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Meaningful Christmas Books: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

Last year, Ann Voskamp’s book The Greatest Gift was a very important part of my own personal Advent celebration. The readings are short and begin with a passage of Scripture. Apart from just being a beautiful book, it is an excellent way to begin or end each bustling day in the Christmas season with quiet and rest.

When I discovered that Ann had also written Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas for the entire family, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy! Tyndale House Publishers mailed me a complimentary copy for our family’s enjoyment in early October and we began to enjoy it long before December arrived.

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We received the beautiful book just in time to take it along to the Mountains in October, and Lucy spent a lot of time stretched out on the floor of the cabin, looking at the lovely pictures and reading a few words.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift is a large hardcover book- about 12×12- and has gorgeous full-color illustrations throughout. A similar format is used as the original Greatest Gift version, taking the principle of the Jesse Tree and exploring the elements of Advent as they all point to the coming of Christ. A passage of Scripture comes first in each day’s reading, followed by a part of the story. Each day (or chapter) puts one story in front of the other pointing along the way to the coming of Jesus.

Though the book is meant to be for Families to read together, if your family is made up of active toddlers, you will want to take that into account as you read. Those of you, (myself included) who struggle to get your almost three-year old to sit attentively for one small board book– may find yourself gritting your teeth through the pages of this book if you are hoping your kiddos will sit still and take in the beautiful lyrical text. That being said, I feel there is a lot of value in Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, no matter the stage of your family. It would be a great piece to read a small bit of each chapter, show them the photos and then build on as your children grow. The fact that the title suggests it is for families to experience together should not dissuade anyone from enjoying Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I have enjoyed reading portions both by myself and with the little people in our home.

What I love most about this book is perhaps what I love most about Ann Voskamp’s writing in general, her ability to cross bridges and boundaries to bring the Hope and Joy of Christ right in front of you, no matter your season of life. And the gift of being able to share that with my children with wording and pictures they appreciate is just icing on the lovely, poetic cake.

I hope that in a rush of this December, you are enjoying a few moments of quiet peace. If you are looking for a tool in which to focus more of your attention of Jesus and the gift of His coming FOR YOU, I wholeheartedly recommend Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift was given to me by Tyndale Publishers to enjoy and review. I received the free copy in exchange for my honest opinions.

**The Amazon links to purchase the book are affiliate links. Thanks for clicking! 


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Hope and Grief are not Enemies.

A road extends behind our house, allowing us to pass on it when we head home.  I love this preview of our little haven, stretching out its’ arms in comfort before we even roll over the driveway’s gravel. On the days I go out alone and come home, my heart squeezes to see my favorite people through the large windows– and I’ll often slow down to take in the view.

The other day I headed home after receiving difficult news. I was alone in the car, no phone, no radio– and my heart cried out for God to care for us in our… well, in our pain. Struggling with my own questions, I pulled onto the road behind Blue House, so named by its happy inhabitants–

and I was completely awestruck.

There running down the hill from the house was one of God’s most tangible gifts. Knee deep in the evidence of Fall and moving so fast, her bouncy curls struggled to keep up. She stopped and waved both her arms, my own personal air traffic control. A grin spread from one of her tiny pierced ears to the other as she mouthed, “HI MOM!!!!” I waved back and the tears I’d been holding onto tumbled out amidst uncontrollable laughter.

This was life. Life full and beautiful and bubbling over with so much grace. And even in our darkest of days, when the rug is swiftly pulled from beneath your feet and you duck your head and brace for the impact, Keep looking up. 

In every dark day, we have a choice. And it isn’t whether or not to grieve.

Even for the believer, grieving is often non- negotiable. But oh, that we could learn to grieve toward God instead of grieving inward, suffering silently. Why do we do that? Why must we think that our faith gives us a pass to table the pain? It doesn’t.

Having hope does not equal dealing alone in swift, silent, suffering.

Having hope equals taking our pain in one arm and our hope in the other and opening our hands that God would make something beautiful of them both.

When the unthinkable happens, may we look up to the Giver and Sustainer of all our life– not just the happy parts– and stare Hope straight in the face.

IMG_2091“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
And He inclined to me,
And heard my cry.
2 He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.
3 He has put a new song in my mouth—
Praise to our God;
Many will see it and fear,
And will trust in the Lord.” Psalm 40:1-3


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Why Your Mailbox will be Stuckey-Less this Year

Dear Christmas Card List,

First of all, it’s not you– it’s me.

For seven years straight, I have painstakingly selected the best possible photo of the closest likeness of our little family. From the first year when we send a card announcing Mr. & Mrs. Stuckey in their wedding attire, to the year that I was several months pregnant, terribly nauseated and trying to hide my little secret behind a long cardigan, to the next December when 6 month-old Lucy was teething and drooling everywhere and we all cuddled up on a blanket on the lawn of Binkley Chapel and grinned so hard our cheeks hurt. I simply love the process of sending and receiving Christmas cards.

This year we had photos taken by a sweet and uber talented friend. I did the same agonizing in front of my computer screen to pick the best photo of our family, found the perfect card online, calculated how many we usually send… and something in my heart stopped me. It would be how much????

Of course there were coupons and discounts galore, but no matter what I did, the amount stuck out to me in a huge way.

Why? Because Lance and I had just discussed how much it would cost to buy livestock through a Christian World Relief Organization for a family in extreme poverty. And the amounts were exactly the same. 

And I couldn’t do it. Something in my spirit alarmed at choosing one over the other– and even if we might not HAVE to choose one or the other, I’m not taking the chance.

I will be honest and say that Christmas doesn’t feel like Christmas without sending a family Christmas card.

That’s why this year’s decision hurts a little.

But that’s sacrifice. And can I be honest? I am a white, middle class, happily married mom of two– and I don’t feel like I get the opportunity to REALLY sacrifice enough. To give when it hurts. When it hurts something I personally “want” and to give anyway.

And this is one ridiculously small way I can give when it hurts. I need more sacrifice in my life. And it’s almost laughable, that this is my over-privileged choice of sacrifice– but for me, It’s a start.

And before there is any confusion at all, please hear me, This is OUR choice. You, my amazing readers know, that I would never announce a personal conviction and expect you to take it as your own. Next year, we might just send a Christmas card again– it may be something else we give up. And if you always send one to us, please don’t stop– they make us SO HAPPY!!!! And we will be filled with all the warm fuzzies to open our mailbox and see you inside. <3

***

If you are interested in joining us in helping a family in extreme poverty, here are a few options:

Compassion Gift Catalog 

World Vision Gift Catalog

 

 

Linking up (for the first time in forever…) with my Five Minute Friday crew– I’ve missed you all!

 

 


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The Sabbath for Servants

SundayGraphicBy 7:25am on Sunday I had already cleaned up two little messes, changed one diaper, fixed 2 sippy cups of milk, folded up the blankets, made the beds and was half way through breakfast prep.

And standing there in the kitchen I pondered the word, Sabbath and it immediately led me to Remember the Sabbath to Keep it Holy…

As the youngest of five children, I saw my mom rise before the sun– clad in her pink robe and bare feet, standing watch at a skillet of scrambled eggs and smiling over her coffee cup as we padded in the kitchen one by one. Sometimes, the happy dusting of flour all over the counter tops and a quick peek through the stove window confirmed what we thought we smelled, homemade biscuits!!

Sometimes it was a piece of nearly burnt cheese toast hastily served up while we all ran out the door, pulling on shoes and tucking in shirts and smoothing unruly hair– but either way, she was always at the helm of our ship– making provisions for us all as we made our way to church on Sunday morning. Once or twice I wondered… when was her Sunday? Who would make her breakfast so she could enjoy a break? When would her Sabbath come? But mostly, I just ate my own breakfast, filled my seat in the family grocery-getter and never questioned the way things were.

And many trips around the sun later, I’m the mom. Biscuit baker. Cup-Filler. Smile-bringer. Hair-smoother. And to be truthful, sometimes it feels like I also wear the label, Non-Sabbath taker.

And as I struggle with the push and pull of being both provision-maker and desperate needer of a Sabbath myself– I know there are things we can do to cut back on all the doing– and make time for the resting. And sometimes we do them. Takeout Sunday lunch. Extra planning on Saturday. Frozen waffles. And just letting some things go until Monday.

But I also know that life just is. And Sundays are a day that little people still need the same help they need the other six.

Whether a mother or a Minister or an ICU nurse, not everyone can take a service-free Sunday. And I’m just not sure that is what Sabbath means after all.

The hands that serve others for God are hands that worship simultaneously. Perhaps we are the best multi-taskers when we first put our hands up toward Heaven to offer up our first bits of sacrifice.

I know that if asked, my mom would not say she missed out on those few extra hours of Sunday morning sleep. More likely, she would say that God gave them back to her twenty fold in watching her children grow to know Christ.

And some might say that the two are not related. But as one of those pajama clad kids who always woke up to such Sunday mornings, I would disagree.

Nothing is secular when done for the honor of the sacred. Nothing is ordinary when done with the hands and feet of Christ. And for all the moms (and dads!) standing in all the kitchens today, for all the grandparents who are doing it again for another generation, it matters. For the policeman standing guard instead of sitting with the paper, it makes a difference. For the leaders in our churches who get up and get at it so Sundays can happen, we need you. We need you all. 

So go hard after it for the Glory of God.


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Better Life Bags

Have you ever wanted to support an ethical, missional company but did not *love* their product? I have.

That was definitely NOT the case when I was introduced to Better Life Bags on Instagram last year. I noticed the most beautiful custom bags featuring buttery-smooth leather and bright beautiful fabrics, but my instant love of them went up several notches when I noticed their “Custom–for a Cause” tagline. Two things I absolutely adore, being able to customize something to my preference– and being able to spend my money on products that will improve someone else’s life.
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When the lovely staff at Better Life Bags contacted me with an offer to review a product, I had been using my Brynnda Bag for a month! While watching their products online, with a little birthday money burning a hole in my pocket, they had a great sale I could not pass up– so I jumped on a cute style in their ready-to-ship section. I have used it for months almost every day– as an airplane carry-on and and as an every day bag. It’s fantastic and so fun to carry.

A few months ago, they gave me the opportunity to customize an i-phone wallet case to try out. I chose the traditional brown leather (so soft!) and the classy and traditional black stripe with chambray. And let me just say, it was even cuter in person– I’m pretty sure I squealed the day I opened the mailbox and pulled out the package!

The i-phone wallet is well-padded and offers great protection for your i-phone. An additional zipper pocket is perfect for your drivers’ license or credit cards. This year at Allume, I was able to fit several business cards and my Rosebud Salve* in the front pocket nicely. I have this case* on my phone and it fit great.

This i-phone wallet would be also be perfect if you had a diaper bag to carry as the leather strap snaps open and closed. It’s also a great tool to have handy when running quick errands and a big bag is too much.

But as I mentioned before, Better Life Bags has my heart not just because of their gorgeous products– but because of their mission.

“We hire women, who otherwise cannot get jobs, to work for BLB. We rent them a sewing machine and tools while teaching them a skill set that allows them to become a primary or secondary provider in their families. Most of these women are first generation immigrants from countries such as Yemen and Bangladesh, so we are also able to provide them with much needed fellowship and friendship as we visit their homes to deliver fabric and pick up orders.”

–Rebecca Smith, founder of Better Life Bags. Read more about their amazing mission here. 


Better Life Bags sent me a complimentary Custom I-phone Wallet in exchange for my honest and heartfelt thoughts. But I would have wanted one anyway. :) Connect with Better Life Bags on Instagram to keep up with sales and see beautiful designs!

**Amazon Links to Rosebud Salve and Iphone Case are affiliate links. 


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Meaningful Christmas Books: The Legend of the Candy Cane

Before having children, one of the things I most anticipated was how we would celebrate Christmas as a family with little ones around. When we did add to our family, I remember buying Lucy’s Christmas stocking months before she was even born. I was ecstatic to find a little board book of the Night Before Christmas with sweet Victorian illustrations. She sat there in her Christmas blanket sleeper that first year, 6 months old and all smiles– as we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and she kept batting at the Christmas lights like a new puppy.

_MG_7645As she has grown year by year, there are some traditions we continue and others we leave behind so that we can grab hold of another– but reading books by the Christmas Tree remains at the top of our list! One year I tried that “Pinterest-y” idea of wrapping up 25 Christmas books and having the kids open one each night to read– but we missed not having all the books to choose from throughout the month. This year, I’m planning to fill a large basket with all our Christmas books and place it under the tree to pick from. Besides, wrapping 25 EXTRA things? AintNoMamaGotTimeForThatatChristmas.

One book I am so happy to add to our collection this year is The Legend of the Candy Cane

The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg tells an inspirational story of a little girl named Lucy (!) who discovers the joyous meaning of the candy cane when she meets Mr. John Sonneman and his candy store. Mr. Sonneman moves to town and turns an old building into a wonderful candy store full of all kinds of treats, and allows his new friend Lucy to help set up shop. He takes the time to introduce her to the candy cane and the beautiful meaning of Christmas it points to. The friendly pair then take candy canes to all the residents of the town inviting them to come to Sonneman’s Candy Store Grand Opening. This story takes a simple Christmas treat and makes it something much more meaningful as it rightly ties Christmas and Easter together.

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_MG_7639There is no shortage of whimsical illustrations– the book itself is pure joy to read for both child and parent. The portion with the candy store looks good enough to eat and the pages which portray the first Christmas are serene and uncluttered, pointing straight to Jesus.  As a parent in a stage of life who reads a lot of children’s books– I appreciated the illustrator’s attention to detail. And even though the story is quite complete, the language is simple enough for my Five year old to help read. Another aspect I love about this particular printing of the book, is that it’s a board book– which makes it fairly indestructible even at our house!

I asked Lucy what she liked about The Legend of the Candy Cane and she said, “Well it has Jesus in it. And candy. I love both of those a lot.” 

I received a free copy of The Legend of the Candy Cane (published by ZonderKidz) from the BookLook Blogger program in exchange for my honest opinions and review, but I certainly would have purchased a copy for our house anyway.

If you would like to add The Legend of the Candy Cane* to your Christmas book library, you can get in on Amazon right now for only $9.99! (And if you have Amazon Prime, you can get free shipping in two days. Fun!)

 

*Affiliate Link with Amazon


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Gerunds & Lately

Remember Me? I used to blog here… 

And then October and #Write31Days happened, and I stuck it out (and loved it!)

And then November came and I took a long, deep breath… that has lasted for the last 9 days!!!

It has been so bad that Lance said to me a couple days ago, “Hey– when are you going to blog again???” And we both burst out laughing, because He and I both know how vital it is to my mental health to keep a rhythm of writing.

Meanwhile, lots of thoughts have ambled across my mind to tell you– and I’m afraid if I don’t at least cover them, I will forget all together.

So here goes, an update in List form. Actually in Gerund form. One of my new favorite people, Kristin Schell had a fun Gerund List over at her place last week, and– well I love a good Gerund.

I am…

Cooking- with a lot of root vegetables lately. We made this Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash last week and it was fabulous. Hash seems like such a weird word that means so many different things. In this part of the country, there is a popular BBQ side dish called Hash– something like Brunswick Stew that’s been through the blender and served over rice. Not pretty at all. This however– is fragrant, simple and yummy. Give it a try with your Turkey Day Leftovers!

Drinking – Iced Coffee in my new little Coffee cup, I drink one just about every day and my old cup bit the dust. But now I get to stare at this cute little green feather. And, why Hello there Fall in my grassless backyard!!!

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Reading -Longing for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life by Timothy Williard and Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Wishing – October wasn’t quite over yet. I LOVE October, but between our mountain weekend, Allume, and a couple of fun visits from family– October flew by faster than I could buy a bag of Reese’s Pumpkins– which is probably a good thing. November is a close second in my book.

Preparing – to migrate to being self-hosted sometime soon and completely reminded of why I love the writing aspect of blogging and the technical side takes me a million tutorials and many hours.

Needing – Peace. Over the next couple of weeks, our family will be separated for several long days by many miles and I’m slightly dreading the distance. However, obedience comes before comfort.

Getting- a little anxious about the previous one.

Missing – North Carolina. Just a little bit– it must be the time of year. We really have a gorgeous Fall here too– but Wake Forest this time of year is a bit like stepping into an L.L. Bean Catalog. Someone I follow on Instagram posted a short video of driving down Main Street in Wake Forest and it literally made me a little heartsad. Heartsad, is that a word? Probably not since it keeps getting underlined with that red dotted line. But it applies. I can no longer say I feel homesick, because that is not home, THIS is home. I love here. But I still feel a little, “left my heart in San Franciso-ish” every now and then.

Loving – this season. this place. this house. I’m just glad to be in this season of parenting and marriage and life. And also yet a little full of anticipatory butterflies about what is next. Content and Hopeful is a really wonderful place to be.

Remembering – Last weekend and the Women of Faith Simulcast we hosted at church– it was so very fun. I also realized how much I miss the opportunity for occasional event planning. Furthermore, I decided that gold glitter confetti is so far up on my list of priorities.

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Well thats all I have–what are you “-ing” right now???

 

**Amazon Links are affiliate links– this means I tell you about some of my favorites and if you buy them through clicking, Amazon pays me a few cents for advertisement. Thanks for supporting HappyGoStuckey**
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