Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.

Belgian Waffles. Real ones.

We interrupt your weekend preparations with a recipe sure to make your mouth water, you pants tighter, and your family rise up and call you blessed!

Belgian Waffles, just like the ones found on a food truck in the Market of Stockel in Brussels, Belgium.  Our family took a trip to Belgium a few years ago and these, my friends, were some of the most delicious things I have ever put in my mouth.  After we arrived home I had to recreate them.   I perused countless recipe sites and blogs, finally finding one that was close and tweaking it until I achieved perfection.  Even our friends who lived in Belgium, when they came home for a visit, tried them and pronounced them “spot on!”

They have become a staple of our holiday celebrations.  We enjoy them on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve, New Year’s and even Easter.  They are tres delicieux!

So, without further adieu, I give you the REAL Belgian Waffle.  (Do not be fooled by the IHOP, frozen or other versions.  They are not even CLOSE!)

Stockel Belgian Waffles

Ingredients:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
3 eggs
1 cup melted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pearl sugar (such as Lars’ Own-you can order it from Amazon.  This is the MOST IMPORTANT INGREDIENT!)

Directions:
Sprinkle the yeast and white sugar over warm milk in a small bowl. The milk should be no more than 100 degrees F (40 degrees C).  Let stand for 15 minutes until the yeast softens and begins to form a creamy foam.
Whisk the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract into the yeast mixture until evenly blended; set aside. Stir together the flour and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center. Pour the egg mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until a soft dough forms. Cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place (80 to 95 degrees F (27 to 35 degrees C)) until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes. Gently mix in the pearl sugar.

Then (DO NOT skip this step.  It is the secret to the hot, doughy center and crispy outer layer!) roll the dough into baseball sized portions and place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil.  You will have between 8-12 dough balls depending on how big you make them.

Do you see the little pearl sugar chunks?  I’m telling you, they are about to turn into golden nuggets of bliss!

Refrigerate at least two hours, overnight if possible.

 

When you are ready to cook these lovelies…
Preheat a waffle iron according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Place a ball of dough on the preheated waffle iron. Cook waffles until golden and crisp, about 2 minutes.

 

I mean LOOK at this.  Caramelized sugar sizzling around the edges, perfectly crispy crust with a soft, not-quite-done cookie dough texture.  Mmmm…

Repeat with the remaining dough balls. As you cook subsequent waffles, the sugar will begin to caramelize and the last waffle will be even more tasty than the first.  But don’t tell your kids.

 

 

I can hardly wait.  

 

Pretend you are being selfless and going last out of loving sacrifice for your hungry tribe.  It is worth the wait, I promise!

Allow the waffles to cool for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.  You can top them with fruit, whipped cream, etc. but, honestly, mine have never lasted long enough to be topped with anything!  They just go straight to our bellies!

Please refrain from licking the screen.

 

Try it for yourself and tell me what you think!  Bon appetite!

You Can’t Hold It All

We left the hotel room in a flurry of bags, blankets and collected “treasures” from a week in Texas.  Since I tend to get sleepy when driving past mid-afternoon I was determined to get on the road by 7:00 am.  The kids, though, groggy, were on board with the idea.  They were as ready to be home and in their own beds as their mama!

As we paraded down the sidewalk to the parking lot one of my kids began to leave a trail.  A shoe.  A shirt.  A book.  Frustrated by the delay, I looked back to figure out why they were dropping all of this stuff, expecting to find an unzipped zipper or something like that.  Instead, I realized this child had thought it would be faster just to wad all of their loose belongings into their bathrobe and carry the awkward bundle to the car where, I guess, it would have been deposited on the floor and stepped on for the next eight hours. My child carried an empty backpack that was fully capable of holding all these things securely.

I scolded them, explaining why failing to secure the belongings had only resulted in delay and frustration and wouldn’t it have been easier to just throw it all in the bag instead of leaving a trail of clothing from the hotel to the car that you now have to go back and pick up?  And if we hadn’t looked back and noticed the stuff on the ground we would not have known what the heck had happened to all those clothes!

Then God gave me a spiritual flick on the head, nudging me to listen to what I had just said and, in turn, listen to what He wanted to tell me:

We have so many things we are asked to carry.  Our relationships, our homes, our jobs, finances, families, our health and spiritual disciplines are all responsibilities we must juggle.  But what we often forget is that we don’t have to carry all of them up front all of the time. What we need to hold in our hands changes constantly.   It can feel so overwhelming but we must intentionally keep the main thing the main thing!  The rest can be stowed away temporarily.

Think of the Holy Spirit as our great Backpack.  (I know…this is a big stretch!  Bear with me here!)  The Bible says the Holy Spirit is our helper.  (John 14:26)  It also says Jesus brings rest in the midst of the difficulties of life, promising not to “lay anything heavy or ill-fitting” on us.  (Matt 11:29)  So as I imagine this, I see myself…when walking well in faith…with Jesus by my side.  He is wearing the backpack that holds all of my “stuff.”  As my day progresses and my family needs to be front and center, I reach into the backpack and take them out, giving them my full attention and tending to their needs.  Then, a little while later, I get an email and a bill is due.  I can temporarily entrust my family in Jesus’ care as I take out the “financial” burden from the backpack, tending to it while my kids entertain themselves, read, play, etc.   Then the dog throws up.  ALL the stuff goes in the backpack at that point because…well…dog vomit.  Ugh.   Then the afternoon continues and my husband comes home.  I put the stress over what I just cleaned up in Jesus’ backpack and focus on this man that God has given me, greeting him with a smile and kiss and offering him dinner and a chance to rest.  Again, all of my responsibilities are nearby and available to be tended to as needed, but they are not all up front and overwhelming me all at the same time.  (And thank goodness for that because who wants dog puke front and center all the time!  Sorry…I digress.)

Does this make sense?  I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make as human beings is the same one my child made.  We don’t trust that there is enough time or energy to get all the things done so we refuse to put ANY of them down and soon they are spilling out all over the place and nothing gets done well.  But Jesus is right here by our side with an empty backpack and He is not only fully capable of holding every single one of our burdens, he WANTS to hold them.  It doesn’t mean He takes the burdens out of our lives completely, but He does take them out of our overfilled arms and off our backs!

As a woman, a wife, and a mom my life has gone through many seasons.  There are years where my biggest accomplishment was that I took a shower and the kids were still alive at bedtime.  There are others where I was more productive in keeping home, relationships outside my home, and serving.  Some years I have been a prayer warrior, others I have barely breathed out two or three words of desperation to God while trying to bring down a high fever or handle an epic tantrum.  We cannot do everything all of the time. And when we try, we will generally not do any of them well.

For example:

It’s OK, young mama, if your babies are demanding all of your time and you had to order pizza for dinner two nights in a row.  But make eating pizza an event!  Light candles! Play music!  Thank God as a family for that convenience and celebrate it!  You will have more time to cook as your kids grow, I promise.  And when you do, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-worthy.  And please don’t wish away their little years by longing for things that would bring you more accolades.  In these long, exhausting years do your very best to be satisfied with the approval of the audience of One.  Your Heavenly Father sees and knows every sacrifice, every bottle cleaned, every diaper changed, and every exhausted kiss you give your husband.

My dear sister who is caring for a very sick loved one, maybe you stayed up later than everyone else last night and watched Netflix instead of doing the sink full of dishes.  That may not have been the most productive use of that hour…but then again maybe it was. You have to build rest into your day in order to survive.  Sabbath.  Call a friend and ask her to bring you coffee.  Offer up breath prayers when you are desperate and know that God hears them just as clearly as longer, more eloquent offerings.  Just be in His presence.  You don’t have to say a thing.

My single friend, you may long for husband and a house full of kids.  (Or maybe you don’t!)  God has not given you that “burden” to carry in life and you may feel like a third wheel at social gatherings, but you are very needed and useful.  Serve Him.  Serve His people who run around like chickens with their heads cut off and be an instrument of peace and rest in your community and church!  Use your freedom to go where young mothers cannot in their season of life.  Pave the way for us who will, one day, be empty-nesters and join you on your adventures!

Most importantly, friends, seek the Lord.  Ask Him what he wants you to hold in your hands at this moment.  Then don’t give in to the temptation to carry anything more.  That may sound simple, but you know as well as I do that it is not.  Do one thing at a time and do it well, then put it in the “backpack” before taking out the next thing.  This skill we work so hard to instill in children when learning to care for their belongings is just as useful to us as women as we navigate the busyness of life!

Gosh, I’m thankful for the lessons God teaches me through my kids.  I would love to hear from you if you have anything to share in this area!  You can comment here or email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  I so enjoy interacting with you and learning about the ways you seek to keep life simple!

 

Simply Great

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.”

Helen Keller

 

Greatness really isn’t glorious.

When I think of greatness, I usually think big!  I imagine royalty, (especially the British sort) and pageantry.  I think of servants and orders being given and followed without question.  Lots of “Yes ma’am’s.”  Gosh, that sounds nice.  I envision someone like Princess Kate with a bevy of personal assistants making sure her dresses fit perfectly and that her stylish little hat is perched at the precise angle that accents her professionally applied “smoky eye.”  She gets in her limo and is escorted to London’s finest restaurant where she dines with society’s elite, enjoying expensive wine and caviar while cameras capture it all and plaster her face all over every magazine, praising her etiquette and conversational expertise.  Doesn’t that sound lovely?

And how about a spot of tea?

But I’ve been reading the book of Mark and, well, Jesus had a lot to say about true greatness.  It’s simple, really.  And it does not involve expensive restaurants.

Or a fabulous British accent.

That should not surprise me.

The disciples followed Jesus, often, in a state of confusion.  They lived a life of sensory overload, witnessing miracles and events that most of us only dream of in today’s world. It was an honor to be in the company of the Messiah, to say the least.  As the days went by and the crowds grew bigger the disciples began to forget exactly Who the crowds were there to see.  They were riding the coattails of the Son of God and feeling pretty darn good about their position in society at the moment.

So Mark 9 tells us they were traveling with Jesus to Capernaum and they were talking amongst themselves.  Actually, they were probably arguing.  They were doing what my kids do at restaurants when we are all trying to be seated.  They were jockeying for position.

“I call sitting by Dad!”

“It’s my turn!”

“Not fair!  You sat by him last time!”

“You ALWAYS get to sit by him!”

(Notice they aren’t arguing over sitting by me.  They are SO over me.)

Well, they thought they were keeping this conversation on the down-low, that Jesus wasn’t aware of their little power trip.  How easily they forgot exactly WHO they were following down that dusty road.

Jesus turns to them and asks, “What were you talking about?”

Um, well, um…their eyes look down, embarrassed, because they know He knows and they are trying to figure out how to backpedal out of this one.  Mark doesn’t tell us if they answered him.  I don’t think they did.  I think Jesus let his question hang in the awkward silence for a few seconds before letting them know he already knew the answer to the question he was asking.

Then he drops the bomb.

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  Then he called a child who was nearby and gently brought it to the center of the group of men.  He makes sure they all get a good look at the little one, taking the child into His arms.

“Whoever receives one child, just like this one, in my name receives me.   And whoever receives me doesn’t receive just me…he receives Him who sent me.”  In other words, guys, you are all focused on the wrong thing.

God’s kingdom is the exact opposite of everything this world tells us is right and good and effective.  It is upside down and inside out and we are wise to step back and observe how Jesus taught and what that should look like in our lives today.  We are here to serve. We are here to love.  We are here to gently shepherd our families and train them up in the ways of God, not expecting glory for ourselves in return.  Our mission is simple, but it is not easy because it goes against everything society says is true and great.

Greatness is about humility and service.  It is not about status or stuff.  It is not about Pinterest-worthy decorating, housekeeping, or even efficiency.  In fact, very often God will call us to be “ineffecient” and even “impractical” in the eyes of those around us. There may be six loads of laundry in my living room, waiting to be folded.  My sink may be full of dirty dishes and the junk mail piled up on the kitchen counter.  But the still, small voice of God whispers, “Stop.”

What if stopping means a lost opportunity to climb up the ladder of success?  What if it means I look like an idiot and someone shows up, unanounced, at my front door?  What if stopping means I put down the thing that would have been so great, such a boost to my career or position in ministry, and quietly do what God asked me to do that no one but He may ever see?  It could mean spending long hours praying and interceding, cooking a meal, writing a note, or just snuggling a child who needs a little extra attention in the moment.

It could mean a million different things, but the point I am making is this: Who am I serving?  What is my motivation for what I am doing?  If I am piling on one responsibility after another, drowning in a sea of stress and sacrificing the peace in my home…why? Why am I doing this?  What made me decide it was worth the price I (or my family) am paying?  What if I drop the selfish ambition and focus on cultivating humility, serving my family and friends and knowing when to say no to things that often interfere in this sacred mission God has given to me?

In theory, this sound great, right?  But the reality is I make a million little decisions every single day that scream to my loved ones, “There are a ton of things in my life more important than you!”  They will know their worth to me by the choices I make and the way I serve, or don’t serve, them.

My husband deserves a wife who greets him with a smile and a kiss.  He doesn’t need to hear all the things that went wrong the second he walks through the door after work.

My kids deserve the benefit of the doubt. So often I assume the worst and heap shame upon them for past mistakes when, in fact, they are just doing what normal kids do…trying to figure things out and making the same dumb mistakes I did along the way.  I want the world to look at me and declare me successful when the truth is I am flying by the seat of my pants most of the time and I can take neither blame nor credit for how my kids turn out!  My greatness is not measured by the lives of my children, the size of my house, the type of car I drive or the friends with whom I keep company.  It is only measured by how much of myself (including opportunities for recognition) I literally murder in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus to a lost and dying world.

This takes guts.  This takes strength.  And it takes incredible humility, daily choosing to be a living sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

I am tired of jostling for position, aren’t you?  We make things so complicated, but Jesus never did that.  He lived simply, humbly, and effectively.  Let’s just plop down right where we are and feast together in His presence.  I  believe there really aren’t any bad seats in His house.  I’ll scoot over for you.  🙂