Monthly Archives: December 2017

Merry Christmas 2017

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From the time I was a young girl my favorite day of the Christmas season was always Christmas Eve. I don’t know if it was the joy of anticipation, or the magic evening my parents and grandparents created so selflessly. It could have been Christmas Eve mass, or the activities that followed: the appetizers and Christmas play that were performed by a group of untalented, yet eager children, whose talents were applauded as though they were Broadway stars. It could have been the feel of soft, new, unworn Christmas pajamas or the silence that settled in the room as my siblings and I listened for the sound of sleigh bells, willing our eyes to get heavy before Santa passed us by.

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I have always preferred Christmas Eve to Christmas day.

Even as a little girl I found that I got more joy out of the anticipation of an event (any event, not just Christmas) than the actual event. This was by no means a negative reflection of the reality of the experience because usually the actual experience lived up to or surpassed my childhood expectations. No, I think it was more the delicious feelings of excitement that would bubble up from within that made the anticipation of the event so delightful. In the weeks leading up to the big event my mind would flirt with the possibilities and milk every bit of enjoyment out of the day long before it ever happened.

I find that to still be the case today. My favorite part of any experience is the planning, preparing and anticipating of the event.

That is the case with Christmas as well.

I love the build-up. I love the trimming of the tree, the decking of halls, the secret shopping and ribbons and trim that come before Santa’s arrival. That anticipation builds and builds all month, climaxing with Christmas Eve.

I love Christmas Eve.

I love the way my family celebrates Christmas Eve.

Through the years the location of our Christmas Eve has changed. As a child my first memories of Christmas Eve are of celebrating at my Grandmother’s house. After marriage the festivities moved to my parents’ McKeesport home where we celebrated year after year when my teenagers were little. Then my parents moved to the Homestead, the place where we have gathered every Christmas Eve since the addition of Tyler and Ozzie.

Regardless of the location, every Christmas Eve plays out with many of the same traditions…traditions that have continued on from my childhood.

To this day Christmas Eve is still my favorite day of the Christmas season. I am now one of the “Christmas makers” rather than a receiver of the gift, but there is still something magical in the air as we await the blessings of Christmas day.

And there is no place I would rather await the magic of Christmas than with my family, at the Homestead.

The preparation that goes into having Christmas away from home is extensive. We get the animals set up, pack bedding, gifts, stockings, stocking stuffers, props for the Christmas Eve play, cookies and treats, outfits for Christmas Day and our Christmas PJs.

Then when the car is loaded we are ready for the adventure to begin. Our 2 1/2 hour trip to the Homestead is filled with eager anticipation over the fact that Santa is already circling the globe in the eastern hemisphere, and the boys regularly ask for an update on his exact location via my phone and the Santa Tracker website.

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When we arrive, there are hugs and hellos as we greet Uncle Travis and his new bride, Krista, and G.G. (my paternal grandma).

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The evening of fun begins with dinner, which for our family is hour devours on Christmas Eve. It is fun and festive, and the spread is always unbelievable!

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Next comes the annual talent show. This is a tradition that began when my siblings and I were little. It became expected that we would have some sort of talent or play that would be performed for the grown-ups following dinner. The tradition has continued with my kids. This year they did a variety show with Rusty playing “The 12 Days of Christmas” on the keyboard while the girls performed an encore to the Thanksgiving hit that they wrote with Lydia: “The 12 Days of Christmas at the Homestead.”

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The girls also performed the Christmas version of “Halleluiah” in American Sign Language.

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 Molly also performed “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” on her ukulele while her and Grace sang the words.

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Then it was time for our funny White Elephant gift exchange:

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Following a lot of laughs we headed to the barn for the most special part of Christmas Eve…the reading of the Story of Christ’s birth as we sit on bales of hay, in a barn lit by luminaries and a small tree, surrounded by the farm animals.

We bundled up and stepped outside to find ourselves in a Winter Wonderland. The earth was covered in a magical layer of white and large, fluffy snowflakes were falling from the sky. Though we all were thrilled with the gift of a white Christmas none was more so than Krista who as a born and raised Texan had never experienced a white Christmas.

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We entered the barn to find it lit with the soft light of luminaries and a small Christmas tree.

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In the barn we sat in a hush of reverence as we listened to my Dad read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke. The only sound was the deep timbre of my father’s voice, with the occasional sound of the goats snorting or the donkey braying.

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This is our favorite part of Christmas at the Homestead.

 Then my Dad spoke with us about the gifts of Christmas and asked us to consider what gift we could personally offer the Savior this year. He gave us suggestions to ponder, suggestions like the gift of time, of forgiveness, of patience, or of being kinder with our words.

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He gave us a few minutes to ponder what personal gift of sacrifice and service we wanted to gift Jesus with in the upcoming year. We then wrote our gifts for Christ on slips of paper.

After our special time in the barn we returned inside to send our Christmas gifts to Jesus by burning our slips of paper in the fireplace and allowing our prayers to be carried heavenward by way of the smoke from the fire.

Then it was time for the kids to get in their PJs, put out milk and cookies for Santa, and head to bed, where visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.

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This year’s PJs were Christmas themed onesies:

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Once the kids were all settled for the night, the magic making began.

The ladies gathered in the master bedroom to begin the fun task of stocking stuffing. Everyone’s contributions were piled into the center of the bed as stockings were filled. This tends to be everyone’s favorite part of Christmas and a great deal of effort goes into finding the very best stocking stuffers. As a result, we tend to have more stuffers than we do space in the stockings and in years past have had to tie a grocery bag to the handle of the stocking to hold the excess treats. This year Grace decided to take on a sewing project to address this ongoing problem and sewed cute Christmas bags for the overfill. The effect was charming and much more appealing than a row of plastic Walmart bags. Thank you, Gracie!

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While the girls stuffed stockings, the boys played Santa and carried in all the hidden gifts, filling all the open spaces around the tree. Once the halls were decked and Santa’s work was done it was time to climb into bed and catch a few winks before the magical chaos of Christmas morning arrived.

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The next morning the boys were up with the birds, eager to see if Santa came. Once the adults were settled in the living room the kids we allowed to enter…

“Release the hounds!”

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Then the wild rumpus began.

The remainder of our day was spent emptying stockings, opening gifts, playing board games, feasting, and making special memories with those we love most.

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It was another magical Christmas, made all the more special by the people we spent it with.

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“Twas the Night Before, the Night Before Christmas”

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Ozzie has returned home for the holidays.

On December 22nd I drove the two hours to pick him up for a week-long visit home. I arrived by 2:00 pm, just in time for our family session with his therapist. After his therapy session we were free to go. As soon as we got in the car Ozzie asked if he could open the Christmas gift he received from the unit. Each of the boys there receive gifts for Christmas. For the young men that can return home for Christmas a single gift is given to them before they leave, but for those boys that must remain for the holiday a pile of gifts is purchased for each of them and will be waiting for them under the house Christmas tree when they awake Christmas morning.

Ozzie opened his gift and was thrilled to receive a new Lego set!

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On the drive home we stopped to do a little shopping. Ozzie still needed to get his Christmas shopping done for family, so I took him shopping on our drive home so that he could buy gifts and do his Christmas wrapping the following morning before our family Christmas gift exchange on Saturday night.

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We arrived home in time for dinner. The girls were gone for the evening at their co-op Christmas sleepover, so it was just the boys at home. We had a quiet evening relaxing, enjoying a family dinner, watching Christmas movies, and trying Buster’s magical rainbow trick he left us in the night..

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The girls were both working on Saturday, so they went straight from their sleepover to work while the boys wrapped gifts and helped pack up all the gifts and supplies we needed to take to the Homestead on Christmas Eve.

It was a quiet, but productive day at home. When the girls got home we prepared for our family gift exchange. This is a tradition that just began in recent years when the older kids asked if they could give us our gifts before our Christmas with extended family. It was such a special experience that it has become a family tradition that we simply added to our already existing tradition of exchanging ornaments on December 23rd.

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After dinner we gathered in the living room to read one of my favorite Christmas books, “The Night Before the Night Before Christmas.” It is a delightful read that makes us all laugh, as we can easily relate to the family’s mishaps and all that goes wrong in the days leading up to Christmas. We enjoy reading it every December 23rd.

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Then it was time to exchange gifts. We began with our annual ornament exchange. Every December 23rd we give the kids (and each other) a new ornament reflective of their personality, likes, or interests at this point in their lives. This growing collection will then get to go with each child when they move out, giving each of them a nice start to their own Christmas tree decorations.

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Here are each of our new ornaments for 2017:

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Tyler’s ornament was a Rock and Roll Santa that plays music and dances…so perfect for Tyler!

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Ozzie was thrilled with his car ornament. Aside from weather and maps, cars are his other great passion. I found there were very few weather or map related ornaments to choose from, so cars it was!

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Rusty’s #1 passion is all things Disney, so I was thrilled to find this charming vintage looking lunch box/thermos set for his ornament.

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The moment I laid eyes on this charming scene of the rabbit reaching for the carrot I knew it was the perfect ornament for Miss Molly, my dear tenderhearted one.

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Grace is our resident “Buddy the Elf.” She loves all things Christmas and would, if it was socially acceptable, have a tree up and stockings hung all year long!

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I chose this particular ornament for Toby because it is so reflective of what I love most about him. I love that through his quiet example our sons are learning what it means to be a good, hard working, loving, kind man simply by watching the way Toby lives his life. I love the way Toby has opened his heart to boys another man sired, taken them in and helped them find the love withheld from them by their own biological fathers, showing them what it really means to be a ” man.” A real man doesn’t hurt others. A real man helps others. He loves them as if they were his by blood, and I love the way the boys want to be like him.

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Every year Toby buys me an angel ornament to add to my collection. 

Following our ornament exchange each of the kids took turns handing out the gifts they bought/made and wrapped for each sibling, and for Toby and me. We went oldest to youngest this year with Grace handing out her gifts first.

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Olive was a little jealous that there was nothing under the tree for her.

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For Rusty, she purchased a Winnie the Pooh t-shirt from Etsy and then made Rusty a Pooh baseball cap. Using her Pooh autograph from our trip to Disney World as a reference, she copied his signature and hand embroidered Pooh’s autograph on the mustard yellow hat.

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For Tyler and Ozzie, she came up with the clever idea of buying them each their own huge roll of bubble wrap. It was their favorite gift of the night and immediately they rolled out the plastic wrap and the popping began.

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It started with stomping:

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Then there was rolling:

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Next came some leaps:

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And finally, some fancy dance moves atop the bubble wrap dance floor that covered the living room floor.

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We really should have ended the evening with Gracie’s gift rather than beginning with her gift. It was hard to pull the kids back to the party!

Then it was Molly’s turn to hand out gifts.

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Molly bought Grace a recipe box and then copied all our favorite family recipes to include with it.

Ozzie was thrilled with his gift from Molly, the most recent release of his favorite book series.

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Unlike the girls that now have disposable income to spend on Christmas gifts, Rusty had to rely on repurposed objects and creativity for his Christmas gift giving, but it certainly didn’t work against him. He had some of the most creative gifts of the night and we all appreciated the time, energy and great love he put into his gifts!

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I received an erasable menu board for my kitchen:

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Tyler received a tic-tac-toe board Rusty made him out of a wooden board and slices of cut tree branches for the game pieces.

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Ozzie’s gift revolved around two of Ozzie’s passions: matchbox cars and Legos. Using a piece of leftover board ,Rusty fastened a Lego board in the center for Ozzie to build Lego creations onto and then added a road around the edge of the board allowing Ozzie to play with his matchbox cars. It was a perfect gift for Ozzie…so thoughtful.

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The two little boys did their shopping at Dollar Tree. I took each one shopping individually and set them loose in the store to do their own Christmas shopping. They loved it! It is always such a joy to see what the boys purchase for each family member. It gives me a lot of insight into how each of us is seen through their eyes.

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It was a perfect evening with my little family. It was wonderful having everyone home, together, gathered around a burning fire in the fireplace and a tree decorated with the twinkling of lights and ornaments of years’ past.

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December 24th, we leave for the Homestead for a joyful Christmas celebration with our extended family. It promises to be another blessed family holiday.

We hope your Christmas was filled with peace, joy, and the love of family and friends. As we count our blessings this Christmas season please know we count you among our greatest gifts.

Merry Christmas from Patchwork Farm.

Celebrating the Season with Good Friends

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Friday marked the 7th anniversary of the annual co-op girls’ Christmas sleepover. This yearly tradition has been a highlight of Grace and Molly’s Christmas traditions since they were preteens.

Every year the Hudak family opens their home to eight giggly teenage girls who spend the evening doing everything but slumbering. They spend the night eating junk food, playing games, talking, and exchanging gifts.

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I love hearing about all the fun the next day when the girls return home bleary-eyed but happy.

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In the weeks leading up to the party the girls began working on their gifts. Each year the girls all exchange Christmas gifts. The method changes year to year, with some years being a white elephant exchange and some years being a themed gift exchange, while other years the girls have free creative license to make or purchase whatever they choose. This year was one of those years, so weeks before the party the girls began working on their gifts. Molly found adorable Christmas socks at Target and paired them with bottles of matching nail polish for each girl. Grace decided to make the girls an ornament for their Christmas gifts. Using vintage ornaments that she purchased online she created hot air balloon ornaments using wire, cork, vintage buttons and sea glass.

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When the girls returned home the next day they showed off the gifts they received from the other girls. Some of the most unique gifts came from Chessa who had just returned from a semester of college abroad. While studying in London she had the opportunity to travel around the British Isles and brought back a souvenir for each of the girls from her travels. Molly received a charming silver pin in the shape of Scottish Highland Cattle from Scotland and Grace received a beautiful charm for her charm bracelet from Ireland.

Chessa also surprised the girls with traditional English Christmas crackers filled with trinkets and paper crowns.

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It was another fabulous year. As I looked at the photos taken during their fun night I felt so grateful for those sweet girls and the hand of friendship they have extended to my girls. Grace and Molly have been blessed by their friendship with these special young ladies and I am so grateful for each and everyone of them.

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As I look back on photos (taken by other moms) of my children at their various activities this past month I can’t help but be thankful for all the amazing friends my children are blessed by. The teenage years can be hard, and I recognize what a rare blessing it is to have my children surrounded, supported, and encouraged by such amazing peers. I have no doubt that a loving Heavenly Father handpicked these friends for each of them knowing how much they would need them during this season of their life.

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A few weeks ago, while caroling at a nursing home with their youth group, this crazy crew got stuck in an elevator.

 Packed in like sardines, there were 18 youth and leaders trapped in very tight quarters for 20 minutes while waiting for maintenance to free them. As I looked at the photos from the event I couldn’t help but smile but also reflect on how our journey through mortal life can be likened to this unexpected situation. Here we are, placed in a specific corner of the world, at a specific time in history, surrounded by a specific group of fellow sojourners, all hand selected by a loving God who knows just who we each need to support us and encourage us in our journey through mortality. Who we are “stuck in an elevator” with is isn’t by chance.

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I truly believe it to be divine serendipity.

And how blessed I feel to have my family walking with these fellow travelers through life.

There is much to be grateful for this Christmas season,

But good friends are at the top of the list!

Finding Peace and Joy this Christmas Season

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Well, Christmas Eve has finally arrived. After weeks of preparations leading up to this day, it has finally arrived, and I am enjoying a few minutes of silence, peace, and reflection before the craziness begins.

This has been a blessed Christmas season as we have found ourselves in a place of immunity, flying above many of the struggles and trials of last Christmas season. This time of rest has been appreciated, especially as we reflect on the last 12 months and all the heartache we endured. 2017 was a hard, hard year…one of the hardest of my life. There is a sense of relief that we will soon be closing this chapter and stepping into a new year filled with hopeful possibilities. But as we find ourselves in a more peaceful place this Christmas season so many others are enduring their own personal hell. I can’t even count the number of calls and conversations I’ve had this month with friends that are enduring the hardest experiences life has to offer. The sheer number of conversations I have had with friends who are finding themselves in the midst of the most tragic life circumstances are staggering. These stories of heartache have kept me awake into the night and play in a continual loop in my mind as I move mindlessly through the menial tasks of everyday life. As I fold my laundry I am haunted by the loss of one family’s child just days before Christmas. As I wash dishes I play back stories told through the tears of friends who are dealing with the ugly affects of trauma…effects that seem to rear its ugly head during the holiday season. As I wrap packages in the festive paper of the season I play back the phone conversations with friends who have shared their tears and stories of heartache with me in the last few weeks.

And in the midst of all this I have struggled to reconcile the great heartache playing out around me with the merriment that permeates all facets of our world this time of year. How does one find joy in the season when drowning under the sadness of their own personal hard season of life? This is the question that has consumed my thoughts for the last few weeks. As I pray for those I love…for those burdened more heavily that usual this time of year…I consider the question, “How do we find the merriment the world says is synonymous with the Christmas season when all we can feel is heartache?” I ask this question not only on behalf of friends enduring personal tragedy but also on behalf of my boys. Coming from a place of indescribable trauma, the holidays represent something different than they might for a child who has only joyful memories to look back on. For a child with trauma, this time of year is a heartbreaking trigger…a reminder of hurt, loss, and scary or sad memories. In past years I have struggled to find the merriment of Christmas amid the behaviors that rear their ugly head this time of year. What was once a season of pure delight has evolved into a season of struggle, heartbreak, and enduring till December 26th as I watch my boys struggle under the added burden of the holidays…and I know they are not alone. I have witnessed it all month long in the lives of so many who are simply trying to make it through this time of year in one piece.

As I have pondered on the question, “How do we find merriment in this Christmas season when all we feel is heartache?” the answer came to me. There during the early hours of morning as I sat in the darkened living room, lit only by the colored lights of the tree, I heard the Spirit whisper the answer I was so desperately seeking…

While the merriment of Christmas may seem beyond reach, the peace and joy of this Christmas season are not.

You see, merriment is circumstantial. It is trivial. It is shallow. It is of the world…

But peace and joy are not.

The peace and joy of Christmas have nothing to do with what is happening around you, rather, they are driven by what is happening within you.

They are a gift from God, freely given this time of year and all year long.

They can be found in the darkest of days, in the hardest of trials, at the heart of the greatest tragedies, because they aren’t born from this world. True Christmas peace and joy are gifts from heaven. They are not driven by circumstance. They can’t be purchased. They are gifts that quietly fall from the sky like snowflakes settling on our shoulders.

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We witness this heavenly Christmas gift being bestowed the first time as we read the account of the first Christmas. Circumstances certainly didn’t justify merriment. We had a poor, young couple traveling with minimal belongings. We had a woman heavy with child, uncomfortable and probably a bit frightened. We had a young husband desperate to find a place for his weary wife to rest…a safe place for her child to be born. There on that Christmas day they experienced homelessness, rejection, and uncertainty. There was a distinct lack of merriment, but oh, the abundance of peace and joy that permeated that Holy night!

We need only to reflect on that first Christmas season to find the answer to the question that has plagued me this holiday season. It isn’t about what we need to “do” to change the course of this hard time of year. It isn’t about “doing” anything. It is simply about being still and allowing the peace and joy of Christmas to settle quietly upon our shoulders. It is a heavenly gift with no strings attached…a gift that is freely and graciously given regardless of what burdens you find yourself carrying this Christmas season. And all that must be done to receive it is to loosen the iron clad grip we have on the worries of this world, open our palms, and turn them Heavenward to accept the peace and joy Heavenly Father is offering each and every one of us.

My prayer for this Christmas season is that each and every one of you might be showered with the peace and joy of Christ.

Merry Christmas, my friends.

Reindeer, and Rabbits, and Robin…Oh My!

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We all have our own favorite holiday traditions.

In fact, it sometimes feels as though the Christmas season doesn’t last nearly long enough to fit in everyone’s favorite holiday activities amid the busyness of everyday life that continues to march on through the month of December…

despite everyone’s wish that we could just “play” all month long.

We have learned that we must prioritize.

We begin the Christmas season with a family meeting where we discuss the family’s vision for the upcoming month and each family member gets to weigh in on what family traditions are most important to them. Using this “Top 7” list we begin to pencil in some of the activities on the December page of the calendar. Many of these traditions take place at our weekly Family Night when everyone is home together. Because of Ozzie’s absence this holiday season we have worked hard to reformulate the way we do some of these beloved traditions so that he wouldn’t have to miss out. It isn’t the same as him being home, but it is the next best thing.

Christmas time is about unconditional love, service, sacrifice, giving of oneself, and family, and we have tried to bring those key values into our visits with Ozzie.

Sunday was our cookie decorating day. Having baked 4 dozen sugar cookies on Saturday, Sunday was freed up to enjoy the fun part of the project which was the decorating. Knowing how much Ozzie loves this particular Christmas tradition we brought to our weekly visit a container of homemade sugar cookies, icing, and lots of sprinkles and glitter so he could decorate, share, and of course eat his fill of cut-out cookies.

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When we returned home (after a great visit with Ozzie) we proceeded to do it all over again with the other four kids. Supplies were gathered and spread across the plastic tablecloth as everyone took their seats around the dining room table.

But someone was missing.

Tyler was hiding once again.

These last two weeks have been fraught with high anxiety and hard emotions. I think the combination of the holiday season, and all the hard emotions that come with the holidays when you have had the past that Tyler has, as well as the realization that Ozzie is coming home in a few days (which brings with it feelings of excitement and joy but also feelings of anxiety and fear) has led to an increase in his already noticeable facial tics ,as well as an increase in his tendency to hide in closets or small spaces…a regression that occurs when he is afraid.

I knew he was struggling and knew it was better to not push, so we began decorating cookies with Tyler hiding behind the Christmas boxes in the corner. My hope was that as he listened to the lightness and laughter of our activity his anxiety would decrease and he would emerge when he was ready…

And he did.

Eventually everyone was seated at the table enjoying this favorite Christmas tradition.

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I loved the creativity shown as family members took traditionally shaped cut-out cookies and found within the familiar lines less familiar objects…

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Gingerbread men were turned into reindeer:

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Stockings transformed into bunnies:

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Trees became clocks:

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Presents were turned into snow globes:

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Tyler turned his gingerbread boy into Batman’s sidekick, Robin:

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And Toby took a deformed stocking and found within its distorted lines the Statue of Liberty:

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The end result was 3 platters of the most creative Christmas cookies EVER,

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And a night filled with special family memories.

A Musical Christmas Carol

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For the second Thursday in a row we drove south to meet up with some teachers from our cyber charter school. This outing was located in the heart of Pittsburgh’s cultural district at the historic Byham Theatre.

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It was there we were meeting up with teachers and fellow students to watch A Musical Christmas Carol. The theatre was offering a discounted matinee for local schools which allowed us to be able enjoy an amazing production at an affordable price.

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The deal was sweetened by a winter surprise when we woke Thursday morning to a winter wonderland.

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Six inches had fallen during the night resulting in slick roads and many school delays. Luckily our drive took us to Pittsburgh via highways which had since been cleared, so our travels were fairly stress free, but the numerous school delays resulted in the sold-out theatre being nearly empty.

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Only a few brave school groups made it to the theatre for the 10:00 am performance. This worked out well for our group as it moved our seats from the back of the theatre to rows 5 and 6, within “spitting distance” of the stage.

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Our car held Molly, Rusty and Tyler and Tatum. Miss Lana braved the snowy roads bright and early to get Tatum to our exit by 8:00am, allowing us to make it to the theatre with plenty of time to search for almost nonexistent parking spots.

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When we arrived, we were surprised to see such a large group of 21st Century Cyber students. Only one family who had originally signed up for the outing was unable to make it because of weather. That is dedication!

Before we entered the theatre to take our seats, we took advantage of the photo backdrop to get some pictures of our entire group,

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Rusty with his learning coach, Mrs. Stanley,

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And this cute crew.

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Just before 10:00 am we took our seats. While waiting for the production to begin I sat back and admired the beautiful theatre and the impressive staging.

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Then the lights dimmed and the show began…

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And what a show it was!!

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Immediately, we were all drawn into the story of Scrooge and Tiny Tim. Even Tyler was enthralled and had to be reminded to whisper more than once as he kept up a running commentary on the story that was playing out before him on the stage.

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It was an amazing show. I was blown away by the level of talent, not only in the lead actors by also in the stage crew, costume design, and supporting actors.

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The entire production was magnificent and I was so glad we were able to attend.

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The Music of Christmas

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Last Wednesday was our co-op’s annual Christmas party. After a decade of themed Christmas parties, it seems we have celebrated Christmas with every possible twist. Regardless of what theme we choose for that year’s Christmas party, this much anticipated celebration is always a hit.

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This year was no exception.

This year we chose the theme of “The Music of Christmas.” Each of the moms were given a room to build an experience around. Some moms did crafts while other planned games or an activity for the kids to enjoy.

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We all arrived early and the moms set to work decorating their rooms for the party. The kids gathered in the gym where they were split into 3 groups: the littles, the teenage boys, and the teenage girls.

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Everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery, which made for great photos in Miss Rose’s room where a Christmas photo booth was set up.

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Rusty, Molly and Grace went all out, borrowing Mimi Joy’s Santa and Elf costume for the party, while Molly dressed as a reindeer.

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This room was one of the biggest hits of the day…as you can see!

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For the first half of the day the three groups of kids were rotated through four rooms.

In Miss Nicole’s room they learned about the music of Andy Williams and created Christmas ornaments for their trees.

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In Miss Tauni’s room they made jingle bell door chimes based on the carols “Jingle Bells” and “Silver Bells.”

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We had two visiting Elves at our party. Two families’ Elf on the Shelf elves squeezed themselves in jars so they could be carried around for the day and attend our co-op Christmas party. They must of planned it the night before when they were both visiting the North Pole to give their nightly report.

 

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In Miss Kathy’s room the kids all made painted manger votive candle holders based on the carol, “O Holy Night.”

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In Miss Lana’s room they enjoyed a series of games based on the carol ”Let it Snow” that left everyone laughing.

The first was paper plate artwork where the kids had to draw a snowy Christmas scene (that was narrated by Miss Lana) on a plate that was balanced on their head.

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They all got a kick out of their finished works of art.

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Next, they played a dice game using our jumbo dice. Split into two teams, each team had to roll a series of numbers that coordinated to snowman parts that were posted on the board. As team members rolled the required numbers, their team member added parts to the snowman they were drawing on the white board until one team won by completing their snowman first.

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They concluded the fun with a game of Christmas charades.

When all the groups had rotated through all the rooms they came back together in my room where they all participated in a white elephant gift exchange. Last year when the theme of the party was “Family Traditions” we introduced this favorite Christmas Eve tradition. The novelty of opening crazy/tacky gifts was such a hit that the kids requested we do it again, so it was the activity for my Christmas room.

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Then it was time for lunch.

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Everyone gathered in the lunchroom that had been transformed into a Charlie Brown Christmas scene thanks to Miss Corrina.

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It was SO CHARMING!

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We all indulged in a scrumptious feast while enjoying the musical talents of our Christmas Karaoke stars.

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After everyone had their fill of food and song we concluded our Christmas party with the kids’ gift exchange. A few weeks before the party each of the co-op kids randomly picked a slip of paper bearing the name of another co-op peer. With a given budget of $5.00 everyone purchased a secret Santa gift for the friend they were assigned. At the conclusion of our party the kids exchanged gifts…

And the moms exchanged cookies as part of our annual Christmas cookie exchange.

We made quick work of clean up, said our good-byes, exchanged final holiday greetings, and then headed home. We will reunite at the beginning of the new year but until then we will enjoy a much-needed break.

It was another successful Christmas celebration.

A BIG thank you to all the magic-makers!

 

 

The Christmas Catch-Up

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Our hearts and days have been filled to capacity this last month. As crazy as life is during this season, I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessing of busy days, noisy meals, and messy rooms. The pile of needles under the tree, the dishes filling the sink, the scraps of wrapping paper and ribbons that stick to the bottom of my feet are mementoes of a life well lived. Here at Patchwork Farm things have been crazy, messy, noisy, and even a bit stinky this past month, and yes, there is a part of me that is secretly looking forward to the quiet hibernation season that follows the holiday frivolities, but I am embracing this season we are in. I am learning to embrace and enjoy this crazy time of life, knowing how quickly time races by and recognizing that a day will come when things will be cleaner, easier, and quieter… and I will miss this.

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Here is a peek into some of the craziness that makes up this blessed life…

Tyler recently lost a tooth. This is a blessing beyond words, as he was scheduled to have this particular tooth pulled. His adult tooth that should have pushed this baby tooth out found a new exit by way of his upper gum. Without the adult tooth pushing it along, it seemed the baby was here to stay. It took a sticky piece of caramel corn to evict it. That night Tyler decided to appeal to the Tooth Fairy’s kind heart and request she let him keep his tooth, while leaving behind the cash reward. He bribed her with a sweet note and a piece of the notorious caramel corn for her to enjoy:

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Tyler has become my buddy. With the other kids busy with school, work and volunteering, and Ozzie away, it seems the two of us find ourselves on our own quite a bit. This is a novelty I never enjoyed with the others and it often feels like Tyler is an only child. This has allowed Tyler and I the opportunity to do some fun activities together that we wouldn’t normally have time for, especially during the Christmas season. The other day we did some Christmas crafts after he had finished his school work, including this snowmen ornament created from his handprint:

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It seems with each extra hour I have with Tyler I am seeing less and less of Grace. She has acclimated to college life beautifully and is loving the life she enjoys as a college student. It seems the only way I can stay on top of her social schedule is our family’s weekly planning meeting when we go over the calendar for the week. She is loving her schooling and is enamored with her major and all she is learning. Recently she had the opportunity to share her ASL talents with her church family as she performed two Christmas songs at church. She also had the opportunity to apply her skills in a real world setting when a deaf customer approached the counter where she was working. She came home so excited to tell me about the encounter and the conversation she was able to have despite the limited schooling she has had. I think the experience just added more fuel to the spark that was already there for American Sign Language.

This past week was finals week which meant her normally packed school schedule was lighter, allowing for some fun activities she wouldn’t normally have time for. On Monday she was able to attend a fun, Christmas activity at church where they decorated gingerbread houses,

 

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A gingerbread fishing cottage.

 

And then on Thursday, following her final semester exam, she decided to drive down to Pittsburgh on her own and enjoy the beautiful Christmas display at Phipps Conservatory. She had a wonderful afternoon soaking in the beauty of Phipps.

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She is thrilled to now be off from school till the end of January and have time to read something other than textbooks.

On Saturday we drove up to see Ozzie. He had earned another day pass which allowed us to take him out for the day and enjoy spending time with him in the community. I only had Molly and Rusty with me. Grace had work that day and Tyler had equine therapy. Because of the heightened level of anxiety we were seeing in Tyler, as well as the newly developed facial tic, we felt horse therapy was too important to miss, so Toby and Tyler stayed home.

We picked up Ozzie and began our day of fun. He had two primary requests for the day. He wanted to eat lunch at Golden Corral and see the new Justice League movie. Both seemed good choices for a cold, snowy day.

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Ozzie loves Golden Corral. He loves the unlimited food of buffet dining, as all teenage boys seem to enjoy, but also the large amount of food options, particularly on the dessert table.

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We enjoyed our meal and then drove over to Target where we window shopped and Ozzie pointed out items on his Christmas wish list.

When it was time for the movie we headed over to the theatre where we enjoyed Justice League in 3D. I am not normally a fan of superhero movies but this was a good movie and Ozzie LOVED it!

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As always saying good-bye was hard but the fact that he will be coming home in just another week made it a bit easier.

I’ll end this post with this winner of a photo taken by Toby on Wednesday night when our youth group (18 strong) got stuck in the elevator at the nursing home where they were caroling.

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So, there you go…life at its best.

Sometimes happy,

Sometimes hard,

but NEVER boring!

 

A 21st Century Christmas Party

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Last Thursday we loaded up Big Bessie with our crew of 21st Century students, and a few spares, and drove an hour away to Murrysville, the home of the recently opened western office for our cyber school. It has been so nice having a satellite office for our school so close to home. It has allowed the students located in western Pennsylvania to enjoy more interactions with their teachers, more face to face support, and more field trips in the Pittsburgh area.

This was the first year my kiddos have been able to attend one of the school’s Christmas parties in person. Each December the teachers throw a holiday bash in their Downingtown office but the craziness of this time of year has made driving 4 hours for a Christmas party unfeasible. Rusty has attended “virtually” in the past but it just isn’t the same as being there in person. Watching the festivities through a web cam while your peers decorate and eat cookies is really more torture than fun, so this year when it was announced that there would be a Christmas party in the Pittsburgh office we signed up to attend.

In addition to Molly, Rusty, and Tyler (Grace had finals that day) we also brought 3 friends from co-op.

The kids were encouraged to bring a toy donation for Toys for Tots.

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We arrived and discovered that in addition to the teachers based in the Pittsburgh office of 21st Century Cyber Charter School, we also had a few teachers and principal who drove out from the Philly office to attend. It was wonderful getting to catch up with Ozzie’s learning coach, Mrs. Scarpignato. She was eager to hear how Ozzie was doing and I was eager to share the good news of his successes.

It was a fun group of students and teachers.

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The party began with the kids getting to enjoy a hot chocolate bar and decorate Christmas cookies. The kids liked visiting with their teachers and making some new friends while indulging in the tastes of the Christmas season.

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When everyone was sufficiently hyped up on sugar, the games began. The teachers planned a series of Christmas themed Minute-To-Win-It games for the kids to enjoy.

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There was…

Movin’ On Up:

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Merry Fishmas:

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Suck it Up:

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Golf Ball:

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Everyone’s competitive streak surfaced a bit as friends competed against friends and siblings competed against siblings.

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In the end four winners walked away with a 21st Century travel mug and bragging rights, including Rusty who won “Merry Fishmas” and Caleigh who won “Suck it up.”

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At the end of the party everyone left with a Christmas bag of school goodies from the teacher,s and some new, albeit useless, life skills. 😉

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Buster’s Back!

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On December 1st our elf returned. Buster, our Elf on the Shelf, has been a faithful holiday visitor since 2008, when he arrived for the first time as a gift from my parents. He added to the magic of Gracie, Molly and Rusty’s believing years, as they awoke each morning in December and raced from the warmth of their beds to be the first to find Buster and laugh at his latest antics.

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When Tyler and Ozzie joined our family through adoption, they too got into the tradition of the visiting elf. Ozzie embraced the magic immediately and fell in love with the Elf. Tyler took a bit longer to warm up to the idea of a magical toy elf that came to life and moved through the house at night. (I can’t say I blame him.) 🙂

But each year he embraces the tradition with a little more joyful anticipation and a little less anxiety.

This year Tyler is my last remaining believer, so the antics of the elf are really for his benefit. The other kids are now “Magic Makers” and help in creating the Christmas magic. Since Tyler is our last believer and since this could be his last year before the world steals that piece of childhood magic from him, I wanted to do something different to make this year with Buster more special and more meaningful.

We decided to have Buster lead us through our church’s worldwide initiative to spread the love of Christ this Christmas season through daily acts of service based on Christ’s example of love:

“Many of our memorable and enduring Christmas traditions include different kinds of lights—lights on trees, lights in and on our homes, candles on our tables. Indeed, light has significant meaning as we commemorate the humble birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament account, a new star arose and wise men followed the light “till it came and stood over where the young child was.”

In the Old World, Jesus taught, “I am the light of the world.” And in the New World, the Savior descended from the heavens and declared, “I am the light and the life of the world.” In both of these settings, the words used by the Lord to describe Himself were “the light.”

May we increasingly learn and more fully understand that Jesus Christ is the “light which shineth in darkness.” In every season of our lives, in all of the circumstances we may encounter, and in each challenge we may face, the Savior is the light that dispels fear, provides assurance and direction, and engenders enduring peace and joy. May the beautiful lights of every Christmas season remind us of Him who is the source of all light.

As our Great Exemplar, the Lord lived a perfect life, ministering one by one in love and service. Like Him, we can exemplify and share His light and love with those around us.

This Christmas season I invite you to seek opportunities to “Light the World.” Beginning December 1 and continuing through Christmas Day, you can learn how to “light the way for others” by visiting mormon.org. ” – David A. Bednar

It had proven to be the most meaningful and impactful year with Buster yet. He arrived on December 1st in a superhero costume, sitting atop a globe with this letter by his side:

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“Hi Guys!

I’m so glad to be back. I’ve sure missed you but I’ve been having a great time with my friends at the North Pole. We are very busy getting ready for Christmas Eve. Last year I caused A LOT of mischief, but this year I have a very important job to do and I hope you’ll help me. Will you help me make some Christmas magic? The world needs children just like you to show love and care for others.

You might be wondering why I am wearing a superhero costume this year. It is because this Christmas season we will be making KINDNESS our SUPERPOWER through daily challenges. Together we will #LIGHT THE WORLD through small acts of kindness and service to others. It will be a lot of fun, so put on your invisible superhero cape and make some Christmas magic for others!

Here are some ideas for making Christmas magic to get you started and then I will give you a special challenge each day I return from seeing Santa.”

  • Bake cookies to take to a shelter.
  • Collect toys to donate.
  • Share with a friend.
  • Hold the door open for others.
  • Draw a Christmas card for a soldier overseas.
  • Select a toy for Toys for Tots.
  • Smile at a Stranger.
  • Put coins in the Salvation Army Kettle.
  • Make a new friend.

Tyler took to the new focus immediately and I could tell he felt a little less anxious knowing Buster would be too busy serving others this Christmas season to be wandering the house pulling pranks.

The idea to combine two beloved traditions into one experience was nothing short of God’s leading. And it has been an awesome success. The kids, especially Tyler, have immersed themselves wholeheartedly into the Light the World challenge thanks to Buster’s daily reminders and service challenges. Here are some of the ways he has encouraged us to be more Christ-like this Christmas season:

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The kids were encouraged to write a note of love and appreciation to their Dad.

 

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The kids were challenged to reach out to someone who could use a friend instead of judgement.

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The kids were encouraged to bless the life of a child by purchasing and delivering toys for Toys for Tots.

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By watching “Mr. Kruger’s Christmas” we considered those in our community we could extend a hand of love to during this Christmas season.

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Buster encouraged us to reach out and serve someone who wasn’t well, either physically or spiritually.

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Buster suggested we strengthen our friendship with our neighbors and make/ deliver cookies to people in our neighborhood..

On this day Buster challenged us to perform 12 random acts of service for the people in our own home and leave stars with our names marking the acts of kindness we performed for each other:

 

How will you #Light the World this Christmas season?