“Christmas Is”…A 2020 Christmas in Quarantine

Christmas certainly looks and feels different for everyone this year. My daughter and her sweet kindergarten class are quarantined for Christmas. It will be the very first Christmas that I won’t be celebrating with my parents. And the second Christmas birthday, in forty-nine years, that won’t be spent gathered around the dining room table in my childhood home.

So many Christmas traditions have been lost in 2020 and many of you may be feeling a bit down. But maybe it’s time to take a look at which traditions are truly important and focus on those? My daughter’s former preschool teacher told me she is beginning to dislike the word “tradition.” Her young adult children show no interest in them. It got me to thinking how many times I got caught up in doing something because it was a “tradition” and in the process completely lost sight of why it was even significant. Maybe some traditions are meant to be short term, to make way for something new.

After a rough year, where so many have experienced great loss, we all need to take a moment to count our blessings. We won’t be following our familiar traditions this year and our family Christmas celebration with grandparents will be delayed. But instead of mourning the usual tradition, I’m going to focus on quality time with my family of three and look with excitement at the fact that we get to extend our celebrating! A dear friend lost her father to COVID this month. I know she would gladly delay her family celebration by two weeks if it meant she had just one more day with her father.

A quieter Christmas has allowed me to focus on living generously and thinking of others. Instead of giving presents out of expectation or tradition, I reveled in surprising friends and loved ones, even strangers, by leaving mystery bags on their doorsteps. Seeing their appreciative smiles and receiving messages of gratitude from the little tokens given, was one of the best gifts I have ever received!

COVID may have kept you from going to face to face church on Christmas Eve but isn’t it amazing that through the power of technology we could worship with our families safely at home and even wear our pajamas if we chose! If COVID has changed your Christmas plans think of that first Christmas. Mary and Joseph weren’t surrounded by their families. They weren’t even in the comfort of home but in a lowly manager with animals when Mary gave birth to the Christ child. I’m sure this wasn’t their plan. But it was God’s plan. And what an amazing plan He has for each and everyone of us!

This year some of our Christmas traditions didn’t happen but that’s ok. In fact it’s more than ok because celebrating the birth of Jesus is the only Christmas tradition that is important. Jesus is the tradition that we need. And Jesus is the only tradition I care about passing down to my mini me.

Many of you will be surprised to see that Noteworthy Mommy’s Christmas post ends with lyrics written by Dolly Parton. I have a new fascination with Dolly and the words she penned for this song resinated with me because they truly capture what Christmas is.

Christmas Is by: Dolly Parton Christmas is a time for caring
Being at your best
Christmas is a time for sharing
Knowing you’ve been blessed
Christmas is a time for giving
Love is made of this
That’s what Christmas is. Christmas is a joyful time
If you’re the lucky ones
Some are blessed with gifts and trinkets
Others havin’ none
Some have feasts up on the table
Others havin’ crumbs
There are the haves and the have-nots
And you could be either one
It’s all about kindness
Love and compassion
Better to give than receive
That is a true fact
But those who don’t know that
Well, they are the poorest indeed
And I hope you remember every December
That bright shining light from above
The promise from God’s lips
The greatest of all gifts
Wrapped up in His wondrous love
So rejoice in His glory
The great Christmas story
And to all that you’re sharing it with
You go tell it with passion
Of love everlasting
‘Cause that’s what Christmas is

The Sweet Smells of Christmas

Christmas is almost here and for two generations this sweet book has helped my family of three get ready. Originally published in 1970, The Sweet Smells of Christmas, by Patricia Scarry, was one of my favorite childhood secular Christmas books. I discovered a few years ago that my husband had a copy of the book as a child and enjoyed it just as much as I had. When my daughter was a toddler my mother-in-law bought her a copy so she could have one of her own and it quickly became one of her favorite Christmas books.

I got lost in the pages with Little Bear and his parents and scratched the fragrance labels so many times that bare paper was revealed. My favorite smells were the hot chocolate and the orange. My daughter’s favorite smell is the candy cane and like me she fell in love with the scratch and sniff pages.

Like Little Bear, my childhood Christmases were magical. As an adult they still are! You easily could have replaced me with Little Bear as my house smelled of cookies lovingly baked by my mother and grandmother and I accompanied my dad each year as we carefully selected and cut down a fresh pine tree. Our tree, along with our entire home, was decked from top to bottom with Christmas cheer! There were years that carolers visited our home and filled our hearts with their angelic voices. And like Little Bear, Santa Claus always brought me more than a little girl could possibly wish for!

Now as parents, my husband and I get the joy of seeing and smelling Christmas with our mini me. There were Christmases where we yearned for a little one to hold so dear so even though we are spending a Christmas in quarantine, away from the rest of our family, we know we have been blessed! It will be different from past Christmases and we will dearly miss being with grandparents but we rejoice knowing that everyone will be healthy and safe. Like the bear family in the book our family of three will have a Christmas filled with love. And the best part will be celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, the greatest gift any of us could ever imagine!

Advent Traditions…Preparing The Way

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season where Christians prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ by celebrating His birth on Christmas and looking forward to the day we will see Him again. This year Advent is going to look a bit different and I’m going to dearly miss some favorite church traditions like Advent By Candlelight, Family Advent Night and Advent services led by school children. As the pandemic continues, our traditions are forced to be altered and a little bit of sadness creeps into a season usually filled with cheer.

Instead of concentrating on what is missing this year, I am focusing on the gifts God has given me. More quality time with my family of three has allowed us to try new activities and as a result, the beginning of new traditions. Without the parties and added distractions, I am taking more time to study God’s word, beginning each day with an Advent devotional that is deepening my relationship with God. And the extra time I’ve gained from cancelled events has allowed me to slow down and clearly see the many blessings God has given. And that fills by heart with hope and joy, which is truly what Advent represents.

Advent Wreath– Christians have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation. Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church and at home has five candles with three of the candles being blue or purple in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Advent Family Devotionals– This year my family of three are doing two different Advent devotionals, “The Way in the Manger” and “Jesus’ Family Tree” (Praying through Advent with the Jesse Tree). We begin our devotional by lighting our Advent wreath and singing the following song..

“Light One Candle”– Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope. He brings hope to every heart He comes! He comes! **For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.

The tiny Advent wreath above was created by my mini me during her first year of preschool. Carefully crafted out of clay and decorated with green paint and birthday candles it is very special to us.

Advent Calendar With Pastor Rouland and Rupert the Dog– Our senior pastor is making daily Advent videos where he leads viewers in singing “Light One Candle,” reads a scripture verse and reveals a new ornament for his Advent tree. My daughter squealed with delight when Rupert the Dog makes a special appearance. Search for Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles on You Tube or click here for a video link.

Chocolate Advent Calendar– When I was little I always had a chocolate German Advent calendar. In fact, the German Club at my high school sold them. The tradition continues with my daughter and everyday we guess what shape the chocolate will be, hunt for the number and then rip open the little window and enjoy the sweet treat hiding inside.

Advent Tree– We’ve had this Melissa and Doug wooden Advent tree since my daughter was a toddler. My daughter loves adding a magnetic ornament to her tree everyday. It’s the perfect countdown to Christmas

The Greatest Gift… Emmanuel, God With Us

On this Christmas morning Noteworthy Mommy wishes you and your family a very Merry Christmas and love, joy and happiness in the new year.

As I pass on family traditions like reading Santa Mouse, hiding a pickle in the Christmas tree and watching The Snowman, I also enjoy starting new traditions like Angel on Assignment. I hope you are enjoying Christmas as much as we are.

But in twelve short days Christmas will come to an end. The tree will be taken down and the ornaments will safely be packed away for another year. The stores will discount anything associated with Christmas to make way for chocolate and Valentines. After all of the gifts have been opened, some may be exchanged and many will be long forgotten. There is one gift, however, that is constant. That remarkable gift is Jesus and His love is forgiving and everlasting.

In church last night I was reminded how God can use us to show Jesus’s love to others. He shines through when we perform a good deed, share a kind gesture or tell others about God’s greatest gift. By sharing God’s love we remind others that the gift of Jesus is always there for us even when the sparkling lights and nativity scenes are packed away. Jesus loves us through those dark times too. Even when it seems impossible to see the light, He is there.

The lyrics from a favorite Christmas song by Point of Grace, “Emmanuel, God With Us/O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” reminds me how the Holy Spirit can work in us, not only during the Christmas season but each and every day.

“Oh Emmanuel, God with us
Spirit revealed in us
That we may be your hope to the world
Oh Emmanuel, God with us
With a light to break the darkness
That we may show your hope to the world
Emmanuel, God with us
Be God in us

So on this Christmas Day and every day after…”Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”

2 Corinthians 9:15

Angel on Assignment…An Angelic Tradition

Angels are the highlight of our Advent celebrations this year. From the angels that adorned the tables at the Advent By Candlelight events I participated in to the messages from the angels that changed everything to the lovely book and plush angel doll that showed up in our mailbox.

The book “Angel on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” beautifully written by Wanda Carter Roush has instantly become a family favorite! Written in rhyme, the book shares the heavenly messages delivered by angels to Mary and Joseph, to the shepherds and to the wise men regarding the birth of a baby who would change the world! The book teaches children that angels were present from the birth to the grave to the resurrection…”From a poor simple stable and a bed made of hay, To the cross on a hill, in a borrowed tomb He lay. Angels were there from the star to the stone, When the greatest gift to the world was made known.”

“Angles on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition”, has another message. The book teaches boys and girls that angels are sent from Heaven above and show God’s love by performing special missions. From sending comfort when we are scared to guarding and protecting, angels are all around us. The delightful illustrations by Mike Motz and Alicia Young engage the reader. Angels are hiding on every page and my daughter loved studying the book, shouting with excitement when she located an angel!

An Angelic Tradition– As an “Elf on a Shelf” alternative, our book came with a sweet plush doll that mirrors the little angel hiding in the book. The book explains that angels do much more than just sit on a shelf and suggests starting a new Christmas tradition with your family by assigning an angel to your house. Give your angel a name and use your angel to remind your family of God’s love. While other Christmas traditions center around receiving instead of giving. I like how the book encourages children to be “angels on assignment” looking for people in need and lending a helping hand by giving unto others and sharing kind words. This year our “Angel on Assignment” projects included purchasing gifts off of the angel tree at our church, packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donating outgrown dance shoes to Traveling Tutus and purchasing cat beds and toys for Five Acres Animal Shelter, a no kill shelter in our community.

The angel my daughter and I made together.

Creating an Angel- You can purchase an angel or make one of your own. Just look in the back of the book, “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” and you will find pages filled with ideas on how to make an angel. There are many creative ideas like making the body out of an old paperback book or using coffee filters for wings. The possibilities are endless.! I look forward to starting a new tradition of making an angel with my daughter every Christmas. As she gets older I envision the angels will get more intricate. There are patterns in the book if you want to make an angel out of paper. My daughter and I chose that option this year, tracing her little hands to use as the angel’s wings. We placed our angel by her Advent calendar to remind us of God’s love. We made a few additional angels to gift to others so they too can be reminded of God’s love and the message of showing kindness. The author, Wanda Carter Roush, encourages individuals to post pictures of their angels on the “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” Facebook page.

I shared “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” with the students in my daughter’s preschool class at their Christmas party and helped the boys and girls make angels so they can start this angelic tradition with their families. Through kind words or doing a good deed, sometimes it’s the little things that remind us of angel’s wings.

You can purchase this beautiful book on the author’s website at http://wandacarterroush.com or on Amazon. Amazon also has a digital version available. Make sure to check out other books and journals by Wanda Carter Roush. They make perfect gifts!

 

 

Operation Christmas Child…It’s Time to Pack Shoeboxes

Every year my daughter and I participate in Operation Christmas Child. We collect items throughout the year and pack them into shoeboxes for the good people at Samaritan’s Purse to deliver to boys and girls in need who live all over the world. Operation Christmas Child began in 1993 with the mission of demonstrating God’s love in a tangible way and sharing the Good News of Jesus.

I began packing shoeboxes when my daughter was a year old and with each passing year she has become more involved. My daughter just turned five so this year we packed five shoeboxes (in honor of her 5th birthday). She even used some of her birthday money to buy Barbie dolls for the boxes. I am happy she has been called to care and is growing up sharing her blessings with others.

Sorting out items for the shoeboxes.

How to Pack a Shoebox- Samaritan’s Purse has a step by step guide on how to pack a shoebox. I’ll outline a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.

Step 1- Find a Shoebox- Although any cardboard shoebox will work, I’ve read that the children often view the physical shoebox as a treasured gift. This year I used plastic shoeboxes. Three of our shoeboxes came from Hobby Lobby and are specially designed with the Operation Christmas Child logo printed on inviting red and green plastic boxes. I also used two clear plastic shoeboxes that I purchased elsewhere. Last year I picked up some complimentary cardboard shoeboxes with the Operation Christmas Child logo and branding at our local Chick-fil-a.

Having fun shopping for items to include in our shoeboxes.

Step 2- Girl or Boy?-  Although many of the items we pack can be enjoyed by all children, Samaritan’s Purse will ask you to identify if the shoebox was packed for a boy or a girl and what age category. The age categories are: 2-4, 5-9 and 10-14; with the oldest group typically being the one to receive the least donations. We pack boxes that correspond with my daughter’s current age so this year we are packing boxes targeted at the 5-9 age group.

Step 3- What To Pack in a Shoebox?- I keep a big box in our basement labeled “Shoebox Items” and go bargain shopping throughout the year. I scored school supplies for 75% off at Wal Mart, got discounted playground balls at the end of the summer from Walgreens and often pick up discounted items in Target’s dollar area when they change seasons. You can locate some outstanding items during after Christmas sales at all stores.

Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing a WOW item in each box. This could be a doll, stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump or a new outfit. Older children enjoy simple tool sets and expandable shoes. Click here to view  gift suggestions by age. Amazon has a nice list of shoebox items as does Hobby Lobby. Besides toys we always pack self care items (a bar of soap, washcloths, combs, brushes, colorful band-aids, socks, hair clips and or bows, and toothbrushes.) Liquids and edible items are not allowed so you have to leave out toothpaste, candy and bubbles! We also include crafts and activities (crayons, pencils with a pencil sharpener, markers, pads of paper, coloring books, puzzles, and stickers.) You can also write a letter to include in your box. My daughter enjoys drawing a special picture and writing a note telling the children that Jesus loves them!

Step 4- Pray- Perhaps the easiest thing to do is pray for the children who will be receiving the boxes you prepared. Pray that the boxes will bring them joy and that by hearing the Gospel they will be filled with hope and encouragement.

Step 5- Follow-Your Box Labels- The cost to ship a box is $9 and you can click here to pay for labels that will track your box. Last year a few months after Christmas we received an email informing us that our boxes went to Mexico. We located Mexico on the map so my daughter could see where our shoeboxes had traveled to.

Step 6- Drop Off Your Box- Collection week is always the third week in November. Several churches and other organizations volunteer to be drop off facilities. This year collection week is November 18-25, so you still have plenty of time to pack a few shoeboxes! The Samaritan Purse’s website has a place where you can search for the drop off location closest to you!

Other Ways to Help?- If you would like to help but don’t have time to gather items and pack a shoebox you can save time and pack one online by clicking here or donate money to cover the $9 shipping. People will often pack shoeboxes but not include the money for shipping.

Whether you pack a few shoeboxes, volunteer at a processing center (like my in-laws), pray for the children receiving the shoeboxes or donate money for shipping, I hope you will make Operation Christmas Child a family tradition. For many of the children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received. In addition to the shoeboxes all of the children will hear about the greatest gift of all…Jesus!

 

 

Silent Night, Holy Night.. a Two Hundred Year Old Song of Love and Peace

Perhaps the most recognized Christmas carol of all time, the beautiful song “Silent Night” turns 200 this year. With its soothing melody and tranquil lyrics, the song brings hope to us all.

Silent Night the Book– The words “Silent Night” have also been used as the title for several picture books. We found this one at the library.

Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. All the animals gather together, silent, harmonious, happy forever. The much-loved Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” comes alive in this beautiful story written by Juliet Groom and enchantingly illustrated by Tim Warens.

Lillian and I enjoyed reading this rhyming book based on the song, “Silent Night.” The story features a bear cub and its mother as they walk through the woods on a calm winter’s night. Along their path they encounter animals living in harmony with their natural surroundings while others are deep in their winter slumber. On the last page the mother and cub marvel at the awe-inspiring beauty of a bright star illuminating the night sky. The book is a beautiful story to read with your little one.

Silent Night the Song- Joseph Mohr, a priest from Salzburg, and Franz Xaver Gruber, a teacher from Upper Austria, sang the song for the very first time at the St. Nikola Church in Oberndorf near Salzburg in 1818. The original poem was authored by Joseph Mohr, whereas Franz Xaver Gruber added the melody on his request. Today, the song “Stille Nacht” is performed in over 300 languages and dialects and has been recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby and Justin Bieber!

As a musician I get the pleasure of performing the song multiple times every year with the various ensembles I perform in. But the greatest happiness comes when I sing the song at the conclusion of the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at church. It is something I anticipate every year. As the sanctuary’s overhead lights dim, the church illuminates with a warm glow from the small candles carefully held by the congregation. As the light from the candles illuminates my face and the words “Silent night, holy night,” flow freely from my lips, my heart overflows with radiant joy. For the song reminds us all of the greatest gift we will ever receive… Jesus!

“Silent Night, Holy Night! Son of God, love’s pure light. Radiant beams from Thy holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Away in a Manger

My dad collects nativity scenes. He has around one hundred different sets in various sizes and they are crafted from a dozen different materials. Each holds a story and a special place in his heart.

A medium sized set made out of paper mache sits illuminated under the big tree in the living room. It was dad’s first nativity and was a special gift from my mother on their first Christmas as a married couple. The figures, so delicate and carefully painted in rich color, mesmerized me as a child. From the angel spreading her glorious wings and proclaiming the good news on top of the rustic stable to the shepherd carrying a lamb over his shoulders, no doubt exhausted from a long journey. To the three wise men adorned in gold to a kneeling Mary dressed in blue, gazing lovingly at the innocent baby lying in a manger. As a child I would carefully sneak on top of the piano bench (during my childhood this nativity was placed on the grand piano) and I became lost in the scene; trying to visualize that marvelous first Christmas when Baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior was born. This nativity set, now forty-nine years old, is a treasured part of his collection.

The newest nativity found its place in his collection a few days ago. It was a gift from church friends, Ron and Judy Schield. This nativity is crafted from olive wood, each figure carefully carved by hand. It was made in Jerusalem and was acquired by their son when he made a visit to the Holy Land. Their son passed on a few years ago and my dad was deeply moved when the Schields generously gifted him with the nativity, a beautiful possession from their talented son who was taken from this Earth far too soon.

Another special nativity is one my father gave to Lillian when she was one-year old. Unlike the others, which are delicate and meant to be admired from afar, this one is made of hard plastic and it is intended for play and exploration. We placed the Fischer Price nativity beneath our tree and Lillian is free to interact with the figures whenever she pleases. This nativity is musical and plays “Away in a Manger.” Lillian loves pressing the angel on top because it makes the star light up and then the music begins to play. The other day I noticed Baby Jesus was missing from the scene. When I asked Lillian where He was she replied, “He’s not there.” Lillian’s innocent words remind me that Jesus did not stay a baby forever. He grew up and died on the cross to save me and all that believe. But He didn’t stay in the tomb either, he rose again and one day I look forward to joining Him in heaven.

A few days ago a co-worker posted a picture of the same Fischer Price nativity. John assembled the set for his granddaughter to explore. In the picture, a penguin resides next to one of the wise men. When he inquired about the penguin his oldest granddaughter replied, “All are welcome.” Jesus, who was born in a manger, does not discriminate. All are welcome for those who believe.