That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.

I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.

And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.


Advent Heart

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Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

It’s bothered me lately that my church has dropped the Advent wreath tradition. As I wrestled Joshua yesterday at my parents’ church (PLEASE HAVE CHILDCARE, CHURCHES!!!), I still warmed as some older women lit the pink and purple candles.

I remember each week in Advent from my childhood church: the ceremony of the lighting, Scripture, prayer, and singing of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I’m either a staunch traditionalist or nostalgic to a fault. I miss the wreath.

(I’ve occasionally had people suggest on the blog that I become Catholic. And given that I really, really love church rituals maybe they’re right.)

But it got me thinking yesterday about observing Advent. And how, if we want to worship the Christ child at the manger, it does take preparation. It takes some Advent of the heart, lighting parts of your spirit to ready yourself for remembering (prophecy), joy, peace, love.

I’m a great remember-er. But am I cultivating any of the others this Christmas? I feel wound up like tightly tangled Christmas lights, parts of me popping off and twisting until I just want to retreat from my family and myself.

My children off their schedule drive me completely ballistic. The baby just woke up from yet another miniature nap while the older two are breaking rules left and right without regard for consequence. I kind of just want to throw up, not lean my heart to worship.

There are two days left for this season. But isn’t each month, day, hour an Advent? A preparing for His coming? We wait. We wait every day. Some hours we’re desperately grasping for His presence. Some we sit in joy, peace, love. Content. Full.

I may have been lost a little this December. But praise be that we get a new Advent-start each day. New mercies. Another chance to light those candles.

How’s Your Tinsel Looking This Year?

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So, is your tree up and decorated? Ours isn’t. My husband is pretty anti Christmas-before-Thanksgiving. I told him I was going to put up our tree Monday, before we left for Thanksgiving … but with all the preparations and to-dos, it simply didn’t happen. If I’m lucky, it’ll probably be up by the 15th.

But anyway. Trees. Decorations. It’s so easy AND SO FUN to get wrapped up (ha) in all the decorations and shiny things involved with the Christmas season. Like my 5-year-old daughter, anything that sparkles and is exciting catches our eye.

Over the years I’ve found that Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands has been one of the best ways to keep the kids – and myself! – focused on the simplicity and wonder of the true Christmas story.

My sweet friend Amanda created this ebook out of years of experience doing the same sort of thing with her own two children, as well as experience as a children’s minister. Amanda has such a heart for leading parents to teach their kids about Christ at home, and every word in this ebook speaks to that. She’s now sold more than 13,000 copies of Truth in the Tinsel! People all over the world are using it and loving it. She’s developed it into church curriculum and had it translated into Spanish!

Through Truth in the Tinsel, you will lead your kids from the prophecies in Isaiah to the angels’ proclamations, through Christ’s birth and even to the Cross. Yes, it’s a sacrifice of your time and energy to do this with your kids every day. But can you think of anything more important? {Please remind me of that when I start getting lazy about it …}

If you haven’t purchased Truth in the Tinsel yet, you can get 20% off with the code VANDERBILT right now! {Only e-book, not ornaments or curriculum.} And if you have done it in years past, I’d love to hear about your experience.

Don’t forget, with Thanksgiving being so late, Advent starts THIS SUNDAY!!!! {I can already guarantee we won’t be doing anything until Monday. Just FYI. We’ll play catch up.} So get your craft supplies ready and let’s teach some Truth!


Any affiliate money I make from Truth in the Tinsel this year will be donated to helping victims of Typhoon Haiyan through Samaritan’s Purse. Thank you for using my links and helping me be able to donate to some wonderful places


25 Jesus-Centered Christmas Books to Celebrate Advent

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Jesus-centered Christmas books

I love the idea I’ve seen again and again on Pinterest for wrapping 25 Christmas books up and letting your kids open one as part of each day of Advent. We’ll be doing Truth in the Tinsel again this year, and reading a book together seems like a good waiting-for-glue-to-dry activity, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing—and think we’re evil if you want—but we don’t do Santa. I am certainly not anti-Santa by any means, but we’ve chosen to focus on Jesus as the reason for Christmas, not Santa bringing gifts. Mommy and Daddy bring the gifts in our family. (OK, truthfully, Grandma, Grandpa, Nana, and Popi bring most of the gifts.)

So I’ve been trying to come up with 25 books sans Santa that we could use for this activity. And maybe you have, too? Here are my suggestions – please leave yours in the comments!

For your ease, I’ve added all these books to a Listmania list on Amazon if you want to see them in one place.

Revised and Updated for Christmas 2014!

I have updated this to include only books we own and have read, as well as editing and adding to some of my synopses. If you have any questions about one of these books, please leave a comment or shoot me an email! In disclosure, I have paid for every one of these books with my own money or they were purchased for us as gifts. None were supplied by authors or publishers. All links are affiliate links. 

Board Books and Very Easy Books for Toddlers and Babies

Lift-the-Flap Nativity from Reader’s Digest – This one is great for little ones who love flaps and interactive reading. It’s divided into individual stories, so you can just do one or two if your young toddler doesn’t have much of an attention span.

The Very First Christmas (Beginner’s Bible) – This is just the Christmas story excerpted from The Beginner’s Bible; but if you don’t have that Bible, this is a great, simple retelling. It’s divided into tiny chapters and includes everything from the angel visiting Mary to the flight to Egypt. It also has a short chapter about Jesus growing up and what He did on the cross. [Plus, this is only 99 cents at]

Merry Creature Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall – “Little Star, Big Bear, and the proud, white mare, Join the forest creatures dancing everywhere. All the bluebirds sing, praising Christ the King, On the night of the Creature Christmas.” While I feel like the poetry in this can be slightly complicated to understand, the pictures tell the sweet story of the forest animals having a Christmas party celebrating Jesus.

The Tiny Star by Art Ginolfi – A little board book, where a tiny star plays a big role. Sometimes fictionalizations can be a little confusing for wee ones, but if you don’t mind them, the story of the nativity star here is sweet.

A Christmas Goodnight by Nola Buck – A little boy says good-night to his nativity on Christmas Eve. Simple and precious!

The Animals’ First Christmas adapted by Gaby Goldsack – If you grew up singing “The Friendly Beasts,” you will love this little book. You can sing it, if you want!

The Stars Came Out at Christmas by William Boniface – A counting book where more stars keep popping up in the sky for tactile fun.

One Shining Star by Anne Vittur Kennedy – Another nice counting book with adorable illustrations.

The Little Drummer Boy illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats – Keats drew lovely illustrations to go along with the old song. Another book you can sing!

Gifts With Humanity

Preschool to Elementary Level Books

God Gave Us Christmas by Lisa Tawn Bergren – No, I don’t like God Gave Us You. But I do like this one more. Little Cub and her Mama embark on an adventure to see how God gave them Christmas through Christ. It does mention Santa at the beginning, if you are looking for books that completely avoid that.

The Perfect Christmas Gift (Gigi, God’s Little Princess Series) by Sheila Walsh – I believe I’ve expounded on my great love for the Gigi books. They are funny for kids and adults and teach little girls great lessons about being a daughter of the Highest King. Gigi, as usual, knows EXACTLY what she wants … but finds that being a little surprised, like the Christmas shepherds, is OK too.

The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs – “It’s one of those Christmas books that isn’t technically about baby Jesus and the manger but still manages to get the entire real true story of Christmas in there without being trite or cheesy. I cry every single time I read it!” – OhAmanda

The Story of Christmas by Pamela Dalton – This Nativity storybook uses the words straight from the KJV alongside incredible papercutting illustrations. How gorgeous!

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones – “This is a children’s book, but I was totally captivated by this story. Each page shows and tells about different aspects of our world – the wind, the trees, the animals, the stars – as they whisper to each other, ‘It’s time! It’s time!’ The anticipation builds until at last Jesus arrives and creation celebrates the Light of the World and the Prince of Peace.” – The Christian Manifesto

Humphrey’s First Christmas by Carol Heyer – This is maybe my favorite Christmas book, ever. Humphrey is hilarious in feature as well as in his words as he describes the injustice of his life as a camel. And then Humphrey finds himself on a journey … and that maybe things weren’t so bad after all. ADORE IT.

The King’s Christmas List by Eldon Johnson – Mysterious things start happening for Emma and her dog when they find a glowing invitation. As they go to the King’s birthday party, Emma must decide how to help others. I will admit I find the illustrations just a tiny bit creepy, but Libbie loves this one. And I love how it shows practical ways of helping others at the end of the book.

The Wonder of Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall – We love Miss Mackall in our house. This one prompts your children to think about how each character in the Nativity might have been thinking then.

The Best Thing about Christmas by Christine Harder Tangvald – A little simplistic, but a good choice, especially for younger children. I would say the language falls more under the “toddler” heading, but it is a little wordy for those under age 2.

The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado – Joshua the lamb can’t keep up with the other sheep and feels left out … but finds himself in a special stable.

The Perfect Christmas Pageant by Joyce Meyer (Everyday Zoo series) – Hayley Hippo is in charge of the annual Christmas pageant, and she wants it to the best one ever, a gift to Jesus. But it seems like nothing can go right. Will Christmas be ruined?

Mortimer’s Christmas Manger by Karma Wilson – Mortimer, a mouse, finds a great new bed for himself: a manger in a nativity set. He can’t understand why the statues keep reappearing in the set when he’s done such a good job removing them, until he overhears the Bible story on Christmas Eve.

The Something Wonderful by Karen Hill – These goofy animals know that something wonderful is coming … but what is it? How will they know what to prepare?

For Older Children or the Especially Patient

The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson – This one is long—you could break it up over several nights, but even then, there is a lot of text per page. But it’s a beautiful story of a German cobbler who remembers the true meaning of Christmas as Christmas Eve passes. Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy. The illustrations by Mark Elliott are lovely and enchanting as well.

Mary’s First Christmas by Walter Wangerin Jr – A different way of telling the story, this is written from the viewpoint of Mary talking to Jesus about his birth when he is a boy. Undertones of what will happen to Jesus find their way into the story; some Amazon reviewers didn’t like that it is a little dark in places. Divided into chapters, so you can spread it out if desired.

The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne – The Johnson family is excited about presents and trimming the tree, but the father feels uncomfortable with their excitement. What does the tree have to do with Christmas, really? At a tree farm, the farmer tells them how the tree became the symbol of Christmas it is today, and how our Christian ancestors used it to point people to Christ.

So there you have it! Twenty-five books you can wrap up and stick under the tree. Each day in December, let your children pick one to open and read together. There will be a lot of repetition, which will help the True Story of Christmas really stick in their little hearts.

What’s your favorite Jesus-Centered Christmas book?

Other good options: