Thursday, January 12, 2017

Secret Santas: Homemade Christmas

I love the creativity of my family. Each year they surprise me and leave me with a heart full of love. For the past seven Christmas' we have done something we like to call Secret Santas. 

Each year on Thanksgiving we put all our names in a bowl. We take turns drawing one out, making sure we don't get our own name. If one person draws out their name, we make everyone put the name back in. We want it to be a complete surprise. This means the drawing of names can go on for many rounds. When you have 11 people, choosing a name, someone is bound to draw out their own. Eventually it's perfect, and we all have the special someone's name tucked away in our pocket. It's a secret who we have. We are going to be Santa to them on Christmas morning.

The rule for our Secret Santa gift: it MUST be homemade. You cannot stop at the store last minute and pick something up. You are free to buy supplies from the store, but you must put your own special touch on it. It must come from the heart, and your own creative hands.

Secret Santa gifts have become so popular with our family, this year we had to draw a number to see who could give their gift first. We all want to give! Everyone is excited to participate, and it is talked about for the weeks before Christmas. My kids especially can't contain their joy. The pride they experience in making a personal gift is touching.

A lot of us will start planning months in advance. We keep a mental checklist of things we could make for each person in the family. It's so much fun! It makes Christmas more about the giving for the kids than the receiving. They can't wait to see their person open the gift they so lovingly prepared.

This year everyone went above and beyond with creativity! Each gift was lovingly designed; each gift was an expression of the giver. This makes Christmas the most special time of the year. It keeps the joy alive in our hearts.

Our pastor focused on the word JOY for the entire month of December. I found it to be most interesting. Do you know the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness is about what is happening to me. Most of the time I have no control over it. Joy is about what is going on inside of me; it's something that I help make happen. It puts the control back into my own hands.

Where does your joy come from? If you want to be happy, sit back and wait, hoping it will happen to you. If you want joy, you've got to do something about it. Having joy in your life is not a passive act. It requires work. You must cultivate joy. You must develop it, and pursue it. If you want the joy and peace that God brings, you must be willing to let Christ in. Everyone wants a Savior, but who will let God be in charge?

If you aren't doing something with the Jesus you've got- He's not going to give you more. If God's spirit is in you, who is it flowing out of you to? God would be a fool to waste a willing resource. God is no fool. If you are willing- God will use you!

What have you done lately to cultivate joy in your life? Our family made gifts that flowed from the heart. We were willing to give of ourselves, so that God could work through us. These gifts were more than just a package wrapped in paper. They were so full of love, the tears kept flowing. I don't think anyone in our family had dry eyes by the time our gift exchange was finished. Joy was spilling out of each of us. There is nothing quite like the feeling of giving from the heart.

I want to share with you our homemade gifts. Maybe they will inspire you. Find a way to pursue joy. Don't passively wait for happiness to come to you. Make joy happen today!

Our first given gift was from Jeremy to Titus. Titus loves to play the guitar and is very talented at it. Jeremy created this clever masculine wall hanging.

Our second gift given was to me from Ariel. I know she worked really hard on this tree. I love trees! In fact, when we first bought our house, I commissioned Ariel to draw a tree on the wall going up my staircase. I hung our family photos on the branches of the trees. This gift was perfect. She made it with my favorite colors. The cup is dipped in a water and nail polish blend. The wires are twisted around a rock that sits inside the mug. The branches are covered with colorful beads, and held in place by a dot of hot glue on the tips. Ariel did a fantastic job on this work of art!

The next gift came from Mikaela to Jeremy. She made him some chocolate covered Oreos, and candy covered caramel apples. Just looking at them makes your mouth water. Delicious!

For the next gift, which came from Titus, my mother was given a very special "Select Acoustic Works" CD. I know for a fact that he spent hours perfecting this gift. I was also very blessed to receive a copy of the CD under my Christmas tree. I've been requesting a CD of his music for years now. He is so gifted by God! My mother was especially touched. It's a peaceful recording, that was quite fun to listen to on a leisurely drive through the snow.

Gabriel received the next gift from my dad. For the past, several weeks Gabriel has had the opportunity to work closely with his grandpa. They have been cleaning and painting a rental property that was recently vacated. Gabriel has thoroughly enjoyed learning beside my dad, and has gotten a lot of good advice and skills that he will keep with him for life.  As they have worked together, they have documented the entire thing through pictures. My dad gave Gabriel a photo album of all their work photos, including the photo they took together in their work clothes. The sweet part about the gift was that Gabriel had a very similar idea for his gift that he made for Grandpa. Gabriel spent hours putting together, what he calls a horror movie of the property. Their love for each other is very tender!

Gabriel was excited about giving this year since he had the job with Grandpa. He used his own money to buy gifts for everyone in the family. Gabe did make a gift for Grandpa, but it was not his Secret Santa gift. My brother Shaun was the one who got a gift from Gabriel. This was the moment that all the eyes in the room grew moist. My brother is our videographer at our church. He also is the one who edits the videos. Shaun does an amazing job at this! Every year for Thanksgiving, Shaun puts together a 20 to 30-minute video of individuals in the church talking about what they are thankful to God for doing in the past year. Adults, kids, and teens all get involved in this project. It's been years and years of diligent work on my brother's part. This Christmas, Gabriel felt that we needed to make a Good News Church gives thanks for SHAUN video. Gabe went around and secretly interviewed and videotaped many adults and kids in the church. They all shared how they felt about Shaun. When he was finished, Gabriel edited the movie together himself. It was an act of love, and we all found it beautiful.

The next gift presented was from my mom for Ariel. Ariel is a teenage girl who loves to look pretty. She wears makeup every day and spends a large portion of her earned money on more makeup. My mother designed this makeup board for Ariel. She went to the hardware store and had them cut a sheet of metal to fit inside the picture frame. She covered it with fabric, and painted some canisters to hold Ariel's makeup brushes. To complete the project, she gave several sticky magnets that Ariel can attach her makeup to. The colors match Ariel's bathroom perfectly!

Zech is our youngest member and was probably most excited to find out who drew his name. He finally got to find out that his gift was coming from me! I worked for a couple of weeks to make him this spider web shaped afghan. Zechariah requested a new Spider-Man blanket for Christmas. I figured the Secret Santa gift would be a perfect way to fulfill that wish. I made a round ripple blanket, with alternating blue and red colors. After I finished crocheting the blanket, I added the black lines to complete the look of the web. It's very warm and cozy to climb under. This is the first time I have ever finished a blanket! Normally I give up after a few lines, but I found going in a circle makes the blanket easier to complete. I am not at all experienced in crochet. I would call this a good project for a beginner!

Our next gift was presented to Mikaela from Zechariah. He was SO EXCITED to give this gift. Mikaela is a huge Star Wars fan. Zech worked really hard watching a kid friendly tutorial on how to draw Rey, Mikaela's favorite character from Star Wars. He did an amazing job with his drawing. I have a silhouette machine that I used to cut a stencil for him to trace the Bible verse onto the drawing. The board he painted black and added white dots of paint with a paintbrush, and the smaller dots with a toothpick. It creates the effect of outer space quite nicely. We found the letters at Hobby Lobby that he painted her favorite color. When Mikaela opened her gift, she started sobbing she thought it was so special. I know she will cherish her drawing for a long time.

My sister opened the next gift from my brother Shaun. This gift is not quite finished; it's still a work in progress. When it's done, it will be a clock. He ran out of letters and the hands didn't stick out quite far enough. I think it's going to be really extraordinary when it hangs on her wall. Christmas day, Stefanie and Jeremy celebrated 6 months of marriage. They are newlyweds.

The last gift was given to my father from my sister Stefanie. She painted the letter G for my parents last name, and wrote their anniversary on it. They don't have any special decorations from their wedding, so this will be a very nice addition to their wall.

We had a wonderful time giving our Secret Santa gifts. They are always the highlight of Christmas day. Each year we say we don't need any more gifts than these gifts we have shared from the heart. They fill our hearts and homes with joy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Elf on the Shelf

Our Elf on the Shelf is not quite like everyone else. We like to call him Elvis: the Advent Elf. He brings us a Bible verse for each day, and some questions to ponder. Last year we did something special with him. We told a Christmas story throughout the month with the way we displayed Elvis. The fun part was that the kids had no idea that we were doing this.

When January came around, we surprised them with a new story book that told the adventures of Elvis. He went from being the sad elf who was searching for something in his life to the end of the story where he found Jesus. We affectionately named the book, "Twas the Night Before Christmas". The kids loved it! They remembered all the crazy silly things that Elvis did the previous month and now saw the story come alive. It was wonderful to be able to surprise my children with this book. I made sure to incorporate each of them into Elvis' book. They each in their own way added to how he found Jesus.

I thought this Christmas it would be fun to share the book I wrote. You can view it in pictures. In order to read the book, you might need to view the photos at their full size. In each photo of Elvis you will see him holding an envelope with a number on it. Inside each envelope was his Bible verses he shared. You can access my Bible verses at the link I posted in the first paragraph. Enjoy as Elvis learns that joy comes from deep within where Jesus lives!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Prophetic Prayers

We all need people to speak encouragement and life into us. It's so easy to be torn down by other's words and actions. We must treat our words like gold. We shouldn't be careless in the way we throw them around, in the way we speak to others. Words can wound and burn like a fire. But they also have the amazing ability to heal. I want to use my words for good.

Over a year ago, I was challenged to pray prophetic words over my children. I decided I would be part of the crowd that speaks life into them. Prayer is a very powerful tool. Scripture is also powerful. I combined the two together and came up with cards that I use each morning during my devotion time.

As I was preparing these cards, I prayed that God would show me words to focus on for each child. I also asked my kids which character qualities they wanted to live out, and to excel at. Together, with God's help, I tailored a list for my kids.

I printed the character qualities on index cards, along with some Bible verses that I pray. I punched a single hole in the corner of each card, and strung them together with a binder ring. Each morning I flip the card and spend just a couple of minutes in prayer for my child with the character quality in mind. The cards on my ring are alternated between all my kids, and my niece. I don't overwhelm myself and try to pray for each kid every day. I keep it simple. I pray for one kid, one card.

The results are incredible! Prayer changes things. It changes others, and it changes me. I don't know which is the better deal.

Today I prayed for Zechariah to be RESPONSIBLE. That he would know and do what both God and others are expecting from him. That he would feel an obligation to follow through and complete a task satisfactorily. I prayed he would be dependable and trustworthy.

I inserted my son's name into the three scriptures I found.  Praying scripture is effectual and life giving. It will increase your own spiritual growth. You will gain an understanding of what the Bible says, and you will be applying it to your life.

These are the scriptures I prayed over my son for RESPONSIBLE: Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 16:24, and 1 Corinthians 13:11

In Ephesians, I prayed, "For Zechariah is God's masterpiece. He created him new in Christ Jesus, so that Zechariah can do the GOOD THINGS that God planned for him long ago." 

In Matthew, I prayed, "Jesus, guide Zech to be a follower of you, help him to TURN from his selfish ways, TAKE UP his cross, and FOLLOW you."

In 1 Corinthians, I prayed, "When Zechariah was a child, he spoke and thought and reasoned like a child. But WHEN HE GREW UP, Zech will put away childish things."

It's very simple to pray scripture. I like simple things that have a big impact. It's like all the giving campaigns you hear this time of year. If you give today, a generous donor will match your gift by fifty percent. When we use the scriptures in our prayers, God matches it and makes it worth so much more. He puts His stamp of approval on it.

The reason I call this my prophetic prayer cards is that most of these character qualities are in the process of being made perfect. I am prophesying that my children are going to do these biblical truths. None of us have arrived at our final destination yet. We are all a work in progress.

  • the foretelling or prediction of what is to come.  
  • declared by a prophet, especially a divinely inspired prediction, instruction, or exhortation.
  • a divinely inspired utterance or revelation

If I struggle with selfishness in my life, I'm going to pray a prayer that I can become more selfless. If I historically let people down, then I'm going to declare dependability. Pray for your child's weakness, or your own weakness to become your greatest strength. Declare that it will happen. Don't settle for this is the way I am, and there's nothing I can do about it.

PRAYER CHANGES PEOPLE. God works on the heart.  Heart transformations are the best kind. They last.

Just to get you started, I want to share all the prayer cards that I put together. If you click on the Assertive card below, it's a PDF file made to print on 3x5 index cards. Feel free to use them, or change them how you see fit.

Assertive- Beautiful- Bold- Compassionate- Content- Courageous- Creative- Dependable-  Determined- Discerning- Empathetic- Faith Filled- Faithful- Flexible- Gentle- God's Messenger- Honest- Humble- Integrity- Intercessor- Initiator- Joyful- Just- Leader- Loved- Loyal- Obedient- Passionate- Patient- Remembered- Responsible- Righteous- Self-Controlled- Selfless- Sensitive- Steadfast- Truth Speaker- Truthful- Understanding- Wise- Witness

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hello, Fall

The weather is starting to get cooler outside. That means hot dogs on an open fire, marshmallows roasted in the fireplace. We light candles in the house that makes it smell so sweet and heavenly. We eat soups for dinner, and bundle up in blankets on the couch to watch movies.

Fall is a very cozy, warm time of year. I love to be warm. My favorite has to be the feeling of the sun beating down on my skin. Fall is a different type of warmth than summer. In summer you sweat from the heat. In fall, you enjoy the warmth that blankets, coats, scarves, and sweaters bring.

Fall also means football games at the high school. Each week we watch our team. Half way through the game we get to see our daughter perform her flag routine with the color guard and band. These are always fun nights. We get steaming hot drinks to warm ourselves with. We sit together snuggled up in blankets on bleachers, and cheer on the team. Unfortunately, they always lose. But we still cheer them on just the same.

The leaves are changing. The air is crisp. Our city is full of colors you don't get to see any other time of year. It's a beautiful time. We are looking forward to all that fall brings.