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.

Finding the Unlikely Path to Gratitude

fall windows light

I’m an Accidental Optimist.

Thankfulness and positivity are just not the natural ways of me. I’ve alway been a glass-half-empty girl who faked that I’m not unless I was around those safest and closest. Bless their hearts, they have long borne my frequent lament, my incessant pining, my uncanny ability to see all that I was missing instead of all that I had.

My journey from empty to full began about nine years ago when I began writing on the internet. Turning the everyday stories of my messy, post-career life as a mother of three littles began to reorient my perspective. I’d begin a post with some sort of frustration or less than ideal situation, and lo, by the time I was finished, lemonade had replaced the lemons. Gratitude had replaced complaint. Grace had replaced failure.

It was the most serendipitous thing of my life. My own words would show up, one at a time, and take me somewhere else, even though I still lived in the same life. That’s still the way it happens. I never know exactly where they’ll lead; I simply follow the letters like bread crumbs toward a destination.

Usually that destination is a hopeful one, but not always. Like the Psalm that ends in honest declaration instead of victory and refreshment,

Darkness is my closest friend. 

Even then, our souls can find consolation as striving and pretending come to a halt, giving way to the strange peace of acceptance.

///

Through writing, I discovered that that even our messiest of days are tinged with possibility. Redemption awaits. We only need to find the smallest of pathways and choose to keep walking.

path

The gateway to a life of gratitude looks different for each of us — nature, reflection, rest, stepping away from it all for a moment or a day, prayer and meditation, a needful anti-depressant, reading Scripture, helping someone else, counseling, books.

I’m not talking about escapism or running away; I’m talking about reorientation. We find a way to see the same situation with different eyes.

We do this in both everyday and epic ways. I’ll share a story for both.

For years now, my vehicle has felt like a second home. With three kids in three different schools, with sports and youth group and all the things, I became downright bitter about the constant running around. Sadly, my martyrdom wasn’t a silent one.

And then I began doing the math, realizing that my days in the minivan with these kids were numbered.

Picking my daughter up from cheerleading practice every day felt like an inconvenience and an interruption until I began to see it as an opportunity for connection. Sometimes that connection looked like listening and biting my tongue as she vented her anger. Sometimes the connection looked like swinging by Sonic on the way home and laughing together as we listened to the Popcast. Sometimes it looked like arguing and steely silence. But always, it was an opportunity to water the soil of relationship.

And then there are the “epic” reorientations.

This usually requires divine intervention because it means life has so completely gone off the rails, all we can feel and see is that last line of Psalm 88: Darkness is my closest friend.

In 2011, I had just finished reading Ann Voskamp’s modern classic, One Thousand Gifts. It was providential to say the least, though I had no way of knowing it at the time.

Life did go off the rails.

And through the most unexplainable yet clearly divine power, I dropped to my knees, face to floor and gave thanks. I remember exactly where I was in my house. I remember the time of day.

I had never done that before and I haven’t done it since. But the message of that book had prepared my soul for the uninvited story I was just beginning to live.

Though I didn’t stay in that posture of gratitude moment by moment and day by day, I believe that experience shot a sacred arrow into an unseen battle. I knew my circumstances weren’t a cruel cosmic joke. This was all out war. And the battle was for my family. I resolved that day to fight for what was mine and for what was God’s.

boys beach

It’s the strangest, most counterintuitive thing to say but it’s true: the grief and the fight began with thankfulness.

Whether it’s something as inconsequential as a disappointing grade or something as devastating as family fracture, redemption begins when we dare to look Devastation in the face and call it Possibility.

Ann Voskamp says this,

That which we refuse to thank Christ for — we refuse to believe Christ can redeem.

///

It’s the season of thanks but that doesn’t mean it’s all holiday drinks from Starbucks and happy Thanksgiving anticipation. I’ve learned that giving thanks isn’t a list or conjured up sentimentalism or an obligatory thing we do around the family table.

The deepest gratitude often looks like surrender.

It looks like humility as I relinquish my rights and expectations to receive what life is instead of what I want life to be. 

It looks like a discipline that doesn’t get easier but comes to me more quickly over time.

It looks like fighting the emotion of resentment with the counter emotion of thankfulness. 

It looks like choosing to see the good that’s there instead of the good that’s missing. 

It looks like receiving the everyday and epic moments with a heart of faith and trust in the One who lived and died and lived again — teaching us that every death actually holds the potential for new life. 

leaves + mirror

///

Resources and Inspiration

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are :: This modern classic is one to return to over and over again.

Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love :: The real life story of Katherine and Jay Wolf. Their lives point others to choose hope and gratitude, no matter the circumstances. I love following them on Instagram too!

The Lazy Genius Practices Thankfulness {short podcast} :: “It feels right to give thanks in November, but it also feels forced and annoying sometimes. Let’s get back to the basics of gratitude and actually enjoy a season of giving thanks. No daily journals necessary.” Yes and Amen.

How to Give Thanks for Your REAL {messy * beautiful * laughable * sorrowful * honest * hopeful} LIFE :: a November post by yours truly : )

Follow me on Instagram for 30 days of thanks!

23476827_10154854666472056_1699089890_n

My friend Kimberly invited me to join her in this endeavor. It’s something she’s done the last few years and she said it’s helped to prepare her heart for Advent. I need that. My hope is to inspire all of us to give thanks for the ordinary gifts of our real lives. 

“30 Days of Actual Gratitude” :: Because we should never take ourselves too seriously. : ) You guys, Knox and Jamie from the Popcast are doing #30daysofactualgratude on Twitter. It’s the best.

30daysofactualgratitude

///

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.

Remember Who the Real Enemy Is

tree - 1

Two weeks ago, I slipped away for 48 hours to the beautiful North Carolina mountains to speak for a women’s retreat. The theme for our time together was “Receiving Your Own Life: How Your Story Can Shine with the Beauty of Redemption.”

It’s the theme of my own life. And as I learned after two days with about 30 new friends, it’s not an unfamiliar theme. Live any length of time and you will find yourself with a story you probably would have written differently, even if it’s just an unwanted chapter or two.

Pinterest tells you to receive a curated life.

Experts tell you to receive only your best life.

American culture tells you to receive a prosperous life.

And I gulp it all down. I do. I want a life that’s lovely and charming, one in which I never feel any real lack or desperation. I want a life filled with beauty, adventure, abundance and peace.

These deep-seated longings are not wrong; they’ve been inside us all along, caged in our hearts and passed down throughout the ages. Man woke to life in a perfect garden, a place of unimaginable beauty, abundance, fellowship, and perfection. A place where work was delight instead of drudgery. A place where relationships were free from pain and complication. A place where shame and anxiety were not even words.

We’re all trying to get back to that place, aren’t we?

///

On my way home from a literal mountaintop, I drove through the worst rain I’ve ever experienced. And then, forty-five minutes from home, I was warned of tornado sightings and took shelter at my sister’s house.

Two days after I returned, a hectic morning resulted in a driveway accident that left two cars {one of them purchased only weeks before} dented and damaged. Just a couple of months prior, I backed my own vehicle into a mailbox. We still need to replace the entire back door. So now all of our vehicles need repair. It’s frustratingly symbolic.

We are not in Eden anymore.

On the mountain, I told the women to expect these sorts of “enemies.” We’d spent some time talking about truths we have to remember if we’re going to “receive our own lives” and reflect redemption on a daily basis.

We have to remember who the real enemy is.

chair

Sometimes I re-watch The Hunger Games movies when they’re on TV. Just last night I tuned in at the part of Catching Fire when Katniss has her arrow pointed at Finnick, one of the other tributes in the Game. He says to her, “Katniss, remember who the real enemy is.”

{Spoiler alert.}

Once Katniss remembers the real enemy {the Capitol}, she redirects her arrow away from Finnick, her supposed enemy and rival tribute, and instead shoots into the forcefield of the Game itself.

In doing so, she shatters a false world and everything the real enemy had so carefully crafted to distract and deceive everyone.

And so it is with us. There are actual enemies at work: the world, the flesh, and the devil.

I know, I know. That sounds fine and normal if we’re talking about a movie or a dystopian book series. But when we’re applying these concepts to our real lives? Well, it sounds like crazy talk. Surely we are too rational for this.

Even if we acknowledge the broken world as an enemy —

Even if we acknowledge our own flesh or ego as an enemy —

We often fail to acknowledge that there is real darkness waging war against real light. And so, like Katniss in the Game, we instinctively choose counterfeit enemies instead of the real ones. In the heat of our emotion and in the trenches of our mess, we simply forget.

Functional amnesia causes us to disregard the unseen enemy and to aim our arrow at the lesser foe right in front of us.

Our spouses

Our kids

Their decisions

Our co-workers

Our jobs

Church and its leaders

Elected officials

sunset

If we can direct our anger, our energy, and our words toward a counterfeit enemy, the real enemy can prowl around unnoticed, growing all the more powerful as we become all the more blind. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have antagonistic people, legitimate conflict, and tangible forces working against us. We do. But consider the real enemy before you waste all your energy going to battle against a puppet or a distraction.

My enemy can look like a million different things, depending on the day:

It looks like 3 dented cars in my driveway.

It looks like someone I’m angry with.

It looks like the cancer that’s making my friend sick.

It looks like certain circumstances that will never change.

It looks like a nation viciously divided.

It looks like abuses of power and heartbreaking victimization.

It looks like poverty.

It looks like wealth.

It looks like the internet.

It looks like rejection of truth and beauty and peace.

I don’t know what enemies you face today. But my prayer in writing this post is that you may have the pause, the grace, and the wisdom to discern how to approach your own enemies.

My husband and I are no strangers to conflict, but several years ago we began reminding ourselves of this truth: We are on the same team. In a way, it’s just another way of saying, “Remember who the real enemy is.”

It doesn’t always solve the problem, but it does remind us to stand beside one another in solidarity against the actual enemy of our marriage, instead of facing off against one another as counterfeit enemies.

Real life is full of enough threats to our security, our peace, and our perspective. Let’s not make our own team members part of the opposing side.

///

I was reminded a few days ago that God doesn’t tell us to wait for the enemies to be vanquished before we receive our own lives with trust and gratitude.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies. {Psalm 23:5}

I’d honestly never noticed this before. This is a Psalm about being led by still waters and having a Shepherd who quiets our souls. It’s a song about goodness and love and being anointed with oil and having a cup that overflows.

courage - 1

All while enemies are still present.

As we remember who the real enemy is, may we also remember who the real Savior is. {Hint: It’s not us.} Jesus is both a warrior and a shepherd, a king and a servant.

He deals powerfully with our real enemies even as He cares for our wounded and weary souls.

///

For further reading, Psalm 23

///

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.