Easter 2020 Reflections

I woke up Easter morning feeling a bit sad.  I was sad because I knew we would not be going to Easter church service.  I was sad to not see extended family. I was just generally sad that Easter could not be celebrated in the way we normally would.  And so the first couple hours of Easter morning I had a bit of a pouty attitude. I was mopey and down as I whipped up pancake batter and failed at hash browns.  Side note: if anyone knows the secret to getting really crispy hash browns, please let me know. Mine always turn out drenched in oil and soggy.

This is the true picture of how our Easter morning started.  I write this because this is just further evidence of how special and beautiful Easter truly is.  This girl, who still manages to get in a slump on the most joyous day when we celebrate the Risen King, this girl, needs grace every moment.  Left on my own, I will quickly lose sight of the big picture.

Praise God that he chose to love us forever and to sacrifice his one and only son.  This is truly good news! If it were not for this radical act of love, I would be stuck in my misery over soggy hash browns and changed plans. Thanks to Jesus our day of Easter celebration was not ruined by my poor attitude.  Grace filled in. And our Easter was not like any Easter previous, but it was quiet, intimate, and full of worship. And it was good.

Egg hunt all to himself!

The quarantine is showing me a lot of my shortcomings.  One of them is how dependent I have come to the hustle and bustle of life.  While we sometimes complain about it, I have realized I love a full calendar.  I love rushing from one place to the next and stuffing our days with as much experience, people, food, and laughter.  This is especially true when it comes to holidays. As much as we sometimes dream about a quiet holiday at home, the reality is I love the rush of a full day of celebration and people.  

While there is nothing inherently wrong in this, over the years, it has made my heart numb to why we are celebrating in the first place.  We say Happy Birthday, Jesus and He is Risen! but our hearts and minds are easily distracted by the feasts, gifts, and people all around us.  At least that is the case with my own heart.

This year there were zero distractions.  And initially, my heart could not handle it.  There was no rush to get out the door. No need to iron the dress.  There was no pressure to make some elaborate meal because it was just the three of us.  And with all the normal busyness that typically fills days of celebration, our small family of three was left in our pajamas on the couch in quiet and peaceful worship. 

We were not checking our watches to make sure we made the family Easter brunch in time. We were not scrambling in the kitchen. We were present and at peace and in full awe.  The words of worship felt more crisp. The faces of my husband and son were in clear focus. The truth of the gospel has never felt more real.

This Easter will not be another blur of a holiday full of too many things and obligations, no, Easter 2020 will be the one where we really allowed ourselves the quiet space to sit in the emptiness of the tomb and truly feel the joy of what that means.  

It will be the one where we worshipped on the couch.

The one with the big brunch.

The one where Hudson had an egg hunt all to himself.

The one where we all napped and then soaked in all the amazing online church services we could.

The one where we Face-timed and zoomed with family.

The one where we just sat out at our new fire pit and watched Hudson play.

The one where we ate too much candy and had a simple dinner. 

This Easter I am thankful for the quiet, the extra time, and mostly I am thankful that Jesus rose for us. Even on mornings when we wake up with bad moods and eyes fixed on earthly expectations, God is gracious and loving and meets us where we are.  

Happy Easter! He is Risen! Thankful that this truth remains just as true, regardless of the state of the world. And for that we have a lot to celebrate.

8 Favorite Easter Books for Toddlers

I know the world feels quite different right now, but one of the things that is helping me stay sane with a toddler at home and no park time and no playdates is…books. We always read a lot of books over here and make our weekly Wednesday library trip, but now more than ever, Hudson and I both are dependent on the comfort and joy these repeated stories bring to our days. 

With Easter right around the corner, I wanted to share some of the Easter books we are reading right now at home and some that we don’t currently have on our shelves, but want to! We actually are pretty stocked up on Easter books right now because I checked out a big haul of them from the library in early March, little did I know we wouldn’t be back to the library for a bit. If you don’t have a ton of Easter books, now is a good time to order a couple new favorites to add to your permanent collection! As I write about often, books make the perfect gift and any of these would work perfectly in an Easter basket.

Some of these books on this list are purely fun and the sole purpose of them is in the colorful eggs and the chocolate bunnies.  I also did intentionally choose a few favorites that I personally think do a beautiful job delivering the true reason we celebrate Easter: He Is Risen!  

1. Jesus Rose For Me by Jared Kennedy 

This is the book we are putting in Hudson’s basket this year.  This is a really nice board book with beautiful images. The thing I love most about this book is the amount of details that are included about Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus Rose for Me is absolutely delivering the gospel, but doing it in such a way that little ears can better comprehend. I am all about delivering truth to our kids at a very young age and this book is a beautiful tool to use.  It even includes Bible verses with each story, so this is a great way to incorporate scripture with your little ones. The book is a bit wordier for Hudson’s attention span currently, but I know it will be the perfect gospel-centric book that he will absolutely grow into within the next year.

2. God Gave Us Easter by Lisa Tawn Bergren 

This was the book we put in his Easter basket last year!  I LOVE the God Gave Us series of books.  Again, the stories still are a bit longer for his attention span even now, but I know this will become a favorite.  Through beautiful illustrations and the real curiosity of a little cub, papa cub through natural imagery explains where the true joy of Easter comes from. 

Like so many of Bergren’s books, this book is a wonderful answer to how to teach kids that the cultural elements of these holidays (eggs, Easter bunny, gifts) are fun and good, but they should never overshadow the true meaning.  Easter baskets and egg hunts point to only a small glimmer of the joy that is found in true relationship with Christ. This book helps reveal this truth and for that I am really thankful. 

3. The Easter Egg by Jan Brett

I discovered this classic book at the library and I am slightly obsessed with the storyline.  This is not a religious Easter book, but the story is heartwarming. It teaches little ones on the importance of small acts of kindness.  The bunny, Hoppi is so concerned with making the most beautiful egg and is inspired by all the beautiful eggs his bunny neighbors are creating.  While trying to figure out how he will decorate his own egg, he ends up helping Mother Robin keep her egg warm. This is how he spends his time and at the end only has the cracked and empty egg shell. Can you guess whose egg was chosen as the winner? Hoppi!

I love how well the storyline shows it is not always about the product we produce, but the intention of our hearts. Love this story, love the illustrations, love Jan Brett. We checked out the hardcover version, but Amazon also has a board book I linked to that is perfect for toddlers! 

4. Happy Easter, Mouse!  by Laura Numeroff

Each holiday, we collect another Mouse book because Hudson is such a fan.  I will admit, the Easter one is not as good as the It’s Pumpkin Day, Mouse!, but it is still a good Easter one for toddlers.  It is a very simple story, so probably best for 2-3 year-olds.  We are currently working on our colors. This is a great book to practice naming each color of egg Mouse finds.  This is an easy book to pair with a small activity or craft revolved around colors and eggs! 

5. A Very Happy Easter Prayer by Bonnie Rickner Jensen

Now more than ever, we need to count our blessings and thank God for the gifts of flowers budding and new life being created. Hudson and I read this book before his nap and it brought me a lot of peace. The words are simple. The illustrations are full of colorful flowers and cute bunnies. During these weird and anxious times, my heart settled as I read these simple words thanking God for all the simple blessings.

6. Happy Easter, Country Bunny by DuBose Heyward

The Country Bunny was my favorite Easter book as a young girl. I can still remember how I felt when my mom would read it to us. I loved it then, and now connect to it on an even deeper level. It is such a timely and relatable story for the modern woman. It is a beautiful picture of balancing motherhood with the dreams of your heart. Mother Cottontail continues to inspire me, and it is the perfect story to share with our little ones to inspire them. I would put the original story here, but since this list is geared towards toddlers, this board book is the better option for toddler-aged kiddos.

7. The Great Easter Race

This is a fun book with all the Sesame Street character partaking in a race on Easter morning. The bunny that joins the race leaves baskets full of each character’s favorite things and in the end, the slow turtle wins the race. The illustrations are colorful with all the recognizable Sesame Street friends. The story also contains more substance than typical stories geared towards toddlers, which I appreciate! If you have a Sesame Street lover, this is a fun book to read together this Easter season.

8. An Easter Egg Hunt for Jesus by Susan Jones

This is a sweet story full of cute forest animals and a valuable lesson that Easter is much more than just an Easter egg hunt. It is about Jesus. Through beautiful illustrations and a sweet storyline, Jones delivers the important message that this time of year is a celebration for Jesus!

The Hope of Easter

Again, I know there are much bigger world issues going on right now, and Easter books are likely not on the top of your list. I get that, but in these uncertain and uneasy time, I am finding a lot of comfort in reading books with H and looking ahead to the hope of Easter (even though it is likely to look quite different this year). These books I selected are the perfect stories to read to our little ones this year to point them to the fact that Easter is not dependent on Easter egg hunts and baskets full of chocolate bunnies. Those are fun, but Easter is much more. As papa polar bear puts it in God Gave Us Easter:

“On Easter, we remember we get to be with Jesus forever.”

And that alone is reason to celebrate.

So, let’s read more books, pray more, and cling more than ever to the hope and promise we know for certain will come Easter morning. In all this uncertainty, the sure promise of Jesus is pulling me through.

Happy reading, friends.

When the World Shuts Down, Turn to Jesus.

Quite honestly, it feels a little weird to compile a list of my favorite Easter books for toddlers, when the world right now feels pretty scary and uncertain.  I have a lot of emotions right now. I am a bit fearful, a little confused, and in my human nature, quite disappointed about the Boston Marathon officially being cancelled. More on the whole marathon situation in an upcoming post.  So for now the Easter book post I previously scheduled can wait, I think this is more important.  

Every morning, with my cup of coffee, I start my day by reading the day’s devotional from Paul Tripp’s New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional.  These past two mornings, I have so felt the Holy Spirit moving.  The devotionals so spoke into everything that is going on with the spread of COVID-19 and the fear and the slew of cancellations.  

Yesterday morning, I read the following: 

If you mourn the fallenness of your world rather than curse its difficulties, you know that grace has visited you.

Tripp goes on to write, “Now, there are really only two responses we can have to the brokenness that complicates all of our lives: cursing or mourning.  Let’s be honest.  Cursing is the more natural response.  We curse the fact that we have to deal with flawed people.  We curse the fact that we have to deal with things that don’t work right.  We curse the fact that we have to deal with pollution and disease. We curse the fact that promises get broken, relationships shatter, and dreams die…Cursing is the wrong response…Mourning is the much better response.  Mourning embraces the tragedy of the fall. Mourning acknowledges that the world is not the way God meant it to be. Mourning cries out for God’s restoring, redeeming hand. Mourning acknowledges the suffering of others. Mourning is about something bigger than the fact that life is hard.  Mourning, then, is a response that is prompted by grace.” (Tripp). 

I basically just typed up the entire devotional, but it is that good.  I read this on the morning where it felt like the whole world began to shut down.  It sure is easy to curse and complain when we are living through a very clear example of our world’s brokenness.  Things are clearly not the way they should be.  Cursing doesn’t remove the panic, the virus, or the disappointment.  Mourning is a response that says yes, I see this, the world is not functioning properly, and God, I trust that you will redeem our world and heal and bring peace

Everything that has happened in the past week has reminded me of a few very important things. First and foremost that I am not in control, God is. Secondly, I need to be very careful to what my heart clings to.  When all our carefully laid out plans begin to get cancelled, it is a time to reflect and see where our treasure truly lies. It is natural to feel disappointment when things you were looking forward to are not happening in the way you expected, but you can’t stay there.

Everything going on in the world right now is the perfect example of why your identity cannot be in your sport, your profession, or even church gatherings. How will your heart respond when the entire season is cancelled? Or when the big work project you have been working on for months get cancelled? Or when church gatherings are not happening this Sunday? Does your identity go beyond what you do in your week?

In this time, I am convinced that the right move is NOT letting the panic seep into your soul, but to have faith that this too will pass. I must admit, I have been a bit glued to my phone and I have let the panic on social media affect me. During this time, I need less social media, and more solid, truth, which I know I can only find in God’s word. 

If you too, are feeling anxious, confused, and unsettled, here are 5 Psalms that are greatly helping with my own anxiety and uncertainty.  I encourage you to put the phone down for a bit, turn the news off for a little, and open up God’s word. And just see what this does for your heart.

Psalm 13: A Psalm of Trust

“But I have trusted in your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in your deliverance. I will sing to the Lord because he has treated me generously” -Psalm 13: 5-6

Psalm 16: A Psalm of Confidence 

“I will bless the Lord who counsels me- even at night when my thoughts trouble me. I always let the Lord guide me. Because he is at my right hand. I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my body also rests securely” -Psalm 16:7-9

Psalm 22: A Psalm of Remembrance 

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning. My God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. But you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in you; they trusted, and you rescued them. They cried to you and were set free; they trusted in you and were not disgraced” -Psalm 22: 1-5

Psalm 27: A Psalm of Strength  

“The Lord is my light and my salvation- whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life-whom should I dread? When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh, my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell. Though an army deploys against me, my heart will not be afraid; though a war breaks out against me, I will still be confident.” -Psalm 27:1-3

Psalm 56: A Psalm of Protection 

“When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose words I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” -Psalm 56:3-4

In this very weird time in our world, let’s turn our hearts to Jesus. Let’s trust that God is working, even when we don’t see it. And let’s be people who are prayerful, not panicked.

Stay safe, all! Wash your hands, be considerate of others that might be in even more stressful and challenging situations, and ultimately trust that the Lord will bring peace and restoration.  

God is bigger than all of this. 

If you are wondering what to do tomorrow morning. Can I suggest something? Our church, along with many others will be holding online services. Even if you are not a believer, this could be an opportunity to learn more about who God is. It can also act as a place of comfort and community in this strange time. You can find the online service here tomorrow (Sunday morning).

Managing Christmas Expectations: Broken, Fallen, and Redeemed

How is your Christmas season going?  If you haven’t guessed from my title, so far, it has been less than perfect.  This seems to happen every single year and I think I am just now beginning to learn how to better respond when our holiday season simply does not match the high expectations we have in our heads.  

toddler with santa hat smiling by Christmas tree
Don’t be fooled by his cuteness, he is an ornament breaking machine.

Broken Things

It is just the middle of December (as I am typing this) and so far Hudson has broken about 5 ornaments, 2 salt and pepper reindeer shakers, and one snow globe (yes, there was water and those little, fake flecks of snow everywhere).  This is to be expected. Last Christmas we still had a baby that mostly was in our arms. I don’t think he was even really crawling last year. This year, he is literally running. And oh man, it is so much fun, but it also means that things break more easily.  Next year, there will definitely be less glass and ceramic ornaments on our tree.  

Fallen Things

Along with a long list of things that have broken, our Christmas tree has fallen over TWICE. As I have already mentioned here on the blog, every year Lance and I fight about the straightness of our tree.  Every year I complain that it is crooked and every year he tells me it is not. Well, this year, it fell in the middle of the night.  This resulted in even more broken ornaments that Hudson, in fact, had no part in. The point here, is obvious: the tree will shed a million needles, the tree will falter and not stand perfectly straight, the tree will fail us every single time.  Do you see what I am saying? It is amazing how in this time of year, how easily our eyes are taken away from Jesus and moved toward imperfect and unimportant objects like the tree.  

toddler unhappy at santa photos with Mrs. Claus
Unsure about this whole Santa thing.

Imperfect Things

And finally there was the Santa photos.  Last year, we opted for the EXPENSIVE package at the Grove with the Santa that looks like he just fell out of the pages of The Night Before Christmas.  We were excited and eager first time parents willing to spend whatever on the perfect Santa photos.  And they were pretty good, Hudson was still so little, that he had no reason to even cry. He just looked directly at the camera with a sweet smile.  

This year, we went to the Santa at Bloomingdales.  There was even a Mrs. Claus and the photo was absolutely free, which is our very favorite price.  However, Hudson did not like Santa very much and the photo is less than perfect to say the least. Somehow, I ended up sitting on the Santa chair and Santa didn’t even make the picture! 

toddler crying in igloo in Minnesota
The reality of traveling with a toddler.

Painful Things

Since last typing this up, we took a little trip to Minnesota with Grammy & Auntie Kay. And in similar fashion to the theme above, Hudson and I both were not feeling 100% and I was hit with some especially bad body aches (so bad it brought me to tears!).  Traveling with an over-active and curious toddler is hard, but it becomes especially difficult when both of you are not feeling well. Thankfully my mom and sister were incredibly helpful!

toddler happy in igloo in Minnesota
The way I picture things in my head.

While my ideal for this trip would have been to feel a bit better, it still ended up being a great trip! We got to see a lot of family we don’t get to see often. Hudson got to touch snow for the first time. We visited the Mall of America. We slept in, ate lots of good food, and even sipped cider in plastic igloos. So overall, it was a special and memorable trip, minus my body being difficult.

toddler hugging santa claus
We changed our minds. We do like him.

And you can actually scratch the imperfect Santa photos. We ended up trying again and visited Santa at the Mall of America. Tip: if your toddler is anything like mine, try allowing them to walk up to Santa on their own, instead of placing them on Santa’s lap. This was my sister’s idea and it was really effective. Hudson was so much more confident and interested in Santa as he walked up to him on his own.  We got some really sweet photos. My personal favorite is Hudson hugging Santa and looking straight at the camera.  

Redeemed Things

Okay, so what is the point in all this? It is not to bring you down. Or get you to start complaining about all the little things that have not gone according to plan. No, it is to remind you to manage your Christmas expectations. If the gifts, the parties, the perfectly decorated home, the homemade cookies, the Christmas lights, and that perfect family Christmas card are the things at the forefront of your mind right now, you will likely be disappointed. You will likely feel like Christmas was just not quite right. However, if everything in you is focused on the baby, the baby in the manger: Jesus; then disappointment will not follow you. Because here is the thing: your cookies might burn, your cards might be late, the dog might eat the gingerbread house (true story); but he is already born. We know how that story goes. So no matter how many of your Christmas expectations seems to be falling around you, you can still rejoice, for there is good news!

“But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger'” -Luke 2:10-12

toddler smiling with gingerbread house
Before the big, bad Nala ate the whole thing!

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas! I hope this perspective can help you really embrace all the imperfect elements of your holiday that really don’t matter that much and can allow you to focus and rejoice on the baby that changes everything!

Christmas Books that Bring Family Together + Hearts Centered on Jesus

This mama is a fan of children’s books. I believe the books we read to our little ones are more than just books. They are teaching our children what we believe, value, and love. For this reason, I am pretty picky with the books I choose to read to Hudson.

Especially when it comes to Christmas books, there are soooo many options, but there also are a lot that tell more of our culture’s version of Christmas and fail to include Jesus and instead focus on Santa, reindeer, and gingerbread men. Nothing inherently wrong with these elements, but I love finding books that help show the fun in these things, but ultimately draw our attention to Jesus and family and love.

I spent a ton of time sifting through our own Christmas collection, scrolling through library catalogs, and researching through all the books on Amazon, to bring to you my 10 Favorite Christmas books. This is a good mix of secular and Christian books. There are some classics you should recognize, and there are likely a few you have never heard of.

If you are anything like me, and still in the midst of Christmas shopping, one or more of these books would make a great gift for the little ones in your life!

Top 10 Favorite Christmas Books

1. Santa’s Prayer by Tom Roberts

This season, I have been very much feeling the tension between how our culture celebrates Christmas and the true reason for this special season: Jesus.  As a new parent, I am trying to navigate the role Santa will have in our family. I do not necesarrily wish to steal away all the fun that comes with traditions of Santa and putting out cookies for him and carrots for his reindeer, but I certainly do not want my children to miss the point. 

This book is a beautiful answer to some of this tension I have been struggling with. There is a Santa in this book, but it is a Santa that is a humble servant of Christ. It is a Santa that kneels and prayers and asks for God’s wisdom to help guide the children to understand the true joy of Christmas.  This is the type of book that I know I will read over and over again to all of my kiddos.  

2. The Way to the Manger: A Family Advent Devotional

This book very much aligns with much of what I discussed last week.  This is the perfect book to help bring your family together around Christ this Christmas season.  This book is the perfect element to a family tradition around advent. It gives you and your family a devotion for each day of December before Christmas.  Not only can this be the perfect family evening routine together, it will feed the whole family with the Word of God and keep everyone centered during this very busy time of year.  

3. Christmas Is Coming: An Advent Book

This is another great book that functions as an Advent calendar.  The illustrations are darling! This book would be the perfect coffee table book to have out during the holidays! It also very much connects to all my thoughts from last week’s post and gives a new recipe, activity, song, game or craft to try each day as a family.  There is something about books that can really bring a family together and I love how this book so intentionally gives fun, holiday ideas to help get your family to enjoy time together.  

4. Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht 

This is the perfect book to make part of your Christmas tree traditions. I just discovered it, but next year, we are definitely going to make reading this book apart of our Friday-after Thanksgiving tree tradition!  It is the perfect tradition-type of book as the book itself holds the traditions a family has around their own Christmas tree. I love how this book is so centered around family and the importance of tradition. Not to mention, it is a rhyming book so perfect for the little ears in your family!

5. God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren 

I am a fan of the God Gave Us series of books. This is another beautifully written and illustrated story that helps your little ones understand that Christmas is in fact about much more than the tree and the presents.  I love these books because the author so beautifully captures the curious, question-asking mind of a child. The answers from the mama bear, even minister to me as a parent, as I glean wisdom on how to discuss some of these bigger topics with kids as they begin to get older. 

6. Room for a Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell

There are so many wonderful books that beautifully depict the birth of Jesus that are geared for young children.  Of all that I sifted through and researched, Room for a Little One, stands out.  For one, I love that the story is told from the perspective of animals. Hudson is animal obsessed right now, so this retelling of the story is especially interesting to him. There is also something very charming about getting an animal’s perspective of the night of Jesus’s birth.  

7. Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle 

My mom got Hudson this book last Christmas and it is one of our favorites.  The whole Little Blue Truck series is so endearing and perfect for my little guy who is becoming more and more truck obsessed with each passing day.  I love this book in particular because it allows us to work on counting as we get to count the number of trees that are left in in Little Blue Truck. It is also fun because the last page has flashing lights on the final Christmas tree! 

8. Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares 

Hudson is currently loving birds.  We also just visited New York City this summer as a family.  For these two reasons, this book feels like the perfect addition to our Christmas library.  Again, this book’s illustrations are stunning. I love the beautiful images of NYC at Christmas time.  Red and Lulu are birds that get separated, but eventually are reunited by the story’s end. This heartwarming story combines some of our favorite things: birds, NYC, and love.  It is a bit wordy for Hudson’s attention span, but I look forward to enjoying this story with him next Christmas and for now, we will just enjoy the beautiful illustrations.

9. The Story of Christmas by Patricia A. Pingry 

This is another well-written book that helps young children understand the real point of Christmas and how things like gift giving is ultimately connected to showing love, like the love God showed us through Jesus.  I particularly enjoy the last two pages: “We give gifts at Christmas to show our love. And we say, ‘Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus’” (Pingry 19-22). The language in this book is super simple, the words are nice and big, making it again the perfect Christmas story for the little ones in your home.

10. The Night Before Christmas Recordable Book by Clement C. Moore 

Hudson got this as a gift last year from his nanny and poppy.  This makes such a great gift! Hudson loves opening this book and hearing the voices of his nanny and poppy.  This is such a classic book and we have multiple copies of The Night Before Christmas, but Hudson definitely prefers the version that is personalized with voices he can recognize! 

What are some of you family’s favorite Christmas books? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.

 

Routines to Keep You Centered This December

It has been a busy past few days.  From our trip to Yosemite to Thanksgiving to getting the house all ready for Christmas; my soul feels a bit tired and worn out.  The past week, I have definitely been out of my normal routine. I have been waking up later, working out less, and not sticking to my normal cleaning routine. Things feel a bit out of order. Our house is still scattered with Christmas things that are not fully in place. My mind has lots of words in it, but this typing thing already feels a bit foreign.  My legs are ready to increase mileage for marathon training, but I am not sure my head is there.

The thing with routines is that it is so easy to slip away.  My body fought me hard as I pulled myself out of bed at 5:30 am this week. My mind also fought me as I more easily convinced myself to skip on my typical disciplines. To me, this is just further evidence as to why keeping routines, even in busy holiday seasons is SO important.  If you have yet to read my past post on all of this, you can read it here.

3 Things to Keep Routines Around this December

On a different note, I want to write about some of the routines and rhythms you can keep this December. These three simple concepts are designed to help keep you centered on Christ this Christmas season. You are likely being pulled in a million directions this month. It is so easy to lose focus if you don’t have specific routines in place to keep you centered and grounded.

toddler boy playing in Christmas tree lot

1. Keep a Routine Around the Tree

On our first Christmas together, we started the tradition of getting our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving.  This was our fifth year of getting our tree the Friday after Thanksgiving. I know a lot of you will get your tree whenever and that often depends on each year, but we have found to really love this tradition/routine of getting our tree at the same time every year. It takes away the guessing and we expect and look forward to it every year.  It is also nice to get it in on the earlier side, so it can be enjoyed all Christmas season. This year, we chose to decorate it the same evening. We listened to Christmas music, put up ornaments, and drank sipping chocolate from Trader Joe’s, which I highly recommend.  It is way better than regular hot cocoa.  

I can so clearly remember our first Christmas as a married couple.  I have a specific memory walking down the aisles at Target and feeling mad at Lance.  We didn’t have much for our Christmas tree. And I wanted to buy all the things for it: a fancy tree topper, a pretty tree skirt, festive ornaments.  But my logical and conservative husband, did not want to spend the extra money. We already spent over $60 on a tree, more money on things like that felt over the top to him.  I was so upset about this. It seems super silly now, but at the time it was a whole lot of Christmas drama!  

family Christmas tree traditions

Anyways, we didn’t buy a fancy tree topper. Instead, I used leftover ribbon we had from our wedding and tied a bow on the top of our tree.  Five years later and that is our same tree topper. At this point, we could buy one of those fancy toppers, but there is something about that bow that I love.  It feels right. It feels like tradition.

Christmas ornaments that hold important milestones for a family

All these little traditions and routines around our Christmas tree are fun and special and even important; however, the tree to me is actually more of a metaphor. It is this very physical thing that sits in your living room for nearly a month of your year. The tree is pretty and shiny, but even more importantly it tells a story. It holds important milestones and moments. And not only does it tell a story of your family; it ultimately tells a story of God’s faithfulness, even in the years that might not have any shiny or memorable ornaments attached to it. So, create routines and traditions around the tree. However, don’t be distracted by the small details, like the tree topper or the fact that your tree is always a tad crooked. Remember, the tree is just a metaphor of something much, much more important.

2. Keep a Routine Around Advent 

Last Christmas, Hudson was just 6-months old, so we did not keep up with an Advent calendar for him.  This year we are! There are so many Advent calendar options that you can buy at the store. Those are good, but I am currently really into the Advent calendars that you fill on your own and use every single year.  My mother-in-law got us this beautiful Advent calendar from Pottery Barn.  It has great big pockets to fill with whatever you choose.  It is nice that Hudson is still at an age where he doesn’t really care what he is getting and the smallest things are still super exciting to him.  For this reason, I filled up his calendar this year with things like stickers, plastic dinosaurs, and protein bars. I know- not as exciting as chocolate, but I think he will still enjoy it.  

scripture and stickers inside an advent calendar for a toddler

The day before Advent, I focused more on finding little things in the dollar section of Target to put into his calendar that I missed the point a bit.  I forgot that the whole point of this Advent season is to reflect on the coming of Christ. So, I kept the random dinosaurs and snowman stickers stuffed in the pockets, but I also added something.  I found an amazing blog that had this adorable handwritten scripture geared towards little ones for each day. She specifically had the two-year olds in mind! I printed it out, cut out the squares and put one in each pocket.  I taped construction paper on the wall next to our advent calendar to stick the scripture on. This way we can visibly remember the greatest gift this season: Jesus.  

scripture from Luke for a toddler's advent calendar

Again, this is nothing revolutionary.  A small adjustment to a typical calendar filled with chocolate or even alcohol (have you seen the beer advent calendar from Costco?).  While there is nothing inherently wrong with calendars like this, I do believe it quickly turns our eyes away from the point of Advent.  It is to remember and await in eager anticipation for what is coming. The purpose of Advent is not in the chocolate or craft beer cans. The purpose is in Jesus.

  If you have little ones and wish to incorporate simple scripture into your Advent tradition, you can get that free printable on the Happy Home Fairy blog right here.  Just because we are already a few days into advent, it is never too late to start implementing more of Jesus into your Christmas traditions.

3. Keep a Routine Around Family Time

After dinner time, we are trying to do one thing as a family that feels Christmas-y.  On the first of December, we started by watching Lance’s all-time favorite Christmas movie, Home Alone.  We just watched about 20-minutes, but it was a fun way to start off the month of December.  A few other ideas we plan on doing as a family include: walking around to see Christmas lights in Sleepy Hollow (we do this every year with our good friends Hannah and Kyle), baking cookies together, reading Christmas-themed books (more on this in next week’s blog post), dancing to Christmas music, drinking that sipping chocolate I mentioned above, attending local Christmas events (especially ones surrounded around celebrating what this time of year is truly about). 

If you live in the South Bay area, our church is putting on a special event called “Campfire Christmas.”  It is the perfect evening activity with your family to spend some time celebrating and singing and preparing your hearts for the coming of Christ.  Do a little research and see some of the Christmas events local churches around you are putting on. These are often free and the perfect Christmas family outing centered around Christ.  

Side note: the truth of the matter is that we are not all curled up together doing some cute, Christmas-themed activity every single night of December. Applause to those families, but that is just not us. In fact, just tonight we had a nice dinner together, Hudson took a bath, and I flew out the door to yoga. The point of routines is intention. We could have gone out to a local holiday event being held in the community this evening, but Lance and I both sensed it was not right for us tonight. I am telling you this story because I want to be clear: we are definitely not perfect and life is busy, but on the nights that make sense, we really are intentionally trying to spend them together doing something centered around this season.

Give Something Up + Commit to Something

I recently listened to a new podcast episode on The Next Right Thing.  I have mentioned Emily’s podcast before on here and it is because she always drops such good wisdom in her short 15-20-minute episodes.  You really should take a listen if you haven’t. Her latest episode is all about how to avoid decision fatigue during the holidays. She suggests deciding ahead of time one thing to say no or remove from your schedule during the month of December.  For her, it was work-related travel. She also recommended planning ahead and saying yes to two things that will keep you centered on Christ during the holidays. It could be a devotional, a playlist, a book.

All this very much resonated with me as I wrote up this particular blog.  For me, I am saying no to late nights and consuming myself with tasks that simply are not that important. When it comes to the evenings, I want to be home with my family, I don’t want to busy myself with shopping and planning and doing. By setting this boundary, I am hoping to end this Christmas season in a place where I am more present and joyful. 

What Are You Prioritizing this December?

Okay, so I know this was a bit all over the place, but the heart of what I am trying to convey is that the things and routines we choose to do during December really, really matter.  Even if we don’t realize it, what we choose to say no and yes to are ultimately revealing what matters to us. When I choose to consume myself with shopping, I quickly lose sight of what this time of celebration is all about.  However, when I choose to put scripture in each pocket of Hudson’s Advent calendar and we stick it up on the wall together, I ground myself and the Word of God pulls me into the true joy of the season.  

I hope this makes you think about exactly how you are spending your time in the days and weeks to come.  What is your focus? What is spinning on in your head? Is it your shopping list and the parties you are attending?  Or is it your family? The candlelight Christmas-Eve service? That verse from Luke you just can’t shake from your mind?  

It sure is easy to be pulled away from the important things this time of year. My prayer is that this December can be different for you. You will likely still make some mistakes and fill your schedule a bit too full, but I hope that you can end the month with just a bit more peace, joy, and gentleness than last year!

Share a comment if you have a particular routine during December that keeps you focused and joyful this time of year! I would love to hear from you.

Keeping Routines During Holiday Busyness

Just last Sunday we went to the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at The Grove in Los Angeles.  This was the perfect reminder about what can easily happen during this time of year.  I witnessed people pushing and shoving each other through crowds. There were people yelling at waitresses for not keeping their reservation.  There were unkind words thrown at people that were standing and covering the screen that was projecting the show. To be honest, there was not a ton of holiday cheer.  There were a lot of security guards and chaos and crowds of unhappy people. Sure, there was a beautiful, big Christmas tree, which costs more than what many people make in a year (trust me, we looked up all the stats as we waited on the crowded lawn).  There were beautiful lights everywhere and the store windows glimmered with shiny things. But like I said, there seemed to be something missing.  

Stay Focused on What Matters

Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE this time of year.  But, I also am quite aware that I have a tendency to not show up as my best self around this time.  I too can be like the crowds of angry people that push and shove their way to the front. I tend to be on edge, cranky, and stressed.  The truth is, I can easily let the distractions of gift giving, holiday parties, and all the decorations get in the way of staying focused and present on what this time of celebration is all about: the birth of Jesus!  

This year, I am committed to staying focused on what actually matters and not letting the holiday chaos get the best of me.  Are you with me? Let’s enjoy this time of year, but let’s also keep systems in place to stay centered and focused on what the celebration is truly all about.  It is likely that you are going to be a bit outside of your normal routine during this season and that is totally okay. You might be traveling. You might stay up later, sleep in longer, eat more cookies.  And to all of that, I say go for it. As much as I love routines and systems, I think it is also essential to let go of some of the structure during seasons like this; however, there are a few things that I believe are essential for you to keep up even during the holidays.  

5 Things To Keep Doing During Holiday Busyness

So, while you might be stuffing your face with gingerbread men and staying up past your bedtime, here are a few things you should keep up with to help avoid being a grinch this Christmas and to really be joyful and present and thankful.  

1. Wake Up Before the Kiddos 

I get it.  With less work + no school, you might easily be tempted to sleep in and wake up when the whole house wakes up.  This is easy to do when you might be staying up later than normal shopping or partying. However, if you are anything like me, even just 10-minutes of quiet time before the chaos of the day, is essential for me to be the best mama and wife I can be.  Normally, I wake up at 5:15 am to have at least an hour of time to journal, pray, work on blog. I will definitely have some days of waking up later, but I still plan on setting an alarm to ensure I have at least 10-minutes before Hudson wakes up. So, sleep in, but still allow for some early morning quiet time. This can really help set the tone for the rest of the day.

2. Take Your Vitamins

Even if you don’t take supplements as a daily routine, the idea behind this point, is keep up with one simple habit that is good for your health.  The reality is that I am going to be eating A LOT this holiday season and I will be eating a ton of things that might not be the healthiest options. That is part of this time of year!  However, my body and emotional state really gets affected if I am just consuming wine, sugar, and salt. And let’s be honest, that is a lot of what is going into my body around this time.  There must be balance. So, even if it is just keeping up with your vitamin routine or your protein shake every morning. Keep doing one healthy food habit that will help counter all that wine, sugar, and salt.  

3. Keep Moving 

Amidst all the busyness, it is easy to skip out on your typical workout routine.  I don’t think you need to keep up as intense of an exercise routine as you might normally, but continuing to have some type of movement in your days is still vital.  If you are traveling, it can be a real challenge to stay as active. As I wrote about in last week’s post on finding exercise routines, 10-minutes is always better than zero.  Use your small windows of time! Another option, is to try to incorporate movement or getting outdoors when you are visiting with friends or family.  Take a family walk Christmas Eve. Bring a friend that is home for the holidays to a yoga class. This is a fun way to visit, while still keeping active! 

4. Create Space for Evening Routine 

It is likely you are going to be out later on certain evenings than you typically would.  Our family is an early to bed type of family, so it can really affect us staying out past our bedtimes night after night during this time of year.  For that reason, I think it is important to talk within your family and set the maximum time you will be out. Aim to really get home by this time, so you can keep up with the elements of your evening routine.  Story time, cuddles, night cream. These are the things that might be easy to toss out the window when you are coming home past midnight and are exhausted. I really believe it is important to preserve your evening routine as much as possible by giving yourselves and your family some time before just falling asleep.  This might entail leaving the party slightly early or saying no to certain things, but trust me, you and your family will be much happier if you create these types of boundaries.

5. Plan Ahead

The week of Christmas, I always feel especially on edge because I am still trying to do all things on my holiday to-do list that I have not gotten to!  This Christmas season, I am really committing to getting all the shopping and holiday prep done by the first week of December. This is my goal. To make this happen, I am planning ahead.  I am scheduling all my shopping early. I am clearly marking our calendars with the different events we are going to, so it is very clear to the whole family what we have going on. Planning ahead really can save you from a lot of Christmas drama!  

In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to give you a little gift.  I created a pretty little “Christmas To-Do List” to help you organize everything you have to do this season! I put some scripture and reminders to help you stay rooted in what this time of year is all about.  Not the presents or Santa or the Christmas Tree Lighting or cookie exchanges. Jesus. It is about Him! I really believe working on incorporating these 5 things into this busy time of year will ultimately help keep you focused on what actually matters! 

All you need to do to be sent this special list is to enter your email below. If you are already subscribed, I’ll be sending you this PDF in next week’s newsletter.

Send Me My Gift! 

What are some things you do during this time of year to help keep you grounded?  I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.  

Coffee-Stained Seashells

Sundays are again becoming my very favorite days of the week.  I used to be all about Fridays, especially when I worked.  Fridays were always nights Lance and I went out for dinner and it was the beginning of time away from work and students and stress.  When we had Hudson, Friday night dinners out became less frequent.  We tried to continue with this tradition but it turned out that by Friday we both preferred to stay inside and not deal with the stresses that come with a baby in a nice restaurant.  I still love Fridays, of course, but they lost some of the meaning they once held to me.  Now, Sundays are my favorite.  Maybe part of the reason for that is I no longer have the dread of Monday, but I think it more has to do with the fact that we are more intentional with our Sundays.  Sundays used to feel like catch up days.  It felt like cramming a lot into one day.  Sundays were church plus everything else that did not get done in the week.  Now, they are church plus rest.  This past Sunday embodied this new intention.

I think my favorite part of these days are the fact that church and small group are the only two things on the agenda.  The hours between then can hold anything we want.  This particular Sunday we had less time than others, so we chose to get coffee and walk along the beach in Manhattan.  With coffee in hand, we walked right along the water.  It was low tide.  There was just the right amount of sun. There were people, but not too many because most were watching the football game.  There are moments I have when I feel this deep sense that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  This was one of those moments. I was present.  I was with my two favorite people (Lance and Hudson).  And I was not worried about producing or accomplishing anything.  All I was focused on were the beautiful seashells before me.  When was the last time you did something not out of obligation or necessity, but just because?  I know for me the answer to that question is not very often.  Walking along the shore, finding the most beautiful shells, collecting them in my empty coffee cup; reminded me that I need to fill my days more with moments like this.  I found so much joy in shuffling through the array of broken shells and misshaped rocks.  It gave my mind and heart pause.  It allowed the constant rolling voice in my head listing out the things that must be done to stop and fade away in the background.  Collecting shells at low tide on a Sunday afternoon might not be quite the thing that fills you up, but my point in writing this is to encourage you to find the thing that does.  Maybe it is going to a cafe to eat breakfast by yourself.  Maybe it is taking a long drive along the coast.  Maybe it is going antique shopping and finding a piece to make your home feel more complete.  It is freeing to allow yourself the permission to do things that do not always result in a measurable outcome.  It is okay to have moments that are simple.  It is okay to give ourselves pause and just focus on the shells.

When we got home, I opened up my Starbucks cup to find the three shells I collected.  There was a small amount of vanilla latte remaining, so the shells were stained with espresso.  The cup held an aroma of sea salt and vanilla.  It sounds slightly silly to put this into words, but opening up that cup and seeing those coffee-stained seashells I collected, brought me so much joy.  I washed them, hoping that some of that coffee scent would still remain.  I then placed them on the dresser in our room.  I laid each one out meticulously, giving space for each shell to shine on its own.  Some of you reading this, probably think I am crazy for doing this or even writing this.  I know it seems relatively insignificant and not fully worthy of even sharing, but I think it is.  I think it shows the importance of the little things.  It shows the value in doing the things that fill you up.  It shows that we do not need to spend a lot of money or do all the fancy things to enjoy our life.  Sometimes all you really need is to go down to the beach, or the park, or whatever quiet environment you choose and find something that bring you joy.  For me on this Sunday, it happened to be shells soaked in coffee.

I now look at these shells every time I am in our bedroom.  They are more than shells.  They are symbols of a life well lived.  Every time I look at these shells, I am now able to transport back to this Sunday afternoon.  Those shells will take me back to the waves crashing, the taste of a warm latte, the curiosity of Hudson as he takes it all in.  Those shells remind me it is okay to just wander.  It is okay to be spontaneous and not have every minute of the day planned out.  It is okay to just be.

Even since this past Sunday afternoon, there have already been multiple times that I have forgotten about the shells and fallen back into the cycle of work and obligation.  This past week was filled with a lot of shoulds.  It was filled with a lot of lists and time obligations.  Unfortunately, there was not a whole lot of seashell collecting that occurred.  And this is okay.  I am human and quite frankly, it takes just a second for me to forget what I really need.  What I truly need is not found on lists or even in the form of a shell.  It can only be found in Jesus.  Just like shells can symbolize baptism, those three coffee-stained shells remind me that through the grace of God, I am made new.  My work will never be enough nor will it ever save me.  I have messed up 10,000 times already this week.  I have yelled at Lance.  I have been impatient with Hudson as I wake up for the 5th time in the middle of the night.  I get frantic as I am trying to feed Hudson and get dinner in the crockpot and get out the door in time for baby yoga.  I have very quickly forgotten about that peaceful Sunday afternoon where I was restful and just looking for pretty shells.  This is how sin operates.  We turn away and focus on our selves in an instant.  Thankfully Jesus offers us abundant grace.  Thankfully those shells do not leave and will be there for us next Sunday to return to.

This Mama Needs

This mama needs a lot of things. Coffee, patience, rest, gratitude, exercise, time. Amongst those things, the first and most important is Jesus and His abundant grace. I need His new mercies every. single. day.  Actually, I need them every single moment. Becoming a mom has shown me a lot about the current state of my heart.  It has shown me I am more selfish than I realized. That I have way less patience than I thought.  And it has ultimately shown me the really ugly parts of my heart that I have not needed to deal with for a while.  Becoming a mother has shown my deep insecurities.  It has revealed a heart that is so attached to the approval of humans. It has shown how uncomfortable I am at getting out of comfort zones.  It has shown me my longing at being perfect for my own self glory. Before Hudson, I could much better pretend that I had things together.  Now I have a 4-month old that is not intuned to my ever present needs to be perceived as perfect.  I have lost all control and through this loss I am left with a heart that is full of anxiety, stress, and insecurity.  This mama is tired. This mama is burnt out at trying to be perfect. This mama needs grace.

I feel so overwhelmed with this new role of motherhood.  While I also have a new type of joy I have never felt before, I also am living through a season where my needs are outweighing my haves.  Thankfully I only need one have: Jesus.  And I already have Him.  He has me.  And while I have a mighty long list of needs, I can rest in the knowledge that Jesus knows each of my needs and His love for me remains constant. My prayer is through this blog of grappling through my own ever-present need for Jesus’ abundant grace, that you too can remember that even when it feels like you have nothing together, that God loves you with a crazy love and He showers you with grace in all of your imperfections.