Joy in the Midst of the Messy by Ellen Stumbo

Joy in the Midst of the Messy
source: jjjj56cp

Parenting a child with mental health issues is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. Parenting techniques don’t apply, and trying to reason with a child who is convinced a shark will attack her while she sleeps means sleepless nights for the parents, too.

It’s exhausting.

I hear friends say, “My son used to do that too! We gave him melatonin and that helped settle him down.” Or, “My daughter used to have illogical fears too, she grew out of it.” The thing is, mental illness is not fixed with melatonin or time.

For us, mental health issues stem from trauma. We adopted our daughter before her fourth birthday from a Ukrainian orphanage. We know she endured abuse, we know there was trauma, and not just one traumatic event, the essence of her situation is surrounded by trauma.

It’s hard.

Holidays are a time of celebration and cheer, but for our family these times seem to bring out more anxieties and emotions that are too big to control. She can go from crying to laughing within minutes, unable to explain what she is feeling, or why she is feeling it.

Where do we find the joy of Christmas?

Our joy is not found on the presents – although that is a pretty great part of the season – or the traditional Christmas events. Our joy is found in knowing that Christ is with us now. In these moments, in the middle of our circumstances.

Christ is in the middle of the hard. He is the middle of the messy. I can cling to Him and know that He will handle things for me. And there is no greater joy than to know I don’t have to do life alone, I do life with the One that became flesh to save me.

This is the joy of the Holidays, to know Him, to have Him, to know His great love for me, and for my hurting child.

Ellen Stumbo Head Shot




Ellen Stumbo is a writer and speaker. She is the mother of three daughters: Ellie; Nichole, who has Down syndrome; and Nina, who was adopted and also has special needs. She is wife to Andy, a pastor. Visit her

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.

5 Favorite Christmas Cookie Recipes

Do you still make cookies at Christmas? Fudge? Other family favorites? There is something in me that just feels like I MUST bake cookies in December. Two years ago – since I was pregnant last year – I made cookies for weeks. Our kitchen overflowed with red velvet crinkles, chocolate chips, and iced sugar cookies.

When I was growing up, we spent a whole Saturday make cut-out cookies and decorating them precisely – from reindeer to stars to, on occasion, a dinosaur in a Santa hat or Bob the Tomato. I try to carry on this tradition with my children, too. I think my daughter is to the phase now that she’ll really have fun this year!

Here are my favorite Christmas goodies to make. Share yours in the comments!

christmas cookies



He Sets the Lonely in Families


My family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when I was 8 years old – quite far away from where my parents grew up and where all of our extended family lived. Dayton, Ohio, was a LONG trek now, and with two little kids my parents decided we’d go for Thanksgiving OR Christmas.

One of those first Christmases we were in Virginia alone, I remember a strange guest around our Christmas tree: my dad’s work friend, who had recently had a broken engagement and was suffering heartbreak. We loved having him among us, and he gifted me with my very first (and only) Paula Abdul cassette tape, for which I will be forever grateful to him.

Fast forward a good deal of years, and I am 22. It is my first married Christmas, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee, far away from my own parents and even my husband’s. I started a job in customer service on November 1, leaving me with no vacation time and the inability to take any even if I had it, due to the nature of service jobs.

I cried in my office one day over the injustice of it all. Christmas had always been steeped in tradition for my little family unit and the thought of those traditions continuing without me was enough to make me physically ill. I wanted my mommy.

Lo and behold, one of my motherly co-workers invited me and my new husband into her home for Christmas Day. They made us feel like family, let us hold the new babies and pet the dogs and call Miss Sheila’s elderly mama “Grandmother” like they did. It wasn’t my family … but it was enough. And it was a blessing.

So here is my holiday advice: don’t get so wrapped up in your own family unit that you don’t see the hurting, lonely people around you during the holidays. What’s one more mouth to feed at your  buffet? Bless others by taking them into your family and loving them. It will set a wonderful example for your children and who knows … you might be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2).

When Jessie Weaver is not busy being the resident ParentLife Blogger, she writes at Vanderbilt Wife and also for magazines like HomeLife and ParentLife. She lives in Chattanooga with her husband, where they run after three little ones (ages 5, almost 3, and 8 months). 


This post originally published December 13, 2011. 

15 Unique Advent Calendars

15 advent calendars

December is creeping closer. I’ve already told you about two favorite Advent activities we try to do around here. But I also love Advent calendars, don’t you! We have a sweet little one with drawers now that my mom made. But here are some fun ones you could make, buy, or download to be prepared for December 1!


  1. Free Printable Bible Verse Advent Calendar
  2. DIY Toilet Paper Roll Advent Calendar
  3. Felt Christmas Tree Kit (buy it here)
  4. Paper Bag Advent Calendar
  5. Chalkboard Countown – buy it from Etsy or draw your own on a chalkboard decal or regular chalkboard
  6. Chinese Take-out Box Advent Calendar
  7. CHRISTmas Tree ($5 download)
  8. 25 5×7 prints ($35)
  9. Button Cone Advent Calendar
  10. Print a Nativity picture and color in one star each night (free printable).
  11. Love Came Down Pocket Calendar
  12. Basic Chocolates and Little Doors Calendars
  13. Coffee Cups with Gifts Inside
  14. Glitter Tape Advent Bags
  15. Stenciled Muslin Bag Advent Calendar

Do you use an Advent calendar? What kind?

Preparing for Advent

I know, I know. I don’t want to skip over Thanksgiving! I love it! But if you want to make a meaningful experience for your children this December, it might take some prepping.

I wanted to share with you my two favorite Advent activities that I’ve been doing with my (little) kids the past few years.



My lovely friend Amanda has such a heart for helping parents reach their kids for Christ. A few years ago, she wrote this e-book called Truth in the Tinsel. It’s an Advent experience: a 25-day guide with Scripture, crafts, activities, and application to help you tell your child the whole Christmas story – from Isaiah and the prophecies to the cross.

You can see my personal post about it here. But I just have to tell you how much my daughter enjoys this. I think this year, now that she’s 5, it will be even better. The Bible stories and truths are really starting to sink into her little heart. And I think Truth in the Tinsel is one of the best ways to fight back against secular Christmas. Make your focus Jesus … not presents.

{I love Amanda’s FAQ post if you have any questions about it!}


Last year I also put together a list of 25 Jesus-centered Christmas books on my own blog. I wrapped each one in Christmas paper. Last year, each night in December the kids picked one book to unwrap and read. They thought this was the BEST THING EVER, and I loved the time reading together and again, reinforcing the true meaning of Christmas.

I would really urge you to take December as yours as a parent. Refuse to go to every party and event if you need to. Spend the holidays impressing Scripture and truth on your child’s heart, so you can emerge from December refreshed and in awe of God’s great work through Christ.


Keep It Going: Service After Christmas by Tobin Perry

Hands of Love
source: jeffsmallwood

Service shouldn’t just be one month of your family’s year. Make it a lifestyle. Here are few tips to help you “keep your serve on” all year long.

  • Put it on your calendar. Whether it’s an established ministry you’ll be helping or a something informal you’ll do as a family, put it on your calendar—weekly, monthly, or whatever you can do.
  • Tap into your family’s interests. Your family will keep doing what they enjoy doing. Make what you’re doing a family decision.
  • Get involved in ongoing missions education. Southern Baptist missions education resources are designed to help your family become missions-minded believers. Servanthood is a big part of that. Visit or for more information.
  • Debrief each service experience. Being intentional about discussing what your family did will help keep everyone on the same page. Sometimes children and adults see the same project very differently.

Tobin Perry serves as the online editor for On Mission magazine at the North American Mission Board in Alpharetta, Ga.

Merry Christmas! by William Summey

The Christmas season is upon us with all that entails: decorating, exams, church programs, holiday parties, shopping, family time, travel, delicious meals, and most importantly celebrating the birth of Jesus. I always lament how quickly the holidays pass each year because of how busy we are.

Join me in being intentional this year. Don’t be afraid to prioritize, cut back, say no, and plan wisely so that you can do the most important things as a family and not just those things that seem urgent at the moment. The time with our children truly flies by.

We hope you enjoy the December issue of ParentLife and all the content we’re able to share here on the blog. Above all, the team at ParentLife wants to wish you and your family a merry Christmas!

Christmas Break Training 101: Making Yours a Success by Erin MacPherson

sequoia and rachel, sittin' by the tree... - _MG_6719
source: seandereilinger

We love the idea of using Christmas break as a time to “train” your kids. I wrote about sleep training my daughter during Christmas break in December‘s article “Sleep Tight.” Whether you’re sleep training, potty training, moving your kid to a big-boy bed, or training your kids to eat something other than chicken nuggets, setting aside a dedicated time to do it is a great way to make sure you end up with a fully-trained (or at least mostly trained) kid.

Here are six tips to make sure your Christmas break training is a success.

  • Read up on the strategies. Before you even think about training your kid to do anything, check out a couple books from the library or ask good ole’ Mr. Google what other parents have done right … and wrong.
  • Know your kid. You know what makes your kid tick, and you know how he is going to respond to the training, so trust your instincts and come up with a plan that works for you and your family.
  • Write down your plan. If you’re sleep training, write down who is going to get up when and under what circumstances. If you’re potty training, plan how you’re going to do it and decide who is on “potty” duty when.
  • Get your supplies. Make sure you’ve stocked up on everything you need—stickers, books, caffeinated beverages for you—before the break starts.
  • Talk it up. Start talking about how excited you are about training early on. Trust us: If you’re excited about it, your kid will be excited about it.
  • Don’t let setbacks get you down. There are always accidents. You will have setbacks, and that’s okay. Tomorrow is a new day.

Erin MacPherson is an author, blogger, and mom to three preschoolers. She blogs at

Strategies for Reducing Stress During the Holidays by Marianne Neifert

Remember that your own stress level and emotional state are readily transferred to your child. Lower your expectations for the “perfect” Christmas holiday and be prepared to “go with the flow” when your child’s needs call for flexibility. Keep her emotional tank full during the holiday season by scheduling daily one-on-one time to play, read, or do an activity together.

Shorten the Countdown

An extended period of anticipation can feel overwhelming to a young child. Consider waiting until mid-December to begin your holiday decorating or to use an Advent Calendar to track the days until Christmas. To defuse children’s mounting excitement about presents, let them open a few smaller gifts during the countdown to Christmas.

Don’t Make Santa Your December Disciplinarian

The anticipation, bustle of activity, and excessive stimulation during the weeks preceding Christmas already create stress and anxiety for children. Threatening that Santa will bring fewer presents if your child misbehaves only adds to the pressure and worry she feels, and ultimately proves to be an empty threat. Don’t abdicate your essential parenting role of consistently enforcing your rules and limits for appropriate behavior year-round.

Allow Children to Let off Steam

Arrange opportunities for your child to be physically active each day by playing outdoors or visiting an indoor children’s play center.

Schedule Some Quiet Time

Periodically allow your child to retreat and unwind from the excitement of holiday festivities by watching a favorite DVD or playing quietly with arts and crafts or Play-Doh.

Don’t Force Children to Sit on Santa’s Lap

While parents relish the time-honored photo of their youngster happily smiling on Santa’s lap, young children often perceive Santa as strange and scary and may violently recoil at the idea of being held by him. While waiting in line at the mall, show your child exactly what will happen if she chooses to greet Santa. If she is terrorized by the sight of a big stranger in a red suit, respect her emotional distress and show your support by not forcing her to sit on Santa’s lap.

Do you find your children to be a little stressed during the holidays? How do you schedule downtime while still participating in traditions?
Marianne Neifert, M.D., M.T.S., also known as Dr. Mom, is a well-known pediatrician, professional speaker, and author. Visit her web site,