Searching for Bethlehem

Christmas Eve 2011 044Not all learned people are also wise. But those Magi who left their homes in the east to follow a star, searching for a king? They were both learned and wise.

Somewhere, they’d come across the Jewish prophecies about a king and a star. And they’d been watching. Watching the skies. Watching for that star.

When they saw it—a new star in the sky—they set out to search for the infant king and worship him.

Wise.

There’s a funeral home near us with a stable set up on the front lawn, donkeys and goats and sheep and all, and in the center, life-size nativity figures. The wise men are right in the stable too … which, of course, is not where the Magi found Jesus when their search finally led them to Bethlehem.

But OK, there they are, those wise wise men.

The funeral home’s stable is on a busy corner. On Christmas Eve a parade of people come by to visit the scene and feed the animals carrots and apples. An ambulance rushes by.

And though the wise men are out of place, there in the stable, it doesn’t really matter.

Because eventually the wise men did find Jesus, although he was a toddler, not a newborn, when their search ended in Bethlehem.

And they worshiped him.

Wise.

– Diane

Running to Bethlehem

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001

“Adoration of the Shepherds,” 1622 by Gerard van Honthorst

Tending their flocks outside Bethlehem, a band of scruffy, smelly shepherds suddenly had heavenly visitors.

First an angel with an astounding message about a baby in a manger. The Savior! Then a skyful of the hosts of heaven, praising God. Then silence and darkness once again.

What would you have done next?

“Let’s go!” the shepherds said. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about!”

“They went with haste,” Luke says.

They found Mary, Joseph, and the baby lying in a feeding trough and wrapped in swaddling clothes–everything just as the angel had told them.

And they couldn’t stop talking about it!

Do you think they woke Jesus up? Do you think Bethlehem was set abuzz? Luke tells us that others besides Mary and Joseph heard their story that night.

And when they headed back out to the fields, those shepherds just kept on praising God for what they had seen and heard.

Now, somebody had to stay with the sheep. I wonder about the shepherd who stayed behind. Was he sleepy? Apathetic? Or just willing to serve?

I only know that the shepherds who hurried into Bethlehem were smart. They heard about the Savior and went rushing off to find him, and when they did, they told everyone around.

Have you heard the angel?

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

If you have, are you praising God? Telling somebody?

Are you running to Bethlehem?

– Diane

Riding Toward Bethlehem

From The Nativity Story © New Line Cinema Productions

From The Nativity Story © New Line Cinema Productions

If I remember right, to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem was about a week’s journey. Not an easy trip when you are nine months pregnant and riding a donkey.

I hope Mary got to ride a donkey … we don’t really know.

We do know that a little over two thousand years ago, maybe in December but probably not, a pregnant virgin and her devoted husband were required to go to Bethlehem to register for tax purposes.

First-time moms—and first-time dads—can be anxious about the upcoming birth. Yet these two bravely traveled away from comfort, family, friends.

Away from security.

But they were secure. The Gospel accounts show us the care and detail with which God directed and protected and provided for the birth of this baby and these parents.

During this week of Advent, I’ll be thinking each day about Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem and the astounding outcome of their week. Open up the early chapters of Matthew and Luke and reflect with me!

And grasp that as Mary and Joseph were secure despite their hardships and being far from home, we are too.

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).

– Diane

The Book I Bought for December: The Best Thing About Christmas

91GwXt0WN6LThe best thing about Christmas isn’t

decorated Christmas trees,

the colors all around us,

the things we do to care and share,

all the good foods we eat,

or the time we spend together.

Nope.

The best thing about Christmas, as little ones learn in this classic little book, is Jesus, baby Jesus, who came to earth for me.

Christine Harder Tangvald infused the text of this book with her love for rhythm and reading aloud, her understanding of children, and her devotion to Jesus.

Now, as part of the Faith That Sticks series from Tyndale House, The Best Thing About Christmas also includes stickers to add to the illustrations, Let’s Talk About It questions, a simple matching game, a word search, instructions for a craft activity, and two coloring pages.

It’s the perfect small gift, stocking stuffer, or just-because surprise for the young children you know!

Throughout 2015 I’ve bought a book a month to show my support to other authors and retailers and to recommend to you. Now that this year’s series is complete, I’m looking forward to my annual after-Christmas giveaway. On Saturday, December 26, I’ll post the details right here, so be sure to check back or follow me on Facebook or Twitter so you don’t miss out!

– Diane

The Twelve Books of Christmas

PicMonkey CollageImaginative Christmas books and stories about Christmas traditions help make the season magical, and I’m all in favor of books like The Polar Express and Snowmen at Christmas and Bear Stays Up for Christmas.

But I also want children to understand the true event Christmas celebrates—the birth of our Savior, Jesus. And I know you want that for the children in your family and church as well.

Like Christmas traditions, the biblical nativity accounts also offer myriad themes and details for authors and artists to treat imaginatively. (Or, sometimes, with no imagination at all. The facts are all there, but there’s no heart, no joy, no wonder.)

But done right, children’s books about Jesus’ birth hold joy and wonder within their pages while they also build faith in young hearts.

My definition of “done right” includes text and illustrations that are careful with the details of the biblical accounts while still creating an enjoyable and engaging book for children. I like the wise men not to appear at the stable and the star not to be illuminating all of Bethlehem when Jesus is born.

I also am willing to bend my own rule … sometimes. Even in this list.

So here are my twelve books of Christmas—creative and charming books that communicate the truth of the Christmas story.

Board Books

ChristmasInMangerChristmas in the Manger, written by Nola Buck, illustrated by Felicia Bond, 1998, HarperCollins. Very simple rhyming text and illustrations introduce children to the animals and visitors to the stable where Jesus was born. My favorite is the last spread—“I am the baby asleep in the hay, and I am the reason for Christmas Day.”

OneNightOne Night in Bethlehem, written by Jill Roman Lord, illustrated by Paige Keiser, 2011, Ideals. In this touch-and-feel book, a little child examines a nativity set and imagines what it would have been like to be at the first Christmas. Includes the wise men without actually putting them at the stable.

Picture/Activity Book

91GwXt0WN6LThe Best Thing About Christmas, written by Christine Harder Tangvald, illustrated by Cheryl Nobens, 2014, Tyndale. First published in 1990 as a Happy Day Book from Standard Publishing, this new edition includes stickers, simple questions to discuss, a matching activity, a word search, craft instructions, and two coloring pages. Paperback. A perfect stocking stuffer or small gift. Jesus is the best thing about Christmas!

Picture Books

ChristmasJourneyA Christmas Journey, written and illustrated by Susie Poole, 2014, B&H Kids. Appropriately begins in the garden of Eden, where God first began to reveal his plan to send his Son. Includes Zechariah and John the Baptist, Simeon, and King Herod (with the wise men visiting a house, not the stable), and the flight to Egypt.

B&NBookThe Birth of Jesus, written by Katherine Sully, illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo, 2013, Sandy Creek (an imprint of Barnes & Noble). Straightforward yet engaging and not-too-text-heavy telling of the Christmas events. The angels who speak to Mary and to the shepherds announce Jesus as the king of the Jews (which is accurate) but also concludes, “God sent us the baby Jesus to be Christ our Lord.”

RoomForLittleOneRoom for a Little One, written by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jason Cockcroft, 2004, Simon & Schuster. An ox welcomes small animals to his stable one by one, and then they all welcome Mary and Joseph and the birth of one small child who “came for the world.”

Mortimer Mortimer’s Christmas Manger, written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman, 2005, Simon & Schuster. A little mouse decides a family’s nativity set will make the perfect house for him, until he realizes what story the figures tell—about a baby born to save the world.

Santa's Favorite StorySanta’s Favorite Story, written by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev, 1982, Simon & Schuster. If Santa has any part of your family’s Christmas at all, this could be the Santa book you want. Forest animals who find Santa out on a walk in the woods are worried that if he gets too tired, there might not be a Christmas anymore.

“No, no, no,” he tells them. “Christmas hasn’t got anything to do with me. Sit down and I’ll tell you all the story of the first Christmas.” And he does. Unfortunately Santa’s version has the shepherds following the star to the stable. But when they found the baby, “the shepherds knew that this was the Son of God, and they knelt down and prayed.”

DrummerBoy The Little Drummer Boy, illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats, 1968, Macmillan. Yes, an oldie, but I couldn’t resist. The text is lyrics by Katherine Davis, Henry Onorati, and Harry Simeone to a song first written by Davis in 1941 and known as “Carol of the Drum.” Anyone of my generation knows this song well, I promise. A young shepherd boy carrying a drum follows the wise men to see Jesus and plays his best as his gift to the baby king.

LittleStar Little Star, written by Anthony DeStefano, illustrated by Mark Elliott, 2010, Waterbrook. Definitely the most fanciful of the books on this list. A small star, overlooked by all the others, is the only star to recognize that the tiny baby born in a Bethlehem stable is indeed a king—the king. The little star burns as brightly as he can to warm the baby’s stable, becoming the bright-shining Christmas star.

ToomyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, written by Susan Wojeiechowski, illustrated by P.J. Lynch, 1995, Candlewick. A gloomy, widowed woodcarver slowly opens up to love and life as he carves a nativity set for a young faith-filled boy and his mother.

Novella

NewBestChristmasThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, written by Barbara Robinson, 1972; 2005 edition HarperCollins. Six wayward kids turn a small church’s traditional Christmas Eve pageant upside down—and discover the truth in the Christmas story for themselves: “Hey! Unto you a child is BORN!”

So that’s my list. Many of these are available at local libraries as well as bookstores and online. I hope you’ll want to add a few of these wonderful books to a welcoming spot in your home as you celebrate the birth of Immanuel, God with us, this year!

– Diane

Get Your Kids Hiking! Interview and Giveaway with Jeff Alt

On Black Friday, all 143 REI brick-and-mortar stores closed, and REI encouraged employees and customers to #optoutside.

JeffAltBioPhotoSpeaker and author Jeff Alt, who knows a whole lot about hiking and camping—and doing both with children—fully agrees with that idea.

Jeff solo-walked the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail, the 218-mile John Muir Trail with his wife, and carried his 21-month old daughter along the coast of Ireland on a family hike. He had his son on the Appalachian Trail at 6 weeks of age.

Jeff’s award-winning book Get Your Kids Hiking: How to Start Them Young and Keep It Fun (2013, Beaufort Books) is packed with encouragement and tips for getting outdoors and hiking safely with your kids

It would make a great family Christmas gift! And you might win a copy by entering the giveaway at the end of my recent post at Christian Children’s Authors.

KidsHiking

Jeff, you’re passionate about hiking! How did your love for hiking begin?

My parents introduced me to hiking and camping when I was a child. Our family took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains when I was teenager and my parents allowed my brothers and I … Read the entire interview and enter the giveaway here.

– Diane

A Different Kind of Thankful

Last year about this time, I realized that among all the “I’m so thankful for …” posts on social media, most were for personal blessings. Mine too.

Early Thanksgiving, Banja Luka, Bosnia, 2003

Early Thanksgiving, Banja Luka, Bosnia, 2003

But the American Thanksgiving holiday began (officially, anyway, pilgrims and native Americans having kicked things off a number of years earlier) as a day of thanks throughout our nation for national blessings.

Here’s President Washington’s 1789 proclamation:

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress,
on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

You can find President Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation here and President Roosevelt’s, in 1938, here.

Thanking God for his goodness to us personally is always appropriate. Hearing our children thank him is always wonderful.

But this year, this Thanksgiving, let’s be sure to thank God for his blessings on America, and pray that we, our nation, and our leaders will turn to him and live each day aware of the responsibilities and actions our national blessings require.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

– Diane

10 Tips and a Book for POMs at the Holidays

Do you know any POMs—parents of missionaries?

(Not sure? Are you involved with missions efforts or agencies, or sending churches? Most of the missionaries you work with do have parents!)

Our family-oriented Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are coming, and they can be tough when beloved children and grandchildren are half a world or more away.

Even when you’re proud and happy to be a POM.

So I want to put in a little plug for a book I co-wrote in 2008 that is still selling and still helping POMs thrive and stay connected when their children and grandchildren serve cross-culturally.

ParentsOfMissionaries-300x463
In a recent issue of Tell magazine

In a recent issue of Tell magazine

You can see an outline of the contents and read reviews and endorsements and find links for purchasing the book here.

It would make a wonderful Christmas present for any POMs who don’t have a copy yet.

And I also want to offer some tips to POMs (or anyone else dealing with sadness or loss) for getting through the holidays intact.

Yes, you can.

If these would be helpful to anyone you know, feel free to copy and share! (Just be sure to include the copyright notice, please.)

Ten Tips for Getting Through the Holidays as a POM

1. Plan ahead to avoid exhaustion, which accentuates all other feelings of sadness or loss. How could you simplify Christmas this year?

2. Giving up the common expectation that throughout life we would be able to enjoy our adult children and our grandchildren is a loss, and losses must be grieved. Try to identify where you are in the grieving process.

3. Let go of the “oughts” of the season, including how you “ought” to feel. Just be yourself. It is normal to experience distress in the face of loss.

4. Brainstorm ways you can insure adequate personal and emotional support for yourself throughout the holidays. Some examples: Schedule personal “down time” throughout the season. Find a close friend who is willing to listen without judging. Have some extra “God time.”  Plan a new kind of holiday activity and invite others to join you.

5. Identify interpersonal issues within your family that need to be addressed before the holidays in order to prevent unwanted tensions.

6. Clarify your personal expectations about the holidays and communicate those to family members in advance to avoid misunderstanding, surprises, and disappointments. Learn the expectations of others. Find mutually agreeable solutions.

7. List all the good new things God has provided even as you have had to endure the absence of loved ones on the mission field.

8. List all the good things you can think of about having an adult child in missions.

9. Locate other POMs in your area. Work out a plan to stay in contact, even once a week, during the holidays. If possible, plan to attend together one event that everyone would enjoy.

10. Find news ways to include your missionary children and grandchildren in your celebration or to be a part of theirs. Make your own “books on tape” for grandchildren, write and send an email “journal” about holiday preparations and activities, open gifts together while on the phone, learn to send digital photos, invite your children’s friends to join your celebration. Think creatively and plan ahead.

© 2003, 2006, 2014 Diane Stortz and Cheryl Savageau

– Diane

How Can Children Know Jesus Is Real?

bigstock_Mother_Reading_To_Son_1541781

You probably know the B-I-B-L-E song.

The B-I-B-L-E,

Yes, that’s the book for me.

I stand alone on the Word of God,

the B-I-B-L-E.

BIBLE!

You can listen to it here if you don’t know the tune.

My first job in Christian publishing was developing preschool Sunday school curriculum. I also taught two- and three-year-olds at church for a number of years. I always changed the words of this song whenever we sang it:

The B-I-B-L-E,

Yes, that’s the book for me.

It tells me of my Savior’s love,

the B-I-B-L-E.

BIBLE!

Until children can think abstractly (usually by age twelve), to “stand alone on the Word of God” means to physically stand on a Bible by yourself.

Not what I wanted to be teaching.

But “The Bible tells me about Jesus and his love”? That’s a true statement and something little ones can take in and understand!

I wrote this post a few days before Halloween. We’ve been telling our almost-three grandson that the skeletons and witches and spooky black cats he’s seeing in decorations at the library and other places around town “aren’t real.”

And that Jesus is.

But to help little ones understand the difference even though they don’t really distinguish yet between real and make-believe—well, it has struck me that they best understand Jesus is real when we live and act like he is!

When they can “see” him because they see and hear us as we read his Word, talk about him, pray aloud, sing to him, and speak of him often.

And when what we read to them and teach them about God fits their cognitive and emotional development.

That’s what I try to keep in mind when I write.

– Diane

The Book I Bought for November: My Sing-Along Bible

MySingAlongBibleMusic helps us remember—educators and psychologists learn more about this all the time. (Marketers too, of course.)

So teaching Bible stories and concepts with simple songs just makes sense. Stephen Elkins knows this, and he’s been doing it for a long time.

Elkins is the president of Wonder Workshop. He’s a songwriter, arranger, producer, and book creator, along with a team of educators, teachers, parents, musicians, artists, and designers.

His newest music + book combo, My Sing-Along Bible, published by Tyndale Kids, is my favorite. It’s aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.

Inside the front cover is a CD with 52 songs—one for each story in the book plus two bonus songs that make memorizing the books of the Bible easy and fun.

Beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation, stories are short, just five or six lines. Some retell a Bible event; others comment on the teaching of a verse. Each has a Let’s Read section, a Bible verse, a Let’s Sing section, and a Little Lesson—a short summary thought. Illustrations are sweet, colorful, and fun. The whole books is bright, cheerful, and well designed.

And the songs—short and memorable. Varied styles and tempos. Memorable and easy to sing. Some are classics, most are original, many are based on a Bible verse.

I chose this book for November, typically a month for thankfulness, because thankfulness is what came to mind when I found it. Thankfulness for God’s Word, for the privilege of teaching children who God is, and for the gift of music that helps us do that.

– Diane

Freebie

You CAN Read the Bible in a Year … Here’s How!