12 Days of Christmas Giveaway–Day 11

Welcome to the 11th day of the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

The prizes are building, and today’s winner will receive ALL of the below!

I am so excited to get to participate this year, and share Day 11 with one of my favorite authors– Sarah Sundin! Today’s winner will receive these prizes from me and Sarah: The Land Beneath Us by Sarah Sundin & an adorable book-stack ornament from me!

Not only will today’s winner get those, but they will also get EACH of these prizes below:

Coral by Sara Ella

ARC The Joy of Falling by Lindsay Harrel

Her Cowboy Till Christmas by Jill Kemerer

The Painted Castle by Kristy Cambron

Recovered Secrets by Jessica Patch

A Glitter of Gold by Liz Johnson

The Governess of Penwythe Hall by Sarah Ladd

Her Last Chance Cowboy by Tina Radcliffe

The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

AND

You Belong with Me by Tari Faris

It’s not too late to enter in the Rafflecopter giveaway below by following some of your favorite authors on social media and signing up for their newsletters. We draw a new winner every day, and on December 12th, we’ll give away a $100 Amazon Gift Card in addition to all the other great prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And don’t forget to stop by Liz’s blog tomorrow to see what prize is added then. 

12 Days of Giveaways — Day 11!

Welcome to the 11th day of the 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway!

I am so excited to be part of this giveaway with some amazing—and several of my favorite—authors!

The prizes are building, and today’s winner will receive ALL of the below!

Today’s prize is something very near and dear to my heart! Today’s winner is going to walk away with some incredible books, plus a few extra goodies. And, I thought, what goes better with books than coffee and chocolate?

So, today’s winner will get a gorgeous ceramic travel mug with an inspirational saying on it, some of my favorite European Chocolates, and a sample pack of seasonal coffee! They will also win a copy of At First Glance by Susan Tuttle.


Image result for at first glance by susan tuttle

Today’s winner will also receive:

Unblemished eBook by Sara Ella

Victorian Christmas Brides Collection by Gabrielle Meyer

ARC The Secrets of Paper and Ink by Lindsay Harrel

The Sky Above Us + diecast plane by Sarah Sundin

Where the Fire Falls by Karen Barnett

My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, Texas by Erica Vetsch

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson

Cold Case Christmas by Jessica R. Patch

Wyoming Christmas Quadruplets by Jill Kemerer

Christmas with the Cowboy + jingle bell necklace by Tina Radcliffe

It’s not too late to enter in the Rafflecopter giveaway below by following some of your favorite authors on social media and signing up for their newsletters. We draw a new winner every day, and on December 12th, we’ll give away a $150 Amazon Gift Card OR a 1-Year Audible Gold Subscription (winner’s choice) in addition to all the other great prizes!

[button link=”http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/77d680ac9/” type=”big” color=”teal” newwindow=”yes”] CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway![/button]

And don’t forget to stop by Liz’s blog tomorrow to see what prize is added then!

Does Your Heart need a Total Christmas Makeover?

I absolutely love Christmas. I always have.

This year, however, as the blessed day draws nearer, I feel a tightening in my chest. A heaviness settling on my shoulders and my teeth grind just a bit harder. I feel it…the suffocating pressure for a solid Christmas “performance” in my home.

I don’t usually feel this way, but I think the year of working full time outside the home for the first time in over a decade, combined with re-acclimating to the American culture and mindset to Perfect-All-The-Things has left me feeling a bit drained and, if I’m totally honest, a bit on-guard.

And then, I received a copy of Total Christmas Makeover by Melissa Spoelstra in the mail.

You guys.

I may have cried my way through the first chapter because it was such a freeing reminder.

A reminder to remember.

To recall and ponder and mull over what Christmas is really all about.

This book of 31 short devotions starts each day off with a Scripture, and then Melissa walks through an encouraging, inspiring (and even somewhat convicting) devotional thought. She also includes a few questions for reflection.

But my favorite part—aside from the Scriptures—are the A Practical Approach sections at the end of each day. Melissa offers practical, hands-on, and simple ideas for incorporating meaningful traditions into your family’s holiday season. And, no, it’s not a bunch of Pinterest-perfect crafts, and activities that will make you want to pull your hair out. Some of them even call for removing some of the traditions that are no longer working for your family, or have lost some of their meaning.

Total Christmas Makeover is freeing, uplifting, and just the breath of Holiday fresh air this frazzled mama needed. Especially since my kids have all but outgrown the Advent activities we’ve used the past several years (which I still love, by the way), Melissa’s practical and easy ideas for making meaningful memories and traditions are particularly welcome.

I received a copy of Total Christmas Makeover for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

Would I Have Really Known? {Thoughts on ‘Mary, Did You Know?’}

I close my eyes and in an instant I’m back in time. Back to that glider-rocker in the perfect shade of cream to tie the nursery together. Back to when I would sit and rock, absently rubbing my burgeoning belly and treasuring all the precious thoughts I had towards that sweet baby growing and wriggling within.

It was such a sweet time for me, that pregnancy. Not only was it my first, but she was due December 29. I remember finally relating to Mary in a more tangible way, expecting a baby so close to Christmas. I would rock and wonder what it would’ve really been like in her hometown. In her marriage. On the donkey. In the stable.

I sat and wondered if Mary felt a fraction of the fear, excitement and awe that I felt. Or did I even feel a fraction of what she felt?

I knew I was having a baby.

I knew it was a girl.

I knew it would be exhausting. And wonderful.

But, I didn’t really know. I didn’t fully understand.

I couldn’t possibly fully understand, until time and experience allowed me the luxury of understanding.

Photo by Miguel Ugalde

Photo by Miguel Ugalde

I think of the lyrics of the popular Christmas tune, Mary, Did You Know?:

“Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know,
That your baby boy
Has come to make you new?

This child that you delivered,
Will soon delivery you!”

We know from Luke 1 that Mary knew the child she was carrying was God’s Son. She knew there was a greater purpose than she could have ever dreamed for God to find favor in her, and to choose her to be the mother of The Messiah.

Yes, Mary knew that when she “kissed her little baby, [she] kissed the face of God.”

But I have to wonder, did she really know?

Could she have fathomed the depth of what that truly meant?

As she sat on the dirty floor of that filthy, muck-ridden stable, staring into the face of her precious newborn son, did she fully grasp the magnitude of the task that lay before Him? Before her?

I don’t know.

Just like there was no way to fully grasp the beauty, love, greatness and pain of bringing my own firstborn child into this world, I can’t help but think it was the same for her.

Even if she did know – really know – there’s no way in our finite minds and fogged-up hearts to fully know. The Bible also tells us that even though we think we understand the things of God, we only partially understand. It’s like we’re looking through a dim, foggy, mirror – seeing only fragments and distorted images. So it’s only natural that we wonder if it was the same for someone like Mary, whom we hold in very high regard, and tend to put on a spiritual pedestal. Was she able to get it?, we think. Because I certainly struggle with really, truly getting it.

I know there are some who really struggle with the theology behind a song like Mary, Did You Know?. However, here’s what I believe to be the truth:

Mary, Did You Know? is for us, not Mary. It’s to get us to stop, think and ask ourselves – “Wow, do I really grasp this? This is huge!”

The mental image of kissing the very face of God? It’s ironically and simultaneously terrifying and deeply intimate. Moving. Unfathomable.

Yet it’s true: the God of the burning bush, the God of the parted Red Sea, the God who brought countless dead back to life wants intimacy with us. He wants a real, personal, all-the-mess-of-family relationship with us.

And that’s what Mary, Did You Know? does for me.

It brings back the intimacy. It brings back the wonder. And it brings back the reality of just how crazy, how confusing and how miraculous the Christmas season truly is.

Christmas in America (or How Silent Night Makes me Cry)

You know, it’s funny, this expat life. So much time spent longing for things and people in far off places. And never is that longing so palpable than Christmastime.

When overseas, the heart yearns for family, familiarity and the Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor-esque light displays. You go to great lengths (and financial cost) to procure the specialty import items – like canned pumpkin and chocolate chips – to make the holidays feel more like home.

When in America, the heart and mind swim in aching memory of Viennese Christmas Markets or the quaint-but-charming afternoon spent at the rural Irish Christmas fair complete with Paddy-the-builder playing Santa and enough cups of tea to drown the Pope. You go to great lengths (and financial cost) to procure the specialty import items – like authentic Christmas crackers or that perfect Gulaschsuppe – to make the holidays feel more like home.

Christmas in America

I have decided that Christmas (much like the expat life in general) will simply be a season spent in a constant state of tension. That tenuous balance between remembering the places and people who have so deeply touched your life and growth, and “blooming where you’re planted” and being fully present in whichever home you find yourself this year. I also completely understand that this tension is not limited to the expat lifestyle. But the expat life is what I know; I also remember LPE (Life Pre-Expat) and there is a distinct difference.

Anyway.

One song, for some reason, seems to buoy this tension, this ache, to the surface faster and more often than others. You might guess it to be something that conjures the concept of home like I’ll be Home for Christmas or Home for the Holidays, but no. While those songs stir a sense of nostalgia and longing in their own right, they don’t move the core of my soul.

Only one song does that. Only one carol awakens a deeper part of me that seems lulled during the rest of the year.

Silent Night.

Every time. Every language.

I distinctly remember the very first time I heard Silent Night in Irish Gaelic. It was absolutely mesmerizing. I also remember the year the community choir of which I was a member sang it at a special Christmas program. I stood there in the front row, tears running down my face, unable to sing a single note. The beauty and magnitude of the lyrics had so touched my heart, I was rendered speechless.

I also remember sitting in an overcrowded school auditorium. My precious girls stood among the throng of students, shifting and shuffling in anticipation. Then they began to sing, Stille Nacht – Silent Night in it’s original German. Once again, tears poured, heart pounded and my soul churned deep within me.

Last week, standing in church, the notes began and we all sang together the words of this beloved Christmas Carol. Instantly images flooded my mind. Images of my father-in-law sharing about the history of the song, of my beloved Ireland and the faces from our village singing by candlelight, of the children and teachers we hold so dear lifting their voices in recognition of this holiest of nights when our Savior came into this world. And the tears flowed. It was very nearly body-shaking sobs but I willed the tears to come alone.

Those memories moved me, to be sure. But it goes far deeper than that. You see, with each language in which I hear and understand the lyrics to this song, I gain a deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel. A fuller grasp on just how incredible, how incomprehensible it was that the holy, perfect, Creator of the universe would humble himself so much that he would become a human baby – the most helpless and dependent of creatures.

Just look at the second verse of Silent Night in Irish:

Oíche chiúin,
(quiet night)
Oíche Mhic Dé,
(night of God’s Son)
Aoirí ar dtús chuala ‘n scéal. (Shepherds were the first to hear the story)
Allelúia aingeal ag glaoch. (Angels calling “Alleluia)
Cantain suairc i ngar is i gcéin. (Giving joy near and far)
Críost ar Slánaitheoir Féin. (Christ, our own Savior)
Críost ar Slánaitheoir Féin. (Christ, our own Savior)

It was the last line that sent my heart reeling. To stand there and listen to a hundred people proclaiming Christ as savior, in their heart language, was almost more than I could take in, so great was the beauty of it. The translation I have given of those last two lines doesn’t fully do it’s meaning justice.

It is not just declaring Christ as the savior. It is written in a way that denotes personal possession. It brings an element of intimacy and relationship to the lyrics in a way I hadn’t grasped before.

And isn’t that what our God is? Intimate. Relational.

I may never stop crying when I hear this song, no matter the language – and I pray that I don’t. Because it means there are signs of life in my soul.

We were made to worship, we were created for longing, for beauty, for relationship. And Silent Night reminds my spirit that the only One in which to place those longings without fear of disappointment is this God who took on flesh. He was born, that He might die, that I might live.

This expat life sure brings with it a whole host of random and awkward experiences. But it sure has brought with it something far sweeter – a greater understanding of and closer relationship with Jesus than I could have ever hoped. And I pray it continues to grow sweeter still.

 

What stirs your soul?

The Ache and Joy of the Wait {Rain for Roots Review + GIVEAWAY!}

***Thanks to all who entered. THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED and I have contacted the winners via email. ***

 

Candles flicker in the low morning light, filling the air with their familiar spice and warmth.

Coffee filled to the brim of my favorite-for-now mug scrounged from cupboards not mine is cradled in my hands as I will contentment to bubble up from the depths of the uncertainty filling my soul.

A hodgepodge of funky and varied Christmas decor adorns the walls and shelves and tabletops – fine and appreciated substitutes for our own treasures packed away in a crate halfway around the world.

And in the backdrop, music with warmth and charm and hope swirls and sways in the air making a house not our own feel like home.

The songs so drip with hope and expectation that it makes my soul ache.

We’ve been in a time of transition and waiting for longer than I care to admit, and the idea of leaning into the Advent season, which by its very nature is full of even more waiting, makes me bristle just a tad.

Yet my children dance and hum along and talk about how the words of these songs make them feel good inside. The Weight of the World – a song about how unable we are to carry our own burdens so we must carry it all to King Jesus in prayer -is the favorite of my eight year old daughter. My ten year old and five year old claim O Come, O Come Emmanuel as their favorite. They adore thinking about what it must have been like to know Jesus was going to come, but having no idea when. And in a strange way, it feels a bit like that in our day, does it not?

My kids have been through the ringer of transition and upheaval, and these songs are like a mother’s kiss to their hearts. They can relate to the ache of longing for God to show up, and they can shout with joy because He’s already here.  And these songs bring a new joy to the waiting, and through music and word miraculous mystery of the gospel is magnified right before their eyes as they are ushered again and again to the throne of grace disguised as a manger.

Waiting SongsThen we sing along to the Magnificat as we recognize that there is rejoicing to be done in the presence of the King. He has done great things for us and there are abundant mercies and gifts for which to be grateful! We have been rescued! He has done exactly what He has promised – and we are a part of those promises even today! What joy!!

The latest album from Rain for Roots, Waiting Songs, is beautiful, haunting and perfect for young hearts. Waiting Songs is

 an album of Advent. These songs are about making time for waiting. The King is coming and He is already here. So we practice listening, quieting ourselves, celebrating, whispering good news, and yelling shouts of joy. In the Rain for Roots family, we practice most of all by singing to ourselves, to each other, and to our children about true things. He is coming — the Joy of Every Longing Heart. Our longing hearts. Grown ups and children; we are the same in this. Through these songs, may God call us closer into conversation with Himself while we wait and hope with expectation. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found.

Even though Rain for Roots composes their music in order to grow God’s truth in little hearts, it is anything but the typical kids’ songs style and sound. Their music is absolutely gorgeous, and at times I think I enjoy it more than my kids do! Waiting Songs is by far my favorite of all their albums, and I know you and your family will love it, too! (You’ll love it whether or not you have kiddos, I promise!)

I invite you to light your own candles, grab a soothing warm cup of cocoa and open your ears and hearts to these beautiful, rich songs. You can hear one of my favorite songs, Come Light Our Hearts, here.

 

Waiting Songs releases November 10, but today FIVE of you good folks can win your very own digital copy of Waiting Songs!

And ONE of you will walk away with an entire Rain for Roots library of CDs!!!

To enter, simply comment on this blog post and tell me what your favorite thing about the Advent season is. Want extra entries? Share this post on Twitter, Facebook and/or Pintrest. Simply leave a separate comment for each way you’ve shared. Entries close at midnight EST on Friday, November 13. 

Want more Advent goodness? Join Rain for Roots for a live, online streaming concert on December 4! It’s only $3 per household! Get your concert tickets here.

*Disclaimer: I was given a copy of the album, Waiting Songs, for the purposes of this review, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

What’s the Point of Singing “Peace on Earth?”

Bombs exploding around the world.

Children gunned down in their schools and classrooms.

What's the Point of Singing Peace on Earth??The “Land of the Free” and “Home of the Brave” ripped apart once again by racial tensions and ethnic divides.

The world is going to hell in a hand basket and it flies in the face of what we see and hear during this Christmas season.

We sing songs of Joy, Hope and Peace. We declare peace on earth and goodwill to our fellow man, and yet what we find when we step outside our doors or turn on our televisions or scroll through our Facebook feed is the exact opposite.

I read an article the other day bemoaning this exact state of affairs. The author shares her experience of how she no longer anticipates Christmas with excitement and jubilance, but rather with lament. She says,

Around this time of year I become a battering ram of lament, pounding against the season’s greetings and wreath-clad doors. We are dying here and there are none to comfort. Does anyone sense the dissonance between our Christmas songs and our actual stories? Does a quick scan of the headlines remind you that Christ, the deliverer, is a long way off? Does anyone care that West Africans are still dying of ebola, Syrian families hang by a thread and brown bodies are under constant threat in their own country?

When I first read that, my  heart groaned in agreement. Yes!, I thought. Why are we proclaiming peace and joy when we should be mourning and lamenting the state of the world and the godless existence so many experience?

Yet, something didn’t sit right with that thought alone. My heart laments the state of this world. It breaks under the weight of grief, despair, depravity, hatred. And yet, I sing.

Peace on earth, good will toward men is not some naive declaration of the way things seem to be every time December rolls around. It is not some empty platitude used only to fill the void and make an attractive Christmas card.

Joy the the World is not merely a rote exercise in remembering better days long past. On the contrary.

It is a prayer. It is a cry lifted to the Holy One, to continue to bring about His master Plan.

It is Hope embodied as I turn from that which is seen to that which is unseen yet so desperately hoped for.

It is a reminder that the best is yet to come, and this world hasn’t been fully left to its own devices. Yet.

These days, these dark times are but a glimpse of what humanity without Divinity would be. We are looking head-on into a dingy mirror of our own souls and seeing what would become of us if left to our own devices. If the Holy, the Almighty, the Great and Compassionate God were to remove the entirety of His presence from among us.

I sing JOY because I see what could be, and I see what He has done.

I declare HOPE because I see what Christ has rescued me from. It may seem now like a mere tiny candle flame in a Grand Canyon abyss of darkness, but it flickers there nonetheless.

I sing PEACE because I look ahead to the day when our Prince of Peace will come and make all things new; will make things as they were always meant to be before the decay of pride set in on that day so long ago under the apple tree.

The darker the day, the louder I will sing.

Because though my heart lament the Shadow of the Valley, my soul will sing His praise because the break of dawns glows dim on the horizon.

My soul grieves in the depths of me for the evil in this world, yet my heart shouts joy! because I’ve been lifted out of that miry, disgusting grave.

My view today is only as  a smeared image through a filth-coated glass, but I see it anyway and it burns hope so deep and so hot that song nearly bursts forth on it’s own.

These days are hard. They are dark. Full of pain and grief. Humanity groans just like a woman in labor for the pain. But I sing PEACE and I sing JOY and I sing HOPE all the stronger because I know Whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is more than able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.

Will you sing with me?

When JOY Seems Lost

5 Verses to Renew Your JoyLights twinkle white and rainbow in windows, on trees, stores and street lights, and one words seems to be on everyone’s lips.

We sing songs about it, pose our kids with cardboard letters of it, and plaster smiles on our faces as we spread Christmas cheer near and far.

JOY

Yet, maybe it all feels lost on you this year? Maybe you’re singing Joy to the World out loud, but inside you feel like a big, fat liar because joyful is the last thing you feel. Overwhelmed? Yes. Tired? Oh, yeah. Guilty? Bingo. But joy? Not so much.

I’ve been there, friend. In fact, I am there. So I decided to take action to try and reawaken true Joy in my heart, and in my life. I want to share some of what I have been learning with you. Join me at The Better Mom, where I’m sharing 5 Verses to Renew Your Joy {and they might not be the verses you think!!}. So if, like me, your joy is running a bit low, come on over and see if these help it start to bubble up.

If you’ve just clicked over from The Better Mom, I want to say thanks! And welcome you into my crazy little corner of the Interwebz. Grab some cocoa and a gingerbread man, make yourself comfy and look around!

How to Make Christmas Truly Meaningful and FUN!

What comes to mind when you think of the Christmas season?

Joy? Reflection? Family?

Stress? Shopping? Pressure? Chaos? Is it over yet?

For those of us in the western world, Christmas seems to bring quite the hodgepodge of emotions, and conjure a myriad of thoughts and expectations. Particularly in the Pintrest-Crazy Internet Land, it can be easy to succumb to the notion that our homes must spotless, decorated to the nines and our children perfectly behaved and able to recite the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth from heart as well as sing Here Comes Santa Claus with the best of ’em.

My heart is racing just thinking of it all. The cooking, the shopping, the shipping of packages (and the trips to the post office it requires – gag me with a  spoon, please!), more cooking. Don’t forget the teacher gifts – handmade and all organic and fair-trade of course, the church play and those six dozen brownies we agreed to make for the class party at school. Anyone else beginning to feel like a zombie yet??

Yeah, me too.

That’s why a few years ago I was really searching for a way to make Christmas a truly meaningful time for our family. A time when we set aside the chaos that the busy-ness the season can bring and really focus on why we were celebrating. I was thrilled when I found an Advent curriculum complete with Bible readings, devotional thoughts, and even hymns to go with it! My little heart pitter-pattered as I envisioned our family circled around the fire, cocoa in hand, all listening quietly to the 50-verse Bible readings and then each one in turn offering a thoughtful insight. I’m talking revival right there in our living room!

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Truth in the Tinsel GiveawayOh, sorry. It’s just that that particular curriculum required sitting still for more than five seconds.

Enter Truth in the Tinsel.

This is more than an curriculum – its an adventure!

It is designed to begin December 1, and you do one lesson, with a small craft, per day until Christmas. Before you’re eyes glaze over at the thought of a craft every.day., hear me out.

Amanda White, the creator of Truth in the Tinsel, created it when her kids were very small. She gets it. Not only has she lined out amazing, fun lessons, she’s made it as easy as possible for mom (and dad)! Each lesson has a short Bible reading, a short devotional thought and then the craft. There is even a hyperlink to the Bible verses, so you can just click through to read them if you’re not familiar or comfortable with flipping through a paper Bible.

There is also a master supply list for the crafts, as well as a daily list so you can easily look and see what you need for a particular day. She has also created a couple of different schedules. If every day is a bit overwhelming for you, you can just study the main characters. She has really taken all of the guess work out of really celebrating the Reason for Christmas.

Flexibility is the key here. If you don’t have the things for that day’s craft, no problem! Skip the craft, or use what you do have. Or, you can also download printable ornaments for each day. Print and color. Simple, no? (If you want to see more in-depth details about the lessons and crafts, check out the Manger Mondays tab at the top of this page.)

Perhaps the thing I love most about Truth in the Tinsel is how it instills in my children – and in myself – a deep understanding and connection to the Christmas story – the birth of Christ – and it’s meaning. My kids understand not only that Christmas is important, but why. And it was all done in about 20 minutes each evening, having fun.

*This post contains an affiliate link.