The Relief You’ve Always Wanted for Christmas by Ann Voskamp {GIVEAWAY}

The kids have Adore Him playing and they’re singing along and off key.

And the house wafts of sugar cookies and anticipation and names of neighbors to bless!

“You done drawing now, Mama?”

Kai’s leaning hard over my shoulder. “Can we just call it done?” And I’m thinking so, and we cut out this little hand drawn cookie envelope template. Shalom and Levi have angel and nativity cookie cutters all over the table.

And Kai cuts out these envelopes for each cookie. And Shalom slides in cookies shaped like angels and stars and a wee silhouette of that God-Baby Who came to the manger & the Cross & offers Himself as a Savior for the world — and who doesn’t need the gift of Him most, again and again?

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It’s written right there on the liner for every cookie envelope:

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,

and they will call Him

Immanuel

which means “God with us”

Matt.1:23

God with us — is the only comfort for the wounds within us.

Kai looks up from his cutting out of the verse — “Mom? God really came, didn’t He?”

And I nod — He came.

He gave up the heavens who were not even large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held in a hand.

He forsook the boundlessness of space and confined Himself to skin and He gave up the starfields and took on shape and wore the bones.

He gave up the River of the water of Life that flows from His Throne Room to float the nine months on the amniotic waters. And He who carved the edges of the Cosmos, He curved Himself into fetal ball in the dark, tethered Himself to the uterine wall of a virgin, and lets His cells divide, light all splitting white.

The mystery so large becomes the baby so small and infinite God becomes infant.

“Yeah, Kai,” I fold one of the cookie templates, “The story of Christmas is about a baby who came — for the greatest give-away ever. To be the Gift.”

This is what I tell the kids making up Christmas packages for the neighbors — He came, love come down.

Love that gave — but not to those who loved Him.

Love that gave — but not to those who could give back.

Love that gave — to those who were the poor, the bankrupt, the enemies.

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Love that gave even to the likes of us. “And I don’t know… ” I am telling the story again now to me.

Who will give away, and with their lives? Why is the world hungry when God’s people have bread? Are bread? What is there more to be in this life than to be bread for another man?

And Hope looks up from the oven. “Remember, Mama?” She turns off the timer. “We’re calling Christmas the Greatest Give-Aways — and Jesus is the Gift!”

That’s really all we have to get ready for Christmas – our hearts. We need to get our hearts ready to welcome Jesus into every part of our lives.

And guess how you best get your heart ready for Jesus? Come to Him just as you are.

God gives Himself as the greatest Gift, and He doesn’t keep any truly good thing from you. Because the greatest things aren’t ever things!

God never, ever withholds the greatest Gift from you – Jesus!

Jesus is all good, and He is all yours, and this is always your miracle – your greatest Gift.

Jesus is the Gift and we keep giving Him away, down the road and around the corner and the world — He is the best Christmas to give — because when we share Christ, we most have Him.

And on the backside of that little verse liner, we write a Christmas note to our neighbors and tape up the back of the little cookie envelope — and tuck The Greatest Gift cookie envelope in with a little love-something for the neighbors — a hot chocolate mix, a bag of coffee, a good book, a little candle, a loaf of bread.

“Look at how many cookies we have got done now!” Kai grins from the table.

And Shalom, she counts a bit giddy, this giving away that gives the Great Gift...

 

 

 

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Weary mamas? Wound-up kids? This December? Could be The Greatest Christmas! This is the relief you’ve always wanted for your Christmas.

Open this book & your Christmas will begin where you never expected — and it will end where you only dreamed.

A book that is like your own larger-than-life Advent Calendar, opening up to 25 wondrous stories that tell the family tree of Jesus, from Creation to His Coming.

Because if we want our Christmas tree to really stand full of wonder & real meaning? The tree we need to understand & be astonished by —- is the wonder of the family tree of Jesus! Because this is your family’s real family tree, your real story.

Each day’s story has its very own ornament, one for each day of Advent — all unwrapping a bit more of a story that’s far better than the greatest fairy tale you’ve ever read —- because this story is all true. So come Christmas day — your kids, and your Christmas tree with all 25 ornaments, will be telling the full love story of Jesus’ coming, right from the very beginning!

Full colour, vibrant 2 page spreads. Romping, shimmering words — for every kid from ages 4- 94.

Known through the ages as the Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree, named after Jesus’ ancestor, Jesse, the father of King David, this is one Christmas experience your family will never forget — that they will be passing down from your Christmases to their Christmases — because this is the gift we all want.

What better gift to give the whole family this Christmas — than the wonder of the full love story of Jesus?

Check out all the Free Resources available, free ornaments, free cookie envelopes for the kids, free Jesse Tree ornaments for the kids, all over at www.TheGreatestChristmas.com

Ann Voskamp is a farmer’s wife and homeschooling mother to 6 children. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling book One Thousand Gifts.
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Want to win a copy of Ann’s new book for Advent, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift? Enter using the Rafflecopter below. (Subscribers may need to click through.)

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Five Turkey Crafts for Thanksgiving

What is about turkeys that are just so cute? Despite the fact that most of the turkeys at Thanksgiving are, well, no longer looking adorable, it’s fun to celebrate the holiday with some turkey crafts.

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1.  Handprint Turkey Placemats / Meaningful Mama

2. Paper Loop Turkey / Free Kids Crafts

3. Tissue Paper Stained Glass Turkeys / Happy Clippings

4. Give Thanks Pinecone Turkey / Creating Couture Parties

5. Paper Bag Turkey Craft / No Time for Flashcards

Operation Christmas Child: Packing Shoeboxes for Children, with Children

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It’s something my husband and I have done for years and years: packed a shoebox or two full of toys and hygiene items and candy and trinkets for a child overseas. It’s not hard. It’s not very costly. And yet, it can change another child’s life.

I learned this firsthand when I got to hear Alex, a recipient from Rwanda, speak at the Allume Conference last year. (I would urge you to watch this video about Alex’s testimony, although please screen it before you show it to your kids. There is a lot about the genocide and war in Rwanda.) Alex’s life and heart were truly changed, all because someone cared enough to pack a little shoebox – and then Samaritan’s Purse was able to minister to him, following up with him, continuing to share the gospel story with him.

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, and literally millions of boxes have been delivered worldwide since the ministry’s inception in 1993. Personally I think OCC is an amazing way to introduce your children to the ideas of poverty, giving, and having a multicultural worldview.

Here are some tips for packing shoeboxes with your own children.

  • Let them choose which gender and age group to pack for. Often kids will want to pick out things that they like themselves – so maybe choose to pack for a child the same age and gender as your own.
  • Add homemade elements: ask your child to make a Christmas card, write a letter, or draw a picture to go in the box. If he or she is older, maybe he can crochet a small scarf or sew a fleece lovey or even make a rubber band ball.
  • Explain gently that these will probably be the only gifts this child will receive this Christmas. Answer questions in a straightforward and truthful manner, but don’t over-explain.
  • Pray over the boxes and ask God for guidance on what items this child will need.
  • Make sure to include hygiene items, even though they aren’t as much fun. What toothbrush and toothpaste do you kids like? What soap? What about a comb or brush? A trip to the Dollar Store can go a long way to completing your shoebox with toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, bar soap, and a few fun hair bows.
  • Remember the rules! Here are the items you should not include: used or damaged items; war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out-of-date candy; liquids or lotions; medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.

Will you pack a shoebox this year? Even if you don’t have time to shop, you can still put one together online on the Samaritan’s Purse site for $25. Smart!

Box drop-off is November 17-24. If your local church is not collecting boxes, you can find a collection site here.

What IS Labor Day, Anyway?

Maybe it’s just me, but when my kindergartner wanted to know why she had Labor Day off from school, I was a little tongue-tied. I’m never quite sure why exactly we have Labor Day! If you’re in the same pickle as I am, here are some resources for you.

From Time for Kids:

A New York City carpenter named Peter McGuire is credited for coming up the idea for Labor Day. In 1872, after working many long hours under poor conditions, McGuire rallied 100,000 workers to go on strike. The workers marched through the streets of New York City, demanding a better work environment.

McGuire spent a decade fighting for worker’s rights. In 1882, he proposed the idea to create a special holiday for workers. On Tuesday, September 5, 1882, more than 10,000 workers hit the streets of New York City for the first ever Labor Day parade. Two years later the celebration was moved to the first Monday in September. And in 1894, Congress passed a law making Labor Day a national holiday.

Read the whole Time for Kids article to get a little more background.

Here is a great video from the History Channel about the history of Labor Day as well. Watch it with your kids. (No language but a brief show/mention of violence against a strike.)

I thought it was funny they chose September to fill the long holiday-less gap between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving!

Have a wonderful holiday!

Making Easter Dinner in Advance

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source: boodoo via Flickr Creative Commons

I really love to cook. In my fantasy lands, I am a chef, or at least I get to go to culinary school and learn more about the art of fine meals. In reality, I’m a mom of three little kids and my bad back makes it hard to stand in the kitchen for more than an hour. But who knows? Maybe someday …

What I don’t love is just attempting to get the cooking done. With kids and time restraints, it can require a small miracle to get everything cooked at the same time and on the table. Multiply that times 60 when we’re having guests over.

I love having people for dinner, truly I do. I love entertaining. But – without fail – every time we do I make myself insane in the hours leading up to the event, trying to bake and cook and decorate and get our home into a passable state. (No one wants to show her guests to the bathroom to find out her kids have colored on the toilet and left used Kleenex on the floor.)

We’ve had standing Easter plans with friends of ours since 2006; we’ve been together every Easter except last year (when I had a 2-week-old) during that time, even when we moved 2 hours away. So I’m preparing to host them for Easter dinner in a few weeks. And today it struck me that JUST MAYBE I should go ahead and get some things ready so I won’t be so stressed on Resurrection Day.

Here are some great, special-dinner foods that you can make ahead and freeze!

  • Some of my friends swear by potato salad for Easter dinner, but I have to have Special Potatoes. Cheesy, creamy, potatoey goodness.
  • What can I say, I’m a traditionalist. I love Green Bean Casserole. I love this one even more because it uses homemade cream sauce and real mushrooms!
  • I love making bread, but it can be tedious and near impossible when you have a lot of other things going on. These rolls can be made ahead, but baked on Easter for fresh taste.
  • For dessert, this Rice Krispies White Chocolate Trifle sounds amazing! Or you can bake cake layers ahead of time, wrap them well in plastic wrap and then foil, and freeze until you’re ready to use them.

With just a ham to make the day-of, I might find myself actually enjoying the preparations for the holiday this year. Happy Easter!

Giveaway: The Jesus Film

Have you ever seen, The Jesus Film? Billions of people all over the world have! Did you know that it’s the most-watched film in history and has been translated into 1,197 different languages? Check out this trailer!

Maybe you’ve thought about watching the movie as a family, but you were afraid it would be too graphic for your kids. Great news! The movie shares a biblical version of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection in a kid-friendly way, suitable for all ages. It shows an accurate portrayal of Christ’s death, but in a way that is appropriate for a younger audience, which the film’s G rating reflects.

In honor of the movie’s 35th anniversary, it has been remastered in high definition with a new musical score and is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray on April 1st  (that’s tomorrow)!

We actually have three copies of The Jesus Film to give away! Use the form below to enter for your chance to win! 

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Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Believing: Leading Your Children to Experience Christ’s Resurrection

I bet many of our ParentLife readers have led their children through Truth in the Tinsel at Christmastime, haven’t you? It’s an ebook from our friend, blogger Amanda White, that helps you create an ornament with your child for 25 days in December – while talking about the Advent Scriptures.

This year, Amanda released an ebook called A Sense of the Resurrection. In it, she leads parents and teachers to guide their children through 12 experiences helping the little ones grasp the meaning of Easter. As Amanda says, it’s not as easy as Christmas. Parents are scared of telling their kids about blood, sin, crucifixion, murder. But as Christ’s resurrection is the absolute central truth of our faith, it’s important to start teaching it to children as early as possible.

A former children’s minister for a large church, Amanda is well-equipped to help parents through these sensitive topics. The projects she describes are to do as a family and most will decorate your home for the Easter season (a canvas, an incense jar, etc.). Children will use their five senses to experience the Holy Week and Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

 

We’ve long been a fan of Amanda’s work and featured her in ParentLife and HomeLife magazines. I do not believe you will regret for a second spending the few dollars to purchase this book and work through it with your children!

This post was not sponsored, nor will we make any money if you buy it through these links. Just wanted to bring the resource to your attention!

Last-Minute Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Are you stuck at home in this snow? Our roads are actually not bad in Chattanooga, but it’s still a little gross outside and schools are canceled. Two of my kids and I were supposed to go to Atlanta to visit friends for Valentine’s Day, and I am bummed our plans have to be changed! But such is life.

So for Valentine’s, we’ll be at home, doing some of these fun activities. Hope you can grab onto a few of these ideas and make the best of it, too!

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Christian Valentines

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Valentine’s Day will be here before we know it. Despite my indifference toward the Hallmark holiday, my kids ADORE it. (Balance Time Day, according to my daughter at 2 years old.) I like to use their infatuation as a tool to reinforce the gigantic love of God – and help them pass it on to their little friends.

Here are some Christian Valentines ideas!

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These beautiful cards are downloadable from Etsy so you can print as many as you want once you buy the file.

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Sweet, free printable Valentines from RachelWojo.com. Link goes directly to the printable PDF.

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I am IN LOVE with these little Valentines from Etsy seller Cherry Berry Design. You can download them for $6 and print on cardstock.

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Take inspiration from Grace Elizabeth’s and make your own beautiful cards with Scripture.

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These lovely printable hearts with Scripture from 1 Corinthians are free and gorgeous! What a beautiful little gift for your spouse.

How do you emphasize God’s love on Valentine’s Day?

Wrapped Up with a … Oh Wait, I Forgot the Bow.

source: Bugs and Fishes

I thought about doing something like this for my presents this year. Really, I did.

Just about every year I try to convince myself that pretty wrapping matters, it will make people feel special, etc, etc.

And every year I wrap up my gifts in dollar-store paper, sometimes covering a cardboard Amazon shipping box, and stick a 200-for-$1 label on it. Because, really, does it matter?

I was contemplating this yesterday. I’ve always enjoyed wrapping; I rarely use gift bag. Unwrapping is half the fun, right, especially when you’re a kid? But the fanciest I ever get is making gift tags from old Christmas cards, and it’s been three years since I even did that! Looking at those meticulously cut letters, all I see is extra time I don’t feel like I have in this season. My naptime quiet minutes are few.

The thing is, if you love cutting out letters while listening to carols and sipping peppermint tea, I think it can be holy. Perhaps wrapping gifts is one of your favorite things. Perhaps it is a gift God gave you to bless others. It’s just not mine!

At Christmas, I LOVE reading Christmas books to my kids. Every night, and all the time. I would read 10 in a row while they snuggle up on me. I love baking cookies and other goodies to give to people. Anyone! Everyone! Those are my special things, the things that make me feel alive, God-given loves, I think.

In our Post-Pinterest world, sometimes we think we need to be good at everything. Everything must be picture-perfect. But y’all, to make things look good, I have to do a whole lot of creative cropping. I am just NOT good at everything – and I’m guessing you aren’t, either. It’s OK to admit it and happily dive into those things that we do love, while eschewing the tasks that just aren’t important to us. (As long as those aren’t biblical things, of course!)

I wish you a simple Merry Christmas and a happy, imperfect New Year.