All posts by Dianna

Gentleness

white poinsettiaIt’s the week of Christmas, a time of remembering Christ’s birth and celebrating with one another. Jesus came to us in the most humble and gentle way — as a baby.

Each of us has been around a newborn baby and been enveloped by the gentleness a baby evokes. Our movements slow down. Our voices soften. Our gazes are inevitably drawn in.

This gentleness is what I imagine God wants us to continue using with each other on a daily basis. To meet each other’s gaze and speak softly to one another. To soften our hard edges with one another.



“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Philippians 4:5



Practicing gentleness may be especially difficult if we get too caught up in the stress of this season’s demands. We encounter long lines at the grocery store, post office, and retail stores. Exhibiting gentleness with the cashier or the harried shopper tapping her foot behind you may take extra effort this week, but this simple act can change someone’s day dramatically if we do.

advent boxOur children have been living the hype for the last couple weeks of school. In the myriad of Christmas programs, classroom parties, and family gatherings, how often are we slowing down to help them savor the moment? One of the ways we’ve tried to do this is by using props that are woven into our Christmas decorations and family routine in December.advent box

We’ve been attempting to do our Advent box each evening as a way to refocus on Jesus as the center of Christmas. In each opening there’s a few pieces of candy and a slip of paper with a suggested activity:

— Read a Christmas book together

— Bake some Christmas cookies

— Snuggle and watch a holiday show

— Do something nice for another family

— Wrap presents together

This year we’ve added Advent notecards to facilitate family discussion into a deeper level, incorporating scripture and a thought-provoking question to ponder. Our youngest likes to hang them up by the fireplace as a visual countdown.

advent cardsadvent cardSeveral years ago a friend gave us a cute container filled with conversation prompts. I incorporated this into our table centerpiece and we take turns drawing from it each night. These simple prompts nudge us to share about Christmas memories, to imagine specific things about the real nativity scene, to contemplate what the wise men talked about on their way to the stable, or to identify our favorite holiday food or song. These simple things cause us to linger a little longer with each other around the table and we often are laughing about what’s been shared as we move on to wash the dishes.

As parents we’ve made a more concerted effort to play games and watch holiday shows during winter break. This takes some extra energy because those to-do lists seem never-ending as we prepare for all of the extra holiday activities. Simply putting these ideas onto paper inside the advent box keeps us moving toward our intentions set earlier in the month. It helps us be gentle with ourselves in the midst of the rush, giving us permission to regroup and refocus with our family, slowing down the pace a bit.

During each of these advent activities, we gather together. We snuggle in beside each other on the couch or make eye contact with each other across the dinner table. As parents we try to add a gentle word or gesture to keep the kiddos on track, reconnecting with them in a light-hearted way.

It’s amazing how a gentle word or touch can impact the family’s overall mood. For seeming like a “meek” Fruit of the Spirit,  Gentleness sure is powerful. How might you use it today in your daily tasks or as you gather with your family?Gentleness plate

 

 

 

 

Fruits of the Spirit    Make-a-Plate Project

Self-control

“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Galatians 5:22

Self-control plate

Self-control is last in this list, but perhaps during this busy season it’s one to settle on for a bit. If we get the tough one out of the way, then we can bask in the more “cheerful” Fruits of the Spirit, right?

Like a distant relative that lives in another state, we don’t visit Self-control as often as we probably should. It’s a bit uncomfortable and requires discipline.

We tend to brush up on our Self-Control when the New Year rolls in, but often it’s mired in shame and regret. Not a pleasant place to dwell. No wonder so many “resolutions” get cast aside before the February calendar page is turned. Self-control is hard.

What if we consider Self-Control as being Other-Centered? If we minimize attention on ourselves, then we have more energy and effort to focus on someone else. When we set some limits for ourselves, we have a little more margin to share with those around us. When we’re less self-absorbed, we have a greater capacity to hear the hurt in someone’s voice. When we are less self-focused, we can more clearly see the need someone else has.

clock on organizational bookThis concept of self-control rings true in many areas of our lives:

Money – if we are “good stewards” of our funds, we have more to share with someone with a pressing need

Time – if we manage our time more efficiently, we are more able to say “yes” to a quiet request for help

Food – if we manage our temptations at the holiday cookie table, we are gifting our New Year’s self with a lighter load to bear when we feel pressured with lifestyle resolutions

Devotions – if we’ve given our day over to the Lord and hidden His word in our hearts, we have greater attunement for unspoken pleas we may encounter throughout our day

coffee mugGifts – if we coach our children to consider what someone else may want, then they may have greater appreciation on Christmas morning with a present they receive. They may share more in the joy of a family member opening a gift they helped choose and wrap. It is a bit more complicated to involve the kids at the wrapping station and a lot more tape gets consumed, but they bear witness to the thought and effort involved in the gift selection and presentation process. Gift-giving becomes more meaningful to them.

The more we bless others and include others, the more our self-absorption gets whittled away. Then we can really see the joys and benefits of self-control emerging. Maybe putting this first actually makes the other Fruits of the Spirit that much sweeter? In what area do you want to give it a try?



“Therefore, prepare your minds for action: be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Christ is revealed.” I Peter 1:13

pretzels

Make-a-plate kit  Fruits of the Spirit project

Lost Kindness

Ever lose something that is valuable to you? Your heart rate quickens, your breathing gets shallow, your mind starts racing as you try to figure out when you last had the item. So very quickly your day suddenly seems to be unraveling as you are overcome with the potential consequences of the Lost possession.

lost debit cardThis happened to me recently when I got to the checkout line and realized my debit card was not in my wallet. I retraced my steps, fervently praying “please let me find it here, Lord” yet my mind was already playing the “what if…?” game, wondering who had found it and what they may have done with it. As I turned the corner, there was my debit card laying smack dab in the middle of the aisle where I had inadvertently dropped it.  I said a quick prayer of thanks, then retrieved my purchases and went on my way. Although I had avoided a negative “what if…” scenario,  it still took a while for my anxiety response to simmer down. Sound familiar?

Today I got a message from my sister-in-law who had been called by our dentist’s office that they had received a call about my lost purse and phone that had been found by a stranger. This was news to me since I hadn’t left the house in a few hours and my purse was on my kitchen desk. hmmm…It turned out to be my mom’s purse which had fallen out of her car door while she was on an errand. She didn’t yet know it was missing. It had been found before she even realized it was Lost.

Instead of having all the anxious responses of “what if…” scenarios, we were able to retrace the Kindness trail of the lost item. We were grateful to the stranger who had picked up the purse and turned it in to the storage office. We were thankful for the lady at the storage office who made several phone calls in an attempt to reach the owner of the lost purse, including a call to my dentist office because there was a reminder card in it.  We were grateful for the dental office staff taking the time to call and email. When Mom retrieved her purse, everything was intact, including her wallet and phone.

So many times we have to experience the anxiety of what’s Lost and wrestle with the angst of being in limbo about a missing possession. Today was a nice reminder of the Kindness of strangers to return something Lost to its rightful owner even before she knew it was missing. A few minutes of Kindness made all the difference…we were filled with thoughts of positive actions and gratitude rather than negative worrying.

In this busy holiday season, may each of us invest a few minutes of Kindness in a stranger’s day, reminding each other that Kindness is not Lost.



“For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” II Corinthians 4:6



rainbow in the clouds

 

 

Fruits of the Spirit

Sometimes you don’t know when a simple craft activity is going to have a big impact. You’re just trying to keep those little people in your house engaged in something productive so they aren’t tearing the house apart!

Several years ago I led my boys through one of those Make-a-Plate kit projects and then actually managed to get it mailed. Some days the simple completion of a task is a major accomplishment, right, busy Mommas?” Since we were working on table manners and talking about how the kids could show kindness at school, I chose the Fruits of the Spirit verse and let them pick which concept they wanted to illustrate. Rainbows, trees, and stick figures emerged as those wriggling bodies slowed down to color and carefully write out these powerful words.



“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control.” Galatians 5:22

Fruit of the Spirit plate

We were all excited to receive the package of our completed plates! Each week we would choose one Fruit of the Spirit  to be our focus. We set that plate on a stand as a colorful reminder as we passed by it throughout the day. At dinnertime we enjoyed hearing about the gestures the boys made with friends, teachers, and soccer teammates to show that particular character trait. As parents, we shared examples from our workdays or stories from our childhood. Sometimes we used the plates as ice breakers for teaching moments as we redirected boyish antics at the table. When setting the table, we often shared knowing looks with each other as we placed a certain plate in front of a specific person, acknowledging “he sure needs a little extra self-control tonight” or “she needs some PEACE today.”

Fruits of the Spirit plates - devotional

When we signed up to go on a mission trip with our church and were asked to share a family devotion, we took our plates on the road — literally traveling 2,000 miles roundtrip to visit a children’s home in Mexico. We used the plates to illustrate our story of trying to put the Fruits of the Spirit into action in our daily family life. We helped lead the craft activity for those children to make their own plates. Many kids chose the phrase “Dios es Amor” = “God is love.”

Although we weren’t present when the Children’s Home received their shipment of plates, we Fruits of the Spirit platesheard it was a time of great JOY as these children received something tangible with their names and drawings featured. The following year our family returned to the same Children’s Home and we saw how much these plates were being used and treasured by children who had little of their own.

When we returned home from the mission trip, we made a poster to share at our local school and had another chance to share the Fruits of the Spirit in the context of a mission trip report. Several of the students were unfamiliar with the verse, but it became “real” to them when they passed the plates around during show-and-tell.
Fruits of the Spirit - sharing at schoolI was humbled as I realized how God had created an outreach of ministry from one small family project. Our family’s craft activity was shared with our church’s mission team families, about 100 Mexican children separated from their own families and then again locally with children at our sons’ classes at school. God is faithful. He reveals His GOODNESS to us through our small actions that He uses in big ways for His glory.

Fruits of the Spirit plates - missionsFruits of the Spirit plates - loveFruits of the Spirit plate - Jesus me ama

A Quiet Life

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life.”  I Thessalonians 4:11

This verse got me the other day. My first reaction was “that sounds lovely…sign me up!” Reality closed in shortly thereafter with a text message chiming and a kid calling “hey mom…. “

So, what does living a “quiet life” even mean for us today?” Is it to be content in your day-to-day life? To engage calmly with those around you? To live simply?

In our modern day western culture, we live with a lot of clutter: media, clothes, household items, toys, gadgets, sports equipment, dawn-to-dusk activities, etc. Each item or activity may have started with a pure motive – a kitchen gadget to make cooking more efficient, a garden tool to complete a yard project, a new golf club to improve our swing, each child choosing a sport or instrument to play.backpacks Taken individually, these separate choices seem simple and uncomplicated. Added up together over time, however, all of these “simple” choices lead to excess in our houses, garages, and yards. The electrical devices originally intended to make things more accessible and portable become ever-present and we feel tied down to them, trained to respond immediately. Our minds are perpetually racing to manage all the stimuli and sensory inputs bombarding us. Each family member’s single activity has a cumulative impact on the family schedule. We spend so much time scheduling our family calendars that this becomes its own activity. I love my big white board to keep it all straight, but it in itself is a reflection of the Busy in our lives. large calendar board

How do we turn down the volume “to live a quiet life?” Many books, blogs and ads direct us to streamline and declutter. We have garage sales, participate in donation drives, recycle, pass along, and repurpose yet Stuff creeps back in with a vengeance. We are bombarded by social media, news, and music constantly. The Noise is everywhere we go. What do we have to release to edge a little closer to the Quiet Life?

I’m wondering if it’s possible to make a purposeful return to the Basics. That sounds a little retro,  a bit old-fashioned…maybe even naive.  How do we even determine this “Basics” level for our families? I’ve often reframed conversations with my children regarding their spoken wants vs. needs. Standing together in the toy aisle may involve a discussion such as “you want that cool Lego set, you don’t need it.” Yet my Target run for groceries almost always yields something from the household section or those tempting colorful container aisles. And it’s so easy to rationalize those little exfull carttras in seasonal clearance. As I near the checkout stand, though, I do a little rethinking as I’m reviewing my full cart…who put ALL this stuff in here anyway? ? Sometimes I’m able to remove a few items with a quick sweep; sometimes not.

What if we had a daily goal of “one less?” Maybe “one less” item in the grocery cart or “one less” book at the bookstore? It could be “one less” visit to a favorite coffee shop or “one less” just-let-me-run-in-here-for-a-minute stop. “One less” show on TV or Netflix? “One less” hour of device usage each evening? Limiting activities at the beginning of the school year — a goal of  “one less” for each child? We noticed a vast difference just by dropping one music lesson per week.

Reality check: We knew we’d grown accustomed to an over-scheduled life when we reclaimed a couple weeknights as Family Nights and it felt “weird” to have a choice of what to do in thOutdoor gamese evening rather than running to the next activity on the agenda. It’s a “good weird,” though. I’m embracing it as one way to subdue the hectic pace. On occasion I even take a risk and turn off the radio in the car, allowing the silence to invite conversation back in. That sure gets a response from my teen passengers, but they’re gradually getting used to it…and I get a little bolder each time.

If “one less” feels punitive or too hard to maintain as a discipline, how about “one more” of those interactions we value? We could offer “one more” round of cards, “one more” story at bedtime, “one more” walk around the block…Perhaps we’ve stumbled upon the foundation of living a Quiet Life after all: “Less IS more.” 

Tuned In

Each year it seems to get here faster than ever: Thanksgiving — the unofficial kickoff of the holiday hoopla. Friends and family are already jockeying schedules to include feasting, football, Black Friday shopping and holiday light displays. We are in the thick of it, too. Each year we talk about slowing it down, but we tend to pack a lot in even when we aren’t trying.red barn in ColoradoLast year we did a mini-vacation in Colorado during Thanksgiving break. Just our little family of five…and all kinds of random winter gear stashed into our car. It took a couple of days to recover from the road trip, adjust to the altitude, and get our local bearings. We put aside electronics and went for long walks in the snow. We spent a lazy day on the couch with a stack of library books. Another day we took an adventurous snowmobile ride. Evenings unfolded easily into family game nights or classic movie marathons including “Mary Poppins,” “Big,” and “Miracle on 34th Street.” We ate pie for dinner and had a “family favorites” spread on Thanksgiving, enjoying a relaxed pace and simple expectations.walk in the snowOur boys learned to ski. We learned that having a day together while they were enjoying a last day on the slopes was The Best. #duh. The kids had tales to tell and we had the energy to really listen to their stories: Tuned in. That feeling of having our hearts aligned together as a family and being tuned in to each other…that was what we were truly thankful for…a respite from the “busy” of life and a chance to glimpse each other in a deeper way.snow on pine tree

All that other stuff happens and the to-do lists get “done enough” eventually, but it was so refreshing to feel like we had tuned in to our underlying family connections, re-centering our focus so that we could enter into the holidays with more grace. As the busy season is fast approaching, I’m wondering how we can tune in to one another again because that is the kind of tradition that I’d like to keep…oh, and pie-for-dinner, of course.



“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him and bless His name.” Psalm 100:4



Family plate