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Baker’s Joy and the Body of the Church

(Note: The links in this post are affiliate links, and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links.)

Happy Monday Morning!

Before I write my main blog, I wanted to share an amazing product that I discovered this weekend. My girls had a softball fundraiser where they sold over 50 loaves of Strawberry Bread and Banana Bread. Wow!

Needless to say, 50 loaves sold = 50 loaves to be baked! We had a lot of baking to do, so I decided to try something different while we were picking up the 20 lb bag of flour and 10 lb bags of sugar at the store. We always make such a mess flouring pans, and then some of it sticks to the bread and it just isn’t very pretty.

Well, we decided to try this product:

 


Bakers Joy Cake Pan Spray 2 Pack
and what a difference it made! One can was enough to flour 57 bread pans (we reused the pans) and we still have some left over. The bread rolled right out of the pan — no sticking and no ugly white residue. If you’re going to be baking anytime soon, I highly recommend the
Bakers Joy Cake Pan Spray 2 Pack. It made our baking lives much easier.


Recently I was asked to write some short introductions/devotions for a ladies’ retreat at our church. The theme for the retreat was  Jesus, the anchor for my soul. 

I started reading about the different parts of a ship, and how they relate to each other. When I came to the hull, the body of the ship, of course I began to think about the body of  Christ.

I’ve grown up in church, volunteered at church, and been a paid employee at church at different points in my life. Having done all that, I’ve had plenty of time to observe the best and worst days of church members and ministers.

So many people have been hurt by members of the church. How is that possible, when the first commandment of Jesus is to love? The answer is simple: because the church is made of of sinners; just like you, and me.

The Hull of the Ship

The hull is the watertight body of the ship, which protects the cargo, machinery, and accommodation spaces of the ship from the weather, flooding, and structural damage.

While not majestic, like the ship’s sails, or easily recognizable and symbolic, like the ship’s wheel and anchor, the hull is the body. It holds everything else together.

Just as the hull holds and protects the ship’s parts, the body of Christ, the church (that’s us, folks), holds and protects its members.

I  Corinthians 12:12-14; 24-27

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

24 …But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

Often I find myself forgetting that I am part of the body, and that each of you are part of me. If someone irritates me or gets on my nerves, I may be quick to internally lose patience or criticize, not remembering that I am criticizing myself at the same time I condemn my brother or sister; because they are part of the whole; part of MY WHOLE. We are both part of the body of Christ.

I will never forget one day at the beach when I was playing with my kids. I started to run after one of the girls to splash them when my foot came down hard on a shell, which broke off into my heel. I immediately fell to the sand and cradled my foot, applying pressure and gritting my teeth. My family ran to check on me, to see how they could help.

Soon, the pain receded enough that I allowed my husband to pour clean water over my foot to check the wound. All I could see was a black spot. It still hurt, but I was determined to enjoy the day.

We eventually went home and got cleaned up. My foot still hurt, but I figured it was just bruised. I am good at ignoring things that I don’t want to face. A week went by, then a month, then a year. My foot hurt off and on, and sometimes I limped and other times I just bent my foot to walk on the side or to tiptoe.

Finally, the pain grew, the spot enlarged, and I began to run a constant low grade fever and generally feel sick. I went to the podiatrist and he told me that I had what looked like a broken rock or piece of shell in my foot that had gotten infected.

Fortunately, he was able to remove it (along with a rather large chunk of infected flesh) from the bottom of my foot. There was no permanent damage other than to our bank account and my pride, as I hobbled around in a big black boot for another six weeks.

My foot, or rather my feet, balance and hold together my entire body; yet I had ignored them because they didn’t seem to be as important as my mind or heart. I’d hobbled around at less than full capacity, because my body was injured.

Because I ignored the pain

Because I ignored PART of my body, infection set in and spread, causing symptoms to affect the entirety of me. I couldn’t function at 100% spiritually, mentally, or emotionally, because my body was sick, physically.

Like the hull protects the body of the ship, WE, as the body, protect each other through the strength of Christ. We are encouraged to build each other up to meet EACH OTHERS NEEDS (Ephesians 4:29), not ours alone.

As I remember the injury to my foot, and the way I ignored it to the harm of my body, I am reminded of injuries that were done to me by others in the body of Christ.

Having been raised in church, having the church as my FAMILY, there have been plenty of opportunities to be hurt by others. And to hurt others, myself.

I’m so sorry if you’ve been hurt by someone in the body of Christ. And I’m sorry if you, like me, have hurt someone else. However, I am encouraged because the body, through Christ, can be repaired and can minister to each other. The body, like the hull, can once again protect and prepare the rest of the ship for the storms of this life.

Today I pray that if you are an injured part of the hull (the body) that you will forgive; that you will allow yourself to be healed and hugged and loved. That you will go forward and protect others. That you will BE the BODY of Christ.

Strawberries in February

Happy February!

What do you have planned for this month? For me, February always seems to involve a lot of cooking. The weather in Texas can most accurately be described as “BLAH”  so that means a lot of indoor activities which for me means trying new recipes.

Last month I received the cookbook, Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering, for my birthday.  This is what we’ve tried so far, and we’ve enjoyed allllll of them:

*Garlic Cheese Grits

*White Cheddar Bisque

*Roasted Elephant Garlic Bread

*Baked Chicken with Bacon Bottom & Wild Rice

 


Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering

This is just a lovely cookbook. A joy to look at, read, and cook from. If you’ve ever watched “Fixer Upper” or read anything by Joanna Gaines, I think you’d enjoy this book.

I think I’ll try one of her dessert recipes next, probably her Strawberry Shortcake, since I’ve never made that before.


Speaking of Strawberries

Speaking of strawberries, I’ve been seeing a LOT of strawberries in the stores lately. As a matter of fact, when we stopped by Kroger’s yesterday, they had a booth set up with employees making chocolate covered strawberries right in the entrance! I could have stayed there and watched them forever (it’s so much fun to watch OTHER people work 😉  ) but I needed to get the girls to softball practice and then start supper.

A couple of weeks ago, knowing the strawberry craze was coming, I started thinking about my favorite berry recipes, and wondering if I could make a whole meal centered around strawberries. Guess what, I did! Below are some pictures and recipes  that I hope you’ll enjoy — my family certainly liked them.

Strawberry Oatmeal Bars

This is a recipe that my daughter, Kate, found last summer while searching for granola bar recipes. We loved it the first time and have been making it ever since!

https://chocolatecoveredkatie.com/2018/04/19/strawberry-oatmeal-bars/

This blogger is Chocolate Covered Katie and she writes about her search for and discovery of healthy desserts. We’ve tried several of her recipes and she’s never steered us wrong.

Bread

For starters, I made this wonderfully moist Strawberry Bread.

This is a recipe I found in the Kay’s Kitchen cookbook — a local restaurant that was once very popular in Lake Jackson. Everytime I make this bread, someone asks for the recipe. It’s so easy, and it makes a great gift!

Strawberry Bread

3 c flour

1 t baking soda

1 t salt

1 T cinnamon

2 c sugar

3 eggs

1 1/4 c vegetable oil

2-10 oz boxes of frozen strawberries — thawed and drained

1 c chopped nuts (optional) (of course you know I leave out the nuts)

Preheat oven to 350. Combine first 4 ingredients. In another bowl, cream sugar, eggs and oil. Combine both mixtures. Mix well. Stir in strawberries and nuts (if you use nuts). Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. YUM!

Strawberry Salad

The most difficult task came next, finding a recipe that my family would eat, that included strawberries in the main course. I ended up using this recipe for Strawberry Salad, https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/14276/strawberry-spinach-salad-i/

then added some grilled, marinated chicken.

The salad turned out so, so, so, sooooooo good! My family had mixed reviews on the dressing, but I liked it. What really “made” the recipe though, was the grilled chicken.

It’s simple to make, just put chicken breasts in a baggy with about half a bottle of Italian Dressing and 1/3 cup of Soy Sauce, then marinate it OVER NIGHT. That part’s really important (thus the capital letters). Chicken doesn’t soak up flavor as quickly as fish does, so planning ahead and giving it longer to marinate makes a huge difference.

This is actually one of my go to meal preps. I’ll marinate and grill an entire family pack of chicken breasts, then use it throughout the week for salad, pasta, fajitas….and still have some leftover to freeze.

Desserts

Now comes the fun part, and of course the part with the most recipes — dessert!

This first recipe is one that my mom makes quite often. It involves making a homemade pie crust and individual Strawberry Turnovers — perfect for breakfast or dessert.

I’m not gonna lie, this one can be a bit labor intensive, but it’s still an easy recipe; it just takes a bit more time. And oh, what a treat you have when they’re done!

Strawberry Turnovers

Pastry:

1 1/4 C flour

1/4 C cornmeal

3/4 t salt

1/2 C Crisco (or other shortening)

3 T water

1 C powdered sugar

Mix flour, cornmeal, and salt; then cut in the shortening. Sprinkle in water and mix well. Roll pastry into 6: circles, fill, fold over and crimp edges, then slash the tops. Place on foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes. When done, frost tops with 1 C powdered sugar mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons of water.

Filling:

1/4 C sugar

3T cornstarch

2 C fresh or frozen strawberries

Cook over medium heat until thick. Allow to cool before using.

After you’re done,  you’ll have a pretty and flavorful treat:

Doesn’t that look delicious?

The last strawberry recipe isn’t really much of a recipe. Chocolate Covered Strawberries are easy to make, and there are many different ways to personalize them. Simply wash and DRY strawberries, melt chocolate and almond bark, then dip the strawberries and add decorations.

You can put them on lollipop sticks or skewers as we did here:

Or put them in pretty cupcake liners:

Whether you decide to eat them all yourself, or gift them to someone special, these are always well received!

If you try any of these recipes, please let me know what you think. And feel free to share any of YOUR favorite strawberry recipes in the comments. I love to try new things.

Am I Enough?

I wanted to share the Bible study I am about to start at our church because I am so excited about it:


Joseph – Women’s Bible Study Participant Book: The Journey to Forgiveness

The links in this post are affiliate links, and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links. 

Recently, while reading
It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered by Lysa Terkeurst I was struck by her observation that when we find ourselves overreacting to a person or situation, it’s often caused by past hurts that haven’t been healed.

I began thinking and praying about that statement, and felt like God was encouraging me to deal with a few things in my past that I thought I’d already forgiven. Since another friend had mentioned this Bible study to me, I was happy to discover that our church already had it in the library, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot over the next 6 weeks!

I’ll be sure and update everyone when I complete the Bible study. Who knows, maybe it will be something that you want to put on your “to do” list for the year!


Along with forgiveness, I’ve also been struggling with feeling like I’m not enough.

Enough.

Do you ever feel like you are not enough? I bet you do. I know that I do. Once when I was feeling particularly full of angst and teenage drama (about 3 years ago, when I was actually around 40 and far from being a teenager) I wrote a poem called “Wretched Trinity” about how I was a wife, daughter, and mother…but there wasn’t enough of me to do a good job in any of those roles.

I laugh when I think about that poem now. Oh, not because I don’t still feel that way sometimes, more because I recognize that fact that everyone feels that way at times.

 

The funny thing is, the times I feel the worst are often the times when I am beginning to make progress! For example, this year I decided to try the  Organize in 5 Diary that I read about on moneysaving mom.com

It’s a great resource that you can print out or use online, with one, 5 minute project each day to help clean and organize your entire house. Now, I’m not sure that the creators of this project meant to take on the Mt. Everest of laundry/paperwork/clutter that is MY house, but I and my girls are trying it, and actually enjoying the projects and seeing a noticeable difference each day.

One of the main benefits I’ve found is that I may see such a difference from the little project that it encourages me to complete a bigger project.

For example, today’s 5 minute project was to clean off the refrigerator. Get rid of old pictures, mementos, recipes and only leave the most current or necessary items on the fridge. In some houses this may not be a big deal at all. I wish I’d taken before and after pictures. After removing 4 recipes, 37 pictures, 11 paintings/drawings, 2 bills, a calendar from 2017, and approximately 1042 magnets…my refrigerator is beautiful!

(Actual refrigerator not shown)

Not only is my refrigerator beautiful, but my entire kitchen looks significantly better. It looks better because I looked at the shiny, newish looking, freshly decluttered appliance and thought you know, my refrigerator really deserves a cleaner kitchen than this! So I spent the next 30 minutes in a frenzy of cleaning countertops, washing a window, storing crockpots and instapots that should have been put up last week, going through 3 days worth of mail, sweeping, and spot mopping. Voila! A clean kitchen; all inspired by a 5 minute project.

Sounds GREAT!

Sounds great, right? I thought so. The problem started as I was going through the house this evening, locking doors and closing blinds and generally getting the house settled for the night. I looked at my beautiful kitchen and sighed contentedly. Until I looked through the kitchen at the laundry room. There are 2 baskets of clothes piled in front of the chest freezer, and I mean PILED. There’s an ironing board with jackets and hats on it, and various cleaning supplies in the walkway.

Turning off that light, I tried to shrug off the laundry room and walked through my lovely kitchen into the dining room…where books were spread all over the table, ready for tomorrow’s extra math lesson because we are struggling with figuring the area of triangles and need to do some extra work. Amidst the math books and problems, there’s a theory book that should be on the piano, 3 more envelopes that need to be opened and sorted, and a stack of paperwork on the computer desk…and darnit is that a reindeer in the corner that didn’t get put away with the Christmas stuff? This is the END of JANUARY for goodness sakes!

As you can tell, my mood was plummeting. I’d gone from peacefully enjoying my clean kitchen to critiquing every area of the house that I hadn’t dealt with yet. Instead of being satisfied and content that our house, along with each person in it, is a work in progress, I was feeling drained, discontent, and almost depressed. In that moment I seriously believed that I’d never have everything done at once. I’d never be organized enough or have things clean enough or be prepared enough.

In short, I’d just never be ENOUGH.

The worst part is, I don’t just do this with my house and the physical part of my life. I do it with the spiritual and emotional parts too.

God has moved mightily in my life over the past year. While I’m not a spiritual giant, I’ve definitely had a growth spurt! That often happens with adversity, you know. God is changing my life and my relationships…and giving both Johnnie and I the strength to break some bad health and financial habits that have been part of our lives for a long time. It’s amazing to see how He keeps working in us and through us, even when we mess things up.

 

The problem is, just like with the clean kitchen and the messy laundry room, I find myself focusing on what still needs to be changed in my life. Maybe I used the exercise bike 3 times this week, but why am I not a Ninja Warrior? Maybe I’ve developed the habit of reading my Bible and praying with Johnnie daily; but why haven’t I memorized more than 2 verses in the past year? Maybe we’ve done a LOT better about eating at home, which has to be healthier than Taco Bell; but shouldn’t we all be vegans by now? I’m pretty sure we should be! Maybe we’ve made quite a few changes and grown a bit; but is it enough?!

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is: I will never be enough. Not on my own. The good news is: I’m not on my own, and if you know Jesus, you aren’t on your own either. And because of Him, we are enough.

Why? Because He’s not finished with us. Philippians 1: 6 says that we can be confident of this: that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 As long as you keep waking up, God will keep working on you. He began the good work and He will finish it. It’s not just up to you and me. On our own we can’t be enough. But God IS enough, and he says that he will keep on working on us and with us and through us…until we are complete.

Rest.

So tonight I am going to rest in that, my friends. I am going to rest in the fact that God says He will keep working, and that He is doing a GOOD work in me. My kitchen is clean, and one day more of my house will be clean too. God has strengthened and healed parts of my life over this past year, and one day He will heal the rest.

I am a work in progress and you are too. I hope you can rest in that tonight my friends; and as you rest, know that as I pray for myself and my family tonight, I am praying for you, too.

Profile Picture Challenge

Guess what. It’s my birth week! That means it’s a week that’s all about books and lunch dates and quality time. I DO love my birth week.

We don’t do a lot of gifts around here, but I almost always get a new book or cookbook. This came in the mail today and I can’t WAIT to start cooking some new recipes!


Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering

Something else that I’ve been enjoying this week is the Profile Picture Challenge on Facebook. The idea is to post your first profile picture and your most recent profile picture side by side to see how much you’ve changed since you’ve been on Facebook.

Happy Anniversary

Facebook and I will have our 10-year anniversary this week. With the exception of a few leaves of absence, our relationship is still going strong. Yay, us!

Looking back at that first picture of me with two cute little girls sitting on my lap (one obviously unhappy about something), I think we can all see that I’ve definitely changed a lot. Things happen in 10 years!

 

But what’s even more obvious than the change in me is, of course, the changes in my girls. They’ve gone from adorable, chubby, 3 and 4 year olds, to lovely 13 (almost) and 14 year olds.

You can’t avoid noticing their growth. It is obvious.

This made me start thinking: can you see my growth? I don’t mean the wrinkles or the extra pounds. Can you see my growth?

Am I a different person than I was 10 years ago, or am I exactly the same. If one of my friends, like a shortened version of Rip Van Winkle, fell asleep 10 years ago and woke up today, would they feel like nothing had changed with me? Or would they see a completely different person?

I hope I’m different.

There are some striking similarities between 2009 and 2019 for me. Both years represent some of the most challenging times in our marriage. The challenges in both years were completely unexpected. They shook our very foundations and changed the way we live our lives.

Challenges in life (and therefore in marriage) are unavoidable. So are uncertainties, inconveniences, and even crises. We can’t change that.What we can change are our reactions to those situations, and that’s what the Facebook Profile Challenge is making me examine. How am I reacting?

10 years ago I froze. I seized up. I quit functioning for a period of time. I’m not doing that this time.

While the crisis of 2019 is completely different, it’s also completely real. It started in 2018 but this time I didn’t seize up.

That’s not to say I have handled everything perfectly. There have been a couple of desperate late night texts and phone calls to close friends. There was a day of tears at the beach. There has been crying on the bathroom floor with the shower and fan turned on so no one else could hear. There have been questions and and cries towards heaven.

I haven’t been perfect, but I have grown. This is due in large part to the way my Bible has aged. That’s something I’ve thought about, as well.

If you took a picture of your Bible 10 years ago, and a picture of your Bible today, what would it look like? Would it look the same? Would it still look brand new? Could you put it back in its box and return it to Amazon or Lifeway or wherever you bought it?

My Bible looks different than it did 10 years ago, and that’s the only reason my life looks different. Words and verses are underlined and highlighted. The front cover is full of sticky notes from friends and children that I’ve worked with at church. There are tear stains on some pages and battle scars on others.

Dates are written where prayer requests were prayed. Some of those dates are followed by a second date and a short phrase where the request was answered. Others are still being prayed over and waiting. My Bible looks different.

But it doesn’t look as different as it should. If it had been used daily, I suspect that it would be falling apart. I probably would have had to buy a new one by now. It’s probably had more wear and tear over the past 3 years than in the 7 before that.

Growth

But that’s okay, because that is a sign of growth as well. My relationship with the Lord is growing. I am spending more time with Him. More time relying on Him and less time worried and fearful – although that it still something that I struggle with.

More time listening to His Word and basking in his love, and less time listening to the world and the opinions of others.

I want to encourage you to work on that profile picture – the one of your Bible. Pick it up, use it, read it, BELIEVE it. Let’s challenge ourselves to have Bibles that show we are actively participating in the battle being fought for us and our loved ones. Let’s have LIVES that look different 10 years from now instead of just pictures that look different.

I believe in you. I am praying for you. I am also encouraging you to get involved in a Bible Study group – at someone’s home, at a church, or with your family.

I participated in a couple of amazing Bible Studies on prayer last year, both by Priscilla Shirer. You can check them out here:

Discerning the Voice of God – Bible Study Book – Revised: How to Recognize When God Speaks

I’d love to hear about how you are growing, and any great Bible Studies you’ve participated in.

Note: The links in this post are affiliate links, and we will be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links.
 

Christmas Letters

Merry Christmas Eve!

I bet a lot of you have received Christmas card and letters over the past few weeks. Isn’t that wonderful? I love them! Except when I don’t love them.

Let me explain..

My name is Ayme Christian. Have you heard of Christian’s Critters? If you have, well, this is going to be a bit different from the usual family update. But it will tell you (for real) how Christan’s Critters was born.

If you haven’t heard of Christian’s Critters, I will attach (or copy) one of our past Christmas letters in the first comment, so you will REALLY understand (poor you) something about our fictional “company.”

To get started: MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY! We hope this finds you and yours well and happy.

But it might not.

As a matter of fact, today might be one of the most miserable days of your life. I know it has been in past years for me:

Christmas 1988 – 7 months after my oldest brother died.

Christmas 1999 – the year I knew I was getting divorced.

Christmas 2009 – the year Johnnie and I almost didn’t make it (we DID make it, all glory to God!).

Christmas 2015 – the year my next brother died.

And Christmas 2018 – yes, this Christmas. The year that my husband lost his job of almost 30 years with no warnings or bad reports on his record.

Christmas is HARD

Sometimes, folks, Christmas is HARD.

That’s how our “business” started. Somewhere around 2008 (give or take a year) we had a really bad year. We had a roof that was leaking and relatives that were sick and vehicles that broke down every week and kids who weren’t perfect (I know, I’m still trying to figure that one out. We’ve now raised/are raising/helped raise FIVE kids and not one single child is perfect! Geez, what are the odds?)

But we have lots of relatives and they all know that we have a bunch of kids and that I like to take pictures…..so we had to send out a Christmas Letter.

We were receiving all kinds of letters: letters from perfect families with perfect marriages and perfect kids getting into Ivy League schools and serving in the Peace Corps. I am not even kidding. We actually know people like that. And we love them and celebrate them!

But we are not…..THEM. We are US. And our US is messy. But who writes a letter about that?

Well, right after I asked myself that question, we received a letter like “that” – from a mom who confided that one child was in prison for life, and another was on her 27th marriage. AND SHE WASN’T JOKING. And I thought that, perhaps, the Christmas update wasn’t the best place to share all of that, either.

I still needed to write a letter

But I still needed to write a letter.

So I did it. I wrote a letter. Actually, I wrote a very short work of fiction.

Ha-ha, I WISH!

I can’t remember which year it actually began, but I do remember several things from that first letter. I mentioned that:

–Johnnie and I were celebrating our anniversary at the place where we first met, a Monster Truck Rally (In real life: never been to one).

–We all got saved due to those Baptists down on the corner (In real life: Johnnie and I came to know the Lord when we were teenagers).

–We shut down the family business of running the distillery due to our new Baptist beliefs, and were almost broke (In real life: We’ve never brewed any kind of alcohol. Also, financially, this was one of our best years).

Needless to say, both my mother and my mother in law nearly fell out and disowned us all! 😀 (that is not a joke). As a matter of fact, MY MOTHER sent out a Christmas letter for the first time that year – making sure that everyone knew that MY LETTER was a work of fiction.

Bless her heart.

Seriously, she has put up with a LOT from me over the years.

You may wonder: Why in the world is she putting this all in a Christmas letter? So let me explain.

I LOVE Christmas. I am one of those nuts who plays Christmas music year round. I have a Christmas clock and tons of stockings and I love cold weather and hot chocolate and I actually ENJOY wrapping presents!

But I especially love Jesus. And I love the story of His life, which begins in the book of Luke, chapter 2.

Jesus had a rough life here, and it was a real life, and things were HARD for Him and not perfect. He was born to very young parents, away from home. He was raised by people who didn’t/couldn’t understand Him. He served and then suffered. He was tortured, and killed.

All in about 33 years.

His life wasn’t perfect. And yours isn’t either. And neither is mine. We shouldn’t expect our lives to be perfect. My gosh if the SON OF GOD had a hard life here on earth, then we can’t expect ours to be perfect either.

Can we?

But sometimes…sometimes we DO have that expectation. When we start receiving all of the beautiful cards with the smiling faces and the summaries of their past years with the perfect families….sometimes we expect that, too.

I am here to tell you: my life is NOT perfect. That is where Christan’s Critters (with the agreement of my husband) was founded and shared. Life is NOT perfect; but we can support each other and pray for each other and we can laugh. I thank God that we can laugh.

Life is not perfect, but God IS perfect. His love for us is REAL and it is PRESENT and it is NOW. He is with us RIGHT. NOW.

So don’t worry about being perfect. Don’t worry about having the perfect family or sharing the perfect picture or sending the perfect card. Don’t even worry about buying the perfect gift or making the holiday perfect – because it won’t be.

Just rejoice in serving a God who knows you…perfectly. And He loves you where you are, in your perfectly messy life.

And if you need to know that there’s someone without a perfect life, struggling along in the mud and muck right beside you…just remember that I’ve been writing a Christmas Letter that is a work of fiction for the past 10-12 years. I understand.

I love you, my friends. And I am praying for you tonight as we move through this real, messy, life…together!

Merry Christmas!

 

Immanuel. God IS with us.

God is with us EVERYWHERE.

Christmas is almost here! Can you believe it? It seems like we were celebrating New Year’s Day just a week ago, and here we are, wrapping gifts again.

But is that all that there is to Christmas? The lights and stockings, the traffic and traveling, the gifts and gadgets, the books and bows?


It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

No, that’s not everything.

Christmas is about our God who came to Earth. Jesus, who came to be with us everywhere, because we couldn’t get to God by ourselves.

And sometimes your everywhere is RIGHT. HERE.

I’ve learned a lot while teaching Sunday School the past few years.You’re probably thinking Wow, I know Ayme’s been in church for. Ev. Er…..She’s still learning?!!?

 Well, yes. I HAVE been in church forever, and hopefully I will always keep learning.

One lesson that taught me a lot was on Joshua chapters 1 through 4 when I was teaching 4th and 5th grade. The Israelites crossing the Jordan river when it was overflowing its banks. But they crossed on dry ground. (This is not to be confused with the crossing of the Red Sea). If you’re not familiar with the story, check it out: Joshua 1-4. It’s a pretty interesting read.

Anyway, what our literature was emphasizing in that story was the fact that God is with you EVERYWHERE, and that you can be (and are commanded to be) strong and courageous. Pretty cool, huh? God is with you everywhere. It even says so in Joshua 1:9

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

Of course, most of us have known that forever, right? And that’s why we’re never worried, or nervous or…you know……paralyzed by fear. Right?

Well, if you’re like me, the answer to that is: Wrong. Not right. Wrong.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been paralyzed by fear. It’s something that I struggle with and have struggled with at least since high school, when my oldest brother died. Now praise God, it’s something that He has been growing me out of, teaching me to lean on Him, but this is one of my regular struggles.

My daily battle.

And this is something that I DO NOT want my kids to struggle with (and when I say my kids, I mean allllllllll the little people that God has put in my path), so it is very important to me to reach these kids. To make them understand that God isn’t just EVERYWHERE, He is RIGHT. HERE.

Okay, of course that sounds weird. I mean, everywhere IS right here, right? Duh. But one of the exercises with this lesson was to ask the kids to list (in less than 60 seconds) places that God is with you. So I set my timer, said “GO!” and watched them scribble furiously…….for approximately 2.5 seconds.

I’m not kidding; 9 of those 12 kids were done writing in less than 3 seconds. I told them to keep thinking, keep writing (as I kept going on my list – hey, I’m their teacher but I’m still competitive), but they were done.

They cheated

Then I realized why. They’d cheated. They’d given the church kid answer. Places that God is with you? Everywhere. Here’s the thing though. We know God is everywhere.

But do we know He is with us HERE? Right here? When we get hurt during football? Or don’t even make the team? Or when 2 of our friends have their heads together and are whispering and looking at us. Do we know He is with us when we’re going to the doctor to get shots? Or take a hard test? Or walk into the cafeteria when our BFF isn’t there to sit with us?

Where is your everywhere?

And adults…where is your everywhere?

Where is your everywhere?

Do you know that God is with you HERE: when you find a lump and have to wait 2 weeks to get in to see the doctor? When everyone is having a baby but you? When you go with your mom for the first time to HER doctor’s appointment? When your parents tell you that you are the executor of their will? When your kids are sick, really sick? When your husband is deployed for the FOURTH TIME? When you lose your job? When you have that funny tightening/pain in your chest……again?

He is HERE

God is HERE. Right now, while you are reading this, GOD. IS. HERE. With you. The Bible says so.

And because He IS here, we can be strong and courageous. Not on our own. Don’t be silly. We can be strong and courageous because He commands us to be. And God never tells us to do something without providing the ability to do so.

God has given you the ability to be strong and courageous. To not be afraid. To not be discouraged. Because HE. IS. HERE.

God is here. Waiting for you to call on Him. He loves you SO very much. Don’t take my word for it. Read the Bible. It says so. God is here because He loves YOU. Not because you’re perfect, not even because you’re good. Trust me, I’ve been completely rotten and He still loves me. He’s here because HE loves YOU.

So in this Christmas season while we are all running around, visiting, shopping, wrapping presents, going crazy…please remember that God is everywhere, and He is here. Right here, with you, right now. That’s what He came for.

 

Something to Read

The latest trend in buying Christmas presents this year: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to READ. Yay!

I can’t express how much this pleases me. I love to read GOOD books. Unfortunately, there are a lot of books out there that are NOT good. It’s not just that they’re poorly written, they genuinely contain things that, IMO, shouldn’t be included in the target group that they are marketed for.

Because I am so passionate about promoting good, entertaining, uplifting (and sometimes thought provoking) stories, I’ve compiled a Christmas Book List to help you with your shopping.

In each age category I will include a picture and summary of one of some my favorite books, and list several other choices.

The links in this post are affiliate links, and we may be compensated when you make a purchase by clicking through our links.

If you have any favorites that I’ve missed, please include them in the comments.

Thanks and happy shopping!

For the 2 to 5 year olds on your list:


The Wonky Donkey –I saw this on a display at Barnes and Noble when we were there earlier this week. I picked it up and knew immediately that it was going in the “to buy” stack. I think any 2 – 5 year old would enjoy this book about a cranky, lanky, honky-tonky, wink, wonky donkey! 😀 There’s even a website where you download the song to go with the book for free!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (Classic Board Books) — Another classic for the 2-5 year old crew. Our older kids enjoyed reading this book to the younger ones and making all the noises of the swishy-swashy grass, the crunchy leaves, etc.

I Want to be a Lion Tamer — I discovered this book at an Usborne party and thought it was too cute to leave off the list. What do you want to be when you grow up? A dog walker? A vet? A lion tamer? When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be! These oversized board books for our littlest learners perfectly illustrate that the possibilities are endless!


For the 6 to 8 year olds who are starting to read chapter books:

Dory Fantasmagory — As the youngest in her family, Dory really wants attention, and more than anything she wants her brother and sister to play with her. But she’s too much of a baby for them, so she’s left to her own devices—including her wild imagination and untiring energy.


The Flat Stanley Collection Box Set: Flat Stanley, Invisible Stanley, Stanley in Space, and Stanley, Flat Again! — Stanley Lambchop is an ordinary boy. At least he was, until the night his bulletin board fell off the wall and flattened him. At only half an inch thick, Stanley can slide under doors, mail himself across the country in an envelope, and fly like a kite!


The Ramona Collection, Vol. 1: Beezus and Ramona / Ramona the Pest / Ramona the Brave / Ramona and Her Father [4 Book Box set] — Newbery Award-winner Beverly Cleary delivers a humorous portayal of the ups and downs of sisterhood. Both the younger and older siblings of the family will enjoy this book.


For the 8 to 12 year olds:

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle —

Meet Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! She lives in an upside-down house with a kitchen that is always full of freshly baked cookies. She was even married to a pirate once! Best of all, she knows everything there is to know about children.

When Mary turns into an Answer-Backer or Dick becomes Selfish or Allen decides to be a Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has the perfect cure. And her solutions always work, with plenty of laughs along the way. This is the book that started it all!

Perfect for fans of Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee, this classic series is all about learning and problem-solving. Young readers will love this book.

 


Phoebe and Her Unicorn (Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series Book 1) — It all started when a girl named Phoebe skipped a rock across a pond and accidentally hit a unicorn in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, her obligational best friend. But can a vain mythical beast and a nine-year-old daydreamer really forge a connection? Indeed they can, and that’s how Phoebe and Her Unicorn unfolds.


Ages 10 and up:


Kristy’s Great Idea: Full-Color Edition (The Baby-Sitters Club Graphix 1) — Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia, and Stacey are best friends and founding members of The Baby-sitters Club. Whatever comes up — cranky toddlers, huge dogs, scary neighbors, prank calls — you can count on them to save the day. Baby-sitting isn’t always easy, and neither is dealing with strict parents, new families, fashion emergencies, and mysterious secrets. But no matter what, the BSC have what they need most: friendship.

 


How to Avoid Extinction — Since the death of his grandfather, Leo’s number one chore has been to chase after his grandmother who seems to wander away from home every few days. Now, Gram’s decided to roam farther than ever. And despite his misgivings, Leo’s going along for the ride. With his seventeen-year-old cousin, Abbey, and an old, gassy dog named Kermit, Leo joins Gram in a big, old Buick to leave their Pennsylvania home for a cross-country road trip filled with foldout maps, family secrets, new friends, and dinosaur bones.

How to Avoid Extinction is a middle-grade comedy about death and food and family and fossils. It’s about running away from home and coming back again. For Leo, it’s about asking hard questions and hopefully finding some sensible answers. As if good sense has anything to do with it. Against a backdrop of America’s stunning size and beauty, it’s also about growing up, getting old, dreaming about immortality, and figuring out all the things we can — and can’t — leave behind.


The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 1): Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy — In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point — he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.


For the Teenagers on your List:


Okay for Now — 2011 National Book Award FinalistAs a fourteen-year-old who just moved to a new town, with no friends and a louse for an older brother, Doug Swieteck has all the stats stacked against him. So begins a coming-of-age masterwork full of equal parts comedy and tragedy from Newbery Honor winner Gary D. Schmidt. As Doug struggles to be more than the “skinny thug” that his teachers and the police think him to be, he finds an unlikely ally in Lil Spicer—a fiery young lady who “smelled like daisies would smell if they were growing in a big field under a clearing sky after a rain.”

In Lil, Doug finds the strength to endure an abusive father, the suspicions of a whole town, and the return of his oldest brother, forever scarred, from Vietnam. Together, they find a safe haven in the local library, inspiration in learning about the plates of John James Audubon’s birds, and a hilarious adventure on a Broadway stage. In this stunning novel, Schmidt expertly weaves multiple themes of loss and recovery in a story teeming with distinctive, unusual characters and invaluable lessons about love, creativity, and survival.

 


Eragon: Inheritance, Book I (The Inheritance Cycle 1) — Perfect for fans of Lord of the Rings, the New York Times bestselling Inheritance Cycle about the dragon rider Eragon has sold over 35 million copies and is an international fantasy sensation.

Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.
Eldest (Inheritance Cycle, Book 2) (The Inheritance Cycle), Inheritance Cycle 4-Book Trade Paperback Boxed Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, In (The Inheritance Cycle)

Pre-order the newest book in the Eragon series and save 20% — due out 12/31/18!


The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia (Volume 1: Eragon) (Inheritance Cycle) — A wanderer and a cursed child. Spells and magic. And dragons, of course. Welcome back to the world of Alagaësia.

It’s been a year since Eragon departed Alagaësia in search of the perfect home to train a new generation of Dragon Riders. Now he is struggling with an endless sea of tasks: constructing a vast dragonhold, wrangling with suppliers, guarding dragon eggs, and dealing with belligerent Urgals and haughty elves. Then a vision from the Eldunarí, unexpected visitors, and an exciting Urgal legend offer a much-needed distraction and a new perspective.

 


Impostors — Frey and Rafi are inseparable . . . two edges of the same knife. But Frey’s very existence is a secret.

Frey is Rafi’s twin sister-and her body double. Their powerful father has many enemies, and the world has grown dangerous as the old order falls apart. So while Rafi was raised to be the perfect daughter, Frey has been taught to kill. Her only purpose is to protect her sister, to sacrifice herself for Rafi if she must.

When her father sends Frey in Rafi’s place as collateral in a precarious deal, she becomes the perfect impostor-as poised and charming as her sister. But Col, the son of a rival leader, is getting close enough to spot the killer inside her. As the deal starts to crumble, Frey must decide if she can trust him with the truth . . . and if she can risk becoming her own person.
Uglies: Uglies; Pretties; Specials; Extras


The Rule of Three — One shocking afternoon, computers around the globe shut down in a viral catastrophe. At sixteen-year-old Adam Daley’s high school, the problem first seems to be a typical electrical outage, until students discover that cell phones are down, municipal utilities are failing, and a few computer-free cars like Adam’s are the only vehicles that function. Driving home, Adam encounters a storm tide of anger and fear as the region becomes paralyzed. Soon—as resources dwindle, crises mount, and chaos descends—he will see his suburban neighborhood band together for protection. And Adam will understand that having a police captain for a mother and a retired government spy living next door are not just the facts of his life but the keys to his survival, in The Rule of Three by Eric Walters. First book in a trilogy.


And Finally, Something for You 😉


The Masterpiece — New York Times bestselling author Francine Rivers returns to her romance roots with this unexpected and redemptive love story, a probing tale that reminds us that mercy can shape even the most broken among us into an imperfect yet stunning masterpiece.

A successful LA artist, Roman Velasco appears to have everything he could possibly want—money, women, fame. Only Grace Moore, his reluctant, newly hired personal assistant, knows how little he truly has. The demons of Roman’s past seem to echo through the halls of his empty mansion and out across his breathtaking Topanga Canyon view. But Grace doesn’t know how her boss secretly wrestles with those demons: by tagging buildings as the Bird, a notorious but unidentified graffiti artist—an alter ego that could destroy his career and land him in prison.

Like Roman, Grace is wrestling with ghosts and secrets of her own. After a disastrous marriage threw her life completely off course, she vowed never to let love steal her dreams again. But as she gets to know the enigmatic man behind the reputation, it’s as if the jagged pieces of both of their pasts slowly begin to fit together . . . until something so unexpected happens that it changes the course of their relationship—and both their lives—forever.

 


A Woman’s Place: A Novel — They watched their sons, their brothers, and their husbands enlist to fight a growing menace across the seas. And when their nation asked, they answered the call as well. Virginia longs to find a purpose beyond others’ expectations. Helen is driven by a loneliness money can’t fulfill. Rosa is desperate to flee her in-laws’ rules. Jean hopes to prove herself in a man’s world. Under the storm clouds of destruction that threaten America during the early 1940s, this unlikely gathering of women will experience life in sometimes startling new ways as their beliefs are challenged and they struggle toward a new understanding of what love and sacrifice truly mean.


It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered —

Life often looks so very different than we hoped or expected. Some events may simply catch us off guard for a moment, but others shatter us completely. We feel disappointed and disillusioned, and we quietly start to wonder about the reality of God’s goodness.

Lysa TerKeurst understands this deeply. But she’s also discovered that our disappointments can be the divine appointments our souls need to radically encounter God. In It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, Lysa invites us into her own journey of faith and, with grit, vulnerability, and honest humor, helps us to:

  • Stop being pulled into the anxiety of disappointment by discovering how to better process unmet expectations and other painful situations.
  • Train ourselves to recognize the three strategies of the enemy so we can stand strong and persevere through unsettling relationships and uncertain outcomes.
  • Discover the secret of being steadfast and not panicking when God actually does give us more than we can handle.
  • Shift our suspicion that God is cruel or unfair to the biblical assurance that God is protecting and preparing us.
  • Know how to encourage a friend and help her navigate hard realities with real help from God’s truth.

 

I sincerely hope that you have found something on this list that you will enjoy, and that will make your Christmas shopping easier! 

Please let me know what you think, if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned…and feel free to include your own favorites, as well.

Thanks, and happy reading!
Ayme

 

 

Gossip Girl

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Do you like to gossip? I do.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”

Didn’t expect to hear me say that, did you? The truth is, I love to be “in the know” as the saying goes. I want to know who is healthy and who needs help. Who is hurting and who is celebrating.

And while visiting, sharing needs, and being vulnerable is a great thing, it can also turn ugly, faster than you expect.

Gossip creeps up on us. I can remember times I was laughing and chatting with a group of friends, honestly sharing our hearts, when all of a sudden I found myself in the middle of a conversation that I would need to apologize for later. A conversation that would keep me from falling asleep easily, and wondering if my daughters heard what was said.

I was very convicted earlier this year while I was reviewing a study I’d taken on the book of James. James 1:26 says that Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

Their. Religion. Is. Worthless.

Wow. Even reading that right now brings tears to my eyes because I had to apologize to someone just this weekend for gossiping. I wasn’t saying anything horrible or trying to hurt anyone, but I was sure sharing some stuff that didn’t need to be shared, and I wasn’t taking the time to build others up.

I was making my religion worthless. I was taking the sacrifice that my Savior made, and cheapening its beauty with my thoughtless words. In this wonderful season where I have more opportunity to share the love of Christ with others than at any other time, I was instead tearing it apart.

I don’t want to do that anymore.

With the holiday season upon us, most of us will be going to more meetings, gatherings, and parties than at any other time of the year. Some will be business, some will be pleasure. All of them will provide ample opportunity to gossip.

I want to encourage you not to fall into that trap.

When I was a teenager my father told me something about gossip that has stuck with me through the years, and stayed my tongue when I was tempted to share more than I should. He told me that to gossip about someone does more than harm them. It has the ability to murder their reputation.

That sounds a bit dramatic, don’t you think?

Maybe not. What if I told you that my friend Jane had an affair with a married man? An affair that almost ended in him divorcing his wife, and abandoning his family. It happened 30 years ago, but the family still struggles.

What do you think of Jane, now?

Of course I didn’t mention that Jane repented, that she did everything she could to make amends and has gone on to be one of the most compassionate and understanding people I know. I failed to say that she has used her story and mentored others and been instrumental in saving many marriages.

If you didn’t know Jane very well before I told you her story from 30 years before, what would you think of her now? Yes, I suspected as much. I have successfully, if unintentionally, murdered Jane’s reputation. And I haven’t done my own reputation any good, either. Who trusts a gossip? I don’t.

But it’s hard to avoid gossip, especially if you’ve let it become a habit. So how do you break a habit? One way is to replace it with something else.

Ephesians 4:29 says Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. I’ve loved this verse from the first time I read it. Not only does it command us not to gossip, it also tells us how to avoid doing so: use words that build others up; use words that they need to hear; use words that benefit others.

Ephesians 4:29 is an antidote to gossip. If you are using words to build up and benefit others, you certainly won’t turn right around and tear down what you’ve built. And even better, you’ll be upset with anyone else who tears it down, as well.

I am abundantly blessed to be surrounded by many strong women in my life who don’t gossip, and I’ve made a habit of studying them when someone else starts to tear another down.

What do they do?

How do they handle the situation? What do they do? Do they pull out their Bibles and start beating the gossip girl on the head? Obviously not, or I’d have multiple concussions by now.

No, they don’t try to beat their beliefs into others, they lead by example. First, they don’t bring up rumors or gossip themselves. Their words are kind and funny and encouraging. If someone does start gossiping, they try to subtly change the subject, or say something positive.

If that doesn’t work? They close their mouths and look away or look down. I know, because I’ve asked, that sometimes they are praying about whether to confront the offender, or remain silent. They are women of prayer and power. And if being silent doesn’t work?  Sometimes they do confront, and sometimes they simply remove themselves from the group or situation.

What about you? What do you do when you have an opportunity to gossip? Do you cheapen your faith, or do you build others up? I sincerely hope that you are a builder, and not a demolisher.

Don’t give up!

If you’re like me, you’ve probably done both. Don’t give up. You can always start building and encouraging, right now, today!

If you need help, (and who doesn’t), this is a verse that I have started including in my prayers; from Proverbs 141:3. Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.

 May your words be a delight to the Lord and point others to Him this holiday season. I believe in you, and I’m praying for you, too!


 

If you have trouble keeping your words and thoughts positive, I love this little book by Joyce Meyer. I’ve read and enjoyed it myself, and given several as gifts to friends. Let me know you think, and I’d also love to hear about ways you build others up.

Power Words: What You Say Can Change Your Life

 

 

 

One Week After — a Thanksgiving Analysis

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We Survived!

Well, here we are, almost a week after Thanksgiving and we all survived! By now the guests should be gone, the kitchen cleaned, and the fall decorations replaced with Christmas decorations…or something like that.

This year we were blessed to have all 5 of our kids and their grandparents with us for Thanksgiving lunch. With shift work, retail work, fire calls, and in laws, this is an increasingly rare occurrence and we enjoyed it tremendously!

Look who came to dinner!

One thing that I’ve told myself I want to start doing is analyzing what went well, what worked (and what didn’t). Why DID this year go so smoothly even though I only have one burner working on my range and an oven that bases its performance on its moods. Yes, my oven has moods; doesn’t yours?

There were several things that WORKED this year and I think they made things easier and more enjoyable for all of us.

You know the saying If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy? Well, I think there’s another saying that works as well: If mama ain’t stressed…neither is anyone else! We guide the hearts and attitudes in our homes and I am making more of an effort this season to make sure that my heart and attitude are in order.

What worked

So, what worked? Here’s the list, and I’ll explain in more detail below:

*Planned and cooked many things ahead of time.

*Delegated more – yes, someone other than mom can cook – and they probably want to!

*Used paper plates, napkins, and disposable containers – clean up was a breeze!

*Bought a craft kit for the younger kiddos from Hobby Lobby and took turns helping them.

*Had a DVD and some games set up in case it was too rainy to play outside.

*Planned and provided some healthy choices for the littles, so that they wouldn’t get tummy aches from all the desserts.

*Prayer

It sounds simple doesn’t it? It really is, but if I don’t think about it ahead of time, I will surely forget something.

Planning and preparing food ahead of time!

You’re probably thinking well, of course that works, don’t you do that every year? Sadly, no, I don’t. I make a list, and I plan the food, but I usually cook everything the day of Thanksgiving or maybe the night before.

Delegate

This year we started on Tuesday, and I delegated more. Our oldest daughter and our daughter in law both brought side dishes. Kate and Jill made all of the desserts on Tuesday with little supervision, and I successfully tried a new recipe for dressing and prepped the rest of the sides on Wednesday night.

The only thing we had to do on Thursday was warm everything and make the gravy. I borrowed a roaster oven from a friend and Johnnie cooked the turkey in that, which freed up my oven for all of the sides. I’d never used a roaster oven before, but that will definitely be changing. Here is one I’m considering:


Oster CKSTRS23-SB Roaster Oven, 22-Qt, Stainless Steel

Go Disposable

Paper plates, napkins, and disposable containers have been a game changer for me. Growing up, my mom pulled out the best china plates and sterling silver for big family meals, so that’s what I thought I was supposed to do too. It makes for a gorgeous table…and a whole lot of work cleaning everything up.

These days we use paper plates when we are hosting over 8 people and save the “good dishes” for smaller crowds. I ordered some aluminum foil pans with covers from Amazon a few months ago when I was working on freezer meals and have been impressed with their sturdiness and how easily they stack in the freezer. We used the same things for most of the side dishes this year.

Tiger Chef Plastic Dome Lids for Half Size Aluminum Foil Pans 9″ X 13″ (Pack of 50)

 

Craft kits were a huge hit this year. I bought this set at Hobby Lobby on one of their rotating sales for 50% off, then found glue bottles just the right size for small hands. Young aunts and grandmas took turns helping the kids with these and it was something they really enjoyed.

 

DVDs  – I kept all of the Barbie DVDs that my girls watched and we always have those on hand when the little girls are here in case someone gets tired of visiting and playing with the adults (hey, everyone needs a break sometimes!) I have to say that I was hesitant to buy Barbie movies when my girls were little. I wasn’t sure what kind of message they would promote. I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised at the strong female roles, friendships, and morals they display – along with some really catchy tunes. 😀

Amazon has a great deal on the Barbie Princess Collection right now, which includes my favorite: Barbie in The Princess and the Pauper!


Barbie: 10-Movie Classic Princess Collection

Games, games, games. Although we spent most of our time visiting and taking pictures this holiday, my family loves to play games. Some of our favorites are Headbandz, Pictionary, Phase 10, and Uno. If everyone wants to play, Chickenfoot and Jenga are great games that very young children can understand and join.


Dominoes Chicken Foot Double 9, Tournament Size Set with Colored Dots

Healthy choices for the littlest members of the family. I know a lot of people believe that when it comes to meal time, you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit and I agree with that too, on a daily basis. But while we’re picking all of our favorite recipes that we’ve had for years, why not consider the ones who haven’t developed a taste for green bean casserole just yet?

It only took one text message to make sure we’d have some favorite fruits on hand for the under 10 crowd – now they would have something to fall back on to keep them from getting cranky or their parents from getting exasperated when the kids wouldn’t eat anything. Definitely worth the effort!

Prayer. Hospitality is not something that comes naturally to me. Even when it is only family, if it’s more than 5 or 6 people, I struggle. Is the house clean enough? Will there be enough food? What will they think of the decorations? And the yard? What if cranky Aunt Agatha shows up and says something to make someone cry? The list goes on and on of things that I worry about not just the night but the entire week before a gathering.

This year every time I started worrying about something, I prayed. I didn’t pray for God to calm my nerves or make everything go smoothly (okay maybe I did that once or twice). I focused my prayers on asking God to use me to bless my family and anyone else I came in contact with throughout the holidays. By thinking of others and their needs, I didn’t have as much time to worry about what might go wrong. And guess what: nothing went wrong!

I hope my list of things that worked this year helps you in some way. If you have anything to add, I’d absolutely love to hear what you have to say. I always need all the help I can get.

 

 

 

Wild Gratitude

As the month of November opens, we will be seeing a lot of posts about gratitude;

and that’s a beautiful thing: sharing our personal stories of Thanksgiving in a way that will hopefully encourage others.

I’m going to write something a little different though, something that explains why I sometimes don’t express gratitude….and how and why I’m working on changing that.

Wild Gratitude

I love the phrase wild gratitude. I love to picture it and imagine it and feel it and express it – to be wildly grateful, almost crazy with gratitude! What an image of how gratitude should be given – wildly – instead of how it is so often given – negligibly or grudgingly.

I am sitting here this morning thinking about the times in my life when I have been wildly grateful. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of them. I am grateful for so many things: food on the table, a house to live in, working a/c and heat.

But wildly grateful? That implies a meeting of a need or want that you have been desperate to fulfill.

When I held my children in my arms for the first time, I was overflowing with gratitude. It wasn’t expressed by jumping up off of the bed and bouncing off the walls, but I was so full that I couldn’t contain it – gratitude leaked out of my eyes and flowed off of me in waves as I looked into those tiny faces for the first time. I am still wildly grateful for my girls.

 

I have expressed wild gratitude through a gasp of startled pleasure when I received something or someone unexpected. My love for my husband is something I did not expect to have. Finishing college, finding an extended family in my church, lifelong friendships that point me towards the Lord. For all of these I am wildly grateful.

Then I think of all of the times when I haven’t expressed wild gratitude. There are too many to list but one sticks out in my mind; the time that God supplied the diagnosis and treatment for my oldest daughter as she was dehydrated.

It sounds like a simple diagnosis but she’d been sick for six weeks.

What started with a stomach virus lingered in lethargy and constant headaches. She lost weight. She didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.

We took her to the doctor, twice, and they drew blood and ran tests and still couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They implied that I was worrying too much or that she was acting lazy to get out of chores, not taking into account a mother’s knowledge of her child’s personality or the fact that the child was missing out on a lot of things she’d looked forward to for almost a year, simply because she didn’t feel like participating.

Desperation

I remember the quiet desperation I was feeling. The nights I alternated between prayer and terror.

Then I remember the nurse practitioner who came to our house. I remember his diagnosis and my surprise and, quite frankly, a small amount of disbelief.

Dehydration. Not some strange and rare disease I’d never heard of or a terrifying one that I had. Not something that was going to require a long, drawn out cure and travel and more testing and long nights in hospitals.

Dehydration.

A prescription that included IV fluids, rest, more fluids, and some ibuprofen. A cure that had a visible difference in less than an hour.

WHY wasn’t I expressing wild gratitude?

I think a similar example and an explanation is found in the Bible. A group of people who were healed, yet only one expressed his gratitude freely and openly.

Luke 17

Do you remember the 10 lepers who were healed by Jesus in Luke 17? They were all healed, but only one came back to thank Jesus.

Do you think the others were grateful? I do! Leprosy was a disease that separated individuals from their families. They were required BY LAW to move away and live in colonies with other diseased people.

Lepers couldn’t work or participate in society. They were banished and shunned as their bodies became disfigured with the rot of their disease. They couldn’t hold or hug or even touch anyone else.

So when Jesus, the Son of God, took the time to heal them do you think they were grateful? If they were, then why didn’t they come back? Why didn’t they all jump and shout and dance and proclaim to the world that they were HEALED and FREE?

One did. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Thank you!

I imagine this one returning to say thank you. Can you picture it? Did he just stroll back to Jesus to say thank you? I don’t think so: I see him sprinting back, shouting, rejoicing, and when he met His healer, his gratitude so overcame him that he threw himself at Jesus’ feet! That, my friend, is some wild gratitude.

But what about the others? Jesus gives us a clue to their lack of expression (and mine) when he tells the leper who came back your faith has made you well.

You see, when Kate was sick I was so worried. I couldn’t believe the answer was simple. I couldn’t believe that I deserved to have this child healed simply while others suffer for so long. I lacked faith. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I think maybe it was the same way for the nine lepers who didn’t return. They knew they didn’t deserve healing. None of us do. They were grateful, but doubtful. Like Thomas when he first heard that Jesus had risen, he wanted so desperately to believe, but he doubted. His faith wasn’t mature enough to overcome his fear. He knew he didn’t deserve it.

Undeserved.

And you know what? I, and the nine lepers, and Thomas? We’re right. We don’t deserve the healing that God has provided for us. We don’t deserve the simple gift that we just have to receive. But God gave it to us anyway.

So that’s what I am thankful for today; the gift given that was undeserved. And that’s what I’m working on: unreservedly accepting the many gifts God gives me and believing that they are real and true and for me. Not because I deserve them, but because He loves to give them.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, may we all be wildly grateful this month and always.