This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
Hope and I (Laurel) met years ago through a homeschool choir ministry and, since then, have had a fun ebb and flow of interests and life phases, through photography (we studied photography from the same school – and she was our wedding photographer!), home-based business, and now as moms of two rambunctious boys each. Hope and her husband Caleb are currently pursuing adoption of a sibling group from Central America. I’ve so appreciated her open, honest, and Gospel-centered perspective on the entire process — and I am so grateful that she has willing shared this journey with you all through this guest post, even in the midst of extensive and time consuming paperwork. Thank you, Hope! (P.S. Make SURE you make time to visit her Etsy shop, full of beautiful artwork that Hope has created. The proceeds benefit their funding for their adoption process.)
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Hope: We have two boys! 4 and 2 years old, and we are seeking to adopt siblings from Costa Rica. While we don’t know what their ages will be yet, we expect for birth order to change.
C&T: What led you to consider adoption? Hope: Honestly, I have had the desire to adopt for so long, I don’t even remember when it first began! It has always been a talking point for my husband and I, from the time we were first together. As God brought us closer to the point of being able to adopt, we also grew in our spiritual understanding of our adoption through Christ and became passionate to care for people in suffering. At that point, our prayers changed from wondering if we should adopt to asking God for direction on how to act on that desire. God has been so gracious to confirm our direction in so many ways. There are many threads throughout our lives – things we did not see at the beginning of this journey – that we now see God wove together beautifully to prepare us for this calling. The story isn’t done yet, and I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for us – both difficult and beautiful.
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open? Hope: We have not fostered before, but we definitely considered it as one of the possible routes for adoption and remain open to it for the future. For various reasons, we settled on international adoption from Costa Rica. I will say when you are faced with the decision of which “route” to take, it can be heartbreaking to have to choose as you become more keenly aware of the need and saying yes to one feels like saying no to another and you wonder if you chose the right thing. Ultimately you have to remember that orphan care, in whatever amount, is needed and necessary. There are all kinds of kids from all kinds of places that need love and care. There is no wrong choice.
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process? Hope: Our ages and the inter-country adoption requirements narrowed down the field considerably. There were so many other factors involved too, like timing (how long did they estimate the process would take?), cost, how long the out-of-country stay was, etc. Adopting through a Hague convention country was also important to us. We talked a lot with our agency, and they were able to advise us some on what kind of placements they were seeing from different countries and how the kid’s needs might mesh with our abilities. Ultimately, when we realized we wanted to adopt two kids, based on what we learned about the different country programs, Costa Rica was the obvious choice. That decision wasn’t finalized until several months into the process, though.
C&T: What have been the top 3 challenges of your experience? Hope: Well, we are only half way through this process, but this is what I came up with so far:
1) The timing of paperwork doesn’t always go as planned. And sometimes for no good reason! You just have to be patient.
2) Saving/raising enough money fast enough. I will add to this though, that the money has always been there right when we needed it!
3) With 2+ years of waiting, and all of the heavy knowledge you acquire during the process, there is a lot of temptation to worry. It’s a fairly unique situation in life, because you stare down an intense life change ahead of time, knowing that it carries trauma and grief with the beauty. But! It builds your faith. You absolutely have to bank on the fact that when God has called you to this, and you know He is undeniably faithful in character, then he will sustain you through whatever happens.
C&T: What have been the top 3 blessings of your experience? Hope:
1) Getting to share with others why we are adopting and it opening a lot of conversations. Also seeing them catch the vision for orphan/foster care.
2) Getting to see my kids hearts be more open and thoughtful to loving others, especially those in suffering.
3) How much it has built our faith already!
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be? Hope: It’s normal to be fully committed and yet afraid at the same time. I have been so comforted by many adoptive mamas who have gone before and said even as they were landing in the country – they were scared spitless! It’s a crazy emotional process, and you’ll feel it. Adoption is a lot to process, both practically speaking with the paperwork and finances, and also with processing all of the education and mental/spiritual preparation needed to take on parenting kids from hard places. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it! Just know where you anchor and hope is, and don’t be afraid to reach out for support.
C&T: How do you want to be supported? Hope: Right now so many forms of support are an encouragement. I feel like different people in our lives are given different abilities to support us, and each one is meaningful and important. Monetary gifts are incredibly humbling and needed (Caleb and I both work 2-3 jobs right now each in order to avoid debt), but also when a friend takes it on themselves to learn about trauma parenting so they can better support and understand what we are undertaking, that means an incredible amount as well. Prayers, words of encouragement…we’ll take it all! After the adoption, I’m sure words of support and encouragement, meals, a listening ear, and respite will be really important for us.
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience? Hope: If God has laid on your heart the desire to adopt, don’t let cost be the inhibiting factor against it. Even though the math never quite worked out in our heads ahead of time, step by step it IS working out. There are so many great resources out there for parents wanting to adopt debt-free, as well as interest-free loans and benefits from employers.
Also, find other adoptive moms you can talk to who have walked the road before you. Their wisdom and encouragement is invaluable!
I’m Hope Helms – a wife, mom, artist and entrepreneur. I love Jesus, and nothing gets me more excited than infusing creativity and simplicity into every day life and inspiring others to do the same. Most days you’ll find me doing ordinary mom related tasks, including homeschooling, with a bunch of coffee, mac ‘n’ cheese, and messy art thrown in. All while I dream about business strategies and creative projects that may or may not ever happen!
This week, we have chosen to focus our posts on adoption- in honor of National Adoption Month. During the next week, we will share the stories of five different women whose lives have each been radically impacted by adoption.
I (Ashley) first met Elisabeth Ream in February 2012, on my first trip back to Saint-Marc, Haiti, following my move back to the States towards the end of 2011. The Reams were partnering with the ministry I was on staff with and had moved to Saint-Marc at the beginning of 2012, from another area in Haiti. Through our acquaintance, I have grown an immense respect for her family and knew she was the perfect person to share an honest take at international adoption from someone has lived in-country during the process. Elisabeth & her family continue to serve & live in the area, where Elisabeth’s tender heart continues to be a blessing to many.
C&T: What are the current demographics of your family? Elisabeth: We are the Ream Team! There are six members on our immediate team, though we have many extended family members! Our family is colorful. We like to say we have black, brown, tan and white children- one of each color. We live on a small island in a third (borderline fourth) world country. It is actually more expensive than the U.S.A. to purchase many things because most things have to be imported across the ocean. We somehow live on half of the budget that we used to in America. I’m not sure how other than God’s grace, mercy, and sovereign arms embracing us continually.
C&T: What led you to consider adoption? Elisabeth: I’ve considered adoption for as long as I can remember considering children. In our first serious conversation, leading up to our marriage a year later, we talked about the possibility of international missions and also adoption. I asked my future husband very early on how he would feel about adopting a child who needed a family. His heart wanted the same. We remember praying together and wondering, even asking out loud, if perhaps there was already a child born into the world that would one day need our family. It is amazing to think about that conversation that took place seventeen years ago, as I look at our seventeen year old daughter! She had been born five months prior to our conversation and her biological mother passed away within that year. However, it would be another ten years before we would lay eyes on the child we had prayed for that night. During those ten years we thought and prayed about adoption many times. Year nine, we began to seriously pursue researching adoption options and praying more earnestly over where and to whom God would lead our family specifically. We had two boys born into our family by this time. God opened our oldest son’s heart to adoption during a time when we did not feel we had the energy or financial resources to begin to pursue it. Ethan’s persistence encouraged us to begin our adoption journey. Ethan believed he had a sister struggling somewhere out there and that we needed to find her. When he first saw our referral picture of our daughter, Elita Marguerite, he said, “That’s her! That’s my sister!” We believe, that if you have biological children, the decision to adopt should be their decision as well. We are thankful that our bio boys embraced adopting, even adopting internationally and out of birth order, in a way that only can only be explained by God’s Spirit speaking to them and bringing peace that surpasses understanding throughout the very difficult adoption process that was to come.
C&T: Did you foster before you adopted? Was it a domestic or international adoption? Closed or open? Elisabeth: We did not officially foster through our state of Texas, which is where we began our adoption process. However, my husband’s job for the first ten years of our marriage was in church youth ministry and I worked alongside him. We always had kids in our home and occasionally there were cases where we temporarily fostered some of the kids we had built relationships within the youth group. We have family and many friends that have fostered and fostered to adopt through state foster care. My sister has fostered several children and my children have four cousins who have been adopted out of foster care. Our family’s decision to pursue the adoption of an older child stemmed from our years working with pre-teen and teenage youth, as well as watching our cousins and my best friend adopt older children who had little hope of ever having a family otherwise. We chose to adopt internationally because of our previous experience living in other countries (Fiji and Israel) and desired to live outside the U.S. with our family as missionaries one day. We felt that because of these factors God had positioned us (with a lot of grace) to parent older children, adopted internationally. The country we adopted from does not permit open adoptions. However, after the adoptions were completed we were able to make contact with members of our girl’s biological families and learn more of their histories. Also, without going into too many details of our crazy adoption story, I will say that in a way we did foster our adopted daughters. However, this happened in a backwards way after they legally received our last name. They were able to leave the orphanage and live with us permanently after we had received legal residency to work in their country of origin, which enabled us to “foster” them for the remainder of their adoption process until they received their immigrant visas to travel with us to the United States. In this way, our adoption process was similar to those who have fostered children they have later adopted. We simply were fostering our adopted children that we could not yet bring to the United States.
C&T: How did you decide the when and where of your adoption process? Elisabeth: This was a tough one for us. We kept asking ourselves, “How can we pick a country or a specific child out of millions needing forever families?”. This question burdened us for years. Finally, we just decided we had to start somewhere. We began researching several countries to see if we met their criteria for international adoption. We looked into adoption from India, Nepal, China, Korea, Ukraine, Ethiopia, and Haiti. We are not Hindu or Muslim, so we were not permitted to adopt from India. Nepal closed international adoptions shortly after we began seriously inquiring. China had a seven years waiting list at that time. Korea was a definite option that we checked into but never strongly considered. We had strong connections to adoptions in Ukraine and had observed children who were in orphanages come on hosting trips to our hometown and later be able to be adopted by many friends to whom we are close. However, adoption from Ukraine required lengthy and costly trips to Ukraine. This was out of the question considering our job and financial situation at that time. Ethiopia was at the top of the list because we had (and still have) a sponsor child in Ethiopia and were very drawn to the country. Alas, Haiti. The very last place a person should consider adopting from unless you are a junkie for braving the hardest things. We seem to enjoy choosing the hardest thing– and then moving there. Haiti’s requirements at the time we began our adoption process were that we had to have been married for ten years, one spouse must be at least thirty five years of age, and have no more than two biological children. These stats spoke to us because they matched us and there was a great need for qualified families to pursue adoption. Many of the children in Haitian orphanages were older or would be by the time their adoptions processed. We understood the wait for a child to come “home” would be years. We read reports of between two and four years before an adoption would most likely be processed to completion. That is exactly how long our adoptions ended up taking. One took two years and the other four years. We began compiling adoption paperwork. Then, the January 12, 2010 earthquake happened. We were not yet matched with specific children at this time. We were contacted by an organization that had reps on the ground in Haiti looking for paperwork-ready families that met Haiti’s adoption requirements. Many children, already matched with families, were released on emergency humanitarian parole to their adoptive families, who were permitted to foster the children stateside while completing the adoption process. We were told there could possibly be a second wave of children, that were pre-earthquake, paperwork-ready orphans, that could also be released to qualified paperwork-ready adoptive families. Our girls’ original referral pictures came through this process. We hurried to prepare our home for their arrival as we were told they could be coming soon and that we would be able to process the Haitian adoptions stateside, instead of in Haiti. This was a huge answer to prayer for us, that the burden of the long wait (not only for us but mainly for the children spending their childhoods in an orphanage) could be lifted. I prepared for a trip to Haiti with several other adoptive families. We were preparing initially that there could be a slight chance the children we were in process to adopt might be able to return with us. However, three days before our departure, the Haitian government abruptly made the decision to cut off humanitarian parole completely. We were stunned but thankful that we had researched the adoption process from Haiti and had chosen Haiti prior to the earthquake to prepare ourselves somewhat for what we would be up against, should we chose to pursue the process further. I went ahead with my trip as planned and met the girls for the first time. I went in the knowledge that I would not be bringing anyone home and not knowing when our timeline would be able to start. Leaving them the first time was hard. Leaving them the fifteenth time was excruciating. It was the hardest thing we have ever had to do knowing what we knew. We lived in Texas the first year and ½ while the adoptions were processing (or were supposed to be) in Haiti. Then we lived in Haiti for six months while the adoptions continued to progress before the girls were able to come live with us instead of the orphanage.
*The laws governing the Haitian adoption process and requirements for adoptive families has changed since we adopted. The requirements have lessened but the average wait time has tragically not.
C&T: What were the top 3 challenges of your experience? Elisabeth:
1) I think the hardest challenge in international adoption is being separated from the child, that you feel is your family, by a great distance for a long and unknown period of time. An additional hardship is when you know your child and even more so when they know you. It is like having your heart ripped out of your chest every single day. We didn’t sleep for years. We grieved as if there was a death. Yet our children were very much alive. It is how I imagine the parents of kidnapped children feel. I lost twelve pounds (unneeded at that time) in the first month alone after meeting the girls. I met our adopted children for the first time on April 17th, 2010. The girls were eight and eleven years old at that time. That is old enough to understand time and distance, but not understand why these things were forced to co-exist. When you begin an adoption process with Haiti, you basically have no timeline. The timing of the earthquake added to this challenge, because many of the offices processing adoptions were closed or barely functioning. We submitted our completed dossier anyways. An excruciatingly long year went by before it was even submitted to the first office of many that would begin to process our adoptions.
2) The second biggest challenge was the loss (whether temporary or permanent) of relationships dear to us. International adoptions, especially those that take years, take up a lot of time and energy. This is time and energy you were previously pouring into other relationships. This may be the relationship with your spouse, your children, parents, siblings, best friends, church, social circles, etc. Our adoption process hit pretty much all of our relationships hard. We had been warned by many adoptive families that have come before us that when you begin an adoption, Satan attacks where it will affect you the most. Thankfully, Satan did not win the battle. But it required the fight of our lives. There was little (if any) energy left over for one another and other vital relationships. We were going through the motions. I still feel I gave up my boys most tender childhood years. I simply did not have the energy to enjoy them. Almost all my physical and emotional stamina was being poured into surviving the adoptions. I do not recommend going about it this way. There definitely should have been more balance. But we didn’t know how and the fight was intense. I felt like I could barely breathe most days. I kept thinking about the parable of the lost sheep and how the Shepherd left all the others, just to go after that one that was lost. You know that feeling of panic when you lose something dear to you and you tear up the house and ignore whatever you were supposed to do that day in order to find it? That panic kept me going. The thought of my girls being left all alone in that terrible orphanage kept me fighting. And my Shepherd held me.
3) The third biggest challenge for our family was finances. Living on a youth pastor’s salary (equivalent to a teacher’s) was tough enough. The main reason fear had kept us from pursuing adoption sooner than we did was lack of finances. We were encouraged to not let this be the only reason not to pursue adoption and that there were many financial assistance avenues available, if we were serious and diligently sought those out. We did. We sold ourselves silly that first year. We ran in marathons for adoption, raised money selling t-shirts, coffee, bracelets, raffle tickets, restaurant fundraisers. You name it. We did it. Shamelessly- though I think some of our friends were a bit ashamed and may have thought we had completely lost it. Everyone kept asking when the girls were coming “home”. We had no answer to give them. We felt like most people seriously doubted if they would ever come home. But we just kept doing all we could do on our end. We sold stuff in five different garage sales. We begged for ransom money. We applied for grants and 0% interest loans and got them. It was intense. Friends began to only ask us about the adoptions when they passed us in the halls at church, at the grocery store or the boys’ school. The adoptions seemed to be our main identity during that time. If this question asked for a top four I would say “loss of identity” as number four. I regret that. I wish we didn’t have to push that hard for that long to acquire the finances we needed to move forward for our girls. And then again, I’m thankful we did. It was a ransom I would gladly pay again. After all, Jesus paid the highest price so that we could become His children. Although it was a heavy burden, I’m thankful we had to work long and hard and pay a high price (financially, emotionally, physically, relationally) for our girls to not only become our children, but to eventually accept the price and free gift of salvation their Heavenly Father paid for them, as well. The lessons we learned the hard way were worth it. Our girls were worth it. We learned to wait on the Lord like never before and trust His plan, even when we could not understand any of it. Mother Teresa once said, “I have found a paradox that if I love until it hurts, there is no more hurt, only more love.”
C&T: What were the top 3 joys of your experience? Elisabeth: 1) Meeting the girls for the first time. I looked into their beautiful faces and knew they were my daughters. I did not expect them to embrace me as their mother right away. I expected that this would take a long time. But they did. Right away. The first time I held them felt like the first time I held my biological boys after I gave birth to them. These are the most joyous and cherished moments I will never forget.
2) The body of Christ and God’s sovereign provision meeting our many needs in many ways reminded us that we could still keep our joy, even when we were spiritually dry and relationally distant. There were/are people that stuck closer than brothers (and sisters) and shared in our sufferings. This fellowship helped us to count it all joy.
3) Not understanding God’s plan, but trusting and walking through the doors He clearly opened as He showed us that Haiti was/is not only the country we were adopting from, but also the mission field we had been praying and seeking. The process God brought us through in moving our family to Haiti and keeping us here for the last five years has been a joy-filled journey of discovery, learning, and loving beyond our wildest dreams (though at certain times I’m not sure I would have counted that ALL joy).
C&T: If there is one thing you would want people to know about the process of adoption, what would it be? Elisabeth: If you have expectations of timelines, what your experience will be like, what your adoptive children will be like, and what your family will look like after adoption, please hold very loosely to those expectations. Be willing to let them go completely if need be. Usually “if need be” becomes the reality.
If you would have told me, when we began our adoption process with Haiti (with one of our top reasons in choosing Haiti being that we would not have to leave work, home, and family in America for a lengthy and costly period of time), that we would end up moving to Haiti and living in Haiti for the past five years, on top of spending double to process our younger daughter’s adoption completely TWICE, there is no way I would have believed you. And there is a good chance we probably never would have proceeded with adopting from Haiti had we known ahead of time. Don’t let the hard stories scare you. In hindsight, we wouldn’t change our experience for the world. We just needed to change our expectations.
C&T: What has been the most helpful post-adoption resource for you? Elisabeth: Country-specific resources, such as books about Haiti, talking to families who have adopted from Haiti, and especially those who have lived in Haiti, have helped us greatly. Moving to the country our adopted children were born and grew up in has changed almost everything we once assumed we understood. It has helped us to bond as a family in ways we never would have and altered our perspectives to better parent our children from hard places. If there is one thing I can recommend, it is to spend as much time as possible in the culture your child has come from. If at all possible (and depending on the age of the child) do this with your adopted child. If there is a language barrier and the child is older, please do your best to learn some of the language. Our most helpful post-adoption resource has been learning from and living among the people of Haiti.
C&T: How did you want to be supported before and after the adoption took place? Elisabeth: I am not sure I knew the answer to this question at the time I was going through this, before the adoption. It is difficult for anyone to hang out with grieving, desperate people who are in constant survival mode. I’m sure I was not super fun to be around. There were certain friends and family who were always just there, despite my state. I will always be thankful for them. They gave me the oxygen of encouragement when I didn’t feel I wanted any. When your children are living in a dark, rat-infested basement, cold, wet, hungry, thirsty, and scared and you know that this is not just in your nightmares but their actual daily existence that you have personally witnessed AND HAD TO LEAVE THEM THERE, it doesn’t feel right to be cheery or cheered. The surest thing to lift my spirit was each time we learned we were one step closer to getting the girls out of there. When donations of money would come in or friends and family donated their time and energy helping us with yet another fundraiser or watched the boys while I made another trip to Haiti, we truly felt supported because this helped us get one step closer to our girls.
C&T: What would be your advice to someone else going through the same experience? Elisabeth: After the adoptions, our lives had changed so much in every way I am not sure this answer is relatable to most adoptive families. But I do know that after the adoptions, I no longer wanted my identity to primarily be tied up with the adoptions that had pulled me out of healthy relationships for so long. I wanted friends to share with me about normal things like their kids’ little league or their new pet. I didn’t so much want to talk about dark and scary basements full of rats and children, the corruption that happens to you in an international adoption process, and the people who you once upon a time believed would be your biggest advocates but became your biggest enemies. No matter where you adopt from or live, after the adoption you are in yet another version of survival mode. You could call it a “transition” or “a season”. But whatever you call it, it probably is not going to be called “pleasant” or “peaceful”. Yet, pleasant and peaceful is what you will be craving after completing an adoption and no amount of chocolate or coffee is going to make up for it. The tendency then is to gravitate toward those who you feel understand what you are going through. So naturally, adoptive parents talk to other adoptive parents (whether in person or finding one another in private online adoption groups) about the hardest of things. These friendships are a lifeline. But they can also be very heavy. Lighter friendships that talk about other things besides the gravity of adoption-related issues are a needed support as much as those who are in the thick of it with you. Keep the lightweight relationships afloat and don’t let yourself believe that someone else’s issues are trivial compared to yours. You need them more than you think you do. Nevertheless, it is a difficult task. If you find it is an impossible task, at least try going somewhere light with your heavy talk friends. Talking through the hard stuff while sunbathing at the pool or beach helps lift the heavy a bit. If you cry you can blame it on the saltwater or the sight of grandma wearing a bikini and you will probably end up laughing at some point by the end of the day. The point is to go home lighter and be light to your family. The best way to do this is not to rely on your family and friends to carry this burden for you or try carrying it yourself. Just give it to Jesus in the first place. He says in Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Years after the adoptions I would say that support through awareness plays a huge role of support. There are too many things we were not aware of when we began our adoption journey. Our hope is to use those negative experiences to help other families not have to go through some of the unnecessary hurts and hardships. Awareness is key in that process. Learn and listen to others who have gone before you. Don’t let the hard things you will become aware of (one way or another) scare you away. Allow that awareness to make you stronger for the ugly task and beautiful journey ahead.
Elisabeth Ream has lived in Haiti, working as a missionary alongside her husband, Eric, and four children, Elita Marguerite, Esmée, Ethan and Evan, for the past five years, serving under Heart of God International Ministries. Leaving everything to follow and share Christ has been the most intensely rewarding experience for the Ream Team. Eric’s heart is to equip Haitian Pastors and leaders with the Biblical education they need to share God’s Word with their people well. Elisabeth’s passion is orphan prevention and family preservation. Alongside Haitian partners, she co-founded a women’s ministry and microloan business program called KOFAEL which helps to “create more options, not more orphans” in Haiti.
-The Ream Team shares about living in Haiti and ministry to the Haitian people at reamteaminternational.org. -To find out more about their mission organization, visit HeartofGodInternational.org, where you can also find links for more information on “The Ream Team”. -Visit Kofael.org to learn more about the orphan prevention and family preservation ministry the Ream Team has co-founded alongside Haitian partners. KOFAEL is a growing, successful ministry that has helped hundreds of vulnerable Haitian children be able to stay with their families. -During the adoption process, Elisabeth blogged throughout their journey on at chosenandmuchloved.blogspot.com.
Decorating for Christmas has always been a serious business and this year is no exception. We’re breaking all of the good American rules of Christmas decorating and putting up our Christmas trees BEFORE Thanksgiving. Yes, I said trees- plural. We take Christmas decor seriously in our home.
While I don’t expect you to deck the halls to the tune of five Christmas trees, like we enjoy doing, I do expect you to check your Scrooge at the door and add some festive touches to your home. So, today I’m sharing with you a few simple strategies to get the maximum merry for the minimum humbug (effort).
Focus on your tree. If you’re looking to keep things on the minimal side this year, focus your efforts on your Christmas tree. Personally, I love my trees having themes. Our main Christmas tree looks deceptively like Valentine’s Day, with an abundance of hearts. We keep updated pictures of our sons in little ornament frames and a few special mementoes on the tree as well. Another one of our trees (it goes in our kitchen) is all food related, with simple popcorn and cranberry homemade garlands and cut out cinnamon ornaments (recipe here or here) and/or baking soda ornaments. It’s simple and incredibly cozy. Yet another one of our trees is covered in our favorite Instagram snaps from the year. You can read about that Year-in-Review tree here. The bottom line is this, you’ll get the best overall effect from your tree if you take a few minutes to plan which direction you want to go. Also, be sure to place your tree in a prominent spot in your house to feel all of the warmth and glow.
Eye-level impact. There’s nothing at all wrong with string lights on top of the cabinets or festive blankets and pillows nestled into baskets on the floor, but to get more bang for your Christmas-decorating buck, focus on putting trinkets at eye level. Think about it: all of the classic Christmas touches happen right in front of your eyes; the tree, stockings, fireplace mantel, and wreath all hit you right between the eyes. Take advantage of and focus your main efforts on those places.
Consistent style. I find it really helpful to stick with a basic style throughout the house when I decorate. This makes it easy to switch things up from year to year (for example, switching out the entryway table decorations with the mantle decorations) and helps to make the transition from one house to the next (if you foresee a move in the coming few years). A few ideas to get you started are: classic winter wonderland (blue and silver, snowflakes and icicles), glitz and glam (a dressier approach with lots of gold and silver accents), or woodland (plaid, more casual touches, and burlap, baby).
Gift Wrap. Personally, I think it’s hard to beat a wrapped box with a bow. (But don’t get me wrong… I’ll accept your gift if it’s in a bag with tissue paper, too. haha!) One thing I’ve enjoyed over the past few years is buying several rolls of coordinated Christmas gift wrap (I buy it a couple days after Christmas for the following year and save a lot of money). It gives such a nice, cozy effect to see that some thought has been put into the physical appearance of gift under the tree. It’s an inexpensive way to round out the look of your tree.
When in doubt, light the place up. I really think I could be totally content by decorating for the holidays ONLY with white string lights. Take advantage of doorways, arches, cabinets, mantles, ledges, etc. and light the place up with the warm, festive glow of Christmas lights! Also keep in mind that Target has the CUTEST string lights in their Dollar Spot section… Peppermints, woodland moose, mercury glass style spheres, and jingle bell shaped lights are all styles I’ve seen in the past year or two. Most of them are battery operated, which means they can go just about anywhere in your house.
One mandatory rule. There is one rule for Christmas decorating that I encourage you to adhere to: match your Christmas decor plan with your life and schedule. Maybe you have a slower-paced season ahead and can enjoy an extensive decking of the halls. Perhaps you’re in a very busy or stressful season and need to scale way back. Or maybe you have young children and need to really dial it down and keep things baby proof. That’s okay! Do what allows you to keep proper perspective during Christmas and what will allow your family to have the most memorable and relaxing season! For our family, we’re bending a few rules this year…. We’re putting our decorations up before Thanksgiving (I know, I know!) and we’re going lighter on our decor (we won’t put up all 5 trees this time). We have a baby due 10 days into the new year – which means we need decor to come down quickly and easily after Christmas.
Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite Christmas decorating tip!
I recently had the opportunity to share something that was on my heart as a devotional to a women’s ministry. Today, I wanted to share this with you. As you take the time to study the seasons of life and the purpose for each and every one, I hope this blesses you and encourages you in your walk with the Lord.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV) “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
The sunlight seems happy, shining upon the backyard. The breeze blows gently through the trees, creating the familiar sound that comes with the leaves turning. Wrapped in my sweater, the cool, crisp air seems invigorating and a feeling of satisfaction is in my heart. It’s fall. The season of pumpkin spice, sweaters, and boots has arrived and my heart is content. I find myself wishing it could feel like this every day, just to be reminded of something so important, in a soft, still voice- there are seasons for a reason.
Have you found yourself wishing away the season you’re in, pining for the moment you can metaphorically pull your boots out of the recesses of the closet? Because we don’t share spiritual seasons with everyone around us, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that the season has a purpose, and failing to tend to that purpose can create heartache in our lives and close the door to blessings God has in store for us. Let’s take a look at the reason each season exists and how this applies to our spiritual lives.
The purpose of Winter is for evaluation, reflection, and putting in the work ahead of time for the spring that is coming. Oftentimes Winter comes in the closing of a chapter, and that may result in a very full heart of emotion with seemingly nowhere to release. For the reason of Winter to be recognized, its purpose must be allowed to play out. Psalm 37:3 (ESV) says, “Trust in the Lord and do good…”. In the season of Winter, it is especially important to invest yourself in your relationship with the Lord and trust Him while tending to the seasonal purpose of what He has laid before you. Joyce Meyer says, “Just as winter prepares plants and trees for warmer weather, a spiritually dormant season is a time of preparation- when our inner character is developed and strengthened. Strong character is essential for withstanding storms that will come during seasons of growth and harvest.” How often we tend to find this season very uncomfortable and wish it away, but when this season is fully invested in, we are fully prepared for Spring to arrive.
The purpose of Spring is a time for planting. Often, this season is accompanied with the invigoration of new excitement in your relationship with God. We have a tendency to desire for God to bring us into a new season and find the purpose of it to be a bit more work than we would like. It is so important that we embrace the moment at hand and delve into the work of planting the seeds of vision, purpose, and responsibility that God has given each of us as individuals. “No discipline brings joy, but seems grevious and painful; but afterwards, it yields a peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11, AMP)
The purpose of Summer is to tend the fields. This is sometimes the most easily identifiable season in our lives as we play and wait and work among the fields in our lives. It is essential that we don’t lose track of our purpose during the long, hot hours of summer fun that so easily entice us to lose focus on the purpose of this season. Without Summer, there can be no harvest, so “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you.” (Proverbs 4:25, NLT).
The purpose of Fall is a time for new life. The long, still hours of winter spent in planning, the toil in the new dawn of spring, and the lively hours of waiting amidst the heat have all paid off with the harvest at hand. The barns are filled and the vats full of wine, in Bible speak. The Fall is the time for reaping what we’ve sown- and the season that so evidently reminds us of what we have put in. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 ESV). The Fall is a time for being filled to overflowing, to store up for the Winter, and enjoying the fruits of the work put in for the past 9 months.
Through the spiritual seasons, we see that sometimes we don’t always have a view of the full picture of the process God is putting us through. It is a choice to recognize the season God has put before each of us and to “do good”. Recognize the good God has set before you in the season you are in, and put your hands to doing it well and purposing to maximize on the purpose of this season through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. “…I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…” (Philippians 4:11, ESV)
According to Ecclesiastes 3:1, there is a time for every season. Spiritually, we know that not all of us go through the same seasons at the same times. What season of life are you going through right now?
What do you think is the purpose of the spiritual season you are in right now?
Scripture is filled with the exhortation to “trust God and do good”. These two go hand-in-hand and fill us with the ability to approach God-given assignments and glorify God through serving Him. What is the “good” God has placed in front of you to tend to in your season right now?
What is a blessing of the season you are in and how can you share the benefit of that to bring life to others?
Study: Spend time doing a topical study of Scripture on the season or purpose you have identified in your life. Read Ecclesiastes 3 and spend time journaling or drawing as you spend time in prayer looking to God for growth, thanking Him for His plan, and glorifying Him for all He has brought you through.
Act: Share with someone in your life what you’ve learned from your study of your season or purpose and how that is a blessing & encouragement before your next meeting. Share the good news of what God is doing in your life!
Do you have something to share about the season you’re in or one you’ve been in? We would love to hear it- please share in the comments below!
Today is finally Election Day here in the United States. We’ve all been waiting for it since campaigning heavily started a year and a half ago. We’ve all read about it. We’ve all talked about it. We’re at a fever pitch, and today the decision gets made.
This election has stood out because it has been heavily filled with negativity on all sides in a way that has truly been incomparable with past elections. I knew today was my day to write, and how could I avoid this topic? We try to keep things fairly non-political here at Canvas & Table, but to write about something else today seemed to simply be avoiding the topic. A good portion of our readership isn’t even in the U.S., so how could I share something that would be valid for all?
I thought about it. You see, I’ve lived outside of the U.S., in a very different culture in which a coup d’état is a real concern, and witnessed what it is like to live under leadership very different than that of the USA. My husband is from the other side of the world and grew up with some very large differences from the way things operate here in the U.S. I have family around the world, and I’ve been in the United Kingdom on their election day before & witnessed some of the differences even between us and other first-world countries. So, today, I’m going to remind us all of the things we have to celebrate today, no matter where we stand. As Americans- or as people supporting America from afar- we have a lot to be thankful for and to celebrate on a day like today, no matter who wins.
We have the right to vote- and the right to choose not to vote. Unlike countries in which there is no democratic process, we choose our leaders. We take part in the primaries and caucuses and have the honor of choosing our candidates. Regardless of ethnicity, gender, religion, and opinions, we have the right to cast our vote and let our voice be heard- or choose not to.
We have the freedom to (loudly) protest. Recently I witnessed someone a family member cares about stand up for change in his country, only to be accused of treason. We can use our words across social media without fear of being jailed or executed.
We enjoy term limits and a change of guard throughout our lifetimes. As someone in her mid-twenties, I will be able to say that I have sat under five different presidents come this January. I have witnessed the rise and fall of politicians and seen people fade from the political scene (Bob Dole and Al Gore, anyone?), unlike people who live their entires lives under the regime of one man.
We have the right to run for office ourselves. If we deeply desire change, we can take action and run for government offices ourselves. While some limits do apply to the presidency (age and citizenship), this freedom to run extends to all, unlike countries which feign democracy and have just one name of the ballot.
We can vote as we choose without fear. Unlike days past when some groups of people had need to fear for their lives in some areas, should they choose to try to vote, we enjoy a country in which every man and woman eligible to vote can freely walk into a polling place, or even vote by absentee, without fear of someone oppressing their right to choose.
We have the honor of shaping the future of our nation. Many citizens in countries all over the world have no say in what goes on in their country. Yet we get to not only choose our presidents, senators, and representatives, we also have the right to lobby and campaign for legislature inside and outside of elections.
We are a diverse community. Just listening to some of the issues that have been raised this election season serves to remind us that we have achieved one of the basic desires the founding fathers had for this country- freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the ability to hold beliefs different than those of the government without fear of death. As a country of immigrants with beliefs and views as diverse as the people inhabiting it, we are blessed to not all be the same.
We have the blessing of American heritage. With so much negativity that floats around at election time, taking one trip to a country ruled by dictators will remind you of the incredible freedoms we have as citizens of this country- and whether you are Democrat, Republican, Independent, or other, you’ll run into other Americans around the world and feel a camaraderie with them because you share the same basic values and love for freedom.
As we wrap up this election season, be thankful for these things. Hug your neighbor, say hello to that friend you deeply disagree with on politics, thank God for the freedom to worship anywhere you please, and remember that things we take for granted – like the ability to start our own businesses and post our opinions on Facebook – aren’t held by a lot of other people. No matter what happens, God is still on the throne and we have a lot to be thankful for.
I have a few quirks when it comes to being a stay-at-home mom, one of them being the fact that I wear makeup on a daily basis. There are two reasons that I stick to this little guideline of mine: 1) I believe that my family deserves to see me at my best (not just the random strangers I might happen to pass at the grocery store) and 2) For me, the effort of putting my makeup on helps me feel like I’m prepped and ready for the day (just like a sports player putting on their jersey).
My makeup bag is comprised of almost exclusively “clean” makeup – makeup with little-to-no harmful chemical content. Since this is something I commit to as part of my daily routine, it’s important to me that I not coat my skin in harmful chemicals or ingredients that can affect my hormonal balance over time (yes- that’s really a thing!). If you’re unfamiliar with choosing cleaner cosmetics, hop over to www.ewg.org/skindeep where you can easily search for the products you’re currently using and see how they score.
In addition to having makeup that isn’t going to harm my body with long-term use, it’s important to me that my makeup wears well. It MUST go on smoothly and quickly and it MUST be long-lasting.
With those guidelines, I’d like to share with you what’s in my makeup bag!
1. Tarte Amazonian Clay Full-Coverage Foundation. This is by far my favorite foundation. It gives excellent coverage, blends nicely, and last for months and months (even with daily use). 2. Tarte Smooth Operator Pressed Finishing Powder. Nothing too fancy here… Just a powder to set my foundation and kill some extra shine. 3. bareMinerals All-Over Face Color – Warmth. This isn’t usually on my daily list, but at 7 months pregnant, I appreciate something that can give the effect of slimming my face a little bit. (This one is all about vanity, folks. Ha!) I give a light sweep to my cheekbones. 4. Tarte In Bloom Eye Shadow Palette. This is a really nice, diverse set of eye shadows. Some are bolder (date night, baby!), but many of them are nice neutrals that are perfect for everyday. This set will last me forever. 5. Tarte Precision Longwear Eye Liner. Eye liner is a must for me. Otherwise I look like a sleepy 10 year old. Ha! I’ve found this to be a really nice hybrid of traditional pencils and liquid liner. It goes on easier than a pencil, but doesn’t smear around like liquid tend to do. 6. Tarte Lights, Camera, Lashes Mascara. Again, nothing too fancy here: just a good, clean mascara that wears wells, yet washes off easily with warm water.
7. Tarte Tarteist Lip Liner. This seems like a bit overkill for a daily look, but I feel like my lip color lasts better if I define my lip shape with a liner first. I stick to a color close to my natural lip color, so the 1990s don’t make a reappearance. Ha! 8. Rimmel Lipstick in Airy Fairy OR Sweet Savvy Minerals Lipstick in Abundant. Full disclosure… the Rimmel lipstick isn’t the sparkliest, cleanest available, but it’s affordable and a great neutral shade. The Sweet Savvy Minerals lip color is really nice. It’s not the longest lasting available, but it is really, really clean.
Special Occasion Additions: These are things that are in my bag, but only receive occasional use. I save these for date nights, special parties, etc.
1. NYX Matte Finish Spray. This stuff is crazy awesome. Makeup ain’t going no where once you spritz this on. I don’t use this on a daily basis (maybe every few weeks instead). Items that aren’t in my daily rotation are less likely to be clean – if it’s something I only use once or twice a month, I don’t feel a need to invest in more expensive “clean” products.
2. Covergirl LashBlast Volume Mascara. This is a perfect waterproof mascara. Builds nicely and won’t budge. (Perfect for the times when your dearest friends get married and you’re crying buckets of happy tears.) I’d recommend removing with coconut oil. 3. NYX Wonder Stick. This work well for some really basic contouring. It blends in really easily with my foundation.
4. Rimmel Lipstick in Dusty Rose or Tarte Lipstick in Playful. I prefer close to nude shades for daily wear, but a darker neutral or pop of color for special times. These both fit the bill nicely, without being overpowering.
5. Tarte Tarteist Blush Palette. I often stick just to the bareMinerals warmth powder I mentioned above, but if I want a little bit of color in my cheeks, I choose one of the four colors in this palette. Again, this one will last forever. The colors are highly pigmented, so a little goes a long way.
Maintenance: 1. Thieves Essential Oil Blend Spray. This is a simple cleaning spray (it’s great for shopping cart covers or to spritz on public toilets, but I’ve also found it helpful for spritzing on my makeup brushes to keep them clean and fresh! 2. Young Living Tea Tree Essential Oil OR Melrose Essential Oil Blend. These oils are renowned for skin support. I apply to areas of my skin as needed, in the evening, after removing my makeup.
3. Toner. We shared this simple recipe last year here on Canvas and Table. I sweep it over my face to remove my makeup and to keep my skin fresh.
4. Coconut Oil. Nothing removes eye makeup like coconut oil. Seriously. I keep a jar under my bathroom counter for this purpose.
Leave a comment below and tell us all about your daily skin routine!
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Recently, my husband and I embarked on the Whole30. As I’ve shared before, finding delicious & wholesome recipes are important to us- because who likes healthy food that tastes like “healthy food” (aka: not delicious). We’ve all seen those ads and movies where someone is on a diet or choosing to eat healthily and pulls out a rice cake. Noooooo. Not in my house! So, it has always been a priority for me to find meals we love to eat that are also good for us.
When we chose to embark on the Whole30, we had been eating clean (i.e., not processed with extra ingredients you don’t know the meaning of included) for awhile. I wrote last year about what led us to that place and how we resulting switched to the 80/20 lifestyle for what we bought and kept in our home. This summer I went through a difficult health season, and as a result my husband & I decided to take the plunge and do the Whole30, due to the extra eliminations to things allowed that we had never done before. Starting out, it was difficult to not eat any grains, added sugar (which is in practically everything!!), legumes, or dairy. However, at the end of our 30 days we both noticed a tremendous difference in the way we felt and saw a drastic difference on the scale. Crazily enough, we had been eating potatoes, (compliant) bacon, and clarified butter (aka ghee) and still saw this difference. Having done fasts and cleanses before that eliminated diary and added sugar, I knew the grains was the big difference maker for me and I needed to continue eating compliantly most of the time.
So, as I started out with, delicious meals are important to me and my husband. Looking for new recipes was something I did at the beginning of the Whole30 and this was a huge part of us not struggling too much over the course of those 30 days. As soon as we ended, I had planned to make Chicken Taco Rice, a recipe I grew up eating, but upon completing the Whole30, I really didn’t want to go back on grains that way. My husband & I made a plan (an adjusted 80/20 that only allows for diary and added sugar in the 20 and only allows any type of grains -including any type of flour- once a week), and I decided to try to remake my childhood recipe, replacing the rice and tortilla chips. This recipe is what resulted, and I must tell you, we’ve eaten it twice this month and enjoyed it just as much as we did when we were including those eliminated ingredients.
If you’re doing the Whole30 or a Paleo diet lifestyle, you might notice the corn in my picture. Yes, this is considered a grain, and can be replaced to make this compliant. Check out this recipe below and note the needed changes for compliance, if desired- and enjoy! We certainly have!
Chicken Taco Soup
A delicious Tex-Mex soup which can be accentuated with a topping of cheddar cheese!
We are delighted to bring you a guest post today from a friend of mine (Laurel). Jess and I met earlier this year at an incredible and intense personal development seminar. Sometimes you have old friends with whom your friendships have seasoned nicely over the years of changes, joys, and trails. Other times you meet a new friend, who happens to have a LOT in common with you and a similar vision for life. That’s Jess. We’ve enjoyed so much sharing about our lives as stay-at-home moms and as moms of two toddler boys each. Additionally, I’ve really appreciated the heart Jess has shown through our personal correspondence (aka- Facebook Messenger) as she has supported her husband through a busy phase of life, so much so that I’ve asked (and she has so willingly agreed) to write as a guest on Canvas and Table. I’m certain you will appreciate the words she has to share!
We’re in a season, our little family, a season of changes and challenges. A season of long days and short nights. A season we weren’t quite expecting, but are fully embracing. Three years ago I left my full-time teaching career to be home with my children. I never in a million years thought that I’d be a “stay-at-home” mama, but here I am spending my days nurturing and fostering two tiny humans. This is the work I was called to do, to mother these sweet boys while my husband works hard to provide for our family.
This past year has been a rough one for my husband as he has taken on some new endeavors and had to navigate a new role within his company. He works long, often unpredictable hours, and spends his time at home pursing another venture we’re super excited about. Most days he’s maxed out before even coming home, having given himself fully to his career and passion. Though it’s hard to be on the receiving end of that some days, God has really challenged me this year to find ways to fully support my husband in this stress-filled season we’re in.
I want to share with you 5 ways I’ve been working to support my husband more fully during this season.
1. Do things for him joyfully. Get up early and make him breakfast – I’m so not a morning person; most days my children are my wake-up call. But there are many times when my husband has to head into work well before the kids wake up and instead of just laying in bed and catching some extra sleep, I’ll get up and cook him a warm breakfast while he’s showering. What a blessing it is to enjoy breakfast together, just the two of us! I also love to cook his favorite dinner, even if he won’t be home to eat it…he’ll surely enjoy the leftovers just as much when he does get home! My boys and I like to bake his favorite treat together, then drop it off at the office to surprise him. Even if we don’t see him when we drop it off, he’s so surprised and reminded of us when he does stumble upon the treat at his desk! Showing your love and appreciation for your husband in tangible ways, while maintaining a joyful heart will fill you both up!
2. Listen and stay positive. After a long day with toddlers, all I want to do is dump my frustrations on him and engage in an adult conversation without interruption! But, sometimes it’s best to be a listening ear and allow him to unload from his stressful day before dumping the days frustrations on him. Not every day is great, but there is good in every day! When you do share about your day, focus on that. Life with toddlers can be messy and unpredictable, filled with loads of challenges, but amidst the chaos, there is so much joy! Share that joy with your husband; I guarantee he wishes he could experience those moments with you each and every day!
3. Encourage him to care for himself. When you see your husband struggling, encourage him. As mamas we’re often reminded that “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and the same is true for your husband. Find ways to help him fill his cup. Encourage him to pursue a hobby or interest. Encourage him to go to the gym, get outside, or just read a book. There is a very noticeable change in my husband’s attitude and demeanor when he gets home from the gym. I do my best to encourage him to go as often as he needs, because I know it’s not only good for him physically, but mentally as well. Just like us, our husbands often put their self-care needs on the back burner as they struggle to balance working to provide for their family and being present to care for their family.
4. Don’t nag or compare. My husband and I have never been big fans of traditional gender roles. We’ve always approached our home with a team effort…if a task needs to be done, we just do it! However, over the past few years as I’ve been home full-time, many of the traditional gender roles have emerged in our home. I do the majority of the cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing, and he cares for our property, maintains our cars, and addresses household repairs. We still function as a team, but with much more defined roles. There are days, however, when I want to throw my hands up and ask him, “When was the the last time you washed dishes or did a load of laundry?”. I want to point out all the things I’m doing, yet totally ignore the unseen ways he’s contributing to our family. Friends, nagging and comparison are never productive. Keeping score only causes resentment and frustration. If you need help around the house, just ask! It’s so much more productive and respectful to admit that you can’t do it all than to nag your husband about how he hasn’t helped!
5. Have fun. Something I’ve struggled with during this season is whether or not to fill up our weekends. My husband rarely gets a typical weekend, so I try not to plan things on the weekends so that he can be home, catch up on household chores, and just relax. I’m very conscious of giving him that time, as I know it’s a rarity. However, over the past few months, I’ve made a point to go ahead and plan that special family outing or insist on a spontaneous family trip to the zoo when he is home. I sometimes forget that just because my husband doesn’t initiate or suggest these types of activities, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t value them!
Friends, this season we’re in is HARD. Raising children is HARD. But it’s also such an incredible blessing. I count it an honor to be able to support him in his work and make it my mission to never take for granted the sacrifices he makes so that I can be home full-time. I pray that if you, too, are in a stressful season, that you can find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in this marriage and parenthood journey.
Hi there! I’m Jess. I live in Northern Indiana with my amazing husband, Dan, and our two sweet boys, Caleb and Abel. We live a simple life. Enjoy getting our hands dirty. Creating things. Spending as much time as possible as a family. Dreaming big. Being outdoors. Cooking with vegetables grown in our very own garden. www.getoiling.com/jessankney
Leave a comment below and share which suggestion that Jess shared to be most helpful or some way that you have found to support your own husband when he is in a stressful season.
Today, we are bringing you a guest post from Ashley’s second cousin, Joy Humble, whom lives “a simple yet enjoyable life”. Joy writes at Choose Joy about finding joy in the everyday ordinary and we are so happy to have her sharing here on Canvas & Table today!
Psalm 100, Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing, know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.
Today I am going to talk about how gratitude has changed my life, and even more specifically, how it helped me battle depression. I have found that it is easy to be grateful when you get that job you’ve been wanting or when you get a new car or a raise, but it is much harder to be genuinely grateful when you are going through a hard season in life. Maybe you are struggling to pay the bills, maybe you are having relationship issues, maybe you have lost a loved one. In times of hardship and suffering its really difficult to believe that there is any good in your life. My personal journey of learning how to be grateful has largely come through battling depression.
My parents named me Joy and I believe that the name I was given is a prophetic word of the personality and person God created me to be. I believe that the last thing the devil wants us to do is live out the calling that God has placed on our lives. I also believe that the devil tries his best to sabotage and destroy those plans and our destiny. Depression is the opposite of joy and I have dealt with depression for many years. I believe that the enemy likes to attack me with depression because that is what is most effective at killing my joy and hindering me from being the person God created me to be. When you are in that dark and hopeless hole called depression, it is very difficult to be grateful for anything. Gratitude is the opposite of depression. Gratitude says, “God is good”, while depression says, “Is God even there?” In the last year I have learned that, while in that dark place, I must choose to make conscious choices to see God’s goodness and be grateful for all of the amazing things He has done in my life. A large element of depression is self pity. Poor me, my life sucks. And its really difficult to get out of that cycle. Forcing yourself to be grateful begins to break that cycle. I started writing in my blog once a week about something I was grateful for. Some days it was hard to think of something. It is pathetic I know, but true. But, when you start to make those conscious choices, it becomes easier and easier to see God’s goodness in your life. Those daily choices will change the course of your day, your attitude, and the cycle of depression and self-pity.
I have taken many things for granted in my life. I like to call them the “Thanksgiving List.” These are the things we all list off at Thanksgiving when we go around the table. Things like our family, job, house, car, children, pet, food, etc. I don’t know about you, but many times it seems like Thanksgiving is the day I am grateful for all of those things and then I tend to take them for granted the other 364 days of the year. As an American, I expect to always have a home, a job, and food on the table. At times I feel like most Americans feel as if they are entitled to those things as human beings. But it is not that way in other parts of the world and even in some places in America. Because of this mindset I believe many Americans struggle with being grateful, because our lives are already so blessed, but we are too busy looking for even more amazing and wonderful things to happen to us to notice. We want a better job, a newer car, a bigger house. And while we are so focused on what we don’t have, we completely lose focus of all of the many blessings that God has given us already. The majority of Americans have what they need to live a very full life and usually a bit extra. I think it is important to understand that this is not as common in other parts of the world and realize how much God has blessed those of us living in areas of the world where we have all we need. This is one of the reasons why I have a desire to travel outside of the U.S. – I want to see the world outside of my own little bubble. I think it would be a great perspective to have.
Everyone can find something to be grateful for. If the only thing you can think of today is that you are breathing, great start. Tomorrow think of something else to be grateful for and as the days go by it will be easier and easier to see all of the blessings that surround you. Don’t wait until you have everything you want in life to be grateful. Start today and give God glory for all He has done and the goodness He has displayed in your life. Think of the good things He has done in your past, the good things He is doing today and thank Him for the good plans He has for your future!
My name is Joy and I am married with 2 little boys, who are very active and curious. I live in a small rural town in Indiana. I am a work from home mom and a Christian. I love to write and cook and I also ave an interest in food photography. I live a simple yet enjoyable life. I post regularly on my blog, Choose Joy.
Comment below and let us know- What are you choosing to be thankful for today?
It’s the first week of November – some of you have been listening to Christmas music for months (some more openly than others), while some of you are stubbornly resisting Yuletide joy until Thanksgiving 2016 is in the books. Regardless, it’s time to start planning for Advent!
Advent is a traditional celebration of Christmas. Traditionally, a candle is lit each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, while special Scripture passages are read which focus on the beautiful meaning of Christmas.
In more recent years, Advent has evolved into a daily study or family time that focuses in very tightly on the Christmas season with the intention of preparing hearts and minds for the wealth of meaning that Christmas offers, making Christmas a season, rather than just a day.
My young family has found deep joy in celebrating this special season. We’d love to share some advent resources that we’ve found helpful, along with some additional suggestions for a meaningful Advent season.
Journey to the Manger. Every year Focus on the Family creates a free Advent resource for families. In 2014 this was their program. It was incredible! Consisting of a large printable poster and 24 smaller characters to add to the poster as Advent progressed, Journey to the Manger walks families through each key player of the Christmas Story with Scripture passages and review questions that even toddlers can participate in. While it’s not free this year (they have a new freebie to share with us all!), Focus on the Family has made this study available inexpensively for families to enjoy.
All the Colors of Christmas. This year, Focus on the Family is offering a new, free advent resource. It offers preselected Scripture passages, fun family activities, and some beautiful printable coloring sheets for children — or the whole family — to enjoy.
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This incredibly beautiful book compiled by Ann Voskamp is essentially an exquisite children’s Bible, highlighting the most iconic stories of the Bible and pointing towards the coming of Jesus in the manger. This was our approach for Advent last Christmas. Very simple, it required little to no preparation or supplies, but yet was meaningful.
The Jesus Storybook Bible. A similar idea, the Jesus Storybook Bible has just enough stories in this collection to read one per day in December leading up to Christmas. A favorite of our children year round, this book focuses heavily on the promise of a Rescuer and Redeemer, keeping hearts and mind constantly focused on the full meaning behind Christmas.
She Reads Truth Family Bundle. This year, we’ve selected the Family Advent Bundle from She Reads Truth. In this bundle are special, deeper study guides for mom and dad, with some really fun story cards for the kids. We’re looking forward to seeing how this plays out with our family this year, but I love the idea of my husband and I separately studying the same passages in our own devotional time and then bringing a simplified version to our kids at dinner time or before bed. The children’s cards feature lively, colorful graphics with key Scripture passages and questions (made for several levels, which you can choose depending on the ages of your kids).
Good News of Great Joy. Maybe your children are older, no longer live at home, or you’re simply looking for a solid individual devotional for Advent. Good News of Great Joy takes a slow walk through the Christmas Story and then spends time focusing on all of the important “whys” behind Christmas. This one is available to purchase as a hard copy, but Desiring God has made the digital copy available for free download.
Prophecies of Jesus’ Coming and Fulfillment. Another idea is to, as a family, read an Old Testament prophecy of Jesus’ birth and the text marking the fulfillment. There are many resources available for this approach (I’m willing to bet that there’s an iPhone app out there, too!) You can find one approach to this advent program here.
As a bonus, I’m excited to recommend four Christmas albums for you to enjoy as a family! What a great way to set a festive mood and keep the truth and richness of Christmas in front of you!
Joy – An Irish Christmas. A couple of years ago, my husband and I saw this incredible couple – Keith and Kristyn Getty – perform their Irish Christmas program. Keith and Kristyn refer to themselves as “modern hymnologists”, writers of new church music that is drenched in theology, Gospel, and soundness. And since they’re both from the lovely country of Ireland, their music has a distinct flair throughout. We love this album for the joy it brings and the truth is keeps in front of us.
The Sounding Joy. Though this album is intended for children, it’s a favorite of all of us in our home. Simple, folksy, and easy-on-the-ears music with favorite Christmas carols and less common Christmas spirituals.
Prepare Him Room. If you’re looking for an album that is deep and worshipful, this is a great one to add to your collection. As a half-and-half mix of traditional Christmas hymns and original songs from Sovereign Grace, this one drives the depth of the season to the heart.
Seeds of Christmas. Our boys have enjoyed the energy of the Seeds Family Worship albums and this year they’ve added a new one to their selection. Seeds of Christmas is an EP with six Christmas songs – with lyrics taken directly from the Bible and styled for the enjoyment of children.
Leave a comment below and tell us your favorite way to prepare your heart for Christmas!
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