Stations of the Christmas Story–A Family Activity

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Yesterday our family braved the mall–the Saturday before Christmas.  Our annual tradition of shopping as a family and purchasing gifts for each other was a great day. After a quick pow wow to share ideas (small ones for the siblings to get each other) we split off into pairs to shop, texting each other with updates and location status throughout the afternoon.   There were tremendous crowds, long lines, returns as we realized we duplicated gifts, and more lines.  There was Christmas music, food, and beautiful decorations everywhere.  The air was filled with a buzzing of excitement.  We came home tired but successful on our mission–and as a mom, happy to see the kids scheme and strategize to get the perfect gift for each other.

Yet, it is not the full picture of Christmas.  There is a deeper river of meaning that flows through the season–one that easily might be missed as the 25th quickly approaches.  Which is why tonight, our family once again gathered to do something together this season, but something a little more serious, a little more, holy.

With the lights turned down, and candles lit, we invited our children and our oldest daughter’s boyfriend, Isaac, to join us in The Stations of The Christmas Story.  This is similar to “Stations of the Cross” but with a Christmas theme.  We moved throughout 7 stations, reading the Christmas Story in Luke and Matthew, and the kids writing responses in a journal we gave them.  At a couple of stations  a song was played, at some, just discussion and not writing.  My hope was to bring the story of Jesus’s birth into a more tangible form, something our family could take with us going forward, hoping to silence just a bit the wants and wishes and commercialism of the season.

We had a great discussion about angels (a theme that runs through the story) and tried to put ourselves in Mary and Joseph’s shoes as they traveled this journey together.  We listened and shared and did a little bribing with ice cream if everyone hung in there for the duration!

Here are the documents I created for the night.  Please feel free to print out and use, or tweak for your own taste if you want to try this with your family.

Stations of The Christmas Story–leader guide

Stations Journal–Journal Cover

Stations–inside of Journal

The inside of the journal is not quite lined up right–you’ll see if you print it out.  Just cut down the middle and line up inside the journal cover.

 

 

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PLEASE don’t feel like you need to squeeze this in in the next few days before Christmas in order to complete the Christmas experience for your kids!  Maybe file it away for next year, and just read the Christmas story together.

Tips for the experience:

Dim the lights to create a nighttime scene–the candles are a great effect.

Set up 7 candle lit stations around the house, ending in a manger scene if you have one.

Move from station to station as a group.  The leader guide (first document) is helpful for the adult leading the group.  The group members carry their journals around with them.

Ask each child to have a bible with them–they can take turns reading the scripture.

For younger children:

Take out 2-3 of the stations for attention span.  You can re word the questions for age-appropriateness.

3 Ways to Be Intentional About Christmas With Your Family This Year

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I truly desire to be intentional about teaching our children the true meaning of Christmas, and revisiting it every year in familiar and new ways.  As a believer in Jesus Christ, this time of year is incredibly significant to my faith, and the faith of our family.  The history, the amazing gift of God in his Son delivered to us in the tiniest of human form cannot be missed.   Yet, each year the task of bringing this holy remembrance into our home becomes more difficult.  The messages of materialism speak so loudly and come from every angle, while the busy-ness of the season distracts the five of us from being still and truly contemplating the gift of the baby in the manger.  I can always look forward to a still, holy moment on Christmas Eve at our church’s service, but even that gets challenged while I sit in my seat, recovering from the blurred day of finding tights without holes, realizing dress shoes from last year don’t fit our growing kids, last minute gifts, and goals of a delicious steaming dinner ready for our family when we get home.

With the cookies, parties, shopping, decorating, thoughtful gifts, and all the other “expectations” of Christmas, we can often run out of time for what’s most important–remembering and celebrating the incredible gift and significance of the birth of Jesus.  In an attempt to fight back at this blurred month that gets us off track of the true meaning of Christmas, I have found a few ways to be intentional with our family the last several years:

1. Start the season in the right frame of mind.

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Each year we take the first weekend in December (this weekend!) to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.  For many years our family would go to the mountains with other families and stay in a remote cabin, unplugged from the world.  We would read the story of Christmas in the bible and an adult would give a short talk to the children about the story of Christmas.  We would cook together, and do crafts when our children were young.  The adults would share a glass of wine together over meals,  we would all play games, go for a hike, or just sit and talk.   We all took a deep breath and walked into the busiest, most commercial time of year on the right foot.

If a weekend away is not a reality, a day or an evening together to talk about Christ-mas together can be plenty. Unplug from everything, share thoughts and teach your children about giving over receiving, and about Jesus’s incredible gift to us.

2. Weave in Christian tradition throughout the season.

My mother in law made us a “Jessie Tree” JESSE TREE LINK.  Each December we would spend time walking through the biblical stories and generations leading up to the birth of Christ.

Side note:  Don’t picture this time with three wide-eyed fully engaged kids smiling dreamily as their mom teaches them about Abraham! I actually had to create quizzes one year (my poor kids with their teacher-mom) to encourage engagement!

We also read The Advent Book together.  Written by Jack and Kathy Stockman, this is the Story of Christmas, as told in the bible, with captivating illustrations and fun doors to open throughout the pages, and little Christmas animals to find. This is a favorite tradition for our family–even with our teenagers.

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3. Serve.

Serving over the holidays is one of the best ways to keep ourselves and our children grounded.  One year we delivered Christmas gifts to a needy local family, another year we worked at the Operation Christmas Child distribution center.  Every year we buy gifts for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection.  Here are the women from our bible study and their families having a pizza and shoebox wrapping party at our house a few weeks ago:

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Another idea would be to go on the World Vision website with your children and pick out some Christmas gifts to send to an impoverished family–like a cow for a village, or some chickens for a mother.

These are some of the ways to bring the true spirit of Christmas into your home.  I am sure you could fill up pages of replies with the meaningful, special activities you do with your family–I would love it if you would share below!

The reality for me is that as our kids grow older it is becoming more difficult to herd the cats for quality time and activities.  With jobs, cars, sports, homework, and busy social lives, we don’t have the nightly routines with all of us home like we used to. I am having to let go. I am trusting that the seeds we planted over the many years when they were younger will grow into a spirit of continued wonder and joy in the gift Jesus gave us through his birth.  So don’t be discouraged if your children, whatever their age, aren’t as excited about about this effort as you are!  Know that any and all attempts for balance and focus this season are worth it and will make a difference in their hearts.

I wish you a December filled with the things that you love about Christmas, and with a true focus on the reason for the season!

 

Gratitude

This time of year we focus our thoughts on GIVING THANKS  more than usual, and that is a good thing even when we intentionally practice a heart of gratitude all year long.

Why is that good?  Because it causes us to pause, and dig deeper in this area of our life.  We open up more of our thought life this next week to remain in this posture of thanksgiving.  So dig deep and find the abundance.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  ~1 Thessalonians 5:13

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And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  ~Colossians 3: 15-17

 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

~Philipians 4:6

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And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ~Colossians 3:17

 

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For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  ~Romans 1:21

 

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Denali National Park in autumn, Alaska, USA, North America

Faith is Not Just For Heroes

When we think of great biblical heroes such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion’s den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, “if I just had their faith!” As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.These people were not super or heroes. They were normal as they come…., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future. Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves.Yet, how often do we put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal? As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip-free and full of glory.  But that is not their story. It was precisely their faithfulness that got them into trouble. It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown.

These heroes, then and now, they make it look so easy. We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second.

Why pursue faith?  Because it is where we meet God face to face, and his best is revealed in our lives. When we take the step of faith, trusting that God’s will is better than our own, putting aside our own agendas and emotional pulls toward what we think is good, we find great great joy.  We experience the best in the situation (best relationship, best growth opportunity, best work situation, best healing, best new path). 
Maybe God is asking you to remember a time you were faithful and He came through in all his glory and “best-ness”?We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness. It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes. And as we step, praying, “God, keep me strong even when I can’t see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice. I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind. I trust you.”Being faithful isn’t easy. It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now. It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us confidence to have faith again, and again, and again.

Photo: When we think of great biblical heros such as Moses (leading a nation out of slavery) or Daniel (prayer warrior, lion's den survivor!), or even Mary at the moment understanding that she was carrying the Savior of the world, we think, "if I just had their faith!"  As if they had been given a superhero pill or wand that gave them great feats of wisdom and internal strength.</p><br /><br />
<p>The were not super or heros. They were normal as they come...., snoring, insecurities, worries about their future.  Yet they chose to place their trust in something bigger than themselves. </p><br /><br />
<p>We put these types of extra-faithful people then and now on a pedestal.  As if by being faithful they had a red carpet rolled out in front of them to make the path trip free and full of glory.  Yet that is not their story. It was their faithfulness that got them into trouble.  It is their faithfulness that caused suffering, total loss of control over their lives, nail biting, sweat producing anxiety in moments of fear and unknown. </p><br /><br />
<p>These heros, then and now, they make it look so easy.  We forget that the floor routine that scored a perfect 10 took years in the making, with a lot of failure and bowing out of the back tuck at the last second. </p><br /><br />
<p>We all can do this, this journey of faithfulness.  It just takes putting one foot in front of the other, each day, each moment sometimes.  And as we step, praying, "God, keep me strong even when I can't see the future, guide me, let me hear your voice.  I know you are there, help me focus on you and not the distractions and worries of the world. Remind me that you love me and have my best interest in mind.  I trust you." </p><br /><br />
<p>Being faithful isn't easy.  It wasn't then, and it isn't now.  It takes practice, and the joy of seeing God show up, which gives us conficence to have faith again, and again, and again.

 

7 Steps To A Healthier Family

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Do you have a healthy family?  Most of us would say yes, in most areas, and if we’re completely honest, we have areas that struggle.  This applies to those of us who are in the midst of youngsters in our home to those who are taking on the grandparent role.  Here are 6 ways I believe we can grow the healthiest possible family (and I am no expert–I just do a lot of reading!)

1. A Healthy Family Affirms and Supports Each Other

This is foremost modeled by mom and dad, as is everything that trickles down to the children.

Ask yourself:  Do my husband and I praise each other’s strengths?

Are we tolerant of each other’s weaknesses?

Do we support each other in doing things that are of interest to our spouse but not to us?

Our kids are watching, and will ultimately treat each other in the way they learned from parent modeling.  However, it’s not just how mom and dad treat each other, but how we treat our children.  Are we affirming? Supporting?  Do we focus on faults to a much larger degree than strengths?  My husband and I have had times in our parenting when we have challenged ourselves to speak only affirming words to our children for a week–SO hard!  It is incredibly easy to pick out all the faults, because children in their awkward, immature, developing selves are full of foibles.

Affirming is what lets our kids know they are valuable.  Be specific, be generous.  It is something I constantly have to remind myself to work at as a mom.

 

2.  A Healthy Family Shares Responsibility In the Home

We all know that chores are important for kids, but there are many times when it’s just easier to do things ourselves isn’t it?  Many times I have had to resist going after my children and “fixing” their bed after it’s been made, but when our children learn to take care of their things, we prepare them for adulthood.  Chores can be tedious, time consuming for mom and dad to monitor, and often create tension in the relationship–especially as teenage years approach.  But hold firm parents!  You are giving your child the gift of taking responsibility for themselves and respecting those around them, a gift that will follow them into adulthood.

3.   A Healthy Family Places Importance on Traditions

Think back on your childhood—what stands out?  The traditions your family celebrated.  Vacations to the same cabin in the woods, holidays with the same pumpkin soup served, or rituals of being read to each night as a child.  We have started an annual tradition of family fall leaf clean up with pizza night.  I am definitely more excited about this than my family!

Traditions give children a sense of stability, familiarity, and something that grounds them to their family name.  Traditions are timeless-they can be passed down from generation to generation.  What a beautiful way to connect the past to the present.

4.  A Healthy Family Is Faith Based

Having a strong spiritual foundation for your family is important for two reasons:

~It connects all members of the family to a common belief system, one which can be referred to throughout the life of your family when making decisions, or instruction for behavior.  It puts everyone on the same page.

~ Community.  Having a strong church community, or community of others around your family who share the same values and beliefs is so healthy for your kids!  They see other adults striving to be strong in their faith, living life together.  For the first 15 years of our life raising children, we did so side by side with four other families who shared our Christian faith.  We all went to different churches, but shared the same common core of faith.  We were at the birth of each other’s children, we weathered the toddler years together, and watched our kids grow into adolescence.  We just attended the high school graduation of the oldest child of this clan. It has been a gift to Jon and I to do parenting in community.

5. A Healthy Family respects the privacy of one another.

This is a great description I found from an author on this topic:
“A delicate balance exists between family members as they work together to satisfy the needs of the family as a whole and to preserve the right of each individual to grow strong on his own identity. Parents ideally hope to produce children who are emotionally strong and independent.  Parental authority has to be absolute with young children. But as the children grow there is room for family discussion, shared decision-making, and a gradual transfer of authority.

The adolescent years are often a time of turmoil and trauma for all: continual conflicts arise over the latest fashion fad, choices of music, or choices of friends. These years are a challenge. Parents who have taught their children a sense of trust, given them security, instilled in them moral principles and a sense of responsibility, have to learn to let go and allow the children to find the right path.  Parents who have a religious faith (and a sense of humor) to rely on will have the equipment to weather the inevitable storms.” (Delores Curran)

6. Pray Together

Many families pray together over the dinner table, and that is a wonderful way to express gratitude for what God has provided.  However, we can take it one step farther by praying together about our lives.  One way to really learn what is going on in your child’s heart is to ask them what their prayer request would be.  Do this together, as a family, so all the members can hear.  It’s amazing how honest and real kids will be in this moment.  What a great opportunity to take those requests and then pray for your children the rest of the week.

We recently did this as a family and I wrote down our children’s requests on three individual  index cards. When we all had shared and prayed collectively, I turned over their cards and asked that they pick a card from the pile.  They each picked a sibling’s card, and will pray for that sibling during the next week.  My hope is that it grows compassion, grace, and connection with each other.

6. A Healthy Family Makes Time for Each Other.

Whew, I had no idea how challenging this one would become as my kids grew up.  Now that they all are in 7th grade through high school, their schedules make it very difficult to find quality time.  Here are some of the things we do to protect this time:

A Traditional Night Out

My husband takes our son to the local sports bar across the street on Monday nights when we have a house full of women here for bible study.  They watch sports, have some chips and a soda, and do a dad-led devotional.

Speaking Their Language

Once in a while, Ill try to speak my girl’s love language–nails.  We will go get a pedicure followed by dinner out.  Or, do a little shopping if it’s the season.  This sometimes, however, gets stressful as we navigate negotiations on clothes, prices, and them not wanting to divulge their whole life over pizza to a very curious mom.  So the next idea is one of my favorite.

A Short -Get-Away

One of the best things I have done with my daughters is take them on a “girls” trip.  This past spring we booked a short and cheap cruise (inside room, basic accommodations), and we had a blast.  In fact, we started after our first day of writing down all of our inside jokes because we had laughed so much.  I can’t tell you how deeply satisfying it felt to spend some great quality time together, experiencing new parts of the world (the wide open ocean!), and listening to foreign taxi cab drivers give us a passionate lesson on transportation around Miami.

The Dinner Table

Since my husband travels for work, and my oldest has an evening job, along with youth group events, etc,  we don’t have many nights that the five of us are all together. So when we do, it is a bit sacred for me.  We prepare the meal together, eat together, and clean together.  Then we’ll settle in for a favorite family TV show or once a week a family devotional if we can pull it off.

Quality time is tough.  We have to squeeze it in when we can, and in a way that works for our family.  It might look different for yours, which is the beauty of our individuality.  I have learned not to force it, but to find creative ways to work it into your natural family schedule.

 

Here’s to HEALTHY, HAPPY families!

xoxo,

Amy

 

 

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