Family Advent Bags

img_8734We are in the season of Advent!  Christians around the world are celebrating this season by preparing their hearts for the birth of Jesus Christ. Advent is a season of waiting and anticipating the glorious birthday of our Lord.

At church each Sunday in Advent, we light a candle on the Advent wreath.  There are five candles:  three purple (which represent hope, love, and peace), one pink (which represents joy), and one white (which is the Christ candle and is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day).

Sometimes the only place we talk about Advent is at church.  So what can you do to celebrate Advent every day with your family at home?

One great way is through a Family Advent Bag.  This year I gave the families of my church one of these bags.  This bag was filled with many fun things families could do together to keep their focus on Jesus.  I found some of the ideas for the bag on this YouTube video by Shawn Howell:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyAlu5E9ev4 and others I created myself.

The bag included the following items.  For a printable list, click here: family-advent-bag-list

Family Advent Calendar:  Each day between the first Sunday of Advent and Christmas Day is filled with activities your family can do.  These activities include things like:  doing a random act of kindness, taking a trip to look at Christmas lights, baking a birthday cake for Jesus and much more.  To see the calendar I created, click here: advent-calendar-for-families
Advent Wreath Magnet:  The most simple Advent wreath I found was magnetic!  Families can stick it on their fridge and place new candles on it every Sunday.  I bought these wreaths on the Living Grace website:  http://www.livinggracecatalog.com/product/advent-wreath-magnet-set-nc152/seasonal
Advent Devotions:  I created four Advent devotions for families to use each Sunday in conjunction with the Advent wreath magnet.  They will read together the devotion and place a candle on the wreath each week.
Christmas Morning Envelope:  I wrote a letter for families to open first thing on Christmas morning.  Before they open any presents, they should open the envelope and read the letter together.  To see a copy of the letter, click here: Christmas Morning Envelope
Craft Ornament:  I included an Oriental Trading Nativity craft in each bag.  To find one for your family, visit their website:  www.orientaltrading.com
Glow Stick:   Inside each bag I put one glow stick.  I told families to break this stick on Christmas Eve and sing Silent Night with their family.  This is a reminder that Jesus is the Light of the world.
Sticky Notes:  I put a pack of sticky notes in each bag for families to use to write encouraging words to each other.
Christmas Prayer Cube:  Living Grace makes a wooden Christmas prayer cube that I bought and put in the bags.  On each colored side of the cube is written a prayer.  Families can roll the cube and read the prayer together before meals.  To see the cube go to this site:  http://www.livinggracecatalog.com/product/christmas-prayer-cube-rd001/seasonal
Faith 5 Bookmark:  I wanted to give families a simple idea for a family devotion and I found a bookmark that highlighted a great way to do one.  Faith 5 lists these steps for a family devotion:  share highs and lows, read a Bible verse or story, talk about the Bible verse or story and how it can relate to your highs and lows, pray for one another’s highs and lows, and bless each other.  To see their website and to get a copy of the bookmark, click here:  https://store.faithink.com/index.asp?PageAction=VIEWPROD&ProdID=4048
Jesus’ Birthday Cake:  I have no idea where I got this recipe, but it was given to me back at the beginning of my ministry career.   Each layer of this cake represents something.  To see a copy of this recipe click here:  Jesus birthday cake

This Family Advent Bag has been a hit with the kids and their parents at our church!  I love hearing the stories of how their family is excited to celebrate Advent!  Feel free to use the printables from this post to create your own Family Advent bag.

Look for my next post in a few days to be on 30 Ways to Have a Christ-Centered Family Christmas!

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Telling the Good News: My Takeaways from The Belong Tour

img_8720This weekend I was able to attend the Belong Tour in Atlanta with women from my church.  Words cannot describe how excited I was to be going to this event.  For one, I was ready to worship.  As a Children’s Minister I don’t get to go to worship very much, so here was a chance for me to worship the Lord along with many women.  Singing to the Lord is one of my favorite things to do and I was ready to sing!

Second, I was ready to hear from the Lord from this amazing line-up of speakers:  Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequest, Patsy Clairmont, Nichole Nordeman, Angela Davis, and Sharon Irving.  I look up to these women and knew that I was going to get some awesome God-spoken words from them.  I was ready to hear these women speak!

But as I walked out of the door after Friday night’s session, all I could feel was disappointment.  Where was Jesus?  He was mentioned very little.  Where were the worship songs?  We sang more secular songs than worship ones.  Why did we not pray?  I was praying in my seat, though!  Why did they choose not to speak the Word of God that night?  There was no mention of any Scripture.

More questions rang through my head…What did I sign up for?  Did I misunderstand the meaning of The Belong Tour?  Did I come with too high expectations? Did anyone else feel the same way I did?  Where are you, Lord?

I prayed many times that night and on Saturday morning before we returned for another day of The Belong Tour.  I asked God to be present.  I asked God to take away my negative attitude so I could see Him in this event.  I asked God to give me an open mind.  I asked God to bring good from this event.

And friends….God did all those things and more.

I am writing this post because I want to share with you all the great things I did get out of The Belong Tour, even though it was not at all what I thought it would be.

  1.  Fellowship    On our way to the event we picked up a friend and when she got in the car she yelled, “Party!!!”.  That’s what it felt like for me that weekend.  A big party with my church friends.  I got to spend a weekend in beautiful fellowship with the ladies from our church…which is something I don’t get to do often.  One great thing about this conference was that we were able to get younger women from our church to attend, so it was awesome to see the merging of older women (who really aren’t old) and younger women.  I enjoyed our talks, our prayers, and just being with them.  They were a refreshment to my soul.
  2. Laughter     The amount of time I spent laughing this weekend was crazy!  Every time we got in the car someone would say something that started the non-stop laughter.  There were times I could not stop laughing.  These women brought joy and happiness into my life this weekend.
  3. Love    My church friends showed love to everyone this weekend. From the hugs, high fives, encouraging words, and prayers, I definitely felt the love.  And most importantly I felt the love of Jesus showered upon me by these precious women of God.
  4. Confirmation of God’s calling   This was the most important takeaway that I received this weekend.  I felt God confirming my calling to teach, write, and speak the Word of God to others, especially women.  He confirmed this by giving me this verse from Psalm 40:9-10

“I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; see I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have not hidden your saving help within my heart, I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.” 

When I read that, tears welled in my eyes.  God does not want me to keep Him hidden.  He wants me to speak boldly of Him to “the great congregation”.  God wants me to live a life that leads others to Him.  He wants me to share the love of Jesus by telling them what amazing things He has done for me and for others.

I do NOT want to be a woman who conceals Jesus and hides Him away in my heart.  When I speak in front of others, write on my blog or in books, or stand to teach about Jesus, I want God to get the glory.  I want others to know who Jesus is.  I want them to see how awesome, powerful, mighty, faithful, loving, compassionate, and holy is the Lord our God.  I want “the great congregation” to see Jesus in and through me.

On our way to the hotel Friday night, after one of my own prayers to the Lord about where He was in all of that, we got off our exit and in a HUGE, bright billboard on that exit was the word, “JESUS”.  He was there.  He’s always there…even in events where I felt there should have been more of Him presented.  He never fails to show up.  He has been and will always be present with us.

I believe that no matter what happens to you, what expectations you have that are not met, or things turn out totally different that what you thought, that “God works all things for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28).

Friends, may we be reminded today of the words of Jesus, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  Go on your way.” (Luke 10:2-3).

The name of Jesus needs to be shared.  His name needs to be made known so that all can have eternal salvation.

Are you ready to be one of the laborers?

Here am I Lord, send me.

My Podcast Interview

adventures-in-revlandI love talking about my faith, my family, and my ministry (as you all know).  And I was so excited when my friend, Jim Parsons (not the actor, but the pastor!), asked if he could interview me for his podcast, Adventures in Revland.

Jim and I go way back to seminary days at Duke Divinity School.  Jim is the pastor at Indian Trail UMC in Indian Trail, NC.  He and his wife, Alycia, are dear friends of mine.

Jim and I discuss life in Children’s Ministry, as well as my call into writing.  It was such a fun interview and I am so honored to be a part of his podcast.

I would love for you to click on the link below to hear my interview.

AiR_E005 – Children (Vanessa Myers)

There are also several other interviews of people in ministry that you can check out on his podcast and blog as well.  To make sure you don’t miss an episode, you can subscribe to his podcast, Adventures in Revland.

So thankful for this opportunity to share my faith and God’s calling in my life!

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Christmas Love Letters from God: A Review and a Giveaway

christmas-love-letters-coverGlenys Nellist has done it again.

The author of Love Letters from God brings you another powerful book for children that will open up their hearts and help them feel God is speaking right to them.

In Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys tells the magnificent story of the birth of Jesus.  She begins with the story of Isaiah’s good news found in Isaiah 9, when he delivers a message of hope to the people:  a child will be born and He will be the light of the world.  He will deliver us and rescue us from the darkness.  He is our hope.

The book then tells each part of the Christmas story, capturing the hearts of all who read it:  Mary’s song, Joseph’s dream, the journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus, the Shepherd’s visit, and the Wise Men’s gifts.

What I love about this book is the simple, yet powerful way Glenys delivers the wonderful story of the birth of Jesus.  Her words make you feel that you are right in the story, experiencing it along with each person.  Her words draw the reader closer to Jesus, making you realize that His birth was meant to save you.

Besides the story, Glenys also provides the reader with two other pieces to this book:  God’s Perfect Promise and a lift-the-flap Love Letter from God.  God’s Perfect Promise is a nugget of truth from Scripture that the Lord writes to remind us of His perfect promise in Jesus Christ.  They are short, easy to remember verses that will allow a child to treasure that verse and recall it when they need to.

To me, the Love Letter from God is the most special part of the book. Every child that reads each letter tucked inside this book can insert their own name and read the letter as if God is speaking right to them.  And at the very end of the book is a lift-the-flap letter where the child can write their own love letter to Jesus, which is their gift to Jesus.

I read this book aloud with my 9-year old daughter.  She and I took turns reading the stories and inserting each other’s names into the letter.  When I asked my daughter what she loved about the book, she said the letters were the most special part of it.  At the end of the book, she wrote a letter to Jesus in the “My Gift to Jesus” lift-the-flap letter.  Here is what she wrote:

Dear Jesus,

I love you!  I am so glad that you were born.  What were Bible days like? 

I love you,  Shelby

That sweet letter brought tears to my eyes. Christmas Love Letters from God opened my child’s eyes and allowed her to see the love that Jesus has for her.  It opened her mind and her heart to wonder what life was like when Jesus was born.  And it also allowed her to express her love to Jesus.

One thing I was not expecting, though, was how this book would affect me.  Let me tell you…this book, I believe, is not meant just for small children, but for all children of God, even 40-year olds like myself. I felt God speaking directly to me through the words of Glenys.  The letter found in Joseph’s dream went straight to my heart:

“Never be afraid to say yes to me.  When you hear those quiet whispers in your heart – whatever I say, whatever I might ask you to do – remember that just like I helped Joseph, I will help you, too.”

I am so thankful for the ways that the Lord speaks to us.  He can use a book designed for children to be the tool He uses to speak directly to our hearts.  And when He speaks, you know it’s Him.

I highly recommend Christmas Love Letters from God . This not only would be a wonderful Christmas present for your child, but it would be a great family book as well.  You could use this book as a family devotion as you sit around the table for a meal or at night before bed.  You could read a section of this book weekly or each day leading up to Christmas Day.  You could speak each family member’s name into the letters.  You could use the verses of God’s Perfect Promise as your Bible verse to memorize each week.  You could also pray that Scripture verse over each child in your family, inserting their name as if God is speaking directly to them.  So many ways to use this book for a child or for your whole family.

I am excited to share that one person will win a copy of this special book! Zondervan is giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God.  To enter, all you need to do is comment on this post.  A winner will be announced on Monday, October 24.

To see a video of the book, check out this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjKR8EQZIMo

Glenys
Glenys Nellist

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The Prayer Collector

We know God as our Healer, Friend, Savior, Prince of Peace, Heavenly Father, Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Creator and many other things.  But have we ever looked at God as a collector of prayers?

In Chapter 17 of The Circle Maker, Mark says, “In much the same way that God bottles our accumulated tears (Psalm 56:8), God collects our prayers.  Each one is precious to Him.  Each one is sealed by God.  And you never know when He’s going to uncork an answer.”

I’ll admit that I have never viewed God as a prayer collector.  I have looked at Him as the One who answers our prayers, but not really as collecting them.

Imagine for a moment that every time you lift up a prayer, God grabs it tightly and gently places it in the box marked for you.  Every prayer you speak over someone or something, He hears and He does not forget.  Each prayer is precious to Him because you have lifted it up.  You are special to Him and He collects these prayers and will answer them when it’s time.

One important thing we tend to forget, though, is that when our prayers go unanswered, we feel as if God hasn’t heard us.  Or that He doesn’t care about us.  We feel that our prayer has been lifted up only to be discarded by God.  Like it’s not worthy of being answered.

How much further from the truth can that be?

So what can we do to teach our kids that God does hear us and He does answer prayer?

One idea is to have a Family Prayer Box.  Have each family member write down prayer requests (one prayer per slip of paper).  Collect these prayers in your own family prayer box (make sure to put the date on the slip of paper).  Every night when you sit around the dinner table or before bed, have each family member draw a prayer request from the box, drawing until all of the requests have been taken out.  Then pray individually for each request.  After you pray, place the request back into your family prayer box.  As prayers are answered, you can take them out and place them in the “Answered Prayers” box.  This will allow your family to visually see that God does hear us and that He does answer prayers.

This activity will help your family see God as The Prayer Collector.  What a great visual to see that the prayers we lift up are collected by God and answered in His time.  Not our time, but only His time.  And what a great way for you also to give thanks and praise to God as you transfer those collected prayers over to the answered prayers.

Journal Questions
1.  What do you think about this view of God as The Prayer Collector?

2.  What prayer do you feel has been lost by God because it has gone unanswered?

3.  Write out a prayer to the Lord, viewing Him as The Prayer Collector.  This could be a prayer of forgiveness, a prayer of thanksgiving, or a prayer of petition.

ASAP Prayers

img_8192 We live in a world where we can get most anything instantaneously.  Need to contact someone?  Call their cell phone.  Want someone to answer you immediately?  Text them.  Love a song?  Download it onto your iPod or phone.  Need an answer for something?  Google it.  Don’t have time to cook?  Run through the drive-through at your favorite fast food restaurant.  Want a new recipe?  Find it on Pinterest.  Want to catch up on your favorite tv show?  Watch it on Netflix.

Anything you want, right here right now, you can pretty much get.  And we have become accustomed to this mentality, too.  We have even rolled this thinking over into our relationship with God.  I mean, who else can give us anything we want at any time, but God, right?

In our prayers, we ask God for many different things:  healing, forgiveness, provision, wisdom, peace, and so much more.  And many times, even if we don’t say it out loud, we are thinking that we really want God to answer our prayer.  Like right then.  Or for sure in the next day or two.  We aren’t even thinking that our prayer might not be answered at that time.  We want our prayers answered and we want them answered now.

Mark Batterson calls this the ASAP approach (p.196).  We need this God, and we need it as soon as possible.  Please don’t delay, Lord.  I’m not sure if we can make it.  I don’t think I can take this much longer.  Please, hurry up, God!

We get in this frame of mind that what we ask God for needs to happen now.  And if it doesn’t happen now, then it needs to happen really soon.  If our prayer doesn’t get answered, then we stop praying for it.  We think that God either doesn’t hear us, doesn’t care about us, or thinks this prayer is not worthy of being answered.  As Mark says, “we stop circling” (p. 196).

What we need to realize, though, is that the only prayer answered instantly from God is that of forgiveness.  We know that God forgives each one of us no matter what we do.  All we have to do is ask.  So there’s no question of if or when He will forgive us.  As soon as we ask, we are forgiven.

All other prayers that we pray are not guaranteed to be answered right away. God doesn’t promise that He will answer at that moment or in a few days.  Wouldn’t it be great if He did, though?

What Mark wants us to remember throughout this whole book….Keep Circling!  We need to get out of the mindset that our prayers need to be answered ASAP, and we just need to keeimg_8194p praying.  We need to trust that God hears us and that He will answer us.  We should leave behind any doubts or frustrations we get when our prayers aren’t answered quickly.  And may we all remember the words of Paul from Colossians 4:2:

“Be persistent and devoted to prayer, being alert and focused in your prayer life with an attitude of thanksgiving.”  (AMP)

Finding Your Prayer Ritual

img_80815:00 am wake-up call.  Take shower.  Put on clothes.  Take dog out to use the bathroom.  Put on make-up.  Say good-bye to husband as he walks out the door anywhere between 5:30-6:00 am.  Dry my hair.  Fix my breakfast.  Fix my kids lunches.  Feed dog.  Read my Bible.  Pray.  Wake up kids.  Read Bible some more.  Yell at kids to get up again.  Take out dog so he won’t poop in the house.  One kid up and going.  Yell at other one again.  Fix kids hair.  Listen to them complain about not wanting to get up and go to school.  Fix their breakfast.  Remind them to brush their teeth.  Yell again because one kid is still complaining. Get in the car.  Drive to school.  Pray with kids before they are dropped off, asking God to forgive us for yelling and complaining so much.  Tell kids I love them.  Drop them off at school.  Go to work (or to workout depending on day).

That is my morning ritual.  And it’s usually a crazy one at that.  It often involves a lot of yelling, but only because that one child just won’t get out of bed.  But by the time we get in the car, all is well.  My mornings are filled with a hurriedness that I don’t like.  And I get up at 5:00 am so you think 2 1/2 hours is enough time to get it all done before we walk out the door.  I try to get stuff done the night before if I can, but sometimes I forget or I’m just too tired from the day’s activities.

I’ll be honest, though, the one thing that has gotten pushed further down on my morning ritual list is my time with God.  I get so stressed about getting out the door that I run around like a chicken with my head cut off and I often times cut short the one thing that matters the most.

In chapter 13 of The Circle Maker, Mark says:  “One important dimension of prayer is finding your own ritual, your own routines (page 159).

I have gotten distracted by those things that don’t matter.  I need to find my prayer ritual again.

Some of you may be asking why in the world do you need a prayer ritual.  Just sit and spend time with God and pray.  And while all of that is great, the one thing that helps me is having a focus; things to make sure I do while I spend time with God.  This includes reading the Bible, reading devotions, praying, singing, and keeping a prayer journal.  And while I don’t do each of these every time (due to one of many excuses), I actually long to do all of them.

I am using the First Five App by Proverbs 31 Ministries.  I love this app because we study a book of the Bible and 1 chapter from the Bible that day.  I make sure to read the Scripture first and then read the devotion that P31 Ministries writes.  Combining those two helps me dig deeper into his Word and learn more about Him.

Another part of my prayer ritual involves singing.  I love being able to put in my earbuds and belt out a praise song.  Of course, I can’t really do that at home early in the morning with everyone asleep, but I can sing softly for sure. I love the times I spend with Him when I do get those brief few minutes to myself and can sing loudly.  Those are some pretty awesome worship moments with the Lord.

And of course, prayer is a must for a prayer ritual.  I learned a good way to pray when I was a child and I use this method when I spend my quiet time with God.  It’s the acronym ACTS:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.

Adoration…Show God how much you adore Him and give Him praise.  Confession….spilling your heart to the Lord and seeking forgiveness of your sins.  Thanksgiving….giving God thanks for the many blessings He has provided you with.  And Supplication…lifting up all others in prayer before you lift up yourself.  Using the ACTS formula has helped me stay focused and made me excited and wanting a desire to spend time with God daily.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking….rituals aren’t good because they can become remote and you can lose your heart and desire to want to serve and worship Him.  And that’s why every now and then, switching up your normal ritual and doing a new thing is a good idea.  That might include changing your space (I love quiet times with the Lord in our sanctuary or outside), reading a new book of the Bible, reading a new devotion, reading new books, praying in a new posture, singing different songs.

Batterson discusses Daniel and his routine of prayer each day (page 141).  Once Daniel had heard of the new law of no one being able to pray to God, he found his new prayer ritual.  He decided to pray three times a day with the windows wide open.  He didn’t care who would see him.  He just knew and believed that he was following what the Lord wanted him to do.

What is your prayer ritual?  Do you have one and need to resurrect it?  Or do you need to start with a brand new prayer ritual?  Whatever the case, God longs to spend time with you.  Do you long to spend this same time with God?

Journal Questions

  1. Read Daniel 6.  Why do you think Daniel continued to pray even though it was against the law?
  2. What is one thing you need to do more of in your prayer time with God?
  3. What are some of the rituals you have every day? How does this distract you?