Advent Freebie: Help Your Children Focus on Jesus this December

December can be chaotic, even in a typical year. In 2020, I have a greater-than-usual desire to help my family focus on what really matters. I crave the peace and joy that can be so tangible at this time of year, especially when we place Jesus at the center of our Christmas preparations.

One practical way to focus on Jesus in this season is to intentionally build traditions that create space for God to grow bigger in our hearts and families. With that in mind, I want to share a few ideas that we will be using in our home this year.

There is a five-minute, kid-friendly activity for each day until Christmas, along with a list of materials needed. (You probably have most things laying around the house, but anything that might need to be purchased should be inexpensive and easy to find.) Feel free to take what I have created and make it your own! Add, change and rearrange to fit your family’s needs. Below, you will find:

  • ideas for making an advent calendar to count down the days until Christmas (This is a good place to start.)
  • Bible verses to focus on (You will write these out and put them in a prominent place. One will be recited at the beginning of each devotional.)
  • for December 1st -20th, object lessons that help kids understand 20 Bible truths about who God is (Each devotional starts with one of the focus scriptures and ends with a big idea to say out loud.)
  • for December 21st -25th, five Christmas messages from the nativity and the story of Jesus’ birth (Each devotional starts with a portion of the Christmas story and ends with a big idea to say out loud.)
  • instructions for how to put everything together (Simply scroll through this post in the order it is written.)
  • a complete list of materials needed (See the master list at the bottom of this post. You can collect the items all at once or wait until the day they are needed.)

Advent Calendar

An advent calendar helps countdown to Christmas, generating excitement and turning the focus toward the day of Jesus’ birth. This was our calendar last year. We used white poster board and sharpies to create a box for every day leading up to Christmas. After we finished our devotional each day, the kids got a small candy cane, which had been taped to the calendar in advance. After the candy canes were removed, we marked off that day on the calendar. You could use another type of candy or treat if you wish, and there are more ideas for a cute advent calendar here. No matter, what your calendar looks like, the idea is to build expectancy and continue emphasizing the celebration of Jesus’ birth. TIP: For the second day on your calendar, use a treat that is special in some way (example: a larger candy cane). This will help with the devotional for day 2.

Before Day 1: Make your advent calendar, including one candy cane per child for each day until Christmas. Next, fill an empty box with some of the materials from the object lessons list (see the bottom of this post), and place it in an area that would be hard for an adult to get to but very easy for a child to reach (example: under a bed). Finally, write Isaiah 9:6 on paper or a whiteboard, and place it in a location where it will be seen often. (This verse will stay on the whiteboard for the first 10 days.)

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”–Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)

Day 1 Devotional: God Sent Jesus as a Child [Materials: box that contains a few items that will be used in later devotionals; Hide it in a place that a child can reach more easily than an adult.] (Refer to your whiteboard, and have children say Isaiah 9:6 aloud, repeating the words after you. Say it in short chunks, especially at first.) READ: God sent Jesus to the world as a little baby. Jesus could have come as a tall, strong soldier or as a king with lots of money and power, but instead he came as a child. This shows us that God doesn’t always do things the way people think He should. His ways are always good and sometimes surprising! God loves children, and He thinks kids are important. Sometimes, a child is the best person for the job! I have a job that a kid can do much better than an adult. (Send one of your kids to get the box that you have hidden. Emphasize how hard it would be for you to get the box, but that a child is just the right size. Tell children that the box holds items that will help them to learn more about Jesus during the countdown to Christmas.) SAY: God sent Jesus as a child, because children are important to God and can do great things!

Day 2 Devotional: God Sent His Only Son [Materials: advent calendar with special treat taped to day 2] (Refer to your whiteboard, and have children say Isaiah 9:6 aloud, repeating the words after you.) READ: When God, sent Jesus to us as a little baby, He was sending His only Son. Even though God was sending Jesus to save the whole world, it must have been hard for Him to give the gift of His one and only Son. Look at our countdown calendar. There are lots of days with little candy canes, but only one day with a big candy cane. What if I asked you to give one of your candy canes away? Would it be easier to give a small one or a big one? (Allow children to answer.) SAY: When God sent His only Son Jesus, He gave us His very best gift.

Day 3 Devotional: God Sent Jesus to be in Charge [Materials: a crown–You can purchase a toy crown or make one like this.] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Our verse says, “the government will rest on his shoulders.” That means that Jesus was born to be a ruler. He is known as the “King of all Kings,” and God wants Jesus to be in charge. When we love God, we can show it by letting Jesus be in charge of our lives. Instead of doing things our own way, we can choose to do things His way. It is easy to know what Jesus wants us to do, because the Bible is like His instruction book for us. He also uses parents to help us learn what is right and wrong. Let’s play a game of follow the leader to remind us what it is like to follow Jesus as our leader and king. In our game, the person who is wearing the crown will get to be the leader. (Play follow the leader, letting each child have a turn with the crown.) SAY: God sent Jesus to be in charge, and I can let Him be the King of my life.

Day 4 Devotional: Jesus is wonderful! [Materials: a pencil, clear tape, white paper] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Our verse calls Jesus wonderful. We use the word wonderful so much that we may have forgotten what it actually means. Wonderful means “full of wonder.” It is a word that we can use to describe something amazing that makes us stop and say, “Wow!” For example, did you know that when you sneeze, you are blowing air out of your nose at about 100 miles per hour? That is faster than a cheetah can run! Did you know that there are as many water molecules in 10 drops of water as there are stars in the known universe? That’s amazing! That is wonderful! Jesus is so much more wonderful than sneeze or a water droplet! Did you know that of all of the people that have ever lived, no one has the same fingerprint as you? Let’s compare our fingerprints. (Use a pencil, clear tape and white paper to compare each person’s fingerprint. Get step-by-step instructions here.) SAY: Jesus is wonderful!

Day 5 Devotional: Jesus is my Counselor [Materials: a board game you have on hand that has instructions; Pick one that children are not familiar with.] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: A counselor is someone who gives good and wise advice. Jesus is the best counselor, and we can trust Him to show us what to do. On our own we don’t always know what to do, but we can ask Jesus for help. (Show children a board game that they are unfamiliar with, and ask them to tell you how to play. Then, pull out the instructions. Emphasize that Jesus can help us do what is good and right, just like the instructions can help us play the game the right way.) SAY: Jesus is my wise Counselor. He helps me to know what to do.

Day 6 Devotional: Jesus is Mighty! [Materials: paper, tape, Kleenex box] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: We sometimes face problems that make us feel weak, but the Bible tells us that our God is mighty! This means that He is strong enough to handle anything that we may face in life. Because Jesus is strong and mighty, we can trust Him to take care of us, even when things look bad. (Use white paper, tape, and a Kleenex box to demonstrate how God is strong enough, even when we feel weak. Click here and scroll down to #6 for step-by-step instructions.) SAY: Jesus is mighty! He is always strong enough!

Day 7 Devotional: There is no one Like God [Materials: a handful of random objects that can be easily sorted by shape, color or size] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Jesus is God. What does that mean? There is only one God, and there is no one bigger or stronger or higher or better than He is! No one and nothing even comes close to God! Let me show you what I mean. (Place several random objects in front of children, and ask them to sort them. For younger children, tell them how to sort [by size, color, or shape, etc.]. Let older children decide the criteria for sorting. After children have sorted the objects, discuss how there is no category for God. There is no one like Him. He is in a category all by Himself!) SAY: There is no one like God!

Day 8 Devotional: Our God is Everlasting [Materials: the alphabet written out (for younger kids) OR a tape measure (for older kids)] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Everlasting is a word that means forever. You are (child’s age) years old and have been in this world for that many years, but God has ALWAYS BEEN and will ALWAYS BE. That is hard to understand, but I have something that might help us think about how God is everlasting:
–(Option 1 for younger children: show the alphabet and ask them to identify the first letter in the alphabet, pointing at “A”. Ask, “What letter comes before “A”?” Explain that just like there is no letter before “A”, there was no one and nothing before God, since God has always been. Have children help you identify the last letter in the alphabet, and then say, “What letter comes after “Z”? Explain that just like there is no letter after “Z”, there will be no one and nothing after God, since He will always be.)
–(Option 2 for older children: show a tape measure and ask kids to tell you the age of the oldest person they know. Imagine with them that this person’s lifetime is represented by just one inch on the tape measure. Then, unroll the tape measure completely. Discuss the length of the entire tape measure vs. a single inch.. Ask kids to imagine that the tape measure could extend all the way down the block and into a nearby town. What if it could reach across your state or even around the whole world? This would still not be long enough to compare our short lives to the fact that God is everlasting!)
SAY: God is everlasting!

Day 9 Devotional: God is the Best Father [Materials: two balloons (filled with air and tied), some masking tape, a permanent marker, and a push pin or safety pin] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: The Bible tells us that God is our Father. Let’s close our eyes and picture the word father. I bet that other kids, and adults too, might see a much different picture when they close their eyes, because there are lots of different kinds of families and many different kinds of fathers. Some people might have hearts that are hurting because of a father. Even really good fathers sometimes mess up, but God is is the perfect and BEST Father. His love is forever, and He will always be there to protect and care for us. Let me show you what I mean. (Write “My Heart” on one of the balloons. Discuss how the balloon represents our hearts and the push pin represents hurtful or scary things that sometimes happen in life. Poke the balloon, allow it to pop, and let the children react. Then, repeat the activity with the second balloon. This time, though, place a piece of masking tape on the balloon and label it, “God’s Love”. Poke the balloon through the masking tape, and it won’t pop! Talk about how God is our Father, and His love protects our hearts.) ( SAY: God is the BEST Father, and His love protects my heart!)

Day 10 Devotional: Jesus is our Prince of Peace [Materials: a drinking glass that is transparent, a small tub or bowl of water, a paper towel] (Practice saying Isaiah 9:6.) READ: Do you remember a few days ago when we played follow the leader and wore a crown to remind ourselves that God sent Jesus to be in charge? When the Bible calls Jesus “prince” that is another way of saying that He is in charge. Not only is Jesus our King, He is also our Prince of Peace. This means that no matter what may happen in our lives, we can be calm and have peace on the inside because of Jesus. Let me show you what I mean. (Crumble a dry paper towel, and set it in the bottom of the drinking glass. If the paper towel doesn’t feel secure in the bottom of the glass, add more paper towels until they stay, even if the cup is turned upside down. Turn the glass upside down into the tub of water. Bring it out and show children that the paper towel is still dry. Explain that just like the paper towel stayed dry, even though it was surrounded by water, we can have peace in Jesus, even if everything around us seems hard.) SAY: Jesus is my Peace, even when life gets hard!

Before Days 11-16: Change the verse on the whiteboard each day to correspond with the devotional. (As an alternative, you could look the verse up together in a print or digital Bible.)

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God.”–John 1:1-2 (NLT)

Day 11 Devotional: Jesus is the Word [Materials: white paper, a q-tip, a lemon, a lamp; *Before starting, mix lemon juice with a few drops of water. Dip the q-tip into the mixture, and write, “Jesus is the Word.” Let the message dry until it is invisible. *It can take awhile for this type of invisible message to appear. As an alternative, try this using baking soda, water and grape juice.] (Say John 1:1-2 together.) READ: Our verse today calls Jesus the Word. When we read the Bible we can know that we are reading God’s words. When Jesus came to earth, the things He said were God’s words. Many of the things Jesus said were written down in the Bible so that we can know God better. If we want to know what God is like, we should read our Bible to see what Jesus was like. Jesus only did what God wanted Him to do. If we want to know what God says about something, we should read the Bible to see what Jesus said. Jesus only said what God wanted Him to say. Jesus is the Word, sent from God to show us God’s heart. Even though we can’t see God, we can know Him because of Jesus the Word. Let me show you what I mean. (Hold the white paper up to show the kids that it is blank. Next, hold the page up next to a lamp (or paint over it with grape juice if you chose the alternative method) until the message appears. Talk about how the invisible message was there, even though we couldn’t see it. God is there, even when we can’t see Him, and Jesus is the Word sent to help us know God more.) SAY: Jesus is the Word sent to show us what God is like.

“God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.”–John 1:3-4 (NLT)

Day 12 Devotional: God is the Creator of Life [Materials: tin foil] (Say John 1:3-4 together.) READ: God is a creator. He makes things! (Ask children what kinds of things they like to make.) God is THE Creator, because He made EVERYTHING! He made green grass and the blue sky and snowy, white mountains. When God made you, He didn’t want to make you green like a tree or blue like the sky. Instead, He decided to make you look like himself! Let me show you what I mean. (Help each child to mold a piece of foil to their face, pulling it away gently to reveal the imprint of their features. Talk about how we are not God, but we do look like Him–just like the foil is not our actual face, but it does look like us. In this way, God made us to look like Him so that we can help show the world what He is like.) SAY: God is the Creator, and He made me to look like Him!

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”–John 1:5 (NLT)

Day 13 Devotional: Jesus is the Light! [Materials: flashlight, candle] (Say John 1:5 together.) READ: Jesus came into a very dark world and brought light! The Bible calls Him the Light of the World. We are also called the light of the world if Jesus lives inside of us. When we are in the dark or feel scared, we don’t have to be afraid, because Jesus is light. (Take turns holding a flashlight in a dark room and making shadow creatures against an empty wall. Then, light a candle, and show children that the flame doesn’t cast a shadow. This reminds us that darkness is no match for Jesus, the Light of the World.) SAY: Jesus is LIGHT, and He lights up the darkness!

“God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light.”–John 1:6-8

Day 14 Devotional: Jesus is the Light we Reflect [Materials: mirror + lamp; This lesson would be best after dark and in the darkest room in the house. Before starting, turn a lamp on, but hide it behind a barrier. Also, leave the main lights in the room on until later in the lesson.] (Say John 1:6-8 together.) READ: John the Baptist was Jesus’ cousin, and he had the job of telling people about Jesus. John made sure everyone knew that Jesus was more important than he was. He wanted people to look at Jesus instead of looking at him. This is because John knew that the light that the world needs comes only from Jesus! John couldn’t give light, but Jesus could! So, John told people about Jesus the Light. He was like a mirror. (Hold up the mirror for kids to see.) We can be like John and help people see Jesus’ light. Let me show you what I mean. (Turn off all of the main lights. The lamp behind the barrier should be on but hidden from direct view. Hold up the mirror, and discuss how we can’t see anything in it, since the room is so dark. Then, angle the mirror toward the lamp behind the barrier until the mirror begins to reflect the light from the lamp. Talk about how we are like the mirror in that we cannot give light on our own. We need a light source to reflect, and Jesus is that Light Source.)SAY: Jesus is LIGHT, and we can reflect His light!

“The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.”–John 1:9-11

Day 15 Devotional: Jesus was rejected. [Materials: a dollar bill or gold dollar (one for each child) inside a crumpled up brown paper bag; a pretty gift bag with nothing inside *Don’t let the kids shake the bags.] SAY: I have two bags here. You can only open one. Which one would you like to open? (Most likely, children will choose the pretty bag, but even if they don’t, the lesson will make the needed point.) (Say John 1:9-11 together.) READ: Many people who met or heard about Jesus when He was on earth rejected Him. This means that they did not believe in Him or want Him in their lives. Some of these people chose to give all of their time and attention to other people or things instead of Jesus. Maybe they wanted to focus on friends instead of Jesus or whatever seemed more fun at the time. They had a choice between Jesus and something else, and they chose something else, because it looked better to them. These people may not have realized it, but by choosing other things instead of Jesus, they were missing out on the best gift ever! Tomorrow, we will find out what is inside the other bag. SAY: Jesus is rejected by some, because they don’t recognize Him.

“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn–not with physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.”–John 1:12-13

Day 16 Devotional: Jesus was accepted. [Materials: *Bring out the same materials as yesterday: a dollar bill or gold dollar (one for each child) inside a crumpled up brown paper bag; a pretty gift bag with nothing inside *Don’t let the kids shake the bags.] SAY: Today, we will open the bag that we didn’t open yesterday. (Talk about how the crumpled brown bag wasn’t the prettiest, but it held the best gift. The other bag looked nicer, but it held nothing.) (Say John 1:12-13 together.) READ: Sometimes what looks like the best isn’t actually the best. Lots of things in the world might look better than Jesus. People chase hard after friends, fun, and other things they think are better than Jesus. But when we actually get the things we thought were more important than Jesus, we’ll find they hold nothing at all–like a beautiful but empty gift bag. Just like the brown paper bag, living for Jesus doesn’t always look fancy, but the gift we find in Jesus is better than anything else in the world. SAY: When we realize that Jesus is the best gift and accept Him, we get to be children of God!

Before day 17, write John 1:14 on your whiteboard. (This verse will be used through day 20.)

“So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”–John 1:14

Day 17 Devotional: Jesus became human. [Materials: a jar of bugs, worms or fish (Fake critters or even a drawing or image would work.)] READ: Our verse today says that the Word (Jesus) became human and made His home among us. Why do you think He did that? (Allow children to answer. Then bring out the jar, and take turns “talking” to the critters and asking them question. Talk about how it is hard to talk to the critters, since they don’t really understand what we are saying.) READ: If we really wanted the critters to know and understand us, we would have to become like them and go into the jar where they are. This is what Jesus did when He left Heaven to come down into our world and be with us. He became human and came to be with us where we are so that we can know and understand Him. SAY: Jesus became human so I can know Him better.

Day 18 Devotional: Jesus is full of love. [Materials:  a plastic jar of honey and a pair of scissors] READ:  Jesus is full of love, and His love never fails. His love never changes, and it never gives up. The Bible says that God IS love. If we could see God, we would see love. When Jesus was here on earth, people saw His love. We can still feel and experience His love today. Look at this jar of honey. What is inside? (Let children answer. Then, throw the jar of honey on the ground. Cut into it with the scissors. Make a big deal out of stomping and poking into the jar, asking along the way, “What is in the jar now?” Discuss how God’s love is like the honey in the jar–no matter what happens, it never changes or fails.) SAY: Jesus is full of love, and His love never changes or fails.

Day 19 Devotional: Jesus is faithful. [Materials:  none, but you’ll need to wake up early to watch the sunrise or be outside to watch it set in the evening] READ: When the Bible tells us that Jesus is faithful, it means that we can count on Him. We can trust Jesus, no matter what. He will always be who He says He is. He will always do what He says He will do. If we read something in God’s Word, we can know for sure that it is true. (Point to the sun, and talk about how it rises and sets each day.) We never question whether the sun is going to be there tomorrow when we wake up. We just know it is, because the sun always comes up in the morning. God made the sun and causes it to rise and set every day. We can trust that He is faithful. SAY: Jesus is faithful, and I can count on Him!

Day 20 Devotional: Jesus is glorious. [Materials:  none, but you may need to do this one when you’re going to be in the car] READ:  When the Bible says that we have seen Jesus’ glory, it means that we recognize how wonderful He is. God’s glory is more beautiful and amazing than anything else in the world. Think of your favorite princess or superhero. What is wonderful about them? (Allow children to answer and then discuss how Jesus is much more wonderful and glorious than that!) We can celebrate God’s glory by worshipping him and by telling others how amazing He is! (Consider singing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World” or another worshipful Christmas song.) I want to show you something to help us remember about Jesus’ glory. (Drive to a water tower, windmill, or other tall structure. When you first begin to see it in the distance, ask children how tall they think it is. When you arrive at the structure, get out and let them see how tall it actually is. Talk about how God’s glory is always more incredible than we think.) SAY: Jesus is glorious, and we can celebrate His glory!

*Before day 21, set out the stable or manger part of the nativity, but do not include the pieces for Mary, Joseph, Jesus, etc. (As an alternative, you could draw the stable part of the nativity and an empty manger.) Each day, you will add a person to the nativity after you read his or her story. For the remainder of the devotionals, the verses will be too long to write out. You can just read them aloud from the Bible together.

Day 21 Devotional: Mary [Materials:  Nativity Set (Mary)] READ: Luke 1:26 – 38 (Place the Mary figurine into the nativity scene.) REPEAT VS. 27 OUT LOUD: “For the word of God will never fail.” SAY: Mary’s story reminds us that God’s word will never fail! PRAY: “God, help us to believe that You can do impossible things.

Day 22 Devotional: Joseph [Materials:  Nativity Set (Joseph)] READ: Matthew 1:18-24 (Place the Joseph figurine into the nativity scene.) REPEAT VS. 23b: “She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'” SAY: Joseph’s story reminds us that Jesus came to save us! PRAY: “God, thank you for sending Jesus to save us and be with us forever.

Day 23 Devotional: Baby Jesus [Materials:  Nativity Set (Baby Jesus)] READ: Luke 2:1-7 (Place the baby Jesus figurine into the nativity scene.) REPEAT VS. 7: “She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” SAY: The stable reminds us to make room for Jesus in our lives. PRAY: “God, we want to make more room for Jesus in our family.”

Day 24 Devotional: Shepherds [Materials:  Nativity Set (Shepherd or sheep)] READ: Luke 2:8-20 (Place the Shepherd figurine into the nativity scene.) REPEAT VS 17: “After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.” SAY: The shepherds’ story reminds us that we should tell others the good news about Jesus. PRAY: “God, please give us hearts that are ready to share the good news about Jesus.”

Day 25 Devotional: Wise Men [Materials:  Nativity Set (Wise men)] READ: Matthew 2:1-12 (Place the Wise men figurines into the nativity scene.) REPEAT VS. 11: “They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” SAY: The wise men’s story reminds us to worship Jesus and bring Him our bests gifts. PRAY: “God, we give your our worship today, because you deserve the best gifts.”

Materials for Advent Calendar & Focus Scriptures

  • paper or poster board to make an advent calendar
  • markers
  • small candy canes (You will need 24 for each child participating. I usually buy a few extra, in case some get broken.)
  • large candy canes (You will need one for each child participating.) *NEEDED FOR DAY 2 DEVOTIONAL
  • clear tape
  • something to write the Bible verses on (I use a small dry-erase board.)

Materials for Object Lessons (Day 1-20)

  • a box large enough to fit the items on this list [DAY 1]
  • large candy canes (one per child) taped to advent calendar [DAY 2]
  • a crown (You can buy one or make a paper one like this.) [DAY 3]
  • a pencil [DAY 4]
  • white paper [DAY 4]
  • clear tape [DAY 4]
  • any board game with instructions (Use one you have on hand that your kids don’t already know how to play.) [DAY 5]
  • a box of tissue/Kleenex [DAY 6]
  • tape [DAY 6]
  • white paper [DAY 6]
  • Small, random objects that could be sorted by size, shape or color [DAY 7]
  • the alphabet written out (alternate option: a tape measure) [DAY 8]
  • a balloon [DAY 9]
  • masking tape [DAY 9]
  • A push pin or safety pin [DAY 9]
  • a clear drinking glass [DAY 10]
  • paper towels [DAY 10]
  • a small tub or bowl of water [DAY 10]
  • lemon juice (alternate option: baking soda, water, and grape juice) [DAY 11]
  • white paper [DAY 11]
  • Q-Tips [DAY 11]
  • a lamp [DAY 11]
  • foil [DAY 12]
  • a flashlight [DAY 13]
  • a candle and lighter or match [DAY 13]
  • a lamp [DAY 14]
  • a small mirror [DAY 14]
  • a brown paper bag [DAY 15 & 16]
  • a Christmas themed gift bag {DAY 15 & 16]
  • a gold dollar or dollar bill (one for each child participating) [DAY 15 & 16]
  • live insects, worms or fish (and a jar or bowl to temporarily house them) [DAY 17]
  • a plastic bottle of honey [DAY 18]
  • scissors [DAY 18]

Materials for Nativity (Day 21-25)

  • a nativity set that includes Mary, Joseph, a shepherd, a king/wise man, and baby Jesus (Alternatively, you can print or make one like this.)

For the voiceless

The manual resuscitator that usually hangs in a clear, drawstring bag on the bathroom door in patient rooms at Cook Children’s Hospital is strewn across the table beside Olivia’s hospital bed. I can see it as I lay my hand on her cheek and look into eyes that mostly flutter here and there and everywhere. Once in awhile, though, they settle long enough for me to see the color of the ocean on a cloudy day. I do not know what others see when they look into those precious blue eyes, but I see light and life and hope and Jesus Himself. 

Olivia was a year old the first night we spent in this hospital. Her hair, now darker and thick with curls that fall past her shoulders on the rare ocassion that they escape her signature high ponytail, then stood straight up in the air like the quills of a hedgehog.That first hospital stay was seven years ago, and more than just Olivia’s hair has changed. 

I’m certain that a smaller version of the Ambu bag swung from a hook on the bathroom door of her room back then too, on another floor in another wing of this same hospital. I probably noticed it hanging there, but the possibility of something like that ever being used on my baby girl never crossed my mind. 

In the years in between then and now, we’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” that I never would’ve chosen. The diagnosis of a rare genetic disorder and the first time we heard the word terminal. The first hint of blindness and deafness and the first mention of a feeding tube. The first time she held her breath and turned blue and no one knew why. The first time she needed oxygen, then a high-flow CPAP machine, then a ventilator. 

I’ve lost count of the number of days we have spent in this hospital with its stark white sheets against soft pastel walls. With its sad stories and the staff who push back with big smiles and with music in the inflection of their voices. It is a world where the sound of children laughing is strangely mixed with the taste of tears. Where some of the most vulnerable among us fight battles that seem hard and unfair. 

There have been a few times in recent years when my eyes glanced down at that rescusitator against the bright orange of the bathroom door and stayed longer than they should’ve. Long enough for my heart to skip a beat in fear that a day might come where the device would be pulled from its bag in haste. 

It happened today. I woke in the middle of the night to the frantic scramble of nurses leaning over Olivia, the numbers on her pulse oximeter dropping, and that awful, life-saving mask being yanked from the door to be used on my child. 

I’m thankful a nurse was in the room. 

I’m thankful the problem was relatively small and easily fixed. (A clot from bleeding in her nose had blocked her airway and needed to be suctioned out.) 

I’m thankful, maybe more than at any other time in my life, that I have a voice and could use it on behalf of a child–my child–who could not speak for herself. 

Because nurses are trained to save lives, but mamas are graced to know their babies. In a life or death moment, the nurses leaned on their medical knowledge and acted quickly. I leaned on Jesus and years of taking care of sweet Livi and spoke up about what I knew she needed and didn’t need. We worked together, the resuscitator was cast aside, the medical alert was called off, and Olivia is OK. 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t writing this post for myself. I hate what happened to Olivia today. I hate that COVID protocols mean we’re alone here in the emotional aftermath– physically at least, though family and friends are just a phone call away and Jesus is always near. Writing helps me focus on His presence, so I’m writing this for me. 

But I am also writing for the voiceless–something I have often felt called to do, though I haven’t always picked up the pen to obey.

““Speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless.”–Proverbs 31:8 (GNT) 

I’ve often wondered where Olivia would be if she did not have a mother who knows that the touch of a cool hand on her forehead is calming, but that same hand on her foot causes irritation. What if she didn’t have a daddy whose strong arms have carried her to all of the places in this world that her own two feet were unable to travel? What would life without Gammie be like for a little girl who has always brightened at the sound of that grandmotherly, life-giving voice? 

Olivia is surrounded by people who have used their voices on her behalf. A baby brother who calls across the room in a language only the two of them understand. Little sisters who draw her into their world through childish prattle, and a big sister who is fiercely protective. A faithful nurse who loves and advocates for Olivia as she would for her own kids. An army of uncles and aunts, grandparents and cousins, family and friends who continue to petition heaven for her life and healing. In each realm of Olivia’s world, from the medical to the educational and everything in between, there are people who open their mouths to speak because she  cannot. 

In the sense that she has little ability to communicate back to the world around her, Olivia is almost the picture of helplessness. Yet she is not helpless. She is strong, because our strong God has used people to infuse her weakness with His strength.  

This is the Gospel. How Jesus, the living Word, left heaven and laid down His life so that we, who are utterly helpless apart from Him, could have life. That He has called us to also lay down our lives in personal sacrifice, to lend our strength to the weak and our voice to the voiceless. 

We are all helpless in some way, and in realizing this we can humble ourselves to receive the strength of the Great Rescuer, the only one who can save, Jesus Christ. 

Recognizing the helplessness in ourselves and in others also compels us to answer the Bible’s call for justice: 

“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; uphold the rights of the afflicted and oppressed.”–Psalm 82:3 

There are a thousand circumstances that leave people weak, afflicted, oppressed or in need. 

May we find the grace to notice, the compassion to care, and the courage to act.  

Perhaps the most defenseless among us are the fatherless ones–the unborn who have no voice at all to cry out for life. The orphaned (and there are many ways to be orphaned) who face life alone unless someone with the heart of a mother or a father chooses to fill the gap in some sacrificial and significant way. 

I pray that you and I would use our voices and our strength to rise up and be mother and father to the voiceless and the helpless.

We are coming home! :)

Reserved

When my 4th and 5th grade students enter my classroom every Monday, they get a new seat–randomly chosen from a bag full of color-coded popsicle sticks.

For each color of popsicle stick there are several options for students to choose from. One student may rush for a seat near a friend, while another wants to be near the front of the room. Some prefer a standard classroom chair, while others hope for the coveted “red chair” (a cushy, $5 find at a garage sale several years ago).

At the beginning of each new school year, though, I count to make sure I have enough seats and carefully write out name plates.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

As a young teenager, I received an invitation to a Christmas brunch. My hostess had gone to great lengths to decorate a themed table, and every place setting was painstakingly set with beautiful china. I had no trouble finding my seat, since my name was written there in an elegant script. Any doubt as to whether I was welcome was erased by the personalized gift I found in my chair.

There is something about reserving a seat that places value on the person in the chair.

Forgive me for belaboring the point, but the question lingering in my heart lately is this:

Does Jesus’ have a reserved seat in my life? If so, is the chair I’ve offered Him fit for a king? Even more, is it a throne–high and lifted up–worthy of the King of all Kings?

Somehow, my COVID quarantined life had more time and space in it. Or so it felt.

My favorite hour of the day was 3pm, when I would pour a cup of coffee and curl up with a blanket at the feet of Jesus. Most days, by 2:50pm I was setting aside school and housework and sending the kids off to quiet time, all in anticipation of some alone time with the One who is nearer to me than any other.

Flash forward a few months, and I’m fighting to “squeeze in” time with God, while the list of people and things demanding my time and attention grows longer still.

I read somewhere that people of Jewish faith save a seat for the prophet Elijah when they celebrate the Passover meal. The extra seat is called “Elijah’s Chair,” and there is even a glass of wine left untouched for him.

I’m not familiar with all of the details of this tradition, nor do I know when it began, but my run-away imagination can’t help but wonder if there was a seat for Elijah at any of the Passover meals that Jesus attended.

Elijah is recognized by many as the forerunner to the Messiah–one who prepares the way for the coming King. John the Baptist filled this role when Jesus came to Earth as a baby, and many believe that Elijah himself (who never died but instead “went up by a whirlwind into heaven”–II Kings 2:11) will fill the same roll when Jesus returns as triumphant King.

Imagine … saving a special seat for Elijah when Jesus Himself is in the room.

Imagine … saving a special seat for work and play, family and friends, this and that. While King Jesus is relegated to a lesser seat–squished into an undignified position at the end of the bench.

Let it not be so.

Oh God,

Have mercy on me. On us. Forgive us for ever giving You any seat but the very best. Forgive me for allowing the “stuff” of everday life to crowd You out. Help me learn to lay out the best china, preparing for Your arrival and honoring Your presence in my day and in my life. Jesus, I don’t know when You’ll return again to gather the people who belong to You. But I pray that if that day occurs while I’m still alive and breathing on this Earth, You’ll find me ready and waiting. May the best and most coveted seat in my life be always and only Yours.

Amen

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”–
Matthew 13:44‭ (NLT)

“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”–Psalms 22:3 (NLT)

God Speaks

For the last few weeks, I’ve been journaling during my prayer time. I pour out whatever is on my heart to God in writing and then get quiet and listen for His voice. Though I’ve never heard Him speak audibly, it is amazing how much God will say when you set aside time, get still, and expect to hear from Him.

Just as He walked in the garden with Adam & Eve and talked with Moses as a friend, God wants to speak to you and me. We were made for real relationship with our Creator. What is a relationship without two-way conversation?

I think many of us who have no problem believing that God hears us when we pray, struggle to believe that He would answer in a personal way. We need only look to the Bible for assurance that God does want to speak to His people:

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and incomprehensible things you do not know.”–Jeremiah 33:3

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”–John 10:27

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”–John 16:13

Yes, God speaks…

… as we read His written Word.

… through a still, small voice.

… as we gaze in wonder at the world and the work of His hands.

… in countless ways, limited only by our reluctance to stop and listen. His creativity knows no bounds.

I know this to be true, and yet God found in me a stubborn and unwilling companion these past few days. You see, AJ had to be hospitalized. He was tested and re-tested for COVID-19. Both were negative, but he still spent two nights in the hospital due to a high fever and dehydration.

The process of getting him admitted was insane due to COVID precautions, and I was angry. Angry that my baby was hurting, angry at the state of the world we’re all living in right now, and angry to be sitting in yet another hospital room when “been there a hundred times before” is starting to become more literal than figurative.

So, I sort of gave God the silent treatment–even though I felt Him tugging at my heart, and even though I knew the only peace to be had would be found in Him. Part of me felt He should have arranged a better weekend itinerary for me. The other half was bent on being unhappy no matter what.

I discovered that persistence is a quality I can add to my list of things I love about God–right between gentleness and mercy. When others would have lost patience or been put off by my obstinance, He didn’t give up on me. He never has.

I’m thankful, because what He had to say was exactly what I needed, and for more than just the hospital stay. God didn’t land AJ in the hospital, but He sure did redeem that time by speaking truth and wisdom straight to my heart.

As much as I appreciate what God says, I am in awe of how He speaks.

As a teacher, I understand that there are many types of learners. If I want my students to grasp the message I am trying to communicate, I must consider their diverse learning styles. One student may sit and listen without even taking notes, while another would benefit from a visual aid, and still another needs a more hands-on approach.

God is a better communicator than I as a teacher could ever be, and He knows his audience well. I believe that He talks to each of us in the way He knows we’ll hear Him best.

God has gotten my attention through the special and the mundane: a vivid dream … an overflowing trash can … the plot of a popular TV show … an archaic word I’d never heard before that came up three times in the same week … a comment made by my seven-year-old … a doodle in my notebook that probably only He and I can decipher.

Most often, God speaks to me through language. A passage of scripture I memorized as a child. A song lyric or quote. A metaphor. I love words, and I love that He knows that about me.

This time, after I was finally ready to listen, He whispered a question:

“What makes you most proud of your dad?”

This was something He’d first asked me weeks before. That the question was repeated wasn’t strange. I’m accustomed to God saying the same thing more than once, especially if I need reminding or just haven’t quite gotten the point. What did surprise me was that the question was about my dad. At the time, I hadn’t seen or talked to him in awhile. Still, the instant the question reverberated in my heart, the answer came too:

I recalled a story my mom told me about how dad was pastoring a small West Texas church. It was time to appoint a new deacon, and dad had someone in mind–a man who genuinely loved God and was faithful to serve the church and its people. Though this man’s character made him an excellent candidate to be appointed as a deacon, others in the church sought to disqualify him because of the color of his skin. My dad stood up–both for the man and in the face of injustice. Church members responded by making sure my dad would not receive a salary, but my dad held his ground.

I remembered another story of a church member whose son had contracted AIDS. He was alone and dying in a hospital bed, and my dad planted himself by the man’s side when no one else would.

One more story–a scene I can replay in my mind through the eyes of a little girl. I went with dad as he left the house in the middle of the night to buy food for a woman who needed it. Allsups was the only place open, and I watched as he piled lunchables and other food on the counter and pulled out his wallet to pay.

Why God brought these moments to mind, I’m not completely sure. Maybe my dad needs to hear that his daughter is proud of him. Maybe his daughter needs to be reminded that in a world where opinions rage and politics are unpopular, God is still calling his people to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” which is to love God and “love your neighbor as yourself (Galatians 6:2; Mark 12:28-31).”

Either way, I’m so grateful that God speaks.

Rushing to the Wound

Because of the genetic disorder and the complications it has caused, Olivia’s breathing is noisy sometimes. A while back I overheard another child making fun of her. It caught me off guard, because our experience has mostly been that people go out of their way to be kind. I vented and was soon met with a flood of inquiries–all from people who love Olivia and wanted to make sure I was OK.

In the grand scheme of things, the incident wasn’t that big of a deal. The child apologized, I hugged Olivia extra hard, and we moved on. It did serve as a reminder that I have a wound where Olivia is concerned. The wound is not gaping open or gushing blood, but once in awhile the bandaid gets ripped off, and I feel the pain anew.

A few days ago, I watched the video of George Floyd crying out for breath as the knee of a police officer bore down on his neck and three others stood by and watched. The inhumanity and injustice of it all is undeniable. Since then, I’ve been reading and watching–sharing other peoples’ words on social media as I struggled to find my own.

I still don’t have the right words, but to stay silent, to do nothing, to just keep scrolling, feels worse than wrong.

I’m white, and I won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a person of color in America today. I have my own pain, but it’s a flimsy context for trying to identify with the struggles of those who’ve walked a path so different from mine. I do know that I love Jesus, and His Word in Romans 12:15 tells me to “weep with those who weep.” That’s not possible unless the pain of another becomes my pain too. Though I can’t literally walk a mile in the shoes of the weeping, I can get close enough to hear the lament and watch the tears fall. I can listen long enough so that my heart breaks and my tears fall too.

As I’ve begun to read, watch and listen–not just to the news but to the voices of people who have long been voicing their pain–I’ve heard again the names of other black Americans who were killed without cause: Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless more. I realize now that with each needless death, a bandaid was ripped away from a chronic wound.

In the case of my woundedness, the people around me have been quick to rush to the place of injury, eager to make it clear that Olivia is cherished and that I am not alone. The show of support has been full and immediate–no questioning, making excuses, or waiting to see how things will turn out.

Have I done this for my brothers and sisters of color? I am ashamed to say that I have not.

What I am not ashamed to say is that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I have witnessed the pain of another human being–a group of people even–and did not rush to the place of their wound. Not being racist is not enough. I have done very little to stop the bleeding, and that is not OK.

I don’t know all of the right things to do any more than I have the right words to say, but I hope that being willing to listen is a good place to begin. The thing is, real conversation inevitably brings up things that are hard or uncomfortable to talk about, even places where we don’t see eye to eye.

I commit to keep listening anyway, to keep weeping anyway.

I purpose to recognize woundedness and to be gentle with the tender places.

Father, Let my heart break for the things that break Yours. Help me weep with those who weep. Holy Spirit, only You can heal the wounds and restore broken places. “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Make us one body, unified under the mighty name of Jesus Christ. It is in that name I pray.–Amen

For anyone out there who may be interested, here are a couple of links to videos by people who want to build bridges in the body of Christ:

Dr. Anita Phillps with Christine Caine:
https://www.facebook.com/theChristineCaine/videos/368461430777555/

Pastor John Gray with Pastor Steven Furtick:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7jTUfNyPkE&t=2677s

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 14)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

It’s been nearly two weeks since I started writing this series–thirteen days to be exact, and they have been some of the longest of my life. (You can probably say the same.) 

Though staying at home does make the days seem longer, I’m thankful for the extra time. To rest. To spend with family. To do the things I’m usually too busy for. And especially, to draw near to God. 

This is my last post, at least for now. It’s strange, though. This doesn’t feel like the end of anything. Maybe it’s because President Trump extended social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Honestly though, I think I’m sensing that God intends at least part of this new way of life to extend beyond the demise of COVID-19. 

Here in my small community and around the world, we are learning a new rhythm of rest, faith and family. I believe these things have a purpose beyond quarantines and sheltering in place.

Whatever comes next, we can trust that God has a plan and that it is good:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'”–Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

Our world  has changed drastically, but God never will:

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow.”–James 1:17 (BSB)

God is good. He does good. He is good to me.

“You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees.”–Psalm 119:68 (NLT)

The way forward is in God’s hands. He has the wisdom. He knows the plan. He alone is perfectly faithful.

Today–at the end of two weeks dedicated to drawing closer to God, and at the beginning of whatever’s next–I’m choosing to hand over all the keys to the One I trust now more than ever. 

Lord, I offer you the keys to every room in my heart. Let each word of my story be dictated by You. May my life play the melody of your choosing. All the keys are Yours, God. You lead the way. 

Day 14:  Today, do an inventory of all of the rooms in your life–public or secret, wide open or locked up tight. Lay your whole ring of keys, however clunky, at the feet of Jesus. Trust Him to do what is best with all of it. As you have for the last two weeks, let God lead. This is not the end.

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 13)

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*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

We had a young woman in our youth group years ago who was terrified to pray out loud.  We’ll call her Kimberly.

Kimberly’s relationship with God was genuine, and the fruit of her faith was evident in many ways:  her kindness toward others. The way she served people with her whole heart.

She was simply afraid to pray out loud. Lots of people are, and God hears them anyway. Still, we were taking students on a missions trip where they would be interacting with people of all ages. Praying for people would be part of their role, and we wanted Kimberly to be ready. So, we didn’t press the issue too hard, but we did try to encourage her to step out of her comfort zone.

There were others in the group who were more outgoing and much more quick to take a leadership role. Some of those were less willing to serve than Kimberly. Our whole team spent lots of time together in the weeks leading up to the trip, participating in Bible studies and local outreach projects to prepare for the missions trip. A fly on the wall, if he watched closely enough, would’ve noticed the best of each of us rubbing off on the others. I watched as Kimberly’s readiness to serve rippled into the attitudes of those around her.

On one occasion, we were at a local food bank, handing out groceries to those in need. I looked over to see Kimberly praying for an older woman, and tears sprang to my eyes. I didn’t hear the words of her prayer–whether they were eloquent or simple, passionate or restrained. But I knew the purity of the heart behind them and felt that the person whose name was being lifted up was blessed indeed.

If people, after spending extended time together, can inspire such growth in each other, how much more will time spent with God bring out His greatness in us?

I know that many feel weak and powerless because of the circumstances facing our world. COVID-19 is an invisible and often impartial enemy, and it is wreaking havoc on more than just healthcare systems and economies.

But God. Our God is King, and He reigns high over the novel coronavirus. Many of us have spent the last two weeks praying and seeking God. Digging deep into in His Word. Letting go of worry and lifting up worship instead.

We’ve been lingering in the presence of God, staring into deep pools of his goodness and mercy and grace.

We’ve been hanging out with the Lion of Judah, the roar of His power rattling our bones, reverberating in every cell of our bodies. Doesn’t it stand to reason that some of that boldness–a measure of that authority–is rubbing off on us?

I’m not talking about fighting with weapons of our own making, but we are called and set apart to rise up like a mighty army–taking enemy territory for the Kingdom of God!

We are:

  • “a chosen generation” (I Peter 2:9)
  • “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37)
  • equipped with the armor of God (Ephesians 6:11)

God says:

  • “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19)
  • “Greater is He who is in you that He who is in the world” (I John 4:4)

We are to:

“Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10)

Because:

“…everyone born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” (I John 5:4)

It’s time to step out of our comfort zone, whatever that may be, and be the church of Jesus Christ!

Day 13:  How might God want His character to come boldly out of you? Today, make a move in faith! Don’t hesitate. Say, “Yes, Lord!” Whatever whole-hearted obedience looks like in this season of your life, take that first practical step. Then the next. And the next. 

God, You are the Lion of Judah, and I want Your boldness to come roaring out of me. Without You, I am nothing. But God, I recognize that I am NOT without You. Help me rise up in the authority that You created me to walk in. Worry, fear, and anxiety–in my own home and in those around me–have to give way to peace in Jesus’ name. I believe that You are doing something new in the middle of this chaos! I choose courage today. Let my voice proclaim Your goodness to the world around me. I pray that many who do not yet trust in You would do so in the coming days and weeks. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Unquarantined: Draw Near (Day 12)

*This post is part of a 14-day series. Click here to start from day one, or join in whenever you’d like.

Our 3-year-old chased a butterfly today. She suddenly stopped what she was doing, forgetting all else but the Monarch with wings of black and orange.

I wish I could cast aside the clamor of the world as easily as she does. Her eyes sparkle with a joy that comes from living entirely in the present moment. If Little Miss ever worries, I sure haven’t seen it. Why should she, when she depends on us, and not herself, for everything?

What a difference this childlike approach to life would make if applied to my relationship with God! There’s plenty of time and energy for chasing butterflies when you know that Someone greater is taking care of things.

I think this is one reason why Jesus pointed to children as the example for how to receive His Kingdom:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Luke 18:17

I enjoy studying the historical context of the Bible and digging into word meanings in the original language. I like reading commentaries written by those who have studied Scripture much longer than I have. These and other tools are helpful, and I know God has used them in my life. But today, I want to come to the Bible like a child. Taking His Word at face value. Bringing no preconceived ideas. Bringing nothing at all but open, unguarded, uninhibited trust.

Father, I am 33 years old, but I am still Your child. You are so much more trustworthy than I as a parent could ever be. Help me to lay aside anything that would prevent me from receiving Your Word and Your Kingdom with childlike faith. Teach me to live here and now, in this present moment, trusting You so implicitly that there is no question You will take care of me. As I read the Bible today, let it be with all of the wonder of chasing a butterfly. Let joy bubble up in my soul as I pursue You, and You alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Day 12 (Bible Reading Exercise #3) : As you read the Bible today, imagine that you are ten years old and reading a chapter or verse for the first time. Pray, “Holy Spirit, I intentionally lay aside me and what I know so that I can focus on You and what You know. Help me to see and trust like a child.”

***If you would like to join me in drawing near to Jesus through a 14-day Unquarantine, scroll down to enter your email address under “FOLLOW BLOG VIA EMAIL.”***