Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Advent Wrap Up

Now that we are a few days post Christmas, post craziness, post great family memories, I feel like I can sit down and really go through/reflect on our Advent activities

Since we were able to sit down as a family, and discuss our feelings (good or bad) about all the activities, I feel like I can now share what we thought, what we'd change, what we can't wait to do again.  I'll run through them one by one, and if there is a pic, I'll share that too. 

1. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop:
We did this three separate times, and this was hands down the least favorite activity.  Not "hands down" because it was so awful and we got such horrible responses.  Actually, the opposite would be true.  People really responded wonderfully to receiving coupons.  The kids were told "Merry Christmas!" and "Thank You!" many times over.  Also, they loved walking up to a stranger and giving them a coupon.   No, it ended up being the least favorite by everyone because of the time involved.  I WAY underestimated how much time this would take.  I thought it would be super quick and easy.  Actually, each time we went out (three times total) we were gone for well over an hour.  And this hour was during the dinner rush, so we could catch people going into the restaurants, which also happened to be our dinner time too.  Also, since I didn't think this activity would take too  much time or effort, I had chosen days that we were a bit on the busier side.  Hungry and hurried was a bad combo.  It left a bad taste in every one's mouth.

When we sat down and discussed this activity we concluded that sometimes serving others takes a lot of patience.  Many times it also takes a sacrifice of time.  And some of the time it isn't comfortable or easy.  We also discussed that if serving required patience, sacrifice of time, and lack of comfort and ease, does that mean we should avoid it.  Also, in discussion, we pondered: Does God ever ask us to do things that are hard, uncomfortable, or a huge sacrifice. 

Good stuff.  Good stuff.

Here they are on our first night, not really knowing the wait they were in for, ready to give out coupons:

2. Put change for a drink in a Ziploc bag and tape it to a couple of vending machines with a special note:
This activity was fun and easy.  There wasn't a very big impact, though.  We didn't hang around to see who got the change.  However, that doesn't mean it didn't bless someone.  We talked about making an impact on others and remaining invisible/not serving others just so you can reap a reward.

3. Make Christmas treats for our local firehouse:
This one was interesting.  We got busy that day and I didn't have treats ready until after normal business hours of our local firehouse.  What that meant was that no one was a the front desk, the doors were locked, and everything was dark.  It also meant that I had to ring the emergency bell.


I'm not sure if those guys were as thrilled to receive cookies as much as they were left wondering what a crazy lady, who came with her two kids, in the snow, later in the evening, to drop off cookies was all about.

Yup, fairly certain there are some fake smiles in that group.

5.  Bring colors and color books to local hospital waiting rooms:
This was another activity that I know was helpful and appreciated by the staff at our local Children's Hospital.  However, and thankfully, there were no children there the day we dropped them off.  The staff thanked the kids profusely, but after that day, neither child brought this activity up again.  It was like they checked Advent off the list for the day.  Not really what I was hoping for, but again, we don't serve others to gain recognition for ourselves. 

6. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop. (See #1)

7. Hide dollar bills on different products/toys at the dollar shop in our area:
The kids both really loved this one.  Again, it wasn't something that we got thanked for or really one that anyone noticed at the time.  However, the kids loved finding just that special something that they hoped someone would want, and then would have the means to buy it.  I loved seeing what the kids picked out.  The Little Man picked toys.  I could just see his little mind working.  He was thinking, "If I came to this store and found this awesome toy, then asked my mom if I could have it, I bet she would say no.  But then!  THEN!  I would find this dollar and BAM!  I could get it!"

At least that's how I think the conversation in his head went.

The Girl, she went about what she chose differently.  She thought about what people would need, and maybe are having a hard time affording.  So she hid her dollars in the baby aisle. 

In both cases, my heart melted for sure.

Someone asked me, "What if the workers were the ones who found the money, and they just kept it for themselves?"  I guess that could happen, and if it did, we prayed that it would be a worker who really needed the money.

8. Leave a treat and note of thanks for our mailman in the mailbox:

Did she really like the cookies that much?  I don't know, but I was very thankful and happy for her thankfulness.

9. Collect and put away carts in a shopping center parking lot:
Both the kids and I LOVED this activity.  It was super freezing cold, very dark, and we were in a very busy parking lot, but somehow we managed to have a great time, and no one got killed.  We got to learn a very important lesson:  When you tell someone "thank you", you should always look them in the eye, smile, and have a cheerful and sincere voice.  Sometimes people can say "thanks", but their body language says something very different. 

I could have told them that over and over.  Oh wait, I have.   So for them to actually experience it, was pure gold.  They totally get it now.

Thank you, less than grateful lady in the parking lot.

10. Clean out toy room and donate toys to local toy charity:
This one didn't work out as well as I had hoped.  We got the toy room cleaned out, and the kids really were great about getting rid of stuff with the intention of giving it to someone who would love it.  However, I guess everyone does this at this time of year, and I did ours way too late in the game.  All the local charities were no longer accepting donations for gently use toys.  We still have them and will hopefully be dropping stuff off in the spring.  I wish I would have know that earlier.

11. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop:
See number 1.

12. Treats and note of appreciation to our school secretaries and principals.
13.  Treats and note of appreciation to our school janitor:
I'm going to combine 12 and 13 together because they basically were the same.  I love that these were The Girl's ideas to think of these people.  I also love that the principal sent us a thank you note over the break.  We are learning the value of heart felt thank you's. 

14.  Spend the day focusing on kindness.  Look people in the eye, smile at everyone, and give compliments generously:
This one was hard for me to monitor.  The kids were at school all day so I have no idea if what they did at school was what they said they did.  Not that I think they are lied, but I am sure school wasn't too conducive to this particular task.  We did, however, work on this throughout the Advent activities.  Especially after the lesson learned in number 9.

15. Send a care package to someone in need of company this Christmas:
Loved this one!  The kids did too.  We took care of my youngest sister who was away from home for her first time this Christmas.  When she called us crying, and telling us how much it meant that she got that package on that particular day, it was really special.  This is one of those activities that I totally saw God's hand put pieces together.

16.  Leave a present with our tip for our waiter/waitress:
This was a really fun activity too.  I was worried what it would be like.  I mean what if our server that night was a total jerk, or just really bad?  Thankfully, our server turned out to be really good, super nice, and very attentive.  At the end of dinner we pulled out our movie theater sized boxes of candy, used the receipt to leave a note saying, "Thanks for making our night so sweet", and then left it under the bill.  The kids totally waited to see what she would do when she saw what we left.  They were happy to report that she smiled really big.

17.  Visit a nursing home with homemade cards for the residents:
This particular activity did not go the way I thought it would at all.  The kids spent most of the afternoon making several cards for some of the seniors living at at local senior home.  I thought for sure they would be very excited to drop them off and to sit and chat for a bit.  Well, I thought that The Girl would like to do that and The Little Man I would help along.  In actuality, it was totally the opposite.  The Girl said that this was her least favorite activity of the entire Advent season.  I could tell too just by looking at her.  She was super uncomfortable around the folks that received our cards, and had a difficult time striking up any conversation.  The Little Man, on the other hand, passed out his cards and then played a little X Box with a few of them. 

At Christmas breakfast, when we discussed our Advent together, The Girl said she just felt really uncomfortable around a bunch of older people who didn't know her but wanted to talk to her.  We discussed how God has asked us to care for the widows and orphans, and how many of those people in that facility are widowed.  We discussed how important it is for people to feel loved and cared for, and how lonely these people could be.  She didn't really change her mind, but that's OK.  God gives each of us a heart for something different.  This just wasn't her thing.

Here are some of the sweet people we met that day:

18.  Give an appreciation gift to our pastor and his wife:
Just a quick drop off of a Panera gift card for our Pastor and his wife and a note that let them know how much we appreciate how they have cared for our family and the families in our church. 

19.  Pass out meal coupons (fully paid for meals), to those who may go hungry that night:
This was another one that the timing was perfectly orchestrated.  The Hubs just happened to have a block of time in which he could spare, so he was our driver.  This proved to be essential for two reasons: 1.  It snowed that day and I am no good at driving in the snow and 2. Because of the snow there were not as many homeless people out on the streets.  Thankfully, most of them were seeking shelter.   That meant that we needed as many eyes as we could get to find people to pass our coupons out too.  It also meant that these coupons not only fed the person that got them, but it allowed them to seek shelter and warmth for a while.  Again, the fingerprints of God were all over this one.   Because of previous experiences in our Advent activities, the kids really made sure that they caught the person's eyes, smiled at them, and said Merry Christmas.   Thankfully, each person was very gracious and thankful.  This activity happened to be one of my favorites.  I hope in the next year to find a way to serve these people more.

20.  Hide small toys in a park with a note for the kids who find them:
Unfortunately, the toys were bought for this activity, but we never got the chance to hide them.  Turns out, in December, it snows a lot.  So either it was snowing, or the parks were buried in snow.   We will donate the toys with the other gently used toys we cleaned out of our toy room.

21.  Bring goodies and note of thanks to our local librarians.
This was pretty fun.  We go to our local library quite frequently.   My kids read like crazy, so it was only appropriate that we thank them for helping us to enjoy reading so much.  They were ever so grateful and were surprised that we thought of them.  I love that they felt loved.

22.  Donate food to our local food bank:
This was my other favorite.  Our local food bank serves over 500 families in our small town.  FIVE HUNDRED.  These are kids who go to our schools, families who we see at the parks, people who we may interact with on some level somewhere in our community, and they are hungry.  The man that was accepting donations that day took us on a tour of the facility and explained how everything worked.  It was fascinating.  He said that after six months (on average) 80% of the people who use the pantry are back up on their feet again and do not require assistance any longer.  Many of them come back as volunteers.  That is a great success rate.  My heart was full that day, and I totally see myself back there again soon to donate my time.

23.  Bring goodies to all of our neighbors:
This was especially fun this year because we have new neighbors.  I have enjoyed getting to know them more, and hope to be able to know them better in the new year.

24.  Leave diapers and wipes at a couple of changing stations:
Honestly, we skipped this one.  Here's the deal.  After about the half way mark, these Advent activities became very difficult to keep up with.  The kids were burning out, and I was burning out trying to keep them from burning out.  While all of the activities got done, some got done on different days than we originally planned, and this one got left out all together.  I really prayed a lot through out this Advent, and I felt like there were some things that just were things to check off  a list.  I didn't want that.  When we were more open to being spirit led, instead of being task oriented, our activities touched our hearts much more deeply. 

All in all, I did really love our Advent this year.  It was a LOT of work.  No joke.  And it was also during an already busy time of the year.  I would like to do something similar next year, but there will be some tweaks to it. 

I think having a couple of days where we can do fun things as a family would be a great way to recharge batteries and prevent burn out.   That works very well with the fact that some of the activities were not liked as much.  Does that mean that all activities we don't like we don't have to do? No.  It means that I would like to spend more time praying over activities before making our list of stuff to do rather than making a list and then praying that what we do would bless people.  Next year, I hope to be more spirit led and less task oriented, so I might also consider lightening the load during the time when the kids are in school, after school activities, and all the other things that come along with the Christmas season to make it totally nuts.  Even though I say I would want to make some tweaks, I would still do it again. 

Prayerfully, next year we will.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Turns Out, There Were Reasons To Get Out of Our Jammies

While it was the goal of both kids to never leave the house or their pajamas until Christmas day, other stuff has drawn them into the "Land of the Living". 

Much to their chagrin, the kids needed to leave the house a few times in order to do our advent activities. 

I know.  I must be the meanest mom on the planet, right?  I mean, I MADE them get dressed so they could pass out meal coupons to the homeless, go the library and bring treats to the librarians, pass out Christmas goodies to our neighbors, and bring a donation to our local food bank. 

Horrible.  Just horrible.  I guess they could have done all of those things in their PJ's. 

However, The Little Man got the fun opportunity to do something he's been wanting to do for a little while now.  The Hubs took him up for some snowboarding on Wednesday.  He took a lesson for the whole day, while The Hubs watched (The Hubs was supposed to also go boarding, but his boots were not fitting properly, thus he sat and watched the lesson.).  After hearing about how much fun it was to watch The Little Man, I was a little sad that I missed it.  Instead, The Girl and I spent a day together doing some girly type stuff.  We planned holiday menus, made lists, ate out for lunch, got a pedicure, and watched a movie.  So all in all, I think we had a great time too.  All four of us met up later at a Mexican restaurant, and shared our days with one another.  Fun was had by all, and not one of us was in our pajamas. 

Turns out snowboarding is way more fun in snow pants, a hat, some boots, a coat, and some gloves.

Yesterday, we had quite the little snow storm.  It dumped about eleven inches of the white stuff.  So, right after breakfast, both kids were anxious to get out into it and play.  PJ's don't really work for that either. 

Funny, no one complained.

After an hour or so, they were ready to come inside, and warm up.  They were ready to get back into those jammies for the rest of the day.  Off goes the coats, hats, mittens, boots, and then the snow pants.  That's when The Little Man stopped.

p: Oooops.
me: What's the problem?  Did you rip the pants?  Are they stuck?
p: No.  I just need to go to my room to finish changing.
me: No.  Please don't.  I'd rather all the cold snow stay down stairs on this towel.  It makes it much easier to clean up.
p: I can't.
me: Why?
p: I don't have any pants on.
me: What? What does that mean, you "Don't have any pants on?"
p: It means I am just in my undies under here.
me: What?  You are just in your underwear under there?
p: Yes.
me: You mean you went outside in the freezing cold snow with no pants on except for your snow pants?
p: Yes.  I didn't want to get dressed today, Mama.  So I'm kinda naked under here.

Sure enough, there were no clothes under those snow pants.


Thankfully, his father was with him snowboarding.  Lunch would have been pretty embarrassing if we would've let him dress himself.

The lengths he will go to avoid getting dressed for the day.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Our Goals, They Are Lofty

My heart is happy. 

It is Christmas Break.


I think it's safe to say that when you ask most kids what they would like to do for Christmas Break,  many would say things like: "Hang out with friends", "Go to the movies", "Go skiing", or many many other things that would include "Going" or "Doing".

Not my kids.

Upon entering the house after school on Friday, The Little Man declared,  "YES!  It's finally Christmas Break.  I am going to put on my jammies and not take them off for seven straight days!"

When I casually responded that it would be awkward for him to be in his jammies when we were out doing some of our Advent activities, he actually started to cry. 

I thought he was exaggerating. 

I guess not.

When The Girl came home from school later that afternoon (Little Man only does half day kindergarten), she too had a proclamation of how she would like to spend her Christmas Break. 

"YES!  Finally I can sleep in all the way until 9:30 the next night if I want to!  I'm going to sleep, sleep, sleep!"


Who am I to stand in the way of greatness?

Monday, December 12, 2011

No Condemnation

Clearly, all that blogging in November set me up for a small break here in December. 


Actually, that Advent project that I posted on, just previous to this post, well, it turns out I was right.  It's taking up some serious time.  Which isn't all that bad.  Needless to say, there will be some changes made to this project next year.  However, I want to follow it all out as planned before I make any decisions on how it could be different.  Who knows, maybe when it's all said and done, I will think, "Yep, it was all worth it.  I wouldn't change a thing!" 

We'll see!

At some point, I would like to share the pictures of some of the projects we've done.  Honestly, though, I haven't really taken too many.  At first, I kept forgetting my camera, which is odd since I was just using my phone, and I never leave home without my phone.  Somehow, I managed to forget my phone at home a few times in a row.  Then, at other times, it just seemed awkward to take a picture.  I felt weird pulling my camera out.  Like it was inappropriate.  Also, I kept feeling reminded of the fact that we weren't doing this for ourselves (i.e. to make some sort of scrapbook or to share pics with grandma, etc.).  We were doing this for the people who we had chosen to share God's love with.  Taking a picture just makes it feel like a project to document, or something.  All that to say, I only have a few pics...for good reason.

One last thing about Advent before I share what I came here to share:  I love that somehow number 4 is missing on my list of things we are doing.  I am certain that I didn't skip number 4 when I originally typed out the post.  In fact, I actually went back and forth as to whether or not I should put that activity on my blog.  Number 4 was a project that I wanted to be kind of secret since the person who would be receiving it might read this blog or hear about our Advent activities.  I didn't want whoever received number 4 to think that they were part of a "project".  Because they weren't.  They received number 4 because we love them, and we felt the Spirit lead us to them.  Yes, it was on the list of "things to do", but we really prayed over that particular activity, and I am thankful for the way it all came together and turned out.  The recipients were blessed, and we were as well.  So, the fact that number 4 never showed up on the blog made it even more special, and I didn't need to worry.

So.   That's Advent. 

So far.

I hope to have time soon to go through each experience, not to bore you to death, but to remember for ourselves.

Speaking of remembering, I am now remembering the real reason I logged in tonight....

The other night, as we finished up reading our Bible story, there were some discussion questions.  One of the questions asked, "Have you ever confessed a sin to God?  How do you know you were forgiven?"

I absolutely adored The Little Man's response:
me: After you told God what you did and asked for Him to forgive you, did He?
p: Yes.
me: How do you know?
p: Because, when I first prayed to Him and told Him what I did I felt really bad.  But then I asked Him if I could be forgiven.  Right away I felt really good again.  It was like I was all better.  That's how I know He forgave me.  I didn't feel bad anymore.  I felt really good again. I could just go on.

I love how simple "Childlike faith" is. 

He confessed and was forgiven.  Just like God says He will do when we come to Him in true repentance.  I always want to make it more difficult.  Maybe carry around some guilt for awhile, or sit around waiting on some form of punishment.

Instead, His word tells us:
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." -Romans 8:1-2

 “Their sins and lawless acts
   I will remember no more.”

 18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary." -Hebrews 10:17-18

Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Time for Advent!

I cannot believe today is the first day of December!  Where did this year go?

As we have been slowly getting ready for Christmas since October, thanks to many stores decorating well before Halloween has even gotten here, my mind has been really struggling with doing something different.  I feel like sometimes, with wanting to keep up with tradition, even though I want to/intend to really focus our family on Christ, giving, and servant-hood, each and every year we get wrapped back up into going, doing, and buying for ourselves. 

Meanwhile, the entire time I'm constantly telling the kids, "Christmas is a time for giving, not receiving."   And they're all, "We know, Mom!" as they roll their eyes.  Not because they don't want to give, but because I say it all. The. Time.  Why?  Because I feel like I have to overcompensate in telling them because we lack in the DOING.  I am hoping that by saying it over and over and over, that somehow it will get into their minds and hopefully their hearts. 

What I have been missing is the doing.  That's how we learn.  When we do, it becomes a part of us, and we remember how it felt.  So, this year instead of hoping it will be different, it will be different.  Instead of talking about it, we're going to do it!

This year, inside of our advent calendar, instead of having chocolates, small gifts, or an idea for a Christmas/winter craft or activity with the family, the kids will find instructions for doing a Random Act of Kindness.  A way to give to someone else.  This Christmas as we talk about how we celebrate the gift of God's Son to us by giving gifts to others, we are actually going to give gifts to others all Advent long.

Thankfully, I'm not the one who invented the wheel on this one!  There are many blogs/articles/TV shows/books out there that talk about Random Acts of Kindness and giving to others.  So instead of re-inventing the wheel, we are totally using the wheel...and taking it apart a little...and rebuilding it as our own. 

Truth be told, I am totally overwhelmed by the amount of effort that serving others each day of this Advent season (which is usually the busiest time of the year) that this is going to take.  However, I recognize that when things are hard, they are totally worth it.  Will this mean we get to do all the other things we used to do before Christmas?  You know, the other stuff that kept us busy.  Maybe.  But maybe we'll have to say "no" to some things too.   That's OK.  I am sure that what we are doing instead, will be totally worth it.   Also, I am already seeing God's hand in this. 

First, the kids are super, super excited.  They've been counting down to advent since I told them what we were doing over a week ago.  That right there is motivation for me, as well as evidence that they too are ready to live out their faith and put some action to words already!  Secondly, as I have been feeling overwhelmed about staying organized and making sure I leave enough time for each activity and the prep for each activity, God has really opened doors, made time, and even made financial provisions for some of the gifts planned.  Since this is only the first day, I can't wait to see all He does in the next 24 days.  And I can't wait to see the kids see all He can do, either.

I don't know if I'll be able to blog each and every day.  Actually, I know I WON'T be blogging our adventures each and everyday.  Remember: there will be somethings I will have to say "no" to.  But, each time I come here, I will try to update the best that I can.  I really want to photograph and write about each and every thing, word, and emotion.  However, I also must recognize that I am not doing this for us.   No, this is for others. 

So, what about today?  Today we went through some of the coupon books that we had purchased in support of some high school sport teams.   It kills me that so many of them expire and never get used, either because I forget I have them or because we don't go to those restaurants or shops.  One particular coupon book had some pretty great coupons.  I mean these coupons where for like $10 and $15 off with no minimum purchase required.  That's like a gift card in my world.  So, instead of letting them go to waste, we gave them out.  Tonight, at around dinner time, we parked outside of each place and waited for someone to go inside.  As they did, the kids got out and asked if they would like a coupon for their meal.  Of course, people were totally excited to have a coupon.  When they saw how much it was for, they were a little taken aback.  Some asked, "Are you sure you are not going to use it?"  others asked, "Why? What do I have to do?"  Both kids were excited to say, "It's yours for nothing!"  Thankfully, the recipients were very gracious and kind, which was very encouraging to both kids.  They both got back into the car excited about helping someone out, and very excited about what was waiting for them in the advent calendar tomorrow.

Here they are, ready with coupons!

Here's a list of what will be up to this month:
1. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop.
2. Put change for a drink in a Ziploc bag and tape it to a couple of vending machines with a special note.
3. Make Christmas treats for our local firehouse.

5.  Bring colors and color books to local hospital waiting rooms.
6. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop.
7. Hide dollar bills on different products/toys at the dollar shop in our area.
8. Leave a treat and note of thanks for our mailman in the mailbox.
9. Collect and put away carts in a shopping center parking lot.
10. Clean out toy room and donate toys to local toy charity.
11. Pass out coupons at a local restaurant or shop.
12. Treats and note of appreciation to our school secretaries and principals.
13.  Treats and note of appreciation to our school janitor.
14.  Spend the day focusing on kindness.  Look people in the eye, smile at everyone, and give compliments generously.
15. Send a care package to someone in need of company this Christmas.
16.  Leave a present with our tip for our waiter/waitress.
17.  Visit a nursing home with homemade cards for the residents.
18.  Give an appreciation gift to our pastor and his wife.
19.  Pass out meal coupons (fully paid for meals), to those who may go hungry that night.
20.  Hide small toys in a park with a note for the kids who find them.
21.  Bring goodies and note of thanks to our local librarians.
22.  Donate food to our local food bank.
23.  Bring goodies to all of our neighbors.
24.  Leave diapers and wipes at a couple of changing stations.

On the 25th, I hope to discuss, celebrate, and praise all the ways that God has worked and been glorified through the well as celebrate the best gift ever given.  His Son.