Friday, December 30, 2011

Plan to Read

After a year in which I've read more books than I have in decades, I'm working on my annual round-up posts with ratings and recommendations. But before I get there, I also must confess and refocus. The truth is, I spent a LOT of time reading books this year, from contemporary novels to classic literature to parenting advice to history and biography to spiritual growth. On the upside, that means I spent a lot less time reading blogs and internet drivel. But it also means that I spent a lot less time reading the inspired Word of God.

My Scripture intake this year was, to be honest, rather dismal in comparison to my total reading. I can offer some reasoning and excuses. I can beat myself up and wallow in guilt. Or I can repent and receive grace and seek to change that in 2012.

As the new year approaches, I am finding encouragement and inspiration in an email from my pastor and in several online articles. The bottom line is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail! We can read Scripture in a lot of different ways. We can go at a breakneck, finish-in-six-months pace, or we can take several years to get through all 66 books. But we need a plan and some accountability. As our pastor kindly yet firmly challenged us last year: You may say you don't want something so rigid and formal as a Bible reading plan. Ask yourself--how's that working out for you?

It didn't work out very well for me this year. So I'm reading the following links and thinking about what kind of plan I want to tackle. I want to get more of the Word in me this year! And I know that's not just going to happen magically if I'm not intentional about immersing myself in it on a regular basis.

First, our wise and thoughtful pastor offers the following encouragement. He urged us to consider the astounding privileges we have as 21st century American Christians:
We can read
We have the whole Bible in our own language
We have our own personal copies of the Bible
We have time to read
He continues:
There are many things we can do with our discretionary time, and I hope that we are willing to prioritize, not out of guilt, but desire to know God more deeply and obey Him more fully this year.
...Yes, there are times when we are dry spiritually and it seems like routine. But we must act in faith believing that by taking in (over time) the whole of Scripture, by the help of the Holy Spirit, God's whole Word will be used to transform our mind.

A quick illustration: suppose you decide to go to the gym this year and lose some weight (or gain some strength). Going into the gym for 3 hours every day for one week will not really be helpful. You will not (despite the optical illusions of our mind) see the benefits in a week, or even in months. It is doing the hard and disciplined work over the long haul that we will see and feel the benefits.

This is true spiritually. You will not feel great personal benefit every single day, and come out of devotional time with a spiritual "high." But over time, the Word will be worked into the warp and woof of your soul.
John Piper makes a strong argument for the necessity of planning:
Without some rudimentary planning you probably won't have anything to eat when you get up in the morning. And without some detailed planning no one can build a house, let alone a skyscraper or shopping mall or city. If producing shelter and food and clothing and transportation is valuable, then planning is valuable. Nothing but the simplest impulses gets accomplished without some forethought which we call a plan.

All of us know this and practice it in relation to the basic physical necessities of life. We take steps to see that we have enough to eat and clothes to keep us warm. But do we take our spiritual needs that seriously? Do we apply the same earnestness in planning to maximize our ministry as we do in planning to make a living?

Justin Taylor offers a terrifically helpful roundup of Bible Reading Plans for 2012, with lots of ideas and links for your consideration. There are plenty of ways to plan your Scripture reading besides the traditional, familiar plans. You don't even have to plan to get through the whole Bible in a year. Everyone should be able to find something here that suits.  

Pastor Stephen Wittmer offers his church's Bible reading plan and gives "Seven Tips For the Two-Year Journey," including:
  • If at all possible, read through the Bible using this plan together with other people.
  • Do the whole reading for each day, but look for a "best thought" for each day—something you can meditate on throughout the rest of the day...
  • Let your prayers for others emerge out of what you read. Don’t choose between praying and reading Scripture—do both!
  • Look for ways in which you can practically live out what you’re reading.

So without further ado...make a plan! Get into the Word and get the Word into you! And feel free to share in the comments what has worked for you in the past or what you're planning to do this year.  

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Better News Than Santa Claus

He's making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town! 

Santa was a big part of my family's Christmas celebrations when I was growing up. I have many sweet memories of family traditions, the ways my parents and extended family conspired to create a little Christmas magic and delight my brother and me. Leaving cookies out; a big ashy footprint on the hearth the next morning; Santa somehow always knowing that we would be at my grandmother's house on Christmas morning rather than at home; never-before-seen wrapping paper that PROVED the gifts weren't from my parents...funny little stories that make me smile. 

Steve's family didn't do the whole Santa Claus thing, though, so since getting married and having children of our own, we've had to think through and talk about how we want to celebrate Christmas. Will our children know about Santa Claus or receive presents from him? Why? Why not? 

There are plenty of Christians who embrace Santa Claus traditions, and plenty of others who don't. I'm not interested in getting into a debate. I will say that growing up making a big deal of Santa, I never felt like my parents had lied to me, and I don't remember being confused about what (Who) Christmas was really about. 

However, over the last couple of years I've read some really interesting things that have made me realize how many of our cultural stories about Santa Claus are really the exact opposite of the gospel. John Piper points out in a brief video clip
You better watch out,
You better not cry,
You better not pout,
I’m telling you why,
Santa Claus is coming to town.
So get your act together!
That is not good news for me. That is bad news. 

An article on The Resurgence called "Jesus Ripped Up Santa's List" puts it beautifully: 
The Bible makes it simple though: we all make the naughty list. None is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10). That’s bad news. 
The good news is that, despite our list making tendencies and legalistic leanings, the list was crushed by the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. He is the only one who made the list. Because he made the list, we are given the gift of him. His righteousness, his perfection, and his “niceness” are bestowed upon us with list-shattering grace.

Praise His name! I'm so thankful that even though I have cried and pouted, even though my name is at the top of the naughty list, I receive not a lump of coal but glorious, eternal riches in Christ Jesus!

Two other articles I read recently have some helpful thoughts on how to talk to children about Santa, including interesting facts about the real St. Nicholas:

What Should Christian Parents Teach Their Children About Santa Claus?
"Though Santa gives gifts based on how good we’ve been all year, the heart of Christian gospel is that we’re given gifts – salvation from sin – because we aren’t good. Unlike the song about Santa, we should never encourage our children to be 'good for goodness sake.' There are, however, redeemable features of the historic person named Saint Nicholas that all Christian parents should teach their children."

What We Tell Our Kids About Santa ~ Mark Driscoll
"When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it. Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don't feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story. 
"...We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun... We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories."

Whatever we do with Santa, let's make sure our children know the REAL good news of Christmas. Let's make sure they know that even though they can't hope to make the "nice" list by their best efforts, the Babe in the manger lived perfectly on their behalf--and He offers them the best gifts of all--the gifts of knowing and being with Him forever.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

On Giving Or Not Giving Christmas Gifts

Two particularly thoughtful articles have had me pondering lately in the midst of all the Christmas preparations. It started last year or the year before with this classic post from Ann Voskamp, When Christmas Gets Radical: Whose Birthday Is It Really? In it she shares her family's practice of eschewing gifts for each other, instead choosing to give gifts to the poor worldwide through gift catalogs from Samaritan's Purse, Compassion International and the like.

When I first read this, I found it very compelling--and my zeal was renewed when I reread it this year. My heart's desire was to throw off many of the obligatory gift exchanges and give to people who are REALLY in need, rather than get gifts for people who don't need them (or would and could buy it themselves if they wanted it). I wanted to enjoy family time and focus on Jesus and make a big deal of birthdays throughout the year, instead of exchanging Christmas gifts. And to a certain extent we are indeed moving in that direction. We still do lots of giving and receiving with our extended families, but for just the four of us, we've chosen not to do gifts (other than matching PJs for the boys on Christmas Eve).

But then I read a startling article by Rachel Jankovic at Desiring God last week, called Of Kids and Christmas, in which she writes:
Christmas is the ultimate celebration of the material. Because Christmas is the time when God became man. Word to Flesh. Unfettered spirit to the hazards and joys and stresses of physical life. Think about it. Some people want to filter the material out of Christmas and morph it into some pure ethereal spirit religious day. And some people want to filter all the spiritual out of it and make it simply a holiday celebrating the purchasing power of plastic. But the power of Christmas is when spiritual and material meet. And it always has been. That is the joy of the season, that is the good news, that is the laughter and the paradox and the earth-shaking magic of Christmas. The infinite Word became a physical baby.
WHEW. Definitely go read the whole thing. This very unique perspective really challenged me! And while I still find much beauty and truth in Ann's article, I think this one provides a helpful balance for me.

I am reminding myself that there are wonderful reasons to give gifts. First of all, just because gifts aren't my or Steve's love language, that doesn't mean they don't speak love very profoundly to some of our friends and family.

And second, I have to stop and realize that there is a very real sense in which giving gifts reflects the character of our extravagant God. For the reality is, God constantly lavishes me with far, far more than I need. He gives me generous and wonderful gifts. So when I give gifts to those I love, I am imaging my Heavenly Father to them, imitating the Giver of all good gifts.

Just some thoughts as I wrap up my Christmas shopping and prepare for family celebrations. I'd love to hear from you in the comments: How do you handle gift-giving at Christmas? How do you feel about it?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 230

"All gratitude is ultimately gratitude for Christ... For in Him all things were created, are sustained, have their being... To know how we can count on God, we count graces, but ultimately there is really only One." --Ann Voskamp

Thanking God this week for...

2526. Elijah and Jude taking turns pushing each other on the push-and-ride truck
2527. fresh meat from a local farm
2528. the boys' cozy new fleece jackets from Uncle Josh (early Christmas gifts)
2529. a sidewalk-chalk Christmas tree (something feels SO wrong about that!)
2530. clementine season

2531. one-on-one time with a dear friend
2532. her vulnerability and honesty
2533. beauty in the midst of messes
2534. her girls watching my boys so we could go out for coffee and then out on...
2535. a double date with her and her husband

2536. Tim Keller
2537. the fact that our car's needed repairs are cringe-inducing, but not a financial crisis
2538. Steve and Elijah making a graham-cracker "gingerbread" house, decorated with red & green M&Ms
2539. Christmas photos and letters and cards from loved ones
2540. arnica gel

2541. a productive and restful weekend
2542. jars of homemade apple butter
2543. afternoon naps
2544. pumpkin cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream
2545. Advent wreath blazing brighter and hotter

2546. the miracle of the virgin birth
2547. the no-less-miraculous work of God in my own life:
2548. His adopting me into His family
2549. His opening my eyes and giving me a new heart
2550. His indwelling me and enabling me to choose what is right and good

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Surfin' Saturday ~ 12.17.11

It's a shame I haven't done this feature in a few weeks, as I've read and seen some really interesting things lately! Here are a few...

BPA Rises by 1200% After Eating from Cans ~ Food Renegade
I love how the FDA has admitted that BPA is dangerous, and we've recognized that it's enough of a problem that all the baby-product manufacturers make a big deal of advertising that their bottles, sippy cups, etc are BPA-free...yet most canned goods are still loaded with BPA and the FDA isn't doing anything about it.

For the record: bisphenol A (BPA) is "an endocrine-disrupting chemical pervasive in our food supply thanks to its use in lining canned goods. Over the years, studies have linked it to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, reproductive failures and behavioral problems." In the study this article references, participants ate a single serving of canned or fresh soup for five days. And those who ate the canned soup had 1,221 percent higher levels of BPA.

I want to scream when I think about the unbelievable things our government wastes time regulating, and then things like this that they simply ignore.

Completely unrelated, two posts that confirm the perspective on education which I read and found persuasive in Leonard Sax's excellent book Boys Adrift:

“When we instruct children in academic subjects at too early an age, we miseducate them; we put them at risk for short-term stress and long-term personality damage for no useful purpose. There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits, and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm."

"Infants and toddlers have much more valuable things to be doing with their time: finger painting, running in circles, jumping on couches, pot-and-pan beating, and annoying their siblings (to name just a few). Children, especially at this young age, learn through everything they do. Playing with dirt and water inspires scientific discovery and dipping their fingers in yogurt to smear across the freshly washed table motivates undeveloped artists. There will be plenty of time for them to learn i before e, except after c when they are sitting in school desks for the next seventeen plus years of their lives."

Finally, some food for thought as I constantly think through discipline and how to handle Elijah's wrongdoing:

"Over the years I have heard many of these forced apologies. I understand the parent’s need for them, but I have to admit they always make me squirm. To truly apologize requires empathy, and empathy develops in its own way and time, at a different pace for each child. So, often the child is not developmentally ready to understand, much less own the words she’s saying.

"What worries me most is the child who, because his caregiver has pushed him to always say ‘sorry,’ receives the message that apologizing fixes everything. He punches another child, but as long as he says, “I’m sorry,“ he’s excused and can move on, or even do it again. We are wrong to believe we teach empathy by forcing an insincere apology."

Friday, December 16, 2011


I finally realized why my blogging always comes to a screeching halt in December after NaBloPoMo each year. How is it that I manage to post every day for 30 days, then completely stop posting except for gratitude lists?

It's because my online time in December gets consumed by Christmas shopping. I do about 95% of my shopping online--so time spent sitting here is easily eaten up with browsing and spending money. Frankly I would much rather be blogging!

For those of you who are procrastinators like me:

Shop through Ebates and get cash back for your purchases--it costs you nothing, just gets you free money!
Check RetailMeNot for coupon codes before you checkout
The Children's Place is having free shipping and 25% off everything today--combined with clearance prices, that gets me things like fleece sweatshirts for $5.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 229

The man who has forgotten to be thankful has fallen asleep in life.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Trying to stay awake and alive this week by thanking God for multitudes of gifts like...

2497. a phone conversation with a dear friend
2498. her wise and helpful advice/correctives/insights
2499. boys downstairs with Daddy, and me hearing snatches of "This is my drill. When I ask you for my green drill, this is what I want." :)
2500. time to read and journal and pray first thing in the morning
2501. a new favorite fleece pullover

2502. chicken bones simmering in a big stockpot
2503. husband preaching the gospel to me
2504. protecting me and guiding me at a time when I would have otherwise been vulnerable to bad teaching
2505. a sometimes-miraculous ability to guess what song Elijah is requesting (after he asked me to turn on "Merry Christmas," I thought for a minute and came up with Straight No Chaser's "Little Saint Nick"--and his face lit up. Yesss!)
2506. first snowflakes of the season

2507. Elijah realizing the need to apologize without being prompted
2508. packages on the porch
2509. Steve only working weekends 2-3 times a year
2510. Christmas cards and photos in the mail
2511. our friends' incredible generosity in offering "parents' day out" on Saturday

2512. my boys feeling comfortable and having fun at their house
2513. time to browse at McKay Used Books all by myself
2514. the ability to read, and read quickly
2515. the countless places books can take you
2516. a curious mind that can learn and understand

2517. our pastor's humility and graciousness in discussing debatable doctrines/topics
2518. Christ not only being the Word made flesh or the Suffering Savior but the Reigning KING!
2519. a Russian boy at church telling me my artisan bread is "magical" :) (it reminds him of home, apparently)
2520. sing-along Messiah concert
2521. the glory of the Lord has been revealed

2522. the virgin who bore a Son named Emmanuel: God WITH us!
2523. our Light has come
2524. the kingdom of this world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
2525. He shall reign forever and ever!

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Simple Woman's Daybook ~ 12.9.11

Sigh. Isn't this what always happens after NaBloPoMo? Amazing how quickly I can go from posting every day, to only posting gratitude lists on Mondays.

A little Simple Woman's Daybook for this afternoon...

Outside my window...
gray sky, bare branches. I was just looking at the starkness of it all earlier this morning and wondering where the year went. I know that's so cliched, but it seriously feels like I was *just* marveling at the beauty of the color green, and *just* complaining about the mosquitoes holding us hostage, and *just* enjoying all the reds and oranges and yellows in the trees. I feel like I'm in a time warp--even the days don't seem all that long here lately. 

I am thinking...
that I really need to get a move on with my Christmas shopping, seeing that it's December 9 and I pretty much haven't really started. OY. 

I am thankful for...
simultaneous naps. Jude seems to have finally settled into a more predictable nap routine, and oh how I cherish both the one-on-one time with Elijah in the mornings, and these quiet afternoons by myself. 

From the kitchen...
I haven't been cooking much this week--needing to use up what's in the freezer! Though I did turn out 2.5 quarts of homemade chicken stock the other night. 

I am wearing...
jeans, a gray nursing tank top and a blue zip-up fleece sweatshirt. 

I am creating...
ornaments for our Jesse Tree. 

I am going...
to go take a shower as soon as I finish this post. I'm kinda gross. Just keepin' it real around here. 

I am reading...
a bunch of different things, as usual. Recently finished The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Baptism: Three Views. Now mainly in Tim Keller's newest book, The Meaning of Marriage, as well as The Omnivore's Dilemma, plus picking up Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus for daily readings in the mornings. In the car I'm on the third Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Really enjoying those more than I expected I would!

Bible-wise, I've returned to Hosea, an old favorite book, prompted by a recent conversation.

I am hoping...
to get back on track with both Bible memorization and exercising in January. Both were fantastic for the first four months of this year, and then slid into oblivion. 

I am hearing...
Christmas music! I have a pretty strict "no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving" policy, but once Thanksgiving is over, it's playing 24/7 at our house. 

Around the house...
the glow of Christmas lights behind me...we put the tree up in the office this year so as to keep it away from the Destroyer Baby and save my sanity :) We rushed to get our tree up right after we got home from Ohio after Thanksgiving, but we didn't bother to get out any other decorations. My mantel feels very bare without the lighted garland on it! But I am loving the little lighted tree we bought (half off at Hobby Lobby!) for a Jesse Tree, which is sitting on the piano in the dining room. 

One of my favorite things...
getting fire department patches in the mail in December. My brother, who's a firefighter, collects them, and so a few years ago as a unique Christmas gift, I set out to get him a patch from all 50 states. I write ten letters a year, asking the capital city's fire department to send me a patch. The response has really been amazing. Last year was the worst, with only 4 out of 10 sending one, but we've bounced back this year--I contacted the last nine and have already received five patches--three just today! Seeing those SASEs in the mailbox puts a smile on my face--it has really become a fun Christmas tradition. 

A few plans for the rest of the week[end]...
Steve emailed me earlier today and proposed 8-corner pizza from Jet's and and a movie (The Help just came out on DVD) for tonight--yay! Tomorrow some friends from church have unbelievably graciously offered "Parents' Day Out" for anyone who wants to drop their kids off and go shopping, have a date, etc., so I will probably be taking the boys over there for a few hours and going out by myself while Steve gets some projects done without interruptions. Then on Sunday night we're going to a sing-along concert of highlights from Messiah. Can't wait!

A picture thought I am sharing...
Elijah and I messed around with the webcam last week--Mom and I were finding Photobooth hilarious, but he was a little freaked out by the way it was distorting our faces. So we took a couple of regular pictures. Love my big boy and his footie PJs!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Multitude Monday, Take 228

"I fill my lungs with the world, with this life, with this gift beyond containing. There is only one thing I can say: Thank you. And I must say it with my life. Through my life. To the end of my life. And after."
(N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl)

Thanking God this week for...

2463. online shopping and Cyber Monday deals
2464. matching sweaters and PJs for the boys
2465. Elijah's giddy excitement at putting up our Christmas tree
2466. the obviousness that a four-year-old helped decorate it: four or five ornaments on one branch
2467. our cute little Jesse Tree on the piano

2468. Elijah's bravery at the chiropractor
2469. natural remedies for earache
2470. the way nursing calms and comforts Jude
2471. Christmas music playing all day long
2472. "How Many Kings" by Downhere, my new favorite Christmas song this year

2473. a visit from my wonderful mother while Steve was out of town on business
2474. her reading dozens and dozens and dozens of books to Elijah
2475. her patience and compassion with grumpy Jude
2476. her generosity in treating us to fun things
2477. her help and servanthood in a million little ways

2478. grace to preach truth to myself, choose gratitude instead of complaining
2479. grace to be patient and accept what IS instead of focusing on what "should" be
2480. the trains exhibit at Cheekwood Art & Gardens
2481. Elijah's delight in watching the trains
2482. beautiful, warm, sunny December days

2483. boys snoring in the backseat
2484. an adorable hand-me-down brown and blue striped sweater for Elijah
2485. reunion with Steve after a few days apart
2486. my boys' excitement to see Daddy
2487. a friend calling to ask for prayer

2488. all the church members who worked hard to prepare for yesterday's feast and program
2489. all the church members who shared their hard work and talents in the program
2490. kids singing "There's nothing better than Jesus!"
2491. grace to gently hold my anxious little guy in my lap instead of trying to force him to sing with his class

2492. hearing that my contribution to the program encouraged others
2493. "what I could not do, God did--and in doing it, He did it all, sending His own Son into the world to die on the cross for my sins, thereby showing me unfathomable love."
2494. "God raised [Jesus] from the dead, thereby announcing that His death was completely sufficient to to atone for every sin that I have or will commit throughout my lifetime."
2495. "God declared me innocent of my sins and pronounced me righteous with the very righteousness of Jesus."
2496. "God allowed His future and present wrath against me to be completely propitiated by Jesus, who bore it upon Himself while on the cross."