How to Have a Christmas Story Book Party

christmas story night smIf you have younger children, and friends with kids, this party idea might be an easy way for you to organize a memorable Christmas get together that requires very little in the way of planning or money. This idea could also be used as a way to reach out to your neighbors at Christmastime.

WHEN: Some night a couple of days before Christmas. I’d suggest a starting time of 6 or 7 p.m. so that it’s clear you aren’t providing dinner for everyone.

WHAT TO WEAR: Tell your adult guests to dress super-casual and even suggest bringing their kids already dressed in their pajamas. You might also suggest the children bring a favorite blanket and pillow to be extra comfy!

christmas story night BOOKS

WHAT TO BRING: Tell each family to bring a favorite Christmas children’s story, perhaps something their family likes to read together each year.  To clarify what you’re asking for, provide a short list of possible stories (e.g. The Polar Express, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Legend of the Three Trees) and include the name of the story you will be reading to help avoid duplicates.

FOOD/DRINKS: Provide hot chocolate, milk and cookies.

ATMOSPHERE: Have piles of cozy blankets and pillows available so that everyone is as comfortable as possible. If you have a fireplace, light it up, or light candles for a warm glow. Put a mixture of cinnamon, cloves, orange peel, and water on the stove to help fill the house with a “Christmas-y” scent. Put instrumental Christmas music on very low in the background. (Not so loud that it interferes with the story telling!)

WHAT HAPPENS: As people arrive have them get hot chocolate and cookies and sit down in the living room. Start the evening by reading out-loud the Christmas story you’ve chose to share. Then invite the other families, one by one, to share their Christmas books. If there is a shyness issue, offer to read their book to the group for them. After the last story has been shared suggest that everyone pile into their cars and drive around to look at the lights! People can then just drive themselves home as they like.

EVANGELISM: If you have friends and families coming to your gathering that don’t know the Lord, consider sharing your testimony at the end of all the stories before going out to see the lights. Or, provide a little gift basket for each family that contains some Christmas cookies and a gospel message, and give them out just as everyone is getting into their cars.

Make your own Laundry Detergent

laundry1I’m using the homemade laundry detergent recipe for “Super Laundry Sauce for Dummies” from Say goodbye to $20 containers of detergent and wash 128 Loads of Laundry for about $1.76.

Here’s your supply and equipment list:

1 Entire Bar of Fels Naptha Soap*
3 c. water
1 cup 20 Mule Team Borax Powder*
1 cup Arm & Hammer Washing Soda* (not Baking Soda)
2 Quart sized Mason Jars
A blender with a removable bottom

* NOTE * – WalMart apparently KNOWS that people are making this stuff, because you can find all three of these “unusual” ingredients sitting right next to each other in the laundry stain remover section.  SUPER EASY to pick up all three at once.

I used “Method #1” on this page, but I have a few tips to add to their instructions.

1. When I mixed my “pea sized” Fels Naptha bar and boiling water, the two did not fully incorporate but began to separate into two layers. I noticed this was happening, so I got a long teaspoon and stirred them up together… that’s all it took… the layer finally solidified the way it was supposed to.

2. The next day, after you add the remaining ingredients and the boiling water, BE VERY CAREFUL to get the rubber gasket lined up before turning the jar over. On my first jar I wasn’t careful with this and leaked scalding water on my hands. OUCH! On my second jar, as you can see from the picture below, I still must not have gotten them completely lined up because it began to ooze out a bit while I was whipping.


3. Be sure to keep your blender on the LOWEST SPEED until the Fels Naptha gel layer melts and falls down to the blender knives area. Do not turn your blender up to WHIP until those two have had a chance to combine for a while. Otherwise, you may bend your blender blades the way I did… Arrgh! 😛

4. To store my supplies for the next batch, I cut the tops off of the two boxes, down close to where the powder was, and that made each box small enough to fit into a gallon zip-top bag.


5. And finally, as you can see from the picture at the very top of this blog post, I used a piece of yarn to tie an old Tablespoon to my jar of laundry sauce for easy dispensing.

Happy laundering!

What I wish I’d said to Ruthie…

ruthLast October I received a terrible call from my uncle.  He told me that my cousin, Ruth, had been murdered. I can’t even express the shock I felt.  Time is suspended in moments like that; one tick of the clock takes a year, and you feel like you’re almost watching a movie of yourself experiencing this. But the shock, in my case, was quickly followed by a nauseating wave of regret.

To give you some background, my parents got divorced when I was young, and my ties with my dad’s side of the family had been pretty much cut.  So I hadn’t had any relationship with Ruth, or my other cousins, for something like 30 years.  But about a year-and-a-half previous to the day I received that call, Ruth and I had gotten back in touch, mostly through Facebook.  We exchanged pictures of our kids, shared funny internet memes, and occasionally told each other about things going on in our lives.

However, to my deep regret, I do not believe I ever directly shared the gospel message with her.  It is not that I didn’t want to share with her, it’s just that I was waiting for the “right time.” I told myself that I didn’t want to scare her away or make her think I was a religious fanatic.  But as I held the phone to my ear that day, I realized I had used up all my chances.  The “right time” never came.  All the time had run out.

So, I now want to share with you, what I wish I had shared with Ruthie.  If I could go back in time–Oh!  How many times we wish that in our lives!  But, if I could go back in time, this is what I would have wanted to share with her.

There is a terrible, and deadly, misconception that nice people who believe in God go to Heaven.  However, if that were true, then why would Jesus have needed to come and die on a cross?  Weren’t there nice people who believed in God before Jesus died?  Of course there were.  That would mean there would be no need for Jesus to do such a thing… therefore this is obviously not true at all.

Another misconception is that God’s eternal justice works like a set of balancing scales.  Our bad deeds go on one side and our good deeds go on the other.  On the day we die, if our good outweighs our bad, we will go to Heaven.  This sounds reasonable until you think about it in a court of law.

Let’s say you ran a red light, and you’re standing before the judge.  Would you say to him, “Your Honor, since I started driving I’ve stopped at literally thousands of red lights!  I really don’t think I could have run more than 8 to 10 red lights in my entire life!  Doesn’t that tilt the scale in my favor?  I’ve obeyed the law much more often than I’ve broken it!”  Believe me, doing “good” more frequently than “bad” is just not going to work as a defense.  And the truth is that when you and I stand before God’s judgment seat, the Bible tells us, that just like in a court of law, He will judge us against the standard of His Holy Laws.

Have you ever measured yourself against God’s Ten Commandments?  It’s honestly not very pleasant. Ask yourself how many lies you think you’ve told in your life. Remember back to think of the times (even when you were young) when you might have taken something that didn’t belong to you.  Try to add up in your mind the number of times you’ve carelessly used the name “God” or “Jesus” as a curse? (Such as “G—d Damn!” or “Oh my G—d!” or “Je—s Ch—st!” All those are examples of blasphemy.)  And this is the one that gets every one of us… Jesus said that if you’ve ever even looked at someone with lust that you’ve committed adultery in your heart, (Matthew 5:27-28).  …And we’ve only looked at four of the TEN Commandments!

Measured against God’s perfect Law, we ALL come up short.  As lawbreakers we stand before God as liars, thieves, blasphemers, and adulterers-at-heart.  In fact, the Bible goes even farther to say that if you’ve ever felt hatred in your heart, God counts it on your record as murder! (“Whoever hates his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15)  As hard as it is to grasp, God sees our hearts as they really are, “desperately wicked,” (Jeremiah 17:9).

This is why Jesus came and died on the cross.  Because people like us—breakers of God’s Holy Laws, deserving eternal Hell—had no way to save ourselves.  We could never do enough good works to make up for our sins.  We could never go to church enough, do acts of mercy enough, get baptized often enough, take communion enough… etc.  Never.  In fact, God says all the things we think of as our “righteous acts” amount to nothing but a pile of “filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6).

The only solution is that God Himself, the third person of the trinity, Jesus Christ, would suffer the punishment in our place. It is as if the Judge was about to bring the gavel down on our trial, but before doing so, He took off his robe and stepped around to our side, and paid our fine in His life’s blood.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — no one can be saved by doing good works, this is so that no one can boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Anyone who will repent (feel sorrow for, and turn away from sin) and place their trust (faith) entirely in the finished work of Jesus on that cross, will have all their sins forgiven EXCLUSIVELY THOUGH THE MERIT OF CHRIST and will be re-born spiritually as one of God’s children.  This video on YouTube explains it so much more thoroughly than I can.  It’s only ten minutes, please watch it.

My cousin’s death renewed in me an awareness that I had first received as a teenager when I watched my little brother die… an awareness that all human beings are headed toward death.  This life is almost an illusion compared to the eternal state that stretches out before us beyond our death.  And there is nothing more important than where you will spend eternity.

The Bible tells us that, “It is appointed unto all men that they die once and then face God’s judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27).  In other words, the Bible teaches that there is no second chance after death.  The moment you close your eyes in death, you will stand before God’s judgment seat.

Every breath you breathe is a gift from God: a gift of time to change your mind, a gift of time to repent.  My prayer is that you will turn to Christ Jesus in repentance and faith so that you can take receive the free gift of everlasting life that He offers you.

“Easter” Breakfast Food

I love the idea of having a traditional food, that carries some symbolic meaning, in association with the major Christian days of remembrance– especially a breakfast food, because it starts the day with your mind in the right place.

Birthday Cake on Christmas MorningFor example, ever since our kids were born, we’ve traditionally eaten birthday cake on Christmas morning.  We start our our Christmas morning singing, “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, before there is any talk of presents being opened.  (By the way, I’m well aware that Jesus was almost assuredly NOT born in December — so you can save yourself the trouble of writing to tell me.)

Passover 2012

For most of the years of our marriage, on the Thursday before “Easter” Sunday (really I prefer to call it “Resurrection” Sunday) my husband has lead our family, and usually quite a few guests, in a traditional Passover meal.  It is a wonderful, Biblical, way to center your thoughts on Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection — since He is so clearly prophesied in that Old Testament meal.

However, the Passover didn’t really fulfill my desire to have a specific breakfast food to start off “Easter” morning with.  So this year I began to look into ideas in this direction.

First I found several “Crown of Thorns” bread recipes, but I was discouraged because they require so much time for the bread to rise that I’d have to get up at 3 in the morning to have it ready to eat for breakfast. (Either that, or eat it day old.)

Resurrection Cookies by Motherhood On A DimeThen I found this wonderful “Resurrection Cookie” recipe, by Motherhood On A Dime, which comes complete with scriptures to go with every ingredient, so that your kids can make it with you.  You do it with your kids the night before Resurrection Sunday, and end by sealing the oven till morning (just like the tomb was sealed).  Then, when you open the oven in the morning, you find that the cookies are hollow and empty… just like the empty tomb!  I just LOVE this idea!

But I think I might just like this final idea best.  It doesn’t take a lot of time, it could easily be done quickly on Easter Sunday morning before going to church, and it has wonderfully sweet symbolism!  A friend of mine on Facebook shared it just this morning.  (Thank you Shauna L.!)

Resurrection Rolls

1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough
8 large marshmallows
Melted butter

1. Give each child one triangle shaped section of crescent roll. This represents the tomb.
2. Each child takes one marshmallow which represents the body of Christ.
3. Dip the marshmallow in the butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. This represents the oils and spices the body was anointed with upon burial.
4. Lay the marshmallow on the dough and carefully wrap it around the marshmallow. (Make sure all seams are pinched together well; otherwise the marshmallow will “ooze” out of the seams.)
5. Bake according to package directions.
6. Cool.
7. Break open the tomb and the body of Christ is no longer there! Celebrate God’s love!

Just a few final thoughts on this subject of using food as a teaching tool for Biblical truths.  If you want to know where the idea originated, just flip back in your Bible to the book of Exodus and read about the Passover meal that God set up and commanded the Jewish people to celebrate every year as a memorial.

If you ask any professional educator and they will talk about how people learn best when they are able to take in the information in multiple ways simultaneously– it’s called a “multisensory” approach. The using symbolic food, the retelling of a spiritual narrative, and repeating it regularly, is an absolutely BRILLIANT idea. (Go figure… God thought it up!)

Just think… the smells, flavors, and sights of those traditional Passover foods, were absorbed by an entire people group, year after year after year along with the telling and retelling the story of God rescuing his people from bondage by the blood of the lamb. And that repetitive “teaching meal” is one of the primary bits of “glue” that has held the Jewish nation together as a people group over the centuries!

When Jesus ate the “Last Supper” with his disciples, He was continuing that very same multisensory teaching by showing how he was getting ready to fulfill the prophesy of the Passover.  Jesus declared that the wine, representing the blood of the Passover lamb, prophesied His own blood which would be shed for us. He then tells us that unleavened bread was a prophesy of His sinless body broken for us.  Every time we partake of “communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” we remembering the Lord’s death until he comes again.

I think we’ve got plenty of reason to take hold of the multisensory approach — specifically the use of traditional and symbolicly meaningful foods — to teach our children about the major Christian days of remembrance.

Diet Iced Mocha Frappe Protein Breakfast Drink

Homemade Diet Mocha Frappe This recipe produces a creamy, delicious, DIET version of Paula Deen’s take on McDonald’s Iced Mocha Frappe.  This breakfast “coffee smoothie” will have 247 calories, 10 grams of sugar and a whopping 31 grams of protein!  (Compare that to the actual SMALL McDonald’s Mocha Frappe: 450 calories, 57 grams of sugar, 7 grams of protein. Yikes!) Plus, once you make your ice cubes you’ll be able to whip one up in your own kitchen blender… no need to wait in the drive-through line!

Ingredients for the Mocha Ice Cubes:
4 cups brewed coffee, hot  (I used Gevalia Chocolate Mocha from WalMart.)
4 envelopes Cold Stone Creamery Smooth Cravings 70 CALORIE PACKS* hot chocolate mix (70 calories, 5 g. sugar, and 3 g. protein per envelope)
4 packets Equal
4 scoops vanilla flavored whey protein powder (I used Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein from WalMart. 140 calories, 2 g. sugar and 26 g. protein per scoop.)

Combine in in your blender and blend away! Pour into ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen divide the ice cubes into 4 equal portions and put in zip lock bags.  One bag of cubes will be needed to make one Mocha Frappe… so this recipe will make you 4 breakfast drinks.

1 bag of Mocha Ice Cubes
1/4 cup whole milk (37 calories, 3 g. sugar, 2 g. protein)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Put the frozen cubes in a blender. Add the milk and vanilla and puree until smooth.  (If the shake seems too thick add some water, a little at a time, till it comes to the right consistency.) YUM!!!  Who knew a coffee drink could be such a good-for-you part of your morning!?

*Make sure you pick up the Cold Stone Creamery’s Smooth Cravings that says “70 Calorie Packs” in a green stripe at the bottom of the box.  This hot chocolate, in my not-so-humble opinion, blows every sugar-free variety out of the water with a bazooka.

Correcting “b” and “d” Reversal

I made these out of construction paper today based on an idea from the new All About Reading curriculum I just started with my 5 year-old.  They suggest these little phrases to help your kids, just learning to read, to be able to tell the “b” apart from the “d.”  (This was a terrible problem for my older boy, and is rearing it’s ugly head now with my younger.)  Personally, I think their idea is brilliant!  The small “b” is likened to a bat and a baseball.  In reading left to right, you encounter the “bat” (the stick) first… helping the child remember the phrase, “First you pick up the bat, then you can hit the baseball.”  The small “d” is likened to a doorknob and a door.  In reading left to right, you encounter the “doorknob” (the round part) first… helping the child to remember the phrase, “First you grab the doorknob, then you can open the door.”

correcting b and d reversal

Brilliant reading program.  If you’re having any trouble teaching reading, I’m loving this program… check it out.  (I was not compensated in any way for this post… I just really like AAR.)

The Churches that Couldn’t Be Bothered

One of the saddest things in the world to watch is a plant that springs up with life and joy, only to wither and die before your eyes.  One moment there is hope; the next — death.  My heart is heavy as I think about someone I dearly love.  She seemed to be taking steps toward a new life in Christ, and then abruptly turned back to the world.

You see, I don’t live near her, and I knew that she did not have any Christian friends or a church to support and help her grow.  So I called three different churches in her area in a somewhat desperate attempt to find someone who would care.

At the first church, I talked to the associate pastor.  I told him about the situation, and he actually asked me what I wanted him to do.  Say what???  What do I want you to do???  I want you to go visit my friend.  I want you to introduce some Christian people to her.  I want you to personally invite her to your church.  I want you to reach out and care about her salvation!

The second church I called seemed more promising.  I told the two people I talked to there about the first church.  They both said that was appalling.  I felt encouraged.  This was a very large church, with lots of programs… maybe they would reach out!  But when the rubber met the road, they could send no one to meet her… they could send no one to give her a ride to church… they were apparently much too busy taking care of all those believers already gathered there to do… well… anything.*

The third church I called was very small and located extremely close to her.  The best I could get out of them is that they would call and leave a message on her phone inviting her to come to a ladies Christmas party.

That’s it.

One night, this friend called me.  She was sobbing uncontrollably, “If I follow God I’m going to lose all my friends, and I’m already so lonely!”  The anguish in her voice stuck in my chest like a rusty knife and CUT MY HEART OUT!

This little plant sprang up with joy.  I did all I could, from hundreds of miles away, to give it good roots.  I mailed wonderful Biblical materials, sermons, books, a study Bible… I even Skyped with her, trying as hard as I could to give her a foundation by reading the Bible with her.  But in the end, I watched the plant begin to wilt.  It had no deep roots — and so it withered and died.

“The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” ~ Matthew 13:20-21

The churches in her area couldn’t be bothered to expend time, effort, and energy to reach out to someone who is lost, desperately lonely, and sad to the marrow of her bones.

Am I bitter** toward those churches?

Yes, honestly, I am.

Now for the harder question:  Would I have behaved any differently?  If someone contacted me about a loved one that they had been sharing the gospel with, would I sit on my hands and find reasons to never go visit that person?  I hope to God not.  I hope to God that I would be stirred in my spirit to be active in fulfilling the Greatest Commission:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~ Matthew 28:19-20

One final note… Do I know that salvation belongs to the Lord?  Am I aware that His will is never thwarted and that ALL whom He calls will come to Him?  Do I know that God will save this loved one if He chooses to save her — despite the acts of any number of human beings — including these churches.  Yes.  I am pointedly and powerfully aware of this fact.  Salvation–from start to finish–is a work of the Lord.

Knowing all that, do I still hold bitterness** toward those churches?

I can hardly help it… yes I do.

* After this post went live, I was contacted by one of the people from this church.  It seems that she did made attempts to make contact with my loved one through Facebook and has been keeping her in prayer.  That is something I am grateful for, and I wanted to make sure it was mentioned.

**As for my bitterness, it has been pointed out to me by one friend that these feelings might be better classified as “grief.”  But I’m not sure.  It certainly feels bitter.  If this is sin, then please pray that the Lord would reveal that to me and help me be rid of it.

How to Write a “Christian” Bestseller

Counting down the top five ways to make sure your book is a “Christian” bestseller.

5.  Write about your trip to Heaven.
Note:  Bonus “cutie” points for having your blonde-haired rosy-cheeked little kid take the trip instead of you.  This is almost fool-proof.  Seriously.  Who is going to dare to stand side-by-side with a darling little boy and even insinuate that this might not be true??!

4. Write about your trip to Hell.
Note:  No bonus “cutie” points for sending your kid, instead of you, on this one.

3. Put the words “Purpose Driven” in the title.
Note: It doesn’t really matter what the book is about… these words are gold!

2. Give operating instructions on the vending-machine God, detailing the proper incantations in order to receive health, wealth and happiness.
Note: Bonus points for blaming “lack of faith” for any spells that don’t work.  The ensuing self-imposed guilt feelings will probably also reduce your risk of lawsuit.

1. Completely re-define the nature of God, and salvation, and Heaven and Hell; but do it in a work of fiction so that no one can say you are poisoning the minds of unsuspecting Christians with false doctrine.  
Note: For bonus cross-cultural and femaninst points, make sure you portray God as a black woman.

Follow these and you’ll quickly be on your way to a successful “Christian” writing career!