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Month: December 2013

Merry Christmas from the Middle East: 2013 Christmas Card

Merry Christmas from the Middle East: 2013 Christmas Card

This year my best friend is on the other side of the planet so there were no gorgeous family photos to swoon over as I carefully chose the perfect one for the annual Christmas card. There was however a kind young Arab boy who agreed to take a family photo last week while we played in the snow.

In October my parents came to visit for two weeks and my dad was able to snap a quick photo with all the boys looking in the same direction….for the most part.

The hundreds of  online Christmas card designers we once enjoyed no longer exists and the luxury of the UPS man delivering a box containing your adorable Christmas cards is a thing of the past. Fortunately, we do have Etsy and the world wide web so through the miracle of technology I’m able to send you a little Christmas love from the other side of the world.

ChristmasBanner_2Pic_5x7-2Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

WorshipHouse Kids

WorshipHouse Kids

I tend to get a super excited when I come across new resources that make our family worship time run a bit more smoothly but maybe that’s because I’m in the thick of family worship with four rowdy boys ages 2, 4, 6, and 8.

I recently came across the WorshipHouse Kids website and so far I love everything about it.

Unknown-1We’ve used it during the month of December to conclude our family worship time but also to teach the boys the actual words to Christmas carols. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s adorable when they sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is calm” but there comes a time when we need to discuss the fact that the Lord is indeed calm but the song says “the Lord has COME.”

The videos can be purchased for use in large groups, churches etc. but to use them in your home simply click on the play button and have at it. I shouldn’t have to say this but just to cover all the bases I’m going to. Make sure to preview everything you use before you show your children. There are lots of videos on the website as well as worship songs with lyrics.

Right now the boy’s favorite is Away in a Manger but given how yummy this little guy  is singing the “Hallelujiah” chorus I don’t guess I blame them.

 

On This Day, Four Years Ago

On This Day, Four Years Ago

This week we celebrated as a family the anniversary of the going home of my precious sister. On this day, four years ago, my only sister stepped into eternity. We celebrated her life by going to an American restaurant, eating chocolate cake and sharing memories that reminded us all what a precious gift she was,  just as we have done the past four years on December 16th.

Below is the post from my old blog that I wrote on the year anniversary of her death.

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Today is December 16th 2010, a harrowing reminder of December 16th 2009, the day my only sister was tragically killed in a two car accident.

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It was a year ago, but I still remember the exact gift I was wrapping when my cell phone rang. I still remember tearing open the front door, leaving my children alone as I sprinted across the cul-de-sac to find my friend for help. I still can see the flashing red and blue lights as we approached the scene of the accident. I still can hear the unrecognizable sound of weeping that filled my parent’s home. I still can see the innocent faces of my sister’s children as I rounded the corner of the hospital room. And I can still vividly remember the first time I talked to my husband who was in Central Asia at the time of the accident.

The memories of that day are vivid and often times agonizing.

If I’m not careful, I will replay the events of December 16th over and over in my mind and allow the difficult circumstances surrounding my sister’s death to completely rob me of my joy in Jesus Christ.

The reality is, Mandy is not dead. Now before you tell me I’m completely insane, read John 11:25-26…Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” In the next verse Martha, a friend of Jesus, replies, “Yes Lord!”

In light of this promise from the Son of God, I was determined not to let this day be marked with sorrow. I wanted this day to be a day of celebration because the truth is my sister is experiencing fullness of joy in the presence of her Savior and Lord. You see, when Jesus asked her over 10 years ago the same question, “Do you believe this?” she also replied with, “Yes, Lord.” And because of her faith in Jesus Christ she is in many ways more alive than I am or any of you reading this right now.

I rose early this morning only to find an encouraging letter that my dear husband had written and left for me. His words blessed me so much and what he said reminded me of the many times he held me earlier this year when I could not find the strength to even stand. I do not have the words to express how grateful I am for the blessing God has given me in him. His letter this morning was a great start to a day that would be focused on celebration and not tragedy.

My husband preached her funeral last year so with the letter he had written he also included a printout of the sermon notes. I don’t remember much from the funeral so it was like I read it for the first time. In his notes he cited passages like Psalm 46 and Isaiah 40:27-31, which served as sweet reminders of God’s promises.

Throughout the day I was overwhelmed by the number of you that expressed your prayers and support. I received hugs, emails, FB messages, texts and words of encouragement. Each of those acts of love and kindness helped me to celebrate today for what it truly is.

Tonight we decided to start a new tradition. We loaded up the boys and went to one of my sister’s favorite restaurants…the Melting Pot. Due to the fact that it’s not a “family friendly” establishment, we decided to just get dessert.

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We spent our time remembering all of the wonderful things about my Mandy, sharing our favorite memories and consuming way too much chocolate. (Which is exactly what she would have done.) Brooks was unable to share his favorite Mandy story due to his inability to speak intelligible words, but he sure did partake in the chocolate…Needless to say, we had a blast!

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So, despite the fact that I’ve cried more than my share of tears for today AND that I miss my big sister more than I can put into words we’ve decided that each year when December 16th rolls around we will not wallow in our despair. Instead, we will celebrate my sister’s life that continues on today in the presence of God!

Plastic Trees, Fluorescent Lights & the Taxi Ride Home

Plastic Trees, Fluorescent Lights & the Taxi Ride Home

I had hoped to start this post with a dazzling photo of our new Christmas tree and tell you how absolutely perfect every single ornament is. I would love to tell you that starting new traditions in a land where nothing feels, sounds, looks or smells the same has been a complete joy and an incredible opportunity to treasure Christ more in the simplicity of the season. Ideally, I would tell you that stripping away everything that was familiar about our family Christmas and embracing new ornaments holiday foods decorations everything  has been met with overwhelming gratitude…but, that wouldn’t be the truth. Let me explain.

Last Christmas we got rid of all our Christmas decorations except for the things that held deep, deep meaning. I was left with one plastic tub and if you’ve known me for long you know that means we got rid of a lot of stuff. I LOVE Christmas and the decor on/in my house each year was a reflection of that.  Two weeks before we moved we received some great advice from a friend that went something like this, “Don’t take anything with you that you aren’t willing to lose.”

Oh, well…um, I guess that changes things a bit.

We made a last minute decision to leave the Christmas stuff in my parents attic with grandiose plans of getting new things when we moved. Now, fast forward to December 3rd when we set out as a family to get a tree from our local mall. Yes, I meant to type the word mall. The trees here are all artificial unless you buy a real one that has been imported from another country and you sell one of your kidneys to pay for it because they are that expensive.

We walked into the mall together as I envisioned what our new tree would look like. I had the perfect size in my head and knew the exact color scheme I wanted. I knew that white twinkle lights would be the perfect thing to create the exact glow I was hoping for. Unfortunately, when we arrived, none of the things I had on my list were even a vague possibility. To put it nicely, everything in the store mall city looked like it was at one time sitting on a shelf at the local Dollar Tree in the 1980’s…and that’s putting it nicely.IMG_9043

 I walked up and down the aisles hoping to find something that would work. All the while my boys were buzzing around like they’d just consumed a six pack of Red Bull picking out every little thing their hearts desired. Our cart was full as we headed to the register.

By the time I climbed into the back of the taxi and started the long ride home I was desperately trying to fight back the tears. The multicolored LED lights my boys had chosen looked like they belonged in a night club. There was no such thing as a tree skirt, so a cheap table cloth would have to do the trick. The tree was shorter than me and the shiny plastic pine needles screamed “cheap plastic tree.” My Christmas spirit was crushed, my heart was sad and with every passing mile I became more and more deflated.

When we got home we taped hideous green and blue lights around the boy’s windows and put them to bed. IMG_9690

I brewed a cup of tea and sat in the kitchen to sulk. I scrolled through my Instagram feed only to see that everyone else in the entire known world had enormous Christmas trees with perfectly placed ornaments worthy of being pinned on the “World’s Best Christmas Tree” Pinterest page. I vowed to not post a photo of our tree because it would not be worthy of remembering. I would put the tree up and pretend like it never happened. Really mature, huh? I’m just being honest folks…it was an ugly night and my sin was on display for all to see.

I was sitting at the kitchen table with a frown on my face and tears in my eyes when my oldest son climbed out of bed and strolled into see me. The words that poured from his eight year old heart and the excitement that radiated from his beautiful face can’t possibly be contained in a blog post. “Mom?” he began, in full anticipation of being sent back to bed. “I love the green lights you and dad put up in our room and I think our Christmas tree is going to be awesome! This really is going to be the best Christmas ever!!!!”

I don’t need to tell you the deep conviction I felt in that moment or how the Lord was so kind to use the gratitude of an eight year old child to open my eyes to truth and convict me of my self pity. But, I do need to tell you that HE alone is gracious to restore and I can testify first hand to the truth found in Psalm 30:11 “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.”

The boys have worked diligently over the last few weeks to make each and every ornament on our tree. Construction paper, popsicle sticks, craft foam and recycled trash have all found a home on our tree and I can honestly say I’m delighted to share it with you.

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Despite an unfortunate beginning for our little tree I must admit, I’ve grown to love everything about it, especially the multicolored strobe lights.

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So, from a land where they have not yet embraced the whole “Christmas” thing yet… Merry Christmas!

A Baby Shower: Skype Style

A Baby Shower: Skype Style

It’s always nice to feel loved and doted upon by friends and family at your baby shower when you’re expecting. It’s even better when you live on the opposite side of the world with no chance of being the guest of honor at your own shower and your friends/family go out of their way to throw you a beautiful baby shower via Skype. Oh, wait, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, neither had I until a few weeks ago.

You see, when we made the decesion to move overseas we thought we were more than likely done growing our family. In an attempt to fit our life into 18 plastic tubs we sold or gave away every baby item we had to our name. After being here only four short weeks we found out I was pregnant. Without a moment’s hesitation my family and friends planned a baby shower to help us buy the things we need to welcome our new little one.

Not only did they go all out with the food, drinks and decorations… Mail Attachment-1

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But, they surprised me with baby bedding handmade by my ever so talented cousin April.

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There were tiny baby clothes to swoon over, sweet handwritten notes from dearly loved friends/family and each guest gave a name suggestion in an effort to help us choose a “Br” name for our sweet nameless baby that will be here in 11 1/2 weeks.

However, the highlight of the day had to be seeing the faces and hearing the voices of the people I treasure so deeply. This was the first time I had seen some of these ladies since we moved from Alabama nearly a year ago. Needless to say, at times I was overwhelmed with emotion. But, as my mama used to say, “I’m crying because I’m so happy!”

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Mail Attachment-3I truly wish our postal system here in the Middle East made it possible for me to send a handwritten note to each lady (and a few guys) that worked so diligently to make me feel loved and cared for… all the way on the other side of the globe. The Lord truly has blessed me with amazing friends and family. I love each of you!

Peppermint Playdoh

Peppermint Playdoh

Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year and I anxiously await its arrival each November. Christmas baking, decorating the tree, Christmas music blaring through the house…..I love everything about it.

As you can imagine, finding Christmas “stuff” in this part of the world is a wee bit of a challenge. Now don’t get me wrong, we can find a few things here and there (I hope to blog about that later) but it’s a lot different than what we were used to. We are learning to make new traditions, to be creative with what we have and to greatly treasure the simplicity that comes with Christmas in a new country but I’d by lying if I said it’s been easy.

Our current homeschool curriculum included a recipe several months back for DIY play-doh. I made a few adjustments and tweaked a thing or two to make it more Christmassy. (Yes, as a matter of fact I did make up the word Christmassy but I’m not sure why Mr. Webster hasn’t already jumped on that one.)

 Here’s the super simple recipe. I’ve tried a few other play-doh recipes and ended up with a big mess on my hands but this one is simple and works every time. Here’s your cast of characters. IMG_9599

Ingredients: 1 c. flour, 1/2 c. salt, 2 Tablespoons cream of tartar, 1 Tablespoon oil, 1 c. water.

Directions: Mix in a saucepan & stir continuously over med-high heat until it forms a ball.

When my dough has formed a ball I take it out and add food coloring, mint extract and glitter, because everything is better with a  little sparkle. I don’t measure the amounts, I just keep adding until it looks and smells about right…it’s a fine science.

IMG_9601I make a batch of white and a batch of red because well, it’s called candy cane play-doh.

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Throw in some cookie cutters and cute little boys with sky high fowhawks and you’ve just earned yourself thirty minutes of semi-uninerrupted time. You might could actually go to the bathroom in private, read one page of that book you’ve been trying to finish for the last six months or simply hide in your bedroom and eat those Reese Peanut Butter cups you found at the import store that you’ve been hiding in the pantry…if you’re  into that sort of thing.

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Changing the Tree

Changing the Tree

By the end of November our Thankful Tree was overflowing with gratitude. I couldn’t walk by it without stopping to be reminded of God’s faithfulness to our family, even on the most difficult of days.

IMG_9571Unfortunately, when the month ended I needed to strip the tree bare and give it new life….new meaning.

Several years ago when Lora Lynn and I were new neighbors, both in the trenches or raising kiddos and homeschooling a small daycare all while trying to point our little people to Christ whenever possible she told me about the Jesse Tree.

Our Jesse Tree has taken on several different forms over the years depending on where we were in life. However, when our Christmas decorations didn’t make the packing list, I had to get creative. I stripped down the Thankful Tree and tonight it became our Jesse Tree.

The Jesse Tree represents the family tree, or genealogy of Christ. It tells the story of God’s salvation plan, beginning with creation and continuing through the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah. The name comes from Isaiah 11:1. The Jesse Tree serves as our family worship time for the month of December. We light some candles and after reading the devotional for the night one of the boys hangs the “ornament” on the tree.

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This year we are using The Greatest Gift. We needed ornaments and this book comes with a free download to print all of your Jesse Tree ornaments. That was simple and this year….we needed simple. Another one of our favorites that works beautifully with children is The Expected One, it also comes as an app for only 99 cents, it doesn’t get much better than that. In my former life when I wasn’t a full time language student trying to master one of the most difficult languages in the world I had lots more free time and could browse Pintrest and Etsy until my eyes crossed and come up with lots of fun ideas. I would encourage you to browse away and make the tree your own if you’re into that sort of thing but a branch and some printed paper ornaments get the job done beautifully, I’m just sayin’. There are more options than I can even count but these are my favorite ornaments and all the work is done for you. It even comes with it’s own devotional guide for the season. Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

On a different note, here is a short video that our boys usually ask to watch over and over again. This one gets me misty eyed every time. Unknown