the end-of-season tournament and the score was 0-0, with many attempts to score made by each team. Evie, my daughter, had already played the entire game plus two overtimes. I knew she was exhausted and this was her first time to be faced with trying to make a “PK.”

The sun was going down quickly and it was time. Evie had practiced so many times recently with her dad so that she could be ready for a moment like this.

She walked forward for her turn, took the shot, and the goalkeeper caught it. Evie’s shoulders slumped, and she trotted back to the other girls who immediately consoled her. A tough moment for a sixth grader, and definitely one of those “life lessons.”

When we got back to the car she told me she felt like she let her team down. I reminded her that we still won the game and she had played hard the entire time. She wasn’t convinced. But a little time with friends and some Mexican food afterwards can do a lot for a girl’s spirit! Continue reading →