Christmas, faith, Inspiration

SISTER MICHELLE and THE CANDLE: A Special Christmas COUNTING Memory

 

If you have followed my writing journey at all, you know that most of my books have in some way been inspired by my childhood or my children’s childhoods. My newest book, HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, is no exception. Indeed, as I was writing it, all sorts of memories became sparks — including one that I’d like to share today.

In the fall of 1977 eight-year-old me moved with my family from Minnesota to Paris, France where everything was new and different including…school! The school my parents chose was called Marymount International School of Paris. It was a special place. For starters, it was within walking distance from our apartment which meant good exercise for us all. Second, the children who attended were from around the world and I quickly made friends from all over including Norway, Sweden, Pakistan and Scotland.

Here are two pictures from the time. The first shows me and my sister standing outside our apartment, ready for the first day of school. (I’m the taller one.) The second picture was also taken that school year and shows us with our Norwegian friend tromping to Marymount through the snow.

The third special thing about the school was that it had nuns! I had never been to a Catholic school before. The older nuns wore habits with wimples, just like the nuns in The Sound of Music. The younger nuns didn’t wear habits. Instead, they wore simple sweaters or tops in soft, solid colors, pleated skirts and sensible shoes (as my mother called them).

My teacher’s name was Sister Michelle and she was one of the younger nuns. Her classroom was situated on the 1er étage (2nd floor) of an old French maison. It had formerly been a very grand bedroom with tall decorative plaster walls, an elegant marble fireplace, and two sets of original French-door-style windows that overlooked the school’s playground.

Sister Michelle’s desk was directly in front of those windows and I remember it as being piled with books and papers and other teacher-y things.  We students sat at four clusters of desks pressed together to make “tables”. Mine was near the fireplace.  

Here is a picture my dad found of me at my table with Sister Michelle presiding. It might be hard to tell from the picture, but Sister Michelle was no-nonsense, yet kind, and she got me excited about reading and math.

But my favorite memory about her, and the one which was brought vividly to mind as I wrote this newest book, dates to December 1st, 1977. That’s the day she brought in the candle.

We all watched as she set it on a little table next to her desk. The candle was long and tapered with numbers from 1 (at the top)  to 25 (at the base) imprinted down the side. Sister Michelle then explained that the Christmas season was special and that as part of advent, we would be taking a few moments each morning to light the candle, read a short Christmas passage, say a prayer, and then blow out the the candle. Pointing to the numbers, she explained that each day we’d let the candle burn until that day’s number melted.

I had never heard of such an activity, but it soon became my favorite part of the day. That’s because Sister Michelle wasn’t the one to light the candle, read the passage, and pray. NO! We the kids did that and from my eight-year-old perspective that was amazing! She was supervising from close by, but still! I’d never lit a candle before or read a Bible verse aloud to my class.  

Looking back, I realize that those Christmas verses we read along with the candle lighting left a beautiful imprint on my heart as to what Christmas is really all about – the birth of Christ, the Savior of the World. 

The experience also opened my heart to the richness of digging into God’s word -not just for the 25 days leading up to Christmas, but every day. I have Sister Michelle to thank for that — for instilling in me the importance of pausing daily to read God’s word, to pray, and to let that moment set the course for the day.  

Of course, the little ones I wrote HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD for are too young yet to be reading and pondering scripture, but they can still enjoy slowing down to count and point to and wonder at the miracle of Christmas as they enjoy my simple recounting of the night Jesus was born.

For years I have been searching, unsuccessfully, for where I might purchase a candle like Sister Michelle had all those years ago. They are very hard to find. In fact, I had pretty much given up hope, but then, my Lexington VA friend, Phyllis, surprised me with this! It turns out Phyllis has been making numbered Christmas candles for years, giving over 50 each year to family and friends. She takes regular-old red candles and green crayon wax that she melts to inscribe the numbers using a thin paint brush. It’s almost exactly like the one Sister Michelle used except that Sister Michelle’s, as I recall, was white. I can’t wait to start lighting it on December 1st.  

How I would love it if Sister Michelle could see this post and know the impact her Christmas candle activity has had. Maybe one of your shares will land in the feed or inbox of someone who knows her. Wouldn’t that be neat? It may be a long shot, but this is the season of miracles, right?  

Blessings, all!

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Christmas, Young Writers

OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES: Sharing the Story of Christmas

As part of my church’s Christmas outreach, we are participating in something called the Holiday Walk. Scheduled on the day after Thanksgiving, this town-wide event draws a big crowd and includes a visit from Santa and fireworks.  On our church corner, the festivities include a living nativity, a light show and, this year, a special interactive reading of HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, with storytelling props made by our Sunday School  pre-k – 3rd graders. 

Here’s a snapshot of one of the props we made today. Next week we will make spiders and number cards and the younger class will make stars and shepherds.

Last Sunday, to introduce the project to my first through third graders, I read the book, along with the passage from Luke that inspired it. I also shared with them that stories are a great way to share our faith and the reason I know Jesus today is because someone shared the Christmas story with me when I was six years old!  And that because of that, Christmas is now a favorite time of year for me.

Indeed, Christmas is so special to me, that I have written not just one, but TWO, picture books about it: GOODNIGHT, MANGER and HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD. Over the years I’ve also written many poems about Christmas, all of which point to Jesus as the real gift of Christmas.

When I shared with the kids that I had been writing since I was their age and asked any of them if they like to write or draw, every hand shot up!  That inspired a challenge. “Who here would like to write their own retelling of the Christmas story to share with others and point them to Jesus?” Again, many hands went up, but two hearts really got the writing bug. How do I know?  

I know because this morning two young ladies, a first grader and a third grader, came to church very excited to share with me the Christmas stories that they wrote on their own time last week. And now, in the hopes of getting you excited for Christmas as well, here they are. I hope they’re warm your hearts as much as they warmed mine.

Christmas as told by a first grader:

And now, as told by a third grader:

What’s your favorite bit from each?  (I’ll tell you mine after I hear yours.)  Happy Monday!  

Note: If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to my blog using the subscribe button in the footer or sidebar. I post once or twice weekly with inspirational reflections, tips, interviews and more.

author spotlight, Bible, faith, Interview, Picture Books

BAPTIZED IN THE WATER: An Interview with Glenys Nellist

Today, I’m delighted to host best-selling Christian children’s author Glenys Nellist for an interview in celebration of her newest release with Zonderkidz, BAPTIZED IN THE WATER. This colorful picture book showcases beautifully diverse renderings of children and adults being baptized by the many varying means across Christian denominations. It got me thinking about my own baptism at age 12 via immersion in a little missionary church in Paris, France! As part my baptism, I also spoke aloud my profession of faith – that I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I’m so glad I took that step all those years ago, for it has made all the difference in this journey called life. Maybe the book will get you thinking about baptism memories as well. And now for the interview, with my questions in blue to match the lovely cover of the book. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway so be sure to check that out at the end of the post.)

Welcome, Glenys, what inspired you to write a book about baptism?

Since I’m married to a pastor, I have had the privilege of witnessing many baptisms. In our denomination the water is poured or sprinkled, but I’ve also been present at baptisms where the person was fully immersed. Each time I’ve attended this sacred event, no matter where, or how, or when it occurred, it simply felt that we were celebrating our belonging in one wonderful, united family in Christ. The inspiration, then, for writing a book on baptism came from a desire to celebrate this oneness, this unity in Christ, despite the varying traditions or beliefs that may be held. For me, baptism is a beautiful, holy, mysterious moment that none of us really understands. I hope that Baptized in the Water captures some of the mystery and meaning of this ancient sacrament. 

How do you hope churches and families will use the book?

I hope that pastors, Christian Educators, Sunday school teachers, parents and grandparents might use Baptized in the Water to inspire curious conversations with children about the mystery and meaning of baptism. I know that many churches and families have also bought the book as a baptism gift, which is wonderful!

Do you have a favorite spread?

Anna Kazimi did a beautiful job with the diverse illustrations and it’s hard to pick just one!  But I really love the following spread, because it illustrates all the different ways to be baptized.

Are there any special resources that go along with the book that readers might enjoy?

Yes! I wrote this free downloadable Activity Pack to accompany the book, which includes tips for talking with children about baptism as well as signed bookplates, commemorative bookmarks and a certificate. 

Finally, what’s next in the pipeline?

In July my next picture book with Beaming Books will be published, called Little Mole Goes to School, and then in the fall, I have three board books releasing. Good News! It’s Creation! and Good News! God Loves You (Our Daily Bread publishers) make their appearance in September, and the seventh in the Snuggle Time series, Snuggle Time Love, (Zonderkidz) hits the shelves in December. So it’s another busy year for me!

Thank you, Glenys, for joining me today. I wish you the very best with this and all your books.

BIO Glenys Nellist was born and raised in a little village in northern England. The author of multiple children’s books, including the bestselling ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas, The Wonder That is You, and five popular series: Love Letters from God, Snuggle Time, ‘Twas, Good News and Little Mole, her writing reflects a deep passion for helping children discover joy and hope in the world. Glenys lives in Michigan with her husband, David. Connect with her here:

Author Website Instagram

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NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of BAPTIZED IN THE WATER (Zonderkidz, 2022) follow this blog and comment below saying you’d like to be entered. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Zonderkidz, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Monday, 6/6/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day! 

[Note: Thank you to the publisher for an advance copy at the book. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

board books, Easter, faith

BUNNY FINDS EASTER Bunny Hop: Zonderkidz Blog Edition (Five Fun Ways to Point Toddlers and Preschoolers to JESUS at Easter)

In my new board book, Bunny Finds Easter, Bunny is on a quest to find out if Easter is all about chocolate eggs and jelly beans or if it might just be about a little bit more. Indeed, amidst all the fun of jelly beans and easter bunnies, it can be hard for little ones to understand that Easter is about Jesus. With that in mind, I’m delighted to share the post which Zonderkidz invited me to write for their blog. The topic? Five fun ways to point toddlers and preschoolers to Jesus at Easter.

First, enjoy the book trailer which will give you a good sense of the book. Then, I hope you will grab a jelly bean and hop on over to my post on the Zonderkidz blog. Here’s the link: https://www.zonderkidz.com/5-fun-ways-to-point-toddlers-and-preschoolers-to-jesus-at-easter/ And, if you have little ones, be sure to pick up a copy of the book at your favorite retailer.

faith, Guest Blog, Interview, Life

PRAYING THROUGH MINISTRIES: An Interview with Founder Jessika Sanders

One morning this fall, in anticipation of Christmas, I prayed that God would use my Christmas picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER to bless others and point them to Him in a special way. I made a list of possibilities: preschool visits, a Christmas Women’s program, a virtual story time. These were all things I had done in the past. But God… Don’t you love that phrase? God had something bigger in mind and He placed that idea in the heart of a woman named Jessika Sanders, founder of Praying through Ministries. The idea was to bless families who found themselves with little ones in the NICU and PICU over Christmas with a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

Following God’s prompting, Jessika reached out to me. Sensing this might be God’s special plan, I said yes, and that I wanted to write notes of encouragement to accompany each book given because my precious son, now 21, had once been a baby in the NICU as well. Then, wow, with the help of generous souls across the country who donated the books, God grew that blessing to an amazing 771 books given to families in multiple NICUs and PICUs across sixteen states. We were even in the news.

And now I have a special treat you – an interview with Praying Through Ministries’ founder and president, Jessika Sanders. The story of how her ministry came to be is amazing and I know you will be blessed. So, grab a cup of coffee and join us as we chat with my questions in bold.

Thank you for joining me here, today, Jessika.  Like me you are a NICU mama.  Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how it led you to start this ministry?

Absolutely. Unlike the vast majority of NICU moms, my son was not born premature. He was born at exactly 42-weeks.  Like I had with my second child, I went a very natural route with my pregnancy. I had the same midwife and opted out of all ultrasounds. I had my third natural birth, and my second at-home water birth. Nothing seemed all that out of the ordinary other than my belly shrinking in size the last month, but I attributed it to my son dropping and my getting ready to deliver. 

When our son arrived, the rush of hormones had my head in the clouds. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until they weighed Ezra and a few words broke the heavy silence in the room while simultaneously breaking our hearts. “4 lbs 14 oz.” I could almost feel my heart drop. Something was wrong. I looked across the room at my husband and saw the fear and anguish on his face. 

To give you some background, I had experienced a lot of spiritual warfare during my 3rd trimester. I couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t Godly intuition but rather the voice of the enemy. I know this because it instilled fear, a fear that threatened to consume me.  Down Syndrome. Genetic defects. Death. Still birth. Critically ill. I remember fighting with scripture. Each time a negative thought would come to mind, I would take it captive and speak truth over myself and the baby growing in my womb. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Chosen. His. A purpose and a plan. Just three weeks before my son’s arrival, I had a really powerful encounter with God, one in which I heard His voice so clear it felt almost audible. His directions were simple—read through the book of Psalms, circle the passages He told me to circle, and faithfully pray them until He told me to stop.  When I gave birth to my son I assumed the battle was over, but when we learned of his extremely low birth weight, I knew that was far from the truth. Thirty-six hours after he was born, we called an ambulance when he seized in our arms and so began the beginning of our 37-day NICU stay.

I’ll never forget the complex range of emotions I experienced while in the NICU with Ezra. Fear. Shock. Worry. Guilt. Uncertainty. Helplessness. I remember my sole and utter dependence on the Lord and crying out to Him in wordless groans. I wanted to pray continuously but I felt frozen, paralyzed by my circumstances. I sang worship songs and I prayed God’s Word back to Him—literally reading those verses He had me circle a month previously. 

And one day, as I looked around me in the hospital lounge, at the front desk, and through the corridors and into the rooms of others—I was met with pained, worried faces. My heart ached with these women and men, but as my eyes met theirs, I managed a meek smile that I hoped would warm their hearts and show them I saw them and I understood. As I rested in God’s shelter, my pain seemed to diminish. But as mine lessened, I became heightened to the pain of those around me. I wondered to myself “How does anyone do this without Jesus?” This is when our NICU stay began to change course. Suited up in His Word and forever clinging to His character and His promises, I began to reach out to help those around me. I began talking with mothers at the sign-in desk, in the lounge, and in the Ronald McDonald House. I asked about their babies and how I could pray for them. I wrote down their names and their requests.  I see now that this was the beginning of Praying Through ministries. God was slowly preparing me for what was to come.

Oh, Jessika, what an amazing story of God’s love sustaining you and your family through one of life’s most difficult situations and then, wow, God’s love flowing through you to others.  I’m glad that each step of the way you listened to God’s promptings and what a precious reminder to us all of the comfort and power in that. 

What are some of the ways your ministry reaches out to and blesses families journeying through the NICU, PICU and child loss?

The mission of Praying Through ministries is to equip and embolden men, women, and children with Biblical hope and encouragement as they journey through the difficult seasons of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Pediatric ICU, and Child loss. We provide Biblical support through our Christ-centered online communities (Facebook), through virtual events, and through outreach care packages. 

While the obvious way we bless families is through our outreach care packages filled with personalized notes, artistic keepsakes, and carefully curated books, we are often told just how much our online communities mean to our members. It’s not uncommon for us to hear things like, “When I felt too paralyzed to pray, the Prayer Team and group members lifted me in prayer and provided words that I could pray myself.” I know that this especially blesses my heart because in addition to God doing this very thing for me with His Word, I also had one friend in particular who would periodically send me written prayers, too. Our communities are God-honoring groups where true friendships are cultivated. There is no condemnation, just a supportive group of individuals helping each other to keep their eyes fixed on Christ—even through trials and suffering.

Our ministry is also in the process of creating virtual resources and events to reach the families we serve.  Because our outreach care packages are shipped within the United States, and we have members in Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, virtual resources and events will allow us to bless families regardless of their country of residence. Our first virtual event was actually our “Christmas in the NICU” Live Author Reading with you, Laura!

Everything your ministry is doing amazing and so honored and humbled to have been chosen to participate in that with you. It made my Christmas… that and all the notes and books we were able to send thanks to the donations of so many. 

And I’ve been delighted to discover that you are also a writer. How does that fit in with your mission?

Yes, I am. I remember prior to Ezra, I felt like God had already given me plenty to write about what with a broken childhood, the divorce that led me to my salvation, and forgiveness. But when I was carrying Ezra, I just had this feeling that God was about to give me even more material. I never would have dreamed it would have been NICU and PICU stays with multiple close calls of almost losing him, yet that’s where He called us. With regard to how I feel my writing will fit in with our ministry’s mission, I believe there are real holes and felt needs within the audience our ministry serves. I am believing God will use me to create much-needed, faith-based resources for NICU families and resources specifically for bereaved fathers.  

And those will be a blessing.  I can’t wait to see where God takes you on that front.  Finally, I know many of my readers will be moved by your ministry. How can they be involved?

Thank you so much for asking, Laura. Our ministry is fully funded by the generous donations of others. We are always in need of financial donations for the daily running of our ministry—fees for our website, communication platforms, and for creating marketing materials found in our care packages. We also always humbly accept any of the items from our Amazon Wish List.  These are the books that make up our care packages. Generous donors can purchase them and have them sent to us directly—doing so helps cut out the turnaround time for packages to get sent out in a timely manner. To get involved in either of these ways, you can visit our the “Support Us” tab of our website.

For anyone who has experienced the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss—no matter how long ago it may have been, there is always room and an invitation for you to serve within the ministry.  We can never have too many Prayer Team members for our online, Christ-centered communities on Facebook. We are also looking to fill a few of our Board Member positions for those who have experience with accounting, social media, and marketing. To learn more about these opportunities you can visit our website under the “About Us” tab.

And lastly, you can be involved by helping us be known! We would love for you to share our ministry with others.  Whether it be sharing one on one with someone who is being impacted by the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss or sharing collaborative opportunities with your church team or local hospital, we would greatly appreciate your efforts to share our ministry within your sphere. 

Laura, I cannot thank you enough for your love offering with our first annual “Christmas in the NICU” Book Drive.  With your compassion and care, you have set the bar extremely high. It was an absolute honor to work alongside you and your precious group of friends to pull off such an incredible event. I look forward to seeing what God does next year!

Amen! Thank you, Lord, for using us to serve others this special way. And thank you, Jessika, for following God’s call. You are an inspiration to all.

Author Visit, Book Launch, school visits

BUNNY FINDS EASTER: Schedule a FREE Author Visit!

Hip-HOP-Hooray!  BUNNY FINDS EASTER (Zonderkidz) releases February 1, 2022. Told in bouncy rhyme, BUNNY FINDS EASTER is about a little rabbit on a quest to find out what Easter is all about. Is it about chocolate eggs and jelly beans or might it just be about a little bit more?  Light and fun, I think it’s the perfect introduction for littlest ones that Easter is about Jesus – he is the gift of Easter.

In celebration of the book’s release, I have a special offer!

From now through April 30th, 2022, I am offering free 20-minute BUNNY FINDS EASTER author visits to the TEN first groups who reach out to me via the contact tab. This special visit is ideal for preschools, church ministries, homeschool coops etc. and can be in–person or VIRTUAL.

IMPORTANT DETAILS:

For each FREE 20-minute BUNNY FINDS EASTER visit I will:

  1. Introduce the story with the help of Bunny and an Easter basket full of the items we will encounter in the story including colorful eggs, lilies, Easter candies and more.
  1. Engage the children in an interactive reading.
  1. Review the message of the story by re-examining the items in our basket to see how each reminds us of Easter and God’s love. 

REQUEST:  

The visit is free, but I respectfully request that you purchase a copy the book for your class/church library and that you offer families the opportunity to purchase copies as well. I do not sell my own books, but they are available through the major online vendors as well as your favorite local indie book stores. To help spread word to families, I can provide an order form for schools/groups to collect and order as a group from the vendor of your choosing. Be sure keep a list of first names for book inscriptions and, as a thank you, I will provide a signed and personalized book plate for each book purchased!

I look forward to spreading Easter joy in this special way.  

board books, Easter, holidays

Meet BUNNY from BUNNY FINDS EASTER!

In exactly four weeks from tomorrow, my newest Zonderkidz title, BUNNY FINDS EASTER, will release. And a few days ago, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t yet have a story telling companion to help me at school visits and other events. This is a problem because I have special helpers for all my books. Most have been puppets that I purchased and embellished so they had a specific bookish flair. But then, a few years ago in a tremendous act of kindness, a lovely woman named Stacy Currie, who was the church children’s ministry director at one of the churches I visited with LOVE IS KIND, surprised me by handcrafting a Little Owl puppet that looks exactly like Little Owl.

Her puppet has been a big hit at visits and it has inspired me to try for the first time to hand-craft the puppet for this newest book, BUNNY FINDS EASTER.

And now, without further fuss, let me introduce you to BUNNY, inspired both by illustrator Ela Jarzabek’s delightful depiction of the little rabbit and by Stacy Currie’s puppet-making technique using felt and glue, and in my case, pencil rather than crayons. I also added a ribbon – repurposed from a festive holiday package.

After the glue dried, Bunny and I enjoyed chatting for a bit and my daughter took the lovely picture featured above. Bunny and I are both very excited at the prospect of doing oodles of school visits between release day (February 1) and Easter! Interested in a visit? Reach out to me using the contact tab above and we’ll set something up.

Also, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post with details for you can arrange for a FREE mini-visit from us!

Happy Monday!

Christmas, faith, Inspiration

Watch “Christmas in the NICU (and PICU too)” with GOODNIGHT MANGER

Have you been through dark seasons in your life? Perhaps a season of illness or joblessness. Perhaps a season of infertility or loneliness or grief in the death of a loved one. I’ve been through several, but something stands out with each. Looking back, I can see how God has used each one for good – in that each has provided a connection point to come alongside others as they go through similar situations.

And I am so grateful and in awe, really, at how this Christmas season, God took the dark season of our time the NICU with our son and turned it into a special connection point so that He could bless others and reveal His presence through a book drive organized by Praying through Ministries in which copies of GOODNIGHT MANGER were delivered to NICU and PICU families across the nation, including 15 at the very NICU my son was in 21 years ago. My role as author and former NICU mama was to hand write a note of encouragement to accompany each book (and if you’ve read my other posts about this, you know I had helpers because that’s a lot of notes!). And indeed, each book, arrived at its destination with a note.

Wanting to reach even more families with a message of God’s love and hope in the midst of the difficult, Praying through Ministries founder Jessika Sanders hosted a special culminating Facebook Live event that took place on Little Christmas Eve (December 23rd) and included words of encouragement from both of us along with a reading of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.

The intended audience is NICU and PICU families past and present, but the message really applies to anyone who is in the midst of or who has ever been through a dark season. I hope you will find a cozy spot and watch it. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/prayingthroughministries/videos/1507014823012154

Blessings to you this holiday season.

Christmas, faith

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: Thoughts on a MESSY CHRISTMAS

On Tuesday evening, I was invited by Rev. Ian Rankine at Pluckemin Presbyterian Church in Pluckemin, New Jersey to do a reading of GOODNIGHT MANGER and share a brief inspirational message at their Messy Church, a monthly, mid-week gathering for children, parents, and grandparents to come together for supper, a brief Christian message, music and a craft or game appropriate for all in attendance. Messy Church is a world-wide movement that started in the UK as a way to introduce Jesus and grow closer to Him. Learn more in this short video, then I hope you will continue below for my message of encouragement and hope for you this Christmas.

Pluckemin Presbyterian’s Messy Church opened with prayer and a delicious meatball and ziti dinner with pumpkin pie (my fav!) for dessert. After supper we sang some carols, then it was time for the message and reading.

Now since I hope this message might be encouragement for all, I thought I’d share an excerpt:

“Ian invited me here this evening to share my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER, but before I share this story about putting Baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, I wanted to share a neat tie-in to this whole idea of Messy Church.

You see contrary to what we sing in the carols about it being a silent night with Baby Jesus peacefully sleeping, I can’t  imagine that it actually was. I think actually it was a very MESSY night. Nothing was going as Mary and Joseph had hoped or planned. Think about it. Mary’s just about to have a baby and they have to travel on foot, or maybe donkey, over rough and rocky terrain to get to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus has scheduled this census to be taken – at a very in opportune time – just as Mary is due to give birth any day. 

And then it gets worse! There’s no room in the inn. Instead, they have to stay in a stable with itchy hay and smelly animals and there isn’t even a proper place to lay sweet Baby Jesus – the SAVIOR OF THE EARTH – so they have to put him in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Talk about MESSY! 

And so it is in my picture book that Christmas night isn’t depicted as tranquil and serene.  As you will soon hear, the scene in GOODNIGHT MANGER is most definitely MESSY. Baby Jesus is crying. Sheep are leaping. Water pails are tipping.  And, as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Mary is having a very bad hair day!”

And what’s my reaction to all that – but especially to that bad hair day? My reaction is YES! and AMEN! and ALLELUIA! and thank you JESUS! Thank you for coming into our mess. Thank you for coming in to our darkness. Thank you for taking on the form of a baby – becoming man – dwelling among us where you cried and felt hurt and suffered.  

Here’s the wonderful news that I hope you will take to heart as I share my story. Because Jesus — God in human form — came down to redeem us through this wonderful miracle of Christmas and because He cried and experienced all that we feel and yet was without sin, He can understand our hurts and needs and fears on a deep level. He and only He can comfort us and HEAL us and restore us to a right relationship with God. That is the gift of Christmas! He came into our MESS!!

Thank you for taking the time to read this and I pray that this Christmas, you will find comfort and hope in the miracle of the season — that JESUS came for us in the MIDST of our MESS to heal and love and restore.  

Blessings to you all!

author spotlight, Christmas, faith, Guest Blog

‘Twas the Season of Advent: FIVE Family Activities around the Christmas Tree with Glenys Nellist (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to welcome back beloved children’s book author Glenys Nellist. Glenys has two new books out just in time for the Christmas season. One is a bible story book called I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY. It includes thirty vivid retellings with three “I wonder” questions at the conclusion of each. The other is an advent devotional for families called ‘TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT: STORIES AND DEVOTIONS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. It is comprised of 25 readings, stories and prayers. Published by Zonderkidz, both are wonderful and my mind is already abuzz with ideas for how I can incorporate them into my role as Sunday school teacher as well as using them for our family advent readings this December.

Now enjoy a special guest post from Glenys as she shares some ideas for family activities around the Christmas tree. Zonderkidz is also offering a copy of each book in a giveaway so be sure to read about that at the end of the post. And now, without further fuss, here’s Glenys:

Five Family Activities Around the Christmas Tree

by Glenys Nellist

The season of Advent is a wonderful time to make memories and establish family traditions with our children. Set aside some time each night to gather around the Christmas tree and enjoy these activities together.

  1. Celebrate Advent: Begin a new family tradition from Dec 1-Dec 25 by reading one story per day from Twas the Season of Advent. Countdown to Christmas using the family activities and the 25 free, downloadable Advent images available here.
  1. Favorite Ornament: Have everyone choose a favorite ornament from the tree. Take turns telling each other why you chose that one.
  2. Wondering About the Birth of Jesus: Download your free coloring sheet of the birth of Jesus from the I Wonder Coloring Pack. If you have a copy of the book, read the Christmas story together, or simply talk about what you see in the pictures. Spend some time talking about the three I Wonder questions. Then color the picture together.
  1. Light of The World: Turn off all the lights in the room except the lights on the Christmas tree. Sit quietly for a few minutes as you think and talk about how Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said that we should let our light shine. Brainstorm how you could be a light in your family or neighborhood this Christmas.
  2. Favorite Memories: Take turns sharing your favorite memories of the past year. Now write about (or draw) them. Put each in its own envelope or a special box and save them. Next year, open and read them around the tree.

Happy memory-making!

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these terrific ideas.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  two-book bundle that includes one copy each of TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY both written by Glenys Nellist and published by Zonderkidz let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday 11/22/21 at 11:59 pm Eastern. The winner will be announced the next day.

[Note: Thank you to Zonderkidz for sending me an advanced copy of each of these books which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]