Every Season Has a Story

It's summertime!!! 
I read a quote once that said, "every summer has a story." I love that. I tend to think of a lot of things in terms of stories anyway, so this quote really struck me. And the more I think about it, the more I think it can also be said that every season has a story.

In every season of the year, every season of our lives…there is a story being written and woven through it all.

What will our stories say? What kind of legacy will the stories of our days leave for those who follow behind us?

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The summer season is one way I’ve always measured our family time. It seems our years are divided into school days and summer days, with a few holidays mixed in between. 

When my girls were younger, the days were long and the end seemed so far away. So many summers of adventures were ahead of us, I don't know that I really took the time to be very intentional with the time…because it felt like we had so much of it.

But as they grow older, the days seem to be moving faster and the summers are shorter and we’re closing in on the last handful of family summers before they graduate high school and our time together shifts. Sure, we’ll still have some summer time and adventures together…but it won’t quite be the same once they are off on their own and beginning their own adventures.

My oldest just finished 9th grade, so she only has 3 summers (including this one!) left before graduation, and my youngest has just 5.

Just a handful of summers left.

That could be really depressing if I think about it too much, and I could curl up in the fetal position and cry for hours about how fast it’s passing and how little time we really have left and worry that I haven’t done nearly everything that I had hoped.

OR…I could choose instead to embrace each season and the story it is writing in our family, and in each of our lives. Because these days are precious and fleeting, and the only way to slow it down is to be fully present in it.

I don’t want to be distracted…I don’t want to be so busy that I don’t take time to slow and savor these summers, and each of the seasons--of the year and of our life--while we have them.

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Our family is actually facing a pretty major season of change in the weeks and months ahead. (I’ll share more on that soon ;) ) But there are a lot of exciting (but also kinda scary) new things on the horizon that will definitely impact the story that is told through the future seasons of our family.

And the one thing I want to do as we walk through these changes together is to remain intentional and present through every step of the journey. And that includes the story of this summer.

What is written on our hearts through the pages of these days will become part of the greater story that God is writing through each of our lives.

Every season has a story.

And I want to be intentional about the words that fill the days of this season’s story…I want the moments that we share to be like words that strengthen our souls and our family: the kind of words that point to Christ, that draw us close, that bring us joy, that comfort our hearts, that light our steps, and that remind us of the continual and abundant goodness and grace of God.

So I’m spending less time online and more time being present in real life instead. I’m saying no to some good things so I can say yet to the best things. I’m marking the calendar and setting aside intentional time for fun and adventure together. I’m putting down my phone and picking up a paint brush, a deck of cards, a book, a mixing bowl, my hiking shoes, my daughters' hands.

Because how we fill our days is how we shape the story of our lives.

What kind of story does your summer hold? What kinds of words are filling your season today?

Whatever you are facing, whatever kind of story is taking shape in your life, you can be confident that God sees you and He loves you and He has a plan for you. The question is, will we trust Him to hold the pen…?

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You can get this free “Every Season has a Story” printable, along with other monthly goodies, when you subscribe to Little House Studio!  This free 5x7 printable is being emailed to all my subscribers along with their monthly June freebies (a calendar, planning sheets, lock screens and more!). Subscribe now and I’ll send it all to you too!

Happy Summer, friends! May the days of this summer weave a beautiful story of grace into your lives.

my dad

What my dad has taught me

My dad has taught me that real love is unconditional,
That forgiveness is powerful,
That family is valuable.

My dad has taught me that it is more fun to give than it is to receive,
That it’s more important to leave a legacy than it is to leave an inheritance,
That life should be more about making memories and less about making money.

My dad has taught me to never give up,
That the past does not define the future,
That the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

My dad has taught me that life is fun,
That I don’t have to take myself so seriously,
That laughter is good for the soul.

My dad has taught me to love big,
To give generously,
To pray expectantly.

My dad has taught me that bad days will come, but God is always good,
That I will make mistakes and mess things up, but God can redeem anything,
That others may let me down, but God never will,
That what others intend for evil, God intends for good.

My dad has taught me that I am always loved,
That he will always be there for me,
That he will always believe in me,
That I can always count on him, depend on him, call on him,
That nothing can stop his love for me,
…but that God loves me even more.

My dad has taught me many things,
But it’s not so much what he has said,
but how he has lived,
that has made all the difference.

This is my daddy’s legacy,
The heartbeat of his life story,
His one broken and given life, poured out for our family and for God…

He gives it all away.

---------

 

Happy 60th birthday to my amazing dad.
You are my mentor, my father, my hero, my friend.
I love you.

mydad

The Fourth Day of Christmas Traditions & Freebies: DIY Ornaments

Making ornaments as a family has become another annual tradition for us. I'm sure there will come a day when the girls are no longer as thrilled about doing crafts as a family, but for now they still love it so I'm milking it for as many years as I can ;)

Each year we make a different kind of ornament. And we usually end up making a bunch of them, so we add them to gifts for family and friends. They add the perfect handmade touch to packages or tied onto gift bags.

Some of our favorites through the years have been: 

Snow Globe Ornaments - made with scrapbook paper, plastic party cups, little Christmas trinkets and doo-dads, and some fake snow. We used THIS tutorial for all the details and how-to's (which I found on Pinterest, of course ;) ). (And in case you're wondering, I ordered some of the little Christmas trinkets (the deer and little trees) from HeyYoYo.com and ShopSweetLuLu.com. Since then, I've found a bunch of options on FactoryDirectCraft.com. I also usually hunt the craft stores for miniature Christmas tree ornaments and things like that.)

Embroidery Hoop Ornaments - made with small embroidery hoops, a bit of fabric, thread and buttons. We made these a couple of years ago when the girls were learning the basics of sewing and they wanted to sew all of the things.  (We didn't really use any tutorials for these, we just kinda got creative and did whatever we wanted, but you can search "embroidery hoop ornaments" on Pinterest and get tons of ideas)

Cinnamon Ornaments -  made with applesauce and cinnamon. These are probably my most favorite...they still smell so good even three years later. I want to make some more of these just because I love them so. We used the tutorial HERE to make the dough, but then we used white fabric paint (because it is easy for the girls to squeeze onto the ornaments and it gave the look of icing) to add designs so ours turned out looking more like decorated cookies. So much fun!

Salt Dough Ornaments - made with salt, flour and water. This is another fun and easy recipe (found HERE) and the girls loved cutting out their shapes and adding designs using stamps. We ended up painting these after they were hardened, and I really love the way they turned out. 

Yarn-Wrapped Ornaments - made with cardboard and yarn. We made these last week after seeing the ideas on Pinterest from a couple of online tutorials HERE and HERE. We just cut circles and stars out of cardboard and wrapped  yarn around them. Super easy, and the girls loved it...and it didn't cost me a penny because I just used supplies we already had around the house! :)

There are SO MANY different kinds of ornaments you can make together as a family. And it doesn't matter so much what you make, but that you take time to slow down and just make something together. It could even be as simple as printing out some paper ornaments and coloring them together! And to help you out, I've made some printable ornaments just for you! Just print them (thick paper or card stock would work the best, but you can print them on regular paper too and then just glue them onto construction paper or colorful scrapbook paper if you want), then color them and cut them out. Punch a hole in the top and add some string or yarn and you have our own homemade ornaments for your tree...or add them to gifts for family and friends! (They work great as over-sized gift tags on presents too!)

The First Day of Christmas Traditions & Freebies: Advent

I want to start this series with the one tradition that has had the greatest impact on my heart personally, as well as on our family at Christmastime: Advent.

This is the third year that we have done something to observe Advent as a family. Before that, I honestly didn't even really know what Advent was. I did not grow up observing Advent, or at least we didn't call it that. I have attended mostly Baptist churches all my life...and I absolutely love my church and my church family. But one thing our faith community doesn't really observe is Advent, at least not in the liturgical sense.

Advent is a kind of liturgy.
Liturgy. That word intrigues me.

I like how Mark Buchanan describes liturgy in his book, The Rest of God, and I can really relate to the church experiences he describes at the beginning here:
(I highly recommend reading this entire book, by the way…I am only giving a little excerpt here, but the whole thing is so so so good)

"I was converted within a Low Church tradition, where the building's walls are stark, the music simple, the prayers clumsy and direct, made up as you pray them. I have only ever belonged to that tradition. And so early on I picked up the tradition's historic suspicion of High Church, where God is approached through a sometimes elaborate system of symbol and ritual--robes and candles and prayer books and lectionaries--and almost everything scripted.
That scripting is liturgy.
Yet over time I began to realize that the Low Church is just as bound by liturgy as any church, and maybe more so because we think we’re not. The Low Church enshrines—makes liturgy of—austerity, spontaneity, informality. And we have our unwritten but nonetheless rigorously observed codes and protocols. We love our traditions, even our rigmarole, every bit as much as the next guy, only ours is earthy, rustic, folksy.
So I changed my mind about liturgy. It certainly can become dull and rote, but so can anything—water polo, rose gardening, kite flying, even lovemaking. Even fly-fishing. Just as often, though, maybe more so, liturgy can enrich these things. At its best, liturgy comprises the gestures by which we honor transcendent reality. It helps us give concrete expression to deepest convictions. It gives us choreography for things unseen and allows us to brush heaven among shades of earth.
…What liturgy accomplishes is nothing short of astonishing: It breaks open the transcendent within the ordinary and the everyday. It lets us glimpse the deeper reality—the timeless things, the universal ones, the things above—within this particular instance of it.
…Liturgy is a repertoire of possible ways—not the only way, or even the best way, but at least some way—to set what we know in motion. It lets us render thinking into doing, to pour our knowledge through our limbs.”

Advent is a kind of liturgy. It’s a way to “honor transcendent reality” and “set what we know in motion.” It gives us a concrete way to recognize and honor deep truths, to "pour our knowledge through our limbs" at Christmas.

I bought a book three Christmases ago, an Advent devotional called The Greatest Gift, from one of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp.  I love how she describes Advent in the very beginning of her book:

"Advent.
It comes from the Latin.
It means "coming."
...This, this, is the love story that's been coming for you since the beginning.
It is possible for you to miss it.
To brush past it, to rush through it, to not see how it comes for you up over the edges of everything, quiet and unassuming and miraculous--how every page of the Word has been writing it, reaching for you, coming for you. And you could wake on Christmas only to grasp that you never took the whole of the Gift, the wide expanse of grace. So now we pause. Still. Ponder. Hush. Wait. Each day of Advent, He gives you the gift of time, so you have time to be still and wait.
Wait for the coming of the God in the manger who makes Himself bread for us near starved.
For the Savior in swaddlings who makes Himself the robe of righteousness for us worn out.
For Jesus, who makes precisely what none of us can but all of us want: Christmas."

I love the purpose and intention of Advent: to slow and still and simply remember Jesus…to focus our hearts…to give us a concrete expression of our deep convictions.

So even though our faith community doesn’t really observe Advent, we decided to give it a try as a family and started observing it in our own simple way. I'll admit, we are clumsy and imperfect, inconsistent and just a plain mess some days…and I’m sure we don’t do it the “right” way (is there even such a thing as the “right” way?). But over the past three Christmases we have found a rhythm to Advent that works for our family. And just this simple act of slowing down to intentionally read from God’s Word and focus our hearts on Jesus every day, it has honestly made the biggest impact on our hearts and our family during this otherwise crazy busy season.

So today I'm sharing how we do Advent. This is not the only way, or the best way, but just our one little humble way of observing Christmas as more than just going and doing, but as the still and quiet waiting for our Savior…our Savior who has always been coming for us…who came as a baby in a manger, small and humble…who came as a carpenter with healing in His hands and truth in His every breath…who came as a Lamb pierced and slaughtered for our sins, giving His life in my place, in your place…who came as a Victor rising from the grave, defeating death, conquering hell, and giving us hope and life and peace…our Savior who is yet to come again, mighty and triumphant, our King of Kings and Lord of Lords! 

We observe Advent as a way to slow down and take time to remember: He has come, and He is coming!

WHAT WE USE for our Family Advent Tradition:

Our Bible. Nothing beats the Word of God. If you use nothing else, if you do nothing else, just simply open His Word every day and read a couple of verses…it will change you, it will change your family. I know. Because it has changed me, it has changed us.

This book: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
I cannot recommend this book enough. I know there are a ton of WONDERFUL Advent resources out there (and I would LOVE to hear what your family uses for Advent! Please comment and share if you know of another great resource!). But this book has definitely become our favorite. The stories are purposeful and meaningful, the questions and activities each day always spur the best conversations, and I usually end up crying as we read it each day. I love how it begins at the very beginning and then touches on stories throughout the entire family tree of Jesus…all leading up to His coming. It is just an absolutely beautiful book.

A “Cradle to Cross” Wreath from JoyWares.com
I ordered this Advent wreath last year, and it has quickly become one of my most favorite things. Every day we add a candle and light them as we do our Advent story. There’s just something about lighting a candle…about a light burning bright as we read and talk about the truth of God’s Word. Plus, I kinda have a thing for candles, they just make my soul smile ;) 

Advent ornaments from Day Spring:
These ornaments come as a set of 25 and go along with Ann Voskamp’s Advent books, The Greatest Gift and Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. She also offers a free printable version (which is what we used the first year we started this), or you can order actual coordinating ornaments from DaySpring. (I was super blessed to be gifted this set last Christmas, and I just love them so much).

Our Jesse Tree:
We use just a small, slender tree that sits in the corner of our dining room for our “Jesse Tree,” but you could use just about anything as a tree for Advent. This tree holds all of our ornaments that go along with the devotionals throughout the month.

Free resources from TheGreatestChristmas.com:
There are banners and coloring pages and ornaments and gift tags and so much more, all free and printable! We particularly love using the “Night Before Advent” supplies to kick off our Advent season the evening before December 1st.

Advent bags:
….or envelopes, or socks, or whatever we decide to use, along with little goodies to go in each bag (usually chocolates or candy canes).

 

WHAT WE DO:

On the night before Advent:
On November 30th we have our “Night Before Advent” party. (This is one place where we probably stray a little from how/when most churches observe Advent. I realize that Advent doesn’t always actually begin on December 1st, it begins (or so I have discovered as I have read and learned about it) on the Sunday nearest November 30th, and so the date it actually begins changes each year. But since we are just observing it as a family, and since we are using an Advent devotional that begins on December 1st, we have our “Night Before Advent” party on November 30th. It just works for us.

I use the resources and ideas from thegreatestchristmas.com. We prepare our Advent bags (we put a couple of pieces of candy and the ornament for each day in the coordinating Advent bag or envelope), make hot cocoa and cookies, and we get everything ready for the season. We end the evening by reading Ann’s poem “The Night Before Advent” and praying together.

Every day December 1-25:
(we usually try to do our daily Advent after dinner each evening)

  • The girls open up the Advent bag/envelope for that day and hang the ornament on our “Jesse tree” (we actually use two versions of the ornaments, that way they each get to hang an ornament every day)
  • We light the candles on our Advent wreath. Each day we add a candle. This year we are using this countdown taper candle (which I ordered from Amazon) for the current day, and then just some tea light candles for the other days.
  • Then Mark reads from the Bible, the verses that tell the story that we are focusing on that night.
  • Then I usually read the story from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift…although, sometimes Lilly asks to read it, sometimes Mark reads it (Emma is our quiet soul who is perfectly fine just listening to others read)…but usually I get to read it (which is totally fine by me, I love it so much). After we read the story, there are some questions to discuss and even a family activity to do together (sometimes we do the activity, sometimes we don’t…because life.) The discussions we have had around our dinner table at Christmastime have been some of the best, most teachable and wonderful moments these past couple of years. (Of course, they also include the occasional argument between sisters, someone not paying attention, and often involve someone “cutting the cheese” at some point which erupts into giggles…but hey, that’s just real life.)
  • We always end our time by praying together. We share our prayer requests (which lately have been predominately full of homework and school woes, but sometimes surprise me with glimpses of deeper cares and concerns). Then we hold hands and anyone who wants to pray gets to pray. 

And that's it. Our little Advent tradition. It takes us all of about 15-20 mintues every night, but it is my most favorite part of the day. I LOVE this time we spend together, and I know that all these little moments are adding up and making a lasting impact on all of our hearts.

Observing Advent, even with how very imperfect and messy we are at it, has changed the way we experience Christmas.  It is, hands-down, the one tradition that has made the biggest difference for us. And if I could only do one thing with our family at Christmas, I would do this.

How do you observe Advent? If your family is looking for a way to slow down and focus on Jesus this Christmas, maybe observing Advent, even if it’s imperfect and messy, is a good place to start? Maybe it will change your Christmas and your family the way it has changed ours…this slow and quiet waiting for our Savior.

And, as promised, here is the first of the "12 Days of Christmas Freebies" for you! This print is part of my little Christmas collection over in the shop. I hope it will add a bit of beauty to your home, and remind your heart to take time this season to slow down and simply adore Him:

 Click the image to download the "O Come Let Us Adore Him" PDF printable. This file includes both the 5x7 AND 8x10 sizes for you to print and enjoy! Merry Christmas!!

Click the image to download the "O Come Let Us Adore Him" PDF printable. This file includes both the 5x7 AND 8x10 sizes for you to print and enjoy! Merry Christmas!!

The only thing I really need to make this Christmas

(As a fun little bonus, I added an audio version of this post, if you'd rather listen than read...)

Christmas. It is hands-down my most favorite time of the year. I love just about everything about it. The trees. The decorations. The smells. The songs. The traditions. The Story.

I love it all.

Well, all except for the hustle and the bustle and the hurry and the worry that usually comes along with the season. “The most wonderful time of the year” can also be the craziest time of the year, can’t it? So many events and obligations fill the calendar so fast that there is barely any white space left at all. There’s always somewhere to be and something to do…there are lists upon lists that must be made and then checked twice. All the busyness can wear a person out and leave a soul feeling rather weary…at least, that’s how it has often left me feeling anyway.

In fact, I remember a Christmas not all that long ago when I had so much going on, so many events and plans and things on the “to-do” list, that I got to the point that I was just wishing for it all to be over so I could just get a break. I was trying to do it all, but I couldn't do it all. Shopping and baking and planning and making, going and doing and decorating and attending every. little. thing...all while working and mothering and wifing (is that even a word?)...and not doing any of it very well. I was exhausted. Burned out. Weary. I was so tired of Christmas. I cried a lot that year. I loved Christmas, but I had forgotten why. Truth was, I didn’t really like it anymore. It was too much work, it costed too much money, it caused too much worry…it was just too much.

After that Christmas, I knew something had to change. And it had to start with me. I knew my girls would one day look back at our Christmases, and I didn’t want them to remember a mom that was cranky and tired and crying because I couldn’t do it all, or a calendar that was so full and busy that all it reflected was a whole bunch of going and doing and not much being…being still, being awed, being together.

So I started getting really intentional. That next year, I made some hard choices. I gave up some good things for the sake of the best things. I slowed down. I stepped back. I prayed for a new perspective, a renewed heart, a refreshed spirit.

I am still praying for those things today.

Because the thing about slowing down the pace and hushing all the hurry in this season, and in any season, is that it has to be an almost-daily choice (at least for me it does), because there is always this pull to speed up and do more and spend more and make things bigger and “better” and louder and brighter…and more “Pinterest-picture-perfect”. Isn’t that kinda what most of the television commercials communicate in this season? Isn’t that what our culture seems to bend toward? This whole idea that bigger is better, and more is better, and that somehow the joy of the season can be bought or created somehow… (Am I the only one who feels that pressure during this season?)

But what I’m (ever so slowly) coming to realize and embrace is that, as much as I want to make Christmas special for my family, as much as I want to try to make these perfect memories and make my family happy…all I really need to make, is room for Jesus.

Just make space for Him.

Just invite Him into our family story, at Christmas and throughout the year. And then let Him make us into the family He created us to be.

Christmas changed for me when I gave myself permission to slow down, and when I intentionally shifted my focus from making Christmas perfect to making space for Jesus. Christmas changed when I started letting go of some good things for the sake of the best things.

So…do we still bake cookies and open presents and make ornaments and decorate a tree at Christmas? Yep! We do! Do we attend (a *very* limited number of) Christmas parties and string lights outside our house and watch Christmas movies? You bet! So what changed about how we do Christmas? Our hearts. Our perspective. Our pace.

I am really intentional about our family time at Christmas, because if I’m not intentional then it’s really easy for me to get sucked into the hurry and scurry of the season, and before I know it the calendar is filled and overflowing with all sorts of “good” things that leave little room for the slow embracing of the best things.

So I print out my little monthly calendar and we make a list as a family of the things we want to do together, memories we want to make. Then we plan them out throughout the month, these “Family Nights” that we all agree will be times when we set aside all the hurries and the worries and we slow down to simply be together.

Do our plans always work out? Do our family nights always go as planned? No, not always…not even close to always…but that’s ok. That’s not the point. The plans are always flexible…nothing on our calendar is required to happen in order to have a successful Christmas…there is no “Christmas Police” going around handing out tickets to us if we don’t bake cookies on the day we said we would, or if we don’t end up making that gingerbread house or watching that movie or making those ornaments the way we planned.

After all, we don’t really need to do anything to make Christmas happen…Jesus already did it all…we just have to make space for Him. And as long as we do that, as long as we invite Him into our plans, into our home and our hearts and our family, then no matter how our plans do or don’t work out, Christmas will always leave us in awe of the wonder of His great love for us, in it all and through it all.

So for the next 12 days, I’m doing a little "Twelve Days of Christmas" of my own. I'm going to share some of our favorite family Christmas traditions, and free printables for you to enjoy along the way! Some of these traditions help us intentionally focus our hearts on Jesus, some help us share a little joy with others, and some are just plain fun and we do for no other reason than to just have fun together…but they all help us spend intentional time together as a family and have provided us with so many wonderful memories. 

My hope is that maybe something here will inspire you and encourage you as you slow down the pace this season and simply make space for the One who loves you and your family so very much that He came…He came right for you, to save you, to free you, to be with you, at Christmastime and always.

So let's hush the hurry this Christmas, and embrace the greatest news that ever graced the dust this fallen world: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11

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