The First Rule of Muscle Club…

It’s a hard thing, talking to your children about healthy friendships.

On one hand, we love everybody, we respect people, and we are always kind. It’s what we do.

On the other hand, some kids just aren’t nice to be around. Some kids are straight up mean. And while that’s probably more on their parents than them at this point, balancing grace and protection is hard.

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Bag o’ Joyful Swag

My husband brought a gigantic company-logoed duffel bag home from work the other day. It was presumably a bag o’ swag, as is to be expected at a corporate business office around the holidays, but he didn’t look through the contents ahead of time.

So when he walked in the door and the boys asked about it, he jokingly said, “Here, boys, this is for you. It’s full of CANDY!”

They took it, opened it up, and screamed in delight.

Because, unbeknownst to us, it was ACTUALLY FULL OF CANDY.

Full. of. candy. (Including, but not limited to, a 2ft long bag of cotton candy.)

The contents really shouldn’t be a surprise, seeing as he works in theme parkery, but still.

It was a Christmas miracle.

_________

This morning, when we were loading up for our annual Christmas caroling at the nursing home, Beckett shoved the duffel bag in the car.

I was a little irritated, because a) it takes up a lot of space, seeing as it is The World’s Biggest Duffel Bag and b) I knew the boys would fight over who got to carry it right up until the moment they all got tired and wanted me to drag it around instead.

Being the intuitive mother that I am, I didn’t even ask what he’d refilled the bag with; I funneled my energy instead towards mentally preparing my closing arguments for why I wouldn’t be carrying it at any point or time.

When we pulled up to the home, I said, “Let’s just leave the bag in the car.”

Beckett started to protest.

I began a launch into my rebuttal – to end the argument before it began – when he said, “I really need it to carry all the gifts for our friends.”

I stopped mid car-exit-shuffle. (You know, like the “where’s your other shoe” and “don’t hit their car with our door” shuffle.)

“Wait, what?” I said.

“Well, before we left the house, I gathered up some toys and books that have brought me a lot of joy. I thought I could give some away to our grandma and grandpa friends to bring them joy, too.”

I replied by standing wide-eyed and motionless, unable to process information.

And then, “I’d like to see. Can I take a look?”

Sure enough, inside the bag was an assortment of cars, books, and musical instruments.

(At least I think that’s what was in it. My eyes were underwater with low visibility at this point.)

And so we went into the nursing home, giant bag slung around my tiny hero’s shoulders.

The first hall we caroled down, a resident friend asked us to come sing a special request in her room. When we finished the song and everyone started filing out, I watched as Beckett hung back.

He approached her bed and asked, “Do you want something out of my bag?”

The immature part of me found this to be a hilarious, out-of-context question to a stranger, especially when the lady replied, “What bag? What are you trying to give me?”

But the mom part of me beamed as he pulled out a tamborine and said, “This is something that has brought me joy. I’d like you to have it.”

She smiled and said, “Well, this is just wonderful. I’d like to use it right now. Could we sing Jingle Bells?”

And so we did.

I am in awe of this child. Of his heart, of his thoughtfulness.

I am in awe of a 6 year old’s random offerings tucked inside a gigantic company duffel bag. Children’s toys that a 97 year old has no use for.

Oh, but the beauty in his gift.

It reminds me of all the people in the gospels who gave wholeheartedly – gifts that seemed lacking or out of place to onlookers but that Jesus celebrated and honored.

I am in awe of this child, but I am also in awe of the seeds we plant as parents and as tribes and as church communities.

Because last week, we drew the “Give 3 Toys Away” card on our Advent activity calendar, and I can assure you my boys were not excited. They did not have a cheerful attitude when I told them the 3 broken toys they begrudgingly chose weren’t going to work. They were not thrilled when I told them the gifts we are generous with need to be in good condition, something someone else can find joy in.

And yet.

The seed of generosity that was tucked away in his heart last week grew into action today.

_________

That’s what we’re doing, as parents.

We are planting seeds of truth in our kids. We are assembling tiny armies of valiant men and strong women. We are raising up warriors of peace and light, boys and girls who love Jesus and fight for hope.

We’ve got to keep planting, even when we don’t see immediate results.

Because that’s what they’re doing, as kids.

They’re tucking those seeds away, where God is quietly growing them into fruit.

And when that fruit is visible, we receive the absolute honor of learning again what childlike faith and joy looks like.

What a gift to be taught by our children. To be a student of the very people you brought in the world.

May these children continue to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God, going farther than we can ever imagine.

And may this sweet lady enjoy Christmas with her new bug rattle.

She has no idea it’s one of the most thoughtful gifts she’s ever received.

Easy Advent Activity Ideas

A few people have asked for our list of Advent calendar activities – something I originally planned on sharing but knew I wouldn’t finalize until the day we began, December 1st.

True ’nuff, I didn’t finalize them until the day we began, December 1st, and now it’s December 5th.

{shoutout to all my fellow procrastinators}

But, hey, maybe you are just looking for a few family fun ideas throughout December and maybe this will still be a good resource, so here you are:

Click above, or download the pdf here.

A few tips:

1. Go to the Dollar Tree, Hobby Lobby, or the Target dollar spot BEFORE you plan activities. They always have cheap, cute craft kits and puzzles and Christmas-paraphenalia to plan activities around. (Instead of coming up with an activity and then scrambling to find the supplies.)

Pictured above: an alien hand + foam decorations to make and take to our elderly friends

2. Going back to the whole “low expectations” thing, don’t make the activity cards a big deal.

I printed them on boring white paper, cut them into uneven squares, and stuck them in a super snazzy felt envelope that I bought at – dare I mention it again – the Target dollar spot.

Along those lines, displaying them beautifully is squarely in the Not A Big Deal category.

This year, I bought a package of felt Christmas trees and made garland out it.

When we have completed an Advent activity, we tape it to a tree so we know what day we’re on and how many trees we have to go until Christmas.

I’m telling you, keeping wonder high and expectations low saves lives.

I hope this has been helpful. If not, can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Aaaaanyhoo.

Through all these sometimes-fun, sometimes-kind, sometimes-silly activities, may we all look for and wait for and hope for Jesus well this season.

She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Luke 2:38 (NLT)

Christmas, Reclaimed

A few weeks ago I spoke to some fellow moms on the topic of “Simplifying Christmas”.

About reclaiming the joy and wonder of it.

And finding ways to not hate yourself and everyone around you by the time the holidays are over.

It was easily one of my favorite topics this fall because, like most things humans get ahold of, we’ve lost our way a bit in this department. And of all the overwhelming, stressful things in life and the world around us, Christmas just doesn’t have to be one.

It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate to celebrate the birth of a savior who couldn’t have come with any less.

Our family is over this.

So here are 4 ways we’re reclaiming this season:
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How About We Not Be Jerks This Week

On Halloween, I was standing on the sidewalk texting while Fishlegs Ingerman (far left) was tripping and spilling his candy everywhere for the 14th time.

I honestly can’t remember who I was texting or why, but it felt important enough to finish before I bent down to help him.
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When Marriage Gets Crowded

We exchanged wedding vows under a chuppah, a word whose pronunciation I had to Google.

chuppah: [khoo p-ah, hoo puh] 1. a canopy under which the Jewish marriage ceremony is performed, symbolic of both the home they are creating and their God who will remain over it all

To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about chuppahs. I was neither Jewish nor did I speak Hebrew. I saw mention of it in a Rob Bell book once and we went for it.

Though I didn’t understand the depth and importance of the tradition at the time, I loved the imagery.

I adore it even more today, and here’s why:
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Praises of a Thousand Generations

I was born with an overabundance of words. They bubble up inside of me and ooze out of every pore. I can’t help it.

I even coach myself on self-control in social settings, yet inevitably walk away thinking, “Why did I just talk so much?”

It’s a blessing or a curse, depending who you ask and when. (If you asked my mom circa 1993 after one of her “Sarah, sweetie, mommy’s ears are tired.” schticks, she probably would’ve voted the latter.)

But it’s also a blessing.

In the past several years, I’ve gotten to use my words across amazing, humbling platforms.
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Excavate at Your Own Risk

Knowing my 6 year old’s Prehistoric Marine Reptile Dinosaur birthday was around the corner (his theme choice…as if that needs to be clarified), I needed some small party favors to take to his kindergarten class that were non-edible. (Non-edible, because when the youths today eat sugar, food dye, gluten, or non-grass-fed meat they spontaneously combust. It’s easier not to feed them at all.)

I ordered a few things from Amazon – some dinosaur stamps and stickers – but I needed just *one* more little something small to stick in the bag. This was, after all, his first ever birthday to be celebrated at school.

It was A Huge Deal.
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Learning How to Send a Kid To School

Sitting in a circle of parents during the kindergarten tour, we listened as the principal introduced us to the elementary school. He covered everything from the school’s mission to flexible seating in the classrooms to the longitudinal effects of reading to your children. He asked for questions and several hands shot up; each one a great, high level question.

“Tell us about the school’s curriculum goals for the next 5 years.”

“How will you challenge my student at her level?”

“How do you promote physical health and exercise to the students?”

“Walk us through the campus safety plan.”

Good questions, good answers.

“Anything else I didn’t answer?” he asks.

Well, yes, I thought. Only about a billion. For instance, sir,
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20 Things I Learned in my 20’s

I was kind of an expert of everything in my twenties. Especially my early twenties. (I think everybody is. It’s a rite of passage.)

I’m entering my thirties this week, a fact I can confirm not just by the date on the calendar but by how different my mindset is today than it was two, five, ten years ago.

Now, I hear a young twenty-something person provide invaluable, irreplaceable expertise on life to an older adult and I smile. I was you, like 1 second ago.

I knew it all, until life proved I didn’t.

I was an incredible wife before I got married.

I was an excellent businesswoman before I started my first job.

I was an amazing parent before I had children.

It’s adorable, really. How much I thought I knew, how much I really didn’t, and how much I’ve grown in the past decade. Continue Reading