Throwback Thursday ~ When They Were All 13

In our house we have tried to mark becoming a teenager in a very specific way. We hate the whole just-wait-until-they’re-a-teenager attitude that is so pervasive even within the church as if we have no choice but to have deep rebellion and bad attitudes from our kids.

Obviously, the teen years are at times tumultuous and emotional because there is a whole lot going on. Growing up and growing pains are par for course but that doesn’t mean it has to look like defiance and sneaking out of windows. We can set an expectation and lay ground work to help our kids know that they are not at the mercy of all the boiling emotion and changes they will experience during this time.

One of the ways Rob and I decided to mark this special time with our girls was to actually carry on a tradition my father did with me and my sisters. The girls are each given a ring as a reminder as the approach the age of boys and relationships that their father is there to guide and help protect their hearts until the right time for them to wear another ring placed on their finger by a young man as they prepare to marry.

We also wait for the girls to get their ears pierced so after a special dinner and getting their ring, Rob takes them to have that done. My part in all of this has been to take some formal portraits of our daughters. We choose to do formal dresses to mark the transition from girlhood to young womanhood in a way that is feminine and special.

Claire turned thirteen in November and it marked the end of this era in our family. It was a bit of a moment as my last child entered into her teen years. She wanted to wait until after her ears were pierced to do her pictures and we finally got the window of time to do them last weekend. Tomorrow I will share more of hers but today I thought it would be fun to look back at all four girls’ 13th birthday pictures.

To say my skills behind the camera have improved through the years is an understatement.

Be that as it may, it was bittersweet to look back at such a significant day in the lives of our girls and remember the innocence between girlhood and womanhood.

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Emily loved horses and some dear friends let us come over to their place and include one of their horses in her pictures.

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Abby turned thirteen the year that Frozen came out. We were doing her pictures in a local park when this little girl came running across the field with her mother trying to catch her. She was convinced Abby was Elsa and was all starry eyed.

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Claire.

Man, the mix of it being the baby and the official close to a part of life had all the feels.

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Four daughters. Four. Daughters.

Rob gets ribbed a lot about those four daughters…the emotions, the drama, the weddings! And sometimes the weight of raising four women to image God in a world that hates all that God would have for women as good is heavy.

But it is a heavy blessing rich with joy.

Our 12 Days of Christmas

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Celebrating Christmas for twelve whole days can seem a bit daunting at first and people are usually quite curious when they hear it’s what we do in our family. Hopefully, this post will clear up some of the mystery and answer the “What does it look like?” question we usually get.

But let me take a minute and answer the second most asked question we get.

“Isn’t it expensive?”

Well, yes and no. In the long run we probably do spend a little bit more than we used to. Honestly, I prefer the deliberate and meaningful generosity in this way of gift giving though. And to be clear we are a single income family. A single pastoral income…we’re not talking big bucks here so I work at planning in order to be as frugal as possible. Also, since it is spread out over time that means the cost is spread out too. And hello after Christmas sales! I have found that I am bound more by my creativity than I am by money constraints. Some days are more expensive than others but none of them have to be a huge expense. For us there are just some things we do not do often during the year because it’s expensive for a family of our size to do them and they become the perfect gift for one of our 12 days.

For example two family outings that we do not typically do during the year are going to the movies or eating out as a family. Just about everywhere has gift certificates or cards these days so I can purchasing them well ahead of time and tuck them away until our movie day or dinner out.

How this looks seven or eight years in is different from how it looked when we first started. And this year will look different because Sarah, our oldest, works all but three or four of the days. Plus she has her own apartment. (It was really sweet back in June when she moved out…three of her siblings voiced their concern over how we would handle Christmas this year.)

But the great thing is that we have a basic framework in place so it’s not a complete overhaul each season. I basically just add a few things in the empty spots around what I call our anchor days. These are the days that are non-negotiable and happen every year.

Christmas Morning ~  They always get that one thing they have really been wanting. They also open their presents from the grandparents but it’s one gift from their father and myself.

Giving Days ~ This didn’t come into being until several years after we started but honestly it’s one of my favorite things about our celebration. Each one of the kids has their giving day when the do no receive anything but they give gifts to each of their siblings. They also get to pick out and prepare a meal of their choice for the family. Sarah’s meal has evolved to include another family and she and Mary will plan a delicious and fancy dinner that usually takes them all day to prepare. Sam usually chooses tacos. Obviously the personalities of the kids make these days what they are.

Favorite Things Basket ~ This is something the kids look forward to every year and cannot be left out. I get a large basket and buy all the fun stuff that I always or nearly always say no to. Giant jars of nutella and Biscoff cookie spread. Lemon curd. Yoohoo drinks. Pop Tarts. V8 Fusion. Certain cereals. Particular chips or snacks. All the things that either don’t fit our everyday grocery budget or are so awfully bad for you that I can’t do it on a regular basis. No off brands either, the real deal name brand. Something everyone will enjoy but some things are put in because of a specific child. Like the lemon curd. Anyone can enjoy some but it is in there because Claire loves it. Sometimes if I find a cheap dvd of a childhood favorite movie or game I will add that into the basket as well.

Ice Cream ~ This activity originally started out as a trip to our local frozen yogurt shop with another family that does not mark the 12 days as we do but it has become as much a tradition for them as it is for us. We’ve got some hilarious stories to come out of this yearly adventure and the telling of them is all part of the process. Although this year we have options because a Baskin Robbins opened and a place called Tastes Buds. My money is leaning toward Taste Buds because they have these amazing freak shakes. (This is where planning ahead helps. The money for this outing has already been tucked away in a sock drawer.)

Day Twelve ~ We always end our celebration with their Christmas stocking and this is where those after holiday sales really shine. Apparently I put tooth brushes and such in them last year and I have been informed that is a no-no. I also forgot the Mementos and apparently those must come back.

So for our family, five kids plus the other four anchor days, means nine of the days require nominal planning to happen. The remaining three days can be an individual gift for each of them, an activity, or an outing of some sort.

Here are some ideas that we’ve done.

A book day. Sometimes we pick the books out and gift wrap them and a few times we’ve planned a jaunt to Barnes and Noble and everyone got to pick out their book.

We have also done a music day and everyone either received sheet music, records or cds. A shoe day (with four girls someone is always seeing cute shoes they want or need.)

We’ve had a game day and everyone got some kind of card or board game. Some friends of ours do their own version of this and spend the day playing games.

Doing things with another family adds to the festivities and fun. We’ve done gingerbread house contests with friends when our kids were younger. It got so big one year we had to do it at the church. One year we packed a picnic dinner and went to see Christmas lights with another family. One of the first families to join us in the 12 days knows a lot of stuff about hockey and they began the yearly tradition of a hockey game. We usually  go to dinner (Sonny’s Bar B Que) and an Ice Flyers game and sometimes the kids ice skate afterwards. There was utter shock expressed when I mentioned it might not happen this year due to work schedules conflicting with the game schedule. I’ve no idea why it is so or why my normally peace loving non-violent children become blood thirsty hooligans but that’s just the way it is.

The ideas and possibilities are really endless. Have a gift card day! Pick up random gift cards throughout the year and spend a day using them. You can choose to do a service project as a family, visit a nursing home, have a baking day and then deliver the goodies to the local fire or police department. Invite people to join you. No matter how small the activity or actual gift may be celebrate big.

Because really what we are celebrating is the most extravagant gift that has ever been given. We are echoing the generosity of our Father who sent His Son to not just rescue us from death and hell but to give abundant life. We celebrate robustly and fully because that is the life we have been granted in Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think On These Things Week Two ~ Peace

Comfort for God’s People

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

~Isaiah 40:1–5

Advent

An Advent Throwback Thursday

My all time favorite snapshot I have ever taken is this one of Sam when it was his turn to light the Advent candles. There is something so hilarious and profound of the juxtaposition of what the wreath and candle represent and the Grinch shirt he is wearing.

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The 12 Days of Christmas

Our family has been celebrating the 12 days of Christmas for quite a few years. Every year I get asked about it and rather than writing a new post saying the same things I am re-share a post I did a few years ago. Later this week I will talk about the practical aspect to celebrating this way.

Repairing the ruins.
That’s a phrase commonly heard in our reformed classical circles as it relates to taking back the way we educate our children. As I’ve been thinking through writing this blog post in response to some questions I’ve gotten about how our family celebrates Christmas I realized it’s a rather fitting phrase for more than just classical education.
The truth is that our job as Christians is to be continually at work repairing the ruins. Now obviously we cannot ignore the truth that through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ God has put all things back to rights. But neither can we ignore that we live in the now and not yet-ness of what God has done, is doing, and will do. Or that we have been giving the joyful task of joining Him in that work.
One of the smallest but biggest changes our family has made in recent years is aligning our lives more closely with the Church calendar which functions along the life of Christ. So in one sense we are currently marking the start of the new year as we celebrate Advent even as we recognize the close of the traditional calendar.
Practicing Advent each year was the starting point for us and then we also started looking for ways to change how we celebrate the birth of Christ. I was familiar with the “12 days of Christmas” but always as a time leading up to Christmas, not marking time from His birth to the time traditionally celebrating Epiphany, the arrival of the wise men.
This is important because for most of the western mainstream church the 25th of December is the climax of weeks long anticipation but December 26th doesn’t mean much. Or the 27th, the 28th, and so on. Of course January 1st is marked but then life collapses back into normal until months later when Easter Sunday is celebrated. But there is so much more.
Marking the 12 days leading up to Epiphany means we are celebrating and marking the glorious Truth that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s not just about spiritualizing the holiday as a way of rejecting the commercializing of the one real Holy day most of us agree is actually holy. It’s twelve days of commemorating the greatest gift ever given…God Himself taking on human form and becoming one of us.
There is no Biblical command to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas so not doing so is certainly no sin. And that also means that each family is free to set up their 12 days as they see fit. Our days have evolved and changed over the years with some days becoming set in stone staples and other days being flexible and changing from year to year. The important thing is that we are working to restore the glory of a world changing event that the enemy has sought to tear down and bury under a pile of cheap spit and shine made up thrill meant to distract from the thrill of hope that causes a weary world to rejoice.

Tomorrow I will share some of the ways we celebrate the 12 days but let me give a few highlights we’ve found in this process. First, the fact that it is spread out means that although there is significant planning (I mean we have five children so I have to kind of have my act together) it doesn’t all happen on one day. Less pressure. Less stress.

Which brings me to point number two and one that we really like…hello after Christmas sales! You can take advantage of some major deals.

And third I think our children, and us adults for that matter, can enjoy and savor the time more because it isn’t hitting us in the face at a breakneck pace. It’s lost the overwhelmingness that sometimes comes with major events that leaves us feeling limp, exhausted and slightly underwhelmed because of the momentous days and days of lead up.

An added benefit that we have enjoyed more and more as the years have gone by and others have joined us in marking the 12 days is the sense of community it brings. There are certain activities that we enjoy during this time that are enriched because we share them with friends.

The important thing to remember whether you celebrate one day or twelve is well summed up by Jeff Smith, the Frugal gourmet guy:

“…on our own, Christmas does not work. It is not the tree, or the dinner or the planning, or the weather, or the relatives that make the Mass of Christ. It is the Child. Come to the manager and be amazed…”

Think On These Things Week One ~ Hope

During Advent the TOTT Tuesday posts will be connected to the theme for each of the four weeks.
For to Us a Child Is Born

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. 

~Isaiah 9:1–7

Three Words That Change The World

It’s been kind of quiet on here of late. Which is sort of funny because it has been a bit noisy in my head. All kinds of half written blog post and some maybe funny or maybe not funny three sentence quips or random questions that have popped into my head, that kind of thing.

Like when I heard that you can now order your McDonald’s and have it ubered to you. Actually I think my thought process was a bit more, “Wait, why would you…Really? No. Surely no one does this. Does someone actually do this?”

I’m still confused that it is even a thing. I mean, I can kind of see getting sushi this way because it’s sushi but a big mac? Really? And before someone brings up pizza or other take out, stop. It’s take out. Completely different.

I was also curious about the history of Black Friday. The original Black Friday dates all the way back to 1869 and the crash of the gold market. Turns out two financial gurus of the day decided to buy up large amounts of gold in the hopes of causing the price to skyrocket at which time they would sell and make a huge profit. Things didn’t go exactly as planned though and it caused the market to crash and left many of the Wall Street tycoons broke.

The next time the phrase was used in connection with the post Thanksgiving Day weekend was in the 1950s in the city of brotherly love when the number of visitors and tourist would swell due to the Army Navy football game. Apparently the event was such a headache to the police, having to work overtime, causing traffic jams and petty crime rates to soar, that they dubbed it Black Friday. Despite the effort of some area merchants who would try to put a more positive spin on the annual event by called it Big Friday, it wouldn’t be until 1966 that the term Black Friday would appear in print in connection with a sales ad. By the 1980s the term was more commonly known across the country as the kick off to holiday shopping.

So if you were ever curious about the origin of the holiday retail spree, now you know. And if you braved the madness I hope you got some really greta deals.

I have been oddly excited about the holidays in general and Advent in particular. I love Christmas time, don’t get me wrong, and I am happy to usher in these days each year. But I have always had some hard and fast rules about Christmas music, decorating and such. Things being done decently and in order, blah blah blah. Mainly because I hate being overwhelmed by the noise and stuff of it all. Honestly, I am most excited at this point with Advent. Maybe it’s partly because the first Sunday of Advent falls on December 1st this year and there is something in my soul that delights in the beginning of something on the beginning of the month.

I think it is also because I feel like I am coming out of a bit of a fog. A quasi depression I guess. I’ve still functioned and carried on but I feel like there has been a heaviness in my being. As we decorated the church in preparation for Sunday I felt myself stirring, looking forward to marking the dawning of the light, the reminder that the King has come and will come.

As providence would have it Rob did a three part sermon on suffering that has been timely. One of the things from last week’s sermon that struck me was the idea that we are too easily satisfied with good instead of what’s best, content with comfort, money, and a peace that is not peace. There is suffering in our world and real genuine suffering will come to all of us in varying degrees probably more than once. Learning to embrace those seasons is when we truly come to the end of ourselves and find that God is there and truly sufficient.

The gift of the arrival of Jesus shines in the future even as we prepare to look back.  My heart and mind are relaxing in this truth even as I acknowledge that it is at the same time completely incomprehensible and impossible. What is needed most, what I need most, is to be reminded that in the midst of normal everyday life an angel appeared to a normal everyday girl and announced that God was stepping into physical time and space. The answer to the suffering of the world, to the brokenness, to sin and darkness, disease and death, was found in an infant. It is fitting to feel a certain amount of groaning over the not yetness of our world but it is tempered- it must be tempered- by our hope in the alreadyness of what God has done.*

God with us.

He has come!

Nine letters arranged into three simple words that changed the world then and, lest we forget, are still changing the world…changing us.

Yesterday we sang one of my favorite Christmas hymns in church and the words became a prayer,

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O come, o come Emmanuel
To free your captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice o Israel
To you shall come Emmanuel

 

Our hope is not that all of our problems will be fixed. Our hope is that Emmanuel has come and will come again.

 

 

*Also from Rob’s sermon.