A Simply Christ-Centered Christmas
"Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)

On Tuesday, I shared about the Christmas where I was completely overwhelmed by preparations and tangled up in unrealistic expectations. I prayed that God would help me to never let it happen again and I can honestly say each Christmas gets better and better.

There are two things that have helped me. First, I try to keep Jesus on my mind during December. I know it should be that way all the time, but honestly December is the hardest because we add too much to our already overloaded lives.

So, I listen to Christmas music as much as I can and look for reminders of Christ in the many Christmas symbols. Each time I see one, I pause to ponder their significance. For instance, when I see a Christmas tree, I stop and think about the wooden cradle and Cross that held my Savior. Their evergreen color reminds me of the gift of everlasting Life I have in Christ.

Christmas reds remind me of the lavish love and sacrificial blood that was shed by Him for me. Stars on houses and treetops remind me of the Star of Bethlehem that led the way to Jesus. Wreaths on doors remind me of His unending circle of grace and mercy.

A favorite of mine, the Candy Cane, reminds me that by His stripes we are healed. It's shape is that of a shepherd's crook reminding me that He is my Shepherd. And when I turn it upside down, it's a J to remind me that Christmas is all about Jesus. These and more help me keep Christ in the center of my Christmas.

The other thing that has really helped me is to simplify. This doesn't come easy for me but when it comes to celebrating Jesus' birthday, I've been reminded that the first Christmas was very simple. So, I'm moving mine in that direction.

Instead of just doing things because I've always done them, I've started asking what matters most to my family and me. And I'm letting the rest go. If something is not necessary, I'm cutting it out. I want peace and joy more than decorations, preparations and unnecessary obligations.

Peace comes from margins of time in my day and in my mind. Joy comes from seeing my family
smile. I've shared this desire with my family and asked for their help. I also asked what traditions or decorations matter most to them.

A Christmas tree was at the top of their list. A few decorations in each room downstairs. This year we're putting out our favorite things but not all our things. Andrew loves the Christmas village we found on sale after Christmas one year, so we put it out. But I did away with the white sparkly cotton that went under it because it was messy and drove me crazy. Now our kitchen counters host a cozy Christmas town that warms our imaginations but doesn't make me want to shrink and hide in the steeple of that miniature church.

Here are some other great suggestions some of you shared on Facebook:
  • Enjoy one fun activity a week - like going to a Christmas movie or play, staying home drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies, going to a Christmas church activity, or reading a Christmas book, Christmas magazines, enjoying Christmas games and puzzles. ~Joyce Watson
  • Find crafts that double as decorations. That way the kids are having fun, and it gives them some pride to see what they did everywhere they look. Bake together and then give the delicious treats out as presents. ~Tricia Preston

  • Take pictures of your decorations so that next year it isn't stressful trying to find a perfect place for everything. ~Julie Leary Hull

  • Keep decorating efforts simple by doing 4 main areas: door, table, tree, mantle. It "covers" enough to be festive but you don't feel like you have to decorate every inch. ~Linda Elliot Moore

  • Let kids help decorate and don't stress if your house doesn't look like Southern Living:-) ~ Kelly Casse Thomas
  • Simple sometimes means a smaller tree, or even a little potted tree!~ Karen Paul
  • Make bows with wired ribbon to put here and there, to add just a pretty touch. Pick long needle pine branches, put a bunch in a vase with a bow, very Christmassy! ~Sandy Allen

  • Ask "Will it still be Christmas if I don't...?" (buy one more gift, make one more batch of cookies, host a Christmas party, etc.) Christmas will come whether we have presents or our room is bare, whether our husband is here or not, whether we have 3 Christmas trees, just one or none. Only ONE thing is needed. ~Deb Galetka Heath
God is using Proverbs 24:3-4 to remind me that at this time of the year I need His wisdom most. By seeking understanding from Him, and acquiring knowledge from those we love, we can fill our hearts and our homes with rare and beautiful treasures - Christmas memories, traditions, laughter, peace and joy!

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. Proverbs 24:3-4

Keeping up....
Hi friends and family,

I have not been so good at keeping up our family blog but I have been little Miss blogger over at "The Journey of My Heart." I hope you'll click on the button on the sidebar and hop on over to find out what is new with us. I've just completed a month of encouragement for moms.

The boys are doing great. It's been a year of transition but they are finding a new place to belong and loving it. Neither of them have enjoyed sports which sometimes makes it limiting in making friends. But now they both are becoming big skateboard fanatics and several of their good friends are, too. They've been spending all of their afternoons doing ollies and jumps off the sidewalk and steps outside this past week - even when it was 20 degrees outside!

JJ took them to a skateboard park with some friends this weekend and they had a blast. He's such a great dad, always finding new ways to make them laugh and enjoy everyday life. If you want to see some of his creativity on a boring afternoon, here is a video they made one Sunday afternoon last year before we moved.

When they aren't flying paper airplanes, they are having lots of sleepovers and hanging out with new and old friends. We love seeing our kids growing in their relationships and finding a group of friends we really enjoy having around. Our prayer and hope is that our house will be a fun hang out , and that is becoming the case. We've also started hosting the youth group of boys in middle school and high school at our house on Wednesday nights. We decided it would be my writing night so I head over to Panera. JJ said he thinks that is totally God ordained so I don't have to witness the mayhem and nerf wars!

JJ's job is going well and he really liking his role as a project manager at Vanguard. He meets with a co-worker from China who asked him about Jesus and the Bible a few years ago. They went through the book of John and Simon put his faith in Christ. His wife did too a year later. God is really using him there to be a picture of His love. His health is good and he's been free from any kind of stomach problems for several weeks, since he finished antibiotics after that horrible bacterial infection that left him hospitalized in November. His liver enzyme levels went up again so he's taking a new natural supplement that is good for your liver and we're hoping that will help. He is going to see a specialist when he finished his first bottle full.

Our adoption is still in the "waiting" phase. We called the agency in December and they encouraged us to be patient and not lose hope. I feel like we just came up to a big wall. But I know God's timing is perfect and that He can see the big picture. He knows what our life looks like from a wide-lens view and we don't. We are praying that He'll use us and our new home to be a place of refuge for someone who needs a place while we wait. There are so many people in need now with the economy and we are so blessed so we want to share it in some way. We're just praying and watching to see how His plans unfold.

I am doing well, too. Family and ministry is keep my life at full capacity. Each day is an adventure but each day God provides just what I need. I couldn't do all that He's called me to do without the amazing support and help of my family and friends. So, thank you for being there for me and filling in my gaps with prayer, help and encouragement.

I wanted to also ask anyone stopping by here to please pray for my cousin Marybeth who is recovering from a double mastectomy and experiencing infections and complications. She's such an amazing mom, wife, daughter and woman. It's been a long road and my heart is just burdened for her. Please pray for her strength, her healing and huge doses of encouragement. Also, please pray for my friend Kim who is in the second year of winner her battle against stage four breast cancer. She has numerous tumors in her bones and is in a lot of pain. She's also a wife and mom to three beautiful kids. Please pray for her strength, healing, shrinkage of tumors, effective treatment and encouragement.

I feel so blessed to have these amazing women in my life but it's hard to see them suffer. Please keep them and their families in your prayers.

I guess I should end this blog book chapter. It's great to catch up and I hope you'll come back soon. Remember, if you are wondering where we are when we don't post here, be sure to hop over to The Journey of My Heart and you'll find us there!

Hugs and blessings,

Letting Go while Holding On
I am working on letting go of our dream for these two precious girls but holding onto the hope and plans God has for our family. Getting hurt makes it hard to hope again but that is when I have to take hold of my hope place it in Christ alone - not in the dream or the plans He has for us. I shared a letter on my personal blog that I wrote to the girls. This letter really helped me process the loss and let go of two beautiful girls that were never mine. Click here if you'd like to read it.

Update on the Girls
We got a call last night from our adoption agency director. She left a message saying that somehow a miscommunication happened and a family from Germany is adopting the girls we thought we were adopting. Our agency, wasn't notified until they called to say we wanted to adopt them.

I feel like I just had a miscarriage. I've been crying off and on all day. I am so sad. I don't want to hear that God has a better plan. I don't want to hear that God has other children. I know that is truth. But right now, I feel really sad. And I need to feel what I'm feeling. It makes me want to run. It makes me fall on my knees and cry. It pushes me into the arms of my Father's embrace where He whispers what it true.

I have to trust Him. It's not a option for me not to. I know His heart is good and His ways are loving. We have prayed for Him to open and close doors. We know that He already knows who our daughter or daughters will be. We only want what He wants and we want what is best for the girls we now have engraved in our hearts. It's just hurts when His answers aren't ours.

It has surprised me how quickly I fell for these two precious girls. But then I remembered the hours I spent this weekend looking through our agency's private photo web album to find the girls in snapshots. I looked in the background to see if I could find them on the playground, in the classroom and in the dining area of the agency. I found a few and felt like I had spent time watching them play. They didn't know I was there but my heart was falling in love each time I saw them.

Their sweet photo is on my desktop. It's also in my Bible and was with me all day. I know God brought them to me for a reason and I will pray for them daily until He takes the memory of their faces from me. I had started writing letters to them and praying scriptures for them in my heart. I know He will take these treasures and use them for His purposes, whether I ever know it or not.

At first I felt like God didn't want us to give up to easily. Maybe we needed to fight to get the girls. Last night I felt compelled to pray that He'd make a way where there is no way. I prayed believing and I still do. I just know that I also have to let go and trust what He has next for us. We found out today that the adopting family visited the orphanage recently and went through the orphanage to make arrangements to adopt them. Their dossier is complete and it is being processed. It looks like this is their forever family after all and when I stop crying, I will be happy for them. I promise I will!

I need to not feel so sad for much longer. I have radio recording tomorrow and need to be strengthened in my spirit to encourage others as I record these shows. There is so much more going on in the world around me but this news has made my little world tilt just a little of center today.

Beautiful Faces, Beautiful Hearts
Ethiopian children have the most beautiful faces and hearts! Every time I see them, I want more than one. And this is coming from a woman who wasn't so crazy about the idea of adopting any kids from any country. I liked my comfortable, fairly predictable life. But boy has God worked His ways in me and given me His heart for the children in Ethiopia.

We received an updated DVD of waiting children in the orphanages our agency works with. We have fallen in love with a few of them. There are moments when I just want to quit all that I do(at work and in ministry) and bring home 10 kids. Then sanity kicks in and I realize that is not God's calling for our family...at least not this week.

On Wednesday night JJ came home from a three day camping trip with Andrew and his whole 5th grade class. The first thing he did was run to the mailbox to see if the DVD was here. And it was! He took a shower and watched the DVD completely through without me. I was doing something (probably blogging) and didn't even know he was watching it.

He made a list of girls that fit in our age range plus a few extra that he liked that are a year or two older. Then he gave me the list and asked me to watch the DVD. I was drawn to all the same girls he'd picked. Together we narrowed it down to nine and emailed their names to our agency.

One set of siblings was already on hold but the rest of the girls were still available. I was hoping God would narrow it down a little more for us. There was only one set of girls (who are sisters) that are within the age range we stated on our home study. We prayed that God would show us what to do. Are these the girls He has for us? Or are we supposed to do an addendum to our home study and adopt one of the others that is a little older?

We both went back and forth. We didn't know what to do or how to decide. So we didn't decide anything. We knew this wasn't something for us to figure out. This was a decision that had already been made before eternity was set in our hearts - before we had ever taken a breath - before we even knew that our lives would become one.

For the past 48 hours we have been praying and pondering all of the possibilities. Our hearts have moved across the board and landed in more than one place. But separately God has brought us both back to the same place and we have made our decision!

We are pursuing the adoption of two beautiful little girls who are seven and nine. We cannot say anything more about them until we hear back from our agency and we are approved. But I cannot wait to share tell you more and to show you the beautiful blessings God has been preparing for us!

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