A Life Stirred

Sharing Christmas :: The Theory and The Real

This is part of the Sharing Christmas link-up.  If you are new to my blog, welcome.  I hope you will stick around.  If you are one of my 7 regular readers, I love each and every one of you.

Ever since Ben and I got married in 2008, I’ve been dying to create some family Christmas traditions.  I’m pretty sure I remember hounding Ben during our first Christmas together (a month after our wedding) about what traditions we could create:  “Think!  What do you want to do year after year with our kids?  Choose a meaningful tradition NOW!”

But the funny thing about traditions is that you can’t force them.  For the most part, traditions are something that you do one year; it goes well (and a majority of your family enjoys it); so you do it again next year and the year after that…until it’s a tradition.

Christmas Tradition Fail: Make a tree topper that reflects the past year.   We played a lot of games in 2010.  We did it for 4 years and then ran out of ideas.

Christmas Tradition Fail: Make a tree topper that reflects the past year. I guess we played a lot of games in 2010. We held on to that for 4 years and then ran out of ideas.

So, I’ve been patiently (ok, ok, not patiently) waiting to have a chance to develop some Morse Family Christmas Traditions.  This year is our year!  Joanna is old enough to understand some of the concepts of Christmas, and Claire is old enough to participate without meltdowns (most of the time).

It’s been awesome!  I’ve been careful to try to keep our December simple and to hold my plans loosely (which, if you know me and my love of plans, is easier said than done).  But since I’m so excited and since it’s been going pretty well, I’d love to share some of what we’ve been doing.

Prepare Him Room…

To me, I’d like the preparation for Jesus’ arrival to be the biggest part of our Advent traditions.  I want to talk about Jesus all month long (really, all year long), not just a Christmas morning shout-out.  So, this is how we’ve approached that this year…

Our Family’s Advent Plan (in Theory):  Using the Jesus Storybook Bible, we’ve been reading one story a night (there are conveniently 24 stories from Creation to Jesus’ birth).  Since “every story whispers His name”, it’s a perfect way to work towards Jesus’ birth.  We also have brown paper bags that the girls open each night.  The bag contains an item that relates to the story in some way.  For example, during the story of Creation, the girls colored a picture of the world.  Simple stuff.

Our Advent bags

Our Advent bags.

Our Family’s Advent Plan (for real):  We have opened a bag and read from the Jesus Storybook Bible every night.  The girls love the bags (it’s an awesome real-life way to teach sharing and patience…ie there’s a lot of crying).  There was one perfect night–tree lit, “fire” crackling, living room clean, girls sitting quietly and still as Ben read.  Most nights, there’s a lot of squirming and crying and fussing.  It’s really ironic because the girls will sit through 27 consecutive readings of Curious George and the Police Station, but they can’t seem to handle 10 minutes of a Bible story.  Grrr…

This was the picture perfect moment.  Generally, there's a lot more chaos during our Advent activity.

This was the picture-perfect moment. Generally, there’s a lot more chaos.

My Advent Plan (in Theory):  I planned to participate in She Reads Truth Advent series.  It also walks you through the Old Testament, so it actually matches up with our family’s plan.

My Advent Plan (for real):  I’m still participating, but I didn’t start until December 9th.  So I’m really really far behind.  It’s still been good, and I’m still preparing my heart for Jesus’ arrival.  So that’s a win.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

December can be OVERwhelming as far as activities and expectations and stress goes.  I wanted to be very intentional about what we did this month.  I want to enjoy the season, but not get lost in all the activity.  You know?

This is really a balance.  And I think it varies for each person.  We’ve got to stop comparing our Decembers.  For real.

Our Family’s Festive Plan (in Theory):  At the beginning of the month, we picked four Christmas-y activities that we were going to deliberately do this month–the Christmas Light Parade, cookie decorating with friends, a PJ Christmas Light Drive, and the Christmas Eve service at church.

Light Parade family selfie.

Light Parade family selfie.

Todders and sugar.  What could go wrong?

Todders and sugar. What could go wrong?

Our Family’s Festive Plan (for real): For real, this has been even better than I expected!  We’ve added in other activities as they came up, but because there was no pressure to do it all, the extra stuff is just fun and stress-free.  [I might note that it’s been so helpful to be facebook-free this month.  It’s a lot harder to compare my December to yours when I have no idea what you’ve been doing.]

Our Christmas tree craft.  Pin worthy, right?

Our Christmas tree craft. Pin worthy, right?

Nativity scene playing....allll the time.

Nativity scene playing….allll the time.

We also spend a lot of time looking at (and touching) the tree.

We also spend a lot of time looking at (and touching) the tree.

So, what’s my point in all of this?  Well, it’s fun to share what we’ve been up to.  And I suspect this post will be helpful next year when I can’t quite remember what we did. But mostly, I want to encourage you to choose to do the things that will be enjoyable and beneficial for your family…and then let the rest go.  Yes.  Let it go.  Let it go.

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Ten on Ten: The Trapped Inside Edition

It was a very rainy/sleety/icy/snowy day.  So, we hunkered down inside.  On paper, that sounds so cozy and nice.  It was probably 60% cozy, 20% mundane, and 20% sassy and crabby (I’m not naming names or anything).

Checking out the snow situation.

Checking out the snow situation.

Laundry helpers.

Laundry helpers.

But this is what my laundry helpers really looked like:

Because she couldn't have all the clothes in her basket.  Trauma.

Because she couldn’t have all the clothes in her basket. Trauma.

Irresistible tree.

Irresistible tree.

Reading together.

Reading together.

"She Reads Truth" Advent reading.  I'm on Day 2.  Takin' it slooooow.

She Reads Truth” Advent reading. I’m on Day 1.  Takin’ it slooooow.

Christmas cookies and a Christmas episode of "West Wing."

Christmas cookies and a Christmas episode of “West Wing.”

Christmas cookies are a mess!

Christmas cookies are a mess!

"Mama, you need to do dishes!"  Thanks, Jo.

“Mama, you need to do dishes!” Thanks, Jo.

Independent play--a beautiful thing.

Independent play–a beautiful thing.

Joy to the world!!

Joy to the world!!

ten on ten button

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December Time Warp

It’s really no secret that I love time.  There’s just something about it that stirs my heart towards the Lord.

And there’s nothing like young-kiddo stage of life that makes time passage even more evident.  And depending on the day (and my mood), time either moves very, very slow (like 3:00 to 5:00 every. single. night) or very, very fast (like the last two years).

My current hobby is taking pictures that make me feel the ridiculousness of time-passage.

Two girls, one dress, and one tree:

blog 0900

Joanna (22 months)–December 2013

Claire, 17 months

Claire (17 months)–December 2014

Claire and the Christmas tree:

Claire checks out the Christmas tree last year.

December 2013

December 2014

December 2014

Joanna and her cousin:

December 2013 (Blurry  but awesome.)

December 2013 (Blurry but awesome.)

November 2014

November 2014

It’s just amazing how quickly my girls’ baby-hood/toddler-hood/childhood is flying by!  I want to be sure to enjoy it as much as I can…because it truly is so fleeting.  (To be clear, I don’t plan on enjoying the frustrations of these seasons…but I want to enjoy them in their current stage.  Because it’ll be gone before I know it!)

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The Secret of a Picture-Perfect December

I’ve figured it out.  I know how to have a picture-perfect December.  And because I’m so very kind, I’m going to share my secret with you.

Are you ready?  You should probably find a pen and notebook…because you’re going to want to take notes.  I’ll wait.

Ok, so the secret to a picture-perfect December….take perfect pictures.  Or rather take pictures of those perfect moments and then promptly forget all the not-as-perfect moments.

I’m not going to lie.  Seven days into December, and I feel like I’m nailing this Advent thing.  (Yes, I know.  Pride is not an attractive Advent attitude.  I’m sorry.)

We are using the Jesus Storybook Bible, and we’re working our way from creation to Jesus’ birth this month.  Every night, the girls open a bag to find some sort of tactile object related to the evening’s story.  (I’m channeling my inner-teacher.)

Nightly Advent activity.

Our Advent bags.

Not pictured:  The sobbing that occurs when a certain toddler finds out it’s not her turn to open the bag.  Or the sobbing that occurs when another certain toddler finds out she has to actually touch the bag.  Drama both ways.

Anyway, this whole family Advent thing has been going really well.  Like better than I even dared to hope.  Basically, this is the first year where we have kids who are actually almost old enough to get some of the meaning of Christmas.  And I’m so excited to start teaching them about it!  There is a special joy that comes from teaching your children about the Lord and watching them actually grasp some of the concepts.

There is also a certain amount of joy found in moments like the one pictured below…

Advent perfection.  We are nailing it.

A perfect Advent moment.

Of course, as with any “perfect” picture, there is chaos happening outside the frame.  I promise.  This perfect moment was just that:  a moment.  And yet, it is surely a moment worth remembering.  It is worth finding joy in those moments that go exactly like you wanted them to.

But the hang-up for so many of us (myself most definitely included) is that we jump right to comparison.  We compare our less-than-perfect moments to someone else’s (perceived) perfect moment.  Or we compare how we are nailing it to how others are falling short.  Or we take Pinterest pictures or facebook pictures at face-value and forget that there is almost certainly chaos just outside of the frame.

And then we stress out.  December seems to be the most compare-y month of all.  I can feel the stress we moms put on ourselves (and dude, I’m not even a feeler!).  We want to do it all.  We want to do every single, festive Christmas activity, and we find ourselves weary.  Oh so weary.

Yet, the weary world rejoices.  There is a thrill of hope.  Hope.  Hope for the weary.

falala_thrill_of_hopePREV

So, let’s enjoy this month.  Let’s allow the activities of December–the parties, the cookies, the decorations, the music–stir our affections for the Lord.  And let’s celebrate Him through it all.

And as those picture-perfect December moments start appearing everywhere we look (facebook, Instagram, blogs, Pinterest, and on and on), remember that a single picture is never the whole story.  Breathe.  And then go and capture your own “perfect” moments.

And post them on all the social media you can, and let the cycle continue.

And for a dose of real, here's Claire while we decorated the tree.  Not nailing it.

And for a dose of real, here’s Claire while we decorated the tree. Not nailing it.

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Ten on Ten: The Runny Nose Edition

I bet you just can’t wait to see our day in pictures–“The Runny Nose Edition” just promises awesome.

Ten in Ten is all about finding beauty in the ordinary, which can be hard sometimes.  It’s really hard when two out of two children have pretty bad colds.  By the end of the day, I was pretty much covered in snot.  [Don’t worry; I didn’t take a picture of that.]  But even if I didn’t capture beauty in today, I did capture life as it is right now.  As we all know, life just flies by, and eventually, I’ll be glad for the reminder of what life was like at this particular point in time.

Watching Georgie while I made a grocery list (quality parenting right there).

Watching Georgie while I made a grocery list (quality parenting right there).

Ready to go grocery shopping.  I love winter, but I hate getting the girls into winter coats.  Such a pain.

Ready to go grocery shopping. I love winter, but I do not love winter coats.

This cart is a monster.  I usually run over at least one elderly person a visit!

This cart is a monster. I usually run over at least one elderly person a visit!

The girls are in charge of buying the bread at the discount bread store.  Jo handles the money.  Claire handles the bread.

The girls are in charge of buying the bread at the discount bread store. Jo handles the money. Claire handles the bread.

At this point in the day, it was 11:00, and we had spent the ENTIRE morning doing grocery shopping (we went to 4 different places to hit all the sales).  I always feel like I deserve some sort of award on grocery shopping days.  Other than a full fridge.

My pastor challenged us to read Ephesians this week (a chapter a day).  It's been so good!

My pastor challenged us to read Ephesians this week (a chapter a day). It’s been so good!

A switch flipped last week, and now she pees and poops on the potty!  (This might be the most beautiful picture of the day.)

Something clicked last week, and we’ve got a potty trained toddler!!  (This might be the most beautiful picture of the day.)

She woke up too early from her nap.  So we hung out.  I can't even tell you how much snot was on my face after this picture.

She woke up too early from her nap. So we hung out. I can’t even tell you how much snot was on my face after this picture.

After this point in the day, things kind of went downhill.  I took pictures, but I haven’t really figured out how to take good pictures inside after 4:00.  It’s dark by then, and I can’t seem to get any pictures that aren’t blurry.  So I have a bunch of blurry pictures of grumpy kids.

It's cuter when you can't hear her.

Like this.  It’s cute because you can’t hear her.

I’ll spare you the 5:00 picture.  As a bonus, Claire and I took a selfie outside the bread store.  She’s the best at selfies.  A true 2013 baby.

She's even saying "Cheeeeese."

She’s even saying “Cheeeeese.”

ten on ten button

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It’s Snow-vember!

It’s not secret that I love snow.  I get really excited about every snowstorm we have (even the ones in April).  It tends to make me fairly unpopular in the winter.

I just can’t help it.

And there’s something about the first snow of the year.  Beautiful and fresh and new.  <happy sigh>

This past weekend we had our first snowfall of the year.  And instead of a light dusting, we got like 8-1o inches of snow (it drifted so it was really hard to tell)!  It was like an overnight winter wonderland!

I took the girls out on Sunday.  Joanna (my February baby who has earned the nickname “Tundra Baby”) loved it!  She thought sledding was the best.  Plus, now she’s big enough to sled down the hill and drag her own sled back up the hill!!  Ah-mazing!

This was mid-storm.

One inch on the ground; eight more to go!

Claire, on the other hand, was not as impressed with the snow.  As a June baby, she was horrified by the white stuff and really confused about all the layers and the boots.  She didn’t mind being pulled in the sled, but even that wasn’t always a hit.  She tipped out a few times, face-planting into the snow…so I can understand her aversion.

Snow is her kryptonite.

Snow is her kryptonite. She couldn’t get up.

Anyway, overall, the girls enjoyed the snow.  Or at least they enjoyed the cupcake I gave them when we came inside.  Bribery?  Maybe.

I’ll leave you with photographic evidence that time passes at a ridiculous speed.

October 2013

October 2013

November 2014

November 2014

Seriously.  Who told them they could get so big?  (Joanna always answers that question, “Claire Bear told me.”)

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We made it!

Oh my word!  We made it!  “Taming the Tongue in 31 Days” is done.

So is your tongue totally tamed now?

No?

Mine either.  But hopefully there was something beneficial that you read or took away from this little series…maybe.

For me, I learned that it was hard to write for a whole month on one topic.  Around the middle of October, I kind of got sick of my writing voice.  Lucky for you, though, I’m very much a rule follower so I had to finish it out.

But more than that, I learned that having a tame tongue is truly a journey.  It’s not a once and done deal (bummer, right?).  It will take ongoing effort.  I will have to choose to tame my tongue moment by moment, day by day, week by week.  Yet, I believe that with the Lord’s help, I can have freedom in this!  I can be a markedly different person from now on.

My tongue will speak life.

My tongue will not gossip.

My tongue will encourage.

My tongue will build up.

My tongue will be slow to speak.

My tongue will give grace.

My tongue be thankful.

My tongue will honor the Lord.

Now, that is exciting stuff.

Also, exciting?  Getting to write about something other than my tongue soon.  Ha!

Don't miss a day!

Don’t miss a day!

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Words to myself

Have you ever thought about the words you say to yourself?  I’m not talking about out-loud words where we chant our grocery shopping list to ourselves….but the words we say to ourselves in our minds.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not very kind to myself.

I want my words to my friends to be edifying.  I want to build others up and encourage them.  I want to show grace and love.

And yet…I rarely give myself that kind of grace.  I am very critical and discouraging and a little bit nasty.  Honestly, if I spoke to others the way I speak to myself, I wouldn’t have many friends.

I wish I had an easy list of suggestions for how to “fix” this problem.  I don’t.  (If you do, I’ll take any suggestions now!)

In Breaking Free (a Bible study by Beth Moore), she addresses learning how to take our thoughts captive.  We all have errant thoughts–that are based on lies we believe or a doubt we have.  We have to choose to take those thoughts captive to obey Christ.  We have to put truth on the lies and choose to believe what God says over what we say.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,

and take every thought captive to obey Christ.

–2 Corinthians 10:5

For me, it is an ongoing process, but I am learning.  And I believe I’m even making progress (because at least I can recognize that there’s a problem with my thought-words).  So, bring on the freedom!

Don't miss a day!

Don’t miss a day!

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Parenting with Deliberate Words

This post has to start with a disclaimer.  I am not a parenting expert.  I’ve only been a parent for two years.  I’ve only ever been a parent to my two girls.  Anything I’m about to share is simply what I’ve learned so far.  I share because I hope it might be a help to you on your journey.

Being a mom is weird sometimes.  You give birth to a tiny bundle of baby squishiness.

A tiny bundle with big cheeks.

A tiny bundle with big cheeks.

After a day or two, you get sent home with this baby, and you’re in charge.  The learning curve on motherhood is intense.  I know I learned to do all kinds of things I’d never done before—change a diaper in the dark, nurse a baby, or get a poopy onesie off a squirming baby without getting poo everywhere.

I also learned to narrate my every move for Joanna.  You know, to help with language acquisition…and to fill the silence of my house.

“We’re going to the grocery now.  Let’s get our coats on.  One arm in.  Two arms in.  Yay!  Now we need shoes.  Mommy has her shoes on.  It’s your turn now.  Let’s put those shoes on.  One, two buckle my shoe…”

So many one-sided conversations.

And then a weird thing happened.  Joanna started talking back.  Not in a sassy way, but she started responding.  We started to actually have conversations.  Now, she frequently makes me laugh with her responses.  So not only does she reply, but she’s funny too.

But anyway, when Joanna was about two, I realized I was still doing a lot of one-sided conversations.  I was giving her directions, and just not expecting a response.  Even though she was fully capable of responding and obeying.

For example, I would tell her it’s time to clean up, but then I wouldn’t expect her to do what I had just asked.  Just like when she was 3 months old, I’d tell her it was time to put a coat on, but never expected her to actually do it (because she couldn’t).

In doing this, I was weakening the power of my words.  She was learning that she didn’t need to do what I said.  And I could tell that I needed to say what I mean and mean what I say.

Sounds simple, right?  In theory, it is.  But in actuality, it is hard to make sure that I am only saying what I am willing to follow through on.  Yet talking to my girls this way has be so beneficial.  I feel like it has helped them to be more obedient and responsive to me.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still have plenty of times when I say something to the girls, and they totally ignore me, and I don’t follow through to make sure they listen.  Generally, though, I am careful to say what I mean and follow through on it.

I still narrate my every move (even when I’m alone at the grocery store…it’s a hard habit to break).  But I am also much more deliberate with my words and requests.

Don't miss a day!

Don’t miss a day!

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Words to our Kids

I’ve talked before about my words to my girls.  I want to speak life to them.  I want to encourage them and build them up.  I have seen the impact of my words, even at their young age.

Both girls are language-sponges right now.  They absorb everything I say.  Which has both its positives and negatives.

On the one hand, Joanna can sing the doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”), which is pretty much the cutest thing in the world.

On the other hand, I’ve also come to realize that I say “actually” a lot.  I didn’t know this until my two year old started saying things like, “Actually, I’m going to do that later.”  It’s funny, but it makes me wonder what else I say without realizing it.  Gulp.

There’s nothing quite like having your kid repeat your own words right back at you.  And beyond what I say in the course of the day, the way I say things can have a huge impact on them.

A harsh “no” can cause them to burst into tears.  [This isn’t a bad thing.  I want them to have soft hearts that are quick to repent.  But it’s strange to see one word, spoken firmly, cause tears.]

A compliment or praise can bring a sparkle to their eyes.

This picture is the perfect reminder of the impact of my words.  Right before I took the picture, I said, “Joanna, you are a beautiful princess.”

jo

She lit up.

Our words to our children really do matter.  Even when they’re young.  So go speak some life to your kiddos today!

Don't miss a day!

Don’t miss a day!

 

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