The Candle of Hope: Family Night

Last year, we started a new family tradition of celebrating the season of advent, or the weeks that lead up to Christmas.

No, we’re not Catholic, but they’ve got some good traditions over there in their fancy churches.

Anywho, last year we got through three weeks and then I had to go throw a wrench in the plan and have a baby.  That put an end to the family nights for awhile.  This year, I am determined to family night it for all four weeks!

So, last night was the first candle in our advent candle holder. (We have a candle holder and not a wreath.)  It’s the candle of hope that symbolizes the hope the people had for the coming of a Savior, Jesus.

So, to start things off, yesterday afternoon I gathered the boys on the rug, and took their picture… because they’re so darn cute.  Right?

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Then we talked about how before Jesus was born, God had said that He was sending a Savior to the world and how the people were waiting, and hoping for that Savior to arrive.  I taught them Micah 7:7 from the New Living Translation as a memory verse (with hand motions that I made up to help them remember) and then we read the story of another man in the Bible who had hope in God, Daniel.  We read the story of Daniel and the lion’s den out of Jacob’s kid Bible and they were really into it.

Next, we did a little craft.  We made lion masks to help us remember that because Daniel hoped in God (not in himself or the king or the other men) God honored him by sending His angels and closing the mouths of the lions!

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Here’s the finished products.  Elijah was a little scared of the masks.  I don’t blame him.  They look a little more like cannibal warrior masks, than lions.  Maybe?

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Next, we prepared dessert for the night, zebra cake!

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We figured if the lions couldn’t eat Daniel, they were probably pretty hungry, so we needed to feed them lion food.  You know, zebras and stuff. I found this cake mix with chocolate and white cake in the same box, but you could easily buy a box of each and make it yourself.  Just prepare each batter and then take a 1/4 measuring cup and alternate scooping chocolate and white cake into the bottom of cake pan.  It should end up looking like a bulls eye, like this.

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We frosted the outside to make it look extra zebra-ish…

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and the inside looked really cool when it was finished!

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For dinner we ate meat, because those poor lions were starving.

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After dinner we talked about how Jesus is our hope for everything!  He is our hope for forgiveness (John 1:29), our hope for freedom (Romans 8:2), our hope for salvation (John 14:6), and our hope for all we need (Matthew 6:33.)  Then we worked together to make a poster titled “DeVincenzo Family Hopes for 2012” where we wrote out all our hopes for the upcoming year.

This is the part where I totally underestimated my kids.

I thought they would think of all concrete things, like “I hope for new legos!” or “I hope for a fast bike!”  Things like that.  So, I decided to start them off and said, “I hope for a fun vacation so we can spend fun time together as a family.”  (A little concrete thinking, mixed with a little abstract, right?)  Then Jacob said, “I have one!  I hope Lauren gets healed this year!”  Tears.  Lauren’s doing great with her new heart but she has been in and out of the hospital with low white blood cell counts and low platelets and getting sick and getting better, and we’ve been praying for her everyday, and it just overwhelmed me that she was the first thing my 4-year-old thought of when we were thinking of our hopes for the new year.  We must be doing something right. 

Here’s our finished poster.

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Then we lit our candle of hope.

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So, far this is my most favorite family tradition!  What’s your favorite family tradition during the holidays?

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Am I missing the blessing?

Do you ever fear that you’re missing the blessing?  I do.

Not that I think God withholds His blessings from us. Because I definitely don’t think that.  But do you ever think He looks down on us, shakes His head, sighs and says, “Girl, if you would just let go and trust me, if you would just ignore your fears and lean on me, if you would stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and really understand what I think, then, and only then, would you see that I have SO MUCH MORE for you!”

Do you ever think He thinks that? I do.

Well, at least I think He thinks that about me. Maybe not you. But definitely me.

The crazy thing, too, is that I really feel like I have witnessed God’s power firsthand. I’ve seen answers to prayers that I thought were impossible. I’ve seen Him change people I thought were unchangeable. I’ve seen Him repair situations that I thought were irrepairable.  So, wouldn’t you think that would make me someone who would do anything to be smackdab in the middle of His will for me and my family so I could experience as much of His blessing as I possibly could this side of heaven? One would think…

I’m pondering all of this because we’re kind of at a crossroads. We’re probably going to end up moving here shortly. Geric is working, but it’s definitely not his dream job. And I’m just sort of feeling like we’re in a rut. Like, there must be more to life than this. Not that I am not fully aware of the blessings that have already been bestowed upon me. I am. Believe me. I am. But some days, a lot of days, it feels like we were made for something bigger than this.

Am I making any sense?

Some days Geric will say we should just sell everything and move away and be missionaries. And I always say, “You’re crazy!” He is crazy, right? Because I’ve done the missionary thing and I don’t know if I’m cut out for that. Three months in the heat of Honduras without my family or my bestie was a very long time. A. Very. Long. Time. And now I have kids! That just seems impossible.

But my God is the God of the impossible.

I really wish God would just write things in the sky sometimes. If I was God I would do that. Why not? My people want to know what I think? Here, I’ll write it over here in cloud formation. What’s the big deal, God? Just a little hint wouldn’t kill me. Right?

Or maybe He could show me kind of like a magic 8 ball. I could ask him a question, like should we move in with my mom and dad? And then I would close my eyes and see a traffic signal with the red light lit up, signaling, no you should not, because you’ll end up hating your mom (and she you) and your husband will go crazy.

Something like that would be really helpful. Right?

That and a money tree.

But I digress.

Here’s what I have to cling to: Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” So, it’s a constant thing. Its not a one time sky writing event, its a daily immersion in God’s word and prayer. I think we are oblivious to the ways the things of this world fill our minds to the point that we cloud out God’s will for us. We could see Him so clearly if He was our one true focus.

How much time do I truly spend with my Savior? Just me and Him? Not just mealtime prayers, or prayers before school, or bedtime prayers, but one on one time, just me and my Jesus? Not nearly enough. Could that be why I can’t hear His voice so clearly?

What’s that, God? I can’t hear you over the music from Dancing with the Stars! Speak up!

That’s a joke, but it’s kinda for reals, right?

I’m tempted to write something about how I’m going to give up reality TV to hang with God. Or how I’m gonna spend my first hour of the day with God by setting my alarm clock for really early o’clock. But I don’t think God works like that. I don’t think He wants us to feel like we have to spend time with Him. I think He wants us to want Him.

So instead of setting a time limit or calling a TV fast, I’m going to start praying for more of a hunger. A true hunger that cannot be satisfied by anything but Him. A hunger that cannot be ignored.

God, make me hungry for You

And that money tree wouldn’t hurt either.

Amen.

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By the Grace of God

Everybody has their stuff… their challenges, their hard times, their mountains to climb. I’m no different over here. I just advertise mine to the whole blogosphere while everyone else keeps theirs to themselves.  All that we’ve been going through lately has had me thinking about God’s grace.

What is grace anyway?  There’s the acrostic I learned when I was in youth group: GRACE is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  But going a little deeper, I think God’s grace is when we get something that we don’t deserve.  It’s God’s favor.  It’s God looking down on us and saying, “I love you so much, I’m gonna cut you some slack.  I’m gonna help you out.  Why?  Because you are highly favored in my eyes.”

The funny thing about grace is this… God does not dole it out equally. He certainly doesn’t withhold it, but he just doesn’t give the same amount to everyone.  It doesn’t work like that.
No, He gives it to us as we NEED it.

I went to a Beth Moore Bible Study last year at my church and she was talking about how she had a small group of girlfriends that were really close. One of the women in the group had a sick child that ended up dying. At the funeral Beth sat in the front row with her girlfriends who were bawling their eyes out in utter devastation. I guess they were causing quite a scene. She said the mother of the child that had died got up and said them, “Ladies, you need to pull yourselves together.” Yes, she was devastated too, but she had strength that the other women did not. Why? Because God gave her the grace to walk through it.

We can also see this in the Bible with our friend, Paul. Paul went through it all… stonings, beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, and eventually execution. However, in one of his times in prison, he penned the following words, “Now what I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (Phil. 1:12) I don’t know about you, but if I was stuck in prison (simply because I wasn’t liked) I would be feeling devastated. I would be feeling sorry for myself and throwing myself the world’s biggest pity party. I probably wouldn’t feel much like praising Jesus for my chains and I certainly wouldn’t be thinking that I was there to bring glory to Him.

How did Paul get such supernatural strength? Grace. God unloaded a dump truck full of grace right in Paul’s lap to enable him to get through his situation. Not just enough to “get through” it but to triumph through it.

Jesus gave Paul these words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) Paul knew that no matter what he faced; weakness, obstacle, tragedy, sickness, etc. God’s grace was sufficient. God’s grace alone would be what got him through. And he knew that God would give him enough grace to cause him to triumph and give God the glory.

I was thinking about all of this because after my post about losing my job (on top of my foreclosure post) I got a bunch of texts, emails, phone calls, and cards from several different friends.  (Which is why I said last week that I really, really love my friends.  Really.)  I started thinking, I should probably be more upset about this, judging by the amount of people who are reaching out to me.  And then I started psycho-analyzing myself… Am I stuffing feelings?  Am I shutting down?  What is going on here?

And then I realized… God’s grace!  He has given me the grace, the supernatural strength, to get through my circumstances.  Yes, I get overwhelmed at times.  Yes, there are days that I am completely frustrated and stressed out about our situation.  But, overall, I feel a peace that God is going to take care of us, as He always has.  I know with confidence that He has a plan for me and my family that is better than anything I can imagine on my own.  My job is to keep my eyes on Him.  As long as I do,  He gives me just enough grace to walk in front of it all.

All I have to do is trust Him.  He’s got the rest.  He’s told me so, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

That’s not fair, God.

This post is dedicated to Geneva and Lauren and both of their mommies that astound me with their strength and their faith every single day.

This week I’ve been thinking about God and His sovereignty and His justice, and why things happen why they happen. Because, honestly, a lot of it just doesn’t seem fair. Things like innocent people dying in riots in London, hungry and forgotten children in Somalia, and incurable diagnoses for children.

Why does He allow this?

Its not fair.

Sure, you can Jesus Juke me and give me the easy answer: We live in a fallen world and these are the repurcussions of sin.

Knowing that doesn’t make me feel better. It doesn’t bring the dead back to life. It doesn’t feed the starving children. It doesn’t get kids out of hospitals.  And it doesn’t make my best friend’s daughter walk on her own.

I know I sound faithless right now. I’m not. Keep reading.

I read in a devotional this week about Lazarus’ death. In case you don’t know the story, Lazarus was Jesus’ good friend. They were practically besties. If they had charm necklaces back then Lazarus would’ve had “Be Fri” and Jesus would’ve had “st end.” I’m sure of it.

But what happened when Lazarus got seriously sick? Jesus got word of his best friend’s illness and waited two days before he went to go to him.

Two days??? And it wasn’t even because he had to travel across a vast and arid desert to get to his BFF. It was because He simply waited.

And what happened when He arrived? Well, besides from Lazarus being dead already, Mary and Martha (his sisters) were a little bummed that Jesus decided to take His sweet time. They even said, “Dude, if you would’ve been here, Lazarus would still be alive.” (Maybe they didn’t say “dude” but they would have if they lived in Southern California.)

But what does Jesus do next? He brings Lazarus back to life. He does the miraculous, that’s what. Mary and Martha thought they had hit a dead end (literally.)   They thought they were out of options. They thought Jesus had put them on the backburner and let the worst happen. But in reality, He LOVED them so much, that He chose to demonstrate His power and His glory through them in performing His best miracle to date, bringing the dead back to life.

Amazing.

No, seriously.  Sit with that for a sec.

Amazing.

So, that’s what I have to hold on to. When I hear bad news from a doctor, when I watch my friends daughter struggle to keep up, when I hear about children starving, I can’t lose hope. We might be in the “two days.” The two days from a miracle.

And this miracle could be one of the best.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Hebrews 11:1

Keepin’ the Faith Fridays

I’ve decided to dedicate Fridays to the things that God is showing me.  It’ll probably be lighter on the humor and heavier on the personal insight.  Hopefully, it’s still your thang and you stick around.

And hopefully I stick to my word and really do this on Fridays!  Haha!

Tuesday night was tough as far as sleep was concerned.  Elijah woke up at his usual 1am and 4am wake up calls.  But Caden and Jacob decided to add some fun to my night by waking up in between because they had decided to share a bed… but then Jacob was laying on Caden… and Caden kicked him out of his bed… but wouldn’t give him any of his stuffed animals… so yeah.  I was breaking up fights in my sleep at 2am.  Awesome.  Needless to say, when everyone woke up for the day at 6:30am (nice) I was exhausted.

I had told my sister that we would meet her at the beach on Wednesday, and even though I tried to text my way out of it, she guilted me into coming.  (I’m easily guilted, by the way.)

We arrived at the beach before my sister and parked a few blocks from the sand.  After slamming my whole hand in the van door (Who does that?  Fingers, understandable.   Whole hand?  Just me.) I unloaded the entire back of the van, got Elijah in the stroller and made my way down the three blocks, baring an uncanny resemblance to a pack mule.

Once we actually hit the sand, I set out the umbrella, broke up a fight over the blue bucket, laid out towels, broke up a fight over a yellow shovel, sunscreened three kids (and my shorts and shirt because the nozzle was broken), tried to make Elijah stop eating the sand, set up my beach chair, passed out PB&J to my “starving” children, and finally sat down.  Ten minutes later I was nursing a baby.

My sister showed up with a couple of her friends. And here’s how their beach day went.  They all dropped their half filled tiny beach bags on the sand, laid out their towels, took off their clothes to reveal their skinny stretch-mark-free bodies, and laid down.  The end.

I told my sisiter about my lack of sleep and she said, “Well, at least you get a ‘lounge around’ day today.”

Yah…

I was so envious.  I get envious a lot on family beach days.  I look around at all the younger girls and think back to when I spent whole summers at Laguna Beach with my best friend.  We would get there around noon and literally lounge around until sunset.  It was beautiful.  Not a real care or responsibility in the world.  Those were the days.

As I was thinking of all this on the drive home a verse came to mind, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  It says, “Rejoice always,  pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  I specifically remember memorizing that Bible verse in the back of my Dad’s car during a long drive up to Northern California.  And thank God I did.

The grass is always greener on the other side and I can stand at the fence in the middle and gaze over at that luscious green grass of my sister’s, or I can turn around and be thankful for mine.  Not just be thankful, but rejoice.  Because let’s be honest, I have more than just grass.  I have a whole garden over here!  God has blessed me, indeed.

And not only should I rejoice, but I should be thankful, because this is God’s will for me.  So often we wonder, what is my purpose in life?  Or, am I truly making a difference in the world?  But I can say with confidence that if you’re in God’s will, then you are exactly where you should be.

See, God has this whole plan mapped out and all of us play a part that He has designed, and it may not feel big now, but who knows what the future holds?  Being a mother (or a father for that matter) on a day to day basis feels tedious and sacrificing and unrewarding, but think about it in the long run.  Who are you raising?  Even Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and Bono had a mom, right?  And I guarantee that somehow, their mom shaped their future.  Even though passing out juice, and cleaning up messes, and folding laundry seems so menial, my job is HUGE, and for that I am thankful.

So, my real job?  My real role?  To pray continually.  Because prayer is powerful.  Not only do I pray for these little reminders about how blessed I am (even though beach days are far from relaxing) but I pray for my children.  I pray for their futures and for their todays.  I pray that they see Jesus everyday and grow to be men that desire to make a Kingdom difference.  I pray that I am raising passionate followers of His and men that will stand on the front lines in His name.

So how about you?  Any circumstances that you should be thankful for?  Anything you should be rejoicing about?