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How Can I Explain Senseless Violence to my Child?

How can I explain senseless violence to my child? It's too heartbreaking to imagine, but my daughter looks to me for answers and comfort in an uncertain world.

How can I explain senseless violence to my child?!

It’s too heartbreaking to imagine the grief those parents are facing. The evil is just too terrible, but my daughter looks to me for answers for her questions. And for comfort in an uncertain world. I want to give her the best answers to face such darkness.

I’ve listened to the emotional struggle of my friends with children of all ages over how to explain senseless violence in the wake of yet another terribly tragic school shooting.

Because we don’t want to.

We don’t want to shatter their bubble of innocence and security with the truth of living in a volatile and violent world that scares the poop out of us all too often. We don’t want to initiate them into the reality of a world where terrible things happen to wonderful people.

However, the world is going to give them answers. Whether from watching the news, seeing something on the internet, hearing kids on the bus talking, or a preparedness drill at school, we cannot keep our children in the dark about the darkness in this world. And I want my child to get her answers from me. Because I want to give her answers based on the Light.

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Yet, I do struggle with how in the world do I look into the face of my precious seven-year-old daughter, who still believes the princesses she met at Disney World were real princesses, that evil is more real than a thousand wondrous and magical things she joyfully believes, or explain senseless violence happens everyday??

It’s hard because, frankly, we adults don’t have many answers either.

Since the recent, horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida, I’ve seen hundreds of articles and a thousand opinions on gun control, mental health issues, and the second amendment. It’s almost not worth reading them, because they simply rehash the same arguments over and over ad nauseam.

We race to tout these solutions because we feel powerless in the face of senseless violence.

In fact, I’ve only seen one solution that actually was new and sounds like a great middle ground.

But that is another discussion.

The question I want to address is what in heaven’s name do we tell our children to explain senseless violence like school shootings?

First, it’s okay not to know what to say. It’s okay to be real about being sad. Praying with your children over scary things is a great way to go to the Father for peace and the right words for your children.

How can I explain senseless violence to my child? It's too heartbreaking to imagine, but my daughter looks to me for answers for her questions & comfort in an uncertain world. I want to give her the best answers to face such darkness. #Parenting #ChristianParenting #SchoolShooting #Peace

Secondly, our answers should be consistent with our children’s intellectual and emotional development. They aren’t looking for in-depth commentary. They are looking to reclaim a sense of security.

It’s always a good idea to only answer their actual questions. I don’t want to inadvertently give her more reasons to worry because I didn’t address what she actually asked.

For example, when my daughter asked where do babies come from when she was three, she wasn’t looking for “the talk.” I answered inside their mommy’s tummy, and she was satisfied with that answer.

With something as serious as school shootings, keeping it simple and to the point makes sure we don’t make it worse.

For the littlest ones, a simple answer is plenty.

People sometimes do bad things. We don’t know why, but we know God loves us and that he won’t let anything happen to us that is not in His plan. And Mommy and Daddy will always do our best to keep you safe. 

Giving children a plan in case of emergency might also empower them. Teach them to call 9-1-1, their name, address, phone number, how to get out in case of a fire.

Having a plan helps us all cope with things we really can’t control.

But my daughter wasn’t satisfied this time with just a simple answer when we saw the story on the news. She just couldn’t understand why someone would do this.

I tried to keep it simple and yet address her questions in a way that will continue to comfort her as she matures, living in a fallen world. Below is basically my answers to her questions about the school shooting.

When God created people, He gave everyone free will. He didn’t just give some people free will. He gave all of us free will. And, in order for it to be free, He couldn’t limit it. We had to have absolute freedom to choose to follow Him or our sinful nature.

However, absolute free will comes with a cost.

People choose to sin ALL. THE. TIME. We choose selfishness over selflessness time and time again. We choose our way over God’s.

Most of us choose our own way when we do little selfish things like choosing the bigger slice of cake, but sometimes people have chosen selfish things for so long that their hearts don’t work the way they should. 

They stopped caring about other people and even really about themselves. When people are that full of selfishness and hurt, they can do terrible things.

But our God doesn’t let evil win. That is why He sent Jesus to heal our hearts and forgive our sins. When we are saved, we don’t have to be scared because we’re already sealed in His book of life and going to heaven when we die. 

Honestly, answering her helped remind me that we don’t need to be afraid.

Yet, I am glad I didn’t have to wake up the next day and put her on a school bus. But I know many of you did. You had to send your kid to school in the aftermath. You held your breath all day while reports of kids calling in copycat threats spread across social media.

I’ll be honest, we attended a worship service at church last night, and for a moment, I realized how vulnerable we all were in a highly publicized event, in a difficult neighborhood. I had to stop myself from going down the fear rabbit hole.

So here is the answer I give myself to explain senseless violence I see everyday around me.

I know that God is good and loves me. He never allows pain and suffering in my life without purpose and can use everything for my good, Romans 8:28. God’s purpose is to bring as many to salvation as possible. I know this from 2 Peter 3:9. Anything He does or allows is to that purpose. I don’t have to live in fear. I know the Holy Spirit will fill me with His presence if I am ever faced with these kinds of moments and will give me peace and courage. 

Psalm 56:3-4 ESV When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

Joshua 1:9 ESV Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Romans 8:38-39 ESV For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These are just a few verses on fear that I cling to when I’m anxious. If your children are old enough, copy them together. Meditate on them, pray them. I believe God responds mightily when we pray His word.

Opening the door for my daughter to ask tough questions builds our relationship and her faith. I get to pour into her God’s wisdom over the world’s fear, often reassuring myself in the meantime.

I hope you find the same to be true for your family.

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Should Protestants Participate in Lent?

Should Protestants participate in Lent? It's Fat Tuesday & people are deciding what to give up & debating about participating. Maybe we're missing the point?

Should Protestants participate in Lent?

It’s Fat Tuesday and people are racing to decide what to give up for Lent. In Christian circles, I’ve seen a lot of debate over how to or who should participate in Lent. While my initial answer on this will be clear as mud, hopefully it will make sense to those in the same place I am spiritually.

The answer is yes and no.

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No, they SHOULD not. The Bible doesn’t outline Lent as a requirement of the faith. We need to be cautious in adding things to what the Bible says salvation requires.

John 20:31 ESV But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Some Christian denominations have made Lent an ostentatious ritual that secures salvation or God’s blessing in our lives. This kind of thinking is not based in scripture. The book of John alone contains so many verses explaining that our belief in Christ is all God asks of us for salvation.

We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do will impress God. As Romans explains, none are righteous, not one. We all have turned away from God in our sin. In John, Jesus teaches that it is through the Father’s calling that we come to Christ. God draws us to Himself.

We choose to listen and obey His calling, but we cannot earn salvation.

Romans 3:28 ESV For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

Our faith justifies us. No participation in rule-following (or in Lent) justifies us. Our belief informs our actions, so our works demonstrate our faith, but do not save in and of themselves.

When we say SHOULD Protestants participate in Lent, we risk making it a requirement.

We humans do such a good job of taking the things of the Spirit and boiling them down into a set of rules and ruining them. Some things cannot be codified into a set of humanly discernible guidelines. They have to be known in the heart. We can’t always look at someone and instantly recognize their level of spiritual maturity based on an external behavior, but God sees their heart.

We are always wanting to measure our spirituality or level of good ‘Christianness’ against some external measuring tape, and too often, we run rampantly over the Gospel.

I’ve seen Christians taking good ideas and creating separation within the body of Christ. We create this mental list of things good Christians do or don’t do.

Good Christians:

  • Don’t have pagan Christmas trees, but only Jesse trees
  • Attend a small or home church exclusively
  • Don’t pay for cable television
  • Homeschool
  • Don’t celebrate Easter, but Resurrection Day
  • Participate in Lent
  • Don’t do Santa or the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, etc.
  • Celebrate the Jewish festivals in addition to our Christian holidays
  • Learn Greek and Hebrew words for Biblical study

I’m sure the list could go on and on what “good” Christians should or should not do in our minds, but very few of these things are in scripture.

Oh wait, NONE of them are.

That’s right, we’ve taken some meaningful, deep personal convictions of some and turned them into a checklist of behaviors that were never meant to be rules! None of these are bad things. Some of them are even very good things, but they are not required things.

When we take a spiritual conviction and make it into a ritual, we make it a fleshly requirement. My daily Bible reading or devotions can become dry and dead if I see those things as a fleshly requirement of my Christian checklist instead of an spiritual opportunity to bask in the presence of God.

So, should Protestants participate in Lent?

Not necessarily, But we CAN.

Within Christ we have the freedom to do anything that honors Christ and does not detract from another’s walk.

If we approach the season of Lent as one of fasting in an effort to draw closer to God, then we have the blessed freedom to participate in Lent. Fasting can be a way to break strongholds in your life and demonstrate total surrender to Christ.

Some Christians might still see Lent as a denominational ritual, but if God is pressing into your heart to fast, go ahead and fast. Fast from fatty food. Fast from processed sugar. Even fast from television or coffee or Facebook or pizza.

Last year, I chose to give up something a little strange, but it was a powerful reminder who is ultimately in control of my life if I am taking up my cross daily.

If the purpose in your fast is to lean into Christ, to honor His sacrifice by sacrificing, then go for it! God’s word is full of scriptures telling us to fast. There are many documented spiritual and physical benefits to fasting.

But again, there is no should here. Participating in Lent should be a response to a quiet calling of the Spirit in your heart to set down something that you’ve struggled to believe you could let go, or abstaining for a season from something that has taken your focus and attention from Him.

But any fasting should be primarily between you and God.

Matthew 6:16-18 ESV “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

God sees how we live in secret. It is there the fast draws us to Him. When we share about our fasting whether for Lent or another time, it should be for the edification of others and the glorification of the Lord, not to earn any earthly praise.

I share my fast because I love how God lays just the thing on my heart each year on Fat Tuesday what He wants from me, what lesson He has for me to learn.

My fast this year is from delivery pizza.

That may sound ridiculous, but in my heart, I am surrendering to a new call in my life.

My husband started a new job this week. He is working longer hours, later nights, and won’t be home to make dinner anymore. While I am a stay-at-home mom, I also write and work and homeschool, so I’m busy all day, everyday. And my husband loves to cook. In cooking, he can express himself and play with recipes. He is really talented!

However, I want food to magically appear on the table at 5:30. I don’t enjoy spending hours to make something that will be devoured in twenty minutes. I literally lived on Lean Cuisine the last time he was in Iraq.

But, if I can set down my selfishness and embrace this change to our family routine, joyfully do more of the cooking and meal planning, as a way of supporting my husband in this new chapter of his career. Giving up delivery pizza reflects an acceptance of my responsibility to plan our meals, even if it’s frozen pizza and salad.

And I’m embracing the role of serving God through caring for the family He has given to me. Serving others doesn’t always come naturally to me. I’m always willing to drop everything and listen, encourage, instruct, but not always make a meal.

And learning to serve others outside of my gifting and preferences has to begin in my heart and home before my ministry can truly flourish.

Should Protestants participate in Lent? If God calls you to do so, you have the beautiful freedom to decide for yourself.

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Important Peace Verses to have the best New Year

Peace is my word for the new year. I'll face many changes, trials, & joys. Resting in these peace verses will help me stay in God's perfect peace this year, as part of putting on the armor of God each day, no matter what it brings.

Peace is my word for the new year. I’ll face many changes, trials, & joys. Resting in these peace verses will help me stay in God’s perfect peace, putting on the armor of God each day, no matter what it brings.

After a couple of difficult years, I’ve learned to stay in God’s word and keep important verses written on my heart so I am prepared for the difficulties life throws at me.

The word that I want to carry into 2018 is Peace.

Last year, I wrote about the challenges of the prior year, hoping that 2017 would be less challenging, but that wasn’t God’s plan for my family. I spent most of the year facing a debilitating recovery, but God used my circumstances for His glory.

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Truly difficult years have clarified that life is a roller coaster. While crisis follows crisis, surprising joys sprinkled our days as well. None of either were things I could control or plan.

I can only control how I react.

So I want to have the kind of peace that never changes no matter what I’m facing.

Psalm 23:4 ESV Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So I want to have the kind of peace that never changes no matter what I'm facing. Psalm 23:4 ESV Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This fall, we had an unfortunate circumstance that affected my husband greatly. Without going into a very long detailed story – hunting is his most favorite thing to do in the whole world, and he lost the privileges to hunt at our local military base due to a GPS miscalculation. He is devastated.

My soldier is finishing up his active duty service. What he has seen during his military service has changed him. Hunting has been what gave him a center, an identity, and he was absolutely heartbroken.

My reaction to his reaction was fear and panic. How would he cope in the long haul? How would this affect our family? our marriage? our finances? Because he provided all our meat through hunting.

But I realized my panic meant I wasn’t trusting God or His plan for our lives.

I had to realize God’s plan doesn’t mean everything works out my way. God’s plan doesn’t mean I never face difficulties. It doesn’t mean that the lives of those around me go smoothly.

And God’s plan is something I can trust because He has demonstrated his faithfulness. Even in the midst of the physical and emotional pain of dealing with my slow (and ongoing) recovery, God showed me that He was using it to bring my husband and I to a closer stage of emotional intimacy.

But it’s all easier SAID than DONE.

In my human weakness, I forget. I freak out. Sometimes, I panic.

I need to have God’s truths to remind myself that God is in control. These are some of the peace verses I cling to when face with the chaos of a fallen world.

I can't control the circumstances of my life. I can only control how I react. Reacting in panic means I'm not really trusting God. These #peaceverses help me focus on His truths. Click To Tweet

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

While, Jeremiah 29:11 is overused by pretty much everyone, that verse IN CONTEXT is a good reminder that even disaster can be a part of God’s plan when the plan encompasses eternity. The enslavement of the Israelite people was part of God’s plan to ultimately redeem all of us.

We may see a tragedy in our own lives on a monumental scale, but in God’s scale He sees how we cope with the tragedy, how we are faithful in the midst of the chaos, and how that ripple can affect and change the lives of others.

John 11:4 ESV But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

God may be ultimately glorified through difficulties that hurt and grow us. I continually wish it weren’t the case, but I haven’t often grown through easy times as much as I do the ones that test and stretch me.

But God doesn’t promise to give us what we want. He promises what we need, and what we need for His glory and purpose.

Philippians 4:19ESV And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

But over and over He has shown that He supplies exactly what we need when we need it. When we had a vandalism issue and our water bill was $120 over budget, the next day I got a rebate check from an insurance policy we had cancelled years earlier for $122. I hadn’t even remembered the policy had existed.

I know God doesn’t always supply magical checks out of nowhere. But remembering and sharing our testimonies is an important part of maintaining peace.

As my husband prepares for retirement, we face a great many unknowns. While military life is hard, the steady income and benefits were secure, and we have lived well. But I know God will provide for us.

It might be less. It might be different. But it will be what our family needs.

When God clothes the lilies in such splendor, will He not do more for us? #PeaceVerses

Matthew 6:25-34 ESV “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …

So I’m facing this coming year challenging myself to rest in God’s peace.

Philippians 4:6-7ESV Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

When I remember to trust in Him, the peace is perfect, even if my emotions are difficult.

In that moment of panic, I ask myself three questions:

  1. Do I believe God is real? Yes, I do. I’ve spent months studying apologetics and find more and more evidence to support our faith. 
  2. Do I believe God is good? His word says so.
  3. If God is good, do I believe He will be good to me? God’s word promises He will, and I’ve seen the results in my life. 

1 Peter 5:7ESV  Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

His idea of what I need might be different than mine, but His ultimate goal is for His glory and the salvation of as many as will believe. I have to believe that whatever I face is part of refining me and bringing more to salvation. Another reminder to focus on Heaven not Harvard.

2 Peter 3:9ESV The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

I am encouraged that God’s ultimate goal is to bring all of us to repentance and salvation. It’s easier to have peace when I try to see glimpses of the ripples of my trusting in God and having peace.

John 16:33ESV I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Troubles are part of the package; we’re reminded in many places through the scriptures.

But by holding these peace verses close to my heart, I remember who my God is, His faithfulness, and how He loves me.

I don’t know what my new year will hold, but I will have hard days. In those difficult moments, I will pray to keep my mind focused on God.

Isaiah 26:3ESV You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

When I keep my mind focused on Him, I remember that I am saved, the trials of this life are temporary.

And my eternity has already been purchased by my Lord, Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:13ESV I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

With that perspective, I know I have nothing to fear.

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Boldly Reclaiming Joy in the after Christmas Crash

In the days after Christmas, the excitement of anticipation fades. But I can make a choice to reclaim joy amidst the chaos, finding peace & rest for a new year.

In the days after Christmas, the enchanting excitement of anticipation has faded. Boxes lay littered around the house. Piles of once demanded gifts lay in heaps waiting for someone (i.e. ME) to restore order.

And I’m really tired. I did the browsing, the planning, the shopping, the wrapping, the baking (9 types of cookies & homemade cinnamon rolls), the advent celebrating, the 24 books of Christmas reading. I even managed to get Christmas cards in the mail – mostly in time for pre-Christmas delivery.

In the midst of it all, I did my best to be present and enjoy the fleeting magical days of my daughter’s childhood.

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But if your holiday was anything like mine, real life didn’t stop for Christmas or holiday preparations.

Trying to combine Christmas magic with normal life is hard.

As much as I tried to pull back from commitments and just focus on the enjoying the festivities, grocery shopping, laundry, and toilet bowl cleaning wouldn’t wait. Bills still came. Crises were not averted . . .

Our holiday crises sound like a twisted version of the 12 Days of Christmas: two ruined batches of cookies, three dirt bike crashes, two broken bones, a deathly ill dog, two scary vet trips, a lost suitcase, and one dead minivan at church . . .

Would I keep calm and worship on, or look like the fiery stick man on warning labels “Do Not Try This at Home”?

Which all added up to two very long ER visits, two long and expensive veterinarian visits, the most expensive car battery I’ve ever had, and days of crying over the dog.

I turned up the Christmas music, forced a smile and regrouped. The cookies turned out fine in the end, but each disaster rolled neatly into another making those last few days leading to Christmas a test of my spiritual maturity.

Then Christmas day was just about perfect, but was over too quickly.

We slept in (thank goodness for older kids), took turns opening presents, had the older boys go on a scavenger hunt. We ate a late but bountiful brunch and a simple dinner.

Our poor dog started struggling the second time on Christmas eve. By Christmas night, she was at death’s door again. Her fever was raging. We all tearily said good-bye to her again the next morning. After adding another $100 to our already steep bill, the vet sent her home again. She is not out of the woods, but seems to be doing better.

Then it was time to race the boys back to the airport which is exhausting and stressful in spades around Christmas.

But God was clearly present in so many little ways. There was a major accident on the way home from the airport. If it weren’t for locating the missing suitcase, the boys might have been in the middle. I knew we were going to be okay. It’s just the roller coaster ride.

I did my best to enjoy the season, but navigating all these strange difficulties while maintaining joy and peace was exhausting.

So how am I recuperating and boldly reclaiming my joy after Christmas?

I made the executive decision to act like a kid again.

I was not going to go anywhere or do anything unnecessary that was stressful because I was going to enjoy these weeks after Christmas as much as the kids all enjoyed the weeks prior.

Take time to play!

We played all the games we got for Christmas: Charades and Clue and colored pictures and solved puzzles I even drove the RC cars!

I curled up by the tree with my new book.

Meals have been leftovers and snacks. Christmas cookies for lunch? Okay, in moderation.

Plates have ALL been paper.

Seriously, I googled it. Washing dishes takes enough water that the environmental benefit of using real dishes over paper plates is negligible. Foil pans and paper plates are FINE when we need a break.

I recorded the Hallmark channel’s Happy Yule Log on Christmas. It’s a roaring fire with a holiday set and Christmas carols. We watch it on repeat everyday.

My husband gave me Yankee candles for Christmas.

I’m usually a candle hoarder. But what’s the point of having them if I never enjoy them? So I’ve been burning one all day, enjoying the light fragrance and warm glow of the candle.

I’ve taken the stress and mess out of as much of daily life as possible.

And my husband has stepped up to tackle some of the household stuff. I love his helpful heart and I’m doing my best to just say thank you instead of offering ‘helpful’ critiques. In a crisis, how doesn’t matter so much. I’ve learned better to be thankful for any help.

I have wanted to play with hand lettering for some time – fauxligraphy if you will. For Christmas, I got a beginner’s set. Today, I set aside an hour and spent some time practicing with my new markers.

I’m not letting the mess and disorder get me down.

Christmas took weeks of preparation. It can take weeks to pack away. I try to tackle a box here and there, put away one area of items at a time.

Simply, I’m doing everything slowly.

Christmas decorations can stay up as long as I want them to.

I’ve shut down the internal voice that demands everything must be done right now. And I’m resting. Tackling a few chores here and there in small bursts allows more down time.

We’re eating lots of leftovers. We’re finishing up all the Christmas movies on the DVR. Crackers and cheese for lunch. PJ’s all day.

Real life hasn’t paused any more this week. However, I take time for myself to play, pray and rest each day.

I can’t stop the world so I can enjoy the holidays, but I can stop myself from doing all the things.

The crazier things got, the more intentional I was about being in my Bible and spending time in prayer, which sets the tone for joy. Finishing my reading plan for the year, I was deep in the prophets. Seeing God’s plans for Israel, the prophecies for our savior helped me remember that nothing escapes His will.  We just need to rest there.

I plan to carry this attitude into the new year as well. The best present I got came after Christmas in the reminder to be present.

God’s got us. We just need to reclaim joy in the ride.

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Last Minute Ways to Make Christmas Magic

Need some last minute ways to make Christmas magic? I realize now, the magic of my childhood Christmases doesn't cost a lot, & even with only a few days, anyone can make this kind of magic.

It took me a long time to realize what made Christmas magic in my home growing up. In fact, I don’t know that I really realized exactly what it had been until today. But I realize now, it didn’t cost a lot and even if you only have a few days before Christmas, anyone can make this kind of magic.

I only remember a handful of gifts, but the feeling of that childhood Christmas magic will never be lost for me. My mom always made Christmas magic for us. As the mom of my own home, I’ve tried really hard to re-create the sense of wonder from my memories, but as I stood over the chaos in my kitchen four batches of cookies into the day, I realized I’ve never really given deep thought about what made it so special.

I know it was hard work. And maybe I’m a bit emotional because my mom turned 75 today and I couldn’t be with her. But she got Christmas right in my memories every year because she loved us.

As I scooped our family’s traditional chocolate drop cookies with sticky fingers, I thought about what made it all so special. The baked treats were special, but they were only part of the puzzle.

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It was mostly love. But it was love spun into family traditions and kneaded into cinnamon rolls, wrapped into presents, shared through stories, and baked into cookies. That is the Christmas magic I really want to pass onto my children, the magic of our savior’s birth and how we love each other because of Him.

That kind of Christmas magic doesn’t cost money and if you haven’t found it yet this year, it’s cheap and easy to find.

Focus on the right kind of presence.

First, wrap everything you do in Christ’s presence. Be intentional to focus on ways He is present everyday. Be His hands and feet to your family, neighbors, church.

and Be present yourself. Quit worrying about all the things that need to be done or the next thing you’ll be doing. Just be when and where you are. There is so much rest that comes with focusing on the moment we’re in.

When I remember Christmas in my childhood home, we were all present more than just physically. Our family spent quality time together. We sat around the table for meals. We talked about our lives, whether it was difficulty with division or anxiety over college applications, or future plans. And there was always so much laughter.

All the funny stories we’d gathered over the years were remembered (and embellished). My dad’s laugh is the kind of wheezing gasp that builds into giant guffaws. It’s still so contagious!

Take the time to treasure your family.

Talking to each other is a lost art. Revive it. Sit around a table with nowhere to go, nothing to do. Get the grandparents talking about their memories. Ask the kids deep questions about their lives or their favorite memories. And really listen.

Kids today don’t know how to sit and listen. Mine are no exception. But I try to teach them to listen to the stories, to value giving someone your attention over staring into a screen. They learn mostly by watching, so show them how to tune out everything but God and family right now (or after you finish reading this ;)).

Play family games. While the younger kids are up, play games they enjoy or family games they can join. Charades or drawing games are always good. A few of our family favorites are shown below. We also really enjoy Wits & Wagers. Older kids are sometimes harder to engage. A family game that forces us to be silly and drop our guard can be just the ticket to find some togetherness.

Turn on the music & turn off the lights.

When I think about my childhood home at Christmas, I remember how peaceful it was. The lights were soft. The house was warm. It smelled of sugar cookies and cocoa and cinnamon. And Christmas music was always playing from the gigantic record player in the hall.

Dad would put on Bing Crosby’s Christmas album and we’d sneak in Amy Grant’s Christmas before Mom’s favorites. We’d listen for hours. I remember falling asleep to some of those songs. Nightlights were Christmas bulbs and Emmanuel would play down the hall. I would sit at the edge of my bed and sing my little heart out.

Let the only lights be candles and the Christmas tree. Everything is more magical by twinkle lights. If you have a fireplace, light a fire when you’re all gathered together listening to Christmas music.

Sitting in the dark to just a handful of lights somehow reminds me of the first Christmas. One tiny baby came to light the world. At first only a few could see who He was and bask in His light, but eventually, His light would transform the world. Sitting in the quiet next to the tiny white lights of my tree reminds me how one tiny light is pretty, but how when we all work together, it’s breathtaking.

My mommy heart wanted to offer her every precious thing that would bring her joy, but I knew the better lesson in disappointment.

Read together as a family.

We used to read the Christmas story while setting up the nativity. Each of us had to race to unwrap and place the characters as Dad read from Luke. It was such a fun way to learn the Christmas story and decorate. My daughter doesn’t have to race against two sisters, but we read the story as she sets up her nativity too.

We didn’t have a television in our living room. We didn’t have smart phones. Books were a popular escape, but we would sit together and read, diving into our books, but still together and coming up for air, cocoa, cookies, snowball fights and trivia nights.

Even big kids like to be read to more than they let on. A few good Christmas books have the kinds of stories that can tug the heart strings of all ages. We just finished Holly & Ivy tonight. The last few pages always make me cry as an adoptive mother.

Store bought cocoa, cookies, and movies can be homemade Christmas magic.

A hot cup of cocoa or mug of apple cider over a plate of Christmas cookies feels pretty magical no matter how old you are.

While homemade treats might not be on your radar this year, powdered cocoa is plenty special with a candy cane to stir and squirt of whipped cream. If you’re feeling really snazzy – use a vegetable peeler on a chocolate bar to add some pretty chocolate shavings to the top. Easy magic!

Buy some different types of pre-made cookie dough. Roll it out and use cookie cutters to make Christmas shapes. Red and green colored sugar will make any cookies feel like Christmas. Decorating is the important part anyhow. Pre-made peanut butter dough, coated chocolate candies, and pretzel twists make fun reindeer cookies.

If you feel like baking, try to let everyone pick a favorite recipe so they can all enjoy a taste from their memories. I took a bite of my mom’s molasses ginger cookie recipe today and was transported to 1983 . . .

Drop everything else.

After Jesus, this is the most important one. If at all possible, drop everything else. Focus on the most meaningful parts of Christmas and stop running for the next thing.

Put down the phone. Step away from the laptop. Turn off the television. Whatever you need to do to be able to focus on just loving the people in your life and home for the next few days.

Play on the floor with the kids’ toys. Build with their legos. Have snowball fights (use rolled socks if you don’t have snow).

For all the presents under the tree, the one thing that makes Christmas magic is the presence of the people we love.

In my family tonight, we are celebrating (from afar) my mom’s birthday, but also remembering losing my husband’s grandmother 8 years ago, and mourning his aunt who shared a birthday with my mom.

You won’t get back this Christmas no matter what it looks like. Embrace the best this year has to offer and trust God in the worst.

You won't get back this Christmas no matter what it looks like. Christmas Magic means embrace the best this year has to offer and trust God in the worst. Focus on the right kind of presence this Christmas. Click To Tweet

Our Christmas this year is a mixed bag. Our boys will be here, but our families came for Thanksgiving, so it will be just us five. The boys are grown and get boring gift cards and new socks. We are facing major changes and some emotional struggles. But we’ll never be here in this moment again.

We can enjoy what we have with a sense of awe and wonder that the God who created the universe provides for us. He gave the ultimate first gift saving the world through His son 2000+ years ago.