Planning for Endurance and Enjoyment this December!

As the busy month of December is upon us, I thought I'd share some encouragement specific to this season and the craziness it sometimes brings! So sit down with a cup of tea or coffee or hot chocolate, and read this letter to you, from me.

Dear Mom,

You wrote asking for a bit of help.  I, too, have felt a need for help so very often, and so I offer you my best advice on how to make it through December with some enjoyment!

First of all, chill out. Take a little time for yourself and endeavor to gain some perspective. I hope something I say here may help. I have had to learn that no one else in the world will be responsible for my over-all well being. I have a husband and children who need me, and they are going to want to continue eating every day and want to wear relatively clean clothes, with the expectation that I will be the one to keep this going.

As we all know, if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. So, I have to tend to my own happiness and well being, and you need to tend to yours, even in the midst of our practical busy-ness for others.

I am responsible for my rest, my quiet time, my eating and exercise, filling my cup, so that it will not be empty when others want and need to keep taking and taking from me.  I am also the manager of my "chill time." Laughing and lightening up really brings health to the bones. ("A joyful heart is good medicine" has been proved by medical research1) It is God's will for me to survive with grace.

There are tasks calling my name around the house, but I have become the queen of turning my head away, doing my best to stick to my most important priorities. I have found that there will be just as many things screaming for my attention tomorrow ... and tomorrow ... and tomorrow.

But today, I know that my body and mind need a little rest and my emotions are a bit frayed, and I will become grumpy if I don't create a little break. No one else is going to tell me when I have reached my limit. But if I do not monitor myself, my children and husband and I will come to regret it when I blow!  I am steward of my limitations and body. If I don't protect my  walk with the Lord, that too will get eaten up in everyone else's agenda.

Though still learning, I am always simplifying and evaluating if something is worth the effort.  Making things beautiful and special during the holidays IS worth the effort as it builds the taste and values and work ethic and ministry skills of my children, but I have to make adjustments in different life seasons, and not go overboard.

Not everything "we have always done," actually has to be done this year. Fast food with candles lit is just fine. Then again, it may not be worth it to answer one more phone call or one more email--as this will certainly steal from my children and husband who need me today. Perhaps making dinner at home tonight will be the priority I will choose.

Each of us has a different puzzle and different personality, and we must accept our limitations within our own story and be comfortable being ourselves. There is great freedom in deciding to enjoy who I am, as I am not going to essentially change any time soon! I see so many moms seeking to live up to other's expectations and ideals and then burning out in the process. I have high work times, followed by times when I just can't get anything done--and somehow the world does not crash even when I take time to just live and enjoy, and avoid the "I have to do everything or I will be a failure" syndrome.

This is why I take time to have my cup of tea every day--a way of saying, "I will take time for a moment of pleasure and peace, because it centers me, and I have decided I will last a lot longer in this very long distant race, if I build anchors of serendipity into my schedule."

If you and I don't make peace with our own life circumstances, then we are in danger of cultivating a heart of bitterness, inadequacy, guilt, or whining, or possibly blowing apart into oblivion. But if we become the conductors of our own life symphonies and live within our own melody of life, we will last longer more gracefully with the God of grace who leads us.

Spend time in God's word and let Him love you-- and you love Him back. He came for you. He came to comfort. Let His comfort be yours. You cannot find peace without the Prince of peace.

Take time to regroup today--Go eat some chocolate, and don't feel guilty as you are eating it (that would certainly be a waste of good chocolate!) Listen to some beautiful music, watch a heart-warming movie, take a nap, eat off of paper plates to save cleanup! The rest of December is still coming and you will be the better for it. I'll be praying for you!

Love, Sally

If you'd like more about graceful endurance through December, click here to listen to Kristen and I talk about how we've found some peace in the season during my latest podcast!

Reaching Our Children's Hearts: Family Devotions

Bed-headed, footed jammies Joy padded into our living room where the Sarah, Joel, and Nathan were gathering after breakfast on a cold, winter's morn.

"Today, we are going to read the story of a very wealthy man who was rejected by the leaders in Jesus' day. But Jesus saw that inside, he had a heart that wanted to know God." And so we began to read the story of Zacchaeus. "Let's listen to what happened and think if we have any friends like this man?"

So I read the story. "You know, mama, I know a friend who has been coming to church, but everyone has been making fun of her because her clothes are different. Maybe I should be friends with her," one child offered. Opinions were given about what it meant to be a tax collector, because they took so much money from their countrymen. The kids thought about who that might be in our culture today. Just from this one story, so many ideas about how Jesus reached out to an outcast and what He wanted us to do in our neighborhood, spawned a "Let's make cookie plates for the people we know are lonely, mama."

As I see my adult kids befriending outcasts today, reaching out the lonely or "different" ones in their lives, I know that the seed of their understanding started in just such readings as this story, that took place in our home on a normal day.

As we look at the life of Christ, we learn so much about how to make ministry to others a part of our normal life.  One important principle of reaching children's hearts that we can observe in Jesus' life is that of intentional instruction.  Jesus talked to his disciples about the Scriptures and their meaning, He talked to them of God and His ways and laws, and He talked to them of the future. In their time together, he covered every possible subject from faith to humility to prejudice to forgiveness, adultery, murder, love, food, and morality.

Family devotions can be a very useful device for teaching not only the text of the Bible, but also the importance of spending time with God on a regular basis. This instructional tool, however, like all the others, needs to be introduced gradually and in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the children involved.

I remember a time many years ago when Clay and I decided to start having daily family devotions. We first attempted to do this at mealtimes and quickly learned that teaching toddlers can be very frustrating if we expect them to behave like adults. Just when we would begin, one child would spill his drinking cup or another would interrupt or another would have a reason to cry. I remember thinking, Why do I even try? They aren't getting anything out of this!

Over a period of time, though, I began to find other ways of establishing devotional times that really got through to our children. They loved it when I sang them songs in the rocking chair before we put them to bed at night and shared with them a dramatic story beginning with their names: "Sarah, imagine what you would do if a giant came to attack our country and you were the only one who could rescue us! Well, that happened to a little boy named David many years ago!" If I cuddled up my children on our couch and had grapes or cheese and crackers to eat, they would pay rapt attention while I read Bible stories and showed them picture books. Often I would give them markers and paper and let them draw while I read.

Little by little we accustomed our children to sitting still and listening and even participating in family devotions. This became a familiar time to them because we did it day after day; it was simply a part of their lives.

One important thing that Clay and I learned as we struggled to instruct our children in spiritual matters was that our attitude makes a huge difference. If we want our children to enjoy participating in devotions and to learn God's Word joyfully, then they must sense that these are important to us personally. They must feel that we love our Lord and are excited to share him with them. Even as we give instruction, we must also model what we are teaching. When it comes to reaching hearts for Christ, we cannot just tell our children what to do. We have to lead the way.

For more on reaching your child's heart, click here for The Mission of Motherhood

 
 

 

Pace Yourself Through the Holidays & Life & A new podcast!

December is upon us. Pacing yourself through each day will preserve your energy and heart-strength to enjoy each day. Enjoy our podcast today!

"I can't wait to come home, mama! Let's sit in front of the Christmas tree and sip tea and tell secrets and talk for hours!" My two adventuresome girls will be home soon from the United Kingdom.

"I can't wait to come home, mama! Let's sit in front of the Christmas tree and sip tea and tell secrets and talk for hours!" My two adventuresome girls will be home soon from the United Kingdom.

Each December, knowing the stress and busyness of Christmas can create havoc if I let the whirlwind of expectations catch up with me, so I spend some time deciding what kind of person I want to give to my friends and family, how I will simplify. I also want to love Jesus well, but that requires planning on my part.

Especially when they were little, I had to make a plan--how to own my Christmas in such a way that I treasured what was important.

This year, amidst a book deadline and a launch, ministry, activities in our home, I will have my four and now dear Thomas, Sarah's new husband for almost 3 weeks. So meeting needs, celebrating life, eating, cleaning, talking and doing it again and again, will fill my days to overfull, but happy full. Yet, I have to really plan it all to not be overstressed.

But everyone I know must make a plan that suits themselves, their personality, their own unique puzzle of life in order to not be controlled by the pressures of the holidays. And I have never come to a holiday season when I did not have huge stress and commitments piling in.

Today, Kristen and I have recorded a podcast for you that offers a little plan for pacing yourself for this holiday season--a way to put a plan in action so that you can manage the weeks ahead with grace. 

The first and most important suggestion on our list is for you to Pause, and make a time just for yourself--to breathe, to listen to your needs, to your own heart, and to write in a journal (or whatever way is best for you,) to get yourself centered. taking time alone for yourself is essential because your attitude, ability to give and serve during this season will deeply impact the way those in your home feel about this holiday. Breathe in rest and grace and then make a reasonable plan for how you want the weeks ahead to play out.

The rest of the plan will be at the bottom of the podcast.  

In the end, if we have cherished time to sit and ponder the miracle of baby Jesus coming to save us; if we make sweet memories by being present to those we love and attending to their hearts; if we are able to cultivate peace in our souls, then we will have cultivated a very worthwhile holiday.

Now, letters and emails come from my children who are far away, and family who will be visiting, and friends who expect the events I have always held at my home for years and years play into my planning.

The first cookies I make each year--Mama's snowballs.

The first cookies I make each year--Mama's snowballs.

"Mom, let's do all the homey stuff--have breakfast in our jammies, drink tea together and talk and talk by the Christmas tree, every day. Let's make each moment count!"

These are the times that spell love to my children--TIME-my focussed time. And it was so when they were little ones.

Yesterday, I was decorating the dining room table while Clay and Joel worked on the tree. Josh Groben's song, "I'll be home for Christmas" began to play and I teared up, just getting excited, and oh so thankful to have all my children home with me, by my side, in my home, to touch, watch, laugh with and do life together.

And I don't want to waste a minute on busyness and distraction-but I want to plan and work so that I can have the most time loving all of my precious family and friends well.

As I thought about this, I looked through old journal entries, old blogs from holiday times, and my heart was reminded again, what was important--those moments that hold fast in the treasure chest of our children's souls.

And so I share one of my own home stories that I read, once again, that helped put my own heart in a right state of mind. I hope you enjoy our moment shared! This memory of one time, an unexpected grace, to touch, to enjoy, to giggle with, to celebrate life. It was a real life  moment when I could enter into the joy of being a mama and celebrate the gift of friendship with my best friends, my children.

Joy and Sarah, had entertained me in their sleepiness a cold December night, just 3 seasons ago.But the memory warms me still because I feel so very close to them--and indeed understood and accepted. They have become my dear friends.

Somehow, as I closed the affairs of a very busy December day and began to climb the stairs to bed, my legs felt heavier than ever. Each step reminded me how tired I was from the day of shopping at three stores, teaching a class, running around to get groceries, to the bank to deposit money a child needed, cooking and eating and washing dishes one more time. I am bone-tired lately at the end of each day.

At the top of the stairs, I heard loud music coming from Joy's room. Multi-colored paisley cloth, buttons, headbands, strewn all around her, as she diligently sowed presents for her friends. "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserable was waxing eloquently out of her speakers. (a song about a young woman who met a man who, "took her childhood in his stride," and left her pregnant, without any support--a truly touching song for us as we ponder sweet, lost women in our own culture.) It is one of our mutually favorite Broadway songs called me to sit on her bed and sing loudly with the lovely voice on You tube.

"You know, Mom, though I do think that song applies to so many girls, I also think that 'On My Own" is just as poignant!" So, I sat on her bed, legs crossed under me, jammied all about, computer on my lap and played this piece loudly, while again singing it from my heart, along with the soloist on you tube, with Joy giggling at me. "I didn't know you had it in you this late at night."

Discussing the depths of these two songs for few minutes, as only a late night brings on, giggling and chatting a bit more, I finally left her to make her Christmas gifts alone. How I do love this funny daughter of mine--the one with a hysterical sense of humor, always singing, always teaching me something from what she has been thinking, a friend of friends.

And so, it seemed only right to push Sarah's door open. "Are you asleep yet?"

"Not much chance of sleeping with you two next door," she commented wryly.

She resting like a princess, with covers up to her chin, long brown hair spread out on her pillow with soft light glowing from one tiny lamp, her Bible in hand.  Squishing against her, while sitting on the side of her bed, I asked her how she was doing. With a book deadline looming large and mission trips and college applications to finish, and expensive and challenging decisions to make, she, too, was weary and exhausted.

Rabbits hopping on Sarah's bed. 

Rabbits hopping on Sarah's bed. 

I reached out and gently massaging her fingers and arms, we commiserated about our own personal loads we were carrying, and talked about yielding them into His hands. I picked up a ceramic rabbit  from her table, next to her bed and made it  jump on her bed covers, just like I had done when she was a little girl and needed comic relief. (Don't know what possessed me.) We laughed and laughed at some antics that came up between us, and finally I said, "Tell me a Jesus thing before I go to bed. I need something in my mind before I go to sleep."

She smiled knowing me, and how often I live in condemnation for the little failures in my day, and opened the Bible to where she had been reading.

"Oh, how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God, and so we are."I John 3: 2-3

And suddenly my heart was filled with thanksgiving. Even as I had been delighting in my own sweet children, feeling I could be myself, resting and rejoicing in our mutual, close relationship, with the strings of their heart to tightly tied to mine, I immediately felt relieved in my heart, and accepted and at rest myself, because God also saw me as his beloved, cherished child.

You see, I prefer Joy and Sarah, my very own children. I have spent thousands and thousands of dollars on them. I have given them my time, my body, my sleepless nights, cooked thousands of meals, sought to make celebrations so very special in buying them gifts, crafting a life, putting them to bed with blessing on countless nights, forgiven them their attitudes and messes, and still preferred them from all the other people in the world--because they are mine--my  very own, coming out of my body, beloved children.

And so God, has bestowed such a great and endless and personal love for me-He has created sunrises and sunsets for me to behold every day. Placing music in my soul, He came to bring peace to my world, delight to my days, to share my moments and burdens and joys, to be my own companion in the beauty of each day.

-I am preferred and forgiven and cherished and served and thought about by Him, because I am His very own child. Even as I can, in my own limited sinful way, enjoy and celebrate my children's lives and moments and be intimate friends sharing hearts, laughter, weariness and needs, so He, as my Father, has bestowed all of His love in these very same ways on me, even knowing me to my depths, and yet willing to keep giving, celebrating life, listening, helping, comforting--because I am His very special, chosen, related to Him child.

Unimaginable, astounding that He, our heavenly Father, should love me so. And that this was the heart of the Prince of peace--to bring joy, light into my darkness, love, humor, grace--peace to my days, especially in December

For you to remember this this day, this month, this year, He loves you so! Prepare ye the way of the Lord to enter your home this season, this day. 

And this is what I am most thankful for this year--thankful that I am His own beloved child--that He loves and enjoys me in spite of it all, through my limitations, my weariness, my vulnerable moments, because He is my Father. My thanksgiving days will spill into my Christmas celebration of His choosing to adopt me and longing to love me every day.

This is the thought I want to cherish through my December days--that He prefers me, He longs for my own little girl heart to find rest and comfort in Him and His abiding presence, that it is not the craziness that will bring me through, but the choices I make to prepare the way for Him, His love and peace to fill my heart through all the moments of my Christmas days.

And of course, these thoughts make me so very thankful for my family and thankful for you, my friends, where we will choose to celebrate Him this year together, through each moment of each day.

P is for Pause and take time for yourself to breathe and plan before the month starts

A is for assess the demands, the traditions you have to keep, the gifts to buy, the food to prepare     and eliminate as many stressors as you can. Simplify and make your days easier on yourself.         An important part of assessing your month is to understand that every day, there will be    interruptions. Decide ahead of time to be patient and to flex.

C is for Committing, as an act of worship to our sweet Lord, to cultivating a heart attitude of generous love, and   being a servant to those in your life as he was a servant to us. Commit to being patient with that one who naturally irritates you and decide to remember, "A Gentle Answer turns away wrath." Decide what ministry you can commit to, so that you can be generous to others.

E is for engaging personally in the moment with all of those around you. engage in Christ--worship Him through the day. Decide to be present--not glued to social media or to your phone--but present. And remember to keep sweet music always playing--it always keeps us happy.   

PS If you want to be a part of helping Nathan and me launch our new book, Different, coming out in January, be sure to sign up for our launch team. We are closing it this week. So excited to share this with you.  You can pre-order it HERE or HERE

Join the launch team: HERE

Blessings to You This Week of Thanksgiving!

Praise the Lord!

I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart, In the company of the upright and in the assembly.

Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them.

Splendid and majestic is His work, And His righteousness endures forever. He has made His wonders to be remembered; The Lord is gracious and compassionate.

He has given food to those who fear Him; He will remember His covenant forever.

He has made known to His people the power of His works, In giving them the heritage of the nations.

The works of His hands are truth and justice;

All His precepts are sure. They are upheld forever and ever;

They are performed in truth and uprightness. He has sent redemption to His people;

He has ordained His covenant forever; Holy and awesome is His name.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;

A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever."

~Psalm 111

The past few mornings, I have awakened early in the wee hours of the morning. I get really sleepy about 9 or 10 and can't hold my eyes open, but sometime during the 3 o'clock hour, I awaken and have difficulty going back to sleep. I have learned not to panic about lack of sleep over the years, having had three asthmatics and lots of other non-sleeping issues in our home. Usually I just look at this time as a time to pray or write or read my Bible and other spiritual books.

Myriads of details are on my plate right now--children's educational and job situations; ministry conferences and all this year's upcoming changes; book proposals; people visiting; supporting Clay in his work and multitudinous responsibilities and pressures; Christmas, Bible studies and celebrations and book parties in my home; sad circumstances of friends; the future; etc. etc.

And yet, God is above and over all of these things.

His work is done in faithfulness.

God is good and He is good to me. And He will always be good. As I turned my heart to praise Him in the dark hours of the early morning, my heart was deeply touched and so deeply grateful for His sustaining and loving presence.

Verse after verse flooded my heart.

He deserves all of our worship and thanksgiving.

He is working in and through all of us in this moment in history. He is bringing us closer to the time when He will cast satan away and rule as our righteous judge forever. He is preparing a place for us. He has promised never to leave us. He works all things together for His good to those who are called to Him. He loves us with an everlasting love. He hears our prayers and He even prays for us. He is with us, always, everywhere.

There are no details of my life that He is not above and in which He cannot help. Mine isn't to figure out all of the answers to my families' needs. Mine is to rest in Him; to adore Him as a child who cuddles against its mother. To sing to Him the songs and peace of my heart because I am in worthy hands.

As I ponder so many of these truths, I see His wonderful faithfulness through all the other busy years, so that I can say with David,

"I have been young and I have been old and I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or their seed begging for bread."

Even when I didn't know how things would turn out, He was at work, in faithfulness and love.

May we all bring a smile to God's face today, because of the appreciation in our hearts and on our lips and in our deeds for His faithfulness, righteousness, generosity and love. May God be praised in our land today and in our homes.

I pray you have the happiest of Thanksgivings.

Our Longings Fulfilled Through Advent & A new Podcast

"And the people who were walking in darkness have seen a great light."

Candles flickered on the green wreath as one more friend piled through our creaky old door from the cold, snowy street. Sitting around our orphan table recently purchased at a second hand furniture store, I felt quite pleased with the ambiance and the company sharing our table in our small, chilly Austrian cottage.

An Iraqi refugee we met at church, asked us to pray he could get a passport so that he could go back to visit his mother who had cancer. Another Austrian friend teared up as he asked us to pray for the overwhelming pain he was feeling from having his wife leave him for another. My sweet Bible study mate mentioned the homesickness she felt working at the United Nations alone, thousands of miles from Taiwan. My own father had cancer and his illness prohibited us from going home for Christmas with our infant Joel and 2 1/2 year old Sarah.

All of us had a hole in our hearts, a longing for comfort, for hope of a comfort, or assurance that we would find light amidst the shadows of darkness swimming around inside.

Clay read from Isaiah 9:2,

"The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in the land of darkness, light will shine." We spent the evening eating hot buttered herb bread, savoring steaming bowls of potato cheese soup, munching nuts and cheese, but living in the comfort of each other's encouragement and love. This celebration of His coming heartened us all. 

I love advent. It prepares me every year to remember how amazingly inspiring His coming is. Just the picture of a tiny infant, being celebrated by angels, a young mother and father caught up in the miracle of a new birth warms my heart to the depths. So much to celebrate in this timeless story. But during the busy month ahead, to take time to prepare our hearts for His coming is a life long habit of worship that will strengthen us the whole year.

My sweet friend Holly Pakiam and I speak of this in our podcast today. I have asked her to write about what Advent means to her at this time and to share favorite books and resources. I hope you will enjoy our list.

**********************

We spent Thanksgiving week last year with family up in the mountains. Amidst the frequent meltdowns, fights, and disarray in our rental condo, we experienced brief ‘stabs of joy’, as C.S. Lewis called it— moments that helped us transcend the moment. Joy matters not only because it makes the toil and the cost of life worthwhile, but because it can lead to hope; it can remind us that there is more than what we see and feel.

That same week, tragedy struck our city as three lives were lost in a deplorable shooting at Planned Parenthood. Our hearts, still heavy from the terrorist attacks in Paris weeks earlier, were sinking with grief. Superficial joy has nothing to say to such pain. And today as I reflect on those events, my heart is heavy in moments as I reflect on our current political situation, the hate, and the atrocities being committed around the world.

 The trouble with the generalized ‘holiday seasonisnt that it is a part of some calculated ‘war on Christmas; its that it leaves us with no lexicon for longing. It gives us snow and songs, elves and sales, cookies and cards…but no vocabulary for grief, for sorrow, for the deep ache in our hearts.

 This is why we have come to appreciate Advent. Advent isnt a spiritual, alternative name for ‘Christmas; it is its own season, a season of preparation for Christmas. Advent is when the anticipated joy of Christs first arrival puts us touch with our anticipated joy at His return.

 Advent is a joy that helps us hope.

 Advent is when we give voice to the ache and pain and longing in our hearts. Advent is also when we confess our own participation in the brokenness of the world. Advent, then, is not only about longing for Christ to come again and put everything back together; its about repenting and receiving grace so that we get to be put back together now.

But theres one more piece. Advent is not only about longing for Christ to put the world back together, not only about repenting and letting Christ put us back together; it is also a chance to participate in bringing wholeness to others.

 As we enter the Advent season, could we as the people of God, be a part of the answer to the longing in peoples hearts?

Maybe its through buying slave-free products or serving in the local Rescue Mission. Or maybe its through taking a moment to ‘seeyour neighbor whos going through a difficult time. It may seem difficult to carve out time to give to the things you desire in this season. Weve had to cut out some of our regularly scheduled things to carve out space to focus on this season.

Soon, all around the world, we will light the first purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. There are brief glimpses of Joy that remind us of this hope. Until then…we wait.

 Here are the resources and ideas we mentioned on the podcast. Remember the point: to center our lives on Jesus! Pick one thing!

 Be the answer to the longing in someone’s heart.

      Acts of Kindness: Each day, commit to engage in an act of kindness toward a family member, friend, or neighbor. (Spend focused time with a child, bring a hot drink to a friend, deliver a warm meal to a family, give a baked good to the mailman)

     Serve Locally: Commit to serve a local organization, like a Rescue Mission or a Salvation Army or a shelter. You could also gather a group to go caroling at a nursing home.

     Give Globally: Give something to an organization that serves people in need around the world. Last year, our kids chose to give a goat and chickens to a family in Africa.

     Organizations: Compassion - https://www.compassion.com/charitable-gift-catalog.htm World Vision http://donate.worldvision.org/ways-to-give/gift-catalog

     Consume Less: Consider discussing how shopping less and giving out more to others could make this season more holy and Christ-focused. Encourage your kids in giving to others rather than thinking about what to add to their Christmas list.

 What we try to build in…

     Devotional: Family read-aloud favorite:

 Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.

     Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love.

     The first two weeks focus on the second coming of Christ. The prayers, Scripture readings, and hymns are more solemn, drawing us to repentance as we look toward the last days.

     In the second two weeks, the mood lightens. We turn our focus to Christs birth and begin our joyful preparations for Christmas.

    In a devotion, you could pray, “Tonight, all around the world, we light the purple candle in the Advent wreath as a symbol of Hope. Whether we sense God or feel a great void or doubt about his presence, we believe He is the hope of the world. The longing we have in our hearts for this world to be set right will come to pass. Until then…we wait.

     Jesse Tree

-     Tracing Jesus’ lineage - family tree

-     Each day, read a story of Jesus’s family tree

-     Color & hang an ornament

 

Music

     Midwinter Carols by Joel Clarkson

We received so many letters about this cd last year. So happy you loved it. Providing music for every day of the season, and creating an atmosphere of peace. Enjoy.

http://sallyclarkson.com/store/#!/Midwinter-Carols/p/43810520

 

     Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson

We love Andrew and he tours each year presenting this in a concert.

 

 

HERE

     Advent Volume I by The Brilliance

 

 HERE

All Things Advent Resource

A wonderful all around resource/blog post you will love.

      www.keepingadvent.com

I, Sally, love Elizabeth Foss and I know you will love this resource. You will find it so personally encouraging.

     Comfort and Joy - Living the Liturgy During the Advent Season ebook Bundle by Elizabeth Foss

     HERE to Order

 

Favorite Advent and Christmas Picture Books for Children

 

     The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

This book is one of the Clarkson kids favorite stories!

 

     HERE

      The Gift of the Magi by O Henry

I, Sally, also love this classic story and read it and was touched when in high school.

    

     Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

HERE

 

     The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Wahlberg

 

HERE

 

     The Legend of St Nicholas Dandi McCall

     

     Christmas with Anne by L.M. Montgomery

HERE

     The Miracle of Saint Nicholas by Gloria Whelan

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     HERE

     The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffman, Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

     

Another favorite collection of advent stories to use with children begins with Jotham's Journey. Many consider this a favorite and a heart-warming story. 

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go HERE

Can't leave out one of my favorite books--may be out of print. It will bring sweet tears and is a great story for your children to think about what giving sometimes costs.

 

There are lots more in my home, but you will just have to come visit me and see my library and have a cup of cheer. 

I hope you will enjoy the podcast I did with Holly to encourage you in your own advent journey.

I am so excited to share my new book with you and hope it will encourage many who have felt different or have had a child who is outside the box in any way. I hope my journey as a mom with my son, Nathan, 27, will encourage and inspire you to know you are not alone in your journey. Order it today! HERE

If you have time and heart to engage in a my book launch, I would love to have you join me. Go HERE to sign up for my launch team. 

If you have time and heart to engage in a my book launch, I would love to have you join me. Go HERE to sign up for my launch team. 

Now More Than Ever: Motherhood Matters & A Special Podcast

No matter who you voted for, the last week has been a time of introspection for all of us who call ourselves "Christ followers." I have been through my own journey of discouragement, pondering, feeling powerless, and insignificant. Christian leaders in the news have been living lives that reflect compromising choices in the midst of all the online mess. Why have I felt a little bit dark? Because I am deeply disturbed by the hate, the reaction, the poison on the internet, the fear and dramatic reactions in every spectrum. No matter what the outcome, or what people were expecting, shouldn't our trust in God lead us to be godly and generous in our love for others, because we trust that He is ultimately still on his throne?

Yet, through the week, I have been dialoguing with Clay, my children, my close friends. In them I have found a wealth of thoughtfulness, a deep and abiding love for Christ and a call to arms, so to speak. For this day we have been made. For this season we can shine brightly through the darkness of the world's messages. Today, I wanted to share, once again, by way of reminder and refreshment, a video I made years ago that reflects a picture of how profoundly the role of mother was designed by God to shape and cultivate deep faith in every generation. 

Your work every day, all the time, is not in vain, but will reap an eternal harvest of faith in the lives of those given as a gift to your home.

The more time I spent with the Lord this week, the more my heart was impressed that this past few months has been a revelation as to the temperature of the hearts of Christians. And, in seeing so much fear and need, I have feet a renewed call to teach, write, instruct and encourage women.

This is the time to engage in walking closely with the Lord.

 This is a time that is ripe to reflect on the  stories of from the heart ofJesus and then,  to more intentionally reflect His light and truth to a world that is lost,  but is longing for direction and leadership.

Skype, face-time and long phone calls have filled my days and nights with my children all over the world calling to talk and reflect on what is to be done. As it happens, Nathan has been home this week and the conversations we have had have also deeply encouraged and inspired me.

What I have seen is the each one has felt a call to faithfulness, to serve and to give with fresh vigor. They have seen the vast needs of those around them as those with whom they can share the deep secrets and love of Christ. To them, the drama of deep needs has encouraged them to step up to the bat to invest in Kingdom messages even more intentionally. 

And I have realized once again, that the investment of time, the daily reading of scripture, the moment by moment correction of bad attitudes, the diligent reading of stories that inspire, have all been planted in their hearts that are alive with harvest. We can trust God, in His faithfulness, to accomplish what concerns us. He delights in working through every day people like us who desire to trust him to do "above and beyond what we can ask or think."

I know so many of you feel your work is in vain, fraught with disruptions, craziness of immature children. You feel out of control, and as though you are failing to live up to your own ideals. Yet, it is in the warp and woof of life where great souls are formed. Even as gardening is dirty and messy business, so the gardening of children's souls appears to be the same, messy and out of control, a lot of work and a need for constant attention. 

Yet, eternal truth must be planted every day to take root in the hearts of our children. Deep faith and love must be growing afresh in our own hearts for our children to witness and copy our own faith. Greatness of character is cultivated, watered, pruned and fertilized with the faithful sacrifice of mothers who realize that the next generation of adults are living right in their own homes. 

I have been reminded, once again, that our homes should be the outpost in this dark world that brings light, beauty, refreshment, inspiration, traditions, and feasts that fill the heart, soul and minds of those who live there. We can build homes that are a lighthouse in our own towns.

Kristen and I have created a special podcast about our thoughts and hope they will encourage you today.

Don't forget to register for the Renew My Heart Conference by November 18 to be entered into 2 conference tickets to be chosen by those who registered. Enjoy the discount for early registration for 2 more days. Hope you can join me and hundreds of kindred spirits to be refreshed in this season of life. Register HERE

Forging Friendships with our Children & a new Podcast

Girl's club: Making time and creating traditions that build our friendship over a lifetime.

Girl's club: Making time and creating traditions that build our friendship over a lifetime.

 "A friend is someone who sings your hearts song back to you when you have forgotten the words."

David Coppola, Ph.D

Hope you enjoy this podcast and article that I wrote and also the podcast we recorded 10 days ago. But lots is bubbling up in my heart, and Kristen and I will be podcasting about some thoughts and convictions that we hope will bring encouragement through these demanding times. Stay tuned for our special podcast later this week. Meanwhile, ponder how very important it is to stay close to your loved ones and children and to build close relationships to keep each other strong.

My adult children are truly my best, inner circle friends. Because we have intimacy in the most secret places, we trust one another, we speak into each other's lives, I learn from them as adults and they listen to me, we enjoy spending as much time as possible together. But most important, we share spiritual influence. I with them--they listen to my counsel and seek me out. And, I also seek their spiritual insight. We all mutually serve the Lord and have the same spiritual convictions.

These friendships, though, did not come by accident. It was from investing thousands and thousands of personal hours together: playing, talking, working, celebrating life, comforting and listening to one another. 

We all long to be known, loved for who we are and validated as people of worth. This kind of deep friendship is the essence of discipleship. Friendship forges pathways from one soul to another. Our hearts are open to influence from those who love us and have invested in our lives. So, seeking to be worthy, excellent, "calling you to your best" sort of friends with our children is the way they will listen to our messages about God. Influence and mentoring do not come from a vacuum, but from an intentional investment of time.

How, practically, did it happen? My story below is but a tiny example of how my deep friendships were forged. But, now, I reap the soul-filling fruit of having cultivated these friendships over many years and it is indeed one of my most blessed gifts.

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Sunday morning, in early morning hours, presented a celebration of the art of God. It was one of those glorious days that you want to hold on to forever. Gorgeous foliage singing over my soul with brightest reds, blazing golds and friendly breezes of coolness that bespoke of the coming snows. Walking downtown Colorado Springs amongst the blocks of turn of the century homes, all bedecked with porches where hours upon hours were wiled away with children playing, grown ups catching their breath and sharing the events of the day spent in home and family labor and marveling at the sunset on the distant mountain of Pike's Peak. 

Walking each week along the pathway of old, Victorian homes, gave us hours of girlfriend pleasure.

Walking each week along the pathway of old, Victorian homes, gave us hours of girlfriend pleasure.

I was walking, walking these remnants of 8 or ten blocks and enjoying the reverie that comes from such a day. Only there was one thing missing--my dearest Sarah.

Almost palpable was my longing for her to be beside me as we had been for so for at least a decade. For many years, we had awakened at 6 - 7 on Saturday (and sometimes Sunday mornings), before anyone else in the house stirred, to steal away together to our favorite downtown cafe, a haven for sharing secrets, discussing  the profound ideas we had been pondering and connecting to each other's soul dreams. Most of the year, when the weather allowed we would follow our rendezvous with invigorating walks in these wonderful tree lined streets that whispered of over a hundred years of memories of families dwelling together, sharing life through the last century, each a uniquely designed masterpiece of a home with individual personality. 

I think we loved these walks and especially these blocks, because they reminded our hearts of the kind of community we only dream of in this contemporary isolationist life--the days of Anne of Green Gables. The times when families lived close, neighbors knew each other and shared values and beliefs and life together, where children played freely together over the gardens of each others' families. Bygone times when adults befriended each other through the seasons of many years of life, sitting on the porches and drinking tea. This was always the dream place that we wished we had shared. This became the place of sharing in each other's dreams and wishes and hopes. 

But this day, Sarah was off at a writing seminar that Clay had found for her--off for three weeks to adventures of her own with kindred spirits. How she had become my deepest of deep friend, whose soul mirrored my own, who had called to my deepest parts to be excellent, to walk with God and to love Him in a worthy way. I could not have understood as a young mom how profoundly my children would become my bestest of friends, my confidants and spiritual companions. 

After Sarah, Joy and I discovered our own favorite cafe. And last year, we chose a new one. Same breakfast, same coffee every week. All last year, I would even take notes on bits that joy would share with me from what she had been reading--she teaches me.We also have a heritage of years of breakfast, coffee and walking and dreaming.........

Joel and I have had hundreds of breakfasts together, one week at a time, with our own friendship. And Nathan and I have invested all over the world together but make time to talk on the phone every day for years and years.

God is a God of companionship, the first real friend.

How thankful I am that God was one who was seeking companionship in the garden when looking for Adam and Eve. Scripture tells of Moses being the friend of God. Our Jesus lived and loved and ate with His disciples and shared deeply in the  sadnesses and celebrations and ate with them daily.  The living God didn't just impose a set of theological thoughts upon our minds, but that He was the original friend and one who created us with our need for intimacy that would satisfy our souls. 

Now, I am already clearing out my schedule because I will have my adult children home for over 6 weeks. When you are best friends, you make it happen. We will be celebrating life--walking together on another road, having coffee together, sharing secrets and forging new memories of friendship. Watching your wings spreading, Sarah and Joy, brings me joy. But we will celebrate the excellence of our "girl's club" that we have all built over the years and cherish the moments we are given, but also, you know I will look forward to visiting you wherever in the world God takes you, because until I see Jesus, you will be my priority friends.

Hope you enjoy our podcast #2 on cultivating friendships with our children. 

Be sure to sign up for Renew My Heart Conference by November 18 to save $10. Early registration is over November 19.  If you register by Friday, you will be entered into a drawing for 2 free conference entries. If you win, you will get your money back in full. Hope many of you can join us--this will be a strategic time for renewing and refocussing our lives on all that matters.

The Road Less Traveled Revisited, A Time to Chart our Course

Through this election, I have thought once again about how important it is to follow hard after God, while possibly leaving the path where all the voices of the world call us. Now, more than ever, is a time to study and cherish the word of God, His ways of wisdom, His admonition for us to live lives holy, set apart for His life to flow through us to the world.

In following his paths in our lives, we have always been called to the road less taken. I hope these words I wrote earlier this year,  will hearten you today.

As I pack to celebrate Sarah's wedding in Oxford, see Joy settled in St. Andrews, Scotland and help Joel pack for Cambridge, I have been reflecting on what brought us to this point of adventure. In many ways, it has become a norm for our family, to work hard, dream of how we will engage our lives in kingdom work and then watch God open doors. Someone said, "Sally, you all always have new adventures. How do you arrange this? 

Recently, at the speaking engagement, another mom,  asked, "How did you face your friends and family who didn't understand your out of the box ideals?"

I thought of this poem and of this post today because, once I gave my life and all of my rights to God, He has led me on paths beyond what I could have asked or thought. 

Taking a risk to do life differently, to pursue ideals, following God's trail by faith, has changed the course of the Clarkson history--but, by taking the road less travelled, we have witnessed the miracles and provision of the hand of God in amazing ways.

This verse by Robert Frost, one of my favorite poems, (and I made all the kids memorize it) reflects the faith, following ideals, road that God led us as a family to follow..

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both, And be one traveler , long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim Because it was grassy and wanted wear; But as for that, the passing there had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I marked the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted I would ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two rods diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Since the first year Clay and I were married, we tried each autumn to go drive through the mountains to see the aspen when they changed to the golden and read and bronze. A mother is the god-ordained professor who  opens the soul and mind of her children to the truths reflected in God's creation. God has provided ample evidence of His wisdom, power and beauty in each season.

Last weekend, Clay said that he thought we should take the time to go for one day to the mountains before we left to make time to see the beauty together. Though we were all busy, we are so very thankful for the way it filled our souls to marvel at His handy work and to reflect that each season has its own beauty and evidence of God's intimate involvement.

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood." What a beautiful poem this is--and such a rich amount of wisdom to discuss and reflect upon---choices have consequenceswhatever decisions you make will determine much of the rest of your life--it is so important to let God's word and truth direct your priorities and decisions. And it is profoundly important to understand that we will have to give an account to God for the decisions we make. Your decisions as to what paths you will take will certainly determine where you end up. And I love the last line, "And I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

Clay and I took the homeschooling road when no one thought we should. We moved our family into ministry situations with us, all over the world when some thought it unwise. We raised support when certain family members thought we shouldn't. We left a good job and security and insurance and went 5 years without a salary to start Whole Heart Ministries when it seemed crazy. We committed ourselves to idealistic discipleship grace-based parenting when others thought we would ruin our children.

Obviously we have not lived a perfect life and have made mistakes along the way. However, we made our decisions by faith, based on convictions we found in scripture, and through prayer, felt prompted by the Holy Spirit to follow. Our desire was to please God, to build foundations that could not be shaken. God has been so faithful to us each step of the way--we took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.

Recently, I celebrated the 93rd birthday of my oldest, sister type friend's mom's birthday. We had a chocolate party for her (brownies, cake, cookies, candy bars and mousse--it was her favorites) She has lived through two World Wars, the depression, breast cancer, the deaths of her husband and two of her three children. Yet, she has lived to see God's faithfulness.

Through our own summers, fire devastated and destroyed 500 homes one time and countless others before that. Another summer we lived through a crisis of flood over our whole state. This year, 3 precious ones have committed suicide that are dear to us. Several of my friends have had cancer.  We could all be tempted to panic when life feels so uncertain. Then there are the shootings, Isis, .......

Yet, taking the risky roads less taken has taught me that God is trustworthy. He is in control, He will be faithful to us as we walk roads of faith. It is an important for us to teach our children to have the courage of their convictions to take the road less taken-the road of faith, the road of ideals. Life does not always turn out as we would expect it to, but God is always faithful. We all only have one life to live in which to live by faith in God, to trust in Him and rest in His peace when we are tempted to panic. We are given one life to live for His ideals and for His convictions. Then we will see Him face to face.

Let us be bold before His throne in this challenging time.

Let us be of those who do not shrink back.

Let us be of those whose hearts remain steadfast even in the midst of trials.

God will be faithful to us. We will grow and be stretched and become less selfish and more mature and give our children a better model --if we stay faithful to his call upon our individual lives.

He will call each of us to different ideals, but He will call us to step out in faith, in courage and in ministry. May His goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives and may we resist fear and live by faith until we see Him face to face.

May God give each of you a special gift of His grace and peace in the midst of your trials. May He allow you to reflect on His beauty in creation as an example of His seasons and may each of you have a peaceful heart. Many blessings of His grace.

As Sarah recently wrote, "Hard realities--broken hearted facts are not ignored but faced with grace. This rises up with a lifestyle of hard work and community that, while never denying grief, yet seeks to move through life with a fragile but real hope."

Indeed, God led us to take the road less traveled, and that has indeed made all the difference.

Let us follow, by faith, the roads where HIs Spirit leads us and watch Him faithfully lead us on a life filled with His direction ever and always towards His light.

"The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until the full day." Proverbs

Accepting Our Lives As They Are, Today!

Walking in the Vienna Woods one autumn, found me questioning God, wondering if my life would ever amount to anything, and feeling lonely in a country where I could barely speak any words of German coherently. As a young woman, I told God I wanted to be his servant and to be used greatly in this world.

But, as an inexperienced and young Christian, I did not fully understand what that would mean. Now, as a woman in her 60's, I realize that when I made that promise, I was a sort of toddler to God. He accepted my heartfelt commitment and then proceeded to train me in righteousness, giving opportunities to grow in faith, to get rid of selfishness. As a young woman, I did not know I had these holes in my life and could not see the things I was holding on to for security that were keeping me from fully relying on Him.

Yet, it has been in living faithfully through countless tests, as best as I knew how, one day at a time, that God has fit me for ministry. Having struggled through the trials of life has made me much better suited to connect with a broad range of women who also struggle with trials. My heart is more compassionate because I have been humbled and tested through many roles of life—as a single woman, a married woman, a mother, a working woman, a woman tempted to depression, a woman with conflict from family, a woman with health issues and financial stresses. These tests exercised my spiritual muscles and increased my capacity to work. And yes, now I am grateful for all the tests because they brought me ultimate joy and freed me from trying to perform for people.

Of course, we each will face different tests in our lives. When I was younger, my best friend longed to get married, take care of children, and be domestic. It was what she most wanted. Yet she ended up being single and alone for her whole life. But because she responded to God's tests over many years by saying, as Mary did, "May it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38) and sought to live out her life faithfully, just as it was, she became one of the most loving, life-giving, mature people I know. She drank the cup God had given her.

And yet I, who really had never longed to have children, got married and had four. I have probably learned more from the Lord about joy in the midst of trials by being a parent than in any other role. It is what I needed to become the woman he wanted me to be. And it's taken years to get there! God doesn't grow us in character and joy quickly. He has a long-term perspective for me. He sees the training process over a period of years and is always seeking to move me ahead in my character.

Often it seems we would rather have another life—any life—than our own. Somehow we think if we lived a different life, it would be easier for us to grow in faithfulness and spiritual character. Yet, it is in accepting today with all of its issues, in accepting God's will and training grounds, that we learn the secret of joy in his presence. It is in being faithful to our own set of tests that we become mature and fitted for the ministry he has called each of us to accomplish. If we aspire to be a General, so to speak, in God's spiritual army, then we must first pass the training and tests of life as a private! We must become familiar with our enemy's tactics, learn to endure battles, and practice how to serve and lead others. It is a long process of developing our spiritual and character muscles a little at a time.

Other friends have lived through the devastation of divorce, personal rejection, financial losses, illnesses. Whether it is dealing with a prodigal child, an unfaithful spouse, an angry parent, unjust accusations, the loss of a job, or any other kind of trial, we always have a choice to endure with strength or capitulate to the darkness of our souls.

Certainly, most of us would not choose any of the stresses that a fallen world brings our way. But that is exactly why Jesus said, "In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). He knew that this world, imperfect and in rebellion to God, would be very difficult. Yet He promised to be with us!

When given the surprising, earth-shattering, life-altering news that she was going to bear a Child, the very Son of God, Mary responded this way ...

"May it be done to me according to your word." Luke 1:38

How can you accept the life you have and respond to the stresses, difficulties and beauty of your own life as Mary did--with acceptance and faith---today?