Friday, November 30, 2012

Making Christmas Special Not Stressful!

It truly is the most wonderful time of year. The nostalgia of the music, smells, traditions and memories of Christmas bring such joy. My delight for Christmas has caused me to go overboard in the past, I must admit. Last year, I was new to Pinterest and wanted to do every single craft and homemade gift I pinned. Reality hit when Christmas time was more of a burden than a blessing. This year, I have been very intentional about not making that same mistake! As a family, we have done 25 days of Christmas for a few years now, but I learned a very important lesson last year: I do not have to do everything to make Christmas special. My hope and purpose for this post is to share with you ideas and tips that will help you create a Special, not Stressful, Christmas.

When our kids were small, we began traditions that have become such a part of our Christmas that our kids would probably think Christmas couldn't happen without them. I absolutely love traditions and it absolutely delights my heart that our little family shares in memories that are all our own. A few years ago, I used our already established traditions to begin doing 25 days of Christmas together as a family. My reason for starting this tradition of 25 Days of Christmas was to take the focus off of the presents and to create opportunities for us to make memories as a family (and I am really just a kid at heart and want Christmas to last as looooong as possible!). Now, my first few years of planning were wonderful and realistic. As I stated, though, last year not so much. This year, we've gone back to simple! I've been writing down ideas over the past few weeks, then a few nights ago, during our family devotion time, we made our final list. I've taken all of our favorite ideas and plotted them based on our family calender for the month. Several of our 25 Days activities are simply our already established Christmas traditions. It just helped getting those planned on our calendar. Others are new ideas we wanted to try. They all are scheduled on days that realistically fit our schedule, won't be a burden to do, don't cost much money (if any) and won't take much planning or preparation. I was able to weed out and narrow down my beloved Pinterest ideas by sticking to a few main things:

  • Does it create family time or tension (I may love crafts, but not my boys so picking cute crafts projects would be about me not them.)
  • Does it work with our schedule (For example, my husband is a pastor so Sunday's and Wednesday's are extrememly hectic for us. Those days need very realistic activities. First, I made out or December calendar with all of our church and school activities. Then I planned our 25 Days according to our calendar. This may seem like a no-brainer but trust me, it's easy to loose sight of the obvious!)
  • Does it fit our normal routine (Part of keeping the calm during the chaos of Christmas is to stick to the normal routine as much as possible, so what activities would be simple to make a part of our normal routine rather than trying to change everything just to say we did 25 days of activities....that would make for 3 cranky kids and 2 stressed parents! We already have family devotions so rather than not do our family devotion, we have our devotion focused on Christmas. Another example is that every week we do Family Friday night with pizza-frozen or homemade-and rent a movie. I would be excommunicated if I did away with this part of our normal family routine for an entire month so we are doing our established Family Friday night during December but will make Christmas shaped pizza's and watch Christmas movies!)
  • Does it fit one of these purposes? All of our activities fit into 3 basic categories (my brain has to think this way because it helps me weed things out-if it doesn't serve one of these purposes then it's not an option):
    • Family Togetherness (Simple Memories and Traditions)
    • Family Focus (Devotions and Prayers that keep our focus on Christ)
    • Family Serving (Acts of Kindness)
  • Does it fit our budget? There are some things are not an option for us either because they cost too much or they will unnecessarily prevent us from giving to others. 
Most importantly, keep in the forefront of your mind that Christmas is all about Christ. You do not have to do everything to make Christmas special so no guilt allowed! Perhaps begin with 12 Days of Christmas instead of 25 or just pick a few things that you know you would like to do with your family and go ahead and plan when to do them. My biggest advice is to plan out because that will save you the most stress and's those last minute impulses that cause chaos. The marketing of Christmas plays to our nostalgic emotions-don't get sucked into the trap. Keep your focus (again why I have the categories-so that I can walk into Wal-Mart and not be lured into spending more or when I'm looking on Pinterest not be guilted into doing more)!  Ok, I think that's all of my tips! Here is our list of 25 Days along with some other ideas.

Noel Family 25 Days of Christmas
1.    Christmas Tree Waffles Breakfast; Put up the tree ; hot cocoa & Christmas music
2.    1st Advent Sunday Devotion
3.    Christmas Brownies for dessert (after Evan goes to bed, share story of St. Nic to E & Ab)
4.    Christmas Wish List (our kids get 3 gifts each for Christmas; I also love the read, wear, play, share idea!)
5.    Christmas Card Prayer (we will pray for the family's who we have received Christmas cards from)
6.    Christmas Tree Cones for snack & Samaritan’s Purse /Homeless Shelter gifts
7.    Church Musical & Living Nativity
8.    Red Velvet Cinnamon Rolls and Day of RACK (Tim thought it would be fun to do our RACK's all in one day but most of the idea's I've seen are spread out over the 25 days-just following my husband's lead on this one!)
9.    Church Musical; 2nd Advent Sunday Devotion
10.    Snowflake Dessert (cinnamon and sugar tortilla’s)
11.    Christmas Tree Treat for after-school Snack; Make Beach Memory Ornament
12.    Christmas Card Prayer
13.    Eli Christmas Choir Program
14.    Christmas Movie Night with Christmas Shaped BYO Pizza’s
15.    AM-Gingerbread House; PM-Dad Date for Mom’s Christmas gift shopping while mom goes to women's Sunday School class party
16.    3rd Advent Sunday Devotion; Host Church Staff Christmas Party
17.    Make Cinnamon Dough Ornaments (This is the one craft we are doing because it was my daughter's only request!)
18.    Read Christmas books under the tree  (make a pallet!)
19.    Christmas Card Prayer
20.    Make and Take Mrs. Sandy a gift/treat (widow next door)
21.    Family Gift Shopping & Ice Skating in LR with Matt & Kristin
22.    Christmas Pancakes for Supper; Christmas Lights (Harding and Berryhill)
23.    4th Advent Sunday Devotion; Kids’ Church Christmas Program
24.    Annual Movie & PJ Day; exchange family gifts
25.    Christmas morning!!! Christmas Breakfast & Immanuel Devotion

Just a note about our "Annual Movie and PJ Day;" This has become our favorite tradition. We began this five years ago when we moved to Searcy and began traveling back home during the holidays. We wanted a Christmas day all our own since the actual December 25 Christmas Day would be different every year for our family. Normal families would probably watch Christmas movies all day, but since we aren't normal, our movie day is a Star Wars Movie Marathon. We literally stay in our pj's, graze on snack food all day while snuggled up on the couch watching our movies. It's AWESOME and I must admit, one of my best ideas yet :)
Other ideas:
-Pinterest has great pins on RACK (Random Acts of Christmas Kindness) ideas.
-Make family Christmas Art (we did the Christmas tree with our handprints on a canvas last year-adorable!)
-Host a cookie swap party
-Happy Birthday Jesus Party
-Jesse Tree (Advent Tree)
-Candy Baking Day
-Christmas Movie Marathon Day
-Red and Green Supper
-Mommy Express (cocoa and lights) then watch Polar Express
-Take fun pictures for Christmas cards and gifts
-Gift wrapping night (Tim and I would rather do this together just us two but you might enjoy letting your kids be involved!)
-Take donations to local shelter, food pantry, etc
-Go shopping for local foster children, angel tree children, etc
-Go caroling to your neighbors or a nursing home

As we begin our Advent Devotions and I get our Immanuel Devotion written for Christmas Day, I will share those as well. It is so worth the memories to take a little time planning special activities and treats for your family. Just remember to keep it simple and stay realistic. It breaks my heart to hear people talk about how stressful the holidays are. There are many events during this time of year that we say no to, just to keep the stress from stealing the joy of Christmas.

Have a blessed Christmas filled with special memories! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

One Day At A Time

This nagging, recurring theme keeps invading my thoughts. Today, Heather, today. Last week, I read the story of Mary and Martha; it was Mary who chose right. Yet, I am the epitome of Martha. I've even found myself getting frustrated with my husband for praying too long in the mornings. Did you catch that? Talk about confessions of a pastor's wife. Well, this one does not have it all together! I am Martha to my core. As many strengths as there are to my personality, there are as many (probably more) weaknesses. But He is made perfect in our weakness. This task-driven, busybody thrives on getting my checklist done. And here comes Jesus, saying stop. Stop? How in the world can I stop when I have more to get done than what is humanly possible? Ah, I think that's His point. In that same week of reading, Jesus said, "you will not always have me, but you will always those in need." Jesus isn't teaching a live in the moment, carpe diem mumbo jumbo. He isn't saying neglect the needs of others. It isn't a reality, with our many responsibilities, to literally sit, all day, everyday, at the feet of Jesus nor is that what He is saying. What I am learning is that in my heart and in my mind, allow Him to calm all of those racing thoughts of what's to be done next, and simply abide with Him as I live. Amidst the chores, errands, laundry, work, kids, the presence of Christ is my reality. A light bulb went on for me over this past few weeks. I've always thought of "storing up treasures" materialistically. I thought I had that one down pretty good. We have a simply home. We don't try to give our kids everything. We give to others. We are in the ministry for crying out loud! Leave it to God to want to refine my pride. Being a busy body, consumed with my checklist for the day is just as much storing up here on earth as loving money. I have today with Jesus. He is the treasure that I am to seek, but my life says that my treasure is my checklist. God's longing and desire is simply for me to walk with Him today. Our entire day to day life makes a radical transformation when we begin to realize that in this moment, in my heart and mind, just sit. "My presence is here and you're missing it because of your busy work." Yes, it's all necessary. We must prepare meals and do laundry and go to work. But "today, delight in Me. Don't trade my presence for your to do list. Delight in today because my presence exists in your reality."

Is this even possible? Am I living in a fantasy world? Oh, I must be one of those women who has the perfectly tidy organized house so I can have the audacity to say such things and believe such an idealistic mindset. Actually, my dishes are dirty, I've washed a load of clothes twice because they sat in the washer too long and my daughter's room looks like a bomb exploded. Jesus told Mary that she chose what was right. Jesus said "do not worry about tomorrow." Paul tells us to walk in the Spirit-that's present tense ladies; present, continuous tense. In this absurd, Americanized Christianity in which we live, we have bought into this lie that the presence of Christ is set aside for Sunday. Or that He is some burden we have to tack onto our already hectic day. We act as if adding Him to our day is "just great" another burden to carry. And satan has us right where he wants us. We don't add Jesus to our day. He is our day. Jesus said His burden is light. If we are feeling weighed down by the demands of God or of life, the truth is we are being deceived by the lies of satan. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. The reality is, He is calling you and me to be still. Be still in our spirit and allow His to rule-yes, even in the grocery store line. When we allow His presence to invade our midst, the demands of the day cease to weigh us down. Our thoughts no longer race and we are released from the guilt of needing to do just one more thing. It is possible to allow our hearts and minds to rest in Him. And every once in a while, literally sit down, hide the checklist, tell your mind to stop and just sit with Jesus. 

Jesus, I am resting, resting
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.