Simply Celebrating a Christ-Centerd Christmas

Earlier this week I wrote about the Christmas that I got overwhelmed by preparations and tangled up in unrealistic expectations. I never wanted to have that kind of Christmas again so I decided to get intentional about making Jesus the center of my attention each December that followed. And it’s made a big difference.

The first thing I do is look for reminders of Christ everywhere I go. Each time I see a Christmas symbol, I pause and ponder its significance. For instance, when I see a Christmas tree, I stop and think about the wooden cradle and Cross that held my Savior. The evergreen also reminds me that from the cradle to the Cross, Jesus lived and died to give me the gift of everlasting Life.

Stars on houses and treetops remind me of the Star of Bethlehem that led the way to Jesus. Wreaths on doors remind me of His unending circle of grace and mercy. Christmas reds remind me of His lavish love and sacrificial blood that was shed for me.

A favorite of mine is the candy cane. The twists and turns of red and white stripes remind me of His Holiness and His promise declaring that “by His stripes we are healed.” Shaped like a shepherd’s crook, I remember and thank Him for being my Shepherd. Then I turn it upside down and see a J for Jesus, reminding me again that Christmas is all about Him.

Another secret to keeping my sanity is simplifying. This doesn’t come easy for me. Yet I can’t help but remember how that first Christmas was so very simple. So, I’m moving my heart in that direction by focusing in on what matters most to Jesus and me. I’ve started letting go of the things that stress me most.

I want peace more than anything this Christmas. Isaiah 26:12 reminds me where it comes from, “Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” The truth is, Peace comes when I do less and trust Him more. Peace stays when I make room for it in my day, in my heart and in my home.

I’ve also simplified by asking my husband and kids what traditions and decorations matter most to them. Driving around looking at Christmas lights and having a Christmas tree was at the top of their list. They also want a few decorations in each room downstairs to remind them all day that it’s Christmas.

This year we’re putting out our favorite things, but not all our things. Andrew loves our Christmas village so it stayed but I did away with the white sparkly cotton that went under it. It was messy and drove me crazy. Now our little Christmas town warms our imaginations but doesn’t make me want to hide in the steeple of the miniature church. That’s progress.

Here are a few more “simplifying” suggestions some of you shared on my Facebook page this week:

  • Enjoy one fun activity a week – like going to a Christmas movie or play, staying home drinking hot chocolate and eating cookies, going to a Christmas church activity, or reading a Christmas book, Christmas magazines, enjoying Christmas games and puzzles. ~Joyce Watson
  • Find crafts that double as decorations. The kids have fun, and get to have pride in seeing what they did everywhere they look. Bake together and give treats as presents. ~Tricia Preston
  • Take pictures of your decorations so that next year isn’t stressful trying to find a perfect place for everything. ~Julie Leary Hull
  • Decorate only 4 main areas: door, table, tree, mantle. It “covers” enough to be festive but you don’t feel like you have to decorate every inch. ~Linda Elliot Moore
  • Let kids help decorate and don’t stress if your house doesn’t look like Southern Living:-) ~ Kelly Casse Thomas
  • Make bows with wired ribbon to put here and there, to add just a pretty touch. Pick long needle pine branches, put a bunch in a vase with a bow. Very Christmassy! ~Sandy Allen
  • Ask “Will it still be Christmas if I don’t…?” (Buy one more gift, make one more batch of cookies, host a Christmas party, etc.) Christmas will come whether we have presents or not, whether our husband is here or not, whether we have 3 Christmas trees, just one or none. Only ONE thing is needed. ~Deb Galetka Heath

This week God reminded me that by simply seeking understanding from Him, and acquiring knowledge from those we love, we can fill our hearts and homes with rare and beautiful treasures made up of Christmas memories, traditions, laughter, peace and joy that will last long after the parties are over, the leftovers are eaten and the decorations are put away!

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. Proverbs 24:3-4*******************************************

Christmas Giveaway
Which Christmas symbol or tradition is your favorite and why? Are there things you are doing this year to simplify and make room at the Inn of your heart and home for Christ this Christmas?

Join in the Christmas conversation and enter to win “Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas”. Just click on the word “comments” below. I’ll leave this post up through next Tuesday, Dec. 14th and announce a winner here that night. “Celebrating a Christ-Centered Christmas” is written by my friend Sharon Jaynes. It includes wonderful and doable ideas for each day in December in a beautiful full-colored Christmas table top book!

When a Wanna-be Decides She’s Gonna Be!

I’m getting ready to hop on a plane to St Charles, Louisiana where I’ll be speaking at the Trinity Baptist Church women’s conference tonight and tomorrow, and I’d love to meet you there if you can join us!

I’m so excited to be headed south to my original home state. Did you know I’m a Louisiana born girl? I’m hoping I’ll get to eat red beans and rice while I’m there. Speaking of red beans and rice, last week’s winner of my Friday Give-away which includes a copy of LeAnn Rice’s “Sharing Grace” recipe e-book is Anonymous who posted at 8:19pm who told us about her spaghetti sauce that killed a fly when he landed in it. I don’t have your email so email it to me by 5pm on Monday 11/15 at or I’ll need to pick another winner. And then you’ll be so sad. However the rest of you don’t have to be sad because you can order one or enter to win one next week since it’s part of my next give-away, too!

Until then, I’d love it if you’d tell me a little about you!

What state (or country) do you live in, what season of life are you in (that’s a polite way of asking how old you are), are you single, married, have kids, a dog or cat, etc. and what keeps you busy most weeks- work, family, church, etc?

Also, be sure to come back next week to find out what happened when this wanna-be decided she was gonna be!

I’m Not a Cooker ( and A Give-away!)

This is my friend LeAnn Rice. She’s an amazing woman, mom, servant leader, friend, and so much more. She’s one of the most beautiful people I know – inside and out! She loves like Jesus in every way. And she’s an incredible cooker!

Cookers are the kind of people who like to cook.

I’m not a cooker. But I grew up in a family of cookers. My mom is a cooker. My dad is a great cooker, and my brothers love to be in the kitchen cooking. My oldest brother is even a trained chef.

When I was growing up, there was no reason or room in the kitchen for me to cook. I did everyone a favor and stayed outside chasing boys and butterflies. Then one day I got married and discovered my husband’s love-language is food.

During our first week home from our honeymoon I tried to tap into my lineage of cookers and whip up a traditional meal I’d grown up eating. I was from New Orleans. Surely I could remember what went into red beans and rice: red beans, rice, sausage, and red wine, right?

I wish you could have been there to taste and smell my creation. However, you might have been carded if you had come for dinner that night. I’m pretty sure my newlywed husband got drunk just walking through the front door of our apartment. I think I poured the whole bottle of wine into my “I will just make it up as I go” red beans and rice.

Needless to say, when I asked JJ if he liked the special meal I cooked for him, he sheepishly told me I didn’t have to cook such fancy things and I wouldn’t need to try making this one again. Bless his Pennsylvania heart, he just wanted meatloaf and potatoes.

I’m still not much of a cooker, but I do love to cook for my peeps. Over the past 17 years, I’ve learned a few thing about cooking. First I learned that recipes are a good idea. And that trying to impress my family with fancy fixings is not. They just want their favorites. Simple is best, and homemade speaks volumes of love.

My friend LeAnn invited me to guest post on her website She Cooks. I didn’t have much to say so I simply shared my homemade chicken noodle soup recipe. It’s yummy, I promise. My son Joshua even wrote about it in a poem for his literature class last year. He said I could show it to you here:

Where I am From

I am from being outside.
I am from friends playing together.
I am from trampolines and wooden forts.
I am from imaginations combining together to create something marvelous.

I am from early Christmas mornings in front of the fire.
I am from Halloween in the back of a pickup.
I am from Easters at Grandmas.
I am from Uncle Bill’s lake on the 4th of July.

I am from red beans and rice while watching Moby Dick with a friend.
I am from eating huge piles of cheese fries from Outback with a former NFL player.
I am from crawfish and crab at Grandpa’s house after catching them.
I am from homemade chicken noodle soup that could be mistaken to be from heaven.

I am from mistakes and successes.
I am from fun times and sad times.
I am from wonderful memories.
I am from a wonderful life.

And it’s not even halfway done.

©2009, Joshua Swope.

Did you see how he mentioned his momma’s chicken noodle soup!? And used the word “heaven” in the same sentence. Now that’s progress for a non-cooker wanna be mom. Yes, he also mentioned red beans and rice. He grew up on Zataran’s, without the wine.

Well friend, I don’t know if you’re a cooker. I just know family and friends love when we cook for them. There’s just something about the smells and feelings that spread through the kitchen when memories are made around the table, across the counter or over the stove. It’s so special that sometimes our cookin’ even gets mentioned in poems written by boys about life and the things they love!

I can’t be much help in the cooking department, so that’s why I want you to meet my friend LeAnn. She’s got all kinds of encouragement and wonderful recipes that will make your mouth water! But before I send you off to her site, be sure to enter to win a copy of her fabulous e-book “Sharing Grace.”
It’s full of memory-making inspiration and wonderful recipes. Just click on the word “comments” below this post and tell me if you are a cooker or not, what your family likes to eat, or memories you’ve made over meals. And if you’ve ever gotten someone drunk or sick with your cookin’, ‘d love to hear all about that!

That’s all you’ve got to do to be entered to win, and be sure to include your email or I won’t be able to tell you. Also, last week’s winner of Jill Beran’s book “Letters from Leanne is Anonymous who posted at 11:54pm. Jill will be in touch to get your address.

Now tell me about the “cooker” in you and then be sure to hop over to LeAnn’s kitchen at!

Rising Again Because He’s Risen in Me

This week I added an new email tagline: Rising again because He’s risen in me.

It came to me after my posts last week about getting up again. Jesus really is the only reason I can!

It is also the perfect reminder for as I prepare for Easter. I can rise again because He rose for me and He’s risen in me!

Did you know that His resurrection power is available to us who believe.? That same power that raised Jesus from the dead can raise us up from our discouragement, our despair, our doubts, our discontent, our dejection, our disappointments.


His resurrection power fills us. Transforms us. Completes us.

And it’s available to us!

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms…” Ephesians 1:18-20


That is one of the most powerful truths and promises of Easter! Jesus rose from the dead because God gave Him resurrection power. Then when Jesus met with His disciples in the upper room, He breathed His resurrection spirit into the lives of those believers. And He wants to do the same for us. We are sealed with the promise of His Holy Spirit!

This week, our family is preparing our hearts for Easter and looking for ways to talk about the power and promise that is available to us on a daily basis because of what Jesus did for us. I want my kids to know that Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to get us out of Hell and into Heaven, but He died and rose again to get Himself into us!!!

We are going to start reading parts of “Six Hours One Friday” by Max Lucado starting today through next Monday. And we’ll be doing our Easter tradition of remembering His resurrection by baking resurrection rolls Easter morning.

Here is what that entails…

• 1 can refrigerated crescent roll dough
• 8 large marshmallows
• ¼ cup melted butter
• Cinnamon
• Sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Give each person one triangle-shaped section of crescent roll. This represents the tomb.
2. Each person/child takes one marshmallow which represents the body of Christ.
3. Dip the marshmallow in the butter and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. This represents the oils and spices the body was anointed with upon burial.
4. Lay the marshmallow on the dough and carefully wrap it around the marshmallow (not like a typical crescent roll up, but bring the sides up and seal the marshmallow inside).
5. Make sure all seams are pinched together well–sealed tightly like Jesus’ tomb was (otherwise the marshmallow will “ooze” out of the seams).
6. Bake about 12-15 minutes.
7. Cool.
8. Break open the “tomb” and it will be empty!

Not sure how old your kids are or if you have any. But if so, I wanted to tell you about some SIMPLE ways to LINK your family together spiritually through SPLINK at D6!

Splink is
a FREE weekly email packed with ideas to help connect your family spiritually. Splinks can also help you use teachable moments to pass along spiritual truths and life lessons while making memories or just having fun together. Sign up now.

And before I go, what are your Easter plans? Do you have any favorite traditions to share with us?

The not-so-perfect P31 Woman

A few years ago I’d been speaking at a women’s conference when a woman came up to me to say she almost didn’t come to the event because I was a speaker from Proverbs 31 ministries. She told me that chapter in the Bible made her feel bad, and every time she heard a message on Proverbs 31, she felt worse because the speaker seemed perfect and it made her feel like she should be, too. Then she said she was glad she came to my event that day. It made her feel better after hearing me speak since I didn’t have it all together.

I smiled and decided that was a compliment.

I’m always happy to encourage others with my not-so-together self. The truth is for many years I wanted to tear Proverbs 31 out of my Bible and pretend it never existed. But over time I discovered some powerful truths tucked into what used to be an intimidating passage. I’ll share those another day. For now, let’s just say I’m a P31 Woman in progress. Heck, I don’t even know what a distaff is and fine linen…well, does flannel count?

Just yesterday my husband’s friend came by to drop off something. I walked into our foyer and greeted him in my flannel top and bottom pajamas – at 5:15pm in the afternoon. I’d had a hard day and it showed. Well, my jammies were one thing but what he saw next was another. After listening to my explanation of why I looked like I was ready for bed, he grinned real big and said,

“Renee, is that a Christmas tree in your living room?”

Yep, he sure did. And yes that is a Christmas tree in my living room!

I know it’s St. Patrick’s day. I was planning to have green clover ornaments on it by now, thank you very much. I was going to decorate it with shamrocks this month, Valentine hearts last month and easter eggs next month. Andrew talked me into keeping it up so we could have a “holiday” tree through Easter. I agreed since I’d waited until February to take it down.

It was a great idea. The only problem is time passed. I got tired at the end of each day and started working on my book proposal and other things, and well I never took off the Christmas ornaments to replace them with other holiday themed ones. I just got so used to the thing in my living room that I didn’t want to take it down. It matches my decor – look at those beautiful greens and reds blending together!

But I am getting really funny looks these days. Lysa’s daughter Ashley gave me this look last week. And I’m starting to think parents are waging bets if it’ll still be up when they drop off their sons on Wednesday nights for youth group at our house each week.

But I also have to tell ya, it’s liberated some people! A friend told me it makes her feel better that I still have my tree up. I guess she used to think I had it a little more together. Another friend used to ask, “How do you do it all?”

Now she knows my secret…I don’t.

I just do what I can. And many times I don’t do it as well as I think I ought to. But that’s okay. At least that’s what I told myself and my family tonight when I announced we’re eating hamburger helper for dinner… and singing Christmas carols before bed. So what’s the latest you’ve left up your tree? Please tell me someone out there still has a tree up – I need a support group!

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup for a TeenAgers Soul

There is nothing that says I love you like a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup for my teen-age and tween-age boys. I’ll be making some this afternoon since they are home from school for the holiday.

I made this recipe up one day when my kids were asking me to make Grandma’s soup. I didn’t have grandma’s recipe so I created my own – and they loved it!!! Now, it’s the thing my friends request when I bring them a meal or have them over to our house in the winter. Here is what I use:

1 – Garlic and Herb Rotisserie Chicken (store-bought)
2 – 14 oz cans of Chicken broth
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tsp parsley
Dozen baby carrots
pinch of celery salt
salt and pepper

Making Homemade Broth
I pull all of the meat off the chicken and set it aside. Then I put whatever is left of the chicken (skin, bones and all) in a large pot with 2-3 cups of water, parsley, Oregano, baby carrots and celery salt. I let it come to a boil, then turn the heat down and allow it to simmer for 20-30 mins Watch to make sure the broth only cooks down but doesn’t all evaporate.

I drain the homemade broth into a large bowl and set it aside. Sometimes I refrigerate it for an hour so I can skim off the fat, but sometimes I just put it back in the pot and finish the soup.

Putting it all together
In a large soup pot, combine the homemade broth with 2 cans of broth( I use both to make sure it’s salty enough), add meat and 4 noodle nests. You can use any kind of noodle, but since Grandma uses noodle nests, I now use noodle nests.

This recipe is so simple. I hope your family and friends enjoy it as much as mine!

What goes around comes around…

God gave me a sweet blessing today. You see I woke up with KILLER CRAMPS. (No that wasn’t the blessing but it opened the opportunity for me to get one.) These were the debilitating kind that make you bend over and scream or cause you to wonder if someone’s inside of you with a knife. I mean, the kind of cramps we got in high school!

Here is where the blessing came from the curse. My kids were out of school today. I had just promised them some fresh blueberry muffins but soon discovered that we had no eggs, and I was in no condition for a grocery store run. So I laid down on the couch and shouted out to them that I couldn’t cook them breakfast after all. Both Joshua and Andrew came downstairs to see what their options were and discovered me on the couch in fetal position. Well, not really, but I think it was obvious I wasn’t moving. Both of them asked what was wrong. They need to know these things about the “female species” so I just flat out told them. Instead of being grossed out, they got all concerned. Oh how my husband has trained them to be such thoughtful guys!!!

They were telling me to stay on the couch and asking if I needed anything. So I took full advantage of the whole situation and asked for coffee and a blanket to put over my feet. Andrew brought me water and set up a place for me to put my coffee on the footstool so it’d be easy for me to reach. Then he asked if I wanted him to make me a bagel or something to eat. I told them how sweet they were and Josh quipped back, “Mom, you take care of us when we’re not feeling good so we want to take care of you, too.”

They joined me on the couch. We watched t.v. and talked while Ibuprofen took it’s course and relieved me of my great pain!

Around lunch time when I got off the couch to make them something to eat, I was thinking about all those times I feel selfish self-pity and wonder if all I do ever really gets noticed – the laundry, the cooking and cleaning, the caring and sharing of all things sacred. Raising kids is a labor of love. But today, God gave me a sweet reminder that He notices, He blesses, He returns the investments we make in our relationship with Him and others. Today, I saw that what goes around, comes around (eventually) and I got be be the recipient of His circle of love.

What’s For Dinner?

Earlier this week when I was feeling down and doubtful, I decided to do something to make me feel better. I wanted to take the emotions that were making me feel like a failure as a speaker and pour them into my most important ministry – being a wife and a mom.

So, I tackled a project I know I can do well. I marched into my laundry room and folded towels, socks and shirts of those I love. Brilliant, huh?

It may sound crazy, but it made me feel better to do something physical, and something that would bless those I love. I guess it helped me to stop thinking about the words of the one who had not “shown me some love” in her criticism.

When I finished the laundry, I knew I needed a challenge so I took on something that is not my strength – the kitchen!

You should probably know that I’m not really fond of cooking. I feel terrible when my kids or JJ ask, “What’s for dinner?” and I don’t have an answer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat. I just think food tastes so much better if someone else cooks it. Often I decide what’s for dinner in a hurry at the end of day. (I know this is not an good example for Proverbs 31 but I am still aspiring to be like her and I’ve got far to go :->)

On this day, being a P31 homemaker was my banner and meal planning was my quest. So, I got out a piece of paper and planned a great menu for the week. Then I went online and ordered groceries and displayed our menu on the family calendar that hangs on the refrigerator. I knew JJ and the boys would love to see what they could anticipate for dinner each night. I was feeling so successful. Who cares if I am not a good speaker? I thought. I may be the next Rachel Ray!

Actually, I had to consult Ms. Rachel Ray because I did not know what type of roast to buy. I didn’t want the stringy kind. I think that is pot roast. So I did a search on her website, but I couldn’t find an answer. I decided to take a risk and buy what sounded good – a sirloin tip roast.

Here is our magnificent menu for this week:

Monday: Grilled BBQ chicken, rice pilaf and a veggie.
Tuesday: Homemade chilli, crackers, carrots
Wednesday: Andrew/JJ (pizza “guys night out”)
Joshua and me (leftover Chilli)
Thursday: Sirloin tip roast, baked potatoes, green beans
Friday: Japanese steak house (gift certificate)

All was going well until this morning when I got the roast out to put in the crock pot. It had strings tied around it’s waist. It was so weird. I didn’t know whether to keep them on or cut them off. I thought about calling my friend who Lysa affectionately calls gourmet, but I needed to get to work. So, I cut the strings off and hoped for the best.

I put the roast in the crock pot with beef broth, a packet of McCormicK Peppercorn Garlic seasoning, a little water and set it on low. It cooked for 9 hours and oh my did our house smell great when we all got home!!! And it was delish!!!

I was still a little worried about the strings so I talked to the P31 girls at the office. Wendy P. explained that they are for aesthetic purposes to make the roast look better in the packaging. I surmised that it’s kinda like those Spanks we wear to make us look better in our packaging.

I love the simple pleasures in life that I take for granted. I love how God can heal my hurts through laundry and menus. I love the sweet scent of His love that surround me this week through the encouragement of friends like you. Thank you so much for your prayers, your perspectives and for taking the time to write me sweet notes and tell me how God has used this very ordinary woman to draw you close to His heart. I love that He knows just what I need when I need it.

Be blessed my friends, you have blessed me this week!