Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Read. Learn. Connect.

"Keep reading, Mom!" We were traveling in the car and I was in need of something to quench my overworked throat after reading loudly enough to be heard in the back of the van continuously for half an hour on South American roads.

"Let's stop here and get something to drink and use the restroom, and then I'll keep going." 

You might be surprised to know that I was reading selected chapters to my kids out of Eddie Rickenbacker's autobiography. Not only was he America's most successful fighter ace in World War I, he also was a car designer, race car driver, head of Eastern Air Lines, survivor of multiple air and car crashes, and during a mission to personally deliver a secret message of rebuke to General Douglas MacArthur from President Roosevelt was forced to ditch the plane in the Pacific Ocean and was adrift for 24 days with 9 other men of whom 7 survived!  

At the time I was reading to my kids they were two boys, fourteen and nine, and two girls, ten and five. And they all loved it.

When we lived overseas I raided the library at the school for missionary kids (MKs) where my children attended for books to read. My favorite genre has always been biography or autobiography. Real people's real lives are so amazing, that reading about fictional people loses some of it's charm. That was where I had found this book and many others that I often read parts of or all of to my children. And I didn't just read biographies and stories of great Christians, I also read many of the famous fiction books that are so beloved: The Chronicles of Narnia, the Little House series, the Anne of Green Gables series, and others.

Usually we read before bedtime. And of course, they begged for me to keep going then so they could stay up later. But sometimes we also read after dinner around the table. And I think that's a great time to read together. Everyone loves a good story and it's such fun to put that inborn sense of drama we all have to use by making different voices and adding expression. I remember my youngest daughter asking how I could know what voice to use if it didn't say, "Laura said..." before the quotation. One of Mom's superpowers!

Whether you read fiction or non, reading together is a learning experience for everyone. A well researched and written novel teaches you much about different occupations, people, places, words, and times as well as valuable moral lessons. Then every book gives you something to talk about together as you figure out what is going to happen or what should have been done in the story. You might even decide to research more on a topic to understand it or read more books about an interesting subject. 

I'm sure that reading so many missionary stories while growing up is part of why I became a missionary. Who knows what can influence your child? My oldest granddaughter, Preciosa, (her bloggy name) is currently six and thanks to her mom reading a Magic School Bus book to her, she wants to be a Marine Biologist!

How to pick a good book to read to your kids:

  1. Read a variety of books--if you are reading you will find books to read to your kids, like I did.
  2. Find a book that excites you--if you like the book, you will enjoy reading it aloud and will make it fun for your kids.
  3. Read with enthusiasm--Try to use different voices for the main characters and add the inflection they would have if they were sad, excited, happy, or frightened. 
  4. Start small--I didn't start reading novels to my children, I started with picture books. But my oldest was ready for the Chronicles of Narnia when he was in kindergarten! Well before he'd be able to read the book. Now they are reading them to Preciosa!
  5. Find books on topics that interest your children--my boys loved cars and airplanes so I knew they would like Eddie Rickenbacker's story. My youngest is a red-head (or ginger as she prefers) and could relate to Anne of Green Gables.
  6. Spread out from there--read about people or times they are learning about in school, but in story form--either biography or fiction--to reinforce what they are learning and make it come to life. Are you going to be taking a vacation somewhere? Look for books about the people and places from there. Maybe for a vacation out west you could read stories about some of the famous cowboys, or a trip to the ocean might make you want to read about pirates or explorers.
  7. Don't get stuck--If a book just isn't interesting anyone, and you have given it a good try (my mom used to say every book deserves the three chapter test), then stop. Don't waste time reading to your kids a book that is boring.
  8. Keep reading--find a time when you can read on a consistent basis. We didn't read every single night and we sometimes went for periods of time when we didn't read at all. But we came back to it. Don't give up when one book doesn't keep their interest. 

Remember, your goals are to have a time when you can connect with your kids and have fun learning. It is so worth it!

For some great ideas of more books to read to your kids click here.

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Jen, mother of five says: We are in a really tough season for family dinners. With two teenagers that play school sports and three other younger ones who also have their own “stuff” combined with a daddy that works long, sometimes unpredictable hours it seems like 4-8 PM can be the busy-est time of my day and the time we are going in the most different directions.My best tips are planning and flexibility. I have given up an “all or nothing” attitude (I.e. “We ALWAYS have dinner at 6pm and everyone is expected to be here!”) and also embraced creativity as to how/when we eat together. 

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Eat. Laugh. Connect

Starting this week I'm adding a new feature to my posts. Each week I will give you a practical tip (many from my readers) about how to have more family dinners. Look for this symbol in my posts.

Several times a week I tickle my 18 month old granddaughter,  Clavel, (her bloggy name meaning Carnation) who lives 4000 miles away across an ocean. This does require some technology and a little help from my daughter. When we're Skyping I hold up my hands and start wiggling my fingers and say in my best Grandma-to-toddler voice, "I'm going to tickle you!" As I move closer to the camera I say it again and again while she starts smiling and squirming. When my fingers loom large on her screen and I make that internationally recognized sound, "Tchika! Tchika! Tchika!" and at the same moment her mommy tickles her from behind while she giggles adorably.

Then she will ask me to sing the "Zoom zoom zoom we're going to the moon" song by doing the opening hand motions and saying, "Oom, Oom", so we sing all three verses of this song with mom helping again after the countdown so she can blast off! Often she points to the picture of her cousin who is just five months older than her and saying, "Ahm, Ahm". Sometimes our little Abeja (Spanish for Bee--she is a busy bee!--and that 23 month old cousins' bloggy name) is at my house when we talk, so Clavel thinks Abeja should be there every time. Then we all do the Zoom, Zoom song together. 

This week we all Skyped together.  The girls looked at each other and smiled and pointed and said "Baby". They showed each other things like toys and photos and called to each other "Ahm! Ahm!" "Vell! Vell!" and when one started to play, the other enjoyed just watching. Then they said good-by by blowing kisses to each other. Oh my grandmother heart!

As grandma to both these adorable girls who look nothing alike and have only been together a few times in their short lives, I love it that I can connect with them through fun and games whether they are in town or on the other side of the world. I know these little girls feel emotionally attached to me, in part because we play together.

Games help connect emotionally, especially ones that involve tickling, hugs, and laughter. Tickling games might not be the best to play at the table, but there are games that you can play that will bring about laughter and maybe some hugs, too. Here are some dinner time game ideas to help you connect with your children.
  1.  Pony Express--you need to have at least five people at your table for this and the more the better. After everyone has served their plates and the serving dishes are sitting on the table waiting for those who want seconds, someone says, "Please pass the turnips and brussel sprouts." (No I don't think they ever asked for seconds of that in my house either!) Someone else calls out, "Pony Express!" then the dish is passed in the direction away from the one who wants it and maybe goes back and forth a couple of times before it gets to the asker. Watch out, this will become a regular at your house! Accept it with laughter.
  2. The Alphabet Game--Start with what you all did today going through the alphabet. Maybe you went to the store and bought Apples. Then someone else can say, "At recess we played with a Ball." Anyone can interject at any time. See if you can be creative enough to come up with something for each letter of the alphabet. Another night you can list things to be thankful for, people you know, places you have been, things you would like to do, and so on. (Psst, don't tell the kids, but they are learning while they have fun!)
  3. Imitate--Kids are great imitators. They see people's foibles and characteristics and can sometimes see through them. Maybe have everyone imitate the person on their right or on their left. Tell them to be nice. Take it to heart when the child imitating you scolding the other "kids" over and over--is that all they hear from you? Sometimes you might suggest extended family members or friends of the family to be imitated. Just remember to ask your kids to keep it upbeat.
  4. Nicknames--come up with nicknames for the whole family, maybe make them all start with the first letter of your last name. Try to think of qualities that person has to give them an encouraging name. I'm not at liberty to tell you the names my husband's sister came up with for the family when they were little. Suffice it to say, my husband was "Freckles." And his sister still uses some of the other names she came up with!
  5. Name that Tune--each one take a turn humming part of a tune and getting the others to figure out what it is. We were playing a game the other day with our family where I had to get them to guess something that was also a song title, so I started humming the familiar tune and no one could figure it out! So much for my musical ability. But we had a good laugh.
  6. Twenty Questions--You know how to play this. Think of something, anything. Then everyone can take turns asking questions that can be answered with, "Yes" or "No" until they guess what you are thinking. You might count their questions, or you might just let them keep asking until they figure it out.
  7. Joke Night--Tell everyone ahead of time to bring a joke or two they heard recently. Take turns telling the jokes at dinner. Laugh and groan together!
  8. Fortunately, Unfortunately--This was one we played when I was growing up. Someone starts telling a made-up story and then says, "Unfortunately..." At this point they insert a problem into the story. The next person takes up the story there and says, "Fortunately..." and has a solution to the problem. The next person says, "Unfortunately..." and brings in another problem. And so it goes until you are laughing to hard to continue or you wind up the story. 
  9. Mad Libs--Go around the table and take turns supplying the kind of words needed in these kinds of stories (adjectives, nouns, verbs, a number, etc.) to end up with a very funny and unlikely story.
  10. Conversation Starters--go through a list of conversation starters like these and choose the funniest ones for your "game dinner" evening.

Joy, mother of four grown kids and grandmother of seven says: 

No tricks for dinner time together. It was the rule of the house and we just complied to it every day possible, which for us was an average of 6 out of 7 days. Part of the "rules of the house."... which meant Mom and Dad had to be true to the rule and the kids just knew it "had to be." Enjoyed this time immensely with our four children! 

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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Top Ten Reasons to Eat Family Meals Together

I am all about family mealtimes. I know it's not easy to get dinner on the table with kids clamoring around you. It's awful to work hard making a good meal to have little people pronounce it "Yuck!" It requires a special computer program to find a time when everyone (or almost everyone) can be home at the same time. And when you manage everything else, the kids start to squabble. I know. I've been there. But as a mom whose kids are all grown up and out of the house, let me tell you: It was worth it! And here are some of the reasons why.

10. Save Money
This past Christmas I bought a roast beef for $25 which fed 10 people to that full holiday feeling, with enough left over for my husband's lunch. The sides and dessert probably cost only $10 more. Where else can you get a hot, healthy, satisfying meal for $3.50 a person? Only a home-cooked meal eaten together.

9. Improve vocabulary (and grades)
Studies show that kids who eat meals with their families where conversation takes place, have larger vocabularies than children who eat alone or with the TV or Internet entertaining them. They will also do better in school. Why? Probably because they are talking about what they learned, read, or heard, so they are reinforcing it, processing it, and explaining it. Bottom line: Want your kids to do well in school? Eat together with them.

8. Lower Risk of Substance Abuse
The kids who have strong ties to family, and especially to their parents, are less likely to use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. They have a sense of well-being and know they are loved and important so they won't seek attention or acceptance by peers though conforming to their unhealthy habits.

7. Less Chance of Eating Disorders
If you are preparing dinner at home, chances are most nights you will have a well-balanced healthy meal. That makes it probable that your children will learn good eating habits that they can take with them through life. Reasons seven, eight, and nine aren't guaranteed. You might be able to point out families that had every meal together and have one or more children who didn't do these things, but as a general rule, this gives them a better foundation than not eating together as a family.

6. A Good Opportunity to Teach the Importance of Work
Chores, the bane of every child's life, often revolve around things to do at mealtime: Set the table, help make the meal, clear the table, wash the dishes, sweep the floor. I know that as a parent it is probably easier to do it yourself than get a kid to do it, but that doesn't teach them anything. Life consists of work and what better time to start to learn this than in the kitchen with Mom or Dad nearby coaching, teaching, and visiting. I always wanted to be the family where we all did the dishes together while singing songs. It didn't happen. But my kids did learn that work was a necessity because they were part of a family. (At least, by the the time they were grown up and had their own places, they understood it!)

5. A Time to Practice Manners
We had dinner at my daughter's house the other day. She and her roommate invited both my parents and my husbands, an aunt, and a one of my friends visiting from out of town, over for a meal. They had to set up an extra card table in the kitchen to fit us all in. I was so proud of how she was such a good hostess, making her guests comfortable and knowing what to do. And that is really the goal of manners.

4. Finding the Joy of Hospitality
When we welcome people into our homes we gain so much! Yes, I've had broken dishes, missing toys, dirty bathrooms, and wet towels thrown over wooden chairs. But I've also learned about other places, people from different backgrounds, people with different abilities, how I can help someone, and how they can help me. I've connected people who have become good friends. I've gained places to stay when I visit their part of the world. I've even been an answer to prayer! And most importantly I have obeyed Christ. (Luke 14:13; Hebrews 13:2)

3. Developing the Art of Conversation
Most kids can take forty-five minutes to tell you about a five minute dream they had last night or an hour to explain the movie they just watched. But that's not really conversation. The Art of Conversation is learning when to talk, when to listen, and when to ask questions. It is learning how to listen to hear what the other person means and not just plan what you will say next. Parents have a great opportunity at family meals to teach this to their children by example and sometimes by enforcing rules that let someone else have something to say. There are lots of fun ways to learn to visit with other people. 

2. A Set Time for Family Devotions
It is really, really hard to get everyone together to do devotions. There are so many reasons and excuses from too much home work, to sports practice, to it's past bedtime. That's why eating together is such a natural time to have devotions. Whether it's mom reading a devotion book while the kids eat breakfast or everyone reading a few verses after dinner. You are all together and seated already. Take five to fifteen minutes to make Christ the center of your family.

1. Connecting as a Family
The more time you are together as a family, the more you connect. Whether dinner is a reheated pizza, a burnt casserole, or a three course meal, if you are all sitting together and all eating, that is a family meal. You will talk, interact, probably squabble, maybe spill some milk, but you are connecting and growing closer together. 

Make a goal for 2018: 
One more meal per week as a family than we normally have. 

Do you know someone who would be encouraged by this post?
Please pass it on!

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Am Simeon -- A First Person Christmas Story

The place: Jerusalem. 
The time: during the rule of Caesar Augustus. 

And I know what your Bible says about me. The first phrase is quite accurate: There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. That’s me, the man named Simeon. 

Your Bible also says that I was “looking for the consolation of Israel.”  What's that mean? The world was so dark with sinful, despotic, self-seeking, godless people (it’s nothing new to your time) that I knew we desperately needed the Messiah to come and save us. He would be our comforter, our consolation, our salvation.

Doctor Luke also wrote that I was “righteous and devout.” Well, I know I sought to live rightly toward my fellow man and to give God His proper place in my life. Although that was always my goal, I didn’t know if I succeeded. 

There was one thing special about me that I was, and am grateful for: God deigned to place His Holy Spirit upon me. Back then, God chose who He would give His Spirit to. Because of Him, I knew that during my life I would see the Messiah. In His way of speaking to a person inside their minds—I still can’t explain it—the Holy Spirit had revealed this to me.

And so it was that one day I felt prompted to go to the temple. It wasn’t just the thought I should go to the temple sometime today, but an urgent need to go right away. Of course, I used to go often, but this time it seemed very important. I know now that the Holy Spirit was leading, but at the time that was not obvious to me. I am so glad that I recognized the urgency and obeyed.

While I was there, I saw a poor young couple come in with their firstborn son to present Him to God. I knew they were poor not only by their dress but by the offering they brought, two turtledoves. People with any money brought a lamb. I knew something else about them, too. How did I know? Again, I can’t explain it, but in my heart and mind God let me know that this baby was His Salvation. The Messiah I had been waiting to see!

I walked up to them. Then. I. Took. Him. In. My. Arms. I held God in my sinful, human arms! I spoke to God, “It is enough. I can die at any time in peace because I have seen Your Salvation, just as You promised I would.”

At that moment, I knew I was filled with the Holy Spirit because I said things I could hardly believe. I knew they were not my own thoughts, but words God was giving me.  “Your Salvation is for the whole world. Gentiles will learn of Him and understand.” Yes! I said, “Gentiles.” Even though I had built in, cultural prejudices, I also knew the Bible talked about Israel being a blessing to all nations. Now I could see some of what God was doing. He was going to offer forgiveness of sins to non-Israelites as well as to us! And I didn’t stop there; I knew that the arrival of Messiah meant glory for Israel.

Mary and Joseph stood there amazed at what I said. Here was a stranger telling them about the significance of their Son, not only for Israel, but for the whole world! I’m pretty sure they were continually trying to grasp Who their Son was. The look on their faces compelled me to try to fortify them. But the Holy Spirit took over my words again as I spoke to Mary. “This Child,” I said, “Is going to cause division. Some will follow Him, but many will oppose Him, and your mother-heart will ache because of what your Son must endure.” 

I had no idea my words would be remembered, much less recorded for centuries on earth and for all time in the Word of God. I knew that this baby was God With Us, Emmanuel, but I thought this was a personal revelation that God had, in His extraordinary mercy, given me to know. It was the fruit of hours of prayer, reading, study, and meditation.

The years that I waited on earth for the promised sight of Him seemed so long at the time, but from the perspective of eternity they were just a blip in time. I’m ashamed of how faithless I was so many times, how often I pled with God for a sign or a further promise, which in His graciousness He would give me through the Scriptures. I was faithless. He was faithful.

It was a privilege to know I would see God’s plan in person. It was a delight to hold the Christ in my arms. It was an honor to have my words recorded in the Bible for all time. But it is my eternal joy to be the recipient of that salvation that came through Christ’s death on the cross and to live  forever in Heaven with Him.

Those who wait for the Lord
will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 40:31 

To read a first person account of Mary click here.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Family Christmas Pageant

The blond haired, brown eyed, twenty-two month old shepherd held onto his staff and looked serious as five year old "Mary" placed the doll in the box. Four year old "Joseph" bravely stood by her side, his pillowcase headpiece slightly askew. Three grown men with yellow construction paper crowns on their heads followed the star held at the end of a yardstick by Great Grandma to come and bow down before the baby, while a chorus of "angels" stood in the corner, silver pipe-cleaner halos on their head, singing praises to God.

Sounds pretty much like a typical Sunday School Christmas pageant, doesn't it? But this one was different. We were in our living room with our family on Christmas day. This was our devotions for the day and everyone was involved.

I wrote a simple, gospel filled "play" to narrate while the others acted it out. Since there were twenty of us, including six children five and under, there wasn't a lot of room to move, but we got enough actions in to make it fun. Although we had three babies under one, they were 11, 6 and 5 months so we used a doll to represent the baby Jesus. More important than having fun was the message we wanted everyone to remember. 

Here is the simple play I wrote. Maybe you can use it as one of the ways you keep Christ in your Christmas picture. If you don't have this many people, some can play multiple parts. We had everyone from twenty-two months to eighty-nine years involved, so no one has an excuse! (We gave copies to each person or "helper" for young ones. Speaking parts were whispered into children's ears.) Get creative: add carols at various places for everyone to sing!

Have a Merry, Christ-filled Christmas!

Our Family Christmas Pageant

Narrator: Me
ANGEL - Youngest Aunt
Extra Angels - Other Aunts
Mary - Oldest Granddaughter (helper Mommy)
Joseph - Oldest Grandson (helper Daddy)
SHEPHERD - Second Grandson (with helper an Aunt)
Extra Shepherds - Grandpa and Uncle
Wisemen (Kings) - Great Grandpa, Uncles
Star - Great Grandma 

Way back at the very beginning God made the earth and put everything on it and around it that people would need to live. Then He created people, a man and a woman. He only gave them one rule, but they broke that rule. That made God very sad because from then on all people would break his rules and they couldn’t be friends with God.

But God knew that would happen and He had a plan so that people could be His friends again. In order for people to be forgiven someone would have to be punished for breaking God’s rules. But the punishment was too hard. No one could pay it for anyone else and it would take forever, literally, to pay for themselves. 

So God’s plan was that He would take the punishment Himself for people. God the Son came to earth so that He could take the punishment and that is the exciting Christmas story:

One day an ANGEL appeared to a young woman named, Mary, and told her, “God has a special plan for you. You are going to have a baby that is God’s Son.” 

Mary didn’t understand how this could be. “But I can’t have a baby. I’m not married yet.”

But the ANGEL told her, “Don’t be afraid. God will do a miracle in you. Nothing is impossible with Him.” 

Mary said, “I will do whatever God wants me to do.”

When Joseph, the man Mary was engaged to, found out she was pregnant, he was upset. But God’s ANGEL came back and talked to him one night and told him, “Don’t be mad at Mary. God is doing this special thing through her to finish what He said he would do. You and Mary must name the baby, Jesus, because He will save His people from the punishment of their sins.” 

So Joseph agreed to marry her. “Ok. I’ll keep her.”

When the time came for the baby to be born, the king of the land had decided that everyone had to go back to their hometown so he could count them all and charge them more taxes. So Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem. By the time they got there all the hotels were full, so they had to stay in a stable! And that’s where Mary’s baby, Jesus, the Son of God was born!

God sent an ANGEL that night to tell some SHEPHERDS the great news. The SHEPHERDS were watching their sheep out in fields when suddenly an ANGEL stood in front of them and said, “Have I got the most amazing news for you! Today in that little town over there, the Savior has been born! You can go see him. He’s wrapped up in swaddling cloths and he’s sleeping in a manger!” Then hundreds of ANGELS appeared and and said, “Glory to God in the Highest! He is providing a way for men to have peace with Him and each other!”

The SHEPHERDS decided to go see the baby and found Jesus just like the angel had said. The SHEPHERDS were so excited they told everyone they saw about the baby Jesus and they praised God.

After Jesus was born some kings from other countries came to find him. The kings knew about him because they had seen his STAR in the east and had followed the STAR to find him. Eventually the STAR led them to Bethlehem and stood still right over the house where Jesus and his parents were living. The kings were so happy that the STAR had led them to Jesus and they bowed before Jesus and gave him presents.

Jesus grew up and eventually became a man who went around from town to town teaching people and making sick people better and blind people see. He told everyone about God and he taught his disciples about God’s plan for Him to pay the punishment for sins so everyone who believed could become friends with God.

God’s plan wasn’t easy for Jesus. It meant he had to die on a cross, a very painful way to die. But because Jesus is God, and He is eternal, and He never sinned, when He was punished it wasn’t for His own sins, but for the sins of the whole world. So Jesus was punished by God. He died. That was a very sad day for his mother and his disciples.

But it was sad because they didn’t understand that this was part of God’s plan and that the best part was still to come! Jesus didn’t stay dead! After He was dead for three days, He became alive again! After lots of people saw Him alive, He went back to heaven so that He could make it ready for all the people who believed that His death was punishment for their sins. Everyone who believes doesn’t have to be punished for their own sins. God took the punishment for each one of us.

And that is the wonderful story of why we celebrate Christmas.

*For more ideas on keeping the true meaning of Christmas click here.

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Keeping Christ in Your Christmas Picture

One year we watched a Christmas program at church in which a photographer and advertiser were getting a photoshoot ready for Christmas. They brought in a Baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. Then they decided it needed something more, so they added some barn animals--each played by some of the Sunday School kids. That wasn't enough so they called for shepherds, then angels, and a star. They didn't feel it was complete so added a Christmas tree, a candy cane, several large wrapped presents, some sugar cookies, a few carolers, and finally Santa. Looking at the tableau they decided they needed to take the Baby out. Then they declared it perfect and said, "Take the picture." Just then we heard a baby's plaintive cry.

Do you ever feel like that's what happens to your Christmas. The rush to make cookies, buy and wrap presents, attend parties, concerts, and events has taken Christ out of Christmas? I have felt that way at times. There have been times when the reading of Luke 2 has seemed like an obligatory part of the festivities to be gotten done with quickly so we can get to the "real" fun.

So I thought I'd share with you some of the ways we have been proactive in keeping Christ in our Christmas Season. Maybe some will work for you.

Our own Advent Calendar -- When my oldest son was three I cross stitched a ten day advent calendar with a passage to read each day, a Christmas carol to sing and a cross stitched figure to put up. As we got more kids we had to make sure every one got their fair turn at putting the figures onto the calendar. That was our devotions for the nine days before Christmas and Christmas day. I made one for that son's four children to use now. (I am way behind on something for my other grands!) But it doesn't have to be cross stitched. Just hiding a figure from a nativity scene in a small box for kids to open and reading a corresponding few verses can get the message out.

Traditions that Focus on Christ -- When we lived in Lima, Peru we started attending the Union Church's Christmas Eve service that always ended with everyone holding candles which we lit passing the flame to one another and then  singing Silent Night with the electric lights off. When we moved to Bogota, Colombia, the Union Church there performed the Messiah and we attended with small children (two, three, and seven years old). The British Ambassador's wife complimented us on their behavior! The church we worked in had an early Christmas Eve service at 5pm because Colombians all celebrated that evening. Later, our church quit doing that and the Union Church started a Christmas  Eve with the candlelit Silent Night.  These, along with attending the Christmas program at church were some of our favorite activities.

Non-traditional Giving -- We had our kids use their tithing money to give gifts to children who probably wouldn't have anything to open on Christmas. We would choose a family from church that we knew had needs (this was fairly easy to do in Latin America) and our kids would go shopping and pick out presents for each child. My husband and I would add to the fund so there was enough money and we also bought some food for them. If you don't live where you know needy people, there are always ways to help others. One idea is missionary friends of ours in Burundi, offer the possibility of buying "Living Gifts" to help provide a living for the African families around them. You can buy some chickens or a goat or two! There are many other ministries that offer ways to help those who don't have as much as we do.

Invite Friends to Christ Centered Events -- This will be the fourth year we take our next door neighbors to a Christmas concert at Emmaus Bible College. We always have pie afterwards so we can visit with them. We've been able to have some good conversations with them.

Host a Carol Sing -- Most years our brother-in-law does this. He has everyone bring snacks to share and we sing carols in his living room. What a great way to join with others to sing out God's praises!

Have Nativity Scenes -- I was grew up thinking that having a Nativity Scene was a "graven image". But when we were married and decorating for Christmas, I looked around at the tree, Santas, stockings, and candy canes and realized that I had something to represent everything but the real reason for Christmas. We decided to break with our tradition and buy one. We have added to our collection over the years from different places we have visited. Having a plastic or wooden scene that children can play with is a good idea. Some friends even have the wise men come closer each day from the farthest room to arrive after Christ is born. We don't pray to the figures, they simply serve as visual reminders of the reason for the season.

Reenact the Christmas Story -- if you have creative kids, maybe they'd like to come up with their own version of Christ's birth either as a play, a puppet show, songs, or a story. If not, you can help them act it out. For a simple script to read (no lines to memorize!) click here.

Play Games that Tell the Story -- play charades, pictionary, or even hangman with words from the Biblical Christmas story and the titles of carols. This was always a hit with our kids.

Personal Devotions -- Each year for several years now I have studied one of the persons in the Biblical story and then written a first person account of their part in the Christmas story. Here are links to my stories of Mary, Elizabeth, and my husband's account of Gabriel. This year I'm studying Simeon.

The gifts, lights, parties, and movies are lots of fun, but never let them take Christ out of the picture.

For more of my ideas on enjoying the season click here.
Some other ideas for keeping Christ in your Christmas.
And another idea from a fellow blogger for giving kindness is here.
More ideas for a simpler Christmas from another blogger here.

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