6I hate to see Advent Calendars in grocery stores that hold no meaning except to provide a countdown and a piece of candy for children. Often the calendar has no reference to Christ or anything remotely spiritual. It’s nothing more than a box of chocolate with cartoon characters on it.

Years ago I decided to buy an empty wooden Advent Calendar with little drawers that had numbers on them. Oh sure, when the kids were little some of them contained candy or tiny toys. But most were filled with scriptures to help them reflect and prepare for Christmas.5

As they began to get older, I had to get creative in finding ways to keep their attention so they continued looking forward to opening the calendar drawers each day. They are teens now and they still love doing the Advent because I change what’s in the drawers each year. They never know what they will find. It could be a scripture passage from the birth of Christ, some money, a riddle, a challenge to perform an act of kindness–who knows?

My goal is to create a sense of wonder, waiting, and reflection on the coming of Christ to Earth. But I don’t get uptight if that doesn’t happen every day. Sometimes it’s just plain old-fashioned fun. And that’s ok. I don’t want to get so hung up on making every day a serious, reverent lesson that it loses its joy for the kids. 

4Try to spark your own creative ideas. Here are some ways to change up your calendar and keep it interesting for older kids:

  1. Do the advent each day after dinner as a family. Make it an event for all. Not just one person opening the calendar door/drawer by themselves.
  2. Use higher quality chocolate. As people mature, cheap candy isn’t as appealing. Place it randomly, not every day.
  3. Every other day, only include a typed scripture from the Christmas story. Use full passages of several verses. The kids are older and can read more than they used to.  Ask them questions about what they read. Make it a family discussion. I prefer to put the passages in chronological order so that by Dec 25th they will have read the entire account from Luke or another gospel.
  4. If you include money as a surprise, don’t get crazy. $1 is sufficient. It’s not about the amount, it’s about sparking a conversation regarding the greatest gift of all.
  5. Type up the lyrics to a Christmas song but mix up the words. They must try to guess it.1
  6. Include a deep question in one day like “Imagine you are an angel hearing God’s plan to send Jesus to Earth for mankind. How would you feel?” OR “What kind of emotions do you think Mary’s parents felt when they first realized Mary was pregnant?”
  7. Write the word EMMANUEL on a piece of paper and challenge your teen to see how many words they can make from those letters in three minutes.
  8. Throw in a small gadget here and there (keychain, bookmark, nail polish, a Chick-fil-A coupon). Make sure it fits in the space so they can’t see it until they open the container or door for that day.
  9. Use your printer to print out tiny photos from significant memories from the past year. Ask your teen to share what that means to them and how they saw Christ in that event.

3Be creative and think outside the box. There are no hard-set rules. It’s not a time to strive to turn every day into an opportunity for rigid religious training. Nor is it a time to reflect on Santa and parties. It is an “Advent Calendar” after all. For us, a balanced time of spiritual reflection and fun is what works best. I found when I trust the Lord, he can turn any of those advent days into a God moment. Even a candy cane can spark a spiritual conversation. 

7

Trust God and have fun.2

NOTE: Today’s post was written by guest blogger and single mom, Alex Hall.
 
The holidays have arrived, and normally your kids would be delirious with excitement, chatting about the presents they hope to receive and upcoming holiday parties they plan to attend.
But this year is different. You’re recently single, and the holidays will never be the same again.
Whether due to a death or divorce, the entire family is still grieving. Suddenly everything seems uncertain and strange. How can you help your children move past the pain so they can fully embrace the holidays? Here are 4 easy tips to help.
 
Don’t Celebrate at Warp-Speed
You may think that since your kids are sad, you need to shower them with expensive gifts and go to every holiday event in your community. That’s not necessary or even helpful.
Instead of focusing on material things and constantly being on the go, take time to slow down. Your children will appreciate that you’re focused on their happiness.
They don’t need a mountain of gifts to realize you still love them. Be patient with your children, your family and yourself. Celebrating the holidays after a tragedy is confusing and tainted with sorrow. Keep things simple so you and your family can enjoy the holidays without getting overwhelmed.
 
Make New Traditions
For years, your family has celebrated the holidays with certain family traditions. To help with the grieving process, ask your children if they want to change some of the holiday traditions.
Maybe you can celebrate at a grandparent’s house, take the kids to a movie or stay in your pajamas all day. Do you always make a special breakfast? Go out to eat this year.
If your divorced and the ex-spouse has the kids for Thanksgiving Day, consider celebrating with the kids the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Your kids may eventually enjoy celebrating the same holiday twice.
 
Do Fun Holiday Activities
Find fun holiday activities your kids will enjoy. Watch classic holiday movies as you cuddle together in front of the fireplace. Make snow angels, go ice skating, or whip up some hot cocoa and homemade cookies.
These activities may seem simple, but your kids will enjoy spending quality time with you and it may help ease the blues of not having both parents present.
 
Volunteer
Sometimes you can deflect your own grief if you spend time helping others. This is also true for your children.
Try volunteering at a soup kitchen, participating in a toy drive or visiting a nursing home to spend time with elderly people who may be lonely during the holidays. Seeing the joy that giving brings will boost your children’s self-esteem and increase your own joy during the holiday season.
Celebrating the holidays after a death or divorce isn’t just painful for you–it’s painful for your children. This is the time to reassure them that they’re still safe and loved.
It’s a time to create new holiday traditions as well as learn to explore creative ways of celebrating cherished holidays. While these weeks may be bittersweet, if you focus on making the celebrations simple but heartfelt, you can help your children deal with their grief and embrace the delight of the holidays.
 
Now it’s your turn. What ways have you survived the holidays alone? Share your suggestions with us in the comments.
 
 
GUEST BIO: Alexis Hall is a single mom to three kids. She created SingleParent.info to provide support and advice for the many families out there with only one parent in the household. She works as an in-home health nurse. When she isn’t working or spending time with her kids, she enjoys running and hiking and is currently training for a triathlon.

5478d-meet-the-author-usa-logoIn the first of four appearances in 2019, award-winning author/speaker Tez Brooks will appear at the Writers on the Rock Conference alongside best-selling authors Jerry Jenkins and Phillip Yancy. The conference is on Feb 23rd in Denver. Tickets are on sale now. Tez Brooks will be leading one of the clinics. He’s is an award-winning author and freelancer published in The Upper Room, CBN.com, Clubhouse, Focus on the Family, and Guideposts.

He will lead us in a session called, Polishing Your Book Proposal. Unsure of what to include in an industry-standard book proposal? Learn what your proposal should say and the homework you must do before submitting it to agents or publishers. Ensure it’s competitive and polished to stand out from the rest.Tez grafitti

 

My 29-year-old son hasn’t spoken to us in almost four years.Prodigal-Son father

The last time he communicated he made it clear he didn’t want any of us (me, his step-mom, his little sisters, his uncles/aunt or cousins) in his life. I won’t go into the bad choices he’s made nor the consequences he’s suffered. All I know is my heart is broken and I’m hurt. Both by how he’s living and how he’s treated us. 

We were once so close. Now, for some reason (maybe shame?) he refuses to give a valid reason for breaking off this relationship. So how do you pray for a child who you no longer know? When you have no idea where he is, where he works, or if he’s even alive? 

I just pray. I pray in generalities–for his health, his mental state, his relationships, and most of all I pray for his spiritual life. I ask God to steer him back to Christ. I pray dangerous prayers like, “Whatever it takes God, bring my son back to you.”

That’s the desperate prayer of a father who longs above all else to see his son walk upright. I long to see him in a deep relationship with his Creator. That’s how I raised him. 

You might have a prodigal. A son or daughter who has drifted from or refused to take part in the godly inheritance meant for them. How do you pray when you’ve run out of words–run out of energy?

Here’s a few points to jump-start your prayer for him or her:

          Dear Heavenly Father,

  • God, transform me and my attitude. Take away any bitterness and grudges against my child so I can pray with a pure heart. Give me the strength to continue in this battle. When I’m tired and just plain sick of it, give me compassion and mercy. Not to be taken advantage of, but to mirror Christ’s love. Help me remember that speaking truth might be hard, but it doesn’t have to be harsh. 
  • Lord use my son or daughter’s friends. Use even his/her questionable friends to speak truth into their life. Bring godly people into their life. Surround them with loving community. 
  • Father if you must, let my child hit rock bottom. Cause them to see their desperate need for a Savior. Prevent people from enabling them or rescuing them too early. Allow my child to feel the reality of being at the end of the rope. 

Coming back to the Lord is a process, not an event. So don’t give up. Keep on praying. Keep believing. You never know what God will do. When you pray for a loved one who seems hardened against the Lord, or against you, pray that the eyes of their heart might be opened so that the light of God can come flooding in.

Do you have a prayer that has helped you cope as you await the return of your prodigal? Please share it with me. I need it this week. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

father-walking-with-sonMany single parents were never married/divorced but for those who were, it comes with unique challenges especially for dads. Today’s post comes from a chat I had with my friend Chris Steenmeyer, Family Life Pastor at Mountain Springs Church in Colorado Springs.

TEZ: Chris thanks for being willing to talk about your life and maybe a little bit of advice for parents.

CHRIS: Thank you Tez, happy to share my story.

TEZ: I know our journeys are similar in some ways. Like me, before you remarried you were a single dad. How old were each of your kids at the time and what was it like that first year trying to parent alone?

CHRIS: Well, I was living in Hawaii at the time. The children were 5, 3, and 2 years old when my wife walked out on me. I suddenly had the kids every night and it was brutal—a mess! My ex watched them in the day while I was at work, but other than that, I was on my own.

TEZ: Assuming you were working a full-time job, how did you manage those evenings with three kids? 

CHRIS: My single brother helped from time to time. My church wasn’t very helpful because I was so new to that congregation. No one really knew me well enough to know I was alone or needed help. I really never looked for help because to be honest, I was angry at God for allowing me to go through this.

TEZ: That had to be tough. Especially when us guys are not prone to seek out help anyway…for anything.

Now, it would be presumptuous to assume everyone is called to re-marry. But for those who are, in my book, The Single Dad DetourI mention the importance of dads waiting to remarry.

A lot of guys didn’t like my advice. It’s hard for men to be alone. But you waited quite a while. Tell us, was that intentional? What are the negatives and positives of that decision?

CHRIS: Tez, I was alone 8 years before I started dating Sarah, my current wife. I didn’t trust women, so I had no desire to date or remarry. I wasn’t ready financially either. I was broke and couldn’t support a woman. And spiritually ready? No way!  I probably would have fallen into sexual sin had I tried dating any earlier. I was a Christian, but I wasn’t walking with God and pursuing him. I was too mad at him.    

I’d say wait as long as it takes to work through forgiveness and all the other issues that set you back. Anytime a marriage is broken, there are wounds that need to heal. If you get romantically involved too soon, you’re still grieving the loss, regardless of who was at fault.

We need to walk through that, and it takes time. I’d say a good rule of thumb is until you stop saying anything negative about your ex, you’re not ready. Think about how many years there was disfunction in the relationship. That time is often a good gauge for how long it will take to recover and move on. We also need to factor how long it takes our kids to recover too. 

TEZ: Great advice Chris. On another topic, how did you reconcile your faith with your sex drive? After all, for years you’d been used to intimacy as a married man. Now suddenly, nothing. 

CHRIS: Wow, it just got real! Thanks for asking tough questions—single men need to hear this. 

I struggled with being in a relationship, I didn’t want one. So I didn’t go out looking for sexual satisfaction. Sadly, I did turn toward porn so that I didn’t have to invest in a relationship.  

Because I had no desire to be close to God. I didn’t repent immediately. But I dealt with lots of guilt. After I worked thru my anger and bitterness and I my heart was softened again toward the Lord, the first thing to leave was porn.  

TEZ: Thanks for your transparent honesty. It’s important to understand how a hard heart can lead you down roads that can really destroy us. What a great piece of truth for guys reading this interview. There’s so much shame with that sin and you just lifted all that into the light to remind us all that nothing is beyond Christ’s redemptive reach. I don’t mean to minimize porn’s effects, but we tend to give different sins varying degrees of awfulness but it’s just not that way with God.  

CHRIS: Yes, once the Holy Spirit was able to convict me of my sin, I saw what needed to change.

blended-familyTEZ: Now, your new bride Sarah, had children of her own. Tell us about that. I’m sure it was no perfect Brady Bunch. What was it like blending your families and how did it affect your first few years of marriage?

CHRIS: First, we took our time dating, just to see what issues might come up. Blending families is complex. We had a ton of challenges at first. Our household cultures were different. My wife’s family had a way of doing things and certain ideals about what’s important… and so did we.  

We had a lot of tension between the kids and between us adults. I had 8 years of experience as a single dad which I unwittily expected them to embrace. That experience made me arrogant at times. 

I was also in children’s ministry, so I assumed a lot about kids in general. I forgot to look at my new step kids as individuals.  

One of the biggest adjustments was that her oldest son was younger than all my boys. So his position as oldest was gone—he was suddenly thrust into life as the baby of the tribe. 

TEZ: And now you have a beautiful little girl together and another on the way…do you find yourself parenting these younger ones differently now that you’re older?

CHRIS: Of course, my experience and age play into that. I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy the little moments. Chores, projects, and errands aren’t as important. I’m more patient with disobedience and with their poor choices. I don’t lose my temper as quickly and look at it as a teachable moment. 

TEZ: If you had one piece of advice or encouragement for single dads who are struggling today, what would you say? 

CHRIS: I’d say:

  • Tough it out as best you can.
  • Love your kids more than yourself.
  • Take one day at a time.
  • Biblically, don’t walk away from Jesus. Press into God more than ever.
  • Make sure you have community to help you get out of your funk.
  • Allow others to speak life into you.
  • Look for someone further along in that journey who can encourage you.
  • For society’s expectations, know your identity in Christ.
  • Focus on measuring up to God’s standards, not the world’s. 

TEZ: You obviously have a heart for families, because it’s your full-time job as a Family Pastor. Where can people reach you if they need counseling or resources to aid them in this journey of single parenting? 

CHRIS: I don’t provide formal counseling, but I’m willing to talk with someone and do short-term mentoring. They can call the church office at (719)495-6688 and ask for me.  

TEZ: Chris, thanks again for taking time to share your story. Your testimony is an encouragement and blessing to me and I’m sure many others.

CHRIS: My pleasure. To God be the glory.

steenmeyerChristopher has a blended family of ten and longs to see transformation in the lives of himself and his family. He’s spent the last 9 years investing in a young generation that is being raised up to passionately follow Jesus. More and more he desires to see the worldwide Church come alongside families in a practical way that equips them to accomplish all God has for them. In his spare time, he loves sports and outdoor activities with his family.