Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Top Ten of 2013

In thinking about the upcoming new year, I had to take a moment and remember the old year I am leaving behind. 2013 had many sad moments and yet so many triumphant, victories. I thought I would list my top ten favorite moments from the year.

So here they are: My Top Ten Favorite memories from 2013:

10. Visiting family in Pennsylvania to celebrate my son's thirteenth birthday, "Blessing My Thirteen Year Old" and visiting family in Lynchburg to celebrate my niece's thirteenth birthday, "13th Birthday-13 Presents."

9. Visiting dear friends in Blountville, TN, family in Nashville, and having precious time with my best friend in Tennessee.

8. Ordering the Torch Lighters series and the new Superbook series and watching one movie each Friday night as a family. Learning about the martyrs and heroes of our faith has been an incredible study for us as a family. Watching and learning about such incredible, faith-filled, humble and obedient Christians has touched our lives and our own faith.

7. Sharing the Gospel of Jesus through my blog, outreaches with my church and simply with people where ever I went has been such a complete joy to me.

6. Hubby and I began working on my autobiography, "Hope Eternal: My Journey From Brokenness to Blessing"  AND working on publishing a Pre-School curriculum I have written and illustrated.

5. Surprising our children with season passes to Busch Gardens and going every week over the summer! Each time we went was a new adventure and another opportunity to thank Jesus for His great love and provision.

4. Beginning to exercise, eating right and loosing weight. (Fit by Forty___? and Mangia! Death by Pasta).

3. Three of our children made the decision to be water baptized. It was a wonderful time out at the beach with friends and church family. My four-year-old little boy said, "I want everyone to know that I love Jesus."

 2. My Grandfather-in-law regained his health, left the convalescent home and is now living back in his home. Also, on a health note, finding out that I don't have cancer. (Consider it Pure Joy!)

And the number one favorite memory of 2013 is:

1. Finding Grace Church and becoming a member. Through the pastor and his wife at Grace Church I have learned so much about what it means to give grace and receive it. How to love one another and receive love. I have gained the most precious friendships and am continually looking forward to more of Jesus.

I CANNOT wait to see how much more I will learn and grow in 2014! I am an incredibly, blessed woman and know that God has more for me and my family in 2014! Many blessings to you and your family! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas Morning Cake

Every Christmas morning I prepare an elaborate breakfast. After all the presents are opened, we enjoy sitting down to a good, hearty meal. And what is a special breakfast without something special for the breakfast dessert? This year I made this, simple cake and not the prettiest, but something that helps us remember what we are indeed celebrating...the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The 'cake' is actually sugar cookie dough poured into a 9x13 pan.

The 'frosting' is simply:
1 container of cool whip
1 cream cheese brick
1/2 cup of sugar
blended well and smooth. 

I wanted to make the manger scene from fruit so:

The Star of Bethlehem is cut from a slice of fresh pineapple,
the manger is formed from pieces of  'Nutty Butty Bars.'
Baby Jesus' face is a 1/2 slice of an apple and
His body is made from blueberries
And lastly, the hay is cut up pieces of pineapple.
(I was going to use a banana, but I was afraid that it would go brown). 

So there you have it- An Ellie original!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waiting for Jesus

I wanted a countdown or count-'up' chart to Christmas for several reasons. One: I'm a homeschooling mom and I try to incorporate some form of learning into everything I do with my children. A count-'up' chart that would start at day 1 and go 'up' to 25 would help my younger children learn their numbers. (The countdown from 25 to 1 might be a little too hard for them at this age). My older children, (that are still little guys to me), could learn how to look forward to a goal and reaching it. Two: I wanted something that we could look at each day and think about what Christmas is all about. and Thirdly: I really LOVE Christmas and I want them to get excited, not just on the 24th of December, but excited for twenty-five days!

The hunt began.
The time spent yielded...nada.

Okay, now it was up to me to create this Christmas countdown or 'up' that didn't have a Santa on it, or snowmen or Rudolf. Time was ticking and I wanted it up for December 1st. I  I simply came up with a Christmas tree. (I had seen a few different things here and there and put it all together). I drew a tree on a very large piece of foam paper. I then bought foam ornaments, snowflakes, and stocking stickers and put them into a basket. Each day one of the children went to the basket, chose whichever sticker they wanted, they had to tell me what number to write on the sticker and then placed it anywhere on the tree where they would like.

This first Count-'up' was made by my 5 and 3 year old.
(Christmas is not here yet, so we're not done of course).

This chart was made by my 9year old twins.

On December 1st I presented the two calendar count-'ups' to the children along with the stickers and the Nativity ornament. (I purchased the Nativity craft at a local craft store). They put number one on the top of tree and then made the Nativity craft and placed it under the tree. Now, I will tell you that the kids are happy with this,  but as the days are moving along my mind has come up with a different chart for next year. I will start working on it now so that I'll have it for next year. I'll post a picture of it when I'm done.

(In searching for something better for next year I came across this chart from Oriental Trading Company just yesterday. It is almost exactly like the one I created! The biggest difference is that the chart is very small. It is more for an individual child than a learning chart. Anyway, I had to show you all!)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Consider it Pure Joy!

Years ago, in a church in New York, the pastor came out onto the stage and sort of yelled, 
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds!"
 He then looked at us above his glasses with a face of, "Is the Bible serious?"

Yes, this is Scripture. It comes from the book of James, chapter one verse two. At that time I had not yet read the book of James, so hearing him declare this Scripture was a complete surprise to me. I had never been challenged to have joy in trials. What I learned about how one goes through a trial was this: you get depressed, you sulk, you over eat and sleep. After about a week of self-pity and receiving pity from others, some how you pull yourself up by your boot-straps and move on. So, I remember sitting in church that day completely captivated. I was learning something so foreign to me. I feverishly wrote down every word the pastor said. That was at least twenty-two years ago and with each new trial I say to myself, "El, will you consider this trial a joy?" I have usually failed.

Okay, so eight years ago I went to the doctor to have him look at a funny looking mole. My primary care physician said it was nothing, but also said that it wouldn't hurt to get it checked out by a dermatologist. The dermatologist also agreed that it was probably nothing, but took a sample of it and sent it out for a biopsy. I received a call a few days later. The doctor actually told me to sit down. I was then told that the test came back and it was cancer. Stage four melanoma. He told me the best case scenario was that I would loose my thumb on my left hand. He made an appointment for me to come in about ten days to talk about what treatments we were to take.

I hung up the phone. I remained sitting on the couch. The house was quiet. I began tearing up, when I remembered James 1:2, "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters when you face trial of many kinds..." I said out loud to the Lord, "Father, let this be the first trial that I go through with complete joy." I stopped crying, got up and called my husband. I told him it was going to be alright. In the days that followed I had joy. I taped down my thumb and started doing life without a thumb on my left hand. I slept fine. It was amazing.

Seven days later I received a call again from the dermatologist, asking me again to sit down. This time it was better news. The doctor told me that someone in the office had mixed up my test results with another patients. My mole was not stage four melanoma! My results came back benign. As I hung up the phone I thought about how much crying and worrying I would have done over the seven days without God and the Word. I had joy in the middle of a potentially, very, difficult trial.

Now fast forward to today- eight years later. I went to my dermatologist, on a Tuesday afternoon, to have a new growth looked at. A second growth has popped up right next to the one that I had eight years ago-they look exactly the same. Not thinking anything of it really, I went calmly and happily to the doctors knowing I was going to hear, "It's nothing." Sadly, that was not what I received. The doctor, not saying much of anything, looked and acted concerned. He immediately ordered for the mole to be taken out- tissue and all... I was given an appointment for Friday, December 20th, ten days later, to have the stitches removed and to hear the lab report.

I left the office remembering how I had offered this trial to God as joy eight years ago and thought, "Well, Lord, here we go again-I give this to you with joy." But as the days have marched on, waiting for the results, I have had some pretty terrifying thoughts-not too joyful. It's hard to have joy when there is the potential of your trial worsening. It's hard to smile when the road that lies ahead of you might mean radiation or chemotherapy. It's hard to have joy when the ones you love the most are being extra loving and kind because of the trial. (The sweetness from others continually reminds me of what might be). It's hard to have joy when all I know may come to a halting stop. But then I said to the Lord, "If this is a trial I am to walk through I know it'll only bring my husband, children and I closer. I know you will be with me. I know you'll bring me through." I had joy thinking on that.

Then I realized, through the help of my husband, that Jesus died on the cross to not only save us from our sin, but to be our healer. I began reading Scriptures on healing and declaring that I am healed. That brought me true joy. Knowing that God wants my healing and can heal me helped me to focus on God and not what might be. Prayer was the only joy I have found during this waiting season.

Trials. Joy. How? Why? Well, If we believe that God is LORD. If we believe that He has a good plan for us. If we believe He is in control. If we believe He is our healer. If. we. trust. Him...then why can't we have joy? Joy in trials because we trust the God of the universe who made every cell, every part of me, to take me through and out of this trial.
(I wrote all the above on Thursday).

Friday, I prayed, "Lord, I think I can make it until Tuesday not knowing, after that... this will get really hard for me. Can you have the doctor call me on Tuesday with the results?"
(Yes, I talk to God this openly and honestly- and pathetically).

Tuesday, exactly seven days later,
at twelve-noon
the phone rang, it was the doctor.
She said,
"I have good news, the growth is benign."

I hung up the phone and honestly and truly wept. Why does my Father in heaven love me so much? Why? I am so overwhelmed by His love and protection.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do." (James 1:2-8)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Happy Birthday Jesus' Party

It's that time of year again. The time for tree trimming, Christmas songs and cookies. And believe me, I LOVE it all! The parades, the gifts, the carols, and even some silly movies. But there's one thing that worries me - I know the true meaning of Christmas, but with everything my children see I wonder if they really know what Christmas is all about. Do they really know that the God of the Universe, the One who made the heavens and the earth, the One who made us,
left heaven,
to come to earth,
as a baby,
was born in a stable.

Some of us know the story, but it's not just a story, it's an amazing truth that forever changed humanity.
God, Himself, came to earth. He came to be the perfect sacrifice for us,
to redeem us,
save us,
love us. 
That is not something that I want my children to be confused over.

So, years ago I began inviting friends and their children over for a 'Happy Birthday Jesus' Party. This year marks my 7th year of creating a special day just to remember what Christmas is all about for children.

First, I always make a traditional birthday banner =)

and a Birthday cake, of course...

But this year, for the first time, I created a Christmas play!
I simply read the story of Jesus' birth straight from the Bible 
and had the children act it out.
(I read all of Luke chapter 2 and Matthew 2:1-12)

Okay, I also made some scenery to go with the story...
here are the Shepherd's sheep-I made two of them.

I attached them to a box so they wouldn't fall over as
the shepherds pulled them onto the 'stage'.

A donkey-

he's attached to a scooter
so that Mary could 'ride' in on her donkey.

A manger...

attached to a baby doll cradle.

a stable and the star. 

Here is the cast!
Eleven older children acted out the story of Jesus' birth
for their younger brothers and sisters and moms.

When the play ended we sang, "O Come all Ye Faithful" 
and "Hark the Herald Sing."

After the play we sang "Happy Birthday Jesus" altogether-
all 35 of us!!!!
(YES, I invited 27 children over and their moms
and I honestly wanted more).

 I used candy canes to spell out 'Jesus.'
(I asked the children if they knew the story of the candy cane
and one little boy knew and told everyone).

Here we are, 
squished into my home to celebrate Jesus! 

Afterwards, I set up Christmas games.

This game was like the old 'hot potato' game
except it was a present-wrapped TEN times.
Each time the music stopped, the person holding the gift
had to unwrap one layer to find a question.
Each of the ten questions were taken from the Nativity story.
(ie: What town were Joseph and Mary from?)
If the child knew the correct answer they got to stay in the game,
if not, they were out.
The last child to unwrap the gift opened it up to find
the chocolate kisses enough to share with everyone.

The next game we played was called,
'Pin the star on the stable.'
I created this game for the little guys- children 5 and under.
I simply ordered a nativity set of window clings,
and glued them to blue poster board (adding the brown stable and yellow hay)

Next, I made the 'stars' the children would use to 'pin' to the board,
 laminated it all and voila!

Another game we did was
"Trim the tree."
For this game we had one person be the 'tree'
and used the help of two older kids and two younger ones
to help wrap him up like a tree,
put a star on top,
and decorate him/her with ornaments.

This team was not doing so well in the beginning...
but they got the hang of it after seeing the other teams.

First team done-the winners!

We had such a great time!
And I have to say,
The thing I thought about most at the end of the day
was just how much I love each and every person who entered my home.
Then I thought about just how much more God loves each and every one of them.
I thought about how God's love is the whole Christmas story.
The whole story, from start to finish, is about God's love for humanity.
He LOVES us.
If these children know the love of God deep in their hearts, (and I believe that got to see a bit of it today), then I can rest - for that's all that really matters.

Merry Christmas!
God loves us!