Is December really over?

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I had lofty goals for the month of December. I was going to do “the real” version of Truth in the Tinsel this year (as opposed to the printable ornament version that we have done the past two years). I even started a facebook group so I could do it with friends.

Clarissa and I started strong the first few days. We read our Bible verses and made our ornaments for the tree.

But then we got sick. Over the course of one week, all three of us had the flu. So we got behind. The stories repeat over a few days and you just focus on a different element, so it was easy to get caught up on our reading. But Clarissa was only randomly interested in the crafts.

I am glad to say that Clarissa and I enjoyed our Truth in the Tinsel time together. Every day she wanted to read the stories. And then she would ask me to read other stories in her Bible, so that was good for this mama’s heart. But she wasn’t terribly interested in the crafts this year. I think next year we’ll go back to the printable version.

This December, my parents sent Clarissa an advent tree. She really enjoyed putting the ornaments on the tree and practicing her numbers.

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My aunt sent us a miniature tree with some snowflake ornaments last year. This year, we decided that it could be Clarissa’s tree. She kept it in her room. Over the course of the month, she would randomly pull ornaments off of the big tree in the living room and confiscate them for her little tree.

We made Christmas cookies five different times this holiday season for various events. Clarissa really enjoys doing the cookie cutters and sprinkles. She also enjoys eating the raw cookie dough…

My mom sent Tim and I a gingerbread house for our anniversary. We had fun decorating it together. And eating it. 

Tim and I went on a fun date downtown for our anniversary to a place called Sushi Neco.  The sushi was delicious and reasonably priced.  I ordered a princess platter and Tim ordered the 12 piece assortment. Both came with miso soup and a ginger salad. 

We had originally planned to visit Seoul for Christmas.  But Tim has TDY in Hawaii in January so we decided to skip Seoul and make it a family trip to Hawaii instead. 

We mostly had a lazy weekend at home.  We introduced Clarissa to the Santa Clause and Miracle on 34th Street.  (Are there any family Christmas movies that aren’t about Santa?) We also were able to Skype both sets of grandparents. 

We wanted to do something fun in Daegu so we headed to the new Shinsagae mall.  I will definitely blog about that experience later. 

My first Army VBS

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One of the activities for Sense of Resurrection was a praise party.  We were learning about the triumphal entry.  The goal was to make paper palm branches and then wave them as you listened to “Hosanna.” Clarissa enjoyed it so much that I started searching for kid’s praise songs on YouTube and we spent a good twenty minutes jumping up and down and worshipping Jesus with our paper palm branches.

One of the songs we found was “Jesus you’re my superhero.” The whole process reminded me of my children’s ministry days and especially vacation bible school.  So,  even though it was the beginning of March,  I knew that I wanted to volunteer with vacation bible school this year.

A few days later,  I was at PWOC and Sherrey mentioned that the Chapel was still looking for a director for vacation bible school.  I thought it might be fun,  but kind of shrugged it off when we started our worship service that morning.

By the end of the worship set,  I knew.  God had been preparing my heart for this.  So after worship was over I told Sherrey that I was interested but needed to discuss it with Tim first.  Tim and I talked it over and decided that I should go for it.

When I led vacation bible school at KPC, it was way different. God had given me a vision for it. We called it Family Fun Night and held it every Monday for the month of July. The whole family came and ate dinner and attended the event together. It was a great time for everyone. It was the first time our church had done a VBS in 10 years. So I could do whatever I wanted and everyone was excited.

I was also on staff at the church at the time. I was in charge of the budget and the spending. It was my job to run the background checks for volunteers. I knew the families so I knew what they needed and what they liked. And they loved me. So even though there was a lot of work involved, I really enjoyed it.

Fast forward four years. Leading vacation bible school for an army chapel as a volunteer with a two year old was very different. When I volunteered to lead VBS, Clarissa was napping (or at least resting) and mostly sleeping through the night. By the time summer rolled around, she wasn’t doing either. That alone made VBS more difficult to plan. Add to it that I had to submit things and wait around for them to be approved weeks later before I could purchase things or wait weeks for background checks to be completed.  Plus I had never met half of the volunteers. It made life way more stressful.

Statistically, they have about 150 kids at VBS. I walked in and found out that our population of kids was 600 and wanted to increase our capacity. But they said no. And I just prayed that God would bring the number of volunteers we needed and the kids He wanted to be there. We ended up with 116 kids and the exact number of approved volunteers we needed to make that work.

Clarissa missed the age cut off for VBS by three weeks, but I wanted her to attend. There are perks to your mom running the program…On Monday, she was so overwhelmed. She was the youngest kid in the cafeteria and there were so many big kids. She ate snack with her group, but ran around with me the rest of the day. On Tuesday, she went to two stations. Wednesday she almost lasted the whole day, but then she saw me during the fourth station so she was done. Thursday and Friday she went to a different group with one of her friends and stayed with them the entire day.

Going in to Vacation Bible School, I was really curious about what Clarissa would do. Both Tim and I got saved at about 3, so I was hoping it would be an important week for Clarissa too. On Monday we had a conversation about how God was good and Jesus was bad so I knew she wasn’t ready. But she did learn that “God gives us hope” and she can sing “for I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…”

It was a good week for me too. Part of me was disappointed that I didn’t get to have my own small group. I did enjoy walking around all day and getting to watch the children and teachers at the various stations. It was funny to be like the principal and talk to all of the kids who needed reminders about the rules. My teacher voice even made a few kids cry, which was hilarious to me. I am glad that I made myself the emcee for the music time. I really enjoyed interacting with the kids and getting to teach a little bit.

We had an altar call on Thursday afternoon. I had been running around like crazy that day and didn’t really get a chance to think about what I was going to say beforehand. But God planted all the seeds already so I just got up there and started talking. And then I asked if anyone wanted to stand up and start a relationship with God and they just started standing up. We only bought 25 Bibles and looking around the room, I knew that I didn’t have enough! What a good problem to have. So I had the kids come up who didn’t have a Bible at home and gave away all my Bibles and took names to bring more the next day.

Friday was so good. The kids all behaved really well so I got to really enjoy watching them rotate through each station. They played games, had a snack, learned a Bible story, and made a craft each day. As we were singing a song, God gave me a new lesson for them.

I think next year I would prefer to be a small group leader. The chapel is getting a Director of Religious Education, so they should be the director next year anyway.  But doing VBS reminded me of how much I enjoy children’s ministry. So I’ll have to find ways to bring that back into my life. It looks different now as a mom, but Clarissa rolled with it. Sometimes I held her while I was talking into the microphone. And the other kids thought she was the cutest thing ever.

Easter Season

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One thing that I like about Christmas is that it isn’t just a one day event. It’s a whole season. Stores have decorations and lights up for the entire month of December. There are devotionals to get you from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

But Easter doesn’t seem to get the same treatment. I don’t know if it’s because the date of Easter hops around from year to year. Or if it’s because it’s easier to get excited about Jesus the baby than Jesus on the cross.

Either way, I wanted Easter to seem longer. I really enjoyed doing Truth in the Tinsel with Clarissa this year. Amanda has also published an Easter series called Sense of the Resurrection. There were twelve lessons about the Easter story that each dealt with one of the five senses. So we spent March doing some fun activities. Each day also had a flag to remind us of that piece of the story.

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Clarissa had a great time when I washed her feet. We talked about how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples.

We made banana muffins and talked about the last supper.

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She really enjoyed our Jesus dance party to learn about Palm Sunday. She randomly shouts “Hosanna!” any time she sees a donkey (or horse).

She became obsessed with roosters for a few days too (read about her meeting with a rooster here). Clarissa also requests the “Good Morning” song on a regular basis now.

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It was a great way to introduce Clarissa to all of the pieces of the resurrection story. And a good way for me to remember Jesus the whole month.

We used the Jesus Storybook Bible as well as the Beginner’s Bible to learn all of the Bible stories. Clarissa also enjoyed God Gave Us Easter, God Gave Us Love, Lily’s Easter Party, the Peek a Bible Easter Story, the Easter Story, The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story, and the Parable of the Lily. All great stories that point kids to Jesus instead of the Easter bunny.

We did do some other typical Easter activities too. We decorated cookies with Haven. It is funny to watch. Haven is more excited about making and decorating the cookies. Clarissa will usually help for a minute or two. But she is most excited about eating the cookies (and dough).

We also went to the Easter egg hunt on post. She got to see several of her friends. She found one egg very quickly and wanted to play with it and open it. It took some convincing to get to her to find more before the hunt was over. She ended up with four eggs. And a bag of candy. I like that they gave every child the same bag of candy, regardless of how many eggs they found.

On Resurrection Day, we made waffles as a family. After breakfast, we presented Clarissa with her Easter basket. She loves her new book where the bears learn that there is more to Easter than candy. She was most excited about her little chick that peeps. We made cookies after nap time.

 

The rest of Advent

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I meant to write a blog post each week during Advent…Oops.

Clarissa consistently asked for “Mary” almost every day before our trip to Japan. She stopped asking for scissors and really only used them again on the last day, when she cut her ornament into about 50 pieces. At least she colored it first…

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During one day of the devotion, it really made me think. I don’t remember exactly which day it was. God chose Mary to be Jesus’s mom. I wonder what it was about her that made her perfect to be Jesus’s mom? God could have chosen anyone else. But He chose her. What is it about me that makes me the mom that Clarissa needs? Why did God choose me to be her mom?

My parents sent coloring books with the Nativity story in them. Clarissa wanted to read and/or color them every day of our trip. When we returned home from Japan, Clarissa went right to the table and asked for “Mary.” She was very disappointed when I told her that the ornaments were over. I guess we will have to do crafts more often.

There were several books that helped me explain the Christmas story to Clarissa. Eventually, I did use the Jesus Storybook Bible for Jesus’s birth, the shepherds, and wise men. A Star for Jesus arrived on the day we learned about how the wise men followed the star to find Jesus, which was perfect because that is exactly what this book is about. We also read The First Christmas several times.

She really loves The Christmas Story. The last day of Truth in the Tinsel, you talk about why Jesus came and so she also enjoyed The Easter Story. I think she enjoys them so much because of the flaps. A Christmas Prayer is great as a review because it goes through every character in the story, even the donkey and the star.

Another book I bought this year is  Jesus, Me, and My Christmas Tree which talks about how the lights, gifts, and angel point us to Jesus. My Christmas Stocking talks about St Nicholas and how the stocking tradition began.

We did other “Christmasy” things during December as well. Clarissa and her best friend Haven were able to decorate Christmas cookies together. Clarissa ate a lot of cookie dough. They both used way too many sprinkles. But they had a great time. The cookies tasted good too so that was a bonus.

We didn’t bring a Christmas tree to Korea with us. We were in Japan for Christmas so we didn’t buy one either. My aunt sent a little one as a gift, so Clarissa was able to decorate a Christmas tree.

Clarissa was able to open presents over Skype with the grandparents. One before Christmas and one after to break it up a bit. We gave her her Christmas stocking the night we returned from Japan.

I think next year I would like to be home for Christmas. I’d like to have a Christmas tree at the apartment and open presents on Christmas instead of just when they show up. We did continue our tradition of watching a movie on Christmas Day. Clarissa really enjoyed Home Alone.

We celebrated New Year’s Day with friends. There was a gingerbread nativity set at the Commissary half off so I bought that for the girls. It was another sprinkle fest.

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But they had fun. They both kind of licked the frosting but didn’t really eat their cookies.

Another thing that I like to do on New Year’s Day is to open my blessings jar. It is fun to look back on all of the things I was thankful for in the past year. I really need to be more diligent in writing down blessings in 2016. Maybe I will choose one day per week to record them?

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Some of my favorites:

  • Hulu so I can watch “So You Think You Can Dance”
  • air conditioning
  • Clarissa is hilarious
  • dreams fulfilled: moving to South Korea
  • God answered my prayer: my car lasted until Tim got the job in South Korea
  • free housing
  • I get to be a stay at home mom
  • skype
  • new friends

It was interesting to see that several things were listed more than once on the slips of paper.

First week of Advent

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Normally Advent starts on December 1.  But we are going to Japan in December,  so we started the day after Thanksgiving in order to get the full number of days in before we leave.

Clarissa and I did Truth in the Tinsel together last year.  She was really just learning how to hold a pen at the time and mostly ate her crayons.  But I read the Scripture to her anyway.  It’s never too early to plant seeds right?

I decided to do printable ornaments again this year.  She really enjoys coloring.  I wasn’t sure that her little two year old self would have the attention span for a story and full craft each day for 24 days.  Plus,  let’s be real,  I don’t want her to play with scissors and glue everyday at this point either.

The first day,  she saw me cut her ornament off the paper so she asked for scissors. Honestly,  the first couple of days she did a few obligatory marker strokes on her paper before she asked for her scissors.  She wanted to do our daily activities because it was the only time she was allowed to play with scissors.

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But as the week has progressed she has started asking for “Mary” and forgetting to ask for scissors. We have studied a few different things this week and Mary has been in most of the stories.

The thing I like about Truth in the Tinsel is that over the course of 24 days, Clarissa will learn all of the pieces of the real story of Christmas. She will learn them in chunks that are small enough for her to understand each lesson. But it all adds up to one big story. I love that.

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There is scripture reading for each day, but honestly I haven’t been reading it straight from the Bible like I did last year. Our favorite Bible is The Jesus Storybook Bible but it doesn’t do scripture like a traditional Bible. It has the main passages as stories. So this week, the individual lessons haven’t fit into stories in the book. I used a page from God Gave Us Christmas to talk about Jesus being the Light of the World. We read pages from The Christmas Story to talk about Mary, Gabriel, and Joseph. I did finally get the Beginner’s Bible from the library this week. That helped with Elizabeth and Zechariah.

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Another piece of our daily routine is the Lifesong for Orphans Advent Calendar. This is probably more for me, but she has started asking for “boy” each day as well. She can recognize her numbers 1-10 at this point, so she gets to find the number for each day. Each day has a specific donation idea. For example, pay 15 cents for each hot drink consumed that day or pay four dollars if you have a roof over your head. The most interesting was to pay 2 cents for each pair of shoes in your house. We went on a shoe hunt. I was so humbled. We have 62 pairs of shoes in our house! Over 50 of them belong to Clarissa. We have been so blessed with hand-me-downs that we have never bought a pair of shoes for her. Of course, she had to try several of them on. Multiple times. A few days in a row. But it definitely reminded me of God’s provision. I wonder what our total will be at the end of the month?

 

The other part I like about this calendar is the prayer focus. Each day has a specific need to pray for in a specific country. Today we prayed for the Lifesong workers in Ukraine to have wisdom, strength, and provision as they mentor the children in their care. That really hit home for me since I actually went on a mission trip to orphanages in Ukraine over Christmas break in 2005. So I got out the photo album and tried to explain orphans to Clarissa. I’m not really sure she got it, but that’s okay.

Today we also decorated a gingerbread house. I decided to give myself some grace this year and buy a gingerbread house kit from the PX. I tried making one from scratch last year and it didn’t turn out very well. I mean, it was delicious, but the frosting wasn’t right and the whole thing literally fell apart. My Korean oven is tiny and cooks different than my oven back home. I decided that it would be way better to just buy a kit. And for $15, it probably is about the same price as buying all of the ingredients and candy.

Tim picked our kit up from the PX on his way home from work last night. Clarissa kept asking for “Santa” because there is a small Santa on the box. But we told her no last night because we didn’t think she would last for the assembling and decorating of the gingerbread house before bedtime.

This morning, I decided that four hours before naptime would be plenty of time. I was surprised when I opened the box  and realized that the house came preassembled. All we had to do was decorate it. Which was genius! I don’t think that Clarissa’s two year old attention span would have lasted for me to assemble the house and then decorate it.

First, she wanted to play with Santa. She said she wanted to eat him, which I gave her permission to do. She said he was “yummy” but then put him down next to “his house.” We talked about what she wanted the house to look like. I put frosting on the roof. Clarissa wanted Santa’s name on his house. And her name too. We had a door on the front and three windows on the back. Then, we opened the candy. She got frustrated at first because the candy was rolling off the top. She spoke in a very stern voice and said, “you able go time out!” I added more frosting to the roof. Problem solved.

She wanted to eat the house when we finished. I told her we had to wait until Daddy got home from work. She was very surprised when I put the completed house on top of the refrigerator. I think she thought that she would be able to play with it all day.

Tim thought the house looked great. So we decided to have some for dessert. We demolished it. Or inhaled it. Whatever you prefer. Needless to say, it was delicious. And it’s gone.

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Discover Your Kid’s Spiritual Gifts

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If you’ve known me in person for any length of time you have heard me say, “There is no such thing as a junior Holy Spirit.” I’ve been saying this for at least thirteen years. It goes back to my children’s ministry days. But I truly believe with all of my heart that the same Holy Spirit that was in the apostle Paul, that is in me, is in children.

A month or two before the anatomy scan to confirm that we were in fact having a girl, God told me that our child would be “a little girl with great faith.” Thus we named her Clarissa Faith, which means brilliant faith.

I have a friend whose nephew was born last month with some serious heart conditions. He has been in NICU his whole life thus far and they are crying out to God for a miracle. Yesterday as we got the latest report, I really felt like it was time for the children to pray. So I posted his picture on facebook and asked for my friends to have their children to pray for baby Donovan. I showed Clarissa baby Donovan’s picture on my phone and tried to explain to her toddler self how sick he was and asked her to pray for him. I really don’t know what she was saying, but she kept touching the picture of Donovan and saying something for a couple of minutes and we just prayed together. I really do believe that we will hear of a breakthrough because of the prayers of children for this little boy.

When I was the children’s ministry coordinator at my church, I spent a summer teaching kids about the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. In my quest to help equip parents I stumbled upon the book Discover Your Kid’s Spiritual Gifts by Adam Stadtmiller. The book contains a spiritual gifts test for parents to take for their children. The book talks about each gift, how to notice and test which gifts your child has, and how to nurture your child in his or her spiritual giftings in practical ways. I thought the book was great and decided to reread it recently now that I am a parent myself.

The author asks you to take the spiritual gifts test twice, before and after reading the book. I got similar results each time. I will probably want to do this every couple of years. Some of the questions in the test are hard to answer at this point. For example, it is hard to know if Clarissa is able to communicate the Bible clearly since she is only twenty-three months old and does not communicate many things clearly (in English) yet. The test did confirm what we thought about discernment and administration gifts and also some things to look for to see if she does have a missions, giving, or mercy gift.

Some of my favorite thoughts from the book:

“Children can rip God’s kingdom from the sky and release it with a vibrant infusion into this dull and sullen world. That is, if we as adults do not hinder them with our unbelief.”

“If we disregard our children’s sensitivity to what God is saying to them in the quiet of their hearts, they will begin to doubt if they can hear from God.”

“Believing kids are called not only to understand the faith but also, like us, to find their unique ministry and purpose, and live it out the fullest. Navigating this journey with them is part of our divine commission as parents.”

“If we listen to and seek God for our children’s life purpose and direction, especially in the area of their spiritual gifts, God will make them known to us.”

In the book Adam Stadtmiller tells a story about a little girl and then says not to get lost in thinking it is just a cute story. It reminded me of Lenny LaGuardia. I went to a signs and wonders camp the summer I was teaching this (I plan to bring Clarissa to one of those once she is old enough) and he emphasized that “Kids aren’t cute. They are dangerous!” Kids can do big things for the kingdom of God.

I was also convicted from reading this book that as she grows I need to be as worried about Clarissa’s spiritual education as I am her academic education. I need to find practical ways to incorporate scripture memorization into her life.

 

 

A reflection on Mary

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I love that this time of year all of the radio stations play Christmas music.

I have been doing Truth in the Tinsel with Clarissa the past two weeks for Advent.  The past couple of days the reading has been Luke 2:1-7 about how Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem to be counted.

So as I was listening to the radio in the car today,  this hit me.  Like a hurricane.

Mary had baby Jesus in a barn.  A barn.  On hay.  With animals.  With cow poop nearby.

Child birth is a wonderful thing.  But it’s hard.  And it HURTS.  I had a hard enough time in a hospital.  With an epidural.  But Mary had ridden a donkey for who knows how many days.  She finally gets to her destination and probably just wanted a bed to lie down.  And what she gets is a barn.  A smelly barn with animals.  I bet it was loud.  And it probably stunk.  I wonder if the innkeeper had given other people permission to sleep in his barn?

And then she birthed Jesus.  I wonder who was there to help her.  Did Joseph deliver that baby? How awkward would that have been? Yes they were engaged,  but they had not slept together yet.

I wonder if Mary knew it would happen this way,  if she would have been willing.  Would she have wanted to be the Lord’s servant in this way?  God sure picked a strong woman to birth the savior of the world.

Being a mom is hard work.  Did she feel added pressure because of who Jesus was? Did Jesus look like them?  Did God give Jesus Joseph’s eyes and Mary’s nose?

I am so thankful for Jesus.  That God sent Him to save us.  That Jesus chose to leave Heaven and come to Earth,  knowing that the people He came to save would hang Him on a cross to die.

Now that I am a mom,  I am also thankful for Mary (and Joseph).  They chose to do some really hard things to do their part to save the world.

I wonder what kinds of things God will ask me to do as I raise Clarissa?  Will I be as obedient and willing as Mary was?

Thank you God for Christmas.  Thank you for baby Jesus.  And grown up Jesus.  Thank you for choosing Mary and Joseph to be Jesus’s parents.  Thank you for their willingness and obedience even in hard things.  Thank you for Clarissa.  Help me to be willing and obedient to raise her to be who You created her to be.