Christmas Traditions for Jesus- Mark Driscoll

Since we are in limbo this Christmas season while waiting to move into our new home, we haven't been able to do many of our own Christmas traditions and activities. Mark Driscoll did a poll on facebook asking what people's Christmas traditions for Jesus were. It was a great post with so many good ideas I want to remember, so I'm posting his article below! Hope you can find some good ideas too!

Christmas traditions for Jesus: Your ideas
By Mark Driscoll

Recently I invited folks online to share their favorite Christmas traditions—specifically, ways to keep the celebration about Jesus. Turns out lots of people bake a birthday cake for Jesus and read the Bible on Christmas Eve, but here are some other ideas for making the most of the season.

1. Make the most of your Nativity scene

“Our Nativity scene starts empty. Just a barn,” writes Lisa. “And as we unfold the story through our Advent devotions, we add to it accordingly. My kids literally anticipate the arrival of the Christ child.”

MaryJane’s family does something similar: “We do not put Jesus in the manger in the Nativity until Christmas morning. The empty manger is a great reminder of what the world was before Jesus came down.”

2. Make the most of Advent
Alicia recommended a resource called Truth in the Tinsel. “Each day there is a Scripture to read to the kiddos and a simple craft for them to complete to help them better understand why Jesus came and who Jesus is,” she writes.

Christina shared a friend’s family tradition: “They have a bowl of 25 ornaments (for Advent) and on each one there is one name for Jesus with an accompanying Scripture. They then discuss the Scripture, the name, and why it’s important.” Each day of Advent, the family hangs a new ornament.

3. Make the most of your Christmas tree

Sharon’s family has 12 special ornaments, each representing a different aspect of Jesus’ character: living water, King of kings, Lion of Judah, bread of life, the good shepherd, God with us, the door, the vine, light of the world, bright morning star, Lamb of God, Savior. “Each Christmas we start the season by making these the first ornaments we put on our tree to keep Christ the center,” she writes. “I have four boys, so as each name of Jesus is mentioned in the story, each boy reads the accompanying verse for that name of Christ and places the ornament on the tree. My guys are 16, 15, 13, and 12 now and they still love to start the season this way!”

Andy explained a tradition his father-in-law started called “the Christmas Nail.” They hang a large spike “on a sturdy branch close to the trunk,” he says. “Every year we pass the nail around and say what we are thankful for and there is nevera dry eye! The nail reminds us of not only the birth of Jesus, but also the death of our Savior! It really puts things in perspective!”

4. Make the most of your time together

Between school vacations and a little extra time off from work, Christmas is a crucial opportunity to bring the family together to celebrate, bond, and reflect on the year past.

In Timothy’s family, “Each person in the family writes on a card what they are giving to Jesus this year. We then put it in the tree to look at on Christmas day. It can be anything really, an idol that’s been getting in our way of worship, something we have been holding back from God, etc.”

Scott has his family “write end-of-year letters to each family member, recalling events and how we cherish each other.” Rachel’s family does something similar, using a candle: “When the candle is in front of you, the rest if the family shares a word of encouragement, or a way they see God working in your life. Very uplifting family time!”

5. Make the most of open hearts
During the Christmas season, Christians have a unique opportunity to reach outand connect with others who might not be as open to the prospect at other times during the year.

In Narelle’s family, “We usually invite for Christmas lunch someone we know who is unchurched and who may or may not have family to spend a meal with—this means we have the opportunity to practically show and tell about God’s love!”

I hope you find these ideas helpful for your family, your Community Group, or whoever you share Christmas with this year. Thanks to everyone who contributed their ideas.


May God's People in CT Show Up!

My heart is deeply grieved over the tragedy that happened this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. People everywhere (including myself) are understandably trying to make sense of such gruesomeness and evil. As we can all see from Facebook posts, social media, the news, etc., many people are very forthright with who they think are to blame, including beliefs that gun control and putting God back into schools is the answer to such tragedies as were seen on Friday.

But right now is not the time for debates... right now is a time for the people of God to come alongside those who are weeping and mourning. Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." I think overall, Christian communities are sometimes uncomfortable with sadness, deep loss, pain, and weeping. Maybe it's a misunderstanding of joy- that Christians are supposed to be joyful, and not sad. Maybe it's because we are simply afraid of feeling something deeper than we think we can handle. But now is a time for tears, for grieving, and for prayer. I don't live anywhere near Connecticut to grieve personally, to show up in person, alongside those who have lost their children and family members. My constant prayer since Friday has been, "Lord, please press on the heart of your church in Connecticut to simply SHOW UP." I've been praying that God moves in the hearts of Christians and pastors in the nearby area of Sandy Hook Elementary to not only pray, but to show up. Attend the funerals of children, even though they might not know them, shower these families with the love of Jesus in human tangible form... in the form of Christians showing up grieving and weeping alongside them, in person, and pray that God gives opportunities to give them real, true, and lasting hope among the devastating pain.

The world is a broken, hurting, messy, and often terrible place. It's laced with sin and sadness. When we encounter devastation we often ask ourselves where is God? What is His response to such turmoil?
"The birth of Jesus into a world riddled with sin is God's response to this shooting. The cross of Jesus stands as the greatest display of God's love for us and the loudest declaration of the lengths to which he will go to win our hope. The resurrection of Jesus settles our hearts and reminds us that even though this is not the way it's supposed to be, it will not always be this way.

God draws near to those who have lost what is dearest to them. And he does so through his people. And when someone asks us, “Where was God when this happened?” We can say with a hope-filled heart and trembling voice, “God is in the same place today as he was when his own Son hung on a cross. Jesus Christ took all this evil and suffering and swallowed it as a bitter pill. God so loves this sin-sick world that he gave his only Son to it. And whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life with our Father in a world made right.” (David Fairchild)

That is the hope these families need to see, feel, and know deep in their hearts. May God's people in Connecticut, SHOW UP.


The Jesse Tree Advent Activity

I've had a few friends ask about the Jesse Tree we did for Christmas last year, so figured I'd throw up a blog post about it if anyone else is interested in making one. We didn't put ours up this year as all our Christmas decorations are packed away for the move.

The Jesse Tree is an Advent tree that tells the story of God's plan to rescue the world, starting with when He created the world, through the Old Testament, and then ending with Jesus' birth. The name Jesse Tree came from Isaiah 11:1 in the Bible. Jesse is David's father, and Jesus came through that family line.

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." 

There are a lot of ways to do the Jesse Tree. I used these free printables and made them into ornaments. You can make your own or find another creative way to display each portion of the Bible reading. Last year, we used the ornaments and read the Scripture on the back that went along with each one. You do one a day, and we typically did it at dinnertime when we like to do our family devotions. When we take it out next year, I think I'm going to go through and incorporate the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Gospel Story Bible as the readings like I did for our Easter tree.

I printed the ornaments on cardstock and glued them to wooden craft circles. 
It's much easier to use a craft circle punch for the individual ornament print-outs. Cutting all those circles with scissors is nuts! 
Then I hot glued ribbon to the back to make the ornament. 
 Our little Jesse Advent Tree


What Do Christians Do About Santa Claus?

Will we tell our children the truth about Santa?

I often get the question, "So are you guys telling Mekonen and Evie about Santa Claus?" Or, random strangers in the grocery store ask my children if they've been good this year so Santa will bring them a lot of presents. As with most holidays, there are lots of discussions that need to happen on how to celebrate, what to celebrate, etc. The issue for us with Santa Claus is that there are a lot of myths on top of some truth about Santa, and how do we want to approach truth with our children? Well, plainly put, truthfully.

Similar to my post on What Do Christians Do About Halloween where I used Justin Holcombs's ideas of rejecting, receiving, or redeeming cultural practices, I've used this system along with Mark Driscoll's thoughts to think through and discuss Santa Claus.

But before we dive into the three R's, it's important to remember, that you as the parent, must research for YOURSELF. Do not just piggy back the practices, beliefs, and methodologies of those around you (Christian or not). I've encountered many Christians who are clueless about the history or origins of the cultural practices they so easily reject or recieve, without thought, simply because their church, family, or friends do such things. God has equipped us with the ability to think and discern and we should use that wisely.

There are three things the Christian can do in regards to Santa Claus.

1. Reject Santa- have no association with anything Santa. He is often demonized and even declared "sinful" in this category.
2. Receive Santa- fully accept everything Santa, portray him as fully truth
3. Redeem Santa- talk about Santa Claus for what he was, tell the truth as the truth, and the imaginary as the imaginary

Although we've re-routed some cultural practices we are participating in at Christmas for this season of life due to the young ages of our children and their current "all or nothing" mindsets, we have chosen to "redeem Santa." We plan on telling our children that Santa Claus was a real person (Saint Nicholas) that lived a long time ago and that people pretend to be Santa and dress up like Santa for fun, just like they might dress up when they play. We'll have fun with Santa and read Christmas stories about him, watch Christmas movies, and sit on his lap for a picture. We want them to know there is a real story too, and that a lot of fun and imaginary stories have been added to the real story of Santa, like a sleigh with flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, and visiting all the children in the world in one night to deliver presents.
Our issue does not come with the imagination and make-believe. Imagination and make-believe are a God-given gift to enjoy. What we are concerned about is lying to our kids. Some people may feel this idea is "over the top." But we want to teach our children that they can trust us because we will tell them the truth. And we also expect them to always tell us the truth. "Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we will distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We will ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but will teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged" (Panelists Blog- Mark Driscoll).

Brushing and feeding the reindeer at the Children's Museum. 
So we want our children to understand that Santa Claus is a mix of real and make-believe. Here are some parts of the real story of Nicholas.

Some ancient records reveal that Nicholas was born to a wealthy family and was raised a devout Christian. His parents died tragically when he was young and he spent much of his wealth taking care of the poor which involved giving gifts to children and sometimes filling stockings of presents for them. One record shares that he helped save three sisters from a life of prostitution by paying their wedding dowry that their family was too poor to pay. 

He was a Christian leader who became the Bishop of the port city Myra that the apostle Paul visited in the book of Acts in the Bible. He also was part of the Council of Nicaea that defended the diety of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325 (I thought that was fascinating. I didn't know that at all!)

He was canonized as a saint after he died on December 6, 343 and St. Nicholas' holiday was celebrated by giving gifts. This eventually became synonymous with Christmas since they were celebrated within a few weeks of each other. 

Other folklore of the time became entwined with St. Nicholas and is where it is said we got the fanciful stories of going down the chimney, flying reindeer, and delivering presents to all the children of the world in one night. (History facts from Mark Driscoll's panelist blog)

Evie thought the reindeer were real and was hesitant at first. She kept trying to feed them and was irritated that the hay kept falling out of their mouths. She also insisted that they were horsies. 
"Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God." (Panelists Blog- Mark Driscoll). We like the idea of being able to be honest and fun and provide great Christmas celebrations for our children.


Navigating Christmas

We are in full swing of another Christmas season, and we find ourselves again, trying to navigate how to properly celebrate Christmas within our family...in a way that celebrates Jesus first and foremost, but still includes some of our cultures fun traditions and seasonal activities. Last year, we had a very trim year by way of cultural celebrations and norms because we found our  almost 3 year old son overly infatuated with Frosty the Snowman and of no concern for Jesus. Yes, we realize he is just a preschooler, but we want to be careful to present the Jesus of the Bible in all His glory...one that doesn't stand a chance against the things of this world that seek to capture the hearts of our children. We tweeked some things and placed our focus where we believe it should be...simple and beautiful, with Jesus at the center- including reverence, generosity, and gratitude.
We've had many discussions over the last several weeks about juggling this time of year. We want to celebrate the Kingly newborn who came to redeem the world in such a way that it is awe-inspiring to our children. That's a huge job, a BIG responsibility, but a joyous one at that! Every year we want to keep hold of things that help us give the real Jesus, the awe-inspiring Jesus to our children, and take away things that fixate their minds and hearts on the commercialism of Christmas. Already, we've even changed things from last year, and I imagine we will do that every year as our family changes and grows.

Does this mean we will never mention Santa Claus? No, not necessarily. (Blog post on Santa coming up soon). What it does mean is that we will teach our kids the story about the real St. Nicholas who was devoted to Jesus and the poor. Last year, we were convicted about not emphasizing St. Nicholas at all (real or imaginary) due to the fact that we feel like our son was "all or nothing" in his mind's devotion. We've been able to handle a little bit of "Santa" this year (not in a "he's real"kind of way), so we'll continue to evaluate that entire area as time goes on.

We continue to navigate the present/gift giving world. We love giving gifts to our children, as I'm sure all parents do. It's so fun to see them open something and really enjoy it, especially since we don't shower them with toys and gifts during the year. Last year, we kept it pretty simple, with a few gifts and a stocking, as we will this year...especially since our kids gets gifts from very generous grandparents!

So all in all, we have no solid conclusions on anything... just trying to navigate the role of shepherding our children amidst spiritual and cultural holidays, and I imagine how that plays out practically will change from year to year. We just don't want to get to a point years down the road when our children are older that we have a huge mess to un-do.

This year, our Christmas season is in a bit of a limbo as we are living with grandparents while we close on a house. This has limited our yearly traditions of the Jesse tree and some family traditions as all our decorations and Christmas activities are packed away. I find myself overly concerned that I'm "dropping the ball" in teaching them this year about what Christmas is all about and fear I'm missing vital parenting time this season. But as Jon so gently reminded me today... it's all going to be just fine. And parenting is a life-long quest, one that has many mistakes, ups and downs, and even in that, our children learn the greatest and best lessons.

So I encourage you, at whatever stage you are in with your family, parenting, or personal life, to take a step back and ask yourself how can we better show a watching world the awe-inspiring Jesus of the Bible! Not a commonplace Jesus, but 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. If we lack spiritual perspective, the world and its selfish materialism will always win.


Don't Adopt Without It

My last post on adoption talked about how the Gospel and adoption are intricately woven...how if you are a Christian that you yourself have been adopted, and what our amazing adoption as Christians looks like. Then I challenged families to consider whether God would have them, in turn, pursue the adoption of an orphan into their family, making them a son or daughter, just like God has done to them.

But, here's the thing. A huge thing. Something I feel is often "missed" in the correlation between the Gospel and Christian families adopting. You cannot adopt without having God's heart. You simply cannot. God's heart is the forerunner of the Gospel, it is the biggest piece of the Gospel. If you adopt without having a heart like God's, you have the potential to destroy the child you bring into your family.

Yes, adoption is a picture of the Gospel- but we cannot forget that God’s heart is one of fierce love and desire for us, and that fierce love and desire drove Him to rescue us. Children don’t just want to be adopted for all the “right” reasons. They long to be wanted. God didn’t just adopt us. He didn't look on us with pity and take us in. He didn't make a list of all the right reasons and finally "give in." His great love and passion for us drove him to cross life's biggest barrier and make us his sons and daughters.

Dear friends, if you're having trouble with having God's heart for a child that does not have your DNA running through their blood, might I encourage you to spend some time with Jesus...spend some time searching the Bible to read and drink up the great love that God has for you. It's wider and deeper than any of us can ever fully know, and has the power to reach us in depths we never knew we had. Meditate on the Gospel, let it soak into every part of your being, and see all the incredible ways God's love empowers you to love others the way you have been loved.


We've Had A Makeover!

So we had a makeover! A blog makeover, thanks to our dear friend Allie, who is much more creative than I am! I haven't completed it yet (haven't added the links for each of our stories on the left hand side, and fixing all the category links. Maybe next time the kids are sleeping!) We've been contemplating a new look, feel, and theme for our blog for awhile, and wanted something that meant something specific to us and what we desire for our family. The longer we parent,  the more we grow in our marriage, the more we walk through the trials of life, the more we are beginning to see how much we want to "bring our kids home."

I frequently read Ann Voskamp's blog, A Holy Experience, and love how she talks about living a one piece life with her family. As soon as I heard that phrase, I knew it was the one! It was the perfect tag line for our "new" blog and the perfect phrase to describe what we are after as we build and nurture our family.
Families today are so fragmented. Most of their days and activities are spent separate from each other, gaining most of their perspectives, beliefs, and likings from other people (peers, teachers, coaches, etc). Children spend the majority of their waking hours at school, away from their families, and then the majority of evenings are spent ushering kids all over creation to activity after activity. Meals are rushed, if eaten together at all, and it seems as though children prefer the company of their friends rather than their siblings. Even the way churches are often set up, have families walking in the door to worship on Sunday morning, and kids and parents go their separate ways, only to regroup in the parking lot afterwards and drive home.

We are messy, fallen, sinners and we desire to gather around our children, living out this crazy and glorious mess all day, every day, together. With that comes great paint, great joy, and great transparency. We strive to model the supremacy of God and the Gospel to our children and feel we can't do that properly if we are time-torn, fragmented, and living most of our days apart, rather than together. We do not want our children growing up and seeing life as a dichotomy, where family and faith are separate from the rest of the world. We want that "one piece life" where we do family, faith, and everything else as a complete whole, together.
With each new stage and season of life, we are learning how that "one piece life" looks every day. It doesn't mean our kids aren't going to do sports, and doesn't mean that our kids won't participate in age segregated church activities, and doesn't mean we will homeschool indefinitely. We will tackle each road and season of life as it comes. What it does mean, is that we will pay close attention to our own hearts and the hearts of our children, and constantly look for ways to nurture the whole being of our family as ONE- not time-torn and not fragmented...
living out  a one piece life. 

We are not declaring a certain kind of life as better than the next, we just know that the pursuit of a "one piece life" is where God is directing our family. A certain kind of life-style does not fix our sin soaked problems and does not change the condition of our hearts, or the "tune" of our family... only the grace of the Gospel can do that.


It's Scandalous, But True

In my last post, "Will You Search Your Reason for Saying No?" I talked about how if a family claims to be a Jesus-loving, Jesus-preaching, Gospel-centered family, that the pursuit of adoption should be happening by many, many, many more Christian families. Don't allow the "not all Christians should adopt" to let you feel "off the hook." The bigger question is, why would you be saying no, and is it really legitimate? And no, finances for an adoption is not legitimate (later post for a later time).

So if you claim to be that Jesus-loving, Jesus-preaching, Gospel-centered family, then why should you be pursuing the adoption of orphans? Because if you've claimed Jesus, you yourself have been adopted.  Now before you tune me out, please keep reading! It will refresh and encourage your soul!

You were once that older child, wandering the streets of a third world country, looking for someone to love you, looking for something to give you purpose. Looking for a place to belong, an identity. You dabbled in all sorts of terrible, awful things to try to find that identity. You were hungry, confused, lonely, despairing, and without true, unconditional love found within the safety of a family...

You were once that child, going from house to house in the foster care system, wondering when you would ever be good enough for someone to keep you...

You were once that baby in an orphanage, without anything or anyone to call your own. You didn't belong anywhere, you weren't personal to anyone, you were without a family. You were just one of the hundreds of little faces all jammed packed into one room, waiting for someone to see you individually, to personally love you...
Korah, Ethiopia (By: Tiffany Darling)

If you call yourself a Christian, there was a time when you lived in the middle of all the scenarios above.
  • You had no real identity. Then, you met Jesus. If you have accepted the forgiveness only Jesus provides, then you are a Christian and have a new identity worth far more than any other identity on this earth. You have been adopted into the family of God as several Bible passages tell us. No other facade of "identity" matters... not your birth family, not your circumstances, not your heritage, and not your upbringing. If you have Jesus' identity, available only through being adopted as God's sons and daughters, then you have HIS status. As Philip Ryken said in his book on Galatians, "The reason identity with Christ is such a magnificent doctrine is that once we get into Christ by faith, then everything Christ has ever done becomes something we have done. It's as if we had lived his perfect life and died his painful death. It's as if we were buried in his tomb and then raised to glorious heaven. God attaches to us the events of Christ's life so that they become part of our lives. His story- the story of the cross and empty tomb- becomes our story."
  • You were desperately trying to be good enough. Then, you met Jesus. Jesus kept the law PERFECTLY for us. And, if you are a true Christian, if you have a relationship with Jesus, HIS record of perfection gets transfered to you! You are free!!! Free from the burden of expectation. Free from the burden of your own pursuits! Free from the desperation to prove yourself worthy! When you fail, when you sin, when you shake your fists and turn your back on what God asks of you, you can thank God that your relationship with Him isn't based on your obedience, but on Jesus' obedience. Even your sin and failures is an occasion to remind you that your Savior, Jesus, is praying for you, and that your sin won't ever separate you from Him, or His love for you. He continues to smile at you because you are His beloved child, with whom He is well pleased, and that is it! You are assured that you are finally and fully good because of what Jesus has done. Your exhausting pursuit of trying to be good enough to be loved, is forever gone. You are unconditionally accepted. 
  • You didn't belong anywhere. You had no family. Then, you met Jesus. "God sent forth his Son...to redeem us...that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying 'Abba! Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7). When God adopted you into his family, you received a deep, eternal inheritance. You received a perfect Father and an entire body of believers with which to live in, grow in, and flourish in. You received a father in God, who embraces you fully as His own, who loves you fiercely and unconditionally. Who knows you personally and intimately. A Father who gives you the best identity in the world, who doesn't make you work for His love, and a Father who will never desert you and leave you to fend for yourself on the street. 
This, my dear friends, is the message of the Gospel, and this, my dear friends, is the story of YOUR adoption! Where on earth would you be had God not reached out and adopted you as his son or daughter. It's earth-shattering to dwell upon. Adoption is a vibrant picture of the Gospel. It's the reality of what has happened to us. Who we were, what God has done, who we are now, and the fact that He redeemed us that we might be adopted as sons and receive all the blessings of heirship. Our adoption brought us life, unconditional love and acceptance, protection, and the privilege of relationship...our status FOREVER, has been changed.

This dear friends, is why Christians adopt. And when you see it for what it truly is, suddenly, all of our petty excuses and lame reasons why "our family isn't called to adopt" seem so trivial, so pointless. What if the very reasons you feel you aren't in that category of "Christians families "called" to adopt" were the very same reasons God decided not to send Jesus to adopt you? It's too messy, it's too painful, we're too busy, it's too costly, it's too much work, people will reject me, my family will reject me, it's too much sacrifice, it ruins our "homogenous look," and worst of all, "I can't love someone not my 'own.'" What if Jesus said He couldn't love you because you weren't 'his own blood?' Because guess what, you aren't.

I know the risk of writing blog posts like this, and I'm okay with that. They are not written from a heart of pride or condemnation. They are truly written from a heart who longs to see more Christian families care for what is on the heart of God, and you cannot read Scripture and find that the orphan is not on the heart of God. And you cannot read the Scriptures and see that if you call yourself a Christian, you are now an ex-orphan. You yourself, are now adopted.


Will You Search Your Reason for Saying No?

I'm not even sure where to begin on all the things mumble jumbled around in my brain regarding adoption, orphans, Christians, and the local church. My last post talked about how caring for orphans doesn't mean that every single Christian family is supposed to adopt. However, I truly believe that not nearly enough Christian families wholeheartedly consider adoption. I fear that when people hear "not all Christian families are supposed to adopt" they might breathe a deep sigh of relief possibly thinking, "Phew, we are totally in that category," and orphans, children who are on God's heart, whom He called us to care for, are put out of one's mind, and essentially forgotten until the next orphan Sunday when church mentions it, or until that crazy family that is all gung-ho adoption talks about it again, or writes about it on their blog.

I admit, I get slightly anxious about being so boisterous and forward about such issues because these kinds of issues- orphans, children without Moms, Dads, and families, can make people feel uncomfortable. And sometimes when people get uncomfortable, they get mad. This is a slightly scary place for me to be, seeing as though I'm a recovering people pleaser! But nonetheless, I believe God wants someone to advocate for the least of these, for those who society has cast aside, for those who are fatherless, and have no means to experience the love of a family, or even worse, never get taught the love of Jesus. 
 Entoto, Ethiopia (by: Tiffany Darling)

My friend Tiffany, who never thought adoption would be part of her life, has added two children into her home through the beauty of adoption- one being a special needs toddler and the other, a teenage boy who was living on the streets in Ethiopia. She writes this about advocating for orphans this month. 

"This is not pleasant. Orphan care is not pretty. The devastating need and plight of many of the orphans in our world today is uncomfortable to look at. However, if I am being honest in how I advocate for these children, and paint a real, accurate photo, well, sometimes it's just plain ugly. Sometimes it looks like teenage boys laying on cold cement, huddled together eager for some comfort of warmth, huffing glue to stave off the incredibly painful hunger that rips through their stomaches. Sometimes it looks like sweet little girls selling their bodies to wicked men in hopes of recieving enough money to survive one more day. Sometimes it looks like babies laying listless in cribs - two to three diaperless and together - with malnourished bellies so swollen that to pick the child up would cause excrutiating pain. Sometimes it looks like bruised and battered children being shuffled in and out of one home after another just longing for routine, security, family. That makes me pretty uncomfortable to think about and to write about, and I am sure it is uncomfortable to read...I think we need to start feeling uncomfortable. I am backing out of my corner and opening my mouth to speak the truth this month - even if it just wrecks my heart, and sets a fire back under me."

I wholeheartedly believe that if you are a stable, Jesus-loving, Jesus-preaching, Gospel-centered family, that maybe God is calling you to think again about pursuing adoption. If you are saying, "No, that's not for us." What is your reason? I urge you to be honest in your heart about why you feel it's not for you. 
U.S. Foster Care


"The Call" and What it Actually Means

November is adoption/orphan care awareness month and tomorrow is orphan Sunday! This is the one Sunday a year where Christian communities and churches come together to commit and re-commit to God's call for us to care for orphans and vulnerable children.

I am so thankful and excited to see so many churches and Christian communities responding to God's mandate to care for orphans. Sometimes it seems like people can get caught up in what Christians say is "the call" to adopt. But it's not about a calling, it's about responding to God's mandate in the Bible to care for orphans and vulnerable children. This is not a mandate only geared towards the few families in one's church who have chosen adoption, and it isn't a mandate left to those in the church who have a soft spot for kids. This is different. It's a Biblical mandate given to all believers who claim Jesus Christ.

What does this mandate actually mean? This does not mean every Christian is supposed to adopt children into their home, and bring them to their dinner table as sons and daughters. (Although, by all means, I think way more Christians need to consider and explore that possibility). But every Christian is supposed to care for orphans and vulnerable children. In the Bible, in the book of James, the wording used in the original language about caring for orphans is "face to "face," "to be responsible for." It's an intimate, personal interaction. That doesn't always include adoption, but it does involve something.

What is that something? That "something" is what you need to determine in your heart, between you and the Lord, and within your family. Some of those things might be:
  • adoption 
  • foster care 
  • very short term foster care such as Safe Families
  • child sponsorship, such as Compassion International
  • the pursuit of and care of single moms and their children 
  • reaching out to the child in your neighborhood who comes from a rough, broken home, and inviting them to be part of your family, experiencing what a godly family looks like, and having influences they otherwise would not have 
  • look for local non-profits and Christian ministries in your city, or a nearby city, in which you can be involved "face-to-face" with orphans and children at risk. For example, here in Indy we have a Christian ministry that ministers to homeless teenagers called Outreach Inc, and there are many shelters who care for mothers and their children. These ministries are always looking for volunteers and simply just looking for people to love on others 
Obviously this list goes on and on- the possibilities are endless! But remember, the mandate is not just for people who have adopted children or want to adopt children. It's not even about adoption, it's about caring for orphaned and vulnerable children. How might God be working in your heart, this month, to step out in faith, and get connected to a child who needs something you can provide, and most of all, needs the Jesus you can introduce!


What Do Christians Do About Halloween?

As a Christian family who seeks to live a Jesus-centered, Gospel-centered life, we are constantly needing to evaluate the culture we live in through the lens of the Bible and the thinking mind God gave us.

In light of what I've written below, as a family we have chosen to exercise our Biblical freedom (1 Corinthians 10:22-23), to wisely redeem cultural practices. We have fun with Halloween by dressing up and going trick or treating. We did wade through the trickier issues necessary such as ghosts, witches, and other scary, fear based costumes, along with the cultural obsession with the "dark, gruesome" side of life after death. Heaven and hell are very real places, and Satan and his demons are very real beings, and we feel our view and talk of them should be in a Biblical sense. So we have rejected that portion of our culture's Halloween celebrations. 

So without further ado, our cutie kiddos ready for a candy fest! This year Mekonen was his latest favorite character... Buzz Lightyear! Miss Evie Rae was a sweet little fairy! Daddy and Grandpa were going to be away for work on Halloween, so we trick or treated the night before to a few friends houses and Grandma Magz and Boppy's house. 

"To infinity, and beyond!!!"

Trick or treating at Grandma Magz and Boppy's
Daddy and Grandpa were out of town for work, so on Halloween night we went with Grandma trick or treating in her neighborhood. It was really cold out, so we changed Evie's costume, to a cuddly little lion! Much warmer than a fairy! 

Evie was all smiles once she figured out what this process of knocking on people's doors means! Candy!!!
Halloween has long been debated in Christian circles as whether or not it's right or wrong to participate. This is an issue we have had to evaluate as we begin our journey in raising our children. However, it's not as simple, nor as black and white as some Christians like to make it. Yes, that would be easier because it would satisfy the "religious self" that we try so desperately to get rid of- the one that thinks being a Christian is simply following rules. Sure that would be "easier" and actually would give us a way to receive some praise for how "good we are being" and thus how "righteous" we are. But we are called to much more than that, and I am afraid that many Christians today just don't know how to think and would prefer that the Bible say specifically, "Thou shalt not trick or treat or be involved in Halloween." Since that hasn't been laid out for us we have some homework to do! My thoughts on how to reject, receive, or redeem cultural practices in light of the Bible were influenced by Justin Holcomb, a pastor we really appreciate from a church out west. 

1. Research the aspect of culture that you are discussing, i.e. Halloween.
It will take far too long to write the history of Halloween here, and it's not necessarily the point of this post. So in short, the holiday did, in some part, originate from pagan and mythical practices. But calling it "Satanic"can merely end up being a game of semantics. (What about Roman and Greek mythology, etc?) Maybe all these things are "satanic," maybe they aren't. Therefore, Christians need to exercise thoughtful discernment when coming to conclusions about such matters.

2. Reject, Receive, or Redeem, in this case, Halloween.

A Christian named Pat Robertson called Halloween the "festival of the Devils" and said it was wrong for Christians to participate. But to reject it outright without answering this question, is foolish... "To what extent does something's evolution from pagan roots entail that its present practice is tainted?" Because today, there's been a huge shift in the original practices of Halloween, to kids dressed up in cute costumes for a sugar fest once a year. If you are going to outright reject Halloween are you consistent in rejecting other holidays completely as well? There are pagan practices rooted in most holidays as is excess, like too much candy on Halloween. So should we reject Thanksgiving too because some people eat too much and gluttony is a sin? Other Christians reject Halloween because they fear the evil will influence their Christian faith. The idea is, 'garbage in, garbage out.' But Jesus says the exact opposite is true in Mark 7:21-23. The fruit of our lives (whether holiness or sin) is always tied to the root of our hearts. Sin absolutely corrupts but the sin is not so much 'out there in the world' as much as it is in the heart of every person. Holding fast to the outright rejection position falsely assumes sin is mostly what we do rather than who we are. 

Receive and/or Redeem
If we have an informed understanding of the history of Halloween and realize that as a Christian we have the biblical freedom to redeem cultural practices (1 Corinthians 10:22-23), we believe that Christians should follow their conscience in choosing how to approach this holiday.
How one goes about which aspects of Halloween to redeem or receive is still a tricky issue. One suggestion is to distinguish between the cultural aspects of Halloween and the religious aspects of Halloween. "There is a big difference between kids dressing up in cute costumes for candy and Mardi-Gras-like Halloween parties, offensive costumes, and uninhibited excess."
"It's naive to make a blanket judgment to reject or receive Halloween as a whole. There should be no pressure to participate, but for those Christians whose conscience permits, we should view it as an opportunity to engage wisely with our culture."


Happy Fall

Fall is my favorite time of year, and this year in Indiana it's been much warmer than usual! Last week we had several days in the 80's! That's crazy! Then this weekend it started getting colder! I love all the colors of fall, the warmth of home, and jeans and sweatshirt weather. Here's a little bit of what we've been up to!

Babies in fall coats. Love it.
Mekonen went to Uncle Greg's farm with Daddy and Grandpa. 

They love playing in the leaves!

Fall handprint and fingerprint trees!
 Mekonen's tree! 
Evie's tree. For obvious reasons I couldn't get a picture of Evie in action on this one! 
Family pic in Grandpa's pretty yard. 
A few fall snapshots. Gosh they are cute. :) 

 One of my favorite things is when they hold hands. *LOVE*
Took a little trip to the pumpkin patch. It was miserably cold, windy, and wet. But we stuck it out long enough to get our pumpkins!
 Evie trying to pull the wagon of pumpkins they picked. Haha. 
 Mekonen's job was to pull the pumpkins. He thought this was cool. 
Later that day we went to a bonfire at a friend's house with our small group. Clearly, the bonfire was located in Antarctica. 
 Mekonen and Kendall. He loves this girl. I love how her arms are tucked up right underneath his. Hehe. 
 MMMmmmm....apples and caramel.
 Mekonen LOVES to wrestle with the boys. 
Carving their little pumpkins. 
 Clearly Evie thought her Jack-o-lantern was awesome. 
 And my favorite part...salt and pepper roasted pumpkin seeds. This was my favorite part about pumpkin carving as a kid! Good thing Daddy and Mekonen don't like them. More for me!