Loving our Neighbor and the Gift of Christmas

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One of our family’s goals since we’ve moved to our new house is to build relationships with our neighbors.  We got to know many of our neighbors on our street back in Memphis, and in a way we all looked out for each other, spent time in one another’s homes, and unless it was blazing hot or freezing cold, we were outside, visible, sitting on porches or landscaping.  It was a noisy street being that it was a thoroughfare for traffic to use to make an easy cut to Cooper, a main road in Midtown.  It could be a dangerous street, which is why we would let our kids play alone in our backyards instead of the front.  One neighbor in particular asked the city to put in speed bumps, which were met without a response.  We just learned to manage our street.  It was what it was, and we resolved to “accept the things we could not change.”

Our new neighborhood in Gallatin is less noisy, safe, and there is a lot of space for the kids to play.  We sit in a cul-de-sac between four other homes.  Our kids can ride bikes on smooth sidewalks, and can play in both the front, side, and back yards.  When we first moved in, several of our neighbors came out to greet us and introduce themselves.  Our next door neighbor, Chuck, has been especially kind and welcoming.  As the months went on, though, we began noticing how seldom we saw our neighbors.  The weather until recently has been spectacular!  The weekends are quiet around here, well except for the Fleming residence.  It is rarely quiet around here!  I’m starting to wonder if we are the reason our cul-de-sac neighbors avoid coming outside.  Hmmm…

Something I learned a while back is that sometimes you have to be the one to take the first step to make connections.  Christmas is the perfect time to extend hospitality and love to others, including those who live near us.  I am always looking for opportunities for my kids to serve others, because I believe that in order for them to learn service they need to have space and a place to serve.  And I need to make the space in my schedule and in my heart to serve as well.  So we decided to send a little box of love in the form of homemade cinnamon rolls with a note of blessing to each of our four neighbors.  The girls helped me roll them out and slather all butter, sugar and cinnamon that was more than necessary.  After we baked and packaged them we then delivered them to each house.  And take a guess how many were home or came to the door to answer us?  Not a one.  That’s okay.  We just left them on the doorstep for a sweet little surprise for when they got home. Small steps to bridge large gaps.  One step at a time.

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Saturday morning was for cinnamon rolls and the afternoon was for cookies.  The girls got busy decorating their Christmas creations while Judson napped.  I was surprised how fast my little worker bees were as they cut out, frosted, sprinkled, and plated the sugary treats.  Another sweet memory made.

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As we think about Christmas and the gift of our Savior, Jesus, the hope of the world, our giving is a small reflection of the generosity of the Father.  As moms and dads give gifts to their children, as the church serves the poor, in the extending of hospitality to friends and neighbors, and in especially giving the message of Christmas, Jesus Himself, we invite others into Christmas.  Some are suffering, and 2016 was a hard year, so when we love and serve them we remind them that Christmas means Emmanuel even if they do not feel like God is near.  For others, Christmas brings up a lot of memories of loved ones who have passed on, so there is a tinge of sadness in all of the holiday “cheer.”  Some are lonely, weary, and burdened.  We echo Jesus’ words, “Come.”  And we say, “Come to Jesus for rest.  Come to Him who was once a baby, our Suffering Servant, and now Exalted King, and let him take your burdens, all of them, and give you His rest.”  This is the gift of Christmas.  This is who we give at Christmas, even if it begins with a word of welcome, a hug, a note of encouragement, or even a box of cinnamon rolls.

Comfort and Joy This Christmas

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I love seeing the excitement and wonder in my children’s eyes at Christmas.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the season interrupt the rhythms of life in the best way, much like the Incarnation interrupted the silence of God some 2,000 years ago.  Can you imagine the shepherds amazement?  Who would have thought that heaven would meet them on that fateful night to be the first visitors to welcome the Christ child?

The anticipation and wonder of Christmas is Emmanuel.  On this first day of Advent, let us consider how Christ came not only to dwell on earth temporarily, but into our hearts eternally.  Christmas is living proof of God’s love for us because Christ humbled himself by becoming one of us.  He is the Son of Man.

Advent means arrival.  Christ came once as a man, yet fully divine.  Christ will come again, but this time as a conquering King.  Sin and death were defeated on a rugged cross and an empty grave.  It is Christ’s victory for which heaven and earth rejoices.

And one day…

There will be peace.

Oppression shall cease.

And all will bow before the King of Kings.

But for now, we wait with hope.  “For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25).

May Christmas not be sentimental for us.  It cannot be.  For Christians, everything we believe hangs on the fact Christ has come.  And we hold fast to the hope that He will come again to make all things new.

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Some of our family’s practices at Christmas are probably not too different than yours.  We are decorating our tree later today.  We hung a garland, lights, our Little People nativity, and our Advent calendar.  We read a devotional every night together throughout the Advent season focusing on the Incarnation.  We have gone through “Truth in the Tinsel” and Sally Lloyd Jones’ Jesus Storybook Bible Advent readings, but this year we are going to read through Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  We like to sing Christmas hymns and bake treats for friends.  It is a season of resting and giving as we remember Christ who gave us Himself and called us to His rest.

May this Advent season cause you to wonder, reflect, rest, and rejoice as you remember our Savior.  May you cease striving and know that Jesus is God, Emmanuel, who brings both comfort and joy for weary sinners.  Be blessed this season, and always in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ!

November News: On Being Well, Being Thankful, and Being Out of Control

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It is unseasonably warm and dry here in Middle Tennessee.  This contradictory weather deceives us to believe that it really is, in fact, November.  The Halloween candy is carefully hidden away up high from little fingers, and despite the summer-like conditions autumn moves on as leaves fall and collect on browning lawns.  I threw away our rotting jack-o-lantern this morning glad to have beaten the garbage truck to our can.  Our mums are lasting, but barely.  Kara watered them this morning, eager to dampen their dry soil.  I still crave honey crisp apples even as I consume at least one a day.  Unfortunately, as the adage goes, though we kept “the doctor away” we were unable to keep the stomach virus away.  Everyone in our home in some shape or fashion was met by its curse, but I was healthy enough to tend to the afflicted with the help of Jesus and  Bragg’s apple cider vinegar.  I drank about half a bottle over the course of about five days.  The stuff is nasty.  But, so is the stomach virus, and I guess you could say I chose my poison.
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Watching my kids suffer even for a short amount of time leaves me feeling utterly helpless.  Telling them that “Your body has to fight this off.  Sorry baby.” gives little comfort to them or me.  So, with prayer, Zofran, rest, and time, they got eventually got well with my sweet Analise fighting the virus the longest of about a week.  We had to make some adjustments to our schedule.  We had Analise’s birthday party planned for this weekend, but we moved it to next weekend so that the kids could regain strength and to make sure that the virus was out of our house.

This pretty much sums up how we feel about last week.  Artwork by Kara called, “Pacman Ghosts, or Why the Stomach Bug is the Pits”:

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Worth a Try

Want to know what to do with all of that leftover candy?  Make these:

Monster Cookies

You’re welcome, and I am sorry.

Since Kara was two, we have enjoyed the Thanksgiving Tree tradition.  We take a moment each night in November to read a Scripture verse and then let everyone share something they are thankful for.  It is a sweet tradition that I hope we will continue in practice throughout the year, giving thanks for our great God and for what He has done for us.  You can download the printables and read more on the Thanksgiving Tree here:

The Thanksgiving Tree (by Ann Voskamp) 

‘Tis the Season for Christmas music!  Here are some new albums I’m looking forward to listening to this year…

She and Him- Christmas Party

Christy Nockels- The Thrill of Hope

Lauren Daigle- Behold

I think my Christmas playlist is the longest of my playlists, I’m pretty sure.  I wait until Thanksgiving week to run it, though.  I am just not ready for Christmas music yet, what with the short-sleeved, sandal wearing weather we are having.

Oh and this.  This is how they decided to spend their first day of wellness.  Sprinkler, bathing suits, spray bottles.  Good fun. Date: November 1st.

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I am reading a ton of books right now, but one is standing out the most for me.  It is Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul by Hannah Anderson.  I think everyone should read this.  It is thought-provoking, gently corrective, poetic, and theologically engaging.  And it is what I need to read right now with demands from within and without, both real and imagined.  I think every day I need to be reminded that Jesus is here in my mess, that He cares, and that His expectations of me are far less the expectations I have of myself.  Not because He thinks so little of me, but because He delights in me as a child.  Here is a an excerpt of Humble Roots:

And suddenly you come face to face with your limitations.  Suddenly you realize how little you control your life.  Suddenly you begin to understand why you feel like you’re withering on the vine- why you feel weak and wilting and unable to produce lasting fruit.

But Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  Instead, he draws attention to the natural world, the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  He tells us to learn what they already know, to enter into the peace of wild things.  He calls us outside our current perception of reality to remember who really cares for us.”  pg. 27

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I’ll end with an example…

So I made my Kroger Clicklist order yesterday to be picked up between 11:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m. this morning.  I arrived today, ready for the nice Kroger people to load up the minivan when the lady on the other end of the speaker told me that there was not an order placed for me.  Puzzled, I quickly opened my Kroger app knowing distinctly that I placed a fairly large order for a week’s worth of groceries.  I had my coupons in hand.  I saw on my app that my cart was in fact, full.  An order had been placed….but it wasn’t submitted.  I failed to “click” the “Clicklist”.  Geh…only me.  Well, guess where I am headed this afternoon?  You got it…Kroger.  Once again, I am not as in control of life as much as I would like to think.  Groceries.  Stomach flu.  The fall weather.  None of it.  But, there is one who is in control.  And I am thankful this season, and in every season, that He is.

 

Modern Mason: My Journey with Charlotte

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I am starting a blog series chronicling my journey through early childhood education at home.  This is not a blog brag fest or platform to promote homeschooling, because well, gag.  Much like those who blog through their journey to physical wellness, bucket lists, or other other sorts of personal goals, I aim to write a series of posts sharing what our family is learning as we incorporate the philosophy and methods of Charlotte Mason into our homeschool day.

Who was Charlotte Mason?

Charlotte was a British educator around the turn of the century.  She was a revolutionary in education by promoting living ideas.  She had a high view of children and believed that we do not simply educate the mind, but the whole person.  For her, education was an atmosphere (home), a discipline (fostering good habits), and a life (academics- living ideas, not dry facts).

Why Charlotte Mason?

We use an eclectic approach in our home education.  By this I mean that we do not follow one particular method or philosophical stream.  There are a lot of wonderful ways to educate, both in the classroom and at home, so I am not advocating a certain method as a “one size fits all” educational plan.  For us, this means that classical education in conjunction with many of Charlotte Mason’s principles provide a framework for educating our children, but there are many other ways that could work for other children.  As Mason said herself, every child is a “born person” and should not be judged based upon his “usefulness” to society, but based upon the truth that he or she is made in the image of God with certain capacities and needs.

After reading about and practicing some of Charlotte Mason’s ideas in the past year or so, I have come to discover just how rich her philosophy is.  I didn’t believe or trust her at first.  I am starting to understand that truly “education is a life.”

Every so often, then, I will post updates on lessons being learned by both teacher and students.  I’ll share ideas and “Aha!” moments as well as our stumblings along the way.  My children are very young with my oldest in first grade.  My other two are almost five (Pre-K) and two.  I do use curriculum with my two oldest girls, but we don’t do every enrichment suggestion the curriculum calls for so that I can incorporate more of Charlotte’s ideas like nature study, living books, outside play, poetry, hymns, narration etc.

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I am calling this blog series “Modern Mason” because even though Charlotte Mason was an early 20th century educator, her ideas in my opinion are timeless and timely.  There are more distractions now than ever- screens, jam-packed schedules, excess extra curricular activities, and over achievement.  We have made parenthood and child rearing something to master rather than something to nurture.  The culture of parenting today is incredibly distracting.  

Maybe I am crazy for reading Charlotte instead of the latest and greatest mommy blogger.  Maybe she is too old fashioned or out of touch.  Maybe her principles and ideals are not what children need in an advancing age.  But maybe, just maybe, they are exactly what they need.  Maybe she had it right all along.  I aim to find out for myself.  

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This is a typical morning time for us. Hands busy. Table messy. Sometimes we are fussy. But there is also truth, goodness, and beauty. I am learning to let go of the reins of “teacher mode” and let my children be children without forcing them or pushing them beyond their abilities. As Charlotte reminds me, “It is not about- how much does the youth know. The question is, How much does he care?”

Weekend Wrap-Up: 10.15.16

 

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This is one of those lazy weekends in the best ways.  We had nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do.  Travis and I had a nice dinner date on Friday.  After Judson performed his early morning ritual of waking us up around 5:00 a.m., he eventually settled down to sleep for another couple of hours. I made some oatmeal chocolate chip banana pancakes for breakfast to start our Saturday off right.  The kids played some, we watched the Clemson football game while biting our nails to the final second in OT, and I got some reading and housework in.  Tomorrow we gear up for another enriching day of worship with our FBC Gallatin family.  We are prayer walking neighborhoods in the afternoon while inviting people to worship with us, followed by dinner and the Renew service back at the church in the evening.  Should be a great day of worship and fellowship!

What I am listening to

There is just a lot of great music coming out right now.  This week I’ve been listing to The Corner Room (beautifully captivating songs for worship and meditation- all Scripture settings), All Sons and Daughters’ new album Poets & Saints (melodic and rich both lyrically and musically), Joseph (I’ve been listening to this trio of sisters for about a year now, and their new album is just terrific- vocally on point), and Johnnyswim (their newest album just released yesterday- just a great duo- fun with a lot of depth).

This podcast:  I just got back into listening to Karen DeBeus.  I listened to her a lot last year.  I love how she is so Christ-centered and doesn’t get all wrapped up in the trends, hub bub, and hype regarding food, education, home, etc.  Her message is just as her podcast and blog state- Simply Living For Him.

What I am reading

I’ve been in Acts some in my Bible reading, and I love the cultural contradiction of this verse: “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”  They just saw Jesus ascend to heaven, and this is what they were compelled to do- agree together in prayer.  May this be so in my home and in our churches.

I just finished reading a book and I’m about to finish several others.  Many of the books I read are with my girls, so that is how I read several at a time.  The book I finished this week was Ruth Reichl’s Delicious!  I thought it was so-so.  If you care to read my review on it, you can see it on Goodreads.

I’m digging into a few children’s fiction right now- Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski and The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale Of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall.  I enjoy kid lit, and I like to get a head start on some great books before I read them aloud to my children.

What I am watching

I’m in the last season of Parenthood on Netflix.  Sigh.  I also started watching Stranger Things…by myself!  At least when I jump no one is there to laugh at me.😛

What I am learning

“Let the peace of Christ rule in [my] heart”…and in my home (Colossians 3:15).  Peace is not a physical, tangible, evidential thing that I can pull out and say, “Here!  Here it is!  My peace!  See, it is right here.  Now we can all breathe.  Ahh…”  No.  It is something deeper than that, and far richer.  I am humbly learning that Christ is the One who brings the peace- not me.  Not my regimen, schedule, structures, control- none of it will provide lasting peace.  I cannot form character in my children.  Yes, I can teach them, lead them, correct them, but I cannot change their hearts.  That is the work of God, and I am not Him.  Dispensing lessons, completing curriculum, and checking off boxes does not educate my children.  I educate them with various methods and tools, but the tools are to serve us not master us.  Peace is a practice.  It is found on my knees in prayer, not in a planner.  I make the plans but I hold them up in surrender to One who is Sovereign over my plans and over the people that I love and lead.

Need some peace?  God is there to meet you and He gives generously to all who ask for wisdom.  We don’t have to have the answers or have it all together- we don’t and we can’t.  But God does, and He amply supplies all that we need.  Trust him.

I can’t give you peace, but I can give you pancakes.

Here is my recipe for Oatmeal Banana Chocolate Chip Pancakes

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The Flavors of Fall

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Oh my, how I love fall!  The crispness in the air, the changing leaves, the pumpkins, the mums, the hay rides.  I love it all.  But what I probably love most about fall are its flavors.  And no, pumpkin is not the only flavor of fall, but it is the standout flavor.  They are pumpkin spicing everything now.  Cheerios I can understand, but I saw pumpkin spice Triscuits the other day while I was grocery shopping and well, I think they went too far this year.  Anyway, I digress…

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So, here is what I am baking this fall.  Most of these recipes are part of a yearly tradition that I only cook/bake this time of year.  None of them are original by me, but I have tweaked some of them to suit my family’s tastes.  If you want to add to your fall recipe repertoire, go ahead and give these a try.  They are for the most part simple, and usually a crowd pleaser.

  1.  Double Apple Whole- Wheat Scones with Caramel Glaze (I made these last night for breakfast.  Let’s call them what they are, though.  Cookies.  And I am okay with that.)
  2. Pumpkin bars (more like pumpkin cake…bad on the diet, but good for the soul)
  3. Apple Butter Pork Loin (I can’t wait to make this one this year with the apple butter I bought at Sky Top Orchard in NC)
  4.  Pumpkin Curry (trust me on this one…I usually make this a few times in the fall/winter. I use less red peppers and very little to no Cayenne- for the kids’ sake)
  5. Pumpkin cookies.  I made these the other day and used 2 eggs instead of 1. They were still delish!

There are several other dishes I like to cook in the fall like good ole chili and cornbread, apple dumplings, vegetable soup, baked potato soup, and well, a bunch of other soups.  Chicken tortilla soup is on the docket for next week.  I just love soup.  Don’t you?  I would be okay with eating soup every week.  That with a good loaf of crusty bread for dipping.  Heavenly.

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One last thing.  If you are into essential oils, try blending orange, cedarwood and clove in your diffuser and let fall fill your home.  I did this the other day and it gave all of us the warm fuzzy feels.  This was necessary since the roasted pumpkin seeds smelled and tasted like burnt toast according to Kara.  And, she was right.  They were nasty.  Well, I tried.  The thing with pumpkin seeds is that once you smell them they are already overdone.  Bleh.

Happy Fall, Friends!  I won’t say ya’ll…I just can’t.😉

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