Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5 Simple Ways to Celebrate Advent with Your Children

So, it's the end of November: the radio stations are already playing Christmas carols and the shopping season's in full swing. But, despite the crazy-busy commercial atmosphere of December (and I'm out there shopping for presents too), Advent is meant to be a season that lets us take time to slow down, to simplify, and to meditate and reflect on Christ's coming.

Even if the malls and grocery stores are filled with noise and bright advertisements urging you to buy more, more, more! you can still make your home an oasis of peace this Advent, and draw your children into the stillness and joy of these weeks before Christmas. Here are a few easy ways to celebrate Advent together:

1. Put up your nativity scene, but don’t put the Baby Jesus figurine in it…yet.

Most of us have a nativity scene (or two, or three!) tucked away among our Christmas decorations. Pull it out early, and set it up where your kids can reach and see it—but don’t add figurine of Baby Jesus. Let your kids know that you’ll add him on Christmas Day.

This gives young children a beautiful visual to remind them that the people of God had to wait for the Messiah…and that we’re waiting still for his return.
Let the children add a straw or a twig each day to the manger, though. This will keep them actively thinking about the coming Christmas story all through December.

2. Put up your Christmas tree, but don’t decorate it…yet.

Similar to the tip above, this helps your family remember that we are waiting for a joyful occasion. Buy your tree, set it up—even string up the lights!—but wait to put the decorations on till Christmas Eve.

Bonus: You’ll still get that delightful evergreen smell in your home all December long!

3. Celebrate the smaller holidays.

Can’t quite wait for the excitement of Christmas? Whet your appetite by celebrating St. Nicholas’ Day on December 6 and St. Lucia’s Day on December 13. Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox alike can appreciate the stories of these two faithful people who served God by serving others, and both days have traditions that kids love!

On St. Nicholas’ Day, have the children put out their shoes the night before (filled with carrots for “St. Nick’s horse”), and fill the shoes with some small treat overnight for them to discover in the morning. (Chocolate coins are traditional, and Trader Joe’s and other stores often carry them for a good price in December.)

On St. Lucia’s Day, it’s traditional for the oldest girl in the family to wake up the rest of the family with a crown of candles on her head and a breakfast of fresh-baked goods, but the tradition can be simplified by making it into a cozy breakfast in bed with flashlights just for the fun of it.

4. Remember the less fortunate.

In all our preparations for our own celebrations, it’s important to remember that Advent and Christmas have always been a time of giving. Kids can help with this! They can pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas child, help pick out presents from World Vision’s Charity Gift Catalog, or simply go along with you as you help out at the food bank, visit the elderly in your community, or donate to the local food drive.

5. Count down to Christmas with a paper Advent chain.

This is a deceptively simple idea: make a paper-chain of 25 links, and have your child break one link each day before Christmas.

It’s simple, yes, but for the very young, the concrete image of a chain that gets shorter each day is invaluable in teaching them how to measure time, how to wait with anticipation, and how to wait with patience. They can see it coming…and their cries of “Merry Christmas!” on the day itself will be so much sweeter, because they’ll know that the day they’ve waited so long for is FINALLY HERE.

May you have a joyful Advent season, and an even more joyful Christmas!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Much of this post was inspired by Rachel Telander's chapter "Advent" from Let Us Keep the Feast: Living the Church Year at Home, and her ideas are used with permission. For more great ideas about celebrating Advent with your family--along with fascinating history, lists of songs and other resources, ideas for feasting, fasting, reading, decorating your home, and reaching out to your community--check out the book itself!

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Guest Post on Kathy Ide's Blog

Hi folks - I'm happy to announce that today I'm guest-posting over at the blog of the lovely Kathy Ide! Kathy interviewed me about editing, writing, and one important time that fiction had a big impact on my life. Please head on over to Kathy's place to read the whole thing!

-Jessica Snell

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Weekly Links! Welcome-to-Advent Edition



-"The Advent Project": Biola is hosting The Advent Project again. Every day during Advent (and also, I think, every day of Christmas), they'll be posting a seasonal devotion with scripture, written meditation, art, and music. Recommended!

-My Advent Pinterest page: As I said on Twitter, this is really a "baby" Pinterest board, in that I have fewer than twenty pins so far. But it's growing, and the stuff that's already there is pretty good! Take a look, and let me know if you know of any pins I should add.

-"How to Deal with Erratic Corpulent Ginger Authoritarian Much-Married Rulers: Options for Christians in Public Life": This is very clever.

-"The Virtue of Tolerance"

-"The Bravery of Glennon Doyle Melton"-a snippet:
No amount of embracing the self will cure the ills of the soul. No Amount. There is nothing you can do to love yourself enough to rescue your soul from death. You can’t. 

-"The Church's Outsourcing of Women's Discipleship"

-"The Great War's damage to the English soul and the church": I've never read this perspective before. It was interesting.


-"Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It."

-"Advent Reading": a fantastic list of books to read to children this Advent.


-"How Realistic is the Way Amy Adams' Character Hacks the Alien Language in Arrival? We Asked a Linguist."

-"Protect Your Library the Medieval Way, with Horrifying Book Curses": Relevant to the interests of all devoted readers.

Have a lovely Sunday evening!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

How We Have Devotions with our Children

The original model.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy post about how I have my daily devotions and, at the end of it, I promised to write a follow-up about how Adam and I lead devotions with our children. This is that follow-up--and forgive me for posting it later than I'd hoped.

And, fair warning: most of what I'm going to say here is a natural outgrowth of the content of that first post. I.e., our devotions with our children are really a continuation of our own devotional lives, and that's really what I hope you come away from this post remembering.

There are three main ways we lead our kids in learning about, praying to, worshiping, and serving the Lord, and the first two are stupidly obvious (but worth noting)--and the last one might be, too.

1. Go to church (live like Christians)

If your lives aren't centered around the Lord, your children will know it, regardless of whether or not you read them a Bible verse now and again. One primary way your children will know the reality of your devotion is by seeing how you spend your time. Do you make time in your days, in your weeks, for serving the Lord? Live like a Christian (because you are one). Be a part of your local church. Worship in community regularly. Let God's love permeate your life. When you sin against your kids or your spouse, repent and ask forgiveness. Love your neighbors. Work on all those good and terrifying lists of virtues Paul was always sticking in his epistles.

Be real. And by "real," I don't mean, "let all your vices hang out."  I mean, "really follow Jesus, and yes, that includes doing the real work, and letting your kids see that you don't always get it right, but that you always let Jesus pick you up and help you keep following Him."

(Note: I know church attendance is hard. And I know church people can be hard to get along with. And I know churches can get it wrong, and can hurt you, and... and all of that. Anyone who's been in church any length of time has stories about it. Keep trying. God loves these folks. Hang in there. We really are supposed to do it, and God gives grace for the struggle. You might be walking through a desert right now when it comes to church; keep walking. Keep your heart set on the pilgrim way, for God can make the desert a place of springs.)

2. Pray together regularly

This can be really simple: pray together before meals and at bedtimes. Thank God for your food and ask Him for good sleep. If you have trouble with extemporaneous prayers, use a formal prayer (at various times we've used the Lord's Prayer or the simple "Guide us waking, oh Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace"--the Book of Common Prayer has LOTS of other good ones, too, if you're looking for help).

This is an area, frankly, where I'm hoping to grow our family's own practice. We're very regular at praying, but not very... varying. I want to help the kids learn how to pray more for themselves, for others, how to use prayer to worship and to confess, to petition... but the good thing is, we do have a habit of prayer. And I think once you have a habit, you can build on it and refine it.

So start the habit, and feel free to start simply. Just start.

3. Teach them the Bible (out of your own devotions)

So, while this is probably as stupidly obvious as my first two points, it's the insight that's been absolutely revolutionary for me this year.

I've used, and still love and appreciate, devotional books like The Jesus Storybook Bible, or The Biggest Story, and I'm sure I'll keep using them.


But the very best teaching times we've had with our kids are when we teach them out of the passages we ourselves are studying. So, when I'm reading Luke in my personal devotions, at bedtime I'll read to the kids out of Luke, and I'll explain it to them. Or Adam will read to them some of what he's been pondering in the Bible recently, and he'll explain it to them. (Or we'll read whatever's in the lectionary that week.)

Recently, I was reading through Nehemiah, and so I read big chunks of that to the kids for a week or so, and explained to them what it meant. And it was wonderful, because right there in Nehemiah was an explanation of exactly what we were doing! In Nehemiah 8, the scribe Ezra reads the law to the people, and as he reads, a crowd of Levites stands ready to assist him. And how exactly do the Levites assist him?

"[They] helped the people to understand... they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (emphasis mine)".

That is what you can do for your kids: read to them from the Bible, and then help them to understand it.

And how do you do that? By making sure you understand it yourself. And for that, you have to be spending time reading it, meditating on it, studying it, and even listening to and reading good theology from people more learned than you are.

This is what I mean when I say that your children's devotions should grow out of your own devotions. Because you know that they're going to have questions. You know they're going to ask what it means, and what about this, and, Mom, does that mean that I should ...????

And that's the really good stuff. That's the stuff that sticks. And you're only going to be up to the task if you're regularly seeking the Lord's face yourself, regularly turning your own heart towards Him, regularly feeding yourself on His word.

Which brings us to ... food!  Food. Here is an analogy for you: think of how you feed older babies--babies that aren't really toddlers yet, but they're not just toothless breastfed babes anymore either. Yes, you may have a few foods for them that are really just prepared for babies (jarred baby food, etc.), but the older they get, the more you can just modify your own supper. You cut up the grapes, you mash up the main dish, you spoonfeed them a properly prepared version of what the rest of the family is eating.

It’s easier that way, AND it’s healthy. (Assuming your normal diet is healthy…and it should be.)

This is what it's like to modify your own devotions for your children's needs. Feed them what the rest of the family (the church) is eating. Just break it down enough that they can easily take it in.

Yes, there's still room for prepared devotional materials. They're so helpful--much like jarred baby food. I would not want to be without the excellent resources careful Christian authors have prepared to help children learn about God. BUT…you don't feed your baby just jarred baby foods. You help your baby eat what the rest of the family is eating. THAT is what your children's devotional life should be like.

(Also, I'm pretty convinced that Scripture memorization fits in here somewhere, too. But, to be honest, that's something I'm still trying to figure out how to incorporate regularly into our lives. I'll update as we keep working on it!)

One Last Note

I was talking to my own mother about composing this post, and I asked her if she thought I'd missed anything important. Her response was a thoughtful, "Sometimes each child is going to need individual discipleship."

It was such a good reminder that I couldn't close this post without sharing it. Yes, each child is an individual, and there are times when each of them will need attention, help, resources, prayer, time, thought, guidance, study... all of these good things, and that child will need them from YOU, the parent. So please, don't take this post as an end-all or be-all. I've only been a parent for about 12 years now, and if I have as much to learn in the next 12 years as I have in the last 12... well, I have a really, really long way to go.

So please take this post in the spirit it's offered: as a reflection from someone who's a ways down the road, but not that far down, and who wants to offer what she knows so far, just in case it might help someone else on the path. I know I'm missing things, and I'm sure somewhere in here I've said something wrong.

But we're meant to help each other on this journey. I pray the Lord lets whatever is good here stick in your heart and your mind, and that He graciously lets you forget and discard anything harmful. May you enjoy many, many rich times of prayer and study and discussion with your kids, as you lead them to follow you, as you follow Christ.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Book Notes: "The Lifegiving Home," by Sally & Sarah Clarkson

"The Lifegiving Home" is a book about homemaking, written by mother-daughter writing pair Sally and Sarah Clarkson. After a fairly short introductory section, the rest of the book is divided up into twelve chapters, one for each month of the year, wherein the Clarksons discuss things like "Days to Commemorate: Marking Growth with Celebration" and "Creating a Framework for Home: Rhythms, Routines, and Rituals."

When I first picked it up, I assumed that this book was primarily written for wives and mothers, but it turns out that one of the authors is a single woman, and it became clear as I read on that "The Lifegiving Home" is aimed at all Christian women, which was a really nice surprise.

(The other surprise was that I ended up liking the chapters written by Sarah--the daughter of the team--better than those written by Sally. I was surprised by this because Sally is the writer I'd heard of--and read--before. But having read her, I'm pretty sure she's the sort of mom who's delighted by the fact that her daughter is starting to lap her.)

The main thrust of this book is that our homes are a tool and a staging area for loving the Lord by loving other people. It's absolutely a theme I resonate with. Here's a quotation that sums up the best of the book, for me:
When you understand the reality of incarnation, the way that the physical trappings of our lives and our use of time and space are places where God either comes in His creative presence or remains at bay, you understand that nothing is neutral. Nothing. You can't just waste an hour on the Internet. You can't just miss one sunrise in its beauty. No room is just space. No hour is meaningless. No meal is mere sustenance. Every rhythm and atom of existence are spaces in which the Kingdom can come, in which the story of God's love can be told anew, in which the stuff of life can be marvelously turned into love.

What I liked best about the book was also, weirdly, what I also liked the least: the authors did a beautiful job of describing what a "lifegiving home" might look like. The most inspiring part of the book was simply being reminded that our everyday work in our homes is important, and then being shown, in concrete examples from the authors' own lives, what that might look like. But those same reminders and examples eventually, for me, grew a bit weary-making. For example, the idea of playing "lilting Celtic music" to promote a beautiful atmosphere was lovely the first time I heard it ... but by the end of a long book, I never wanted to hear about "lilting Celtic music" ever again.

To be fair, I think that kind of repetition is hard to avoid in a book like this, and I appreciate the authors' willing vulnerability in using their own lives as examples of the principles they were talking about. Most of their examples were beautiful, encouraging, and refreshing. But I think the book probably could have been a bit shorter, had a few fewer lists of ideas, a little less repetition, and not really suffered for the loss.  (Note: if you read a chapter each month, instead of reading the whole book at once, the repetition probably wouldn't be much of an issue.)

But, I'd be remiss not to also talk about why the concrete reminders were the best part of the book, too. The pictures Sarah and Sally painted of ordinary, good family life were inspiring, and they were inspiring because they were reminders both that all of this quotidian labor matters, and also that all of this quotidian labor really can be done well. It's not an impossible task. It's a good thing, it matters, and it can be done well.

That's a reminder I can stand to hear most days.

And, finally, because I am a Christian-church-year nerd, I have to say how much I enjoyed Sarah's December chapter, where she geeked out about the glories of Advent and all twelve days of Christmas.  I loved it.  The whole thing was awesome, and if I tried to copy out all of my favorite quotations from that chapter, this review would probably be twice as long as it already is. So, let it suffice for me to type out my favorite sentence, which comes in the context of Sarah explaining that the feasting part of the Christian cycle of feasts-and-fasts isn't about hedonistic over-indulgence, but, rather:

The point is to put flesh and expression to joy.

Yes. Exactly this.

In fact, I think you could safely say that the point of this entire book is that homemaking can be one way to put flesh and expression to love.

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell

This post contains Amazon affiliate links; if you purchase a book from this link, I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.  (See full disclosure on sidebar of my blog.)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Weekly Links!



-"The Ruthless Love of Christ": a sermon from fantasy author Lars Walker (with, I should add, a really good take on Martha and Mary).

-"The Cracks Begin at the Bottom" - a snippet:
Lately I’ve found myself pondering unity in the local church and considering that cracks in the unity of a church often begin at the bottom. They often begin at the foundation and work their way up to the roof. What I mean is that disunity often begins with the membership and spreads toward the leadership rather than beginning with the leadership and spreading toward the membership. This is not always the case, of course, but often it is.

-"Mere Fidelity: On Bible Designs, with J. Mark Bertrand": I enjoyed this episode a lot. It's interesting to think about how design and format influences our reading experience, especially when it comes to scripture. 


-"The High and Holy Calling of Being a Wife": This is by the excellent Frederica Mathewes-Green and definitely falls into that category of "wise advice from someone who's ahead of you on the path."  It's a bit rambling (I think it's notes from a live talk, so that makes sense), but there's lots of good stuff in there.


-"The Compromise": This is a rather beautiful short story that recently appeared in Daily Science Fiction.

-"Better Than Bones and Dust": This is another one from Daily Sci Fi (they've been hitting it out of the park recently, IMHO), and it is a bit grim, but it's super-short, well-constructed, and the author absolutely nailed the ending. A good one to read just for the craft of it.

I hope the remainder of your weekend is restful and good!

Peace of Christ to you,
Jessica Snell