Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Almost a New Year

Of course I have to talk about it almost being a new year...it is!

I don't really make resolutions. I learned long ago that they were pretty pointless (for me).

Last year our pastor encouraged us to abide in the new year. I saw a friend's blog where she talked about a word for the year. Those two things coincided in my head and I basically decided 2009's word for the year was "Abide". My goal was to work on abiding in Christ--sitting at His feet more, walking by the Spirit, and remembering that apart from Him I can do nothing.

I guess I have to say it was a "success" in many ways. I won't ever get it right all the time. But, I saw growth.
I don't know if 2010 will have a word. I haven't really heard one yet. Maybe God will give me a goal. Maybe He won't. Maybe I'll try to do something in my flesh, but I doubt it. Well, I try to do all sorts of things in my flesh, but making it a point to strive for something isn't going to happen.

Instead, I think I just want to keep asking. God, what do You want from me this year? How do You want me to spend my time? What do You want my priorities to be?
I really don't think I can fail if I keep asking for His wisdom and direction. Besides, I've walked with Him long enough to know He rarely gives me a map with more than one step marked on it at a time. He knows I'll take off running and try to do it on my own. So, 2010 will be like this year has been--one day at a time, trying to seek Him for each moment of each day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Weekend of Fun

I hope you had a great weekend. The Fletcher family has been having some fun. Christmas morning was full of excitement as we hunted through the house to find baby Jesus. We ate birthday cake, read the Christmas story, found treasures in our stockings, and opened lots of presents. Our friends and family from far away blessed us all!The kids love their new Tag reader. Their fascination of books is a great blessing to us. We try to do everything we can to foster their love of reading. They got new bed sheets--in really fun character prints. Spiderman, Prinesses and Dora will greet them at bedtime each night!
They all got new-to-them bikes! We went out riding on Saturday afternoon, though Rylee's training wheels have yet to be put on.
I received sewing machine. I'm excited to be able to mend things myself and even get a little creative. Joel got some clothes and things for his work space in the garage.
We are incredibly excited to be able to give a sewing machine and bicycle to those less fortunate in Asia through GFA's Christmas Gift catalog. We thought these two items were fitting with the gifts our family received this year. What a joy to know as my kids ride their bikes in the days, weeks, and months ahead that one of our GFA missionaries will be riding his--sharing the Gospel from village to village more easily! And, as I sew and mend, a woman in Asia will be able to make a living for her family's vitality because of her sewing machine! To those who blessed our family--thank you! You have enabled us to be a blessing.
Unfortunately, our kids are feeling a little under the weather, so we've stayed pretty close to home for the rest of the Christmas weekend. But, at the request of Uncle Chris, Joel's cousin, we made a fire in the backyard and roasted marshmallows for s'mores tonight!We've also had lots of yummy food. Be sure to check out our recipes on our food blog.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Some More Celebrating

Please don't think the whole Santa thing is a cut and dry issue around here. We're still figuring it all out. Just this week, Rylee came home telling me Santa is real! She read it in a book at school.

Hmm... figuring out what to say (and not to say) is sometimes the hardest part of parenting!
But, we're having fun this season.
Making cookies, hosting parties, singing carols, buying for needy families, attending celebrations, performing skits, making ornaments, eating sweet treats, and spending time with friends are things we wanted to do and have done thus far.
Our next week will be much, much slower in pace than the previous two. Whew!

Below are the ornaments I made using Christmas cards we received last year.
You cut a bunch of circles, fold three edges, glue them together, and end up with a cool ball.
I've made three so far and I really like 'em. Here are the instructions.
We hope you're having a great time celebrating Advent. Jesus came! He's coming again! Woohoo!!!May you stand in awe this Christmas--with child-like faith!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How We Celebrate Christmas Part III--The Santa Factor

I appreciate all of you who weighed in with your thoughts on doing the "Santa thing". Many of you talked about your own experience as a child. I think that's how we approach most aspects of parenting.

Both Joel and I grew up with Santa coming to visit. Joel figured out the truth when he was about 6 or 7 years old. He says he doesn't really remember it being good or bad. I figured out the truth when I got into our attic around age 7 and found all the presents hidden. I don't remember being mad; I had been doubting for probably a year or two anyway. While my family went to church and we focused on it being Christ's birth, Santa and gifts was still a very big focus. Joel's family didn't go to church so the focus was definitely on gifts and Santa.

Rylee came on the scene and neither Joel or I had any issues with Santa. Fun and innocent was our view. We planned to focus on Jesus and just let Santa come to bring gifts and that's it. Rylee's first Christmas was not an issue since she was 8 months old. Her second Christmas we talked to her about going downstairs to see what Santa left. "Santa" left one or two unwrapped toys by the tree and filled our stockings. We would see what "he" left and then read the Christmas story from the Bible, then open the gifts from family under the tree.

The following Christmas was much the same in format except Rylee was 2 1/2 and the twins had been added to our family. "Santa" wasn't ever the focus. The kids might take their picture with him at a mall, but they never made a list for him and never were told he was watching them to see if they were naughty or nice, etc. We wanted every emphasis to be on Jesus and His birth.

This year we will celebrate our 3rd Christmas in Texas. Last year we added in a scavenger hunt on Christmas morning. We have 5 nativity sets. One is specifically for the kids to play with. Jesus is touchable. We took Jesus from each set and hid Him. On Christmas morning after they checked out their stockings and the open gifts left for them, we said "Oh no, Jesus isn't in the manger! We can't have Christmas without Jesus. That's what Christmas is all about." Then, we read the clues and they found each baby Jesus. Once the final baby Jesus was in place, we could finally celebrate because Jesus had come! (I put together a video of it last year. Here it is if you want to see it.)

We read the Christmas story from the Bible (the Message translation; this year we will use their devo Bible "The Jesus Storybook Bible" b/c it's awesome!). We talk about why it's so important that Jesus was born. We talk about why we give presents. Then, we open them.

Last year we made a birthday cake for Jesus and sang Happy Birthday too.

We didn't really plan on this year being all that different. However, a certain question came up as we were watching a tree lighting ceremony. It was at a mall with an ice rink and a skating Santa entered to dance around then light the tree. Rylee turned around and said, very loudly, "Mom, is Santa real?" Uh-oh.... After shushing her, a few minutes later (Santa was still skating and doing flips) and Asa turned around and asked it too.

On the ride home, I told Joel we had to decide what we were going to do. I knew I would be asked the question at least a few more times throughout the week, and especially as we talked more about Christmas and went into stores where Santa was on display. Do we encourage the myth? Lying to them? Do we ignore their questions? Do we just explain everything?

After reading quite a few other opinions (and praying...but really I can't say I prayed about it a lot), I just felt like we needed to be honest.

So, the next time they asked, we answered. "No, Santa is not "real". That man who is dressed up as Santa is pretending. There isn't really a man who will come into our house on Christmas Eve. But, St. Nicholas was a real man who loved Jesus and gave gifts to those who had less. That's where the whole idea of Santa comes from. Jesus is God's most wonderful gift to us, so we give gifts to each other in celebration of Him coming." The conversations have been short and pretty sporadic.

Our kids will receive no fewer gifts. Their stockings will still be filled on Christmas morning. They continue to be just as excited about Christmas as they were before they asked the question. They just happen to know that it's Mommy and Daddy who put out all those presents.

We want Christmas to be about Christ. For our family, that has meant that we focused on Christ's birth and just let Santa be an afterthought. Now that we have been asked the question, we don't feel it would be right to not tell them the truth. Personally, I'm glad that we never made Santa a big deal. I think the truth is a lot easier for my kids to take and understand since Christmas has always been about Christ's birthday for us.

This is a neat video we found about Jesus and Santa.

How Do You Do Christmas?

I've shared a few thoughts on what the Fletcher family is doing for Christmas.

But, I would love to hear how you do Christmas!

In particular, I really want to know how other Christian families do the whole gift giving thing. What I really want to ask is "what do you do with Santa?"

I've read a few postings here and there. Sometimes I'll see "we don't do the Santa thing" or "we do gifts from Santa and then read about Jesus birth in the Bible". What does that mean? What do you say to your children (and how old are they)? Have you always done it that way?

Would someone please answer me? Let's discuss this. (I will answer what we've done and what we plan to do in the comments section...if we can get this going.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

How We Celebrate Christmas Part II

As I said before, I had a ton of ideas swirling through my head on how to spend December. The calendar fills up so quickly, doesn't it?! Once my kids started attending school (preschool last year and now preschool and Kindergarten), the demands on our schedule increased quite a bit.
Neighborhood party Sunday, Dec 6th

I saw a neat post by my friend, Bonnie. She sewed an Advent calendar and filled it with something to do as a family each day. What I loved most was that she included things that were already on the calendar, like "attend company/ministry Christmas party". Perfect! Why did I think I had to come up with something more than that for those already busy days?

I also saw a great idea in a magazine. It's called an "A-Door-able Advent calendar" and was featured in Family Fun magazine (see it here online). I scoured the magazines I had (which was quite a few) and couldn't find enough doors and windows to make the project.
So, I don't have an advent calendar or countdown. Instead, I'm letting the wrapped books serve as our tangible countdown this year. But, I have a list of things I want to do with our kids this season. Some events are slated for particular days, like parties or concerts, but other activities can be done anytime. I'm still working on putting those in my calendar.
Here are our activities thus far:
--Go to the Dallas Parade. (5th) [check]
--Host a gathering for our neighborhood. (6th) [check]
--Attend the GFA Children's party. (8th) [check]
--Perform (Rylee) and watch (everyone else) school music program. (10th)
--Attend the ministry Christmas party and perform a skit we've been working on. (11th)
--Attend a friend's Christmas party and go caroling. (12th)
--Deliver gifts to a needy family with our LIFE group from church. (13th)
--Bake Christmas cookies (done some, more to come).
--Make ornaments from last year's Christmas cards.
--Host a party for my former department at the ministry. (16th)
--Celebrate with our classes at school. (17th)
--Pick out gifts from the GFA Gift Catalog.
--Buy Christmas presents for our siblings.
--Drive around looking at Christmas lights.
--Attend Christmas Eve service at church. (24th)
--Watch a living nativity.
--Watch a Christmas movie.
--Camp out in the living room and play games.
--Shop for gifts for our teachers (and make some fun things for them).
Of course, there are moments like these throughout this joyous season.
Let's just be sure to keep it real...my kids are 3, 3, and 5 after all!

How We Celebrate Christmas Part I

I had several ideas floating around in my head about how we should spend Advent this year. As we neared Thanksgiving, the list grew longer and longer. I wanted to make some sort of calendar or project the kids could open daily. I wanted to do several activities that would encourage us to think of others, spend time together as a family, and celebrate God's gift to us.

The plans in my head grew more and more elaborate and new ideas would catch my attention making it seem like an enormous undertaking. I really want my kids to know the Truth of Christmas. I don't want it to be about getting presents and eating food and a fat little man who's not even real. I want it to be about the very real God who loves us so much that He gave Himself to us. I want it to be about giving. I want it to be about worship. I want my kids to be giddy with excitement--with great anticipation for real things that matter!

But, my kids are young. They do not understand the deep things of Christ incarnate. But, they do understand simple concepts. So, my task was clear--use simple things to explain the complex. Hmm...yeah, that's easy! NOT!

So, here's what we're doing. This is Part I.
We celebrate Advent by doing simple readings from a book I got at our local Christian store last year. It's called "The Story of Christmas: Advent Devotional" by Yolanda Browne (Concordia Publishing, 2002). Honestly, it's not that impressive. But, each day's devo is short and allows us to talk about simple truths. We usually read the devo for the day (or 2 b/c we had to skip a night) at dinnertime or right before bed.

Our Advent candles aren't in a wreath. It's something we already had in a closet and never used. (I bought it back in 2002 as we were planning for our wedding. We thought about having these as the centerpieces.) We light one candle the first week, every night. Then add the second candle each night of week two and so on. If you don't know about Advent, you can read a good post here.
Since my kids are so young and absolutely love books, I thought I could use Christmas books (ones that focus on Christ's birth) as a fun thing. I found the idea here in Kirby's blog (someone I don't know) and then found a list of good books here (Tot School).

Here's how it works, you get a pile of Christmas books, wrap them up, put them by your tree, then let your kids unwrap one new book each day. Personally, we have things going at least a few nights a week, so we will skip some nights. And, it worked out well because I only have 16 books for the project right now. Guess what I'll be looking for during after-Christmas sales?!
We got started late on this idea since I just found it on Wednesday. We read the first book (didn't have them wrapped yet, so I just picked one) on Saturday night. We skipped last night because we hosted a party for the neighborhood (pictures to come). Asa's been talking about the little angel since we read the book (Littlest Angel). I can already tell this is going to be a great way to focus on Christ this Christmas with these three!

After I found the list, I went online to our library, searched for books, and put a hold on any they had available. I picked them up Saturday afternoon and found a few more on the shelf that I thought would be good. I finally got all the books wrapped this morning and put in a basket by our tree. They got excited seeing things to unwrap. Talk about anticipation!
I'm including a list below of the books I got from the library. I already had two little board books, The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs and The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado.

The animal's gift by Szabolcs de Vajay
B is for Bethlehem : a Christmas alphabet by Wilner, Isabel.
Can It Be True? by Hill, Susan.
The Christmas miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Wojciechowski, Susan.
Cricket at the Manger by Fine, Edith Hope.
The donkey's dream by Berger, Barbara Helen.
Jacob's gift by Lucado, Max.
The legend of the candy cane by Walburg, Lori.
The little drummer boy by Davis, Onorati, and Simeone.
The littlest angel by Tazewell, Charles.
The Stable that Bob Built by Kenney, Cindy.
Voices of Christmas by Grimes, Nikki.
While Shepherd's Watched by Fleetwood, Jenni.
Who is coming to our house? by Slate, Joseph.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Relax a Little

My kids regularly make me laugh. If I'm being completely honest, I laugh more when I'm not so uptight about life.
The kids were admiring someone's science project. Asa was absolutely mesmerized.

I tend to let the stuff we have to do get in the way of enjoying my family. Sometimes I worry too much about having just the right plan for celebrating Advent. What?! When would I have struggled with this?

Sometimes I get too uptight about saving money using coupons...those darn things! I spend so much time clipping, sorting, and shopping that the time I spent really was worth more than the money I saved.

Sometimes I get too uptight about my kids' behavior and I worry what others will think. Do others think I'm a good parent? Do others think I'm kind and loving and a nurturer or some tyrant? Do others think I'm too lenient or too strict? I forget that I am parenting for an audience of One and only His approval counts!
Painting an ornament at a pottery place

Sometimes I think about the stuff I have coming up, like a child's class party or a skit I'm coordinating or a gathering we're hosting or a parade we're going to go watch, that I get all wrapped up in future moments and forget the one I'm in.

That's when my kids do something completely hilarious and remind me to LIVE IN THE NOW!!! They are here. They are now. They are what's important.
It's important for me to teach them that Christmas is all about Christ. It's important for me to try and save money and be a good steward. It's important for me to be active in my children's schools, our ministry, our neighborhood, and our community. But, sometimes it's most important for me to relax a little!

What might my children say to make me laugh out loud?
Asa enjoying the painting session

We recently drove past the new Cowboys stadium, next to the Rangers stadium, next to Six Flags. As we passed it all, there was a parking lot in the middle. They were charging to park since the big Cowboys Thanksgiving game was that day. I said "Oh, there's Six Flags." Then, Joel said "Forty bucks!" (to park) From the back seat Jenna said very enthusiastically "I love Six Bucks!" We couldn't help but laugh out loud!
More to come, I'm sure.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Snow in Texas!

We woke up this morning to some rain that turned to big chunky flakes of snow. Rylee went outside with Joel to get the paper and was thrilled to see the white stuff falling. Jenna and Asa got really excited, too, when the flakes got bigger and actually settled on the tree fort for a bit.
Alas, the snow is already gone. It disappeared almost as quickly as it came. But, it was fun while it lasted.