Happy 3rd Birthday Mekonen!

Mekonen turned 3 years old today! Wow. Boy does time fly. I can't believe I have a 3 year old. I can't believe my baby is already 3! This pretty much makes him preschool age, which is strange. :) Oh how I love him more than my life itself!
Mekonen Jack
3 years
Mekonen loves, absolutely loves, Thomas and trains. So this year we did a Thomas the Tank Engine party with his cousins. We set up the table while he was taking his nap and when he woke up and came up the stairs to all the Thomas and birthday things in the front room, his face lit up! It was too cute. He kept saying, "Whoa! Look at Thomas!!!" 
The birthday boy's seat!
Thomas cake!!
I love how excited he is in this picture!
 Blowing out the candles!
 Cutie boy.
 Opening gifts! We got Mekonen a Thomas book, paint with color book, a Thomas Take-N-Play Pirate ship, and a remote control "Cars" car (which he was so fascinated with). My parents got him the Radio Flyer Classic Tricycle. He also got a Cars placemat, another paint with color book, stamps, and a cape with a big "M" on it for superhero play. 
 Mommy and Evie
 Playing with the Thomas Pirate ship. 

At 3 years old, you are growing into quite the little man. You are 36 lbs and have grown out of two pant sizes this fall! You sound so incredibly grown up when you talk and answer most questions in complete sentences, such as, "Hey Mekonen, do you want to go to the store?" and he says, "Yes I do!" It's super cute. Some of your other famous responses are, "yes it is." "oh sure." and "actually..." 

You are very sweet and have been using please, thank you, and you're welcome without reminders almost all the time. You are constantly thanking me for things that I do for you, without prompting and things we haven't "taught" you to say. For example, while eating your lunch you stopped and said, "Thanks for making me lunch Mom." and, "thanks for giving me a bath Mom." Melts my heart. 

You have a genuine joy and happiness that busts out of your little self. You laugh and laugh all day long and get such a kick out of making your sister laugh. You will go to great lengths to do this! Whenever we want to get you to smile for a picture we say, "Mekonen laugh!!" And you do, on command. A full on belly laugh. 

You continue to love music and can learn a new song in just one day. You even recognize songs you know that are just instrumental. Crazy. Right now you sing the hymns "Blessed Assurance," "Standing on the Promises," "All Creatures of our God and King," and umpteen amounts of kid songs like "If You're Happy and You Know it Clap Your Hands." You can recite Psalm 23 and we have begun memorizing the first chapter of James. So far you have verse 2-3 completed. 

You love trains and cars. Thomas and his friends are your go-to train characters and you still love the characters from the movie Cars.  

You are an all or nothing kid. As soon as you get something in your mind, there's no stopping you. When you like something, it's all the way, such as a favorite toy or character. Because of this, we work hard to set your heart on Jesus. 

We continue to pray for you daily, that God will draw you to Himself, and that you will love Him, and live your life for Him. We pray that you love and protect your sister and build a strong and lasting relationship with her. Your name means "noble," "the next one to rule" and we pray great things in that direction. We praise the Lord for making you exactly as you are, for His glory. May we love and encourage you this coming year (and many, many years to come) into becoming who God has created you to be. 

We love you!


Merry Christmas!

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus....

Tonight we anticipate the celebration of the birthday of our King. My heart is full of joy. I am overwhelmed with the truth that without this day, life and hope would be impossible.

Our babies opened their Christmas Eve pajamas, we read the story of the three wise men from the Jesus Storybook Bible, and sang Away in a Manger and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (2 of Mekonen's favorite songs this year). Mekonen has been saying "Tomorrow is Jesus' birthday!!!"
The best of about 15 pictures. Haha. Meko's facial expression is too funny and Evie is chewing on baby Jesus. 
E&M have loved playing with the Little People Nativity Set and Mekonen loves to talk about Mary, the angel, and the Shepherds. 

Interview with Mekonen about Jesus' Birthday.  (He answered them exactly as written, some in complete sentences, which is hilarious). 

"Where was Jesus born?" In a manger in Bethlehem.
"What was Jesus' mother's name?" Mary by name (a phrase one of our nativity books says when talking about Mary and Joseph)
"What was Jesus' father's name?" Joseph by name
"What did the angel tell the Shepherds?" The angel told the Shepherds that Jesus was born!
"What did the angel tell Mary?" The angel told Mary to name the baby Jesus. 
"Who is Jesus?" Jesus is God.
"Why did Jesus come to earth as a baby on Christmas?" to teach us about God

We started the Jesse Tree this year and are excited to add to this tradition each year as our children get older and can understand more. The Jesse Tree is an advent tree that tells the story of God's salvation plan, beginning with creation and continuing through the Old Testament, to the coming of the Messiah Jesus. We want our children to learn the truths of Scripture in light of the "big picture" of Jesus' redemption of mankind, and we found this Christmas activity to help do just that! As we tweak this tradition each year, we might change some things, like making our own Jesse Tree ornaments, but this year I just used these printables (picture to correspond with story on one side, the Scripture on the other side), mounted them on wooden disks and made them into ornaments. We corresponded the Scripture readings with the stories in the Jesus Storybook Bible, and some days also read right out of the BIble.
Our little Jesse Tree
Merry Christmas
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 
Matthew 1:21

To Be Dazzled. To Be Awe-Struck. A Baby to Worship.

To sum up our goal in parenting: to commend the works of God to our children. 

This Christmas season, my heart is constantly being brought back to worship- to the fact that God came, that Jesus came to live among us. It's truly and utterly fascinating. I am reminded more than anything, that along with ourselves, our children are made to worship. It's instinctive. They are image bearers of God and therefore they are hard wired to worship. The only question is. "What will they worship?" Children are born with an intense imagination, an intense desire to discover, to be "wowed," to delight, to be awe-struck. They instinctively go about their days with the deep question in their heart about the reason for life, the reason for living. We live to worship...but what is it we are worshiping? Specifically in this season, what or whom are we directing our children's worship to? Is it Jesus? 

We are created by God to worship Him. To worship the God of the universe. So what happens when we are made to worship God and we don't?
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator- who is forever praised. ~Romans 1:25
We are created to be amazed. Our children are created to be amazed. We love greatness. This is why we love sports, an incredible American Idol performance, a dare devil stunt, or the way a kid is amazed by the "magic tricks" that only Grandpa can do. We are hard-wired to idolize.

So since we, and our children, are hard-wired to be worshipers and hard-wired to be amazed and delighted, what is my calling as a parent? To give them something to worship. (And what a perfect time of the year to do so). We are to show them where to find lasting amazement and delight....it's found in Jesus alone. Our greatest calling is to help our children see the dazzling excellence of God. "Children will never have right thoughts about themselves until they have right thoughts about God." And where do they learn these right thoughts about God? Not randomly, and certainly not just through church attendance, or even Christian school attendance. They learn it from us, their parents.

If we don't do this well, we leave our children alone with their deceitful hearts that tell them that the amazing and seemingly satisfying idols of their hearts is where life is found.

Wow this is quite a tall order. One I cannot do without God's daily help. Commending the works of God to my children. That's how I will show my children that God is worth worshiping. I will continue to direct them to a tiny babe in a manger, a King, born humbly to a poor teenager, on a rescue mission to redeem the world and the hearts of my children. That Jesus, not the idols of their heart is what will truly satisfy them. "My children are not likely to grow into adults who truly know God unless I provide them with a big God who is worthy of worship." 


Taking Back Christmas

For weeks, I've been trying to put words to my thoughts and the things stirring my heart, and I just can't seem to get it right. But regardless, I will try.

Christmas is my absolute favorite time of year. I am a relational person to my core and the holiday season seems to be so closely linked to many activities and visits that involve the very family and friends my soul is tied to. So naturally, I am in "heaven" during the Christmas season. But, that's not even what Christmas is about, and the older I get, the more and more I am beginning to realize how much we really miss at Christmas. 
I noticed the problem shortly after we decorated our tree and began our seasonal activities. My almost three old's fixation with the season was focused solely on Frosty the Snowman. Sinful? No. Misdirected? Yes. I began to realize that all the ideas, thoughts, and perceptions our son has about Christmas are things he is exposed to, and we are completely in charge of what he is exposed to at his young age. So in short? It's our fault! At that point, he wasn't articulating an obsession with presents, or even Santa Claus, but even more, he wasn't articulating anything about Jesus. 

My perspective has changed this year, and this year I don't feel it- I don't feel the tension that our commercialized Christmas season brings- the tension to rush out amid crazy and frantic shoppers. I find myself turned off by the gobs and gobs of commercialized decorations that pull everyone's attention away from the real Christmas- the one that has Jesus at the center and includes reverence, generosity, and gratitude. 

I think my generation of Christians (those of us in our 20's and 30's) have been making efforts to embrace culture in an appropriate way in order to make a real difference biblically in the world. We seek not to shelter our children, but wisely, and age appropriately, explain the world and its problems in such a way that they grow up thinking and living biblically. (And yes this involves on-going conversations from a young age about the appropriate use of alcohol, sex, and other life choices, instead of remaining quiet in an attempt to shelter and what we think is "keeping them safe").  We seek to see our children Gospel-centered, not morality centered.  And although we want to saturate our children with Jesus and Biblical truth, we don't want to cheesily "Christianize" their world in a way that will make Jesus and Christianity so commonplace that it has no passion, no drive, no influence. Examples of "cheesily christianizing one's world" would be things like making something "Christian" that wasn't meant to be "Christian" in its original form. For example, "Christian Mother Goose Rhymes" instead of the classic Mother Goose Rhymes, or every house decoration turned into something Christian such as a candle with the saying, "Jesus is the light of the world" instead of just a candle because you like it. These things are not bad. I have Scripture up in my house and "Christian" things. But the danger in them is making Jesus commonplace, instead of Kingly place. Rather than every mention and every representation of Jesus being purposeful, deliberate, reverent, holy, and awe-inspiring, we have reduced His name to a cheesy decoration or put his name on a book to convince our kids to behave a certain way. 

All that being said, I think I unknowingly began to take Jesus down a notch in Christmas, especially once we had children, because I didn't want to be that "cheesy" Christian, who Christianizes everything and makes Jesus commonplace instead of Kingly place. But then it hit me, there is no such thing as "christianizing" Christmas because Christmas is Jesus. Without Him, there isn't Christmas, and without Him, we are nothing, we have nothing. Our life would be purposeless. 

"So what happened to Christmas? How did it turn from something simple and beautiful, to what we see now? The enemy has slowly hijacked Jesus' birth and handed it over on a silver platter to commercialism, marketing, and a get-more mentality." (Jen Hatmaker). We have even turned the story of St. Nicholas (who was a real person, and a Christian who invested in the poor) into a god to be worshipped, to idolize, to perform for, as someone to benefit us, and someone to give our undivided attention to. 

What happened to Christmas? What happened to Jesus, the Kingly newborn who came to redeem the world? 

What would happen if Christians all over decided to take back Christmas, and "celebrate Jesus in a manner worthy of a humble Savior who was born to two poor teenagers in a barn and yet still managed to rescue humanity?" (Jen Hatmaker)

I'm just beginning to realize that in this area of worshipping Jesus, I have long given lip service to Jesus at Christmas, all while really focusing my heart and attention on the other "joys" of the season such as family, getting together with friends, our culture's idea of Christmas traditions, and even the excitement of getting gifts FOR others. That can be an idol you say? Absolutely. But here at the Oren household, we. are. done. We have made changes this year that will hopefully steer us away from a realization many years down the road when our children are older that we have a huge mess to un-do, in which our children then go crazy over "their Christmas" being messed up. 

We have a massive job ahead of us as parents. To give our children the real Jesus. The awe-inspiring Jesus. Not the commonplace "cheesy" Jesus. But the Kingly Jesus, the one who absolutely, positively doesn't hold a chance against a guy with a big belly, a bright red suit and presents galore. When children lack spiritual perspective, the world and its selfish materialism will almost always win. We as parents have been appointed by God to build their spiritual perspective, and if we do it from the start, the choice will be easy... Jesus or world?   Jesus. 

Here's a heart-breaking statement from a non-Christian friend of a girl's blog I read. He states, "I have always thought it was strange how Christians will tell me they have this giant and awesome truth they know is true deep in their soul and want to share with me. But when 12/25 comes around they lie to their own progeny because, apparently, that giant, liberating, and awesomely simple truth is somehow just not enough. It may be a good narrative, but it needs a little something to give it some panache."


We have begun making changes and will continue to in the near future regarding Christmas. We have not nailed down specifics in every category yet, but will do so as they come up as our children get older. For now, at their ages, especially Mekonen's age and his personality of "all or nothing," we have changed the following:

1. Santa Claus- no huge focus on the commercialized Santa Claus. We are telling our children the real, original story of St. Nicholas, as someone who was devoted to Jesus and the poor. Maybe in the future when they are old enough to understand, we will do something fun with it on December 6th, (the day he died), such as putting out a shoe and it being filled with candy (like the actual St. Nicholas did in his town). This perspective has changed, even from last year, where we were okay with doing all the imaginary Santa things as fun and not real, but still doing them. We are now convicted that this is confusing our children and their developing perspective. Our hearts are designed to worship, from the beginning, and we want to make the choice of who to worship at Christmas an easy one. 

2. Christmas Books- last year I started a tradition of reading a Christmas book to Mekonen every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We quickly realized the majority of the books were focused on the commercialized Christmas of presents, Santa, and even gift-GIVING. But gift-giving, not just receiving, can also be an idol, and can take away from Jesus. We took away all Christmas stories that were not focused on the birth of Jesus, and the beginning of His mission to rescue the world. Cheesy christianizing? Absolutely not, because Christmas is Jesus. And there are a lot of neat books about the Nativity and Jesus' birth from all different perspectives, etc. Our new one this year is Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible).

3. Christmas Movies- for the time being, we have decided not to have our kids watch the Christmas movies that focus on commercialized Christmas, such as Rudolph, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, etc. We aren't saying we will keep these out forever, because they are certainly fun. But they are fun after your spiritual perspective is in place, something we are in the beginning stages of building in our children. 

4. Gifts- It is so. much. fun. to give gifts to our children. It's so fun to see them excited about a special toy or gift that they really like. But we are struggling with the idea of "showering" them with gifts on a day that is not about them. Children are literal. Their perspectives are simple and often one-sided. How confusing it must for a child to shower them with an over-abundance of gifts, even tell them Santa is involved with the gift giving, then tell them when they are middle elementary age that it's all fake and to stop being so selfish because Christmas is about Jesus. What? 

Because giving gifts to our children is so much fun, we would rather shower them with gifts on their birthdays instead of Christmas. We aren't saying "no gifts" at Christmas, we just don't want it to be the focus, and we don't want it to be an overload. Lots of families set-up gift policies such as 3 gifts each, or 1 gift, or gift poems such as, "Something you want, something you need something to wear, something to read." We have not decided on a "gift rule" and I don't know if we ever will, but we are mindful and intentional of this aspect of Christmas. This year, we got one gift for Evie and one for Mekonen, and then filled their stockings because our children also receive gifts from family members. 

5. Christmas Music- our son is obsessed with music! And Mekonen is an all or nothing kid. We have nothing specifically against all the fun, more cultural Christmas music. But again, Christmas' focus should be Jesus, and his birth. We have stopped playing all the music that doesn't focus on the wonder of Jesus' birth. We're listening to all the classic Christmas carols such as The First Noel, Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Angels We Have Heard on High, etc. We were created to worship. We were created to be amazed. If we do not give our children the Jesus of the Bible to worship and be amazed by, the commercialism, presents, and imagination will win their tender hearts, Once they've been won over, it's very hard to get them back. If you know THE Jesus of the Bible, there really is no competition. If as an adult, in your heart, you would choose the presents and worldly glories of Christmas over a humble babe in a manger, I suggest you have been given the wrong Jesus.

6.Advent- It means waiting, anticipating, looking forward to. And at that, the birth of Jesus. We began the workings of Advent traditions in our home. We have started the Jesse Tree this year and are working out exactly how we want things to go with this. I imagine as the years go on, we will tweek our Advent celebrations to meet our family's needs. Next year, I want to focus more on a personal Advent as well. 

So all that to say, we are focusing on Jesus and giving our children a Christmas obsessed with the Kingly newborn. We have shifted our Christmas craft making from commercialized characters to a felt baby in a popsicle stick manger. We are still doing things like Christmas cookies and going to see Christmas lights, and decorating our house, but with a different focus and a different mindset- it's all for a big celebration... the birthday of our King. 

The Lord is speaking quietly to my heart, and I've stopped long enough in this crazy season to listen, to really listen, and never before have I felt such peace, anticipation, and joyful celebration in my heart over the true gift we are celebrating at Christmas. Without the Christmas story, my life is in vain. 

Come thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free.
From our fears and sins release us
Let us find our rest in Thee.


Christmas Fun Activities

We've been full of some fun Christmas activities in this house the past week or so. Mekonen is obsessed with frosty the snowman right now, so we took out our Play-doh and constructed our own Frosty.
 Mekonen loves trying to cut the Play-doh. I love when he concentrates really hard and sticks his little tongue out. 
We also headed off to one of our favorite places to play... the children's museum, and we brought along Grandma Magz. 
Mekonen ice fishing. 
 They had a "pond" (slippery white floor with snowflake lights) that you could slide around and skate on with your socks. Too cute. 

 We always have to hit up the carousel before we go home. 
 We spent another day with our friend Macie making some Christmas crafts: we painted a star, made a snowman, and made our own salt dough ornaments and then painted them. Fun! 
 These two are such hams and love playing together!

Mekonen painting his first salt dough ornament. (I love Evie hanging out in the background. Ha!)
Mekonen's ornaments. I just love "Frosty" on the left. The orange is his carrot nose, and the blue is Frosty's buttons. haha. 


8 Months!

And... she's 8 months old! Boy time is flying! It's sooo strange to think that Mekonen was this exact age when we brought him home from Ethiopia. I was thinking about this today and it saddened my heart in a way that is almost impossible to put into words. I cannot believe all the things I have missed in Mekonen's first 8 months. It's a road I can't go down too deeply, or it becomes extremely difficult to get back out of. Someone once said to me that I'm lucky I missed out on those earlier months because I didn't have to deal with night feedings and not sleeping through the night. I had to restrain myself from being unbelievably rude in oh so many ways. I would trade all the sleep filled nights in the world to have been with my son from his very first breath.

So here we are... Evangeline Rae is 8 months old and growing, growing, growing! 

At 8 Months Old 
  • You are pulling up to stand on everything you can reach! Couches, chairs, stairs, toy baskets, and anything bigger than you! You are so fast when you do it and you never really went through a stage where you "fell" out of control in order to get back down. You pretty much just plopped onto your bottom from the start.
    Nov. 3rd- pulled to stand on the hamper and toy basket
    Nov. 4th- pulled to stand on couch
    This picture with your little knee up just kills me!
  • You got your first two bottom teeth! The first one (her bottom right) popped through on Nov. 4th and the second one came about a week later! They are so adorable! These are the best pictures I have of them right now, although they are difficult to see!
  • You are making distinct Mamama and Dadada noises, but not in reference to us (although I like to think so). hehe.
  • You are mimicking clicking noises with your tongue and you get the biggest kick out of it. 
  • You are starting to show signs of stranger anxiety. You also like to be wherever I am. If you can't see me in the room, you start crawling around to find me. It's too cute. 
  • You are just over 17 lbs and over the last few months (like the last 2 1/2 to 3 months) you have decided you don't like to sleep through the night anymore. This has become a bit stressful on your parents. The doctor said to have Daddy go in to you when you cry instead of me. So he checks on you every time you cry, but we let you cry yourself back to sleep and you still are not figuring it out!  We used to be hitting 2-4 times a night of you waking up and now it's usually 2, several 1's, and recently we got two nights in the past two weeks with zero waking! You have been sleeping through the night for a long time now, so I don't know what is up! At first I chalked it up to teeth, but then they popped in. Then I thought hunger. But that didn't seem to be it. So who knows!! I wish you could tell us!
  • You are just like your Mama in that you are the lightest sleeper in the world! The slightest, I mean slightest noise wakes you up! We actually have an industrial sized fan in your bedroom and it still doesn't take care of all the noises that wake you up! 
  • You are a feisty little one sometimes. You definitely let us know when you are not happy about something and have mastered the art of "throwing yourself backwards." 
  • You hate, dislike, and want nothing to do with baby food! You are starting to do better with it the past week or so, but overall, you just don't like it. If it's the least bit "grainy" that also bothers you, and you gag like crazy on anything remotely chunky or thick. 
  • You are getting into everything! You love to "destroy" things, and take things out of baskets, piles, etc. (And you find the greatest joy in this). haha.
  •  You had your first trip to the emergency room at the children's hospital and luckily we left with just a swollen black eye. Poor baby girl. We were at small group Bible study and you were upstairs with the babysitter. Next thing I know, I look up, and am watching you tumble down a half a flight of stairs and land on the middle landing. My heart stopped. It happened so fast, but felt like I was watching you fall forever. I bolted off my seat towards you but of course felt helpless that I couldn't catch you. It was quite scary. But you were fine! It took about two weeks for your eye to completely heal. 

  • You met your newest cousin, baby Joy Geisler, over Thanksgiving break in Pennsylvania. You and Joy are just 2 months apart!

  • And of course, I must note, that I can finally clip little tiny snap clips into your hair. *love*


Christmas Season Kick Off

My absolute favorite time of the year is here! The Christmas season, and here's to a great start!!! Jon and I saw a commercial the other day that totally depicted me. A lady had her house all decorated for Thanksgiving. I think she let her guests out the door after Thanksgiving day, waved good-bye, walked back into her house and it was all of a sudden Christmas. That is literally me. Thanksgiving evening begins the Christmas celebrations in my book! 

It's already been so fun this year with Mekonen catching on a little bit more to the Christmas and holiday season. He is currently obsessed with Frosty the Snowman and calls things that have to do with Christmas "Merry Christmas." For example, I put the tree up when he was napping. He later walked into the room, saw the tree, looked at it and said very non-chalantly, "Merry Christmas." He calls any decorations or Christmas items "my merry Christmas." 

We went to the library and got a huge stash of Christmas books to add to our own growing pile and every day at naptime and bedtime we read a Christmas story. So far Mekonen's favorite is Frosty the Snowman, which we have to sing of course, not read. :) We told Mekonen we were going to decorate the tree and he could not wait to put the star up. 
Super cute little video of Mekonen putting the star up with Daddy.

Mekonen was unbelievably happy and unbelievably excited the night we chose to do some family decorating and tradition making! We decorated the tree together,  and then had cookies and hot chocolate while watching Frosty the Snomwan. Mekonen was beside himself all day waiting for the big event. 
His smile couldn't have gotten any bigger.
He LOVES carrying this "Frosty" around. 
The finished product. It was so cute watching Mekonen put the ornaments on. He actually understood and knew what to do. I love that several ornaments ended up clumped together on the same branch. 
Yeah for stockings!! Meko's is a train, and Evie's a doll. 
Drinking our hot chocolate and eating cookies. When did my 2 year old turn 75? 
Has to get every last drop!
The next kick-off the holiday event was a weekend trip to Chicago to visit my cousin Jess. This was Mekonen's 4th time to Chicago and Evie Rae's 1st. As always, we had a blast!
Mekonen would've been happy riding the train downtown all day. He was busting with excitement.
I'm not sure I've ever met a happier kid.
Auntie Jess and Evie
Mommy & Evie
How Jon could be found during the train rides and a lot of the walking. 
Checking out the Christmas sites downtown.
Looking at the Christmas window displays at Macy's.
Me & Jess
Mekonen's favorite: chocolate milk and McDonalds.
Saturday evening we went to the Chicago Zoo and got to see it all lit up for Christmas. So fun!

3-D glasses that put snowflakes or elf faces around the lights. Cool babes.
And yes of course, pictures with the "Frosty" lights, Meko's favorite. 

They had a huge light display that would "dance" to Christmas music. It was very cool.
What a great time.

And we're off to a fun start! I can't believe it's already December 5th! So much to do! So much fun to be had! :)