Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Series of [Un]Fortunate Events

March 27th marked one year since we picked up Little Miss. One whole year. I can hardly believe it’s been so long, and yet I can hardly remember what our life was like before her. Whose hair did I play with before Little Miss came home? Who told me “I love you bigger!” a thousand and two times a day? Who did I comfort when a scary balloon came into view? I can’t remember my life ever not consisting of those things. Did I even realize just how much was missing?

For three years we fought to bring Little Miss home. We finally landed on American soil on April 5, 2017 as a whole family. I’m so thankful that one year ago, we scooped up a nervous little girl who bravely opened her heart to us. Our year of adjusting to one another hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been the best of times.

In a strange way, picking up Little Miss started a chain reaction of life-altering episodes. Like a funny-not-funny comedy, the last 12 months have been a long Series of UnFortunate Events.

It was the best of times…

Six weeks after arriving home from Bulgaria, our van mysteriously vanished. But would you believe that in its place appeared a suburban, given to us by a friend of a friend we had never met? Brand new car seats, a stroller, a GPS, and a new stash of tools also appeared at our doorstep that very week. We ended up with a vehicle more suited to our needs and other items in better condition than those we lost. Seeing God provide those things out of nowhere made those days some of the best of times.

A couple days after the Vanishing Van episode, Joshua was unexpectedly blessed with a whole month off work! Which was wonderful because, three days later, our fifth baby was born. Monkey5 had a dramatic entry into the world, made much easier by the free time Joshua had to help us all recover. Now all expected family members had arrived, safe and sound. That first night with us all gathered on the bed in awe over the tiniest blessing in our family, thankful that he had learned the fine art of breathing… It was the best of times.

Soon after Monkey5’s birth Joshua’s parents arrived for a month long stay, which was amazingly well timed. We were thankful to have them here when, at 3 weeks old, Monkey5 quite adamantly let us know that he wanted some time away from home. Children’s Hospital was his vacation spot of choice. What a three day vacation that was! While nurses and doctors waited on us hand and foot, I got to spend some quality bonding time with Monkey5. Joshua was still enjoying his time off work, so he was able to stay at the hospital with us while the older children were being well taken care of by their grandparents at home.

Monkey5’s desire to visit the hospital turned out to be due to pyloric stenosis; a serious, but easily repaired condition. What a blessing to live in a day and age where this lifesaving surgery is so readily available. My prayer life grew and my mama heart was tested during those three days. But our time in the hospital was short, and we were soon back home with all of our monkeys. We live in the best of times.

The Monday after we got home from the hospital, Joshua started back to work. His new job provided for us to be able to continue ministering in this area. Our housing situation was uncertain at the time, but just when we thought we would have to move on, God opened doors for us to stay. And just when Joshua’s job with that company looked like it might end up destroying us, God provided another job that has been a huge blessing to our family. One that gives him plenty of time for preaching and teaching, allows him to have his children with him while he works, and still provides enough for us to live on while remaining in the area. This job has provided for some of the best of times.

Mid-Summer of last year, Monkey4 developed a strange rash. I sure am thankful for social media! Within hours of posting a picture of it on Facebook and asking for input, I was connected with several Lyme disease specialists and people suffering from the disease. If it hadn’t been for the blessing of Facebook, we would not have known to worry about the rash. But with urgent messages and phone calls pouring in from people identifying the red splotches, we quickly got Monkey4 the help he needed.

Days later, Monkey1 contracted bartonella, also identified by people on the internet who recommended seeing a specialist. It was quickly and easily treated. I am thankful to God for the internet and the advice of people I don’t even know. It came at the best of times.

Not long after this Monkey4 took a fall off a chair and broke his collar bone. What was originally diagnosed as a break that would take a good six weeks to heal turned out to be a small fracture that only required a sling for three weeks. God is good!

A couple weeks later Monkey2 was diagnosed with Candida. It’s been a battle we’ll continue to fight for a long time. But what a time we live in, when so much is known about this condition and so much research is available to help us understand how our bodies work! Isn’t this the best of times?

For several months last summer, boxes and envelopes full of blessings arrived. Everything from toilet paper, to diapers, to pantry items, to gift cards, to games for the kids. We were showered with more than we could possibly use! Joshua’s family, headed up by one of his sweet cousins, put together a game night to raise money for our unexpected expenses. We were humbled by the outpouring of love from them. At the same time, friends from all over the country surrounded us with love, including our Church family at Maplewood who embraced us and made sure we never had a need that went unmet. When our souls were weary, that group of God’s people washed our wounds and pulled us back up on our feet. They made it possible to start again, and we are forever grateful for their encouragement and support. Learning love from them… It was the best of times.

Speaking of the love of the Church, the police finally located our van. On the side of the highway in another state. On fire. The firefighters kindly put out the fire, and then handed us the bill. When a friend heard about this bill, he immediately offered to pay the entirety of the balance. Knowing the love of brothers like that… It makes for the best of times.

On February 26, I got a call from my husband about five minutes after he and our oldest two boys left for work. “Everyone is okay,” he said, “but we’ve been in a wreck.” He didn’t have much time to fill in the details. He hurriedly explained that he had slipped on a patch of ice and the vehicle had spun, flipped to its side, and then slammed deep down into a snow bank. He assured me that they were all alive and okay, but he needed to get off the phone so he could get everyone into a safer position.

Have you ever wondered about that little word ‘okay’? What exactly does ‘okay’ mean, anyway? ‘Okay’ as in every one is completely uninjured? Or ‘okay’ as in no one is going to die, but it’s going to be a seriously long road to recovery? I called his mom and she kept me calm while I waited for Joshua to call back and explain what kind of ‘okay’ he meant. Amazingly, ‘okay’ meant that they all walked away with only minor whiplash and a scratch or two. And somehow the suburban drove away only missing a side mirror and a running board. That deep snow we’d gotten just a day or two before kept them from rolling all the way over. God’s hand of protection was over my guys at what could have been the worst of times.

And then the worst of times came.

That same day, relief over the safety of my boys and husband collided with the realization that we were losing our unborn baby. We had intended to announce later that week that Monkey6 was on the way. But early in the morning, even before the guys had left for work, signs of a miscarriage began. An ultrasound the following day confirmed our worst fears. “The Layaway” was gone.

That was a month ago today.

In moments like that, finding the best of the situation is a heart-wrenching effort.

Why did God choose to preserve three lives, while at the same time allowing one to die? Where was His hand of protection over the life in my womb? Why, on the same day when I rejoiced so greatly over three, was I required to grieve so deeply over our youngest child? Before I ever heard a heartbeat? Before I ever felt a kick?

I don’t know.

But one thing I know for sure. God is a God of comfort. In the best of times. In the worst of times. When joy and sorrow meet. He is present. A very real help in times of trouble.

Perhaps it is so that we can more unwaveringly say with the apostle Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

I hope that, because of the difficulties of this year, the life of Christ is more visible in me today. I know that the love we have received from our brethren and the blessings that God has abundantly bestowed have far outweighed every hardship we’ve faced. If our van hadn’t been stolen, we would never know the kindness of that stranger. If I hadn’t spent a week sick with worry over my newborn’s health, I wouldn’t understand even a tenth of what other parents go through when they have a child in the hospital. If we hadn’t experienced the strain of a bad work situation which required Joshua to be away from home over 60 hours a week, I wouldn’t sympathize with other families who struggle with demanding jobs.

If we hadn’t experienced the disappointment of hope lost, we would never have known the beauty of faith renewed.

The last 12 months have been the worst of times the best of times, because the Lord was on our side. Had it not been the Lord Who was on our side when men rose up against us, they would have swallowed us alive. Had it not been the Lord Who was on our side when we were between jobs, the flames of desolation would have consumed us. Had it not been the Lord Who was on our side when we lost Noah, the waters of despair would have engulfed.

But the Lord, our Mighty God, was on our side. And He wants to be on your side, too.
"Blessed be the Lord Who would not give us up.
Blessed be the Lord for His unfailing love.
He broke the snare, and we escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the Lord."

Friday, February 9, 2018

A Comment from a Husband's Perspective

We've been down for three weeks with some nasty virus, which is why I've been taking a break from blogging. But I do want to share this comment someone made on the post I Make Broth from Scratch But I Feed My Kids Frozen Pizza for Lunch. I was going to just add it to the end of the original article, but I think it's so beautifully stated that it deserves a post of its own. 

Ladies, you are appreciated, you are loved, and your work is not in vain in the Lord! (1 Corinthians 15:58). 


"Let me comment from a husband's perspective. These Christian ladies as well as my wife often feel like they don't get enough done. They think they don't get the laundry finished or have dinner made or even planned.

But do you know what we see?

We see a woman who teaches our children, better than anyone else could. We see a woman who will go without because her husband needs a new pair of pants for work. We see a woman who does things around the house so her husband won't have to spend his only off day doing chores. We see love, that's what we see. And a woman whom we married and is our best friend and the one we can't wait to get home to every night no matter the house cleaning or what's for dinner. We see our help meet and she is exactly who she's supposed to be.

We love you all and thank God everday that we found our true better half." - David Day

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Message of Your Home: The Living Room

“Home is a shelter from storms – all sorts of storms.” William J. Bennet

Our living room is a safe haven. It is where our family gathers to escape the chaos of life and to just be. We read, we play music, we cuddle, we worship. We recharge. When we’re gathered as a family in the living room, we focus on enjoying time with one another and growing our family spiritually.
When you’re in my living room, I hope that the noise of the world is shut out and that the restful peace of a Christian home is evident to you. I hope the comfort of cushy chairs and the attractiveness of a pretty room pales in comparison to the beauty and solace of a home without strife. I hope you feel loved like family and refreshed like an honored guest.
I want my living room to be pretty, but more importantly I want it to be inviting; a place where you automatically know that you are welcome to kick your shoes off and put your feet on the couch. Not a sterile museum where you should be afraid to touch anything. A museum isn’t a practical place to live with five kids anyway.
The living room was the room I was most excited about decorating in Michigan.  I spent a lot of time in there (nursing, playing on the floor with toddlers… I even birthed a baby in there). I was determined to make it a room that I loved because I am very… shall we say… impressionable. Meaning, my environment has a huge effect on my emotional state. I need at least one room in my house where I can find beauty, relaxation, and calm. Life is just better that way. My goal was to make my living room a place where my guests could find the same.

Speaking of being impressionable, have you heard of color psychology? Color psychology is the study of hues as a determining factor on behavior. Color influences the way we think, feel, and even taste. It is widely used in marketing to appeal to consumers’ emotions. Companies are interested in this stuff. Ever heard about car insurance companies charging more if your car is red? That’s because a bright red encourages energy and it really does influence drivers to speed, leading to a higher likelihood of accidents. 
When I chose the paint for my living room I did a little research on what color was most likely to promote relaxation and calm. Let’s run through some color theories real quick, keeping in mind your goal for your own living room (or any other room in your house).
Red: Bold, Exciting, Energy, Power, Ambition, Emotionally Intense *Studies show that the color red increases heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism. A good color for a race car, but maybe not for your bedroom.
Pink: Love, Respect, Warmth, Sensitive, Nurture *Valentine’s Day, anyone? I want to paint my kitchen pink.
Purple: Deep, Creativity, Dignity, Independence *Studies show that children are extremely attracted to this color and it is often used to market toys.
Green: Growth, Restore, Clarity, Balance *Promotes tranquility and restfulness – a popular color for bedrooms
Blue: Content, Perspective, Calm, Order, Success *Shown to suppress one’s appetite and promote productivity. Maybe not the best choice for a dining room. Unless you’re on a diet?
Orange: Instinct, Optimistic, Freedom, Motivation, Social *Stimulates mental activity. A good color to accent a school room.
Yellow: Joy, Happiness, Intellect *When overused, yellow can have a distressing effect. Studies show that babies cry more in yellow rooms. Who knew?
Black: Authoritative, Mysterious, Formality, Elegance *Known to have a slimming effect.
White: Purity, Cleanliness, Safety *Used to encourage a fresh look, or a “clean slate.”
Obviously, this is not true for everybody all the time. It depends on your own personality, and can vary by age and gender. Personally, I’ve found these to be true to a large extent. For my living room I wanted something calming and refreshing. Based on the color psychology listed above, both Green and Blue would fit my need. Living in Michigan where it is often dark and overcast, I wanted something that would remind me of clear skies, so I went with “Horizon Blue” for the walls.
I had something of a nature theme going on with the sky blue walls, so I played on that by adding several plants, my favorite of which was ivy hanging from the ceiling in the corner. Plants are proven to reduce stress, help you sleep better, purify the air, and improve your overall wellbeing. I love houseplants, but I do have a hard time keeping them alive. My ivy was looking pretty pitiful by the time these pictures were taken.
I mentioned in the last post that it’s a great idea to try to have repeating elements in each room to tie your overall d├ęcor together. One way I tied the living room in with the dining room was by using the same twine from the map display to create a “laundry line” of family pictures, using wood clothespins to hang them. I was going for Shabby Chic/White Picket Fence feel in the room and I liked how this laundry line idea gave it that effect. (It was complete with a burlap bag that I really did use to store socks missing their mates.) 
We had no ceiling light. I would have preferred to have the option of overhead lighting, but the lamps did give it a cozy feel. I also would have liked to have gotten curtains on the windows. I’m just not a fan of blinds. And I wanted to find whitewashed shutters to create some wall art. Alas, we moved before I found any. Instead I hung an ocean and lighthouse painting that a dear friend from church painted for us, which I absolutely love! I miss this room and hope to somewhat replicate it when we get into a new place where I can paint.
{Oh, and I must brag on several pieces of furniture in this room. My dad built the gorgeous hope chest in the corner for my 18th birthday. The digital piano was my husband’s wedding gift to me. The upright piano was my “wooden” anniversary gift from him. I also can’t leave out the wooden box that he built to hold my sheet music :)}
Back to the decorating…
Decorating a room where people feel comfortable largely depends on decorating in a way that makes YOU comfortable. If you’re comfortable, people will sense that and relax. If you decorate your living room in a popular style that everyone else loves but makes you feel “meh,” then you’re not going to feel comfortable in there and neither will your guests.
When we have guests over, the conversations that start at the dining room table usually end in the living room. My goal is to start conversations geared toward the Gospel, so it’s important to me to make the living room a place where friends feel relaxed and welcome to carry on the discussion. When people are relaxed, they are more open o the Word. 
So, what do you think about this whole “Color Psychology” thing? I’m removing clocks to get people to stay longer, painting walls to influence emotions… What kind of mind games am I playing??! But at least they’re well intentioned mind games, right? Right.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Message of Your Home: The Dining Room

This post is part of a series on decorating your home with a Gospel-centered purpose.

Disclaimer: My husband has informed me that the quality of the photos contained in this post is terrible. For that I apologize, haha.

“My idea of a good night has always been having a lovely meal and a proper conversation.” – Kirsty Gallacher

I want the atmosphere of my dining room to accomplish two things: 1) Provide a place to comfortably enjoy meals and 2) Inspire edifying, God-centered conversation. 
The dining room is where we gather to share a meal and discuss the highs and lows of the day. It’s where we reunite as a family. It’s where we get to know new friends. It’s where we discuss strange concepts and deep theologies and questions of ethics. It’s also where we fight toddler food battles, explain socially acceptable behavior, and repeatedly discourage bodily noises (which, let’s be honest, can be pretty funny).
The dining room is the hub of my home. Meals are eaten, the Bible is discussed, school is taught, paperwork and phone calls are attended to there. It’s a place of action, and I love it. I want my table to be loud with life. Yes, I want my children to learn table manners, and I would love it if I could finally get through to them that napkins were invented for a reason. But I am not of the philosophy that the dinner table is a place for children to be seen and not heard. It’s where our best conversations take place. It’s a place that represents acceptance and individuality and freedom to explore new ideas within the bounds of God’s truths. We let our hair down, sing silly songs, and sometimes even start food fights. And no, electronics are not banned at my dinner table because Google provides many of the answers to the deep questions my toddlers ask, and ends many debates between my husband and me. (btw, did YOU know that Oscar the Grouch was originally orange?)
I want my dining room to feel like love, warmth, and big ideas. 
Before I began decorating any rooms in our Little House on the Corner I sat down with a notebook and sketched out some ideas. I wanted the overall feel of the house to flow nicely, so I tried to plan somewhat overlapping decorating schemes. I chose themes centered around the purpose of each room and the message I wanted to convey when people entered that space.
I was going for a rich, cozy, warm feel in the dining room; a place which would encourage people to linger and enjoy their food at a slower pace. The purpose of the room was “nourishing conversation.” I wanted people to comfortably enjoy their meal and be inspired to talk of higher, deeper, more meaningful things. I also wanted the focus to be on evangelism and taking the Gospel to all nations, so the theme I came up with was loosely based on Travel.
We love having people over. I want the room where we eat to be welcoming to people from all walks of life. It is in our own home that we (my husband and I) most comfortably and naturally share the Gospel. But I have this problem. I’m not a great conversationalist. Connecting with people is something I have to force myself to do. I struggle to make small talk. So, I had this idea of decorating our dining room with conversation starters. I wanted something in the dining room that people would ask about, something that would not only start a conversation but also lead the conversation toward Christ and His Word.
This is what I came up with:

The map was kind of falling apart but I liked it because it was large. I bought wooden plaques at Hobby Lobby and painted them with chalkboard paint. I used those Velcro adhesive things to stick the plaques on the wall, then I wrote the names of missionaries we know on each one, along with the population of the country where they work. With twine I connected each plaque to the corresponding country, flagged with a stick pin.
The smaller map on the right is a map of Uganda, the country from which we first tried to adopt. I printed the map on thick paper and steeped it in cold tea until it was a rich, antique looking golden brown. Then I baked it in the oven on very low heat until dry. I crumpled it a little to give it texture, then I scorched the edges with a lighter (over the sink! Don’t set your house on fire!). This took two or three tries to get it just right without burning half the page away.
I loved this display not only because it provided a great conversation piece, but because it served as a daily reminder to pray for our missionary friends. It also gave us an opportunity to discuss with our children what it means to “go into all the world.”
I added a few travel themed touches, some family pictures, and a couple of bookshelves. Books tend to inspire great conversation. On one bookshelf I set our change jar, on which I had painted more chalk paint. This is where we began saving for our adoption. I wrote our goal amount on top of the jar and kept a running tally of our progress on the front. I set the jar in front of a chalkboard with our fundraising slogan. At the time we were adopting from Uganda there were roughly 2.7 million orphans. Our goal was to make that number one less. That started a lot of great conversations, too!
This was my first project when I started decorating my home with purpose. I liked that the map display was the first thing that most people noticed when they came into our house. People would almost immediately start asking questions about what it meant, which led to discussion about the Gospel.

It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest room, but it served its purpose :) I never got around to painting the dining room or buying curtains I liked (we moved before I could get it all “finished”), but I somewhat naturally ended up with accents of gold and burgundy. Overall, the room ended up a bit darker and heavier than I liked, but deep, rich colors do tend to convey a “thinking” mood which is what I was going for. In my next dining room I would like to find a way of capturing that same mood without such a formal feel. After all, it is a school room, too. Maybe I’ll go with a more whimsical theme… Hmmm…
Any ideas? What kind of atmosphere do you want in your dining room? Do you have something in there that points to the Gospel? Share your dining space!
Challenge: Find an interesting item to display in your dining room that might spark conversation about the Gospel. Even if it doesn't attract attention from visitors, it will serve as a visual reminder to you to steer dinnertime discussions toward biblical matters.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Message of Your Home: Tick-Tock, Bye-Bye Clocks!

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). 

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve done  very little decorating in our current home. I have, however, tried to carry over a few principles that I put into practice in our Little House on the Corner. Like the Master Bedroom Haven, conversation starters in the dining room, and my bucket of rocks (yeah, we’ll get to that one, hold on). And the fact that I didn’t hang clocks. Anywhere.

If you come visit me, you might notice that the only time pieces are the digital clocks on my kitchen appliances. Or you might not. You might just lose track of time and never realize it. YES, that is all part of my maniacal plan to lure you into my lair and keep you forever! Just kidding. Or am I?

If there is a clock in the room, I watch it. I noticed in our first apartment that I was constantly glancing up at the clock, feeling rushed along by that little hand that sternly pointed out how far behind I always was. I also noticed how frequently our guests glanced at the clock and seemed to feel that they were imposing if they stayed more than an hour.

When we moved into our house I decided to see what would happen if I just didn’t hang clocks. And you know what? I was so much less stressed! I moved through the days at a slower pace, but somehow ended up getting more done, in a more relaxed manner. Better yet, I noticed something delightful happening when we had guests over. They stuck around and enjoyed themselves until they were ready to go home! My husband led Bible studies in our living room that continued until they had reached a natural stopping point instead of being dictated by time. Visitors commented that time seemed to stand still when they came over and they were surprised at how long they had stayed. I like to think that’s partly because we’re kind of fun people to be around, but I largely attribute this to the fact that our guests didn’t feel the pressure of a ticking time bomb on the wall. They were able to relax and, for just a little while, forget about living life according to a clock.

If you can’t see yourself totally chunking all clocks, consider banning them from certain rooms. My main purpose for my living room is to provide a relaxed atmosphere where friends and family can comfortably gather and enjoy time with one another. So, at the very least, clocks are prohibited in that room. I don’t want people to feel on edge, or wonder if they’ve overstayed their welcome. When you’re in my living room, I want you to stay as long as you want, regardless of the time.

The most important mission this practice accomplishes is that it allows us more time to share the Gospel. When we have nonbelievers over, we are able to have in-depth conversations with them that focus on Christ without worry over how late it is getting. And they don’t have that quick out of, “Oh, look at the time, I really must be going!” They simply get immersed in the Word and forget to fret over how long they have stayed. That’s pretty awesome to watch.

There you have it. One of my secrets to decorating a comfortable home: Buh-bye, Clocks! (Except, everyone loves whimsical or antique clocks… Those can still add splendor to your home – just don’t set them to the correct time :) ).

Of course, we do keep an eye on the time. We glance at the oven clock to make sure we make it to services when we’re supposed to. And we do have alarms on our phones. But, in daily life, we take our time because we are no longer slaves to the time. And that’s something you can give your guests without putting any effort into it. Probably without them ever even knowing what it is exactly that makes your home so relaxing. One friend came over every week, sometimes multiple times a week, for months before looking around one day and observing, “Hey… You guys don’t have any clocks. I never took the time to notice that before.”

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Message of Your Home: Introduction Take Two

Several years ago I wrote a post about decorating your home with purpose. It was supposed to be a series but I never got more than one post up. I’m hoping to actually write that series now (but no promises on how far we’ll get ;-)
When others walk into my home, I want them to immediately feel a sense of peace, comfort, and joy. Of course, it is the residents of the home who bring these characteristics to life and impart them to others, but I believe that attitudes and emotions are greatly influenced by surroundings.
I hate clutter. When I am in a messy, chaotic room with belongings strewn across the floor, dirty dishes piling up on tables, and yesterday’s diapers perfuming the air, I feel pretty grouchy. Just walking into a room like that makes my shoulders slump and my jaw tighten. On the other hand, when I walk into a tidy room with tasteful decorations, cozy corners, and warm scents, I feel relaxed. I feel invited. I don’t feel like I’ve barged in where I’m not wanted. Can you relate?
In our Little House on the Prairie (like, literally, we live on a prairie – I’m totally psyched about that fact, by the way). Um, as I was saying… I have put very little thought into decorating our current Little House. I pretty much just threw up what we had when we moved in and hit the ground running in our new work. And you can tell. Pretty much the only appeal to my home is that it’s full of love and it’s generally clean – or at least, not disgusting. Most of the time. Some of the time? Anyway…
In our previous home (our Little House on the Corner) I tried to be very intentional in the way I decorated. I put thought into the purpose of each room, and I carefully chose items that emphasized that purpose. If it didn’t point to the goal of the room or have some other practical use it either had to move to a different location or leave my house. I had no space for useless junk. Aaah, I liked that house….
But I digress.
God appreciates beauty. Just look around at the stars, the flowers, the peacocks and other magnificent creatures in the animal kingdom. The world is gorgeous! A desire to surround oneself with beauty does not automatically mean one is a vain lover of worldly things. God Himself created a beautiful environment in which He placed Adam and Eve. But what was the purpose of the beauty God created in nature? 
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). 
It all points back to Him.
My main goal for putting thought into decorating is to help point others to Christ. Does that sound weird? That you can communicate the Gospel in part by how you beautify your home? Maybe that’s not your thing. Maybe you are like I have been here and are just happy if you’ve got something covering all the windows. You do NOT have to be into decorating in order to be a Proverbs 31 woman. But, those of you who are interested in beautifying your home in order to spread a little of God’s comfort and love just might want to stick around for a few posts.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A Merry Little Christmas

Another Christmas is in the books, and oh what a Christmas it was!

We always try to keep Christmas simple, but we decided to make this year even more minimalistic. Last year the kids got SO much love from our extended family that once we included our gifts, Christmas Day was a bit overwhelming. We want them to enjoy each gift they receive instead of drowning in wrapping paper, so this year we allowed them each to open some gifts leading up to Christmas to cut down on the number of presents they open at one time. Joshua and I both come from largish families who like to dote on our kids, so even with this strategy each child still had one or two gifts to open on Christmas Day.

We’re what I would call “comfortable minimalists.” We do have more than two sets of clothes each, but we try not to have more than what we actually like and use. We try not to buy things just for the sake of having “stuff” for the kids to open on Christmas. I can’t stand clutter, and they don’t need a bunch of toys they are going to forget about in two weeks. With that in mind, we decided to do very little in the way of gifts this year.

We bought Baby’s first Bible, as we always do on our babies’ first Christmases. I bought two things from the dollar store that the other kids needed, and we bought a tool for our oldest who is learning how to build birdhouses. That was about the extent of the items we actually bought. The kids and I made salt dough ornaments for Papa who (until now) didn’t have any ornaments of his own to put on the tree. I re-gifted one of the gifts that the kids received multiples of last year (and they were still just as excited to get it again haha). Their big gift was a play kitchen and an easel that Joshua found by the side of the road. They were missing a couple pieces, but otherwise just needed a bit of cleaning up to be good as new.

The best part of the gifts was their stockings. We have a tradition born of a bit of last minute fun a few years ago. One year my family came to visit a couple of weeks before Christmas and we celebrated with them early. On Christmas Eve Joshua and I decided we wanted to put a little something in the kids’ stockings even though they weren’t expecting anything the next morning. We went around the house stuffing in random items – old cell phones, toys from our childhood, tea bags, fruit. Joshua and I had a blast adding funny little things that we already owned, and the kids were thrilled to find their full stockings on Christmas Day.

This has become one of our family’s favorite Christmas traditions. Joshua and I always look forward to Christmas Eve when we have fun together filling stockings with weird things without spending any money. And the kids always look forward to seeing what strange things Mama and Papa came up with this time. There are always lots of giggles and lots of squeals of excitement as they open their stockings to find treasures new and old.

This year’s stash included:  flash cards, a puzzle, finger puppets, chapstick, a purse, and leaping frogs, all of which the kids had forgotten we had. Each stocking also contained: a piece of chocolate, a disposable straw, a peppermint stick, a special cup, a candy cane, and a green apple.

Oh, and they each received a roll of toilet paper. (That brown blob sitting on the toilet paper in the picture is chocolate, by the way. Not poop. Just wanted to clear that up.)

The toilet paper proved to be one of our best ideas. After all the gifts were opened and everyone had eaten Christmas dinner we played games with the toilet paper. We had a contest to see who could roll up their toilet paper the fastest. We had a balancing game to see who could walk the line of toilet paper without stepping off (adapted for Little Miss to see if she could roll her wheelchair down the hall without touching the toilet paper with her wheels). We competed to see who could throw their roll of toilet paper the farthest. We had a “tree decorating” contest where Monkey1 and Monkey2 were the “trees” and Mama and Papa decorated them with toilet paper. And lastly we had a “snowball fight” with wads of toilet paper.

It was So. Much. Fun!

We love giving gifts to our kids. We love that they receive wonderful gifts from others. But we don’t want that to be the main thing about Christmas for our kids. We try to focus most on having fun together as a family. Traditions like making a gingerbread house, going to look at lights on Christmas Eve, playing games on Christmas Day, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and eating a simple but scrumptious dinner is what makes the season feel like Christmas to us.

Because this year’s budget was so tight, in the days leading up to Christmas I felt a little sorry for how little we were doing. But it ended up being hands down the best Christmas we’ve ever had! Kids don’t care how much you spend on their gifts. They don’t care if it’s brand new. The little ones don’t even care if it was already theirs before you gave it to them! We were able to focus on relaxing and having fun as a family without the stress of making sure we got the perfect gift for each child.

We laughed. A lot. We snuggled. We enjoyed the gifts we received from others.

And we gave thanks.

For our family.

For life.

For love.

For God bringing us through the hardest year of our lives.

And for the simple joys of Christmas.