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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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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.

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Solving Family Conflict in a Christ Pleasing Way

Family conflict can be especially hurtful. When family conflict surfaces, we are often deeply wounded. And don't always solve it in a way that pleases Christ.

Family conflict is especially hurtful. We know the world at large will hurt us, but expect our family to be a safe place. We hope our family loves, respects, values, treasures us. So when family conflict surfaces, we are often surprised and find ourselves deeply wounded.

But when we are hurt, we usually don’t respond well. Our first instinct is to get defensive. Our second is to wound back or withdraw. Neither response strikes at the heart of the conflict or reflects Christ.

And families often gather at already stressful times: weddings, funerals, holidays. Emotions are already running high. One careless word can ignite a firestorm if we don’t focus on solving our family conflict in a way that pleases Christ first.

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I can’t speak for you, but my selfishness is something I battle minute to minute. I really prefer to have things my way and struggle to relinquish the illusion of control. In the heat of the moment, selfish behaviors I believed long dead can still rise to the surface.

I see the world through only my flawed, human perspective. And when I let my hurt feelings take over, I think the worst of everyone and function from fear.

So handling conflict takes focusing on my new nature as a Christian (Romans 12:2).

I need to seek God’s perspective on the situation over my own.

So what is God’s perspective on family conflict?

First, He loves all the people in the conflict equally. God’s desire is for all to come to the life-giving-salvation Jesus provided on the cross. PERIOD.

Even if you’re the only believer in your family or the only one who seems to be walking by faith right now, God doesn’t love you more or better or think you should get your way because you’re a Christian.

Plus, how we handle the conflict might be more important than the actual resolution.

Is the issue at hand more important than anyone’s salvation?

My petty bickering with my husband really pales in comparison to thinking about his salvation being on the line with how I conduct myself.

Solving family conflict should start with being more concerned about our witness than getting our way.

While some conflicts are very serious and might require setting boundaries or seeking professional help, using the standard of the other person’s walk/salvation keeps us from elevating even the most difficult issues above our witness as a disciple of Christ.

When we focus on our witness over our way, God is glorified.

Is this family conflict more important than their salvation? When I focus on my witness over my way, God is glorified. Click To Tweet

If you have unsaved family, how you deal with hurts and conflict might be the best witness you ever have because how God asks us to live humbly and gently is so counter-cultural.

It takes a deep change in our hearts to give up taking offense, but I’ve never taken a hurt to Him and not received a verse or perspective shift that has allowed me to begin the process of forgiveness.

But we have to be willing to let go of our anger, which is easier said than done. Sometimes being angry feels like a right. Someone has mistreated us and we feel we deserve to be hurt, angry, indignant. We let that anger blossom in our chests like fire unfurling.

We let it roll around and grow into huge hurts, grudges, bitterness because we are so focused on ourselves. But that only hurts us and damages our relationships which doesn’t please Christ at all.

Secondly, God asks us to think less of ourselves and more highly of others.

Philippians 2:3 ESV Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

If we remove the rivalry and arrogance from our hearts and fill ourselves with humility, we’ll take less offense at the unkind words and attitudes of others, realizing that there are many dynamics to consider before responding.

To handle conflict, I have to be in right relationship with God first.

The more like Christ I become, the more I realize how far from Him I truly am. But seeing myself accurately is a gift from God. When I can see how desperately I need God’s grace, I have the humility of heart to offer grace and forgiveness to those around me.

I learned a lot about focusing on my own relationship with God in marriage (and all relationships) in the book I just finished using to lead a small group.

Before my emotions take over, I try to pray. Then I seek to understand the heart of the other person.

For example, my husband walked through the door, grumbling. His tone was sharp and he had a stompy attitude (You know, stomping around the house, slamming drawers while bitterly mumbling).

Deep breath – honey, you seem upset. Is something bothering you?

The wonderful bureaucracy that is the army had thrown a curveball into his day. It had nothing to do with me. While I didn’t appreciate his stompiness, I didn’t have to be hurt by his inability to cope with frustration. I could love him instead. I asked what he needed and let him have some space.

Even when the other person’s behavior is wrong, unkind, even abusive, we need to recognize their need for Christ. Letting their sin surprise us is where we go wrong.

I’ve learned to expect sinners to act like sinners. Even wise, obedient, mature Christians sin. Taking offenses to God in prayer before reacting from hurt is always the best answer.

I’ve found the closer I draw to God, the more sin grieves me for others than for how it affects me.

But I still struggle with entitlement: I think, deserve to be treated better!

But that isn’t really how Christ handled it. He expected to be rejected and abused, but responded rightly every time. Some instances, He exhibited righteous anger. While at others, He suffered quietly, allowing the silence to convict more loudly than words ever could.

Righteous, loving silence and the Holy Spirit can convict more loudly than any words. Don't react in surprise to the sin of others, but respond in peace. Click To Tweet

And he never told us to stand up for ourselves . . .

Matthew 16:24 ESV Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Ok, so that is super hard. Painfully so. But when I hold up my fist and demand my rights, I end up more angry and do more damage to my relationships.

Sometimes, I still struggle with getting sucked into this vicious cycle. I’ll start having a conversation, but if the other person responds poorly, I begin to feel unheard or disrespected. If I don’t step back to let God work in both of us those emotions run roughshod over reason. I’ll talk myself into a tizzy trying to fix something that needs me to be quiet.

Being quiet invites. We can gently ask questions and listen.

  • Your reaction surprised me. What hurt your feelings? I didn’t mean to hurt you. 
  • That sounds like it might be a painful topic for you. Want to talk about it?
  • That hurt my feelings. I’m sure you didn’t intend to, but I’m sensitive about that.
  • I’m not sure I understand. Can you tell me what you wanted to communicate?

That gentle heart assumes the best of the other person’s intentions and heart.

We hear the words people use, but don’t take the time to really understand what they were saying. People are messy – especially family members with whom we have so much history.

Proverbs 15:1 ESV A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

We make judgments and decisions based on twenty years of knowledge not just a single conversation. That’s not really fair, but it’s human nature. Assume the best and answer softly.

Try to see from their perspective.

Maybe your mother criticizes your husband because she worries about your happiness. She might be showing it in a terribly destructive way, but maybe that’s her reason for saying the things she does.

It’s so much easier to keep from getting angry when we recognize the humanity behind hurtful actions or comments. Maybe she misses the closeness you had before you were married or resents how far you have moved away from her.

Hurtful actions come from hurting people. When we love them, we can start to heal their hurts and our relationships.

The aunt or cousin who offers unsolicited parenting, marriage, housekeeping advice might be feeling unappreciated, unnoticed, or might simply be concerned about you.

The mother-in-law whose offers to help feel like backhanded attacks might be worried about how you are loving her child. She wants to see him happy.

Hurtful actions come from hurting people. When we embrace them, we can start to heal their hurts and our relationships. Click To Tweet

Don’t react, respond. Put yourself second and love the person whose comment or action hurt you. Why did they do that? What made them say that? How can you respond in a way that puts their needs and feelings above your own?

  • I know you worry about me. Thank you for your concern, but I prefer to talk about all the ways my husband cares for me instead of his mistakes. I sure make enough of my own. 
  • Oh, I do hate mopping. What have you found that works? 
  • Homeschooling isn’t the only option, and I your concerns are ones we’ve really thought and prayed over. I love that you love my kids and want what’s best for them! 
  • It’s really frustrating that this recipe didn’t turn out like Grandma’s. How do you make it? 
  • The way our marriage works is different, isn’t it? But your son is such a blessing to me. He is a good provider and father. 

In those hurtful moments, if we speak to their hurting places, we can better offer grace and work through the conflict.

What if you caused the conflict?

What if you thought light-heartedly teasing your cousin about being a terrible cook was no big deal, but touched a soft spot for struggling young wife. Or something you did years ago has become a bitter sticking point for a sibling.

Don’t let it go. Own up to it immediately. Apologize as if you had offended Christ. Because when we don’t love each other the way He commanded, we have.

John 13:35 ESV By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

We won’t always get it all perfect. Expect to fail. Expect to need to apologize. We hope to get along with our families, but navigating personalities, emotions, and sensitive topics is a minefield.

As we demonstrate Christ’s love in our witness, people will see our faith.

My prayer for your family is the same as for mine, may the unity of Christ govern all we say and do because His love solves conflicts where our human nature would leave chaos.

Colossians 3:14 ESV And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

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The Best Christmas Books You Need in Your Home

We love reading together all year, but a few books are so touching and special, they've become part of our family Christmas traditions every year.

Do you love reading with your children? It is one of my favorite times to share with my daughter. I I especially love sitting around the tree with Christmas music softly playing as we read together as a family.

One low maintenance tradition we celebrate each Christmas is the 24 books of Christmas.

Wait – I though you said LOW MAINTENANCE?!?!

I know 24 books doesn’t SOUND low maintenance, but this really is pretty easy. I buy one fairly large gift bag and a package of tissue paper. While some people prefer to wrap a book for each day, I found that I just wasn’t the kind of person who will keep up with that.

While my daughter is busy, I take all her Christmas/Winter themed books from her room a few days before December 1. I am always amazed how she opens each book as if it were new and truly enjoys the magic of rediscovering her favorites even if she is a bit too old for some. I add a couple of new books each year, so she has a couple of real surprises.

After she goes to bed, each day I wrap one book in tissue paper, put it into the bag, and put the bag under the tree.

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She is getting too old for some of the books from the first year we did this, but can’t quite bear to part with them.

(to keep this affordable, the first year I did a dollar store toy or Christmas coloring book every other day and only purchased 12 Christmas/Snowy day books)

There are a couple of our Christmas books that are just for fun and light-hearted tales of reindeer and sweet little children (or mice!) and we enjoy the beautiful illustrations and seasonal stories.

But there are a few stories that have become as much a part of our Christmas traditions as decorating the tree and setting up the nativity.

The first book that has become treasured in our home is The Carpenter’s Gift. I give this to my daughter the day we watch the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center (which I DVR so I can pick a convenient night). The Carpenter’s Gift is a fictionalized story based on the first Rockefeller Center tree and focuses on the kind of sacrificial giving Christmas is really about.

I generally get teary-eyed at the ending.

I won’t ruin it, but the best gifts are the ones we give away.

Another favorite, is the Nutcracker. This version is perfect for younger readers. It is beautifully illustrated and keeps the story very simple. Reading it always builds excitement for our annual Nutcracker date.

This year, we weren’t able to afford tickets to the big area production, but one of our family friends was in her dance company’s production. I purchased tickets and put them in the bottom of the bag under this book. We read the book together first. Then she found the tickets, she was so exited! And thanks to reading this book, she was better able to follow the story of the ballet.

Price: $14.89
Was: $17.99

This year, my husband has shared more of our reading times than he usually does. His time in the army is winding down and his responsibilities have decreased allowing him more time at home.

He was able to share one of my favorite stories with us for the first time. It was emotional for us all. The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree is set 100 years ago, during the Great War. It’s about a soldier who is called to serve before Christmas and isn’t sure he’ll make it home in time to provide the church with the tree he promised.

The little girl in the story is a sweet angel in the church pageant and has simple wishes for Christmas, a doll and her daddy. Her mother moves mountains to give her daughter the things she can, but can’t bring daddy home faster.

As a wife and mother who has missed her soldier too many times at Christmas, I struggle to get through the last few pages, but the story is beautiful and meaningful.

One of my favorite books as an adoptive parent is Holly & Ivy about an orphan girl and a Christmas doll who just want to find a family.

It’s hard to read without getting emotional as Ivy proudly declares she is going to see her grandmother (who does not exist) over the Christmas holiday from the orphanage. She randomly searches for a family, but when she finds Holly all the details seem to fall right into place.

The other points of view are Holly, a beautiful new Christmas doll who dreams of being loved by a little girl for Christmas, and a childless couple aching for a daughter.

All three of these characters is searching for the others. My heart aches along with them as I read this sweet and tender story to my daughter. We both hug each other a bit tighter knowing the twists and turns that God used to bring us together too.

Lastly, If He Had Not Come and God Gave Us Christmas are such a good books that remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.

If He Had Not Come paints the picture of what our world might be like if Jesus had not chosen to come. It helps us realize how much of the goodness in our world is reflections of Christ in us.

And God Gave Us Christmas is part of one of my favorite series. Narrated by a polar bear telling her daughter about how God gave us Christmas, the story reminds that we have fun traditions like presents, but that the gift of Jesus is the real reason we celebrate Christmas.

We added one special book this year that I just know will become of our favorites. Each day is a character quality that will help us all be more Christ-like. It’s called a Character-Filled Christmas Book and we’re really enjoying it. It is all about the kind of heart and service we should strive for all year, but especially during the Christmas season.

Lastly, we read the Bible Christmas story, because it’s the greatest story ever told and God’s best gift for the world.