Parenting Dangerously Close to Empty

** The following article was copied from the

I love to live on the edge. At least that is what I tell my kids when they are all frustrated with me. I am that person. That person that drives until the “E” light in my car has been shining at me for about 30 miles. It doesn’t help that now my car tells me exactly how many miles I have to “E.”

I drive until there are no more miles left. It just has an asterisk on the screen. (I assumed when it said * that meant there was no more gas, but I’m happy to report that you can actually make it at least 5 miles with nothing but an asterisk.) I’ve learned that this drives my middle child crazy. He worries about his mama. He likes to know I’m not going to run out of gas, that I will not be stuck somewhere, that I am safe. One day, as I realized we were near “E” he snapped, “MOM! You are dangerously close to empty.”

A church recently asked me to speak on this very topic: You Can’t Lead On Empty. It was one of those Moses moments. I thought, “God, they have the wrong person to speak on this. I’m a single mom. I’m managing 3 kids. I try to take care of my house, my yard, the bills, the food, their schedules and mine. I’m working full time, plus some side jobs. They have made a mistake asking me.”

But, as I began to think and pray about this topic, I was reminded of an impactful talk I heard years ago on this very subject. Wayne Cordeiro had just written a book called, Leading on Empty and did a talk on it. I don’t save much, but I still had my notes, and the book. It was that good. So, I got busy reading and studying and prepping my talk. Every single principle spoke to me as a single mom and so I wanted to share them with you.


Answer the statement, I feel most alive when __________________. Now ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Who am I with?
  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing this?

Our life, our very soul, has to be filled up in order to pour out. If I were to keep driving my car way past empty, my car would stall. If I only put 3 gallons of gas in each time I stopped to fill it, I wouldn’t make it very far. We are the same way. Are you putting in more than your giving out? The drain of life can’t be emptying you faster than you are filling yourself up.

And one way to be conscious of that is know what fills you and what drains you. Being a single mom can ironically fall into both categories. Sometimes parenting can be so filling, and other times it sucks the life out of me. Make a list of “Fill” and “Drain” items.

Have you ever noticed that when life gets busy, we tend to cut the things from the “Fill” column? We rarely cut from the “Drain” list. Why? I don’t know, but that is something I’ve worked hard at changing. My kids need me to have a tank that is more on the full side. They deserve that.


I think for most of us, if we were to define balance in life we might draw a seesaw with family on one side and work on the other. I used to think it was a constant balancing game. That is not really how life works. Our family has to be the fulcrum. Fulcrum is defined as the point on which a lever rests or is supported and on which it pivots. Our family is the center. If you lose a job, you start interviewing for another. If you lose your family, you lose everything.


We don’t mess up as parents because we are evil. It is often because we are exhausted. We have to look at our year, our month, our week and our day with rest in mind. Schedule your rest points first on your yearly calendar.
o Know when you will take a day off way in advance.
o Schedule your vacations at the beginning of the year.
o Use all of your vacation time. You’ve earned it and need it.
o Know when you will sleep. Often people say, “I can’t sleep in. I have to get up, get the kids up, etc…” Sleep in on the other side of the clock. Go to bed earlier. Your best sleep is from 11-3. The average person needs 7-8 hours. If you aren’t getting that, you aren’t the best you.


Who is your person that you can be totally honest with and who can be honest with you? If you’re a single parent, you don’t have a spouse to bounce things off of. You need to have a person. Who can you go to when the day has totally frustrated you? If you don’t have someone you can dump it all in front of, you will take it out on your family. Find someone who can take it, listen and then ground it–just like a lightening rod. Sometimes, you need to know when to ask for help. For a season this person may be a counselor. Recognize when your kids may need one too. Finding help when it’s needed is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself and my kids. (see my article on when to ask for help)


Listen to him, talk with him, obey him, worship him, pray to him. He has all of this. He’s got our mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. He loves us more than we can ever fathom. He is in control and he wants the best for us. I really believe that. He doesn’t want us to live dangerously close to empty at any moment. He wants us to live rich full lives that honor him.

Ending the Homework Hassle

** The following article was copied from

Any time parents of teenagers or pre-teens are in a room together, the subject of homework and education seems to be on their lips. My experience is that most of the time parents worry more about their teen’s schoolwork than the teen worries about their schoolwork! I’m can’t promise to improve your teen’s grade point average. Actually, you may have to see your teen’s grade point average lowered for a while.

But then again, you will have to ask the question, “Is my primary purpose in parenting to help my child become a responsible adult or get good grades?” If you answered, “good grades,” I think your goal is too low.

A very good friend of mine is a university president. He told me that a mom called him to complain about a poor grade her son was getting in a business class. The president of the university wasn’t totally sure why she called him, but he did say he would check into it with the professor.

When he asked the professor about this student’s grade, the professor said the student wasn’t motivated and had written a terrible mid-term paper. When the president reported his finding to the mom, she was extremely angry and said, “That was not a bad paper, it was an A paper. I have an MBA from Stanford and I wrote that paper for my son!”

Here is the situation: for teenagers, education is their primary job, and school is their workplace. Rather than seeing education merely as a stepping-stone to future employment and earning a living (it is this, of course), it’s more important for your teenager’s progress toward adulthood that you view it as hisresponsibility during this season of his life. This responsibility should include striving to learn all he can, and doing the best he can do academically.

A parent should encourage, challenge, and guide when he does not live up to his academic potential, while remembering the responsibility is his, not yours.

Some parents mistakenly wrap their own self-image into how their teen performs academically. They cannot live with knowing their teen is doing poorly in school and it is not an option, because it reflects poorly on them. So, they do their child’s homework themselves.

For other parents, it’s a matter of family pride. What parent hasn’t attended a school science fair where it has been obvious that Mom or Dad made their child’s project?

For still others, it’s a matter of practicality, such as hoping that a scholarship will pay for their teen’s college years. I understand and sympathize with the many reasons parents have for bailing out their teens academically.

But the bottom line is that none of these helps the teen to become a responsible adult. Education ought rightly to be a monkey on your teenager’s back, not yours.

High school senior, Lindsey, and her parents were often locked in conflict over homework. An incredibly bright girl, Lindsey just didn’t apply herself. Her parents would nag, bribe, restrict, shame, and sometimes even do her homework themselves, all so she could keep her grades up and get a college scholarship. Finally, they took Lindsey’s monkey—her lack-of-discipline—off their backs and put it on hers.

They sat down with her and explained that they were partly at fault for all the tension in the home. They admitted that by her age, they should be nagging less. Starting then, they would release the homework decisions to her. She alone would experience the consequences of her academic decisions. It was a good talk, but that didn’t mean things changed overnight.

Lindsey continued to miss homework assignments, and her grades weren’t good enough to get into a four-year university. But two years at a community college did bring some maturity to her thinking, and she eventually became an excellent student, graduating with honors at UCLA.

How to Handle Homework

In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond spoke about “ending the homework hassle, and he introduced his ABCs for putting an end to family conflict over the issue. It’s one of the most freeing plans I’ve seen for dealing with homework, yet admittedly, it’s going to be a difficult one for parents who are addicted to control. In a strange twist of fate, it turns out that these ABCs found below are nothing more than the approach to homework many parents used fifty years ago.

  1. All by Myself. Teens ought to be responsible for doing their own homework. Find a private place for your teen to do homework and help set up an environment conducive to study. Then leave them alone. If they flunk the homework assignment, they chose the consequence. We have to teach them independence.
  2. Back Off. What may be the most difficult step for many parents is to back off. This means to refuse to give your kids your constant attention at homework time. Nagging really doesn’t work in the long run. Some would say it is like a constant dripping and a form of torture. John says about 80 percent of the time, “I need help” means they are looking for someone to fix a problem or bail them out. It’s possible to back off from helping the kids do the homework and turn your role more into supporting and encouraging. Even if your teen fails the homework assignment, they will learn an important life lesson from the experience. Don’t rob them of this learning experience.
  3. Call It Quits. Many parents set a time when kids must begin their homework and a time for them to quit. Set deadlines to finish the work. John strongly advises, “When it’s time to quit, it’s time to quit.” This gives your kids plenty of time to get it done, but it isn’t a fight every night that ends up creating a very poor family environment. This will give your kids a chance to learn to manage time more effectively.

Has homework been a hassle in your family? What has been successful or unsuccessful for you?

This is a excerpt from Jim Burns new book Understanding Your Teen. Used with permission.

EVENT RECAP – Parenting – It Might Be Less Than You Think with the Ashcrafts

Being Intentional as Parents

By Mike & Julie Ashcraft
With Madison Ashcraft Goslee & Michaela Ashcraft

It’s not about being a perfect parent!

Encounter.  Formation.  Expression.

The culture of the home is an incubator of character. The culture is what actually happens in your home. Ask your kids what your home’s culture is. Ask, listen and then start talking. Kids are made to be great. They need to know that you care about them. What are we doing to foster this?

 How did you see us integrate faith into our household?

            Michaela- I saw what you did in our home to cultivate your faith, and I learned how to have a relationship with Jesus.

            Madison – We behaved as normal teenagers, we weren’t “churchy”.  You simply modeled love in your relationship with me, and told me God loves me even more than you do.

A Pressure Free Home – a place to grow and feel safe

Our home is not perfect, but we strive to make it a place of immense enjoyment, safety and connection. One key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to reduce pressure on your kids.


 Being a pastor’s kid, how have you dealt with pressure?

            Madison – You created for us a pressure free home. We were told that whatever the world sees in us doesn’t matter, only what God sees in us.

            Michaela – We didn’t have pressure to be anything that we weren’t created to be.

Being a Grace Filled Home

We resolve conflict by offering grace to each other. Talk through what happened and don’t wait to apologize.  Julie reminds us that the last thing a child hears when they walk out the door, they will remember. So meet kids where they are AND in that moment. We even restart and reset our day if necessary. We have the security in our home to be mad and then retry again  – the day is not ruined. Whatever is going on, just remember – it is just a season, it’s going to change

Words of wisdom from Julie

  1. Always iron your clothes
  2. Choose to wake up in a good mood
  3. Always celebrate, there’s always a reason for a party
  4. Love each other

Love Your Kids Uniquely

There is six years difference between our girls. They are unique and we have realized our parenting needs to be unique too.

Tell us about the driving contract.

            Madison – When I turned 16 I had to sign a two page legal-like contract. I felt like they didn’t trust me.  But we talked about how I felt, and then went over each item.  I could express my feelings and they showed me why they care.

            Michaela – I didn’t have a driving contract J But, we do talk about my driving privileges and I know that you always want me to be safe and what is best for me.  And we can compromise and work it out.


Boys & Other Things

We tell them it isn’t a right to privacy, we will respect your privacy. We have rules and one of those rules is the girls cell phones are ours too. We check their phones often and anything on their phones we will look at. We also had the rule that they could not date until they were 16.

How did you feel about these rules?

            Madison – I wasn’t happy about them, but I was okay with them.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to hide because you were always available and willing to talk. I could come to you about anything because you had created a safe environment and we trusted you. If it was on my phone, you knew about it already.  And as far as dating, you                               were always willing to sit down and talk about the rules and expectations so we came to a level of trust.

            Michaela – We could always talk about the rules. I felt heard, and always listened to. We had conversations about dating and what dating would look like, so I had understood all our expectations. 

Don’t Freak Out, Find Out

Awkward conversations… you have to have them! They are weird and imperative. Kids want a place to process, so give them that space. Another key component to creating a thriving culture in your home is to ask your kids questions and talk with them. We want to preserve their innocence. If we don’t do this, no one else will.

Know each other

You have to get to know your kids, and they have to get to know you.  Make sure the expression on your face matches theirs. If they are excited about something, join with their excitement. If they are hurting, join with their hurting. Don’t confuse vision (the hope of what could be) with expectation (what is required).  We tell them to do your best verses be the best. And make sure they are contributing to the family and they understand what their contribution means.

Everybody wants strategies to make kids behave the way we want them to behave – this is foolish.  What we need in our homes is a culture to thrive!


Potential Sermon Series to Review:

  1. Hot Heads
  2. Freak Out
  3. Parents Just Don’t Understand






6 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Christmas

** The following article was copied from

“Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” – Linus

How many of us have felt like Charlie Brown about Christmas? Creator Charles Schultz was onto something long before it became the reality it is today. The birth of Jesus has become more about greed, consumerism, and a jolly fat man in red. Charlie’s sister, Sally, sums it up pretty nicely when she demands, “All I want is what I have coming to me…all I want is my fair share!” Christmas has turned into an entitlement.

The birth of Jesus represents the hope of mankind. “Born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” the Angel of the Lord proclaimed. This purpose of this article is not to say it is wrong to celebrate Christmas in the cultural way we do, but don’t miss the true meaning. To help with how to go about doing that, here are 6 meaningful ways to celebrate Christmas:

1. Advent Countdown

Ordinarily, we may give our children a small gift in the 24 days of December leading up to Christmas Day or perhaps small candies. You may want to craft an advent countdown of scripture verses that explain to the kids who Christ is and what he represents such as John 3:16. However, a little candy will probably go over well too.

2. Christ in the Center of the Family

The birth of Christ is our pathway to unification with the Creator. Without him, we are separated from God. This Christmas season begin the process of putting Christ in the center of your family or work to strengthen that reality. One way to do this is to hold a family bible discussion each day during the season. Pick a part of the Christmas story and create a dialogue with your children.  You may want to read to them about the journey of Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem. Discuss how our own lives parallel that rocky and dangerous trek but, with the protection and  blessing of God in our lives, we will successfully fulfill our purpose.

3. Service Based on Scripture

In his words and actions, Jesus stressed over and over the importance of the body to serve. John 13:12-14 – “When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Go serve people.

4. Silent Worship at the Altar

Before the hustle and bustle of Christmas Eve service hits your church, ask for permission. Perhaps create a special night for a silent altar worship during the week before Christmas Day. Take with you a single candle to light, and kneel before God in prayer and humbleness. Give each member of your family their own candle and keep it completely silent.

5. Reconcile our Relationships

God came to us in human form to reconcile our relationship with him. His birth, death, and resurrection represent this reconciliation in the person of Jesus Christ. Consider doing the same in your own relationships this Christmas season. Reconcile with and forgive those that have hurt you and, for those that you have hurt, seek forgiveness by sincere apology. Nothing could be more Christ-like at Christmas.

6. Family Prayer

This is the easiest and most purposeful way to celebrate Christmas this year. Lead your family in prayer every night and end with the Lord’s Prayer as we were taught to do by Christ. Have your children recite it with you until they know it. Merry Christmas!

© 2014 All Pro Dad. All Rights Reserved. Family First, All Pro Dad, iMOM, and Family Minute with Mark Merrill are registered trademarks.

Christmas and the G-Word

** The following article was copied from

Hi. My name is Carey, and I’m greedy. (This is the point where you all say, “Hi Carey.”)

Gosh, I hate to say it. I mean no one goes around and says they’re greedy, right? We might think otherpeople are greedy (it’s just so easy to spot the sins of others, even from a distance), but it’s so difficult to see in ourselves.

But read this definition of greedy and tell me if at least a piece of it doesn’t own you—or your kids.

Greed is an excessive desire to acquire or possess more than what one needs or deserves, especially with respect to material wealth.

What makes this time of year difficult for greedy people is that we’re going to add to the pile of what we have that we arguably don’t need. There are things I want that I don’t need. And most of us are actually going to receive things that not only do we not need, but we do not want. In the incredibly affluent culture of North America, the problem of greed runs deep.

There’s a fine line we tread as parents in helping our kids celebrate Christmas. I still remember the almost delirious excitement I had as a child in being able to open gifts at Christmas. Let’s face it, what kid doesn’t love to get gifts at Christmas?

So, how do you make sure, as a parent, that you don’t inadvertently fuel greed in your family this Christmas?

I suppose there are a few options:

  • Don’t give presents.
  • Hand out coal.
  • Read from Deuteronomy and pretend its February.

But those are almost certain recipes to kill some of the joy that comes with Christmas.

In my experience, the very best antidote to greed I’ve discovered is generosity. The more I give, the deeper I cut into the greed that lives inside of me.

The more I am willing to take giving to a sacrificial level (to the point where we are not doing things as a family because we are giving income away), the more I am reminded that this life is not about me or about my wants and desire. By far, generous giving is the best antidote to the greed that lives inside of me.

As Christmas approaches, ask yourself this question: what am I doing to stifle greed in my family this Christmas? Maybe you could:

  • Sponsor a family in need.
  • Serve in a local mission over the holidays.
  • Talk to your kids about how you as a family have decided to give first, save second, and live on the rest.
  • Make sure giving is part of your full year—your weekly practice—rather than just a seasonal pursuit.
  • Work with your kids to incorporate giving as part of their regular rhythm.

All I know is this: I’m greedy. And the best way I know to tackle that in my life is to give away a noticeable portion of the things that God has given me.

What helps you wrestle down greed in your life and in your family?

Three Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Miss Christmas

** The following was copied from

Christmas is about 7 minutes long when you have kids.

One minute it’s Thanksgiving and the next you’re putting away your ornaments.

Nothing moves as fast as the holidays and it’s no wonder that so many people find this time of year stressful. How do you make sure you make the most of your Christmas?

Here are three simple ways.


I’m terrible at being still. On Saturdays, I often ask my wife, “What are we doing today?” She’ll look up from a book or knitting and say, “This, this is what we’re doing. The kids are playing. You’ve built a fire. This is enough.” Maybe you over stuff your calendar like me, especially during Christmas. Well this year, do one less thing. Don’t try to fit it all in. Look at your list of activities and remove one. Leave some room around the edges of your calendar and give the rest of what you’ll do some breathing room.


Your phone isn’t just a phone, it’s also an escape pod. Whenever you want, it offers you the chance to mentally disappear from a moment. Part of the reason we miss the holidays is that we’re stuck on our devices. This year, be deliberate about taking a break. Leave it in a drawer. Put it back in your bedroom during a dinner party. Throw it in the glove compartment when you drive to grandma’s house. Something that small can make a big difference.


Sometimes, we speed through the holidays because we don’t have any traditions. A good tradition is like a speed bump. It slows you down and reminds you of years gone by. It pauses you and quiets the moment. It doesn’t have to be massive. One of ours is that we let our kids get up early on Christmas morning, but they have to wait at the top of the stairs before they come down. They think it’s torture but also secretly love the anticipation. That’s our tradition. What new one can you start?

 It will be January before you know it. The new year will be here and you’ll have a million things to do. Until then though, slow down. Laugh more. Take a deep breath. Relax a little bit.

God didn’t give us Christmas to make us crazy.

Don’t Miss The True Story of Christmas

** The following article was copied from

There are certain times in the year that just go by faster than others.
Christmas is one of them.
There is so much going on from the time we clean up the turkey to when we take down the tree that if we’re not intentional, the big day can come and go and we will have missed the true story of Christmas.

How is that possible? How can a person be surrounded by Christmas and yet miss Christmas? I’m not exactly sure, but I managed to pull it off several years ago. Yes, there was a year when I honestly could not remember if I had stopped long enough to talk with my kids about the true story of Christmas.

My three kids were preschool and young elementary age at the time and my husband and I had our hands full working in a church plant. It really is a blur as I remember back to those days.

I organized the school Christmas party.
Bought the gifts.
Wrapped the gifts.
Watched the movies.
Cleaned the house.
Decorated the house.
Volunteered at church.
Donated the toys.
Hung the stockings.
Cooked the ham.
Baked the cookies.
Played the music.

And before I knew it, it was December 26th and time to take it all down.

When I realized what I had done—or in this case what I had not done— my heart was broken. I had let all the things of Christmas keep me from the most important part of Christmas—the only part that actually matters—Jesus.

Jesus is the true story of Christmas, and I had missed the opportunity of sharing Him with the ones I love most.

Before I put another decoration in a box, I grabbed our wooden nativity set and my Bible and asked my three kids to sit with me around our coffee table. Then I used the nativity figures to tell them the true story of Christmas.

Sure, it was days after Christmas, all of us in our pajamas with messy hair and unbrushed teeth, but for those sweet moments, we paused to reflect on God’s perfect gift to us. It was not a new story to them, but one worthy of repeating over and over until it is hidden deep in their hearts.

Thanks to that Christmas, I began to tap into a few traditions that would help me not miss what is most important, no matter how busy things get. Here are a few ideas that you might also want to consider to keep the real Christmas story alive this season:


I have one child who really connected with a live nativity when she was younger so we made it a tradition to go to a local Christmas light show that ends with a live nativity. We still visit and imagine what that night was like as we watch.


Part of our family Christmas tradition now is to make a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve. It’s just a box cake mix, but decorating it, lighting a candle, and singing Happy Birthday to Jesus helps us remember who we are celebrating.


I have an assortment of Christmas books that focus on the true story of Christmas that I put out as part of my décor. Just having them out all season makes them more accessible for people to pick up and read. These are a few of my favorites:

B Is for Bethlehem: A Christmas Alphabet by Isabel Wilner (preschool and up)
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann VosKamp (great for a family of all ages)
The Christmas Story Board Book by Autumn Ward (toddlers and preschoolers)

And of course there’s the Bible. There’s just something special about opening the Bible and reading the Christmas story together. It can be a children’s Bible with pictures or a Bible laid open to the side while you use nativity figures to act out the story like I did.


There are many different versions of countdown-to-Christmas calendars. You can make your own, buy one, or find one online. We’ve created a free one that you can download below to help you share the story of God’s perfect gift: Each day leading up to Christmas, you can read a small portion of the Christmas story and do an activity together that reflects God’s generosity.

There are so many great ways to share the true story of Christmas with both older and younger kids. What’s one way you will focus on telling it this year?

Divorced at Christmas

** The following article was copied from

Christmas is a season that evokes a lot of memories.
Some memories are sweet.
Some memories are bitter sweet.
Some memories are just bitter.

I’m fortunate enough to have some of every variety but one from Christmas Day 2002 stands out particularly vividly in my mind.

My younger sister and I were on the winding road that took us over Blood Mountain from Gainesville, Ga. to Murphy, NC. We had made the same drive for seven years. Although, it wasn’t always this particular drive. After the divorce, my dad lived first in one apartment, then another, then his own home, then in the home of my new stepmother—the one in Murphy, N.C. The locations changed but the drive was the same.

We woke up in one home for “morning Christmas,” then jumped in the car and rushed to another home for “afternoon Christmas.” The picture of post-divorce Christmas had become predictable.

Pre-divorce Christmas? That was another picture.

Pre-divorce Christmas was my family of four: Mom, Dad, me and my little sister. It was about opening one present each on Christmas Eve. It was about being woken up before dawn by my little sister, and pretending like it bothered me when I was just as excited as she was. It was waking up our parents—under the same roof, in the same room, in the same bed. It was my dad messing with the video camera while my mom squealed in delight watching my sister and me open gifts. It was gifts from both sets of grandparents while sitting on the same couch. It was watching my parents open the presents they’d picked out for each other. It was spending the entire day in our PJs, playing with new toys, listening to Christmas music and drinking egg nog.

Until one night, the day after Christmas 1993, the fighting—which was in the picture every other day of the year—quieted from passionate screaming to hushed conversation. That evening, my sister and I sat on either arm of the recliner in the living room, our mom between us, as my dad carried a small suitcase and garment bag out the door.

And our picture of Christmas—and life in general—was changed.

So, for the next seven years, we had “morning Christmas” and “afternoon Christmas”. The “morning Christmas” parent would plan an extra special breakfast, or envision watching a new movie together, or want to see one of us try on our new clothes.

The “afternoon Christmas” parent would wake up with our step-parent and step-siblings to a Christmas tree and presents, only to wait, and wait, and wait for us to arrive. A special lunch might be cooked—and then cooled—while they sat waiting.

So here we were, Christmas Day 2002 driving the path over Blood Mountain, and we were already in trouble. In fact, we were in BIG trouble. This particular year no one was happy with the amount of time allotted for their Christmas and my sister and I were stuck in a no-win tug-of-war.

I don’t know if it was the sight of my younger sister completely despondent on what should have been the best day of the year, or if it was because I was lashing out, but I’d had enough. I pulled over and from my new Nokia cell phone, I drew one of the clearest boundaries I have ever drawn: this was the last time we would pack up and move on Christmas Day.

For seven years we had all tried to do everything we could to re-create pre-divorce Christmas. The problem was, things had changed. And seven years into what started out as good intentions, my sister and I were caught trying to maintain a picture of Christmas that wasn’t maintainable.

What I started to realize that year was this:

We never hold our expectations, traditions, or pictures of family tighter than we do during the holidays.

All of us. Married parents. Biological children. Step-parents. Foster Children. Single Parents. Adopted children. Whatever your label, whoever you are, whatever your family story, it’s never more tempting to demand that the people you love most live up to your picture than it is at Christmas. It’s like something begins to rise up inside us to say, “Okay, I will go with this broken picture 11 months of the year, but just give me this one month for us to be normal.”

And, when divorce is part of your family story, it’s also true that holidays have a way of bringing pain to the surface of our lives. Whether you’ve been divorced ten months or ten years, holidays can have a way of making it feel fresh all over again.

The holiday cards with pictures of smiling families.
The twinkle lights hanging on everyone’s houses—because apparently, they have enough adults in the home to both hang lights and watch children at the same time.
The tree farm you always talked about visiting together.

It all highlights the painful fact that the picture you had for your family has changed.

Over the next couple weeks, we will write more practical responses to being divorced during the holidays. But, maybe it starts with just this one thing:

If we want to find joy this season with the people we love most, we may have to lower our expectations, hold our pictures loosely, and embrace our story—exactly as it is in this season.

WARNING: Christmas is Coming!

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It’s coming. The signs are already appearing, and you should consider yourself warned. Your family is about to be attacked. No, it won’t be the physical attack of terrorism, a hurricane, or a forest fire. No, this attack is much more subtle, seductive, and attractive, but infinitely more dangerous.

Your family is about to be attacked by a holiday season.

Maybe you’re thinking, What in the world is Paul Tripp talking about? Let me explain.

The Advent season is upon us. It should be a gloriously peaceful time of remembering God’s ultimate response to his lost and rebellious image-bearers. That response wasn’t to condemn, but to give the ultimate gift of grace—the gift of himself—in the person of his Son. But instead of a peaceful season of worship and celebration, Advent has devolved into a spiritual war with your family at the center.

I have no problem with beautiful decorations, family feasting, or giving gifts. The Christmas season can be a time when families gather again, renew relationships, and express love for one another. But I’m concerned because there is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.

There is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.

Every human being lives out of the meaning of some defining story. The Advent season has become a battle between two stories—one seductive and attractive, but fundamentally untrue; and the other deeply humbling, but what every person everywhere needs.


The “Christmas story” the surrounding culture tells our children puts them at the center, the place for God and God alone. It looks to creation for fulfillment rather than worship of the Creator. It makes physical pleasure our primary need rather than the rescuing intervention of the Redeemer. It’s dominated by the comforts of the moment rather than eternal priorities.

In every way, the story your children will hear over and over again during this season is dangerously wrong when it comes to who they are and what they need. It calls them to find comfort where comfort can’t be found, to place their hope in things that will never deliver, to think they can accomplish what only the Messiah can do.


But unlike this false “Christmas story,” the true “Advent Story” is humbling and unattractive. It’s a sad story about a world terribly broken by sin, populated by self-centered rebels who are willing participants in their own destruction. It’s about beings created to live for God but who in every way live for themselves. This story is about the dethroning of the Creator and the enthroning of his creation. It’s about conditions so desperate that God did the unthinkable, sending his Son to be the sacrificial Lamb of redemption. And why did Jesus come? Because we were so lost, so enslaved, so self-deceived that there simply was no other way.

You see, until your children hear and understand the bad news, the good news won’t be attractive to them. The news that Jesus came on a glorious mission of grace to live, die, and rise in our place is only worth celebrating when you understand it’s your only hope.


The battle of Advent isn’t about whether we should sing silly seasonal tunes versus gospel carols, or have worship times versus big family feasts. No, this war is about what story of identity, need, meaning, and purpose your children will believe and give their hearts to pursue.

Life really is a battle of stories, and the battle rages most fiercely when the true story is meant to be told most loudly.

Enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story.

So enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story. Before you begin to get distracted by all the traditions of holiday fun, take up the battle for the hearts of your children.


Here are five ways to help your children focus on the true Advent story:

  1. Start early. You can’t start early enough or tell the true story often enough, since the false story is everywhere to be heard. Don’t wait until Christmas Day to point your family to God’s Word.
  2. Tell the bad news. Protect your family from fake news by telling them of the bad news: their sin and separation from God. Good news isn’t good unless it’s prefaced with bad news, and redemption becomes beautiful when we understand the depth of our need.
  3. Warn them about the false story. Enjoy traditions and fun, but take opportunities to point out how and why the false story your children will hear again and again isn’t true.
  4. Present Jesus as the gift of gifts. Express love by giving gifts, but remind your children that creation can’t satisfy, and that our only hope is found in one Gift—the person, presence, work, and grace of Jesus.
  5. Embed the Advent story everywhere. The Advent season gives you a wonderful opportunity to help your children understand themselves and everything in their lives from the vantage point of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Advent story tells them who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about. This story is the only reliable way they will ever make sense out of the story of their individual lives.

Nothing is more important than helping your children understand that the grace of Jesus shines brighter than any gift the world has to offer. It’s a light that will never go out and will never be put away.

Editors’ note: You can find advent devotionals from Paul Tripp that proclaim the true story in Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Crossway, 2017). This article is published in partnership with Crossway.