The Family Reading List {January 2017}

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Welcome to the first Family Reading List of 2017!

Winter weather has us staying indoors, so we’ve had more time to explore the bookshelf. Each month I’ll share with you some of the books that the kids have been enjoying.

Anaya’s Reading List (3.5 years old)

Little Big Girl

Claire Keane

Anaya desperately wants a little brother or sister. Since this isn’t going to happen (sorry little lady!), she self-medicates with reading about having younger siblings. Little Big Girl is about a girl who is little, but loves to have BIG adventures. When a younger brother comes along, Matisse discovers that maybe she’s actually.. big!

This book is super sweet, and is perfect for a little sibling with an even littler sibling on the way :).

 

Others to try out:

I am too absolutely small for school
Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

 

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Why We Don’t Give Gifts on Christmas (and what we do instead)

why-we-dont-give-gifts-on-christmas-morningIt’s no secret that Jake and I can be a little unconventional.

But, it may surprise you that we don’t give our kids gifts on Christmas morning. None. Zero.

When we tell people this, we get a variety of reactions:

  • The wild-eyed are-you-freaking-kidding-me, what-kind-of-person-are-you look (my personal favorite).
  • An I really want to roll my eyes at you because aren’t you taking this Jesus thing a little too far look.
  • Honest confusion. Why? 
  • Ohhhh, I get it, you must be a super fundamentalists look (btw, we’re definitely not).
  • Genuine Sadness for our kids. Oh. That’s so sad. You must have a really boring Christmas.

All of these are fair responses- it IS a little strange. But our family loves Christmas. It just looks a bit different than what other people are used to.  (more…)

Animate: A New Kind of Bible Study

I work with small groups on a regular basis, and I always have my radar up for new and interesting Bible studies. When evaluating small group curriculum, I’m looking for a few factors:

  1. Simple, straightforward prep for leaders. Leaders often feel more comfortable leading a small group if they have material they can pick up, preview, and easily run with.  A well-prepared leader is a key factor for a positive group experience.
  2. Low level of “homework”. Most small group participants will not do homework for the study (even if they say upfront they want to). Small group curriculum that comes with a set of short videos for small groups to watch together is a great alternative to requiring preparation outside of the group.
  3. Options for those who want to dig deeper. While most participants will not do homework, a couple of the rockstar members will want go above and beyond.  These participants will gravitate towards studies that provide something to mull over during the week.
  4. Challenging. The best small group experience happens when people are challenged and have the freedom to explore theological and practical ideas in the context of a safe, grace-filled learning community. Too many guardrails of what’s okay or not okay to say kills a discussion and leaves participants wondering if the weekly meeting is worth their time.

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Recently I’ve gotten the opportunity to take a look at the Animate series from Sparkhouse, and it has all the marks of a great study. Helpful facilitators guide. Short DVD experience. Journal for the participant. More questions than answers.

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An Introduction to Scripture Doodling

Over the past couple years I’ve become convinced that coloring, doodling, journaling, and drawing can all be helpful ways to connect with God. It’s easy for us non-artist types to shrug off these methods because we’re not that good at drawing. Or it feels too much like playing. Or ain’t nobody got time for that.

But, I think it’s often for these very reasons that we ought to just give it a try.

A couple years ago, I found myself locked into a particular way of connecting with God. Read. Pray. Music. Read. Pray. Music.

I needed something different. Something to engage a different part of my brain. So I began coloring.

I’ll admit that I gravitate towards coloring more than doodling, mostly because I’m good at it. I can color inside the lines. I’m decent at choosing colors. There’s an obvious finish line. Doodling, on the other hand, makes me a bit uncomfortable because I’m not always sure what to draw.

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Scripture Doodle is a half-way house for those of us stuck in between the “I really want to try this” and “Man, I stink at drawing and have no idea what to do with a blank piece of paper.”

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The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith

I have a confession:

I have a hard time liking Christian books for kids.

I WANT to like them. I want to provide my kids age-appropriate tools that will help them to grow in their relationship with God– communicating to them the depths of God’s love for them, while also not being cheesy.

Apparently this is a tall order.

One of my friends recently posted this question to a Facebook group that we’re a part of:

I have two kids who are two and three years old. Does anyone have any suggestions for age-appropriate books or cartoons that come from a progressive Christian perspective?

I struggled to think of a response. Not just for 2-3 year olds, but for older kids too.

Because of this difficulty, I’m particularly excited to share this book recommendation for kids ages 8-14. And while I’m not sure I’d throw it into the progressive category, it comes closer than most.

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The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith, is a book that helps kids grow in their understanding of the Bible, spiritual practices, and knowledge of Christian history. The author also throws some crazy stuff in there like how to make pottery, building a sundial, and learning the greek alphabet- because learning about the roots of our faith can be really fun!

Format:

This hardcover book is divided into 67 short, 2-3 page chapters. Each page is filled with colorful illustrations and has a good sense of design. The style reminds me of books like Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Guinness Book of World Records for Kids, or sport statistic books: colorful, engaging, short chapters that don’t mess around with too many words.

Content:

The content is engaging, fun, smart, and hits on a variety of topics.

For word nerds, they’ll love learning the greek (and hebrew!) alphabet, becoming familiar with some common latin phrases, and learning about ancient texting (LOL! FRT).

For kids who care a lot about friends and relationships, there are chapters on friendship, relationship with parents, and dealing with enemies.

I know there are some kids who just want to DO and TRY and EXPERIMENT. For these kids, they’ll learn how to make a sundial, pottery, and a slingshot, among other things.

Most of the rest of the chapters dive into questions about God, spiritual practices, theology, and how to read Scripture in a way that honors the intent of the author.

There’s no guilt, no “shoulds”, no mention of demanding obedience out of fear of hell or damnation or God’s unhappiness with them.

Instead, it’s written with a tone of curiosity and conversation, focused on God’s love and rescue plan for all of creation. Sure, a part of that story is sin, death and Satan, but ultimately, the author is writing from a perspective of the bigger picture- God’s redemptive plan. The author says:

By now it should be clear that Christianity is not a religion that’s a list of advice for you to do. No, instead Christianity brings news of what Jesus has already done. It’s not about the accomplishment of your good works; it’s about the announcements of his good works.

I love it! And this is a perspective that’s missing from many books I review for kids. The temptation in these faith-based kid books are to focused good works because that’s what applies right then and there. We want our kids to obey and do the right thing. That makes sense.

BUT, without constantly putting in front of them the bigger picture- the more important picture, frankly, the gospel turns into this mucky, weird, shame-laden relationship with God that is messy to reverse later on in life.

The gospel is not good advice. It’s good news. The author gets that.

My Recommendation

I highly recommend this book for kids who are interested in learning a little more about the roots of their faith and how they can lean into the good news of the Kingdom of God and their journey with God!

Thanks to the publisher for this review copy! All these thoughts are honest and wholly mine :).

Advent Resources 2016

Here in Madison we are suffering (cough, cough) from an unbelievably mild fall.

Autumn in Madison is normally filled with sweatshirts and snow pants.

Just the other day we were wearing t-shirts without a jacket.

I don’t mean to complain or anything, but y’all, I have some super cute fall clothes that I haven’t really been able to enjoy yet.

Today, I walked into Target today and what did I see?

Yep, you guessed it.

Christmas trees and a huge banner wishing me a Merry Christmas. For the love! I can’t even think about Christmas. Not with this weather. Which reminds me– there was one Christmas that we were living in Nairobi, Kenya– and it was SO WARM. I couldn’t get into the Christmas spirit. Yes, yes, it shouldn’t matter how cold or hot it is while celebrating our sweet Jesus’ birth, but I can’t sing Christmas carols while sweating.  Christmas is not really Christmas without feeling like your phalanges are going to freeze off as you carry sleepy kids out to the car covered with freshly-scraped, but yet still slightly frosted windows and the heater on full blast.

All that being said. I am starting to prepare for Advent, which is not. too. far. away. We like to do something as a family, and I’m always looking for creative ways to observe Advent.

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Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be reviewing some new (or new to me) books. They are, in no particular order:

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1. The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: A Countdown to Christmas by Ace Collins

For the month of December, Collins provides a daily Scripture or inspirational reading, paired with the story of a famous Christmas song or movie, and a DIY gift idea or holiday recipe.

What I like: I’m not much of a historian, so I felt like I learned a lot regarding the history of various Christmas movies and songs after reading this book.

It was also fun that he included some DIY gift ideas. I love the idea of doing a makers Christmas, and some of his ideas sounded uncomplicated to make, and also useful. Beeswax candles. Recipe books. Photo coasters. Super fun.

What I didn’t like: In the same vein, because I’m not a historian, I tend to crave Advent book books or other resources that lean more theologically heavy. This book did include Scripture and some inspirational writing, but generally, this book is going to be great for those who are interested in looking to the past to provide meaning for the here and now.

BUT, I know some of you might really enjoy this book. If you love history and Christmas, enter to win the Magic of Christmas Prize Pack. Create new traditions this holiday season with your family and friends with the goodies included in the giveaway. One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 21. The winner will be announced November 22 on the Litfuse blog.

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**I received The Most Wonderful Time of the Year from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.**
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2. All Is Bright: A Devotional Journey to Color Your Way to Christmas

It’s no secret that I’ve been swept up into the adult coloring book phenomena. I’m loving pairing devotional with coloring– it connects my brain to my heart and just helps me to slow down and reflect instead of sprinting off to the next thing.
And this one is no different.
All is Bright is not only a coloring book, but an Advent coloring book and devotional. In addition to the devotionals and coloring pages for grown-ups, it also includes family devotionals and coloring pages for kids. Each family devotional includes a piece of Scripture, a couple discussion questions, and a down-to-earth prayer. Topics include generosity, making space for Jesus, love, and worship. And while the adult section has a devotion for each day in December, the family portion includes only 12 days.
And to be honest, this latter part is what really attracted me to this book. Here’s what the author says about her hopes for this space:
My hope is that as you spend some time with the children in your world coloring and talking, you’ll be able to help them escape our culture’s consumer approach to Christmas and instead spark a sense of gratitude for Christ’s first coming and anticipation for when he comes again.

I share this same hope, and have found that it’s through a constant re-orienting that we can focus on Jesus in the midst of consumer crazy. I’m not going to lie and say it’s easy. It’s very much NOT. But resources like this are a good tool in helping us on this journey.

**I received All is Bright from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.”

How to Connect with God: Praying Through Art

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I’ve always thought of myself as a total head person. Feelings are fine and all, but experiencing God through my mind and my thoughts is where it’s at for me. Learning something new about God sends my heart singing. Understanding a passage of Scripture in a deeper way leads me to worship.

Despite this tendency, I’ve been exploring how to connect with God in other ways. One of these ways is praying through art.

It can be challenging for me to just sit and pray. My mind wanders and then my heart disengages, I begin to wonder if I’m praying the right things or with the right motive. While my heart is praying, my mind is critiquing.

Is what you just asked God theologically sound?
What are you assuming about God right now?
Is what you just said actually harmful to your understanding of God and/or others?
Aren’t you being a bit judgmental?
Are you treating God like the Creator of the heavens and earth, or like genie in a bottle?

I’ve found a few ways to keep my tendency to overthink things at bay.

  1. I use liturgical prayers, helping me to focus in on my heart’s attitude towards God instead of debating word choice.
  2. I journal my prayers, allowing my mind to slow down and focus.
  3. I color or use prayer prompts to keep my mind half busy, allowing my heart to engage in a different way.

One book I’ve been using recently is Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal. It’s a beautiful collection of prayer prompts that guides my heart towards love, thinking of others, and gratitude. Every now and then, I’ll gather my colored pencils, turn on some music, and pray through one of the prompts. Here are a couple of my favorites so far:

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“Engage in gratefulness by meditating on Psalm 138:1 while writing it repeatedly in the space below.”

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“Journal about how this Scripture verse gives you hope, or draw illustrations to express what these words mean to you.”

 

What do you do to help you connect wholeheartedly with God?

 

Pursuing a Creative Life in the Midst of Motherhood

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I could hear the whirl of the sewing machine all the way upstairs. My mom had been busy in the basement all day, ironing, measuring, cutting, measuring again.

I loved going to the craft store with my momma. I’d follow her to the back of the store, very pleased with the attention of the white-haired women with their blue aprons and kind smiles. While mom was searching for fabric and thread, I’d sit upon a green vinyl stool and thumb through the newest clothing catalog, looking for the next outfit I hoped my mom would make for me.

On that particular weekend, I was extra eager to see the result of my mom’s creation. She was turning a black and white checkered material into a pants and jacket outfit that, unbeknownst to me, would become one of my favorites.

I would wear it to our family Christmas party, eating piles of chocolate covered peanuts, using the pants as a napkin for my chocolatey hands. I would also wear it while I nervously read a historical essay about girls and education to a room full of women in the DAR, getting compliments afterward on both the essay and my outfit. I was proud of both, and I think my momma was too.

But for now, I would sit at the top of the stairs and watch my momma create, surrounded by piles of patterns and fabric, eager to see her finished product.

It wasn’t long after that life got busy and my mom stopped sewing as much. My little brother was born, we moved to a new city, and she got a new job. The sewing machine started accumulating dust as the demands of everyday life grew.

I think many of us can relate. Life gets busy and we have a hard time making time for our creative outlets. Cooking dinner, bathing kids, cleaning house, writing reports, planning for presentations, and yard work always seem more urgent than getting out our paints or writing a blog post. And when we do have downtime after the kids are in bed or while the kids at their friends’ houses, we wonder if it’s even worth it to turn on the computer or drag out our guitar. I should probably check off a few of the tasks on my to-do list.

In Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom, authors Wendy Speake and Kelli Stuart can relate. Life is busy. We feel responsible for everyone else and have a hard time giving ourselves permission to head to the back room to get lost in a pile of fabric. But instead of packing away those creative talents, what if we felt the freedom to engage, even in the midst of crazy, love-filled, energy-draining motherhood?

We are all made in the image of a creative God, and He invites each of us to use the gifts He has given us. Wendy and Kelli shared the stories of how creative women like author Angie Smith, jewelry designer Lisa Leonard, and blogger Myquillyn Smith wrote and created and designed even in the midst of the craziness of motherhood. We don’t have to put our gifts and passions on hold, but we can unapologetically make space to pursue these interests.

It’s easier said than done, but Wendy and Kelli give a bunch of great ideas on how to make that happen, as well as discussing the potential pitfalls, attitude challenges, and difficult seasons of life that creative mommas walk through.

What I most loved about this book was the authors desire to encourage and empower women to keep pursing their interests in the midst of having children.

Many women will put their entire pre-child self on hold, focusing all their attention on their home, their husband, and their children. And while there is an appropriate amount of focus-shifting that comes with marriage and children (for both men and women!), it’s important for women not to lose themselves in the transition. This isn’t an either/or decision, but a both/and.

Pursuing creative interests is not just good for a woman’s soul, but it’s also great for kids to see their mom engage in something that doesn’t revolve around them. I loved seeing my mom spend the whole afternoon behind her sewing machine. I didn’t feel neglected or that I wasn’t important. Instead, I recognized how my mom found energy and pleasure when creating.

If you are a momma who struggles with making time for your creative pursuits or feels bad about letting your kids play by themselves while you bake and decorate fall sugar cookies, this book is for you. And while moms who work outside the home are included in this book, I would only recommend this book to women who stay-at-home full-time (or work from home amidst stay-at-home mothering). There’s a heavy emphasis on homemaking and child-rearing that could make a work-outside-the-home mom feel out of place or uncomfortable.
Join Wendy, Kelli, and other moms in celebrating the beauty of being a creative mom by entering to win the Called to Be Creative Giveaway (details below) and by attending their author chat party on October 27!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on 10/27. The winner will be announced at the Life Creative Facebook party. RSVP for a chance to connect with Wendy, Kelli, and other creative moms, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

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RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 27th!

 

Thanks to Litfuse for the review copy of Life Creative! 

Stitch Fix #3: The Leaves are Changing….

Alright, so before I start in on showing you all the goods from this Stitch Fix, I confess. This is not related to my #write31days them. at all. But, I’m using it as today’s post anyway, so whatever. Writing is writing, right? 🙂 If you have no idea what I’m talking about, click on my #blessed: ordinary days image in the sidebar to see what I’ve been writing about this month!

Now, onto the Fix.

For this month’s box, I requested one pair of skinny pants and the rest shirts. My stylist, Kayla, totally delivered.

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Lizzy Colorblock Striped Sweater

I had been pinning a lot of shirts that had 2 different designs on them, so I can see why Kayla picked this one for me. The sweater is super soft (and warm!) and the arms were only a tad bit too long.

Dayna Skinny Jean

Perfect pair of jeans AGAIN! We’re 3 for 3 in the jeans department! I have spent hours and hours of my life looking for jeans that fit me, and never have I found pairs that fit as well as these last 3. It’s amazing that a stylist who doesn’t even know me can use the measurements I gave her and get ones that fit like a glove. This alone makes Stitch Fix 100% worth it to me.

 

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Lodi Crew Neck Blouse

I asked Kayla to send me some petite shirts if she found them, and this is one of them. It fit really well, and while I still have a bit of a plaid hangover from the years 1994-1996, I told Kayla I was ready to experiment with some plaid after seeing my sister-in-law’s way cute stitch fix from earlier this summer. The shirt fit me SO WELL, but, it’s pretty thin, and Wisconsin winter is a-comin’. Sending it back.

Martina Slub Knit Open Cardigan

I have been searching high and low for cardigans that I like. I have a bunch of the shorter cardigans that button up, but I’m looking for open, longer cardigans with no buttons. This black one fits the bill, but I haven’t decided if I’m keeping it or not. It’s long, which I love, and soft, which I also love. But it might just a wee bit too big- the sleeves are super long. I wish it came in petite!

 

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Cotulla Button Back Sweater

Lastly, I had practically begged Kayla to send me something, anything(!), with patches on the elbows. I love, love this style and was so excited that she sent me a warm soft sweater in a great color with the patches AND bonus buttons down the back (I think I have a sweater liked this pinned to my Style board!). Sadly, it’s too big– the patches fall on my forearms. Why, oh why do my arms have to be so short? Sending it back reluctantly.

So that’s it, my friends! I just love how responsive my stylist has been to my requests, and she’s worked really hard to find things that match the styles of the board. Because I’m so short, I’m sure I make her job harder than normal :).

My next box comes in January (I do it 4x per year- one with each changing of the seasons). If you’d like to try Stitch Fix out in the meantime, feel free to use my referral link! 🙂