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Dear Mushka,

Black History Month: Why it Matters & What to Do

Last year, I read The Color of Compromise and something awoke in me. I already had three black sons and knew that our country was still a dangerous place for them (a problem!) but I had not known, up until that point, the ties between slavery/racism & Christianity. I think there'd always been a part of me that denied any connection with racism ("my family didn't have slaves") when it turns out my family-- my Spiritual family-- was the worst offender. 

From there, I began to tune in and listen to those far more wise than myself. I jumped into a Be the Bridge group here in Nashville. I started reading books about racial reconciliation, books by black authors, books about the history that I was never taught in school. And I began to understand that this issue of racism is not only far from over, it is deeply imbedded in so many of our hearts and minds (whether we want it to be or not) and must be battled if we're to love our fellow image bearers of God well. 

With Black History Month approaching, I wanted to share some ideas for honoring it in your home-- especially if your household is dominantly white. I know that those of us with light skin have far more power than we may even realize. And as Spiderman taught me (says the mom of three boys): "With great power comes great responsibility" 

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1. Read. Read books about racial reconciliation, read books by black authors, read novels set in a time period when slavery was still legal or Jim Crow was in full effect. 

Introduce people of different ethnicities into your children's books (along with media, toys, etc) After all, race is not something that can be parented in neutral. 

Here's a page that has some of my favorite books on this topic all in one place.

For adults, I'd start with Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison-- a soft intro into the issue, written by a beautiful Christian woman. She's who began the Be the Bridge Groups I'm a part of. From there, I'd suggest White Fragility and then The Color of Compromise

For children, I love all the books listed in the link above but I also encourage you to go to your local library. They'll probably display lots of books on Black History so you don't even have to search!

2. Watch Movies. Here are some ideas to get you started. Consider watching one every week during February. 

Click photos for direct links

Selma, staring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Oprah. $1.99 rental on Amazon Prime

 

The Watsons go to Birmingham: One geared towards kids. Could be a great one to watch as a family! $4.99 rental on Amazon Prime

 

The Color Purple: Directed by Steven Spielberg. I'd like to watch this one this year. $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime

Harriet, an incredible movie about Harriet Tubman. We saw this in the theater last year and loved it. I just see it for purchase on Amazon, but you may be able to find a rental elsewhere. 

 

The Help: One you've probably read or seen. Watch it again and dialogue with your people! $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime

 

12 Years a Slave: Another I'd like to watch this year. $3.99 rental on Amazon Prime

Remember the Titans, Hairspray, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Hidden Figures are other ones that come to mind.

Also, consider watching the shows When They See Us and This is Us. 

3. Listen. Listen to podcasts-- I suggest this one and this episode. Listen to people of color around you. Find a group made up of different races like Be the Bridge and jump in, more ready to listen than to talk.  

Additionally, be willing to weep and mourn with those who do so (Romans 12:15)

4. Go somewhere to learn more. Visit a museum (this page allows you to search Black History museums by state! One day I'd love to visit the one in D.C.) Attend a MLK walk. Google "Things to do for Black History Month in my city" and try one. I understand that these actions take energy, but people who know far more than me say they're worth it. If you live in the South, I'm confident there are places around you.

Could your friends or family do one activity together this month? Perhaps even serve in an area of need around your city that focuses on loving black people well. A financial donation would also be powerful. I'm accepting the challenge! 

5. Pray. Pray that God would allow His Kingdom to come here as it is on Heaven, which includes equality for all peoples and nations. Pray for any racist sin of yours to be revealed (and be humble enough to admit that there's probably some there). Pray for wisdom on how you can use the white skin God has given you to help your brothers and sisters. 

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10 Kid's Christmas Books for a Christian Household

Every year, we add a few new Christmas books to our collection. My favorites beautifully tell the real story of Christmas, display all skin tones, and/or draw my children in with gorgeous illustrations and an engaging story. 

Here are some of the ones on our shelf! (Click each picture for a direct link)

1. Twas the Evening of Christmas-- Tells the Christmas story to the familiar rhythm of Twas the Night before Christmas. 'Twas the evening of Christmas, when all through the town, Every inn was so crowded, no room could be found.'

2. Silent Night-- A new one for us; I love it!  "Celebrate the magic of Christmas with this beautifully illustrated book, based on the world's best-loved carol. Rediscover the Nativity Story in all its glory—from quaking shepherds to heaven-sent angels—as the song lyrics are brought to life on every spread. The world’s diversity is reflected in a cast of characters with a range of skin tones. A gorgeous book for all the family to share during the festive season."

3. Jotham's Journey-- This is the first year we'll begin this series, and I know my five year old is going to love it. I've heard nothing but great things regarding these books! "In this widely popular, exciting story for the advent season, readers follow ten-year-old Jotham across Israel as he searches for his family. Though he faces thieves, robbers, and kidnappers, Jotham also encounters the wise men, shepherds, and innkeepers until at last he finds his way to the Savior born in Bethlehem."

4. Pick a Pine Tree-- Okay, this isn't a "Christian" book, but the illustrations are beautiful and it brings alive so many family traditions you may partake in. "Part of the magic of the Christmas season stems from the traditions that families and friends take part in every year: hanging up stockings; putting lights in the windows; and, one of the most important of all, picking out and taking home the Christmas tree. With style and warmth, debut author Patricia Toht and Jarvis, the author-illustrator of Alan’s Big, Scary Teeth, evoke all the rituals of decorating the tree — digging out boxes jam-packed with ornaments and tree trimmings, stringing tinsel, and, at long last, turning on those twinkling lights. Joyously drawn and rhythmically written, this celebration of family, friends, and the holiday season is as merry as the tradition it depicts."

5. Jacob's Gift-- This is one from my childhood that my own boys have learned to love. "Jacob is a young boy with a gift for carpentry who is busy finishing up a project for a contest. His teacher, Rabbi Simeon, not only instructs him in carpentry, but also teaches him important lessons about God. Rabbi has just taught Jacob that when you give a gift to one of God's children, it's like giving a gift to God. The night before the contest while working on his project, Jacob has fallen asleep in the workshop and is awakened by a bright light. The light is a star which is directly over Jacob's father's stable. As he approaches the stable, he sees a man, a woman, and a newborn baby which is laying in the straw. Remembering what Rabbi Simeon had told him, Jacob returns to the workshop and takes his project (a feeding trough) to the new family. The morning of the contest, the Rabbi pleased to find out that Jacob has acted upon the lesson he learned and has truly given a gift to God."

6. The Littlest Watchman-- A precious story that ties the Old and New Testaments together. It's a little wordy for small kids so I summarize the pages. "Benjamin is a Watchman. It's his job to watch for the sign that all God's promises are coming true to watch a stump.Trouble is, it's hard just waiting. And one night, Benjamin finally gives in and stops watching. But that same night, as he sits outside Bethlehem, he gets to watch something wonderful."

7. The Christmas Promise-- Fun to read, your kids will enjoy saying (yelling) WHOOSH! "A long, long time ago so long that it's hard to imagine God promised a new King. He wasn't any ordinary king, like the ones we see on TV or in books. He would be different. He would be a new King; a rescuing King; a forever King! This book helps pre-school children discover exactly how God kept His Christmas Promise."

8. God Gave Us Christmas-- All the books in this series are great, including this one. I'd imagine it would be especially good if your family does Santa.  "As Little Cub and her family prepare to celebrate the most special day of the year, the curious young polar bear begins to wonder “Who invented Christmas?” Mama’s answer only leads to more questions like “Is God more important than Santa?” So she and Little Cub head off on a polar expedition to find God and to see how he gave them Christmas. Along the way, they find signs that God is at work all around them. Through Mama’s gentle guidance, Little Cub learns about the very first Christmas and discovers that Jesus is the best present of all.
This enchanting tale provides the perfect opportunity to help young children celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and to discover how very much God loves them."

9. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-- We're all probably familiar with the books by C.S. Lewis and this kid's version is a great one to read during the cold Winter months. "Now younger children can share the magical experience, entering into a world of enchantment that will forever lure them back. Four adventurous siblings step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter—but never Christmas—cursed by the power of the White Witch. Only Aslan, the Great Lion, can reverse her wicked spell."

10. A Very Noisy Christmas-- A simple tale of Christmas that your kids will love reading, it's so interactive. "Some think that Christmas was a "Silent Night". Far from it. It was filled with shouting, singing and screaming! It was as noisy as any of our Christmas celebrations.This fun and fresh retelling of the Christmas story comes with sound effects so that children can join in as parents read to them. But it also shows children that at the heart of the Christmas story is something we should all be quiet and see: God's son Jesus was born, so that we can be friends with God forever. Now that's something worth shouting about! A wonderful Christmas gift for children aged 3-6 years old."

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Books for Christian Newlyweds

I've been getting a lot of requests for best marriage books, specifically for engaged couples and newlyweds, so I thought I'd compile a list here. I haven't read a few of these, but included them due to your strong recommendations when I asked on Instagram.

(Click photos for direct links)

1. I read this book before I was married and appreciated how Keller gave me a better perspective of God’s intention for ALL relationships, marriage included. I still think on this quote, ten years later. 

“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here's what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, "I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, 'I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” 

 2. I really enjoy Francis Chan and so appreciated the eternal perspective on marriage he presented here. This book helped me see our marriage as teamwork, moving towards The Kingdom, together. 

“Many people will tell you to focus on your marriage, to focus on each other; but we discovered that focusing on God’s mission made our marriage amazing.”

3. I read this one early on in our marriage, and it radically shifted the way I viewed the purpose of marriage.  This book challenged me in the best ways. I would give this to any engaged couple as required reading.

“What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?”

4. I'm sure you all have heard of "love languages" before- How we show and receive love. There are five “languages” the author suggests: Quality Time, Service, Gifts, Words of Affirmation, and Physical Touch. Robert and I are very different, (he is words of affirmation and physical touch; and I am acts of service and gift), but we are able to love one another well through this book's wisdom. If you feel like your spouse doesn’t appreciate your efforts to show love to them, this is a must-read.

5. I haven't read this book, but I respect the Bethke's and have heard nothing but good things about their wisdom here. My guess is that this a very approachable, light book on marriage that combats what our culture describes marriage as. 

6. Many of you suggested this one and I'm a big fan of Paul David Tripp. I'm going to add it to my list! 

 

7. Far too often, books on the topic of sex are left off of Christian marriage lists. This one was so helpful to me as a newlywed! It helped me make the shift from "sex is not okay" to "it's great!" and helped me troubleshoot along the way.

8. Here's another great one! And don't feel like you have to cram all these in within your first year of marriage. I try to read one marriage book a year to keep my heart gospel-focused. 

 

9. (Okay, I added one more book after I designed the graphic for this post. Ha!) I haven't read this one, but it's come highly recommended, too. It's written specifically to wives, and it doesn’t shy away from the tough topics.

In addition to books, I thought I'd share a few jewelry pieces I'd recommend as you pray over your marriage and love your spouse:

1. The Knot Necklace

2. The Portion Necklace

3. The Servant Necklace

4. The Complete Necklace

5. The Trio Necklace

6. The Essential Necklace

7. The Surrender Necklace 

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7 Life Changing Books

Reading has always been a big part of my life, but there are a few books that stand out as life changing for me, at least ones I'd put into this category from the last few years. Maybe they're just what you need to read, too? 

  • A Praying Life by Paul Miller. This is a simple introduction to prayer, written in easy and approachable language. It laid the groundwork for prayer in my life, helping me understand why it mattered and what it could look like in my everyday. I'd recommend this for anyone who wants to jumpstart a deeper prayer life. 
  • Prayer by Tim Keller-- This is similar to the book above, but headier and more in depth. It took me a while to read (I took notes on every page!), and has become a book I've gone back to reference many times. It helped me tie together Bible reading, meditation, prayer, etc. instead of trying to make those spiritual disciplines stand-alone acts. I'd recommend this for anyone who wants to deepen their time with the Lord. 
  • None Like Him by Jen Wilkin. This book highlights ten characteristics of God that we should focus on and praise Him for. It reminded me that I am not to be the main focus of my life, God is. And He is worthy of all my worship! It also helped me sort out body image issues and the place social media plays in my non omni-present life. I just re-read this with a small group of women and loved it all over again. It's a wonderful book to read and discuss with others. Try it! 
  • Likewise, Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. If you'd like to read your Bible more but have no idea where to start or what you're doing, this book is for you. She walks through how we should study scripture in a humble, approachable way. I learned so much and have used many of her methods time and time again. 
  • The Lifegiving Home, by Sally Clarkson... and basically anything else she's written. Now a mother of four adult children, she shares the wisdom she uses (or learned) during her years of mothering younger children. All of her books have helped me become an intentional homemaker and mother. I'm grateful for her mentorship! 
  • Parenting by Paul Tripp. This book's tagline is "14 Gospel principles that can radically change your family" and it absolutely held true in my life. This book completely altered the way I view parenting, discipline, and the children God has blessed us with. I think every Christian parent should read it! 
  • Kisses from Katie, by Katie Davis (and her sequel book, too!) God used this book to soften my heart towards adoption-- something our family has now done three times-- and to show me that we can live our lives fully for him no matter where we're located. She's a beautiful example of a Godly woman in this day and age. I can't wait to hug her neck in Heaven one day! 
  • Okay I couldn't narrow down this last one. Just about every Christian biography I've read has become a favorite. I think reading about the faithful men and women who have gone before us is so encouraging and helpful-- here'sa post with some of my favorites!
I hope you enjoyed! I share my current reads on my weekly newsletter (click to signup!) and Instagram stories regularly. Follow along! @dearmushka or #dearmushkareads Continue reading
My Go-To Parenting Books

I love to read and have always found a wealth of helpful knowledge and wisdom in books. Here are my go-tos when it comes, specifically, to raising up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

(Click photos for a direct link)

1. The Bible. And I don't say this lightly! If you are longing for wisdom on how to raise children who know and love God, prioritize your own knowledge and love of the Lord. The only way you can rightly reflect His character is to make a study of it. 

While The Bible doesn't address specific disciplinary issues like entire other books do, it is full of wisdom straight from the heart of God on every issue we could want. Friendships, sibling relationships, telling the truth, handling anger, etc. 

 

2. This is the best parenting book I have ever read, aside from the Bible. It isn't very practical (which drove me nuts at first), but gets to the heart of our role as parent and what it should look like. It radically changed how I see raising children, and is a book I reference often. I can't recommend it more!

“When you think your job is to change your child and you’ve been given the power to do it, your parenting will tend to be demanding , aggressive, threatening, and focused on rules and punishments. In this kind of parenting you are working to make your children into something rather than working to help them to see something and seek something. In this form of parenting, it is all about you and your children, rather than you being an agent of what only God can do in your children. Your hope is that you will exercise the right power, at the right time, and in the right way so change in your children will result. That process is profoundly different than working to be a useful tool in the hands of a God of glorious transforming grace, who alone is your hope and the hope of your children.” 
― Paul David Tripp

 

3. This was the first book I read that encouraged me to use scripture to guide the little hearts in my home. It was such an obvious answer, but I'd never seen it done before! The book is practical with lots of examples, and packed with scripture. 

(We have a new product coming this Fall that you'll love if you loved this book!)

 

4. I've made it a point to ask great parents what helped them as they learned to instruct their children, and they almost always include this book as one of the most beneficial tools. And after reading it, I see why! 

It's written by Christians and has scripture inside, but is incredibly practical. It walks through parenting with consequences instead of threats, shame, etc and has lots of examples to learn from. I'm having my husband read it now! 

 

5. This book is similar to the one above. It's recommended over and over again, is full of practical examples, and is packed with wisdom from people who really understand the way children think.

There were a few chapters/examples in this book that I put into action and immediately saw changes from. It's excellent! 

 

6. Sally Clarkson has been a spiritual mother to me through her writing, and it all started with this book. Its goal is similar to no.2 on this list, getting to the real heart and purpose of motherhood. She draws you into her home and experiences as a mother, encouraging and motivating you do live each day intentionally. 

“My calling as a mother is the same as any other Christian’s: to fulfill God’s will for our lives and to glorify him. This means I am to follow the Lord’s design for my marriage—cleaving to my husband, supporting him, honoring him, loving him as my own flesh. I am to be a careful steward of the world in which I live. I am to seek opportunities to bring God’s message of redemption to others, to make full use of the gifts and talents he has placed in my life to bring him glory and further his kingdom. And I am to delight in him and worship him and praise him in whatever circumstance I find myself.” 

 

7. This is another Sally Clarkson book. It's less about discipline and more about a home's God-loving culture, but it encouraged me to be more intentional and consistent in my parenting, so I included it here, too.

 

8. If you have boys, this has been a great read and reference. My heart is wired so differently from the men in my home, I need to know how they operate and think! This one is broken up into age sections so I've read a few chapters and will continue to go back to it as my boys get older. So helpful!

 

9. I haven't read this yet, but the Risen Motherhood podcast has been such a helpful resource for me (and so many others!) in motherhood, I know the book will be just as lovely. I'm so grateful for other women walking this road alongside me, longing to glorify Christ in all we do. 

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TEN WAYS WE PLANT GOSPEL SEEDS IN OUR CHILDREN'S LIVES

In our home, we use passages like Deuteronomy 6:5-7 to help aid in our parenting and daily rhythms. 

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 

We certainly aren't perfect (far from!) but are frequently evaluating and adding ways to keep our home Gospel-centered.

Here are ten practices that help us.

1. The first is simple, and it's to let them see us reading our Bibles. I can tell them until I'm blue in the face that I value God's words, but they'll only really understand it when they see me physically choosing my Bible over other activities. Often times, I'll re-read what I've read in my quiet time (which takes place before they wake up) while they're awake so they can see me using my Bible in everyday life. Bonus: It also helps my reading sink in when I see the same words more than once.

This is the Bible I use, but I recommend most Study Bibles. The ESV is my favorite translation. 

 

2. We try to start our mornings off with a time of praise and devotion to to God. Right now, we're working our way through Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and have really enjoyed the simple thoughts that provoke good conversation. I read over breakfast, they ask questions, I try to give everyday examples.

Then I lead them in a prayer that relates to what we've just read so they can practice talking to God and sharing their hearts with Him.

Lastly, we sing a hymn together. Mostly, it's me singing and them acting crazy (real life), but they're seeing how to worship God and this practice helps to start our day off right. No matter what, we've worshipped together and that's a beautiful day. 

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3. We usually read a Bible story every night before bed, but we may move this to our morning devotion time when we're done with the above book. Regardless, The Jesus Storybook Bible is a favorite, but we've also used The Big Picture Bible and hope to use The Spirit of God Illustrated Bible this year to intentionally teach our children more about the Holy Spirit. We read one story at a time and point out characteristics about God.

As you choose a children's Bible, look for one that keeps God the main focus and not ourselves. After all, the Bible is a book about God! 

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4. We try to play scripture-to-song music at least once a day (usually during lunch). We love Seeds Family Worship & Sing the Bible. Often times, we find ourselves humming + memorizing scripture without even thinking about it. I still remember some of the scripture songs I learned as a child, and hope some of these will stick with our children, too. God says His words never go out void, and I pray the scripture they're hearing softens their hearts to God's truths. 

Having your favorite worship music on in the background is a great idea, too. 

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5. An older & wiser friend once told me that she used the Fruits of the Spirit to parent and something clicked in my mind. I didn't have to overcomplicate it or come up with our family values; they were already there for me to use! So now we talk about each one, point out when someone is acting in that way vs not, and pray for the Spirit to lead us towards these characteristics through His power. It's simple & helpful as we learn to love one another. 

I made this art print for Dear Mushka, really for my own self, and have it framed in our house where I see it frequently. 

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6. At dinner, we're working towards reading a Psalm together and then talking about it. We open up our "adult" Bibles and let them listen in as Robert and I talk about what we just read.

If you haven't caught on, mealtimes are are an excellent time for us to re-focus our thoughts towards Christ. They're expected and predictable, which helps all of us establish good patterns and habits. Do we do it 3 x day, 7 days a week? Of course not. But when we've worked 21 times into our week, we're much more likely to do it 10 or 15 times than if we'd casually tried to do it when we thought about it. 

We have a Psalm only Bible that stays at the table. I also love this guide to the Psalms to spark conversation or help me understand a specific Psalm. 

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7. Beyond our Bibles, we're growing quite the collection of Gospel-themed books to read throughout our days. Reading is a skill & passion I want our boys to develop, and I think it's important to put high quality, engaging, beautiful books in their path. Here are some of the ones we read over and over (and over) again!

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8. Scripture Memory is an area I want to grow in (for myself and my children!) this year. Last year, we started with Psalm 23, one verse at a time, until my four year old memorized the whole thing. We practice it a few times a month, but this year we're starting to use The Child Pack-- a scripture memory pack I created for Dear Mushka, just for children :) I tried to a year ago and we weren't ready, but now feels more right. 

One verse every two weeks. That's doable! And then I'm going to create them one of these boxes so we're constantly reviewing. I think I'll add this to our morning time together; it will only take a few minutes. 

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9. We'd also like to grow in the area of serving others together. James 2 tells us that faith without works is dead, which really means that we can talk the talk all we want, but the proof of our faith and love for Jesus will come when we walk the walk. I want my boys to see that this world is full of need, and that God has equipped us to help one another through our actions. 

One intentional act of service a month is my goal, but truthfully I pray it becomes a way of life for our family-- constantly looking for ways to serve and love our neighbors. 

Ideas: Taking meals to new mothers, visiting our elderly next door neighbors or local nursing homes, donating money to adoption fundraisers, volunteering at various organizations around town, putting together care packages for those in need, sponsoring more children though places like Compassion International, etc. 

10. Lastly, we want to be a family who prays together, always. We want to see a need and drop to our knees before our Father right away. Sometimes, this looks like praying when an ambulance zooms by. Other times, it means we ask for God's help as we learn to love our siblings instead of kicking them. 

We also want to be quick to give God all the glory when we have a fun day, see a beautiful sunset, eat a good meal, etc. 

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Of course (of course!) we don't do all of these things all the time. And the good news is that it's totally okay. We can rest assured that it is God who draws hearts to Himself, not our good actions. These are all ways we aim to intentionally plant seeds in our children's lives and set them up with lifelong habits to draw them close to God. But it is HIM who does the watering and growing. 

So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. -1 Corinthians 3:7

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ADVENT: WHY & HOW

As soon as Adam and Eve rebelled and sin separated man from God, God began instilling hope in His people through the promise of a redeemer. The Old Testament is one giant, exciting story of God's rescue plan. And, of course, at Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of what He promised—that He would provide a way for us to be near to Him once again, despite our sin and brokenness.

The season leading up to Christmas is called advent, meaning coming. It begins four Sundays before December 25-- December 2nd this year-- and allows us to build anticipation for who is coming. For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus. 

It is also a time for us to remember that we are still awaiting the second advent of Christ, when He comes again to bring us home and restore the world (John 14:2-3).

If you didn't grow up participating in advent, don't worry. I didn't either! We can learn and savor together :) There are many ways to celebrate the season, depending on tradition, background, family size, etc

· Many of you have seen or uses an advent calendar, typically made up of 24 spots containing verses, pictures, candy, etc to count down the days until Christmas. As each window is opened and the final day draws closer, our expectation increases. This reminds us of the hopeful yet anxious waiting God’s people experienced as they longed for the promised Savior to come.

In our family, we have little felt pieces that represent part of the Christian Story tucked into each slot as well as a corresponding Bible verse. We read & talk each morning and then hang our ornament on the tree. It's really beautiful to see the whole story represented there on Christmas morning. (The felt pieces go with this book but we don't use it yet-- a little over my boy's heads).

We also have this and love it, especially for littles ones who are just starting to understand the concept of Christmas. This is also a favorite around here during the month of December to simply start the conversation. It doesn't have to be fancy or complicated!

· Another tradition is using an advent "wreath" made up of four or five candles (or just candles on a tray); it focuses on the idea of Jesus Christ being the Light of the World. Each Sunday, a new candle is lit in anticipation of Christmas Eve with the idea of ever-increasing light penetrating the darkness. 

Our family doesn't do this because #toddlersandfire, but I do love the idea of ever-increasing lights as Christmas day approaches! Lighting a candle and reading a family devotion together every Sunday evening is a wonderful & completely doable idea. 

·There are many advent devotion guides and reading plans to center you each day or each week. Here are some of my favorites: 

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus-- I just bought this and really like the setup; a devotion that can be read as a family each Sunday, a short devotion to read M-F, and then a small activity to do on Saturday that focuses on the week's theme. I can't wait to begin!

Join the Advent Chorus -- a free daily e-mail from the Revive Our Hearts team. There's also a matching book, but I don't think it's necessary if you don't want to buy something. 

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus-- a book to read all month long; I did this last year and was so blessed.

Solid Joys Podcast-- a quick podcast to turn on while you're cooking, full of advent wisdom and truth from John Piper and the Desiring God team.

Treasuring God in Our Traditions-- it's not an advent book, per se, but it's full of ways to keep each holiday gospel-focused including sweet ideas for Christmas.

Prepare Him Room-- another family devotion to do all month long; I haven't done this one but have heard good things

Come Let Us Adore Him-- an advent devotion from Paul Tripp; this would be a great one for men/husband's to read and lead with!

Daily Advent Jesus Storybook Bible-- This is a free resource with an outline of how to use The Jesus Storybook Bible during each day of advent. Perfect for families!

Kids Books:

The Littlest Watchman - My 4 year old loves this story 

The Christmas Promise - Another great one for kids

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No matter what you choose to do, remember that it's not about what you're doing. It's about why you're doing it! Engage your heart, slow down, focus on Jesus first before decorations and gifts and cookies. After all, HE is the good gift. 

I'm going to talk more about advent over on my Instagram Stories. I'll save them to my highlights so check them out here

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GIFT GUIDES FOR HER, HIM, & LITTLES

There are many ways to anticipate the arrival of Christ and to keep our hearts focused on Him-- lights, feasts, songs, service projects... and even gifts. 

James 1:17 says "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

God is the very best gift-giver. Not only did He give us His son, but also every other good and wonderful thing in our lives. He takes delight in giving good gifts to us, which is why we can find delight in giving gifts to those we love. It's a way we can reflect His image!

Here are some ideas as you start planning out your gift-lists. How can we be intentional and Jesus-focused as we love our people well? 

For Her:

1. Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God- A short, inspirational book to remind her of the Godly (and very human) women who have gone before her.

2. The Promise Pack- 52 beautiful verse cards for her to put around her house or memorize, one for every week of the year.

3. A Dear Mushka Necklace- Because there is little better than jewelry that keeps our hearts and minds focused on Christ.

4. The Citizen Sweatshirt- It carries a forgiving fit and the much needed reminder that she is a citizen of Heaven. 

5. A Dear Mushka Gift Card- So she can pick the piece her heart most needs in this season.

6. Sing a New Song- A lovely breakdown of each Psalm for her to use as a guide when she's reading them. 

7. The Prayer Journal Pages- Help set her up for a more consistent prayer life in the New Year. Bonus: Print them off and put them in a pretty binder for her! 

8. Humble Roots- One of the best books I've read in a long time, she'll love it from beginning to end. 

9. An Art Print- Christ-focused beauty for her home. Bonus: Frame it for her! 

 

For Him:

1. ESV Scripture Journal Set- He'll have plenty of room to take notes inside; my husband uses these when He meets with some men to study scripture. You can also buy them individually!

2. 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You- A really interesting, scientific, helpful read as he decides when and how to use his phone. 

3. Systematic Theology- The best (easy to understand) guide for his office on every theological topic imaginable. 

4. New Morning Mercies- A gospel-focused daily devotional that he'll absolutely love. Bonus: It could be read and discussed at the dinner table with the family!

5. A CS Lewis Set- Classics he'll want to read again and again. 

6. Candle- A perfectly manly scent for him to light as he opens his Bible and prays each morning.

7. Soli Deo Gloria Tee- Glory to God alone, forever and ever. 

8. Pens- Wonderful pens to mark up his Bible and/or journal with as he learns more about God.

9. Hillsong Art- Encouraging art for his office or space. My husband loves these song lyrics... what might be best for your "him"?

 

For Littles:

1. The Child Pack- Verse cards perfect for little hearts to memorize and learn the importance of. 

2. A Baby Believer Book- There are five in the series, each one lovely for young minds with bright colors and a clear focus. 

3. Getty Kids Hymnal- Beautiful music from Getty Kids made to get your family worshiping God through beloved hymns. 

4. God's Very Good Idea- A wonderful book on God's beautiful plan to make people different from one another. 

5. ABCs of the Attributes of God Cards- Is there a better way to learn your ABCs than to focus on God? 

6. The Biggest Story- Another ABC method of focusing on God. Theologically correct and helpful. Here's the (even better) version for older children!

7. Little People Noah's Ark- Perfect for bath time stories about God. They also make a manger scene option. 

8. Bible Infographics Book- A super fun book to look through and learn from!

9. The Precious Tee- Because it's true, no matter our race, Jesus loves us all the same. 

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CHRISTIAN BIOGRAPHIES: TO FEED YOUR HEART, SOUL, & MIND

Little has encouraged my soul and grown my faith more than the stories of Godly men and women who have gone before me. After all, we have a whole chapter in the Bible dedicated to recounting the faith of incredible people from the Bible (Hebrews 11) and the Psalms are full of directives to pass along God's wonderful deeds to the next generation. Hearing others' stories of lives lived fully, boldly, and faithfully is part of how we grow our own trust in the goodness & greatness of God! We see Him show up for them and our hearts start believing He'll do the same for us. Because He will. 

I try to read at least a handful of Christian biographies every year and thought I'd share some of my favorites (or to-reads!) here. 

CLICK ON THE PHOTOS FOR DIRECT LINKS

1. This is my current read, and I'm absolutely loving Brother Andrew's story. I can't wait to see how he gets from where he is now to where I know he ends up! 

2. Katie Davis grew up just a few miles from me with a very similar upbringing. God used her story to open my heart up towards adoption + increase the boldness in my prayers. Her second book, Daring to Hope, was just as beautiful. If you haven't read these, order now or find them at your library. 

3. Elisabeth Elliot has been a spiritual mentor in my life, and this book forms the basis for her subsequent ones. If you don't know her & her first husband's story, it will blow you away. Read on. 

4. Dare I say The Hiding Place is one of the dearest books I've ever read? If you didn't have to read it in High School, read it now! And then read all her other books because oh my heart, Corrie is just the sweetest spit fire for the Lord. In My Father's House tells about her life pre- The Hiding Place and Tramp for the Lord tells about what happened right after The Hiding Place. 

5. My brother told me to read The Heavenly Man and I'm so glad I listened. His story is incredibly different than anything we experience in the Unite States and my eyes were opened & challenged. I almost think I need to re-read this every few years as a reminder that God is so (so) much bigger than I allow Him to be in my life. 

6. Noel Piper put together this book highlighting the stories of five faithful women... and their extraordinary God ;) It's an excellent place to begin if you're just starting to read biographies (it's a pretty small book) & would be extra fun to read with a group of women. It's always fun to see which woman's story ends up speaking directly to each person's heart. 

7. Ah, George Muller. Few people have encouraged my prayer life like him. This book moves a little slower than the others, but I was so blessed by it. 

8. Oh Sister, you want to read this. It helped me understand both the Muslim faith  & the Christian faith in a deeper way and had me praising God for appearing to people in dreams. So good. 

9. Probably all of you have heard of C.S. Lewis-- this is his book that talks about how he went from being an atheist to a Christian. It's enlightening and beautifully written. 

10. Another Elisabeth Elliot book, but this time she's telling the story of Amy Carmichael. I actually haven't read this, but I'm off to order it ASAP because I've heard only the best things about it. 

11. Real talk: This has been sitting on my shelf for a year. It's a big, intimidating book! But I know it's going to be amazing when I actually dig in. Have you read it?

12. Last, Evidence Not Seen. There is something extra special about women reading the stories of women and this is a beautiful one. 

 Have a favorite? Let me hear it on Instagram! @dearmushka

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BOOKS FOR TEEN GIRLS ON SELF-WORTH AND BEAUTY

The other day, a follower on Instagram asked if I had any book recommendations for her teenage daughter struggling with self-worth. I remember sitting in those struggles myself (oh, the angst!), but hadn't read a book on the topic in a long time.

As usual, you all came through. Here are the top ten suggested over and over again by you! 

(CLICK EACH PHOTO FOR A DIRECT LINK)

1. Enough, Kate Conner || Many of you suggested this one and I believe it also comes with a version for both adult & teen to read together, and a study guide, too. Lots of resources here!

2. Lies Young Women Believe, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth || I haven't read this book, in particular, but I'm a huge Nancy fan and know this book will be full of nothing but truth & wisdom. She also has a version for adults as well as many other online resources. 

3. Tailor Made, Alex Seeley || This was one of the top recommendations. I haven't read the book, but I read all about it + the reviews and it looks beautiful. 

4. Authentic Beauty & Set- Apart Femininity, Leslie Ludy || Both of these Leslie Ludy books were recommended countless times... it looks like she's onto something here! 

5. Captivating, John & Stasi Eldredge || Oh goodness, I remember reading this book as a young girl and feeling like it was written just for me. I still can't look at a starfish without thinking of it. I'm so glad to hear that it's still a widely-suggested book for teen girls today! 

6. In His Image & None Like Him, Jen Wilkin || None Like Him was the book God used to remove my low body image, turning my eyes off myself and onto Him, instead. In His Image is just as wonderful. I highly recommend both; they're full of Godly wisdom and truth.

7. Live Fearless, Sadie Robertson || I haven't read this book, but I adore Sadie and think she has a heart completely set on following Jesus + leading other girls to do the same. I imagine her words here would be exactly the truths so many teens long to hear. 

8. Uninvited, Lysa TerKeurst || I listed to a podcast interview with Lysa and she sounds like she has a heart of gold. I haven't read this but gosh, the subtitle sucks me right in. We've all had these feelings!

9. His Revolutionary Love, Lynn Cowell || Many of you suggested this or the 365 day devotion by the same name. 

10. Girl Defined, Kristen Clark & Bethany Baird

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