Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Who needs Christmas Ideas?

At Christmas, I love to give meaningful gifts! Things with a story that either point to something I am praying for that person or a story of where that gift has come from. I did a list last year, so I decided to compile a list again of more of my favorites and pass along to you in case you are stumped with what to get someone! (Links are embedded in each gift!)

For the child 3-9 (sorry I don't have teens yet so can't help ya there!)
1. Jesus storybook Bible- This has been a great launching pad for our younger kids to get them excited about the Bible and it totally ties together the Bible in an amazing way pointing each story back to a foreshadowing of Jesus. Our kids (John especially :) love it!
2. Ronnie Wilson's gift- I mentioned this in my last Christmas post. But its too got not to share again. A great story about what it looks like to overflow with gratitude and love the least of these.
3. It will be okay: trusting God through fear and change- this book has been great for our worrier child and our child who needs to know God works all things for good, even messy things. This book is a challenging and fun story of pointing little ones to trust in God!
4. Light em up- not a christmas gift per se but a Christmas month of activities to show the true joy of christmas is in giving not having! We have done it for 3 years and its now something the kids long to do year round to love others well with fun and surprise!
5. Chronicles of Narnia series- we loved reading this with our two oldest. At the end of each chapter they couldn't wait for more!
6. ABC scripture cards- found at your local life way or online at a few boutiques. LOVE these in our home to remind us to learn scripture.
7. A Winshape summer camp scholarship- you can register now for rising second graders and up for an amazing Christ focused and FUN summer experience
8. Conversation cards- we love pulling these out at dinner, we have the faith edition too. Such a great time to be intentional around the dinner table.
9. Older kid books- Reese and I have loved reading the One and only Ivan and Wonder together. Wonder especially is great conversation topics for including the outcast and the importance of encouraging people just how they are uniquely made. 

For the Mom who needs encouragement or the woman who is searching
1. The Best yes: Making wise decisions in the midst of endless demands- a reminder it is ok to say no to good things when we have a better yes we need to protect. 
2. Desperate- Hope for the mom who needs to breathe- enough said.
3. Restless and 'Anything' by Jennie Allen- these books were game changers for me this year.
3. Parenting books I love: Give them Grace (about to re-read its so good), Parenting the wholehearted Child, In this house we will giggle, Don't make me count to 3.

For the woman who loves cute things :)
1. Noonday collection- LOVE IT. Their jewelry, bags and scarves are all made by women in 3rd world countries giving them a sustainable choice for income for their family,
2. Altar'd state- loving this store that is giving back to non profits! Super cute stuff too!
3. Aloe tree- kids clothes that are fair trade and profits go to fight child trafficking. Double score!

For the gifts that may or may not be meaningful but you'll still LOVE them
1. Clarisonic- I got one in August after my cousin told me about it. Amazing. Love the way my skin feels after using it! 
2. Buckle Lounge Sweats- sorry john. This is what I live in at home. They come in about a zillion fun colors and are SO comfy!
3. Toms wedges- I have no heels because I choose comfort over fashion but I love these and can walk in them!
4. Pampered Chef Griddle- I use the mess out of this thing for anything from pancakes to chicken. Best griddle-like pan I can find!

For the music lover
2. Pentatonix Christmas album- both of which are currently on repeat at my house
3. Lauren Daigle- such gospel centered words and her voice is amazing! And you can send an iTunes gift that day online if you are late with a gift! Score!

For the couple who needs to connect
1. You and Me forever- amazing amazing book about the bigger purposes our marriage exist for.
2. Love and War- such a good book about how we are to live out our marriage in a war zone trying to tear it apart.
3. A Winshape marriage retreat- we have loved our time at Winshape. There is no better thing than to get away and focus on reconnecting, learning and growing together. 
4. Date night- just do it, weekly if possible :)

For the giver
1. Compassion child- sponsor a child so they can get an education and stay with their families and break the cycle of poverty!
2. Samaritans purse catalog- our kids love choosing goats and chickens out of this thing every year. Such a great way to focus on the importance of loving others and meeting needs.
3. Care for Aids- you can join us in raising money for year two of our center here, providing a 9 month program for 80-90 families experiencing AIDS and giving them the spiritual, health, economic and social counseling they need to live long, healthy lives and preventing orphans! Just put Sinai center in memo if you would like it to go to our specific center!
4. Host a shoe cutting party! What better way as a family to get Christmas started on the right foot than to sit around together and cut fabric that will employ a Ugandan tailor to make shoes for children that are unable to walk due to a parasite called a jigger burrowing in their feet. Check it out!

Hope that helps and happy shopping! Merry Christmas almost! :)

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Monday, November 17, 2014

Ramblings on the messy side of Gratitude

So this month as a family we are focusing our conversations around gratitude. We have all memorized "In this house we will giggle"'s cute, catchy definitions and verses about it. But as I "teach" my kids about gratitude, the more I really dig in, I realize gratitude is getting messier as I grow deeper in my faith. We made a gratitude tree and each night we clip a clothespin on it with something we are thankful for. There is a lot in the surface of my life I am grateful for: our church, my husband's job, 4 amazing kids, a growing and caring marriage, family close by, etc. But the more I really think about the moments in my life where it was the most impactful and thus I am the most grateful, I realize those moments at the time were the deepest valleys, the heaviest weights, the sharpest of pains. God is taking me to a place in my walk with him that I am most thankful for my moments of suffering. It wasn't something that could've been muttered in the moment, in the moment, on the contrary, I was shouting at him, clawing to get out of the pit, or empty and angry. But as he brings me out of different challenges, I see looking back that in my suffering I am so near to him. In my hardest times I am clinging to him with desperation and dependency. I am drinking in the Word like it is my only water source. Then when life gets "easy" again, I tend to go on autopilot or coast through my relationship with him without recognizing that level of dependence still should exist.
I thought on my drive home last night, what were some of the moments I felt most alive with God and thus so grateful for, I came up with a tough list... clinging to the leg of my best friend of 10 years as he took his last breath, walking the streets of a country hostile to Christians and feeling the physical weight press on my chest for God's love for them, praying over my new child with my husband as she was just a shell of a girl overcome by trauma and grief, the impossible weeks that followed in a violent country where I was being tested from every direction, the days where my marks of motherhood were spit in my face, claw marks on my chest, and a child that ran from me. Those are the glory days of my faith. Not when I felt like I had it all together and health, wealth and happiness all lined up in a pretty package for me.
So as we clip our moments of gratitude on our tree I see it is not just me that is thankful for the messier things in life: my son has clipped on God cleaning out the yuck in his heart, our daughter that we are made creatively unique, our other daughter wrote her birth mother and that God gives us joy when we are sad. Our tree from the outside is not a pretty picture of words like money, health, and happiness; although we are deeply grateful for such things. Yet, I find myself increasingly more appreciative for the times where he strips me of "self strength" and I land in a place where nothing makes sense but him. I can taste him more in that place, I need to breathe him in there, and he shows up, maybe not in the way I was asking him to or how the world would think looks like an answer to prayer, but he is there. So this all leads to a shift in the outlook on my life. Instead of spending my days anxious over future suffering or avoiding it at all costs, I am finding a new level of trust and peace in what he has for me. As I wrote a letter to a friend who is struggling to belong, fighting identity in Christ, wrestling with the pain of her adoption, I thanked God for giving me a space to prepare myself. It will most likely be my daughter in that place, he could be preparing my heart to walk through this with my child. As John and I have walked several couples through affair and divorce, where I used to be overcome with anxiety hoping it doesn't happen to me, I have traded it for a quiet trust, a trust that knows my circumstance is not at the root of my joy, a Good God is. A God who works all things together for my good, even if that means suffering. It is a freeing place. And although I still selfishly desire an easy, comfortable life, I know deeper that may not be the way God wants to draw me to himself. I am reminded of sitting in a church in Kenya as a man stood up to say "I just need to thank God for AIDS, getting HIV was like gold to me, otherwise I would not know Jesus how I do now." This is the life I want. Grateful in ALL things. Having a new lens and a new perspective to see the pain and hardship we will walk through. So come what may, it is well. I believe He knows, I believe He is good... to me, I believe he works all things for my good and his glory.  Like the words of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the wardrobe, "Safe? said Mr. Beaver; "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the king I tell you."

I've been reading "Every bitter thing is sweet", she challenges a question to my heart, do I simply believe God is good, or do I believe he is me? Even in my suffering? 
post signatureWhere are you at in your gratitude journey with God? When have the deepest times in your walk been? How is the theme of gratitude shifting in your journey?