Monday, April 24, 2017

Free Candy Corn

I struggled with some distressing information recently. My coloring sheet with candy corn on it is very popular. In fact, if you Google candy corn coloring page, my picture will show up multiple times in the top images. We're talking no scrolling is necessary.

That sounds more like good news, right? The bad news is they aren't exactly my picture. Or so they would like you to think. I designed the coloring page, but it is not my website you will go to if you click on the photo. In fact, my name is nowhere to be found. Another name lies at the bottom of the coloring page. My picture has been stolen more than once. I can't even find any of the image that links back to this website.

This made me sick to my stomach. How could someone steal my hard work? My creativity? My words? How could they claim it as their own? I was devastated. I felt violated and used. It looks as if I am the thief of my own picture. I never put names on my pictures. I share them freely.

This experience left me feeling very angry. I wanted to leave nasty comments on their websites. I wanted to demand they remove it. It felt like such an attack to my person. I thought about revenge. My honor needed to be restored. I'm embarrassed to be confessing how I truly felt.

All day long this ate at me. Even into the evening I felt the attack to my soul. This went deep inside of me. I couldn't shake it off. I despise injustice.

God spoke to my heart as I tried to settle my emotions. These people don't even know I exist. They did no bodily harm to me. In fact, they probably never once thought of me. They simply liked my coloring page. 

God asked me, "Why did you make the coloring sheet all those years ago? Did you do it for glory and recognition? Was your intent to make money off it? No. You did it for the kids."

The air fizzled out of my inflated ego. I made that picture for my kids to hand out to trick-or-treaters. I wanted my neighbors to see a glimpse of Jesus' love. What I felt today was not love. It was plain and simple greed. It was about me, Me, ME!!!

I made a rather unhappy comment on one website in the heat of my anger. I am so ashamed. I never put my name on my creative works. But on this hateful comment I signed my name. Why?!? Why would I sign my name to greed, but leave my name out of love? I wish I could take it back, but the site doesn't allow for deleting comments.  It's stuck out there, along with my beautiful message from God. The two don't go together. It sounds hateful, mean, and greedy. Not loving, kind, and forgiving. Fortunately, the Christ that the picture talks about IS loving and ALWAYS kind. That Christ never makes heated comments that hurt and are rude. That Christ doesn't push to get His own way. That Christ gave everything for us. That Christ asked for nothing in return.

If you see my mean comment out there by my coloring sheet, remember I am flawed. I am imperfect. I mess up. I get things wrong. I need Jesus so much. I need Him like I need breath in my lungs. I am nothing without Him.

I'm excited that so many people are seeing God's love while they color. Those websites are reaching more than this simple little blog ever could. For that I am grateful.

The coloring page states simply, "Count your Blessings and name them day by day. You'll be reminded Christ Jesus' love overflows to you, right now in nearly every way."

That is the cry of my heart. My cup overflows with blessings. I remember praying about what words to write upon that page. I remember crying tears as God gave me a message. Christ's love doesn't just come to you in a half full glass, barely enough for you to quench your thirst. Christ's love overflows. You don't have a container large enough to fill with the blessings that He pours out.

I refuse to dwell on myself like that again. The message on that sheet is too beautiful and sacred to me to squabble over it. It's a gift freely given. I post pictures and messages because I want to make a difference. And I don't want to make a hurtful difference. I stand by the fact that what I have is freely shared.

I did decide to go ahead and start putting my name on the coloring pages I make. It's not because I want to stake my claim to them. It's more about the message behind it. I often pour my heart into the things I create. I love to write and share what God speaks to me about here on this blog. If my name is on the bottom of the page, it might point people back here to hear my heart some more on a different subject, or maybe even the same subject. I feel that God has given me a gift to be able to verbally express myself.  I hope and pray that I express myself in a way that truly honors God. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


Remember when you were young, and you would play the game of Mash with your friends? You couldn't wait to see your name next to your crush, and the perfect life would roll out before you. Or maybe your life wasn't so perfect. Maybe your husband was a trash man, and you ended up living in a shack. Or maybe you got 15 kids with the boy in your class who teases you relentlessly.

I was pretty surprised when I picked up my son from school a few days ago to find him and his best friend giggling in the back seat of the car over the game of Mash! I had no idea that game was still around! It brought back so many fond memories for me.

I'm thankful my life didn't turn out the way Mash planned for me. At least not entirely how it was planned. I keep practically everything, and I had a good laugh that I still had a story I wrote when I was 12. The story was titled A Sad Story with a Happy Ending. It had a sequel called The Good Life. I read these Mash stories aloud to my husband last night and we were laughing so hard at the innocence of my 12-year-old mind.

The past two days I have played Mash with my son 3 different times. Each time we play, he adds more details and questions to the list. It's not exciting enough to have only 4 categories. We want the game to last and be over the top funny.

My husband played the game and ended up marrying our daughter, who had 18 children for them. He was a telemarketer and lived in a shack. They had a pet hippo, and cruised around town in a tank. The stories you can make from this game are endless. So much fun!

I always love to put creativity into action. This afternoon I put together a sheet for my son to make the game easier to play. When I picked him up from school, it was sitting on his seat. He was SO EXCITED! I got to be his first victim, err I mean participant. He is now happily writing his own story about the silliness of my new life. It seems no matter how many times I play the game with my son, I can't seem to marry my husband. I'm so glad life is what we make it, and there isn't a random order of things. We get to choose.

If you've never played the game of Mash with a friend, it's so easy! You need a partner to play with.

  • Player one gives answers for each category, while Player two writes the answers down.
  • Before you can figure out how your life ends up, you must come up with a magic number. To find your magic number, Player two begins to draw a swirl. Player one closes their eyes and decides when Player two stops drawing the swirl. After stop has been called, Player two draws a line from where they started the swirl to where they ended it. Player two counts how many times the line crosses over the swirl. That is the magic number!
  • Player two counts each answer, starting with the M A S H at the top. When you get to the magic number, you cross that answer off the list. You continue counting where you left off until there is only one answer left for each category. Don't forget to count the letters of Mash separately. 
  • M stands for Mansion. A stands for Apartment. S stands for Shack. And H stands for House.

The answers you are left with are your future. Take turns with your friends. Be prepared to have lots of good laughs.

To make it even more interesting, when I played with my friends we always got to choose one answer for the other person. That way it's not all your dreams coming true. A little twist on life. We may get to make a lot of our choices, but there are still things that are out of our control.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Crafts for Easter

It's been a fantastic two weeks of teaching! The kids are learning, and fully engaged in the story of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection. Each Wednesday, I dedicated the entire day to planning my lesson. Our pastor loves to say each year at this time, "Easter is the Super Bowl for Christians." It should be one of our biggest weeks for attendance. If someone is considering going to church, they will most likely say yes to an invitation this weekend!

Last week we focused primarily on the death of Jesus. I did make sure to share the good news of His resurrection, however the focus of that would be the following week. My favorite way to teach this lesson is by using Resurrection Eggs. I don't know how long they've been around, but they are genius! Kids love hands on stuff to help them learn. I bought my set when my daughter was 2 years old, and we've been using them each year since. That's 14 years of Easter fun!!

Every egg has a piece of the story hidden inside. When you buy the set, they also come with a booklet that gives scriptures to read, and helpful information to tell. I typically don't follow the book. It's pretty wordy, and I prefer to share from my heart about each piece of the story. They might have updated the book since I originally bought my set. I do like to follow along with reading the different passages from the Bible. 

Whenever I bring the eggs to my class at church, the kids are enthralled. They LOVE to take turns opening each egg. I have found these eggs even interest my kids who usually need special attention. Everyone listens. Everyone learns. 

To go along with the story, I like to plan a craft. Kids really enjoy using their hands. After we had gone through all the eggs, the kids got to make their own resurrection pie wheel to bring home with them. This pie wheel has all the same things they learned through the eggs. The kids were very excited to make this. Now they would be able to share the same story with their family and friends. 

To make the resurrection pie, you print both pages, and simply use a brass fastener in the center to keep them together. You cut out the pie piece on the top paper to provide a hole for viewing through. The bottom pie wheel should easily turn through the viewing screen. I left an area blank above each description so the kids can draw a picture in of what the object is we talked about. 

There are twelve pieces of the wheel, one for each resurrection egg. On the front wheel piece, you can see a list of all twelve things, along with their scriptures that we referenced. This was very easy to make, and the kids had a lot of fun with it!

Feel free to use any coloring sheets I put together, and post. That's why I share them online. I'm always happy to let anyone use what I have created. My goal is to teach all kids about Jesus, including ones I've never met! As always, if you click on the picture it will allow you to save a much larger file size.  

This week my lesson focused much more on the resurrection of Jesus instead of His death. I was so excited to teach about this. I prepared my thoughts and heart all day long. I showed a 13-minute video to the class of some clips I edited together from A.D. The Bible Continues. The video content is very well done, but a bit harsh and violent to show young children.  I put together several different, kid friendly clips to make a short video. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the kids were so into the movie. I think they were disappointed when the lights came back on. Some had never seen this acted out before. They had lots of questions, and we could have some really good discussion afterwards. Why did Peter lie that he didn't know Jesus? Was that Pharaoh in the movie? So cute and sweet!

After our lively discussion, the kids had a quiet time of journaling. I keep a journal for each kid in my class. I never look in these journals. It's between them and Jesus. The journals stay in my supply cabinet, and only get removed during class time when the child who it belongs to is there. When the kids graduate from my class, they get to take the journal home with them. Parents love these! It's neat to see their kid's heart and growth through the two-year time span they are in my classroom. We do all kinds of writing in this journal. Sometimes it's as simple as copying a Bible verse, other times it's drawing a picture of something I prompt them to think about. Often we glue workbook pages into the book, and lots of prayers are wrote inside. The list is endless...

In their journals this time they wrote a prayer to Jesus. They confessed a sin they struggle with, and asked for forgiveness. The prayer was ended with thanksgiving. We were recognizing Jesus for His sacrifice, and giving thanks to Him. 

Once their prayer time was complete, the kids came back one by one to a table in the back of the room where I had supplies to pot a plant. We all potted some flower seeds. I made it an object lesson for the kids. I explained why we had these plants. It was about more than a pretty flower. It was about a lesson I was trying to teach them.

Each kid got to decorate their plastic pot with permanent markers. They could write the Bible verse. They could draw a picture that reminds them of Jesus. It could be a word that Jesus gave them. It could be something He wants them to remember. I try to get the kids to always think for themselves. I want them to get in the habit of talking to Jesus about EVERYTHING! It's about getting truth down deep in their heart. It's not good enough to have head knowledge. We all need some heart wisdom. And we all need to learn how to hear God's voice. 

My lesson about our potted plants was that we all sin and miss the mark. Our sin is something we usually hide. We are often ashamed of it. The soil is dark like our sin, and dark like the way we feel about it.

The seed we plant is Jesus. He comes in to the dark places of our hearts. He takes our sin upon Himself. He is innocent, yet He still takes our punishment.

When Jesus was with His disciples He broke bread, gave it to them and said, "This is my body, which is given for you." Luke 22:19. Just like the bread broke, symbolizing Jesus' body, the seed coat must break open for the seed to begin to grow and sprout. Jesus gave up His life for us because He loved us so much.

The seed in a way goes through a transformation from death into new life. It must change for it to become a new flower. Just like the flower rises out of the soil, Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive. Because of this new life, we too can rise out of the darkness. Our sin no longer has a claim on us. We are forgiven. We are free. We are beautiful. We are a new creation. We are a flower that soaks up the "Son."

The night was amazing. We were all connecting with Jesus. That is something to get excited about! I am so honored to be a voice for Jesus with these kids. I love them with all my heart!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fruit of the Spirit Prayer

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" Galatians 5:22-23

I'm in charge of the project center for the elementary age kids at church. I try to come up with a craft to help the kids apply the Bible stories they learn, and to apply the Bible verses they hear to their life. I will usually include in the craft some kind of cutting, gluing, and coloring assignment, but the overall goal is application. It doesn't always change your life when you make a craft. I'm not saying God can't work in this way. But normally, it takes a little more than the cutting and gluing. 

The point of making a project with the kids is to get them to think in more depth on the subject. I love doing crafts with the kids. But I love it even more when the craft brings them closer to knowing Jesus. 

This week we studied the Fruit of the Spirit. When we are growing in Christ, these fruit should be apparent in our lives. We had a quiet time of reflection. I went through this prayer letter that I designed for the kids, and explained what each fruit means. I explained it as simple as I could.  

Some of the harder fruits I had to explain again to them... 

Joy. Happiness is what we feel when good things are happening to us. Joy is a choice. Joy means we choose to have a good attitude even if things are going wrong. Joy is when we celebrate the good that God does. 

Gentleness. Sometimes when we are upset we let our voice sound really mad. We yell at people. Gentleness helps us to talk nicely and sweetly. It's not using an angry voice. It's making sure we care about the other person's feelings.

Peace. When we are afraid, or angry we get really upset. God's peace helps us to calm down. We know that He is going to help us, and take care of everything we need. It's being happy with what we have.

Faithfulness. Being faithful is about keeping your promises. When you say you will do something, you do it. You can't change your mind and hurt your friends feelings. 

Self-control. I am in control of my body. I decide what I will say, and what I will do. It means I don't yell when I'm angry. I don't hit other people. I make sure to not lose my temper.

I encouraged them to talk with Jesus as they wrote out their prayer. This wasn't time to talk to their neighbor, or to be silly with their friends. This was time with Jesus. If they had questions, they could quietly raise their hand and I would come help. I explained words better to them, I spelled out words for them to write, and I read the hard to read words like "patience". 

It was so neat to see all the kids writing out their prayers. They were talking with Jesus. I know God was smiling. If these kids can learn at a young age what God's voice sounds like, when they are old it will be second nature to them to dialogue with Him. He cares about all details of their lives. He listens. He answers. He comforts us. He is with us.  With His help, we are able to have these fruit in our lives. Jesus is what makes the difference.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

More Animals for God

My class loved being animals for God a couple of years ago,

In fact, as we were all gathered around our glasses of water this year, watching the sponges transform into animals, a former student from my class walked into the room. She remarked to everyone, "I still have my animal! I miss being in this class." High praise indeed.

Remember the growth capsules you used to get as a little kid? They looked like colored medicine, and when you put them in warm water, they grew into a sponge. You never knew exactly what you were getting. It was so fun to be surprised with a different shape. I don't remember doing anything with the sponges after they had grown; the whole point was watching them change.

I found a pack of 12 capsules at the Toy Store. Dollar Tree was completely out of their packs. I spent a little more for my animals, but I also got a bigger variety. Everyone in my class got to be a different animal for God this time.

Again, after much prayer, and help from my mother and Gabriel, I came up with index cards of information for each animal. I used this as an object lesson on growth for my second and third grade class at church. The kids were going to have the opportunity to be a safari animal for God. I found a Bible verse to go with each animal, and I tried to highlight different characteristics I thought the animal might exhibit.

When you see the capsules, you have no idea what animal you will be getting. You choose what color you like, and the animal is a surprise, a theme for the year. The kids in my class got so into this. Everyone was excited to see what God had for them this year.

If you would like to download a PDF version of the files, click here.

The anticipation for the kids in finding out their animal was great! They loved it. I hope and pray they continue to walk in the footsteps of their animal.

My son is part of the 2nd and 3rd grade class that I teach. He too came home with an animal for God. He brought home the anteater. His card was a little weathered and worn by the time I got to take a picture of it. But that makes it more special. His card was placed in a spot of honor that he could daily look at. I love that God gave him the anteater. The anteater will gobble up God's word, and has a sticky tongue to quickly remember all the promises of God. THIS IS SO TRUE! My son loves to memorize scriptures more than anyone else I know. He has a definite hunger for the word of God. AND he always seems to remember the verses that he has learned. My son really does have a sticky tongue for God's promises!

These animals might seem a little silly, but God can use the silly to speak to our hearts. There is no limit to the way God works. I love the innocence of children. This makes them very trusting. Their ears and eyes are open to all the ways of God, even if it's a little sponge capsule that reveals an animal with a message.  They hear God's voice, and answer to His call.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Legend of Gabonland

My eldest son is a very talented author. He has been completing fictional works of art since before he knew how to spell. Every year his talent grows stronger. I am very proud of all the hard work he has put into creating stories and new worlds for his characters. Each year a new book is completed.

Right now, his latest book he has wrote is titled The Legend of Gabonland. In order to share his story with more people, he created a blog. This book has taken him two years to perfect, and I'm very proud to share it for him. Every few days or so, he plans to upload a new chapter to the story on his blog.

The book is geared toward young adults, but can be of  interest to those in elementary school. The story is original, and exciting. It has action, adventure, love, and more. I highly recommend you give it a shot.

When competitions are held in the region of the world Gabonland, many questions are raised. Why is King Condronson of Bacnaltica holding contests in countries he isn’t king over? Why is the reward for these competitions left so vague? Five competitions are held in all Gabonland. The winners, Cornelious, Flitican, Asher, Elderain, and Sarnam, are summoned to Thektow Tower to claim their reward. Instead of a reward they are sent on a dangerous quest to stop an evil lord called Lord Vallan from taking over Gabonland with an army of monsters. The fate of the world is on the Five Heroes shoulders, as they head to Malicina to destroy the evil hanging over Gabonland, knowing that the quest could claim their lives.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day

This is one of my very favorite holidays! Valentine's Day is a big deal at our house. It's almost like a second Christmas. We draw names for our "Secret Valentines," where we make a homemade gift for one member of the family. I prepare a 5-course dinner. We dress up. We play games. We always have a photo booth. We spend a few hours in the evening celebrating the love we have for each other. We remember how Christ first loved us. Valentine's Day dinner is a tradition we ALL look forward to.

I despise cooking, but on this special day, I put my feelings aside and I spend the entire day in the kitchen creating a feast for my loved ones. I put as much time and detail as the day will allow.  I serve my family with all my heart.

We decorate the room with candles, Christmas lights, and rose petals. Instrumental music plays in the background. Love is shared by everyone present. The night is magical.

We started the tradition several years ago, I saw a friend sad and alone on this holiday, and it broke my heart. I hate exclusions. It's unfair to label this a holiday for romance between a man and woman. We all desire for someone to pursue us. We decided then that our family would celebrate Valentine's day a little differently. My husband and I stopped celebrating the holiday as a couple. We started celebrating instead as a family. I never want my kids to feel they must have a romantic relationship in their life to be complete. That is not the message you find in the Bible.

God hasn't called all of us to be married. He does implore every one of us to "love as Christ first loved us."

Christ romances our hearts. We have a mysterious, idealized, exciting, passionate, devoted love affair going on with our Lord who created us. He wants to capture our hearts. Every day He buys us chocolates and flowers with the way He pursues us. He whispers words of love in our ears. He declares His love for us from the mountain top.

His love never fails us. His love is always about what is best for us. He wraps us in a warm embrace. He gives us security in His strength. His passion never grows cold.

That is something worth celebrating! God's love doesn't discriminate or leave anyone out. God's love covers us all.

For as long as my children are willing, I will celebrate "love for all" with them. Anyone who needs a reminder of Christ's love has a place at my table.

"Faith, hope, love... the greatest of these is love."  1 Corinthians 13:13

I put together a sweet coloring page for the holiday. Feel free to use it however you wish. "Valentine: This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life." John 3:16

And that's a fact!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

One Body in Christ

Two Wednesday nights a month, I have the privilege of teaching the 2nd and 3rd graders at my church. I look forward to these moments I am given with the kids. I usually spend a few hours preparing a lesson, and praying about what I will say to them. 

This week we were reading in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. We were discussing spiritual gifts and the fact that we are all part of one body in Christ. "God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful." 1 Corinthians 12: 4-7 (The Message)

To illustrate this point, I had the kids work with play dough while I read through the chapter in the Bible. I find the kids listen so much better if their hands are busy with a simple task. I use play dough a lot when we are reading in the Bible. It also helps illustrate the point even further.

Before I began reading, I assigned a different body part to each child. While I read, they designed and perfected their part. When we finished, we discussed how each part is very special, but is missing something when it is off by itself. The parts couldn't accomplish much all alone. You couldn't tell the foot to go tell someone about Jesus. The foot doesn't have a mouth to speak. You can't tell a head to go somewhere, it needs the neck and other parts to move it there. Each part is important and necessary to achieve God's plan.


 The body parts aren't as useful alone, BUT when we all put our parts together, it makes one body, just like we are one in Christ. We all bring different things to the world, but our goal is the same. We need each other. We each have different spiritual gifts that God has given us. They work best together, not separate. Together we can accomplish a lot for God.

To illustrate the point a little further to the kids, I put together a worksheet for them to fill out. This is not their typical paper they fill out in class. It's going to require some research and help from other members in the church. It's homework they must bring back next week!

There are arrows pointing to all different parts of the body. For each arrow, they must find someone in the church who fills that part. The kid's not only need the person's signature on the arrow; they also need to write down what that person's spiritual gift is. God has given each of us a gift to be used for Him. It's a treasure that must be found.

"A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other." 
1 Corinthians 12:7

I challenged the kids to talk with several different ages of people in the church. If they can bring back their worksheet completely filled in, that's 15 extra names, then I will give them a surprise. I encouraged the kids to figure out what part of the body they represent in our church too.

They could be the feet, bringing the good news about Jesus to others, teaching what they know.

They could be the nose, sniffing out good vs. evil. Having discernment is very important.

They could be the hands, serving people who have needs.

They could be the knees, bending down praying for others to be healed.

The list of parts goes on and on...

To help the kids figure out their own gift, I printed out several copies of a  Spiritual Gifts Test I found online.  The kids had a lot of fun ranking the questions from 1 to 5. Even the ones who didn't like tests, responded well to this survey. I did need to help a few kids add up their scores, but several could do it on their own. They were so excited after taking the test to see what gift God had given them. After the kids figured out their gift, they each took turns writing their signature and gift on their classmates worksheet.

I believe it was a very eye opening experience for the kids. We all need each other, and we are all equally important to God. It doesn't matter if you are an adult, or if you are a kid. God gives gifts to each and every one of us. There are no gifts that are better than the others.  

"If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts share its suffering. If one part is praised, all the others share in its happiness. You are Christ’s body and each of you is an individual part of it." 1 Corinthians 12:26-27

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Secret Santas: Homemade Christmas

I love the creativity of my family. Each year they surprise me and leave me with a heart full of love. For the past seven Christmas' we have done something we like to call Secret Santas. 

Each year on Thanksgiving we put all our names in a bowl. We take turns drawing one out, making sure we don't get our own name. If one person draws out their name, we make everyone put the name back in. We want it to be a complete surprise. This means the drawing of names can go on for many rounds. When you have 11 people, choosing a name, someone is bound to draw out their own. Eventually it's perfect, and we all have the special someone's name tucked away in our pocket. It's a secret who we have. We are going to be Santa to them on Christmas morning.

The rule for our Secret Santa gift: it MUST be homemade. You cannot stop at the store last minute and pick something up. You are free to buy supplies from the store, but you must put your own special touch on it. It must come from the heart, and your own creative hands.

Secret Santa gifts have become so popular with our family, this year we had to draw a number to see who could give their gift first. We all want to give! Everyone is excited to participate, and it is talked about for the weeks before Christmas. My kids especially can't contain their joy. The pride they experience in making a personal gift is touching.

A lot of us will start planning months in advance. We keep a mental checklist of things we could make for each person in the family. It's so much fun! It makes Christmas more about the giving for the kids than the receiving. They can't wait to see their person open the gift they so lovingly prepared.

This year everyone went above and beyond with creativity! Each gift was lovingly designed; each gift was an expression of the giver. This makes Christmas the most special time of the year. It keeps the joy alive in our hearts.

Our pastor focused on the word JOY for the entire month of December. I found it to be most interesting. Do you know the difference between happiness and joy? Happiness is about what is happening to me. Most of the time I have no control over it. Joy is about what is going on inside of me; it's something that I help make happen. It puts the control back into my own hands.

Where does your joy come from? If you want to be happy, sit back and wait, hoping it will happen to you. If you want joy, you've got to do something about it. Having joy in your life is not a passive act. It requires work. You must cultivate joy. You must develop it, and pursue it. If you want the joy and peace that God brings, you must be willing to let Christ in. Everyone wants a Savior, but who will let God be in charge?

If you aren't doing something with the Jesus you've got- He's not going to give you more. If God's spirit is in you, who is it flowing out of you to? God would be a fool to waste a willing resource. God is no fool. If you are willing- God will use you!

What have you done lately to cultivate joy in your life? Our family made gifts that flowed from the heart. We were willing to give of ourselves, so that God could work through us. These gifts were more than just a package wrapped in paper. They were so full of love, the tears kept flowing. I don't think anyone in our family had dry eyes by the time our gift exchange was finished. Joy was spilling out of each of us. There is nothing quite like the feeling of giving from the heart.

I want to share with you our homemade gifts. Maybe they will inspire you. Find a way to pursue joy. Don't passively wait for happiness to come to you. Make joy happen today!

Our first given gift was from Jeremy to Titus. Titus loves to play the guitar and is very talented at it. Jeremy created this clever masculine wall hanging.

Our second gift given was to me from Ariel. I know she worked really hard on this tree. I love trees! In fact, when we first bought our house, I commissioned Ariel to draw a tree on the wall going up my staircase. I hung our family photos on the branches of the trees. This gift was perfect. She made it with my favorite colors. The cup is dipped in a water and nail polish blend. The wires are twisted around a rock that sits inside the mug. The branches are covered with colorful beads, and held in place by a dot of hot glue on the tips. Ariel did a fantastic job on this work of art!

The next gift came from Mikaela to Jeremy. She made him some chocolate covered Oreos, and candy covered caramel apples. Just looking at them makes your mouth water. Delicious!

For the next gift, which came from Titus, my mother was given a very special "Select Acoustic Works" CD. I know for a fact that he spent hours perfecting this gift. I was also very blessed to receive a copy of the CD under my Christmas tree. I've been requesting a CD of his music for years now. He is so gifted by God! My mother was especially touched. It's a peaceful recording, that was quite fun to listen to on a leisurely drive through the snow.

Gabriel received the next gift from my dad. For the past, several weeks Gabriel has had the opportunity to work closely with his grandpa. They have been cleaning and painting a rental property that was recently vacated. Gabriel has thoroughly enjoyed learning beside my dad, and has gotten a lot of good advice and skills that he will keep with him for life.  As they have worked together, they have documented the entire thing through pictures. My dad gave Gabriel a photo album of all their work photos, including the photo they took together in their work clothes. The sweet part about the gift was that Gabriel had a very similar idea for his gift that he made for Grandpa. Gabriel spent hours putting together, what he calls a horror movie of the property. Their love for each other is very tender!

Gabriel was excited about giving this year since he had the job with Grandpa. He used his own money to buy gifts for everyone in the family. Gabe did make a gift for Grandpa, but it was not his Secret Santa gift. My brother Shaun was the one who got a gift from Gabriel. This was the moment that all the eyes in the room grew moist. My brother is our videographer at our church. He also is the one who edits the videos. Shaun does an amazing job at this! Every year for Thanksgiving, Shaun puts together a 20 to 30-minute video of individuals in the church talking about what they are thankful to God for doing in the past year. Adults, kids, and teens all get involved in this project. It's been years and years of diligent work on my brother's part. This Christmas, Gabriel felt that we needed to make a Good News Church gives thanks for SHAUN video. Gabe went around and secretly interviewed and videotaped many adults and kids in the church. They all shared how they felt about Shaun. When he was finished, Gabriel edited the movie together himself. It was an act of love, and we all found it beautiful.

The next gift presented was from my mom for Ariel. Ariel is a teenage girl who loves to look pretty. She wears makeup every day and spends a large portion of her earned money on more makeup. My mother designed this makeup board for Ariel. She went to the hardware store and had them cut a sheet of metal to fit inside the picture frame. She covered it with fabric, and painted some canisters to hold Ariel's makeup brushes. To complete the project, she gave several sticky magnets that Ariel can attach her makeup to. The colors match Ariel's bathroom perfectly!

Zech is our youngest member and was probably most excited to find out who drew his name. He finally got to find out that his gift was coming from me! I worked for a couple of weeks to make him this spider web shaped afghan. Zechariah requested a new Spider-Man blanket for Christmas. I figured the Secret Santa gift would be a perfect way to fulfill that wish. I made a round ripple blanket, with alternating blue and red colors. After I finished crocheting the blanket, I added the black lines to complete the look of the web. It's very warm and cozy to climb under. This is the first time I have ever finished a blanket! Normally I give up after a few lines, but I found going in a circle makes the blanket easier to complete. I am not at all experienced in crochet. I would call this a good project for a beginner!

Our next gift was presented to Mikaela from Zechariah. He was SO EXCITED to give this gift. Mikaela is a huge Star Wars fan. Zech worked really hard watching a kid friendly tutorial on how to draw Rey, Mikaela's favorite character from Star Wars. He did an amazing job with his drawing. I have a silhouette machine that I used to cut a stencil for him to trace the Bible verse onto the drawing. The board he painted black and added white dots of paint with a paintbrush, and the smaller dots with a toothpick. It creates the effect of outer space quite nicely. We found the letters at Hobby Lobby that he painted her favorite color. When Mikaela opened her gift, she started sobbing she thought it was so special. I know she will cherish her drawing for a long time.

My sister opened the next gift from my brother Shaun. This gift is not quite finished; it's still a work in progress. When it's done, it will be a clock. He ran out of letters and the hands didn't stick out quite far enough. I think it's going to be really extraordinary when it hangs on her wall. Christmas day, Stefanie and Jeremy celebrated 6 months of marriage. They are newlyweds.

The last gift was given to my father from my sister Stefanie. She painted the letter G for my parents last name, and wrote their anniversary on it. They don't have any special decorations from their wedding, so this will be a very nice addition to their wall.

We had a wonderful time giving our Secret Santa gifts. They are always the highlight of Christmas day. Each year we say we don't need any more gifts than these gifts we have shared from the heart. They fill our hearts and homes with joy.