A Few of My Favorite Things for a Peaceful Christmas Season

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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.}

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Here’s a not-too-overwhelming list of my personal favorites:
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// 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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Family Resources for Advent and Christmas from Sally Lloyd-Jones

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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.}

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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

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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

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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

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Nestle Cookie Dough Sheets

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

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Immanuel, a Christmas Album by Melanie Penn

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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.

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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!} 

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10 Things I’ve Learned This Spring

10 things learned spring

It’s the start of a new season and that means it’s time to share what we’ve learned lately. These posts are some of my favorite to write because the serious and the silly get to hang out in one post.

“What We Learned” is hosted by one of my favorite people, Emily P. Freeman. It’s an invitation to “reflect on the past season before we move ahead into the future.”

You can find this community link-up over at her place, so join us!

On to the things I learned, in no particular order:

 

1. The Fitness Marshall is just as delightful and infectious in person.

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My sister-in-law turns 40 this year and each month of 2017, this sweet, laid-back, homeschool mom of 4 is trying to do something a little bit crazy. She introduced me to The Fitness Marshall months ago and it only felt right that since he was coming to Charlotte on his spring Tour of Booty {not making that up}, we’d join in the fun.

And IT WAS INDEED SO FUN. It felt like church. Or at least the way I want church to feel. All ages and shapes and sizes and colors all gathered together, showing up as we are, getting lost in the wonder and experience of it all.

There’s something magical about being in the presence of someone who is doing what they were made to do and sharing it with the world, whether that “world” is a giant stage or just the small gathering of a few. Caleb Marshall loves to dance, loves to encourage, and loves people. I’m so grateful he didn’t keep all of that to himself. {His cardio hip-hop videos are free on You Tube and so super fun.}

2. Sometimes it’s good when people have too much time on their hands.

Because they invent the wonderful ridiculousness of things like the Magic iPod. My brother sent me this text a couple of months ago.

“Themagicipod.com. You’re welcome.” : )

If you’re familiar with late 90s / early 2000s music, you’ll love this. You drag one of the songs on the left to one of the songs on the right and it mixes them.

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My favorite? Mix Bubba Sparxxx with Vanessa Carlton. But not when your children are listening because the Bubba Sparxxx song is called, “Ms. New Booty.” {As if the 3 X’s in his name weren’t enough of a clue.} I know, this is a family blog and I’ve already typed “booty” twice. My apologies. Will I get illicit comment span after this?

 

3. You can return your most recent Audible book if you didn’t enjoy it.

I subscribed to Audible this year because I have a child who struggles a bit with reading and we needed a better way to get through some of the assigned books for school. But I’ve actually enjoyed having it for myself. I find that a lot of the “mundane” work in my life {driving, cooking, laundry, etc.} feels less mundane when I have the companionship of story.

Here’s the thing about audiobooks. Sometimes books should be read and not heard. One book that I won’t mention had lots of relational conflict and yelling. Guess what? Hearing someone do all of that yelling stressed me out so bad. But I had to find out what happened in the story so I finished it. It wasn’t one of my better decisions. So when I found out that I could return the book for credit simply because I didn’t enjoy the experience, that felt like a win.

I’ve now returned two Audible books and chosen other books in their place, all for zero dollars.

{If you’re interested in giving Audible a try, click here and you can get two free audiobooks for signing up. And yes, that’s an affiliate link but I’m a fan regardless.}

4. The 10-10-10 principle for prioritizing.

Historically, I’m terrible at prioritizing. All the things feel important all the time. Sometimes this lands me in a place of anxiety and sometimes it lands me in a place of paralysis. I’m always on a hunt for the “secret” that will unlock a cure for this disorder of mine. I don’t think it exists but sometimes I stumble across something that helps shift the way I think.

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Recently I was reading through a January 2014 back issue of Real Simple and I came across an article, “Balance or Bust” by Marjorie Ingall. The subtitle reads: One indefatigable woman takes on a marathon research project (2,330 pages of self-help!), determined to master life’s juggling act — even if it kills her. 

It’s one of my favorite features they’ve ever done. She boils down all of the wisdom she’s binged and shares the basics with her readers. This one has stuck with me.

Whenever you face a tough decision, find your answer by considering the consequences of each potential choice in the next 10 minutes, the next 10 months, and the next 10 years.

I’ve started using this principle for everything from taking the time to read to my youngest, to choosing not to write as much because my scant spare is better spent on relational opportunities that are fleeting. Sometimes I apply this principle when I’m in a moment of panic, “Ten minutes from now I’ll still be in a bad state but ten years from now I won’t even remember. Deep breaths.”

Books she mentions in this article that I actually purchased {and have not yet finished because no time #irony.}:

In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life by Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin, one of my favorites.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz {her favorite of all the self-help books.}

 

5. How to take vitamins.

My friend wanted me to try these vitamins so I took them for a week and actually felt better. {I’m going to buy some on my June order and see how I feel long-term. I’ll keep you posted.} Anyway, while doing some research, I stumbled upon this video of a darling gal with the sweetest accent and purple hair telling me how to take 6 vitamins at a time.

Y’all. It’s magic. It totally works. And it actually makes taking vitamins or any pills seem less daunting.

 

6. How to cook spaghetti squash.

As I type this I’m 26 days into a Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. I’m an “all things in moderation” gal and I don’t have any food allergies. I may have actually made fun of restrictive eating trends and regimens like this one.

But I turned 44 this week and let me tell you, hormonal shifts are no joke. Over the last year I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the sugar / bread / junk I consume and my mood / energy level / yelling. More protein and less other stuff keeps me stable..ish. Plus someone I love wanted to do Whole30 so I took it on as an act of solidarity.

w30 snack

What my afternoon pick-me-up looks like. “I’m jealous of that awesome snack” says no one.

Which is why I’m eating things like spaghetti squash. There are a gazillion links on the internet about spaghetti squash but here’s the big thing I want to tell you. Most people are cutting it wrong. If you want long “noodles,” cut the squash width-wise instead of length-wise.

This post and video from “Eat Within Your Means” taught me all about it.

 

7. The Popcast with Knox and Jamie is everything.

I know. Could I be any later to the party? So I’d heard about The Popcast for ages but didn’t check it out because I thought it was just a podcast version of People magazine. I love People. But I’m sooooo out of the celebrity culture loop that I figured it would all be lost on me. Also? People without the pictures had zero appeal.

But it’s not that at all. The Popcast “is a weekly podcast that educates the world on things that entertain, but do not matter.” And they absolutely live up to that bold mission.

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Knox and Jamie could talk about how to boil water or how to make your bed and guess what? I would still tune in because they are that hilarious and endearing. I started listening in January and haven’t missed an episode since. My favorite so far: Episode 181. “Misunderstood Songs and Misheard Lyrics.” 

 

8. Hemp Protein Powder is the worst.

On a quest to pump up our smoothies with extra protein that didn’t have a bunch of fillers {this was pre-Whole30}, I bought Hemp Powder. Thinking to myself, “Well, the more nutrition the better so I’ll just load these smoothies up with several giant scoops of health.”

My husband thought I had made his smoothie with soil and drywall mix. If you must use Hemp protein powder, for the love, moderation.

 

9. We need silence, not just rest.

I loved this article because it unpacked what I’ve found to be true for myself but am so quick to forget.

For a number of reasons, in April I took a 3 week hiatus from social media and the internet in general except for what I needed to do for work. And instead of listening to podcasts or stories or music, I mostly didn’t. It felt like a reset button for my brain and my spirit.

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The Harvard Business Review article explains it this way.

Cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.

This kind of silence is about resting the mental reflexes that habitually protect a reputation or promote a point of view. It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.

Yes please.

Silence is free. It’s simple. But it’s also awkward, foreign, and even uncomfortable for us moderns who have a constant feed of information and noise at our fingertips all the time.

For me, choosing silence is a discipline I want more of.

 

10. The small griefs matter too.

Despite all the gifts of the past year, I’ve also wrestled with loss. I was telling my husband Sunday night that for twelve solid months, I feel like I’ve lost all my rhythms and some of my identity.

Because this season of life and motherhood and responsibilities has been surprising and unique in what it’s asked of me, my life-giving disciplines have been (at best) haphazard and (at worst) non-existent.

I’m not able to write as often. Certain creative projects that mean the world to me are sitting on a shelf. I crammed for my Bible study way more than I wanted to. I had little occasion to journal and be still. Some weeks I’d exercise 4 times and then go three weeks without doing anything. My days and weeks have been highly scheduled yet also wildly unpredictable.

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The internet hasn’t helped. Sometimes social media has felt like a sea of people all going one direction, passing me by with their pursuits and fulfilled dreams while I sit in a rowboat, working hard but seemingly getting nowhere that I’ve deemed worthy. I know this isn’t necessarily true but my perspective has been fueled by envy and self-pity, both of them terrible counselors.

I’ve faced far more painful things in my life than this. I’ve experienced real grief and walked hard roads. Which is why these lesser griefs and frustrations are embarrassing to admit. Recently I’ve confessed and processed with a couple of trusted souls who have been kind to affirm that the lesser losses are also worthy of our tears. Something about bringing them into the light has felt freeing.

If you’re feeling the same way, I wrote a little while back about overwhelm and these lesser griefs — and how I found safety and consolation in a strange and unexpected place. You can find it here.

So what have YOU learned this spring? I’d love to hear. We can dish about it in the comments and don’t forget that you can also join in over at Emily’s.

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Why Taking the Time to Listen May be the Most Fruitful Way to Begin a New Year

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It’s the beginning of January, the season for all things self-improvement.

I spent the first Monday of the New Year not going to my exercise class and staying in my pajamas to bask in the quiet and solitude of an empty house. I set aside my work tasks, lit a candle at my desk, spent a bit of time with the words of Jesus, grabbed my journal, pen, and book and settled into the leather recliner beside my desk.

Enveloped by the quiet of my home and the stillness of January, I tried to remember the last time I’d afforded myself such luxury. I couldn’t remember.

Sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until we actually sit down at the table to eat. That’s how I felt, like a starving girl who’s waited too long for nourishment.

The demands of the fall semester depleted me more than I realized. When the holidays rolled around, a glad spirit was nowhere to be found. My soul, battered by the waves of stress, emotional turmoil, family busy-ness, and mind-numbing distraction, washed up on the shore of December and lay there in an exhausted, burned-out heap.

We didn’t travel over Christmas so it should have felt easier. I kept waiting for a grand infusion of holiday spirit.

Nothing.

It’s so easy to forget who we truly are at our core and therefore what we really need. In recent months I’ve chosen distraction over reflection. I’ve numbed so that I wouldn’t have to feel. I’ve used busy-ness and legitimate responsibility as excuses for not pursuing the life-giving disciplines of solitude and writing.

When we sit in stillness, we’re forced to reckon with that which comes to the surface. I had pain I didn’t want to stare in the face. So I’d stop by Goodwill. Or scroll through Instagram. I’d become increasingly impulsive and less intentional. And while that feels good and sometimes even momentarily life-giving, I suffered from low-grade frustration, shame, and resentment.

This is not how I want my life to look. 

We can say that about all sorts of things over which we have no control — illness, tragedy, job loss. But mine was a self-induced disappointment. It’s easier to have compassion toward ourselves when we’re victims of external forces; it’s harder to climb out of a pit that we’ve made for ourselves and settled into.

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In the past, I’d have bootstrapped my way into short-term self-improvement. Books! Lists! Goals!

But I’m tired. And I’ve tried all of that. I know the answers and there’s nothing trendy or sexy about any of it.

Today means forgoing the gym and wearing yesterday’s mascara. It means acknowledging my weariness and my lack. It means looking at my mistakes across the recent months, feeling the pain I’ve tried to numb, taking inventory of my real self and my real life and just listening for a bit.

Honestly, I prefer actionable steps and instant success, obvious answers and best practices.

But those are not the ways of the soul.

I’m rereading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer and I love what he says about how our soul responds to force:

The soul is like a wild animal — tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.

 

I spent the first weekday of January “sitting at the base of a tree,” so to speak. And the truth of who I am began to emerge with more clarity and familiarity than I expected, especially since we’ve been a bit estranged for a while.

With Parker’s language, I spent some time asking myself honest questions about the “truths I embody” and the “values I represent.” I reflected on what my right-now life is telling me {the good, the bad, the ugly} and how that may intersect with the gifts I too often compartmentalize.

I took the time to listen to my life — repenting of the ways I’d misspent my time and effort and acknowledging the life-giving practices I’d neglected.

And for the first time in many, many weeks, the spark of hope began to warm me from within, shining its light into my rhythms, my roles, my work, and my creativity.

I look forward to sharing some hope-filled ideas with you in the coming year. Too often we believe that our right-now roles and routines crowd out the life-giving pursuits that make our hearts sing. But I believe there’s always space for our gifts to walk around in unlikely seasons of life instead of sitting in a box until life issues a more timely invitation.

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If this sounds like the encouragement you need, I invite you to join the conversation so you won’t miss a thing. Simply enter your e-mail address in the box at the end of this post and you’re all set.

In the meantime, give your weary mind and soul the gift of solitude. Schedule it if you have to. Hide in your closet while your kids watch a show or give yourself some space during nap time. Spend your lunch break in a quiet place without your phone. Resist the urge to immediately make lists and default to actionable responses.

Listen to your life.

God speaks to us through his Word and through creation, in prayer and in silence. But He also directs us through the unique ways He’s wired us to think, work, create, lead, and serve in the world. When we don’t acknowledge the nuances of who we are, we can overlook what we might offer to those around us.

If you feel like it, take some time to journal the thoughts and emotions that come to the surface. It may feel awkward at first. And you may be surprised by what shows up.

Here are some simple questions that may help to guide your listening:

  • What has caused undue weariness?
  • How have you numbed, avoided, and distracted?
  • How have you tried to live a life that’s not yours?
  • What parts of yourself have you kept hidden? Why?
  • What truths, values, and longings are at the heart of your identity?
  • In what ways do you want to live more authentically in the new year?

 

It takes courage to sit with who you really are. And it takes trust to receive your own life. In this new year, I pray that God will give you both.

May your brave listening give way to hope and renewal in 2017. I’m so glad to have you here.

 

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Resources you may find helpful:

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In a way this feels counterintuitive. After a post in which I’ve encouraged listening instead of action, I’m now giving you a list of sorts.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes certain books and practices become a helpful guide, giving me language and tools to excavate that which I often cover up with busy-ness, distraction, and the chaos of my own overthinking brain.

I’m picky about how a certain book or post makes me feel at the end. Do I feel guilty or inspired? Condemned or encouraged? All of these spoke truth and served as a helpful guide in ways that set me free and never felt preachy. Amen.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here you go:

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

“What’s on Your DON’T List?” {Free Hope*Writers Podcast}

This podcast is so freeing and helpful, even if you’re not a writer. I believe it’s fruitful for everyone to make a list of what you’re not going to do.

3 Gentle Ways to Review Your Life in the New Year, a blog post by Emily P. Freeman

The Book of John

This just happens to be what I’m studying this year. The beauty of God’s Word is that it’s alive and active. It speaks to my current questions and hardships. If often influences what I write. I’ve been amazed at the ways in which the words of John have helped me to live in the tension between my hopes and my reality, revitalizing the unseen, sacred work of my right-now life.

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of You

r Right-Now Life, a series

About a year ago, I began a post that turned into an 8-part series that explores how we can live responsibly in the right-now while not letting go of the hoped-for.


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