Christmas in July: A Jesse Tree Review

Last December, I was invited to a Jesse Tree party. I had never even heard of the Jesse Tree before, so I was very curious about it. The Jesse Tree is basically an Advent Calendar that walks your family through the story of the Bible leading up to the birth of Christ. Each day you hang an ornament on the tree and read a story from Ann Voskamp’s book. It sounded like fun, so we gave it a shot.

I’ve had over half a year to process the whole experience. There were some things that I loved and others that I didn’t. Overall, I think it’s worth looking into if you’re looking for a way to point your family to Jesus during the holidays. Here is my pros and cons list on The Jesse Tree.

PROS

-THE PARTY: It was an amazing idea. A friend from church organized it; and she had her house decorated beautifully, and there were delicious snacks too. Everyone invited to the party (25 people) each made one full set of 25 ornaments for one of the 25 days leading up to Christmas. My friend assigned each of us a day and we just showed up, put our ornaments in a basket and picked up one of each. It was so much easier (and cost effective) to make one ornament 25x times than it would’ve been to hand craft the ornament for each day yourself.

-THE KIDS LOVED IT. Peter reminded me every day that we needed to do our mini Christmas tree. They loved searching through the bag for the right day. I ended up putting each ornament in a sandwich bag with the day written on it, just so they wouldn’t get broken or lost. It made it easier for Peter to find which day we were reading too.

CONS

-QUALITY CONTROL: When you’re not making every ornament, you don’t have control over quality. Some ornaments looked professionally made, and some did not. If you want an even look, you may have to commit to going to several parties or making your own ornaments.

-THE BOOK: I struggle with Christian books like this. The intent is great; but at least for my family, the author completely missed her audience. The book was just so overly flowery. Anytime I tried to read directly from the book, I could see the sweet eyes of my children glaze over with incomprehension. It probably would be more meaningful to older kids who have a firmer grip on what metaphor & simile are. In the meantime, we became very good at skimming and summarizing.

CONCLUSION

We are going to do the Jesse Tree again this year. I’ve been looking for a couple years for a way to make Christmas more about Christ with our kids, and this is a great way to do that. Even though I was frustrated with the book, it still brought us back to Jesus. And my friend made us the cutest little wooden trees for our ornaments. So that’s always a bonus.

My Enneagram Excuses

I love a good personality test. I’ve done every adaptation of the True Colors test from pigment to animal species. Then, of course, there’s Myers Briggs and all of its variations. In case you were wondering, I identify as a gold choleric executive lion. Hear me roar! 😂

In case you were wondering…yes, I feel really stupid posting this picture.

Right now, the personality test of choice is the Enneagram. I have a couple friends who have become experts, and I am fascinated by it. If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, there are nine numbers with unique characteristics. Then each number has two possible wing numbers that further explain different tendencies of each personality type.

It’s shocking when you begin to study the Enneagram and immediately see yourself jump out of one particular number. I resonated so quickly with what I read about threes. Here is how a three is described on the Enneagram website:

“Threes are self-assured, attractive, and charming. Ambitious, competent, and energetic, they can also be status-conscious and highly driven for advancement. They are diplomatic and poised, but can also be overly concerned with their image and what others think of them.” – The Enneagram Institute

Reading that description felt like looking at myself with a microscope. And I began to see that my desire to be perceived as “good at stuff” was everywhere.

And this is where my problem started.

I was meeting with my mentor a few months ago, and we got to talking about parenting. I began explaining how I sometimes feel that if my kids don’t grow up to be passionate Jesus followers that it’s a reflection on me. I want people to see me as a good parent, and so I worry a lot about the spiritual decisions they’re going to make in the future.

After I explained this to her, I exhaled deeply with relief. It felt like I was unburdening myself, admitting sheepishly to who I am. It was the first time I was able to verbalize what I was struggling with and connect it to a reason for why I could think that way. My mentor is a three too, so to see understanding in her eyes made me feel like less of a crazy person.

The problem is that it was very easy for me in that moment to shrug it off as, “That’s just who I am. I’m a three.” It felt almost good to be a number. It meant that I wasn’t alone in how I perceived the world. I could be understood.

But that’s not who I am. I’ve been bought by the blood of Jesus, which means my identity is inextricably linked with His. My people pleasing ways are markings of the old man, not the new creation He’s made me to be. It may be a tendency I’ll always struggle with, but it’s not my identity.

This means that I can’t slack off in following the Holy Spirit into battle against my three tendencies. In the noble attempt to understand myself and others, I have to make sure I’m not just making excuses for sin. Instead of identifying with it, I need to surrender it.

For me, that means surrendering my desire to be perceived as a good parent. That means laying my children’s spiritual choices at His feet. That means fighting for faithfulness to Him instead of yearning for success and the accolades it could bring me. That means trusting that He is faithful and knows & understands me better than anybody else. I don’t need to worry. I may be a three, but I’m His first & foremost. And I want His personality to show up in mine.

Influence Envy: How to Kick the Green Monster Out

I had a creeper in my house a few weeks ago. He came in quietly while I was scrolling through Instagram one morning. I saw that a friend of mine who I adore was tackling a new project. This friend has it all: brains, beauty, and talent. The kicker is that she’s also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I double tapped her post along with all of her other hundreds of followers, and I think that was the moment when he snuck in and closed the door behind him, the green ghoul.

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She’s not a green ghoul (just to clarify)

Envy is not a creeper we should keep in the house. He’s the self proclaimed King of Comparison, and nothing we do is ever good enough. His one goal in inviting himself in is to remind us of what we don’t have and what other people do. Once he’s in, he’ll consume us. That’s what he was ready to do in my house as I was scrolling that morning; he was tickling my soul with the sensation that who my friend was and the influence that she had cultivated was better.

The truth is that, unless we are complete isolationists, we all have influence. That is the nature of living in any kind of community. We learn from other people, and other people learn from us. In today’s social media age, we don’t even need money or power to influence people beyond our own circles; we just need a profile. The almighty internet has made the world flat, making our circles of influence wider than ever. Today, a person can be very average and have a lot of influence. As a result of this cultural phenomenon, Influence Envy is no longer the goblin of starry eyed fangirls feasting on celebrity tabloids. It’s now calculated by the number of likes and comments and retweets our peers have. Envy has never loved a generation more than this one.

We must kick the green monster of Envy out of our houses, and there are a lot of ways to do it. An extremist would champion isolation. If we can’t handle the temptation, just delete the scrolling. When Envy has made his bed in our guest room, extremism may be the first course to take. It might be time to take a media break.

Unfortunately, extremism only addresses behavior; it doesn’t address the heart. The truth is that if Envy has made himself comfortable with us, it won’t matter if we have deleted social media. Envy will just show up everywhere else in our lives: at our jobs, in our friendships, with our families. And as soon as we re-download those apps, Envy will be there waiting, knocking at our door again, making us wish for the influence someone else has.

Envy must meet its match if he’s going to get kicked out with any permanence. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit has two friends that Envy can’t beat. If we have these two guarding our door, Envy won’t be able to get in our house. Their names are Thankfulness & Prayer.

Thankfulness is golden. She marches right into our homes and reminds us of every good gift we’ve ever been given. She brings picture albums from our past to recall the many blessings we have received. Her goal is not to change the infrastructure; she just wants to show us the good that is already there.

In my case, Thankfulness reminded me of who sits around my table. I may not have a passion project that I’m promoting; but I do have three little souls, Peter, Leanor & Josie, whom God has given me to influence. Thankfulness brought them to mind, and reminded me that God decides what influence I have and when. What He’s put around my table is enough, and I need to be faithful with that.

Then, Prayer comes in to do the real work of redecorating. She reminds us that the influence of others is still a gift, even if it’s not ours. In my case, she reminded me that I need to be lifting my friend up in her endeavors. When I’m praying for someone else to succeed in what God has called them to do, I cannot at the same time be wanting what they have.

Finally, Prayer begins to scrape away the fancy wallpaper of self-idolization that we use to cover the true condition of our souls. Prayer reminds us that we can’t beat Envy on our own. We need to surrender to the One who can…to the One who has already won. Envy and his ghouls may have pressed the crown of thorns into the head of Jesus, but the King of Kings rose again to kick Envy out of the house for good. When we fall to our knees in surrender, we realize that our identity is no longer “host for Envy” but “child of the King.” There’s just no room for the green monster there.

Thoughts on Pet Ownership or the Lack Thereof

We are not getting a dog.

Or so my husband has told me. My allergies & I are on board for now. But I have a feeling that there are two little girls who may have a chance of wearing him down in the future. Their big brown eyes and toothy grins have a way of obliterating the strongest of wills.

But until they are old enough to persuasively plead for a puppy of their own, we get our dog fix from other sources. We visit my neighbor down the road who has two dogs. And then of course, there’s Brie.

Brie is my brother-in-law’s dog. She is one of the most beautiful Golden Retrievers I’ve ever seen. Last summer, JJ flew up with us to Alaska to purchase Brie from my parents who breed Goldens up there. Ever since then, we’ve had weekly access to pure-bred puppy goodness.

On Saturday nights, Brie even accompanies our local siblings (JJ, Kylee & Esther) over to our house for dinner and to watch Riverdale. We just love having everyone over for good food and overly angsty teen dramas. Brie hasn’t yet expressed strong opinions about Riverdale, but she does love cleaning up after dinner, playing hard with the kids, and then sprawling on the cold tile for a nap once they’re asleep.

Last weekend, Brie entered the house particularly ready to play, and the Lord knows that we have plenty of stuff for her to play with. She found Peter’s Paw Patrol collection first, which was very conveniently spread liberally across the kitchen floor. It may seem barbaric to go after one of her own kind, but Brie does not discriminate. Fortunately, we rescued the pup from her jowls, and she moved on without a fight.

When we headed out back to enjoy the cooler evening weather, Brie began rummaging through the gravel. She’d select a rock at random and carry it around in her mouth for awhile before dropping it again. She just wanted a little taste.

My sister-in-law, Kylee, caught her doing this and hollered across the lawn for her to drop the rock. She plopped on the grass next to Josie and dropped her latest find. It was covered in dog saliva; but even from a distance, it didn’t look like the other rocks in our yard. We were distracted by the kids, so we didn’t throw the rock back off the grass right away. My sister, Esther, was the one who saw it first.

“Guys, I think this is a rat head.”

Chaos ensued. I started screaming. The kids scattered as if the lawn was on fire.

Brie just smiled like all Golden Retrievers do, completely unphased.

I wish I had her composure. I’m pretty sure I scared my kids.

Kylee was brave enough to get close for a good look. Sure enough, this rock had a long nose and two yellow teeth. Before we could cast lots to see who would move the decapitated remains off the grass, Brie went ahead and did it for us. Man’s best friend, confirmed, and we thank her for her service.

In case you were wondering, we did do a sweep of our yard looking for the body. We still haven’t found it, and I’ve decided that we have to move. Immediately.

I knew this story had staying power in our family when I heard Leanor singing her heart out in the bathroom the next afternoon. She was crooning the line from one of our favorite animal picture books “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” But she made some minor edits to match her own personal experience. Can I just tell you that there is nothing more terrifying than hearing “Rat head, rat head, what do you see?” reverberating off the bathroom walls in a sweet sing-song-y voice.

It’s the stuff of nightmares, folks.

I tell Jame all the time that he shouldn’t say that we are never getting a dog. God has a way of giving us what we are so emphatically against. I think He has a sense of humor. I also think He is a loving God, which is why I’m going to risk providential intervention and say this:

We are NEVER EVER getting a rat.

A Mother’s Day Message from a Millennial Daughter

A few weeks ago, I FaceTimed my mom to complain a little. My kids were going through a particularly unhealthy season, and we were spending a lot of time together cooped up in the house. There were so many messes, so many germs, and so little quiet. I was slowly going stir crazy, and a conversation with Mom was just what I needed. There’s something so soothing about talking to someone who has been there and done that and survived it…and still somehow manages to love you.

Towards the end of our conversation, I observed offhandedly, “It’s crazy how quickly you can begin to feel isolated in this mom gig.”

She laughed knowingly. “Yes! It’s crazy! And can you imagine doing it without a smart phone? Talk about isolating!”

She wasn’t downplaying my struggle. She was simply remembering her own. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized something. Motherhood was harder back then.

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In Mom’s earliest years of motherhood, she lived seven hours from the nearest family member. On a hard day, if she wanted to call her mom and vent or get advice, it was a long distance phone call and cost approximately 35 cents per minute. Cell phones were for the rich, and rich she was not. If she wanted to FaceTime, she had to hop in her car and drive the seven hours to have some literal face time.

If my grandmother wasn’t home to answer the landline when Mom called to ask for advice, what did Mom do? There was no Google to frantically search for “how to get a candle out of the clogged toilet.” There were no mom blogs, podcasts, Instagram influencers who storied away with mom hacks, or Facebook Friends who could comment their sympathy and encouragement. There wasn’t even internet. We didn’t even get a computer until I was around 8. That means for the first 8+ years of motherhood, if Mom had a problem, she had to just follow her gut, and pray she wasn’t making a mistake.

As a kid, Mother’s Day was the day to buy Mom trinkets that would probably break immediately or draw pictures that she would most likely trash later. As an adult with three kids of my own, Mother’s Day feels completely inadequate to express how much I’m thankful for how she raised me and for what she gave up to do it. If your mom stayed home with you like mine did, she gave up her independence for you. She gave up consistent connection for you. She was isolated and lonely for you. And while we who are moms might experience this in part now, we can’t fully grasp this kind of loneliness in our generation of easy access. The next time I complain about mom life on social media to then scroll through the network replies of empathy, I need to remember this; my mother’s complaints were often met with echoes bouncing back at her off the walls of our house.

So thank you, Mom. Those words seem trite now that I’m a mom, and I know by experience what I put you through. But I am truly grateful. Thank you for not viewing motherhood as an inconvenience. Thank you for persevering in love even when you felt alone. Thank you for giving up your time, your energy, and your independent life for us. Thank you for doing it all with a grace that I aspire to. Happy Mother’s Day!

Two Recent Reads for All the Moms

May is here. For me, May is Mom Month. It’s not just because of Mother’s Day either. My mom’s birthday is also this month, and her mom’s birthday is the day after. So for me, May is just 31 days of celebrating motherhood in all of its glory.

With that in mind, I’m sharing a couple of books that I’ve read and worked through recently that I just loved. They aren’t necessarily written for moms alone, but I think moms will really appreciate them.

The Read-Aloud Family, by Sarah Mackenzie

This book was deeply inspirational for me. It walks through the author’s journey to reading out loud daily with her kids, offers her reasons for doing this, and then teaches you how to do it effectively with your own kids. One of the emphases I loved in this book is that it encourages reading with your kids not just for the numerous academic and developmental benefits it will give them. It also encourages reading as connection. This book posits that you can grow thick emotional bonds with your child simply by opening a book and sharing it with them. This concept resonated with me, because some of my fondest memories as a kid were spent in the living room of my family’s home reading “Little House on the Prairie” out loud together. The book also offers some great tips too on how to choose books, how to have conversations about books with your kids, and how to continue reading aloud past the elementary years. One caveat on this one though: it will motivate you to go do it all bigger and better than you did before! I immediately started reading “Charlotte’s Web” with Peter. We hadn’t ventured out into chapter-book-land yet. And you know what? He’s loving it, and so am I!

God of Creation, by Jen Wilkin

This study is so awesome! I love that the very first section of the study is just spent teaching how to study the Bible. It’s far more simple than you would think! I’ve read the first 11 chapters of Genesis many times, and I’ve heard the stories those chapters contain even more from growing up in a Christian home. This study gave fresh perspective and new application to a very familiar portion of Scripture. It is wonderful for moms too! Sometimes it can feel overwhelming as a mom to study the Bible regularly and deeply with little kids running everywhere. It can be easy to feel like there simply isn’t enough time to go deeper. This study proves that it doesn’t have to take hours to go deep. The daily homework is a page or two at most, but I was getting so much out of what I was reading. For those of you who are auditory learners, there are also teaching sessions available that you won’t get by just reading this book. I believe that the study can stand by itself; but if you can spare the change to download the sessions, do it. Jen Wilkin is an amazing teacher! And bonus points: look how pretty the book is! I don’t know about you; but for some reason, if it’s pretty, I’m there.

Happy May, Moms!! What books are you reading and loving?

Getting Used to Change

Being a mom has basically killed shock value for me. You just get used to the weird and the gross being a part of daily life. For example, when I caught Josie eating Cheerios directly out of the dustpan last week, I wasn’t really that phased. And when I found a partially chewed banana that she had hidden in one of my kitchen cabinets, I wasn’t really that surprised to see it there.

I think that this is what naturally happens when you spend every waking moment with your children. I’ve basically been a stay at home mom for 5 years now. I’ve adjusted to planning outings around nap times. I’ve gotten used to never peeing alone. I’m comfortable with diaper changes and vomit and night time wake ups and over-sugared toddler monsters. It’s taken some time, but I think I’ve acclimated to this lifestyle. I’m almost shocked that I’m not shocked anymore. I’ve stopped panicking about a missed nap or a public temper tantrum or any number of bodily fluids on the tile. I’ve survived all of it before; I can survive it again.

And I don’t just survive it anymore; I love it. I love being with my kids, even if being with them means being with chaos. Because for every singular moment of chaos, there are infinite moments of overwhelming joy.

We are rapidly approaching a change to our home brewed brand of chaos. Peter starts Kindergarten in August. My only son, my first born, my baby boy is old enough to go get educated. People have told me that I’m going to love it, but I’m not sure I believe them. I’m not used to the backpacks, lunches, uniforms, and homework. I’ve never done a back to school night or a student pick up line. I don’t know common core math; I can barely handle the tip when we go out for dinner. All of this is unfamiliar. It harkens back to the total befuddlement I experienced the first time I held him in my arms. Except for now, it’s not that I’m not used to him. It’s that I’m not used to saying goodbye to him.

This is motherhood. Just when you feel like you got it down, the rules change. And it’s not just motherhood. This is life. The trick is to learn to love its ever changefulness, to lean into the challenges it brings and to savor the joys. It’s what I would whisper to my younger trimmer undergrad self who was sweating finals and the glaring uncertainty of her future. It’s what I would say to my newly wed self in that fancy white dress, so scared of being a bad wife. It’s what I would shout to my postpartum self who held her firstborn that first night and cried herself to broken sleep. It’s what I’m hoping to remind myself in a few months when I wave goodbye to my grown up boy on the first of many days of school. Life changes; get used to that. Love it anyways.