Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Today I Choose Thankfulness

I’m convinced that living with a thankful heart is the secret to contentment.

Yet how much of a secret really is it when we open our Bibles? In the often memorized verses of Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (NLT, emphasis mine). It’s easy to focus on the prayer and petition part and miss his encouragement to be thankful. 

Because let’s face it: Life can give us ample reason to petition to God.

In this world, we will know hardship. The Bible talks about it, and we have experienced it. We all know the reality of “thorns” in our side, thorns that no matter how much we pray, sometimes remain and inflict pain.

I know those thorns, those challenge-me-to-my-core and all-I-can-do-is-fall-on-my-knees issues, and Paul did too. 

Paul writes Philippians as a man who has known great hardship, like persecution, imprisonment and beatings. Yet he professes to be someone who has learned to be content in all circumstances. His contentment flows from a deep-seated conviction that God will never leave him and his purpose will be fulfilled through him. 

This kind of man would not advocate a Pollyanna-world kind of thanksgiving. Paul is advocating thanksgiving from the trenches. 

Are you in the trenches today, fellow mom? I’ve learned thanksgiving not only pleases God, but it’s beneficial to us.

Thanksgiving helps us:
  •        Shift our perspective away from our problems and toward our blessings.
  •        Strengthen our faith by acknowledging God’s continued work in our lives.
  •        Draw closer to our Father in heaven, for he is the Giver of every good gift.

These fruits of thanksgiving fall right in line with the peace Paul promises in Philippians. For really, they promote a spirit of fortitude that is not circumstantial, but grounded solely in relationship with God. What a valuable gift. And we live in a world that’s hungry for it.  

Despite the burdens that will rightfully drive us to petition God, there will always be gracious blessings to see us through.  I want to lift up the former and focus on the latter. I Thessalonians 5:18 states, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 

No matter what is going on around us as we approach the Thanksgiving table this year, I pray that we will come together to give thanks - not cheap thanks, but thanks from a grateful heart. May we see with new eyes our present blessings, and may we experience the contentment that comes from a quiet trust in God. I can think of no greater Thanksgiving blessing for our homes and spirit.

Monday, November 23, 2015


Congratulations to Tracy K. of New Jersey, the winner of last week's giveaway! Tracy won a free copy of Laura Sassi's new book, Goodnight, Manger. I was in contact with Tracy yesterday, and the book ships today. She is actually a two-time winner on the blog, proving there are benefits to being a loyal reader! Thank you everyone for your support.

Stay tuned tomorrow for a special Thanksgiving message everyone!

Monday, November 16, 2015

GUEST POST: 8 Nativity Activities to Teach Little Ones about Christmas

Author and Friend, Laura Sassi

It is my great delight to feature words from a friend this week! Laura Sassi has a background in education, and we'll all benefit from her teaching and fun-loving spirit in this post! Thank you, Laura, for encouraging us to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with our children - just in time for early planning this year! #5 and #8 are my favorite!

This post is in honor of Laura's new book, Goodnight, Manger. In the story, baby Jesus is having a hard time going to sleep with all of the manger commotion! It is a companion to her first book, Goodnight, Ark, which I reviewed on my blog. Both are already beloved favorites of my children, and after reading Laura's post, be sure to register to win a free copy of her new, soon-to-be hit!

Laura writes:

One of my favorite Christmas memories is of watching my daughter play with the Baby Jesus that was part of our Christmas nativity. All through December she’d carry him around the house saying things like, “Baby Jesus crying. It’s okay, Baby.” Then she’d gently feed him or rock him and sing a lullaby. Before listening to her tender play, I’d never thought of Baby Jesus as ever crying, but that sweet playtime sparked a great little conversation with my daughter about the divinity and humanity of Jesus. It also inspired me to write Goodnight, Manger, a Christmas bedtime picture book that not only serves as a fun reminder that Jesus was once a baby who cried and felt everything we feel, but which also keeps Christ, rather than Santa, as the focus during the holiday season. 

Now in celebration of the release of Goodnight, Manger, here are 8 ways parents can use nativity sets to spark meaningful conversations about Christmas with preschoolers.

1. Play “I Spy…an angel!” Identify the figures in the Christmas story using the nativity as your playground. After you “spy” each figure, ask simple questions like “Who was Mary?” or “What were the shepherds doing that night?”

2. Play “I Count… three sheep!” Preschoolers love counting. After each count, think about how everyone in the nativity was looking forward to meeting Baby Jesus. Ask them what they think about that.

3. Play “Where is Baby Jesus?” In this variation of hide and seek, take turns hiding Baby Jesus in the nativity (or beyond). Each time you find Him, marvel about how exciting it must have been to see God’s promise for a Savior fulfilled in the birth of a special baby - Jesus!

4. Re-enact the Nativity. Using Luke 2:1-20 as your guide, re-enact the Christmas story using the figurines. Add animal sounds and alleluias to bring the story to life. For extra fun, you can also retell your nativity-themed picture books (such as Goodnight, Manger, for example) using figurines. Be sure to always link back to the all important message that Jesus is the gift of Christmas.  

5. Sing Carols. While holding the appropriate figurines, sing carols that relate to the nativity story.  For example, pretend the angels are flying as you sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Have the wise men march as you sing “We Three Kings." Place Baby Jesus in the manger as you sing “Away in a Manger,” etc.

6. Care for Baby Jesus. Just as my daughter did, let your child take care of Baby Jesus. Pretend to gently rock and feed him. Maybe even sing him a tender lullaby. Then be amazed together - that God loves us just like we love little babies. He cares for us and comforts us. His biggest gift ever? Sending Jesus to be the Savior of the world.

7. Make your own nativity figurines. Little ones love anything hands on, so roll up your sleeves and make sheep, shepherds, angels and more using whatever materials you fancy. Play dough, felt, glue, paper, crayons and even blocks are all perfect materials for a fun afternoon of nativity building. 

8. Go on a Nativity Hunt. Here’s a fun activity that will get you and your children outside on a crisp day. Walk around your neighborhood looking for nativity lawn scenes. Name the figures you see and celebrate! This also makes a good activity to keep children busy and engaged while running errands in the car.

Register below or click here to win your free copy of Laura's book. The contest ends on Sunday at noon EST. Please note that if you don't win, you can still buy Laura's book (and other amazing resources) at a discount on Zondervan.com between November 17th and December 1st. Just enter the bloggers' code CHRISTMAS2015 at checkout. It's a special code for 30% off that I am delighted to pass on along to my friends!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Workable Hope in the Wake of Paris

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Last night as I was watching the news feed of the atrocity unfolding in Paris, a flood of memories came back. 

I remembered moving to New York City in July 2001, just two months before the 9/11 attacks. I had moved from the Midwest, where I was raised, and was already intimidated moving to the city. Shortly thereafter, I experienced firsthand a tragedy that will forever rock the nation. My country, safety, and very humanity had been violated. There was fear, panic, and loss. Then there was the smell of burning for weeks and the subsequent bomb threats and anthrax scares. 

Though newly transplanted, I was part of a city that looked to piece itself back together. Some decided to leave the city for good. But the many who decided to stay needed to make sense of what they could never have imagined before. I found myself searching for new life among the ashes of fresh memories. Where could I find hope?
One way I found it is through connectedness. A city that had once felt intimidating and cold grew warmer. It banded together as neighbor helped neighbor. I volunteered at Ground Zero at St. Paul's Chapel one evening. I served the firefighters and rescue workers who were physically weary but iron-resolved. Working consecutive shift after shift, their eyes told the story. They were drawing strength from banding together, working side by side. They were drawing hope from doing what they knew best in our desperate hour. Their friendly smiles in that dark, candlelit chapel were light to me.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon, I heard something that struck me as a result. A media station was encouraging its audience to "look for the helpers" as once again the country was reeling. Mr. Rogers, the popular children's television icon, had coined that phrase as a sign of active hope in tragedy.  He said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 
Paris, look for the helpers.
I can only imagine the pain and hopelessness, coupled with the intense brainwashing, that would provoke individuals to have committed these crimes. They themselves have been stripped of their own humanity and turned into bombs. They have then acted in ways that reflect that towards others too. When this is done in God's name, it's not only a humanitarian crisis, but a sacrilege of what is holy and assault on divine love.
As a mother of two young sons, it hasn't escaped me that the individuals who committed these crimes were likely all young men. Therefore, in addition to expressing my solidarity with the victims, in addition to empathizing from my own experience, I have to think constructively about my response as a parent...
To read about that response, please join me on HuffPost Parents. Please also help me spread the word as we join in solidarity with Paris and the world.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

5 Spiritual Tools to Help You Overcome the Storms of Life

A Noah's ark play at my children's preschool

Perhaps you have heard the saying, "Into each life some rain must fall." Well, what if what you're experiencing is more of a deluge? I've observed that trial often comes in numbers. People of faith know sprinkles, but we also know full-blown storms.

I've recently heard stories like this. Maybe you have too:

  • I have cancer.
  • My husband lost his job.
  • I'm desperately overwhelmed. My life is full of good things, but I can't enjoy them.
  • My son needs more therapy and is struggling to adjust at home and school.

When rain is falling in my life, I like to turn to the story of Noah (Genesis 6-9:17). He know a storm. In fact, he knew one that was so long and so strong that it virtually wiped out everything around him. Because Noah had no choice but to trust in God for his very survival, his story serves as powerful inspiration for us.

The thing that most impresses me about Noah is his faith. So often it's easy to think about our faith solely as an internal anchor when we hit hard times. But that wasn't the case for Noah. His was accompanied by the building of a huge, physical ark. This external ark was illustrative of his internal life. It was a tribute to his obedience to God, the very thing that saved him.

I see God highlighting the importance of physical steps that we can take through our storms in Noah's story. James is so honest when he claims, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17). We can't do the work of God, but we can seek Noah's same kind of bold obedience to honor the One with our own life raft.

Just as Noah used everyday tools to build the ark, there are everyday spiritual tools that we can employ to successfully navigate adversity. Those tools, formulated as simple steps, will help us honor God in the midst of life's storms:

To read these five steps, please join me over at iBelieve.com. I am grateful for their support in publishing what I hope will serve as special encouragement for you or a loved one today.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

4 Surefire Ways to Raise Kind Children

As a mother of two boys, I hope to raise gentlemen in the world. So often it’s easy to overlook the cauldron of our children’s character in an effort to thrust ahead. But success can be fleeting, and solid character can serve them well for a lifetime. While we cannot control our children’s future actions, there are steps we can take to help build their internal compass as they grow. Along those lines, here are four ways to nurture kindness that I’ve found helpful:

1. Start young. While our children will be influenced by what we model and encourage at any age, we have a unique window of opportunity when they’re little to shape them. We have a captive audience as we help frame their world.

2. Reward positive behavior. Our children will remember what we taught, encouraged, and applauded so that our voice will be a guiding one when we are not right there beside them. Our job is to catch the little things: the sharing we witness at a play date, the self-sacrifice we observe for a friend, or the unprompted concern we see demonstrated for a stranger.

3. Label praise wisely. How we praise our children is just as important as doing it. I’ve learned to applaud the behavior, not the person. For instance, if my son does something kind, I don’t say, “You are such a kind person.” Instead, I say, “Good job. That’s kindness.” Ultimately, we don’t want our children to equate their personal value with what they do or don’t do; we want them to be able to identify good behavior and replicate it.

To read tip #4 and the conclusion of the piece, please click here. You'll be redirected to the TODAY Show Parenting Team page. I'd really appreciate your vote while you're there! Please just click on the "vote up" bubble.

This post was featured at TODAY.com. Thank you to my friends there for sharing it and passing on other insightful tips too. Check it out by clicking here

Monday, November 2, 2015

Does Vocation Demand a Choice?

For those of you who have followed my blog since its inception, you'll recall its original name, Vocational Mothering. I chose the name because I've always been fascinated by the word vocation. I love how it can elevate any task that we do, no matter how trivial, when we understand it as a response to God's call.

I changed the name partially because I sensed a growing confusion. Some understood Vocational Mothering to mean that mothering was one's sole, all-consuming task. By extension, therefore, this blog was only for stay at home mothers. That's far from the case. 

Mothering is an all-consuming task, but it isn't everything that we are. In addition to being a mother, we are also a woman, a friend, often a wife, and sometimes a worker. God's call in our lives can be complicated in the hats we wear, but simple in that it perfectly meets us where we are and with what we have to offer. 

One mother beautifully describes this balancing act, this juggle, in a fashion that I found relatable and inspiring. Her name is Kate Harris, and she has three children. Interestingly, I first read her blog when I was starting mine. I again stumbled across her work last week and want to share it with you. She writes specifically for women:

"Vocation is often understood in terms of a job or career, but historically it meant much more than that. When we understand its deeper significance, we find a meaningful and consistent framework to help us think about our multiple life commitments.

Vocation is best understood as 'one's entire life lived in response to God's voice.' This definition, from my friend and colleague Dr. Steven Garber, is the closest I have come to finding a framework big enough to make sense of my life and work. It gives space for the dimensionality of my identity as a daughter, sister, wife, writer, friend, manager and more. It gives account for the physical work of pregnancy and nursing, while never insisting those wearying months be wholly separate from other efforts such as writing an article during naptime, teaching my other children to read or attending a seminar. This understanding of vocation never makes me choose once and for all between the thrill of crafting a new grant program and the simple joy of visiting with a good friend late into the evening. I can live into my vocation in both places—allowing it to inform the work I do and the kind of friend I am.

Such a definition of vocation will ask me to make practical trade-offs. But vocation never asks me to compartmentalize my life into artificial categories of 'work' and 'life,' or 'home' and 'market.' Vocation offers the possibility that my life and my faith can be richly and imaginatively stewarded as a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts.

God cares that I steward the life that is in front of me right now. To wrestle and wrangle or muddle my way through it—whatever it takes—but always to insist that it makes sense, that it holds together. To believe the details of our days really do connect to some bigger purpose God has for our lives."

I wonder if her description resonates with you? To read more about Kate's thoughtful work, visit this link through the Barna Group. 


This week, I will be going to Q Women's Leadership Conference in Nashville. One of the topics that will be covered is vocation. Check Twitter this weekend, as I will be sure to pass on any tidbits I am learning. I'm also looking forward to reviewing the co-founder of Q's recent book, Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning, soon.

TODAY Video Clip