Archive | April, 2013

Celebrating Advent and Christmas Purposefully (Part 2)

15 Apr

Okay, here’s the post with local ideas and decorations that we’ve come up with so far.

1) Attend Christmas concerts that are focused on Christ — this last year, we went to the Getty’s concert at the seminary where my husband attends. It was not all I hoped it would be, but the music was Christ-centered and Gospel-focused. Both our boys had a great time, and were even more excited to learn and sing Christmas carols and hymns the rest of the season.


If you live someplace where there are good local music options, you might be able to find a church-organized Christmas concert for free, or even a performance of Handel’s Messiah.

2) Visit a “living nativity” — a church in our town puts on a lovely little performance of the story of Jesus’ birth, complete with mini-farm animals. We went this past year, and it was the highlight of our Christmas season!


3) Choose a local Gospel-focused charity, or international organization (like Samaritan’s Purse, or Compassion International), or just someone in need, and decide as a family how to make a gift to them. Some families skip a meal and save the money it would have cost, or do extra chores, or find ways to make extra money, or collect all or some of their savings and pool it together to make a donation or buy something needed for a charity/organization or family in need. I remember as a kid, one year my family found out what a teen girl in a nearby foster family wanted most, and granted her wish. It was so much fun to take it to her and get to know her! She was so surprised and grateful when we showed up with a new waffle iron for her to fix her family breakfast. She LOVED to do that and the waffle iron she used had recently broken.

ATR International Charity

4) Make gifts for local service people — the mail person, police officers, janitors, garbage collectors, cashier at your favorite grocery store, gas station attendant, etc. People who’s jobs are a great service to the community, but who typically go un-thanked. There are lots of great ideas online of how to make simple and inexpensive gifts. One of my favorites is a “s’mores” treat gift bag, found here.

Now for decorating ideas.

1) DIY Christmas wreath from Christmas cards — you can use old cards from previous years, or even scrapbook paper, for this project. I made it up after googling paper wreath ideas. You can find my inspirations here and here. Make a cardboard circle with the middle cut out (I used an old cereal box) for your base. Then cut 1 to 2 inch wide strips out of your cards or paper, and glue them down around the circle, overlapping them like a fan. Hot glue a strip of fabric or ribbon to the back to make a loop from which to hang the wreath. The first wreath, I used scissors and trimmed the edges to be flush with each other. The second wreath, I left the edge uneven.

Here’s how ours turned out (I added an ornament a friend made for us to the bottom of the first one I made):



If you like the ornament, my friend found it on Pinterest, and you can find it here.


2) Spelling seasonal words and phrases with alphabet blocks — if you have alphabet blocks of any sort, or magnetic letter, or Scrabble letters or anything similar, this is just really easy to do. Here’s how ours turned out.




3) Use nature: if you live where you can readily collect pretty pinecones, nuts, berries, holly branches, or evergreen greenery, bring the “outdoors” indoors, and marvel at the beauty with which God crowns His world, even in the “dead” season of winter. In years past, I have spray painted pinecones and glued stuff to them, or just washed them off and used them “as is”. I’ve also made table decorations from fresh holly branches and berries. Holly really lasts quite a while, once cut! I’ve also collect nuts and arranged them in bowls and glass dishes. You can find a lot of great ideas and uses for natural things like that on Pinterest.

My Natural Christmas Decorations

4) Focus everything seen from the outside of your house on Jesus as much as you can. You’ll see  from the pictures below that I tried to do that this year.

That’s it for tips on what to make/how to make it, so far. Below are just some pictures of other things I came up with, from scraps and pieces of things we had lying around. Nothing that I’d recommend copying, or that I could even tell you how to make it, because the stuff for it was just so random, I couldn’t duplicate it if I wanted to. But, honestly, to me that’s half the fun of crafting! Repurposing junk into something beautiful! 🙂

Front door hanger:



Leftover cardboard packaging for a wall hanging — paint, scrapbook paper, hand-drawn letters with a Sharpie.



A Christmas card mounted on matching scrapbook paper.



Scrap paper, hand lettering with a Sharpie.



A left over gift tag mounted on scrapbook paper.





Left over egg crates, painted with acrylic craft paint, letters cut out from scrapbook paper, pompoms and more scrapbook paper.





Scrap paper decorations, with glue, clothespins and popsicle sticks.


Celebrating Advent and Christmas Purposefully

14 Apr

We have been working out the last several years how to celebrate major holidays in a manner that focuses us on the glory of God, and sets aside the self-centered hype of the traditions and culture around us.

Christmas time has been the hardest holiday to do that. There is so much cultural emphasis on it, so many cultural traditions and expectations tied to it here. Most of them have nothing to do with Jesus, few of them seek to glorify God at all.

We don’t put up Christmas lights. We don’t use a Christmas tree. We don’t give gifts. We don’t host Christmas parties. Not that any of those things are bad in themselves. If you do them as a Christian, you’re not some kind of “sub-spiritual” person.

After all, the lights of Christmas were once to remember that Jesus, the Light of the World, came to us. And Martin Luther supposedly thought the evergreen tree was a wonderful way to use God’s creation as a reminder that He came to give us life.

However, it’s so easy for these things to get mixed up in things that actually detract from the work of Jesus and the glory of God, that we choose to opt out of them during the Christmas season.

So here’s a list (and some pictures) of ways we have found to celebrate the season.

1) Make and use a Jesse Tree

My #1 favorite thing we have done so far is make a Jesse Tree to use during Advent. Right now, this is a poster for us, since we don’t have anywhere to put a “branch” tree, and I’m a little leery with toddlers around, to have anything more substantial. I found the scripture readings and ideas for symbols here, but the RCA site and have some good ideas, too. The RCA (Reformed Church in America) even has an instructional on how to host an intergenerational Advent-Jesse Tree party!

Here’s what our tree looks like –


If you Google search images for Jesse Tree, you will find a wide variation of ways to creatively make your own Jesse Tree. Some pictures will even come from sites with DIY instructions. One such place,, has DIY instructions here. I found my symbols one by one as free clip art, in Google images. Trust me, that was tedious!

One of the main reasons I love using the Jesse Tree for Advent (besides the fact that it gives us a way to celebrate the season every day, not just on Sundays) is that with a well designed scripture reading schedule, we actually walk through the main stories of the Bible in a month. Genesis to Jesus. And it gives us a GREAT overview of the whole story of Jesus, how He is the main character of the Old (not just the New) Testament.

2) 12 Days of Christmas Calendar

I don’t have a picture of this. Hopefully, in the near future, I’ll get one uploaded. If not, I’ll at least try to get the documents I used for this uploaded.

But, the long and short of it is, I found instructions for Noel Piper’s “Noel Calendar” and altered it a bit so that it fit into 12 days — the 12 days after Christmas, between Christmas Day and Epiphany (Dec. 26th – Jan. 6th). Then on the back of our Jesse Tree poster, I made our 12 Days of Christmas calendar, where bit by bit we build a “nativity” scene. I really love this because it extends the Christmas season so that after Dec. 25, there’s no huge “let down”. Over the course of 12 days, we cumulatively recite the story of Jesus’ birth. Each day is a short “prose” summary of an event in the story. This activity is simple, short, and repetitive — a really excellent way to help young children memorize the events surrounding the birth of Jesus.

If you’d like the original story to work with, until I can get my altered version up, here it is on Noel Piper’s blog.

3) Make a Nativity

Every year since our oldest son was born, we have made a nativity.

Year 1 – Sock doll nativity characters (so far, we have Joseph, Mary, baby Jesus, a Shepherd, one Sheep, an Angel, and 3 Wisemen). Our boys LOVE playing with these little sock people. They are soft, simple, washable, chewable, throwable, and generally indestructible. 🙂 (Sorry, no picture of this yet, either.)

Year 2 – Salt Dough nativity — this was fun to make and paint. Just FYI, don’t try to put it outside for decoration. The squirrels ate baby Jesus and thought the Wisemen were pretty tasty, too!!





I used just a basic salt dough recipe, shaped individual pieces, baked them in the oven, painted everything with a white craft acrylic paint as a base for the colored acrylic paints, hot glued everything together, and finished everything off with a clear coat of acrylic sealer once I finished painting everything. We collected twigs in our yard, and hot glued those together to form the “manger” and “stable” for our nativity scene.

Year 3 – Gingerbread Nativity — the demise of baby Jesus and the Wisemen from our salt dough nativity gave me an idea for the next year. An edible nativity! So, we made up some gingerbread dough, shaped it by hand (or if you have small cookie cutter shapes, you could use those – boy, girl, sheep and other nativity scene animals), and baked up our cookies. Then we colored some vanilla icing (or you can make your own) and iced up our cookies. (Tip: When coloring icing, especially homemade butter-based icing, use Wilton gel colors, not liquid cheap food coloring. The icing colors look grainy otherwise.) I used the lid to a glass Pyrex bowl as the base for our nativity, so I could seal the glass bowl over the top and keep our cookies around for a few weeks before we had to eat them.


Sorry the picture isn’t more clear, but you probably get the idea that decorating cookies with a 2 or 3 year old isn’t going to produce the most artistically appealing set of cookies you’ve ever seen. But they sure tasted yummy, even after a week and a half under the glass!!!

Here’s a picture of another attempt at a “prettier” gingerbread nativity


Year 4 – Woodblock Nativity — I found the idea to make a woodblock nativity here. Actually, if you Google images for “woodblock nativity”, you will find literally hundreds of ideas and variations! Here’s another one I really liked.

And here’s what ours looks like.


I cut out small squares of paper, drew the characters on them with thin-tip Sharpies, pulled out our old set of alphabet woodblocks, painted a faded side with white acrylic paint, and then used Mod Podge to glue/paint them on the blocks after the white side dried. I think for next year, I will add the matching “word” and “scripture” on the blocks, like at

Year 5Toilet Paper Roll Nativity — we haven’t done this yet, it’s my craft for this next year. But I thought this was just a brilliant idea to do with our 4 year old. And I’m sure his little brother, who will be 2 by then, will enjoy it very much, too.

4) Learn one old (before 1960) and one “new” (in the last 50 years) Christmas hymns or Christ-centere carols — learn them, start to finish, every verse. Sing them as often as you get the chance — while making Christmas cookies, or decorating the house, or dancing around the living room, at night before bed, during family worship, riding in the car, or whenever you need something to do. Try to pick ones that are rich in theology (say, “Hark the Herald” or “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”), tell some of the story of Jesus’ birth (“O Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Mary, Did You Know”), and are fun to sing (“Angels We Have Heard On High” or “Hark How the Bells”). When you run out of traditional ones, have fun finding and learning traditional Christmas songs from other cultures.

5) Try once or twice a week making a special traditional Christmas time food from another country. Christmas has long been celebrated worldwide, so it’s a great time branch out for a taste of international flavors in music, customs, and foods. Go here for some ideas of what you can try. Pray for the countries you “sample”, that Jesus would be known and worshipped there as their greatest treasure.


I hope you found these ideas helpful. I’ll be adding to them from year to year. You can pretty much do these just about anywhere. Next blog, I’ll give ideas of things we’ve done locally and for decorations, since we like to keep things simple for the Christmas season.


Book Review: The Church History ABCs

9 Apr

The Church History ABCs cover

This is a great book to use to teach children some interesting facts about important Church history figures (like Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, and Luther) as well as some lesser-known people (such as Anne Bradstreet, John Donne, and Antonio Vivaldi). Each page features a colorful illustration of the featured figure, along with a cleverly worded text about the person. For example, almost all the words used to describe Anne Bradstreet begin with b’s. Calvin’s page is the same, with lots of c’s. At the back of the book are several pages of additional interesting facts and information on each person, as well. For such a brief book, the authors did a great job giving lots of insight into each Church history hero. We found it to be very interesting for children and adults alike.

We have had great success using it as bedtime reading with our two boys, 4 and 1 years old. The oldest one recognizes when he hears names of Augustine, Luther, Calvin and others in seminary-life conversations, and he pipes up with a fact or two that he remembers about these great men. Good stuff!! I relied pretty heavily on this book, and a few other sources, to develop our “Reformation Party” around Luther last fall.


Book Recommendations

8 Apr

I am working on a variety of projects, so I don’t have time to do a complete review.

But, two books I am relying on HEAVILY, and that I HIGHLY recommend are listed below.

The Gospel Story Bible, by Marty Machowski, has been a God-send for our family. It’s so hard to find Biblical children’s Bible story books that are thorough and don’t take HUGE liberties with the text. I thought I was just going to have to write one. But thankfully, we found this! It is just about as complete in its selection of stories as I could wish, walks through the Bible from start to finish, quotes a great deal of scripture in its “retelling”, and always makes a neat connection to the New Testament and Jesus at the end of each story. The stories cover one or two pages each, at the most, and the pictures are brilliant and interesting. I think you’ll LOVE this as much as we do!

One Perfect Life

One Perfect Life by John MacArthur is the “Gospel Harmony” book I’ve been waiting for. It takes a complete, chronological approach to a survey of the life of Jesus. I love how each section has the Scripture readings featured. Cleverly, and astonishingly, all the passages have been woven together, and marked, so that you can read a compilation of say, The Beatitudes, from Matthew and Luke, seamlessly. It’s really, really wonderful! This should be Lent – Pentecost reading, yearly. Or just read through it regularly some time each year! Excellent, excellent, excellent.

Reformation Day 2012

4 Apr

Well, a while back, I posted ideas for a Reformation Day party that I never got to do. So this past fall, we actually did it! Our 1st Annual Reformation Day Party!!

The weather turned out to not be so great, but some friends show up and we had a good time anyway. Note to self: if planning an outdoor party in late October, have some way to move it indoors if needed.

So here’s how it went:

As each family arrived, every family got an Operation Christmas Child shoebox to fill (I picked up mine, in installments, from a local LifeWay Christian Stores bookstore) and a party bag. I explained that some of the activity stations were marked with a special OCC sticker and some weren’t. Then as we went around and did each activity, if an OCC sticker was on the game sign the prize went in the shoebox. If it wasn’t, the prize went in their bag. Half the prizes won were for the kids to put in their shoebox i, and the other half were for them to put in their party bag.

Games: Our theme this year was around Martin Luther, and each game station had a “blurb” I wrote up giving some details, interesting facts and history about Luther’s life and work.

1) Luther’s Study — story time with a children’s book about Luther (you could have someone pretend to be Luther and tell the kids about his life. We tried to have that, but it didn’t work out).


2) Pin the Hat on the Reformer – Martin Luther poster, hat cutouts, masking tape, blindfold. Just like “pin the tail on the donkey” game.


3) Nail the 95 Theses — I printed out all 95 Theses, taped them to a scroll and hung it up on a door on our shed. Because the prize at this station was water, I filled a wheelbarrow with ice, taped a select number of individually cut out Theses protected in plastic baggies to mini water bottles and buried them in the ice. The kids had to dig them out, find a bottle with a baggie on it, get their Theses out, read it and put it up in the right spot. With the youngest ones, we read it for them and helped them figure out where it went.


4) Staupitz’s Swan Race — kiddie pool filled halfway with water, solid object in the middle to travel around, ping-pong or foam balls, straws. The kids had to use the straws to blow their floating ball from a set starting point around the object in the middle and back to the starting point.


5) Katie’s Kitchen Egg Race — I made an obstacle course of things to go around, over, through, etc. and the kids used spoons to balance an egg from start to finish. Younger kids got big spoons or even ladles, older kids got soup spoons. 🙂


6) Sola Fishing — I used a kiddie pool, filled it with ballpit balls, and hid foam fish with rings attached to them. I also made a poster with each Reformation Sola written out and a symbol representing it. Some fish had symbols on them representing a Sola, matching the Sola poster. They had to get at least one “Sola” fish, match it to the symbol on the poster and read the Sola statement that it represented. I had pencil “fishing poles” with simple paperclip hooks attached to the end of the string.


7) Luther Rose Bowling — We have a set of plastic kid bowling pins, so I used these, and just taped a Luther Rose onto one of them. Then they had to try to bowl and knock over the one pin with the Rose on it. I also had a poster explaining the parts of the Luther Rose and how he used them to outline the Gospel.


8) Wheel the Wagon to Wartburg — I set up a path of traffic cones in our driveway. Taped to each one was a picture of various “foes” of Luther. The object of the game was to roll a hula hoop down through the line of cones, weaving through them without touching one “foe” and get Luther safely to “Wartburg castle”. If you touched a cone, you had to start all over again. Older kids had to go down and back again. Younger kids just had to go through one way.

[No picture, but you can kind of see it in the one above for the bowling game.]

9) The last stop was back to Luther’s Study, to pack up all the prizes in the OCC boxes, explain those a little more in detail so families knew what to do with them when they went home. And, as some of the prizes in their bags were snacks, this was the perfect chance to sit down and enjoy them. 🙂

I had actually wanted to make an “entry way” to Wittenburg town, or Lutherstadt, to welcome our guests. But that didn’t happen. The wind made it too hard to put anything up like that. And I ran out of time to create.

I had also planned for a much bigger party than what we ended up with, so I had created two rotation maps through the “Town of Wittenberg” (our game station area) for two separate groups, so no one would have to be standing around for a long time, waiting for everyone to go through. We didn’t need these at all, but it was helpful to think through the logistics of how to do something like this on a larger scale.

All in all, we had a lot of fun and wished more friends had come to brave the cold and wind with us! 🙂 We didn’t miss having a Halloween party one bit!!!! And we learned about an important figure in our Christian heritage, too.