Making New Christmas Traditions

Christmas

Our son is almost two now, so this Christmas is already shaping up to be really fun. The lights and music are way up his alley. He keeps pointing to the Cars movie-themed wrapping paper I’m using and saying, “car, car, car.” Santa freaks him out, but he loves walking through the local park to see the huge lights display. Now we get dancing and heart-melting grins along with every new experience.

Last year, Carson stared at the lights, but he couldn’t figure out how to unwrap a present. This year, I’m pretty sure Carson will want to open everybody’s presents. That’s why the presents are on a table instead of under the tree.

The Tree Debate

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One debate we had: tree or no tree. Last year, we had a small tabletop tree. We figured that between our son, a Sheltie, and a hound, the tree would not be in one piece before the countdown was over on the advent calendar.

I brought Carson over to my mom’s house last week, and she already had a little tree up near her fireplace. Carson pointed, danced around, and spoke all kinds of excited jibberish about the little tree – and he managed to not touch it the whole time.

So, mommy gave in, and we decided to get an artificial tree. We chose artificial because we felt like it would be too tempting to have a bucket full of rocks and water at the bottom of a real tree. We do have a toddler and two dogs, after all.

I’m so glad we decided to put up the tree. It looks beautiful. The Sheltie naps on the tree skirt; the hound ignores it, and Carson looks at it throughout the day. He does try to pull some of the ornaments off the tree, but telling him “no” usually makes him stop, even if I’m across the room. I am pleasantly amazed.

Of course, we still have 15 days to go.

How I Mildly Toddler-Proofed the Tree

I’ve decided to decorate the tree with ornaments that won’t break just in case. I also used strong thread instead of metal hooks to hang the ornaments. I have an adorable plush fox couple from Cracker Barrel on the tree, and I’ve also made homemade ornaments using pages from a thrifted Jane Austen novel and Mod Podge. On each ornament, I’ve glued a silhouette. The silhouettes include a beagle, a Sheltie, the manger scene, birds, tea cups, a train because Carson loves trains, and deer heads that look very “now.”

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Thinking About Family Traditions

Last year, our son was small enough that I wasn’t thinking about family traditions yet. This year, it suddenly hit me: it’s time to think about all of it — the tree, which cookies I will bake, which places and experiences will create memories for him. Before Carson, my husband and I had a few Christmas traditions, but we were pretty minimalist other than a few basic decorations, walking through the park, visiting family, and going to a Christmas service at church.

Now I think back to my own childhood memories of Christmas. My mom did the whole she-bang. We had a manger scene and a train under the tree. She baked tons of cookies, and our house was full of lights. My brother and I had parts to say in the Christmas church service. We had family get-togethers. Being young, I thought all of that just “came together.”

Now I see what a role a mommy plays in all of it. It makes me excited.

I put Carson up in his high chair and play him the few Christmas songs that I have learned on my guitar. In the Sunday School class I’m teaching for two and three year olds, I’ve also played the songs while the kids clapped along, and I found a really neat app for my Kindle that lets the kids create a manger scene. The class was enthralled! They’re young, but I hope I can help make some memories for them too.

Making a Spiritual Tradition

Part of my enthusiasm this year also has a lot to do with the fact that I started spiritually preparing for the holidays over Thanksgiving week. I read The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs, and it gave me a much more in-depth view of the Christian perspective of Christmas than I’d had before. The author focuses on the women’s point of view in the story of Christmas while maintaining historical and biblical accuracy. By the end of the book, I was filled with joy. You will probably feel the same way if you read it! It will make you feel like you’re there beside Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna as they experience the miracle. I am so glad that I got the chance to read this book.

Rather than retell you what I read, I encourage you to visit the author’s site at http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/ and try to get your hands on the book. Liz Curtis Higgs tells the Christmas story with such eloquence. You can find some of her blog posts about Christmas as it relates to Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna here: http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/category/the-women-of-christmas/.

If you have time to read just one good post from her blog, I think this is a good one. http://www.lizcurtishiggs.com/the-women-of-christmas-the-virgin-mother-kind/

Originally, I had planned on blogging about all of the “ah-ha” moments, but I decided that I just want to cherish those thoughts in my own mind and not let my thoughts get in the way of what you might discover yourself as you seek Christ this season.

If you do read the book, go back and read the Bible passage of the Christmas story as well. You will be amazed at the new connections you’ll make.

Or, even if you do none of the above, I hope you’ll read the Christmas story directly from The Bible in the gospel of Luke. I will admit that it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of festivities. That’s why it really helped for me to read the book and Bible passage in late November.

What are your favorite holiday traditions? How do you spiritually prepare for Christmas?

Hope you are doing well, my friend. As 2014 draws to a close, I just wanted to thank you for reading my blog this year. I hope I was able to encourage you, make you think, or give you a “me too” moment. Even as it seems like people are less likely to look into a stranger’s eyes nowadays, thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully read. The words on this blog are my way of “looking into your eyes” and speaking kindness into your life. Through this, we connect. 

With love,

Teresa C.

 

 

Let’s All Be Brave

I just finished reading Annie F. Downs’ book Let’s All Be Brave, and I’ve watched the Bloom Book Club videos about it. I’ve been thinking: what does brave look like for me?

Starting this blog was brave. I am not a person who usually speaks up; few people except my husband and a few close friends know what I’m really thinking because I don’t say it aloud. I tend to keep my thoughts and opinions to myself because I’ve found that speaking up tends to make life more complicated. The truth is, it is fear that keeps me from joining the conversation and standing by my views. I’m afraid of being judged, disliked, or written off by others — but I write myself off by not speaking up sometimes.

My first career was in journalism, and in that field, being unbiased is valued. Of course, it was impossible not to form personal opinions, but it was my job to represent both sides equally so that the reader could form an opinion independently. It was my job to be fair, and that was a professional priority for me. I got used to telling other people’s stories and voicing other people’s opinions eloquently.

Yet, saying what I’m actually thinking in a blog format — that takes so much more courage than the journalism writing that I did before. As a reporter, I was sent out to do interviews in a tornado one time, so journalism took plenty of courage as well. That type of writing never left me personally vulnerable though.

Even if people didn’t like what I wrote as a journalist, I knew it wasn’t actually me that was bothering them. That helped me develop a thick skin for criticism, but I have begun to break down some of those defenses — especially now that I am a wife and a mother. My heart has softened. I realize that I do care what others think, but it does leave me much more open to being hurt.

Even now, I don’t want to be vulnerable. I felt led to start this blog earlier this year, and even though it is small, it takes bravery every time that I write. What I write isn’t very controversial for other Christians, but for people who are not believers, what I’m writing is bold territory. To stand up and say that I believe in Christ takes courage, but I am glad to say it.

If you are like me — a person who is shy about speaking up, even if what you have to say is encouraging and edifying — I understand how brave it is to write a blog post or leave a genuine comment on someone else’s blog. For more extroverted types, this probably doesn’t look brave at all. One of the points that Annie makes in the book club videos is that my brave will look different from your brave. What looks easy for one person will take bravery for another, but God sees and knows your heart. He knows how much bravery He’s asking of you.

For some people, it takes bravery to believe that Christ really forgives. It takes bravery to share your spiritual gifts instead of hiding them. It takes bravery to open up to others if you have been hurt in the past. It takes bravery to stop repeating past mistakes. It takes bravery to pray and let Christ show you an area of weakness in your life that He wants to address.

In this blog, I have shared two very personal things about myself: the scar that I have, and my experience with preeclampsia. I have also shared so much of my joy about being a mother and about God’s grace. I will probably never know the full impact of this blog on the lives of others, but I do know that God is teaching me about myself as I write.

So, this blog is my BIG brave. Also, keeping a positive attitude despite struggles and relying on God to keep his promises in my daily life is another BIG brave.

One of my smaller areas of bravery lately was committing to sewing some dresses for Sewing 4 Souls even though I do not sew well. I also think it took some bravery to go to adult guitar lessons at a local church this fall; it is something completely new for me, but I am enjoying it. What would be really brave would be to play the guitar in front of others, and that day may come.

To give you something to think about, I want to leave you with a quote from Annie’s book.

I never tied discipline to courage. I never saw the correlation. I guess I should have, since I lack in both. But in all matters — physical, mental, and spiritual — I believe that to live a disciplined life leads to a brave life. We long to be brave in the big moments, in the clutch times, in the times when our backs are up against a wall. But to get there? It’s the everyday. It’s the practice. It’s the steps. It’s the discipline.

What areas of practice (honing your talents) or spiritual discipline (prayer, etc.) might help you be more brave when times get tough?

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I hope you are having a wonderful week. If you read along with the Bloom Book Club, I hope you were challenged by this book.

With love,

Teresa

Just for Fun

DSCN2097I made a huge collage just for fun this past weekend. I woke up early and got out the Mod Podge, clipped a bunch of photos from magazines that spoke to me with their positivity, and created something that I think is pretty great ;-) Sometimes it’s fun to stop being a “serious grown-up” for a few hours and just do something like this. When I look at it now, I smile every time.

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 DSCN2090DSCN2093DSCN2099DSCN2095I think this sort of captures the best aspects of my life right now — both what it is, and what I aspire toward in the future. The oven is on there because, well, I really want a new oven. Ours is from the 1970s. The one in the photo is much more fancy than what I need, but who could resist a photo of a red oven? Sigh…

The photo of the boy dressed up as a prince makes me think of my son. I even have a little pop culture shout out to Zooey Deschanel and Carrie Brownstein.

Hope you enjoyed this little peek at my creative spark.

Happy Thanksgiving week, sweet readers! Hope you have a lovely, blessed day of thanks.

With love,

Teresa C.

P.S. I just finished reading The Women of Christmas by Liz Curtis Higgs. It was so wonderful! It brought the Christmas story to life with a lot of details from the culture of the time, and it told the story from the perspective of Mary, Elizabeth, and Anna. I will wait until December and post more about it then — but I wanted to recommend it. It will get you into the Christmas spirit.

Sewing 4 Souls

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I am not skilled at sewing. In fact, when I took a quilting class earlier this year, the teacher said I could not sew a straight line, and I’m pretty sure she was only somewhat joking.

I wish I could sew well, but God can still use willing people even if we are not perfect.

I wanted to share some photos of the dresses I made for Sewing 4 Souls, not to show how cute the dresses turned out – even though they did turn out pretty cute! – but because I hope other women who enjoy sewing might see this and think about getting involved.

It took me months to finish the dresses, mostly during my son’s nap time or late at night, because he was too curious about the sewing machine for me to work on the dresses at any other time.

The dresses from Sewing 4 Souls go to children in other countries who may not have clothes to wear or many possessions. These handmade dresses are a way of sharing Christ’s love with those little girls. S4S also sends handmade boys’ shorts to other countries.

After I finished my dresses, I prayed over each one, asking God to bless the girl who would wear it, protect her, and help her know Him. Putting these dresses in the mail felt so good because I really did struggle with sewing a few of them!

If you would like to get involved, visit http://www.sewing4souls.net/. The site has videos that show how to sew the clothes, and the fabric is already cut when it’s sent to you. Even if you aren’t interested in sewing, would you say a prayer for this ministry?

With love,

Teresa

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Spiritual Heritage & Remembering

Usually I attend an independent Christian Bible church, but once a year, I step back in time.

I go to the homecoming service at my grandmother’s Lutheran church about an hour from home, in a different state. The cornerstone of the church is from the mid-1800s, and documents are always spread out on the back table during homecoming that trace memories and family members through their journey in the church. There are photos; this year, I saw my grandfather’s baptism certificate.

The church itself is beautiful. The sanctuary is small and probably hasn’t changed too much since the church was built, but the organ at the front has shining, tall chimes. There is stained glass, and the light comes through the windows in such a way that it inspires awe. At the beginning of the service,  candles are always lit; at the end of the service these candles are extinguished, and the large church bell rings from the steeple. Even without personal connections, the church building and its people are endearing.

Yet, the personal connections are what make this service a yearly homecoming. My grandmother, definitely a spiritual role model in my life, died in her 90s, but going to the homecoming service at the little Lutheran church in the country brings back memories of sitting on the wooden pews next to her when I would visit as a young girl. Just walking into the building brings back vivid thoughts of her because she was a devout, caring woman who made Christ and the church a priority in her life.

It’s also the church where my parents were married. When I think about everything that has happened there in my family’s past, I get goose bumps because I feel connected to all of it.

A Lutheran service is quite different from what I grew up with in an independent church. Part of the homecoming service includes responsive readings, in which the reverend reads a section, and then the congregation answers by reading the bold print either in a book or on a program. The hymns are the same ones my grandmother sang; I know this because when I opened a hymnal there this time, a children’s scripture paper dated 1981 was tucked inside. Interestingly, 1981 is the year I was born.

Instead of sending children to a different class during the service, which I grew up with, a children’s message at this church consists of bringing the children to the front of the church to teach them for about five minutes before they return to the pew with their parents for the general sermon. I love the children’s sermon. First of all, it is adorable to watch the children being taught, and they usually do or say something adorable/innocent/hilarious. Second, this year I loved seeing my husband take our toddler up front to be a part of it. I also like the children’s sermon because it’s so simple that it’s easy to commit to memory.

This year, the children’s service was about the time when Jesus was asked if it is right to pay taxes (Matthew 22:15-22) in an attempt by the Pharisees to trap Jesus into an answer that would anger people. Here is the scripture (NIV):

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Jesus’s message encourages believers to give their whole selves to God because that is what belongs to Him; nothing less than your whole heart is owed. As the reverend taught the children this, he showed them a plaque with coins from biblical times. The plaque had a denarius, a widow’s mite, shekel, and a few others. I am a visual learner, so seeing this made the lesson come alive for me. It was a neat view of history, and seeing something historical is definitely my cup of tea.

coins of the Bible

Besides this, the service also included a message for the adults and a recitation of the Lord’s Prayer together.

I can’t really compare this to how any other Lutheran churches organize their services since this is the only Lutheran church I have been to over the years, but I enjoy the services. It takes some concentration to keep up with the different responsive readings if a person isn’t used to that, but it is also interesting to speak aloud in a service when you’re used to only singing hymns.

At this service, like many I have attended there in the past, I could feel God’s presence. It makes me feel so grateful.

After the service, everyone went downstairs for a meal of homemade noodle soup, ham and chicken salad sandwiches, steamers, baked macaroni, and other seriously delicious comfort food. My son and all the other children played together in a big corner filled with toys that had probably been there since the 1950s or ’60s. Carson really liked the rotary telephone! Meanwhile, Larry and I pulled a large book from the 1800s off of a nearby bookshelf to flip through. Inside, we found many old newspaper clippings that were fascinating to see.

We sat down with my aunts and uncles for the meal, and we ended our visit by going outside to stand at my grandparents’ grave and reflect. It’s always the last thing we do before we leave.

Homecoming is a tradition that I cherish. I know faith is about so much more than family tradition, but these services combine faith and tradition in a way that is meaningful to me on many levels.

I hope to show this post to my son someday.

Joshua 4:20-24 A scripture about remembering for future generations . . .

Thank you for reading this, my friend. I hope you are having a wonderful week.

With love,

Teresa

Finding Beauty in Scars

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The scars of Jesus bring beauty and healing to our own.

When I see this quote, my mind goes to a very literal place: the long scar on my own back. I was diagnosed with scoliosis when I was 12, which meant I had a severe curve in my spine. It was shaped like an “s,” and doctors told my parents that without surgery, this problem would continue to the point that it could crowd my organs or become life-threatening. At age 12, with no pain in my back whatsoever, I had a surgery to put two stainless steel rods into my back, and a bone from my hip was fused along those rods to straighten me. After the surgery, I was straighter — but I have had pain every day since then.

Now in my 30s, I try not to think about it too much. As long as I exercise, that helps my back muscles feel more loose, but I can still feel the cold of winter or even when a rain storm is coming because my back hurts more than usual.

Every day, this is my scar that I have. When I buy a bathing suit, I think about which one will cover the scar best. When I bend over, I bend more from my hips, so that looks a little different than everyone else if you’re watching closely. Other than that, looking at me, no one would probably know that I have gone through this. Lifting a 25 pound toddler throughout the day has been interesting, and I’m stronger than I realized in that aspect. I’m so thankful for that.

Outwardly, no one knows unless I mention it, but of course, Christ knows this is part of me because he knows everything about me.

One positive thing is that when people are in pain, I understand what it means. My heart goes out to them. I get it. I think my scar makes me care more about others.

Each day is a new day to stay positive. In Heaven, this scar will no longer be a part of me, and I am excited about that. Meanwhile, I am so thankful that I am still able to live a very full and wonderful life. I am able to hike, swim, be a mom, travel, play a guitar (I just started taking lessons a month ago), and feed my mind with good books.

I can remember that on earth, Jesus had physical scars too. He was perfect, but his body was broken for us so that he could rise again and bring salvation to those who call upon him for it.

Besides the physical scars, so many of us — me included — also carry some emotional scars that we can call on Jesus to comfort and heal if it is his will. He makes the load lighter. Without faith, it would feel impossible to more forward. With faith, anything is possible. Aren’t you thankful for that?

With love,

Teresa

P.S. A lot of bloggers are doing a 31 day series this month. One that I have really enjoyed reading is about writing down your spiritual legacy. It’s at http://www.wheregivinghappens.com/. I don’t know this blogger personally, but I find so much truth in her writing.

The next Bloom Book Club is also starting this week with Annie Downs’ book Lets All Be Brave. I will be reading along :)

My Top Ten Favorite Books

There’s a little challenge that has been floating around Facebook, asking people to pick their top ten favorite or influential books that they’ve read. I decided to share my list with you. Maybe you’ll think about your top ten too or pick out one of the books on my list to encourage you, especially if you’re an avid reader like me. I usually read a book or two each month, and on the more busy months, I use a free library app to listen to an audio book. So, here’s my top ten list of influential books.

  1. Anne of Green Gables: I loved how creative Anne’s mind was. Green Gables was the perfect place in my mind when I was young. In the series, Anne became a writer and a teacher, which were both my goals in life, and she had a great romance. I want to visit Prince Edward Island someday.
  2. Pursue the Intentional Life by Jean Fleming: This book had a great influence on my spiritual life. Even though it’s written from the perspective of an older woman, I found so much wisdom in it.
  3. Walden by Henry David Thoreau: Thoreau challenged the conventions of his day and valued the basics in life. He also wrote beautifully. Larry and I were engaged at Thoreau’s cabin site in Massachusetts.
  4. Mere Christianity by CS Lewis: This book helped me think about Christianity on a deeper level.
  5. Jane Austen novels: I love the romance and manners (but I’m glad women have more mobility in the world today). I also love how Jane Austen was always looking at people’s motives in such a humorous way.
  6. Gifted Hands by Ben Carson: His life story was always an inspiration for me. I read this all the way back in 8th grade, but I still think about his journey in life. He came from poverty, but his mom’s determination to make him an avid reader (even though she was illiterate) eventually put him on the path of becoming a great children’s neurosurgeon.
  7. Little House on the Prairie series: I liked to imagine that I was Laura.
  8. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series: I liked this series because the characters were not one-dimensional. I felt like I knew all four of the girls. I could see them as role models, and I like Ann Brashare’s writing style.
  9. Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 542 Recipes, 1 Tiny Kitchen Apartment by Julia Powell: This lady cooked all the way through Julia Child’s cookbooks and blogged about it. What a neat idea. I like how Julia Child’s life is woven into the story. This book is so good (Unfortunately, Julie Powell’s second book is crude, at least for my taste. All of the romance and positive outlook of her first book is gone there. I don’t recommend her second book!).
  10. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz: This book helped me understand my own dogs better and how they perceive the world. I’m a dog person, so this book fascinated me.

Besides this list, I am also working on reading through the Bible. As I finish a book of the Bible, I write down the name of the book and the date in the front of my Bible. As someone who grew up in church and became a Christian at a young age, I’ve realized that reading through the Bible should be a priority.

Even though the top ten list didn’t include blogs, I feel like there are a few blogs that have become influential in my life too. I read the incourage blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and www.holleygerth.com each week. I also listen to Tsh Oxenreider’s Art of Simple Podcast while I’m cooking. Since these blogs are so current and “with me” each week, they are very influential.

This beautiful weather has been leading me to slack a little in the blogging department, but I’ve been making some great memories with my son. Maybe you can relate to that too :)

Anyway, what are your favorite books, blogs, or podcasts?

Hope you are having a fabulous week, my friend.

Love,

Teresa C.

I’m linking up with Holley today.