A Few of My Favorite Things for a Peaceful Christmas Season

angel

Ready or not, friends, the holiday season is upon us.

In a feat that can only be described as a Yuletide Miracle, our tree is up and our halls are decked. I don’t even know who we are anymore.

Like most of you, I love the holidays — the lights, the cookies, the kitschy Christmas mugs, the music and family traditions.

But…

The holidays can also be a struggle — the crazy calendar, the expectations, the “gimmes,” the low-grade pressure to make All The Things Special.

This is why I’m grateful for resources that quiet my soul, center my intentions {and make my house smell good.}

///

Here’s a not-too-overwhelming list of my personal favorites:
candles
// for you //

Journeying to Bethlehem by Kimberly Coyle

My soul sister Kimberly knows that our lives are crazy and spendy enough this season, so she’s created a free seasonal offering just for us called Journeying to Bethlehem: An Advent Audio Devotional. 

From Kimberly:

No money, no time commitment, no fuss. Just pop in a pair of earbuds, and join me for a few minutes every week as we prepare to make room in our hearts for Christ.

Yes please. Kimberly will deliver this weekly Advent devotional straight to your inbox. Click here to sign up.

///

The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp

51j96HtYpVL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_

If ever there was a season for quiet mornings, a steaming cup, and Ann’s poetic voice, it’s Christmas. Four years ago, this book began ministering to my hurried holiday self and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

///

Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim Keller

51s-AvtUp0L._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_

I got this one last year and look forward to reading it again. Also? It’s small, which I consider a virtue during this busy season.

From Amazon:

Timothy Keller takes readers on an illuminating journey into the surprising background of the nativity. By understanding the message of hope and salvation within the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth, readers will experience the redeeming power of God’s grace in a deeper and more meaningful way.

// for your kids //

Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide

Several years ago I wrote a Christmas post that exposed our less than angelic Advent moments as a family. {Picture me trying to gather my three cherubs in the living room to read The Greatest Gift to them. {Ann has since released a children’s version of that book and for that all the weary mothers rejoice.} Anyway, my sweet friend Lena read that post and promptly sent me this.

Unknown

Her note said, “Ann’s book is for you. This one is for your kids.”

God bless her.

It pains me to write that I now only have one child who will sit for this one and — true confession time — I still don’t think we’ve read every page. But that speaks more to my forgetfulness than it does to the engaging nature of the book. It’s delightful and I wholeheartedly recommend it.

///

Family Resources for Advent and Christmas from Sally Lloyd-Jones

JSB-advent-plan-2017

Chances are you already have the Jesus Storybook Bible. {If you don’t, I can’t think of a better time to grab a copy.} It’s for kids…and just as much for grown-ups. She’s created a free downloadable resource for families!

From the website:

Join us in a journey of wonder through The Jesus Storybook Bible this advent as we trace the beautiful story of God’s great love for us–from the very beginnings of the universe, to the birth of the baby who would rescue the whole world.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide includes:

a reading guide
printable ornaments
activity ideas
a note for parents from Sally
a special introduction from Sally

Click here to get your free resource. {And click here to snag a copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible.}

///

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

51UjRX0qs5L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

A beloved teacher read this to my class in elementary school and it. was. magical. It’s still one of my very favorite stories of all time.

There’s something completely refreshing about the irreligious, irreverent Herdman kids who found the Christmas story so startling, so amazing, that they hijacked the annual pageant {cigars and dirty sneakers in tow} and told the Christmas story to the entire town. A town that was so polite and well-mannered, they were embarrassed by the startling truth and wonder of their very own Christmas pageant.

It took the filthiest, most uncouth family infiltrating the town’s Christmas pageant to wake the people up to the greatest news of all:

Hey! Unto you a child is born! 

This story still has my whole heart.

// for your home //

Mrs. Meyers Iowa Pine Everything

51HE2fXayxL._SX425_

How did we ever manage the holiday season before Mrs. Meyers made Iowa Pine soap and spray and candles?

I could barely wait for Thanksgiving to wrap up, such was my excitement for all things Iowa Pine.

If you’d like a sampler set, here’s one with dish soap, multi-purpose spray, and hand soap. And here’s the candle. #thebest

///

Nestle Cookie Dough Sheets

cookie-sheets

It’s the Lazy Mom’s way of creating holiday moments in the kitchen, sans mess and stress. Hallelu.

///

Immanuel, a Christmas Album by Melanie Penn

Melanie-Penn_Cover

This has been on repeat as I’m making dinner or doing laundry.

Melanie has the voice of an angel.

I listened to an interview with her on Cultivated {a favorite podcast} and I couldn’t wait to hear this album in its entirety. It’s even lovelier than I imagined.

From her website:

These songs are about the first ones to hear the good news. They saw signs, had dreams, heard from angels, watched the stars, and they sang…

May this collection be a part of your Christmas season. And may you know the miracle of a person called Immanuel, God with us.

///

As you ease {or perhaps tumble} into this holiday season, may you remember that peace is a condition of the heart. We can make space to receive it, even when the world around us rattles with stress and expectation.

May grace, peace and smell-good candles be yours this holiday season!

Love, Marian

{P.S. Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase through the links. Thanks for helping to keep the lights on in this littler corner of the internet!} 

New here?

I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life. Each post provides courage, companionship, and resources for life lived real.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox.

When You’re Carrying Something That No One Can See: Christmas Hope for Weary Souls

candles

…because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.     ~ Matthew 1:20b

 

It was the second Sunday of Advent and these words leapt from the passage and lodged in my spirit.

I could not shake them.

As my children squirmed in their church seats and rifled through my bag for gum and pens, God whispered his attribute to my walled-off heart:

I am a God who conceives unthinkable things. 

Within the virgin womb of an ordinary Jewish girl, the most divine alchemy swirled with light and life infused by the Holy Spirit.

It’s December 5th. I am worn out and wrung out. God whispers truth about himself and about me:

Marian, I am a God who conceives things. This is not simply who I was at a single point in history. It is who I am and will always be. It is what I do within those who I have called for divine purposes. But you must yield to it. 

I thought more closely about the order of things in Mary’s life, scribbling notes and arrows on my worship folder.

The Holy Spirit — > conception — > surrender — > carrying that which no one can see — > labor  /  pain — > new life — > death — > redemption

I whisper back:

God, what have you conceived in me that I have not yet surrendered to? In what ways must I yield?

And I know what it is. I know what I carry that no one can see.

I long to carry something different and God says no.

This is what I have conceived in you. Will you carry it? Will you labor under this burden and choose to receive it as a blessing? Will you trust that there is life and death and redemption on the other side?

baby

As I write this post, my lip quivers. I do not want to say yes.

In his book, Ruthless Trust, Brennan Manning says this about people, pain, and purpose:

Anyone God uses significantly is always deeply wounded…On the last day, Jesus will look us over not for medals, diplomas, or honors, but for scars.

 

My view of humanity is limited; I can’t possibly match up each person that God has significantly used with a corresponding deep woundedness. But I know there is truth to what Manning says.

I know that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. I know that pain humbles us and that wounds make us real.

I’m not looking to be a person of great significance in the kingdom of God. The older I get, the more uncomfortable I am with attention. But I long to be a meaningful part of God’s work here on earth. I don’t want my story, my labor, or my scars to be wasted.

/////

Mary didn’t have to say yes.

We’re not robots. God entrusts us with choices even within the mystery of sovereign will. He invited her to be part of his work and she said yes.

And aren’t we glad that she, like Jesus, yielded to her Father’s will instead of surrendering to her own rightful agenda?

Her yes gave birth to the light and life of the world. This is why we sing songs of rejoicing at Christmas.

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

We don’t rejoice because all is right with the world —

We don’t rejoice because life has gone as we’d hoped —

We don’t rejoice because we have a robust college fund for our kids —

We don’t rejoice because we have a marriage that’s easy —

We don’t rejoice because we have jobs that are well-paying and secure —

We rejoice because we are a weary and wounded people but we are not abandoned in this state.

girl-on-a-hill

Perhaps you’re carrying a hard and heavy thing you never asked to conceive, much less labor under.

But what if we see our heavy thing as a privilege instead of a weight?

What if we choose trusting instead of fighting?

What if we choose the mindset of freedom instead of bondage — freedom to die to our expectations and even our desires because we trust in a greater purpose?

Mary died to reputation, to convention, to logic, to self, to a comfortable path. She was forced to flee while pregnant and birthed her baby in a crude and humble dwelling. Her newborn child slept in a feeding trough for animals. Who would choose that?

No one.

But with a posture of humility and trust, she yielded to a divine purpose she couldn’t actually see. As she received the unthinkable realities of her own life, she simultaneously received the glorious hope that waited on the other side.

I am the Lord’s servant…may your word to me be fulfilled.

Death always precedes redemption.

Right now I’m wrestling with a sort of death, clenching tightly to fear, to desire, to doubt, and to my own logical solutions instead of placing my big self aside and submitting to the will of the Father.

If you’re in the same place, may the story of Christ comfort us and lead us as we wait for a miracle. May we receive our own lives with trust and hope this Christmas.

That which is conceived in you, though it feels unwelcome, may actually be destined for fullness of life. 

 

You may also enjoy:

Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

Why You Really Are Prepared for Christmas, Even if You’re Not

/////

New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a gift for subscribers:

school made simple freebie header

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!

*Some affiliate links are used. Thanks for kindly supporting this little corner of the internet!

Header image source: Pixabay

Why Compassion is the Answer to a Messy Christmas

compassion christmas

How I talk to others is usually a barometer for how I’m talking to myself. And by others, I mean those living in my own house. I am highly skilled at being polite and kind to friends and acquaintances. But the filters come off when I’m in the comfort of my own home and I allow the inner critic to have its way with me.

I’ve been measuring my worth by external markers again. Which means I’ve been measuring others by external markers too.

My house is chaos. Therefore I am chaos.

It’s December 14th and a tree isn’t up for the second year in a row. Therefore I am bad at making Christmas happen.

Relationships under my own roof are hard right now and I’m to blame for plenty of it. Therefore I am a hypocrite and a terrible person.

This child cannot get his / her act together and perhaps never will. Therefore I am a terrible parent and he / she is a terrible child.

You get the gist. I look around at all that is unwell and blame myself. While also, somehow, blaming everyone else. Christmas is a time of generosity and there is just an abundance of blame to pass around!

It has not been the most wonderful time of the year. And while I write this, I am under the quilt because I have the flu.

{Raise your hand if you’re inspired yet by this heartwarming Yuletide post.}

JOY

I’m hardly the first one to say it but there is enormous pressure to get the Christmas season right. Even though Pinterest is not the boss of me, I subscribe to some sort of invisible magazine of expectations and I am the editor. Even though I am all about grace and receiving your own life, December — with all its expectation and obligation — never fails to turn me into a crazy person. I’m my own worst enemy.

Between the Advent readings {we’ve done 6 out of 16} and the gifting and the shopping and the buying and the events and the decorating and the memories we’re supposed to be making, I can’t do it all {on top of real life} and stay well.

I actually get giddy over Christmas. I love traditions. I love presents. I want to create a special season for those I love and give to those who suffer. And this is quite a lot to squeeze into four short weeks. It’s probably why I’ve wanted to skip Christmas, this most beloved holiday of mine, the last three years.

I want to skip Christmas because I’m tired and when I look at this season, it doesn’t look like Jesus. It looks like striving.

When I consider Jesus coming as a baby in the dead of night, hustle and overspending and overscheduling and killing myself isn’t what comes to mind.

Jesus is rest. He is peace. He is fullness. He is compassion.

And compassion always begins with kindness toward myself. At first that sounds like some modern selfish mantra. But it’s not. If I can’t personally receive the lavishness of God’s love and grace, I am hard on others like I’m hard on myself. And that has been terribly true lately.

As Charles Spurgeon wrote long ago,

It is no use for you to attempt to sow out of an empty basket, for that would be sowing nothing but wind.

There has been no compassion in my basket. I’ve gone about my days, sowing out of sheer effort and grit. And it shows up most in my demeanor and in my relationships.

Getting the flu has been a blessing in disguise. I’ve been able to read and reflect, to meditate and sort of rest, as much as a mom is actually allowed to rest. And in this time of stillness, God whispers this message to my weary, walled-off heart:

Calm down. Be compassionate. First to yourself. Then to others. Quit being so demanding and measuring your worth by all the wrong things. And then quit being so hard on those you love and measuring their worth by all the wrong things. I did not come to condemn you, but to love you. And when you begin to believe that I love you just as you are and not as you want to be, loving others just as they are gets a little bit easier.

camera self portrait

Each year, I’m in a different set of circumstances during Advent but the theme tends to remain the same — Christmas is not what I expect it to be. I expect it to be a little more worthy of admiration than it typically is. I struggle to receive my own life, even at Christmas. Especially at Christmas.

I know this because I’m a writer and the words of Christmases past tell me so. I am both comforted and disappointed by the fact that I’ve never quite gotten it “right” by my own expectations.

In the midst of a house that’s still unsettled with unpacked boxes and unpainted walls —

In the middle of Advent and still no Christmas tree —

In the middle of growing-up kids who often bring out the worst in me instead of the best —

I long to speak with compassionate language toward myself and others.

These words by Father Gregory Boyle have given me much to ponder because indeed, the Lord does often come disguised as myself. And it’s always when I come to the end of myself that I see Him clearly for who He really is, a God of boundless compassion toward all who are needy and long to receive the life and love he brings.

Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don’t grow into this — we just learn to pay better attention. The “no matter whatness” of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.

~ Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle

 

angel

This Christmas season, maybe you’re feeling pretty good about yourself and your efforts.

Or maybe you’re like me. And you feel a little bit like a disaster.

May your own flawed and failed humanity be the unlikeliest portal to find Christ Himself, who loves you in whatever condition you may find yourself. May the “no matter whatness” of God be still your spirit in this hurried season. And may his lavish love spill over and run like a stream into the lives of those around you who are thirsting for it.

/////

This post is one I unwrapped from the 2015 archives. Guess what? The boxes may be {mostly} unpacked but not much else has changed. My heart may forever need this message of compassion each time December rolls around.

Grace and peace, my friends.

/////

New here? I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

And I have a gift for subscribers:

school made simple freebie header

If you’re overwhelmed by the many educational options for your kids, if you’re curious about the most important questions to ask, I have a FREE resource created just for you!

*Some affiliate links are used. Thanks for kindly supporting this little corner of the internet!