Sunday, November 30, 2008

Update on the Giveaway! : )

Happy Sunday! Today is the first Sunday in Advent and the perfect time to send an update your way about the Giveaway!

First, the entry period is being extended until Tuesday night. With all the busyness of the holiday this week, I know it has been hard for me to get to the computer and I am sure that this is true for you, as well. So, come on over and enter once a day by leaving a comment on a blog entry.

Secondly, would you like to know what you are entering to win? The winner of this week's giveaway will receive a Nativity Devotional Set! Included with the set is a 10 piece, family-friendly, Nativity set and a booklet of 12 devotional readings that will help your children to better understand the true meaning of Christmas. Each reading focuses on one of the pieces of the Nativity. When you read about angels, you put out the angel piece. By the time you put out the baby Jesus on Christmas morning, each piece will represent a part of the story for your family. The set is reusable and can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. I think you will love it!

One more thing... while there will be only one winner... there will be a little something for all who enter! For today's entry, let's reflect on this past weekend... What was the best part for you? Be sure to leave your name so I can contact you, if you win!

Happy Advent, everyone!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Christmas Blog 2: Traditions

Four years ago, our family was preparing for a major change. After processing mountains of paperwork and covering the whole process in years of prayer, we had in our hands a picture of a baby who would soon be ours. Yuan SiJie was living in the Hunan Province in China and the time had come for her to come home to her parents and brothers in the United States. We had no control over the process or the timing or the people with whom we would travel. But, we had a picture of a tiny little girl with big brown eyes who would soon inherit the name that God had planned for her from the beginning of time. Elizabeth SiJie Lise Friesen was coming home.

The information about our girl came to us on October 13th. We anxiously awaited travel information and when it finally came, Mark and I heaved a huge sigh of relief. We would be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with our family and would leave for China two days later. It all seemed perfect... except for one small thing. On the day after Thanksgiving, we always go downtown Chicago to see the lighting of the tree in Daley Plaza. We would head down in the late afternoon and stand in a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, sipping spiced cider from boot shaped mugs and humming Christmas carols in the cool winter air. Mark and I knew that our traditional plans would have to be changed this year. With a trip to the other side of the world impending... and two weeks away from our sweet boys... there was much to do to prepare. We had decided to travel "carry on only" and needed to cram 14 days worth of clothes and various other items into our bags. And, we needed to hold our kids. The thought of being away from them was overwhelming to us...

So, we sat down to explain to the boys (then ages 6, 7, and 2) the plans for the trip. We had no way to foresee what would happen next. Noah spoke first.

"So, we are not going to the city?" he asked.

"No Buddy, we cannot go. We have to get ready for the trip."

"But, it is our TRADITION..." he continued.

And then came the tears. One boy. Then two. Then, watching his big brothers, Josiah joined on in.

Mark and I were stunned. We knew our traditions were important to us but neither of us understood the meaning they had come to hold for our children. Now, some of those tears came from their feelings about our departure... but some of those tears were because we were changing our plans. Noah, now crying hard, tried to explain to us that we would lose our traditions... that they would never again be TRADITIONS if we were unable to see that tree light up in Chicago that year. And there Mark and I sat, overwhelmed ourselves, and unable to do anything about it.

In a stroke of genius, Mark made a declaration that calmed the spirits of our little boys.

"We do not lose our traditions," he began, "unless..." (I held my breath to see what magic would come next...) "unless we skip it next year, too. You cannot lose a tradition in only one year! And we would never miss it next year. It is too important to our family!"

The crying stopped as the boys thought through this new information. Mark and I exchanged brief glances of deep relief and knew we were in the clear. But, we had learned something, too. Those things we do, year after year, they create a structure from which our children learn to hang the details of their lives. It gives them something to look forward to, something to expect and anticipate and use as a tool to process the seasons of their lives. It matters, you see. The little things... the funny sayings... the experiences repeated year after year. It matters.

It is Thanksgiving weekend. My boys are home early from school and Elizabeth is taking a nap. Tomorrow we will gather with family and eat turkey and stuffing and yams and pumpkin pie. We will play a card game around a table and have minutes with grandpa. And then, on Friday we will go the city. We will go and see the tree and we will sip spiced cider from boot shaped mugs. On Saturday, we will drive to Indiana listening to Amy Grant's oldest Christmas CD on our way to the family owned Christmas Tree Farm that we go to every year. We will take a hay ride out to the fields and wander aisle after aisle to find the perfect tree for our house. We will all take a turn cutting it down and will take pictures with the tree and the stump. With it tied to our van, and with our best friends alongside, we will go to Cracker Barrel for dinner together. Tired and full, we will come home then and put our tree in a bucket to be handled on Sunday after church. When we decorate the tree, I will place the first ornament, a Victorian Santa ornament given to me years ago by one of my first grade students. We will talk for a while about who put the angel on the tree last year and this year, it will be someone else's turn. With the tree completely decorated, the kids will lay head first under the tree and look at the lights from the bottom up. By the time they go to bed, Mark and I will be able to sit together in a decorated house and enjoy the beauty of it all.

Today is Wednesday but by Sunday night, all of this will have come to pass. It is our tradition and it matters. What about you? What do you do? What traditions have you set in place for your family that have come to hold warm memories for you? What things would you like to begin to add to this season?

As the holidays begin, it is easy to become overwhelmed by so many things. The economy is a mess and our budgets are tight but the experiences we offer our families do not have to be expensive or huge. Our children are looking for time... for attention... for memories that become what they take with them when they go. Look at these days as a gift... a long weekend given to you to give them what they need. Truth be told, you need it, too. These are the pictures we will hold in our hands when our hair has gone white and our homes are much quieter than they are today. These pictures have no price tag but are worth more than anything we will purchase this year. Priceless minutes that last forever...





Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas Blog 1: Expectations

It's sneaking up on us. A Christmas commercial here, a holiday jingle there. The season is beginning and while I have tried to pretend otherwise, the neon glow pouring out of the Christmas tree displays at every major department store has shaken me from my autumn peacefulness and is building within me the electric hum of holiday stress. So, before it gets the best of me, the best of us, let's take a second to reign it all in and align our focus on the things we want... the things we need... and not those things that have become "shoulds" or "oughts".

There are a lot of pieces of this season that cause us to worry and wonder about our plans and actions but the one that comes first to my mind is expectation. It comes at us from every side; the media demanding that we offer mountains of material goods to children who likely need very little, our families wanting, needing, requesting our time and attention and often calling us out of our homes and onto the road, our children seeking the magic of Christmas all the while being unsure of what that really means, and lastly, our own expectations to provide for our families the lasting memories of family time, of warm scenes filled with the love and hope that are a part of the very core of the season at hand.

It is a lot my friends... it really, really is. Looking at it all can cause the healthiest heart to skip a beat and in many of us begins the building of stress that marrs our annual journey through these days. But, what can we do? How can we break this down into pieces that can easily be handled, one at a time?

Many of you know that Mark and I were privileged to spend 6 years living and working with college students. That experience had a profound effect on our parenting. Each year in August, I would stand in my tiny residence hall apartment and watch mommas say good-bye to their babies. From the outside, those babies may have looked 18 years old, but you and I both know that each of those precious children felt much littler when held in their mother's arms. As those freshman students walked into their college life, behind them trailed memories of sleepless nights, first steps, two-wheeling rides, new shoes, school days, and so much more. We save that all up, don't we? In telling the Nativity story, the Bible says that Mary "treasured up" all these memories about Jesus. Those words make sense to us mommas. We get that. And every year, as college began, I watched hundreds of mothers release their babies into the world... walking away with tears in their eyes and worries on their hearts and prayers on their lips. When they looked at their grown children, they saw babies.... and because I watched.... when I looked at my babies, I saw grown children. Our perspective was changed.

Ask yourself today, "What does my family need from this holiday season?". Don't rush that answer and do not confuse what is needed with what is wanted. On the day that you bring your baby off to college, what holiday memories would you like her to have tucked away? What will matter most to him?

Here is what I know. What I want most for my young family is a season that is fully immersed in truth and love. That has nothing to do with travel or material goods or so many other things that call to us during Christmas every year. My expectation is that we will find moments of peace, that we will claim this season for our family and in doing so, make room for what is most important... a story that is the most true thing I know... a momma and a daddy and a baby that changed the world. If I start here, it becomes easier to see what needs to happen... and what does not.

Several years ago, Mark and I made decided that our holidays needed a make-over. After years of driving and rushing and focusing on goals that were not always ours, we stayed home. I cannot tell you how glorious Christmas has become. Our church holds the Christmas service on the 24th and we always attend that beautiful time of worship. We come home, frost cookies for Santa and go to the Norad website to see where the jolly, old elf has been. We tuck in our babies and finish details for Christmas while watching "It's a Wonderful Lfe" on TV. In the morning, we are greeted, often too early, by the eager faces of our four children who cannot wait to head downstairs to the tree. But, before we open gifts, I load the oven with goodies prepared before church the night before and we gather together in the living room to focus on what we know matters more than anything else. Noah and Benjamin "teach" Josiah and Elizabeth the Christmas story, quoted from Luke 2, using PlayMobile figurines to act it all out. We pray together and begin opening presents. We take our time. We wear our jammies. I drink Christmas coffee out of Christmas mugs and the house smells like egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. When the food is ready, we stop where we are and go to the table to eat. The food is good and cozy and unlike any other breakfast I make all year. The day goes on... assembling toys, laughing together, playing new games. Everyone gets one-on-one time and everyone spends time as a family. We have nowhere to be, nothing to do but be together and play and eat and remember. I make a huge dinner and we usually go to bed early. It is good and it is ours. Sometimes people join us... family members and friends... and we love to share our day with them. We always stress that the relaxed nature of the day is important... our door is open and this is what we do.

It took us years to find what worked... to balance what we do against what we want to give to our kids. But, when looking at the day from the perspective of a momma releasing her baby to college, I feel good about what they will take with them. We struggled with expectations...our own and those of others... but in the end, our Christmas experience has all the elements that we value year-round.

What about you? What expectations do you have for Christmas this year? Are there changes you need to make, encouragements you have to share, ideas that have worked well? In listening to one another maybe we can release the needless stress and find a way to focus on what is really important. In doing so, we may find the joy we hear so much about. That joy is found in a baby and a story that gives us hope. What an important gift to discover!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another Giveaway!!!

Are you excited?? The last giveaway was such a blast, I have been anxious to do it again! So, here we go!

Starting tonight, any comment you leave on a post this week will be your entry. You may enter once a day until Friday and then, I will put all the names in a hat and my precious preschooler will pull one out to find our winner!

So, what am I giving away? : ) That news will come later in the week! Keep reading, start talking and let's spend the week together. I am looking forward to hearing from you!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blog Rewind: What Good Mommas Do

The Gift of Thursday and What Good Mommas Do
How I love Thursdays! I don't know what your week looks like, but for us, the beginning of each week is always extraordinarily busy! Between shuttling our littlest ones to and from preschool and helping to run our amazing MOMs Group, Monday through Wednesday rush by way too quickly. Oh, but Thursdays... Thursdays are the day we do not have to be anywhere or do anything or rush in any way at all. As the momma of four busy children, the pace of this day is like a heavenly retreat.

I read somewhere that good mommas get up, get dressed and put on their shoes, first thing every day. These mommas are always ready to run out the door and on to the next thing. Being dressed is supposed to get you ready for work and cleaning and accomplishing great things every day. Right now, it is after 10 AM and I am sitting here in my pajamas. I do not want to be a momma who is always ready to run out to the next big thing. I do not want to be a momma who is constantly seeking more work or greater accomplishment. No, I want to be a momma who takes a day, every week, to sit in her jammies with babies on her lap and read a book. I want to look into the sleepy faces of my relaxed little ones and laugh with great abandon. I want to be the momma who can crawl into bed with my children, and share a story or build a fort or play flash light games and not have to worry about my shoes catching on the sheets.

If good mommas have to be ready and dressed every single day, I will embrace being a bad momma and leave my shoes at the door. Today, will look at my children, straight in the face. I will tickle them and play with them and get very little done. For right now, I will let that be okay and remind myself that today is Thursday and it is a gift.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Home from Hearts

Just a quick post today... I am revelling in the memory of three amazing Hearts at Home conferences and while the faces and scenes and stories and laughter and tears of it all swirl around me, sentences become amazingly difficult to form.

For those who came... thank you. For those who are thinking about attending a conference in the future... DO IT. I am grateful, deeply, deeply grateful for the opportunity to speak to thousands of amazing mommas deeply committed to the task at hand. And I am humbled, to my very core, to have had the chance to come alongside speakers (all of whom I respect more than I can say) who have also responded to God's nudging them to share with others at Hearts at Home. It has been an amazing year.

So, if you are new to my blog, welcome! There will be more to read soon. For those of you who have walked me through this year with Hearts, you already know how touched I have been by the experience. In a few days, I will be back at it and happy to share a moment or two from my day to day life. There will be giveaways and conversation and much to share. For today, I am reflecting on God's great plan, His vision for our lives, His gracious release of blessing upon blessing to His dear children who deserve nothing at all. I am grateful and He is GOOD.

Blessings to you all today!