Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Homeward Bound

Great Lakes Church Staff 2011
(Abela standing in for Devonee Harshburger)

The Petersons Are Coming Home

It's official... we are moving back to our hometown of Seattle Washington after helping launch a new church in Kenosha Wisconsin over two years ago.

Kenosha, Great Lakes Church, and the people here have been our family and home for the last three years. The adventure began as a dream and passion in our boss/pastor/friend Dave Nelson's head... none of us could have guessed that this small group of friends would become church planters of a church that would grow 1,300 strong in just two short years.

"Sounds like you got a pretty good thing going there... why would you leave?"

Good question.

When Dave invited us to participate in launching GLC back in 2008, we said no way! I was comfortable, employed, and honestly, not sure Great Lakes was going to succeed. After many prayers and fasts, Michelle and I felt God telling us " ". (Yup, that's blank on purpose). We didn't hear anything. We didn't feel "called" to ministry to begin with, and we didn't feel "called" to move across the country to start a church in a place we've never seen.

However, we did feel like we'd be missing out on a great thing if we didn't go. We want to tell our kids someday "we took a risk for God" and be a model for them. If GLC grew or if it closed it's doors in the first month, at least we would have tried.

So, we told Dave "Yes... we'll help you start this new church." He was pretty excited, as were we. We agreed to stay on for two years, which would have been October of 2010. We knew from the start that we weren't going to be pivotal in the long term goals and structure of GLC, but we wanted to assist in LAUNCHING a new church... to have a great big impact right at the start, open the doors, and let the masses come and see what the fuss is all about. And we did that.

Now it's time to let Great Lakes become what it was always destined to become. Michelle says it beautifully... she likens our situation to John the Baptists. John would always refocus any attention on himself back to God by saying "... someone is coming soon who is greater than I am - so much greater that I’m not worthy even to tie his sandals." He knew he wasn't the Messiah, and he was simply preparing the way. We know our part in this was simply preparing the way for those who come after us, incredible leaders and servants who would carry this church forward for generations.

So, now we're here and slowly settling back into our home in the Northwest. Michelle has just started her new job at Timberlake Church as the Groups Director and I get to start working with clients as a freelance graphic designer. We are reflecting on our time in Wisconsin, nearly three years, and it feels like a dream. Were we really a part of such an amazing team of people? Did we really see that many people come to know Christ for the first time? Can you believe the hundreds of people that got baptized at GLC over the last three years? What wonders God did in us, in our little family, during that time! What could he possibly have in store for us next and will we be as brave as the opportunities to take risks present themselves again and again?

Thank you, Father, for this incredible life!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rumors and Truth

My grandmother doesn't have email. She doesn't have a Facebook page either. I know what some of you are thinking, "How the heck do you keep in touch with her?"

Well, the truth is, I don't do a very good job of picking up the phone very often or sending her a note. So, for Mother's Day, while Claire was napping, I sat down and wrote her a letter. What I mean is, I took some real paper and a pen and ended up with a few pages to fold into an envelope, add a stamp, and put in a mail box. Yep, it was a lot more effort than I'm used to putting in just to communicate. But, it was for my grandmother, and she is so worth it!

Here is a picture of she and I on my wedding day. Isn't she lovely?

Anyway, as I finished it and let Tony read it, we both realized that the upcoming changes in our lives that I shared with her, might be of interest to you also. Here are a few excerpts from my letter to my "Abuelita".

Dear Lita,

WE'RE PREGNANT! We are expecting baby #2 this fall! Our due date is September 30th, but if the next one is anything like Claire, he or she will more likely come in the middle of October. Claire will be 20 months old then and we are hoping she will be as sweet to the new baby as she is to us. Now that I am past the first trimester, I'm more and more excited to be pregnant again. I have all of the usual symptoms (nausea, exhaustion, strange aches and pains), but now I am starting to feel the baby move a little bit here and there. It really is such a miracle and I am so thankful for our little family.

We do have other news... In just a couple of months, at the end of June, we'll be moving back to Washington. When we originally moved here to Wisconsin, we committed to help start this new church and stay for two years. Time has flown by, and it has been almost three years since we got here! The church, Great Lakes Church, is thriving with well over 1,000 people in attendance each weekend. It has been the adventure of our lives to be a part of what God is doing in this community, but now we feel like it's time for us to go. We both sense a real joy and peace about leaving, remembering that we didn't move here to make a name for ourselves, but to get this church off to a great start and then move out of the way so that other leaders could rise up in our place and take ownership of the vision. This is happening, and we couldn't be more excited!

We are sad, of course, to be leaving behind such great friendships we never imagined we'd have here. Our baby was born here, and though we had no family around us, our friends here took such good care of us and surrounded us with such love, it's hard to imagine Claire will mostly know them through pictures and maybe the occasional cross-country vacation. Still, this adventure will be as much a part of her story as it has been a part of ours. We hope she grows up knowing how much God loves her and how fullfilling it really is to live her life to worship him.

When we move back, we will be on to new adventures. Tony will begin freelancing as a graphic designer, honing in on his amazing talent and developing his portfolio. I couldn't be more proud of him. I will be working full-time for a church in Sammamish, Washington... Timberlake Church. Sammamish is not very far from where we used to live in Kirkland. Timberlake just so happens to need some help with their small groups, and there is hardly a thing I'm more passionate about. I'm a little sad that I won't be with Claire as much as I have been for the first year and a half of her life, but I am thankful that I've had this season and am really looking forward to getting back to full-time work.

We love you all so much and hope everyone is well. We'll send you our new address as soon as we figure everything else out, but my phone number won't change and I'd love to hear from you.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Five Things To Take Better Pictures... Today

First things first, I am by NO MEANS a professional photographer... but I take a lot of pictures and I know just enough about DSLRs to be dangerous.

A lot of what you'll find below will be most useful for DSLR users, but even most point-and-shoot cameras have similar settings to higher end DSLRs these days.

You know that little dial on the top of your camera? The one you always have set to "picture of a green camera" mode? You gotta give yourself a little more credit than that, and take your camera out of "stupid mode".

I musn't speak too soon... fact is, if you've stumbled across Bigfoot, and your camera is in your bag, don't worry about the setting... "stupid mode" click click click is the way to go. But for everything else, give "A" mode a shot.

"A" mode stands for "aperture priority", but don't even think about that yet, cuz it'll just frustrate you and you'll give up. Just know that the high-end look you're trying to accomplish (the photo with the face in focus and the background blurry) is accomplished with A-mode. Put your camera to "A", then twist your dial/wheel (or maybe push the left arrow button) until the number doesn't go any lower. Most cameras will end up at 3.5 (or f3.5), but the lower the better. Once that number is set, your camera will adjust everything else to take a "good" photo and you'll get the most "blur" you can.

(I tried to make this one very non-techy... please see number 5 for the geek stuff)

Nothing looks worse than an on-camera flash. Sure, in a dark room you have no choice, but your camera has many more options than just the flash to accommodate darkness.

I'm going to tuck this one inside this tip... also, don't use redeye reducer flash. Nobody likes to be flashed in the face once, let alone 3 or 4 times. Plus, they're not usually expecting it so you miss the moment completely when they've blinked or dropped the smile. There are sooo many free redeye tools that you can use after the photo has been taken (yes, prolly even on your camera).

White balance is telling your camera what white is in your current location... then all the other colors will fall into place. White outside looks VERY different than white inside. Even though the human eye is AMAZING at making the transition (so much so that we can't even tell), our cameras aren't that nice.

Your camera has an "auto white balance" mode. This is fine, but it's not always right (I know my Nikon isn't). It's better to pick the mode that fits your scenario. Use the one with the picture of the sun when you're on the beach. Use the one with the cloud when you're hiking in the woods or maybe inside near a window. Use the one with the light bulb when you're in the kitchen or when it's dark outside and you're taking pictures at a party. Use the one with the lightning bolt when you're using a flash.

Best of all... Use the "measure" white balance tool when you've got 10 seconds before taking a photo. Nikon users, select "measure" then take a picture of something white filling your frame with it (a piece of paper or a t-shirt or a wall)... that's it. Canon users, take the photo of the white thing first... then "measure" and navigate to that photo on your camera.

4. BUY A 50mm f1.8 LENS
So you bought your first DSLR and you're happy with it, but you're still not taking the portraits you "thought" you'd be taking with this new $700 camera. What you're dealing with is crappystocklensobia. Your camera came with a lens with the numbers 18 - ??? f3.5 on it right?

Your stock lens is your "work horse" lens. If you only get one lens and a body, you need a zoom lens... hence the 18 - 55 part (18mm is wide and 55mm is tight or close-up). BUT, it's the f3.5 part that's killing you. That part is (like I mentioned in #1) the aperture, and it's measured in f-stops (the "f" part). What the aperture does is change the DOF (depth of field), and that is the thing that makes your subject, in focus, and everything else, out of focus... what you want more of.

In order to get non-subject things MORE out of focus, or blurry, you need a new lens... specifically one with a low f-number. The reason my tip is "buy a 50mm f1.8" is because both Nikon and Canon sell theirs for less than $130. If you can afford the f1.4 or even f1.2, go for it, great lenses. But heads up, the 50mm is what's known as a "prime" lens... it doesn't zoom... at all... to get a tighter shot, you need to use your feet. Zoom lenses with low f-numbers are very expensive, and you should buy other accessories long before you spend your first $1400 on one lens.

Ahhh... the dreaded "M" mode. You prolly already guessed it... that's manual. Everything in your court and nothing left up to camera intelligence.

Don't worry... I got your back.
Here are the steps...

- Choose your ISO first: Look around. Are you outside? Then pick ISO 200. Are you in a well lit building, like a mall? Pick 400. Is it kinda dark, like your living room? Pick 800. Darker? Go higher. The ISO is the "sensitivity" of your sensor. The higher the number, the more sensitive. But beware, don't just set it high and leave it... the higher numbers also add a lot of grain.

- Choose your f-stop next: Are you taking a picture of a person? Lowest f-number you got (hopefully 1.8 with your new lens). Is it a group of people? Go a little higher, maybe 5. Are you shooting a landscape? Choose higher, maybe 11 or so. The f-number controls the aperture which is the "door" in the lens that allows light through or not. The lower the number the more "open" the door is (which is why it's great to shoot in low light with a low f-number)... the higher the number the less the door is open, only allowing a little light through (but causing everything to be in focus... no DOF... great for scenic nature photos).

- Choose your shutter speed last: This is the thing you need to adjust on the fly. For Nikons it's just a number (like 120). For Canons it's a fraction (like 1/120). Either way, it's a fraction of a second... 120 is one-hundred-twentieth of one second... higher is faster. How do you know what number to have it on? Great question. See that dotted line at the bottom of your viewfinder with the vertical line "0" in the middle. That's your light meter. That's how you know. You'll see a little mark moving around on that meter when you point your camera at something well lit, then point it to a shadow. Your goal is to point it at what you want to take a photo of, then roll the dial/wheel on your camera doing your best to try and get it to the zero in the middle. Then click. In general, the faster (higher) the better... but you can't go too high, cuz then you're not letting enough light in, and your picture will be too dark. And you can't go too low, cuz then you're shutter is open too long and your photo will be blurry from movement. Are you photographing busy babies or children? Try not to go below 120. Are you indoors and people are posing for you? Try not to go lower than 60. Are you on the beach shooting a volleyball game? Crank that mother, maybe 1000+. Once you've hit 40 or lower, it's time to put your camera on a tripod... you prolly can't hold the camera still enough to get the clarity you want.

Still need help? Post your scenario and I'll give you some settings to try.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

5 Things To Help You Design Better… Today!

In my line of work I run across a lot of work that teeters on the edge of great, but is held back by one or two bad decisions. I hope this will benefit students, educators, entrepreneurs, innovators, and all DIY designers.

I’d like to speak to those of you who do any kind of graphic marketing or informational print work. You could also call this my list of cliché pet peeves. The sites linked all contain free content, so don’t complain about having no budget.

I know I know… “There are fonts that I should be avoiding?”. The answer is YES. This is the faux pas I notice most. Your choice of font says a lot about what you’re trying to say (sometimes more than your copy). Use sans-serif fonts (like Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana) for casual writing. Use serif fonts (like Times, Garamond, Palatino, Bookman) for more formal or business professional writing.

Here’s the tricky part. Sometimes you need to be “creative” or “artsy” with your typeface. This is fine… in headers, titles, and logos.

Please use the fonts listed in the first paragraph freely, but when it comes to picking a “showy” font, visit and pick something new. DO NOT (I’m going to repeat that again… and in all caps and bold and underlined) DO NOT use Papyrus or Comic Sans for ANYTHING! I mean it… I’m not being facetious… Don’t use them… delete them. (This is where I usually hear "But I like Papyrus”) If I have to see another spa, or physical therapy clinic, or church, or restaurant use Papyrus, I will have failed.

Here’s what happens. You’ve got a new business. You open Microsoft Word and type the name of your new business. You scale it up, then tab through all the fonts on your machine until you find the “fanciest” one, which in your default options is usually Papyrus. While trying to be creative, you fell headfirst into ClichéVille. It’s not your fault… you just didn’t know that existed and was free. Welcome to the revolution.

You’ve got a presentation to make… or you’ve got a bulletin to design… or you’re thinking of making invitations for this event… STOP RIGHT THERE!!!

Please, in the name of all things good, don’t even open the clip art panel. What you’ll find in there is what’s called “vector graphics”. These are images that can be scaled up or down without losing their quality… but they’re bad. The default ones are really bad… they look like... well, clip art.
Trust me, that’s not the look you’re going for. Vectors are used for signage and logo work, not print or presentation work. “Thank you Esther for putting so much time and effort and love into this bulletin that you volunteered to do, but nobody is going to tell you that it looks terrible cuz you’re such a sweet lady”.

What you need are some really good bitmaps (otherwise known as JPGs or PNGs or even BMPs). These are usually photos or detailed graphic images. Just go to and type in what you’re looking for. What you’ll find here are photos from professionals that they're offering for free.

Oh, and by the way... no more GIF's.

So you’ve got a photo you want in your layout. Maybe it’s your brochure, or a business card, or your website. You’ve found this perfect image but it doesn’t quite fit. So you click on it, and you notice you can resize it by dragging from the cor… STOP RIGHT THERE!!!

Holy crap! Nothing says “unprofessional crap you don’t wanna buy” than an improperly resized image. And doing it properly is SOOOO EASY!

Fine… drag from the corner, but hold down the ‘Shift’ key while you do it. This constrains proportions (locks the aspect ratio) in all software. This way, you can’t flatten or stretch the image, which yes, is a bad thing.

Rather than pick a color and guess what color goes well with it, use a tool like this...
All you do is decide your base color (the color you know you wanna use), then it'll tell you what colors go well with it.

Also, I use sites like to get a starting place. Sometimes you just never know what colors go well with others until you see it somewhere else.

I do... a lot. Sometimes there just isn't the time to be 100% completely original. Why not spend a few minutes searching the web for work that you're drawn to, and use elements or ideas from it to get you started. Here is a great place to start...

Don't stick to just one element. Don't be afraid to look at logos if you're designing a program... or take a look at posters if you're thinking about designing a magzine ad.

Believe me, the above tips aren't part of some "artistic genetic code"... they're learned. I'm a self taught DIY designer. I started making posters and flyers for my punk band "Plague" in Junior High, by cutting, taping, scribbling, and photo copying 300 times.

Then I upgraded to using Windows Paint for pixel-by-pixel design. In college I was still creating flyers for my band "Counterfist", but now I was using Microsoft Word.

In the end, it was a little piece of software called Photoshop that inspired me to want to do this for a living. I just wish somebody would have given me any of these tips... then maybe those posters would have actually drawn a few fans to our shows.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Next Right Steps

The first time I heard the term “next right steps” I was in church. It was both liberating and challenging at the same time. I was learning that I didn’t have to be like everyone else, or follow someone else’s path for life or growing spiritually. It meant I just had to look at what was in front of me and take ONE next step, the next RIGHT step for ME in the direction of loving God and loving people.

This year we have had front row seats watching our baby take her next right steps. Every week and every month she is growing and changing and impressing us with all she knows and does. The first time she rolled over from her back to her tummy, and back again. The first time I found her sitting up in her crib in the morning. The first time she pulled herself up by the coffee table to stand. The first time she pushed a toy across the room to walk. The first time she fed herself finger foods. The first time she gave me something I asked for, or used the baby-sign for “please” when she wanted something. The first time she smiled at the camera when we said, “CHEESE!”

Claire says "CHEESE!" from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

With each first (or 2nd or 3rd or 100th) we find ourselves looking at each other with huge proud smiles and saying, “Did you see that?! Can you believe it? She is so smart! She is so incredible! She is the best baby EVER!” … yes, even when all she did was drink from a sippy cup for the first time. We just can't help ourselves!

With Claire, I don’t think she is contemplating for very long before she goes from one “next step” to another. She is simply growing physically and developmentally and these changes and achievements are natural. We beam with pride, but the reality is that if she got to this point of being nearly a year old and never made any progress from the day she was born, we would be more than a little concerned. It would be unnatural. Something would be wrong. We would be concerned and so would our friends, family, and doctor. Her growing and maturing is a natural part of life, it is expected.

And yet, at some point we go from being babies to children to adults and the expectation that we would continue to grow and change sometimes falls by the wayside. We become content with who we are, or disappointed, but either way we fail to see that there are still next right steps in front of us. The Bible tells us that when we fail to act on what we know and purposefully grow, we are like babies...

You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
– Hebrews 5:12-14

While nobody wants to be a "baby" for very long, none of us have arrived. We are all in process, unfinished works of art that God would like to take into His hand to continue to mold and refine until we reflect the image he originally intended.

Of course, not everyone stays stagnant. I was with a friend last night and she shared with me that she wanted to make some New Year’s resolutions, but unlike years past, she didn’t want to make it about some new weight or fitness goal. Instead, she shared that for 2011 she wanted to get straight A’s in her college classes, she wants to stop wasting food, and she wants to be a better wife. I thought it was incredible! She shared some of the things she is pursuing to accomplish what’s on her list, some of the practical next steps she is taking. They were small, simple, and doable and it’s clear that if she continues to think of these steps and does them, she will be the woman she intends to be.

The daydreamer that I am, I often look far out into the future. I spend a lot of time in “someday” and not enough time in right now. The simple things are easy to avoid, and I felt challenged by my friend to stop and take a look at what is right in front of me. I mean, often we already know the next thing we need to do. We don’t need more advice, or to listen to another message, or to read another book.
We know we should spend less.
We know we should forgive.
We know we should make that phone call.
We know we should eat less pizza and more green beans.
What if we obeyed what we already know we should do? What if we avoided the things we know we shouldn’t do? Would we grow? These next right steps are going to be different for each one of us. I have a feeling I know what some of mine are, and you might be thinking of some of yours right now.

This Sunday at Great Lakes Church we will begin a new five week series called Relationship Rehab.

Relationship Rehab Bumper from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

We will also have a brand new Growth Group Catalog.

Don't you love Tony's work on this stuff? I do!

But, attending these services or browsing the catalog will not automatically cause any of us to grow. The challenge will be to take what we hear and what we learn in this series and do something about it. The challenge will be to choose a group that pertains to where we want to be in life, sign up for it and commit to attending.

Here are just a few of the groups I’m excited about:
Deuces Wild – A group for men to play some poker and discuss the book Wild at Heart.
Financial Restart – A group designed to help people manage debt and learn the Biblical principles of giving, saving, and spending.
Cocktails and Catan – A group for 21+ to get together and play the strategy game, Settlers of Catan, and maybe enjoy an adult beverage.
Believing God – A group for women that want to learn to, not just to believe in God, but to take him at his word.
New York Mission Trip – A group traveling to Brooklyn to serve kids in the inner city.
Breakfast of Heroes – Dads taking their kids out to breakfast at McDonalds on Saturday mornings!
Next Steps – A group for people who want to take Sunday’s message and talk through it with others who are trying to go from receiving information to practicing application – doing something about what they know.

And, as Tony and I think about our next right steps, we are watching our little girl continue to grow and change. She turns a whole year old on Saturday and we are looking back fondly at how quickly time has already passed.

This week we’ve been watching Claire take her first actual steps!

Little Walker from Tony Peterson on Vimeo.

What is YOUR next right step? Will you take it?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Do It Afraid!

Of all of the many phobias out there, they say public speaking is one of the most common fears people have. Ok, I don’t know who “they” are, and I’m too lazy to look up a reference, but let’s just agree that “they” are pretty smart. Public speaking is terrifying! Some people are great at it, gifted even, and are energized when they get a chance to share in front of a large group. I am not one of those people.

Fortunately, most jobs do not require people to speak in front of large audiences. But, a few times a year, my job overseeing Growth Groups at Great Lakes Church requires that I do. I share for about 60 long seconds at the end of our 101 (Membership) Class. I also speak for about 45 minutes at our Growth Group Training class. Knowing I’ll have an audience of about 30, I always get a little nervous. But before our most recent training this week, I was overwhelmed with greater levels of insecurity and anxiousness than I’ve experienced in a long time! I was having vivid nightmares for a week leading up to the class.

In each dream I was late to the training. People were laughing at me. The training books were missing pages and had a ton of typos. Then people would get up and leave right in the middle of the class, completely mocking me. By the end of the class, not one person went on to lead or host a group and it was all my fault! Maybe your nightmares are scarier with “real danger” of people chasing you with guns or something, but I could not shake the way these dreams were making me feel. I talked to Tony about them and he laughed with/at me, but also assured me that Growth Group Training would be just fine. He had every confidence in me, I just had no confidence in myself.

I reached out to a couple of friends and asked them to pray for me. My biggest fear at this point was that I would have those dreams so stuck in my head that I would make them a reality. I would say the wrong thing. I would be boring and confusing. I would be unprepared and it would be obvious! Dreadful! One of my friends, while praying for me and encouraging me, shared with me this little gem:

“Even when you’re afraid, do it afraid!”

I’d never heard it put quite like that before. You mean, it is possible to still do something while being afraid? I don’t have to conquer the fear first? It sounded so simple, but it meant everything to me. Do it afraid!

I went on to read and re-read my notes, prayed and tried to relax, and finally I showed up to the training. We had more people attend this training class than ever before, which did not help my nerves. I originally asked our hosts to open their home for a group of about 30, and 58 showed up!

I was about to speak to 58 people and share with them my passion for groups. I was going to do my best to equip them with what they needed to know to successfully run their own groups. I needed to get their attention and hold it long enough that they would actually walk away with something new. How was I going to do all of that while still being me, afraid and insecure?

In the end, people squeezed into this house, nobody openly mocked me or walked out in the middle of training. I did stumble over my words a few times and even said the wrong name of the church which got a unanimous and loud “OOOHHHHHH”... And, in fact, one person was missing pages out of their book.

Still, people were gracious and understanding when we ran out of chairs. They played along with my silly games, engaged in conversation with one another, and by the time the night was over dozens of people shared with me their excitement in taking this next step to lead or host their own groups.

Going into this new season of Growth Groups, these 58 people are likely doing something they’ve never done before. I know it is very possible that they are nervous and maybe even feeling inadequate. Many others are leading groups they’ve never led like mission groups and study groups. There is always risk involved in moving into new territory like this. So, I’ll pass on to all of you the best advice I was given all week.

Even when you’re afraid, do it afraid.

Let us Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand

– Isaiah 41:10

God is with us and will continue to be with us as we stretch ourselves to be used by him for the sake of others. We can’t let that fear take over and rob us from these adventurous days!

Monday, December 13, 2010


Whether you are a church-goer, a Christ-follower, both or neither, you cannot deny that the Christmas season is here! Tony and I were talking a few weeks ago about what Christmas was like for us as kids. He remembered looking through the Toys R Us catalog and folding pages and circling all of the things he wanted. I remembered the year I got the red cable-knit sweater I’d been daydreaming of. Besides discovering that we had very different childhoods, we agreed that there were two prevailing questions around Christmas time…

Santa asks, "What do you want?"

Your friends ask, "What did you get?"

It occurred to me that Claire, having no idea what Christmas is, might be confused if these are the first things she learns about this special holiday. Both of these questions imply that Christmas is about “me”. It startled me to think that we could raise Claire to be self-absorbed and materialistic without even realizing it. It startled me even more to think of how hard I have to try each year to really remember what Christmas is about and not to get caught up in shopping and parties. So, Tony and I talked some more and dreamed up what we would want Christmas to look like for our family as Claire grows up. We want her to know Jesus. We want her to know why He came. We want to spend it as a family. We need our own traditions. We came up with our own plan to reflect and rejoice together, just the three of us.


In the traditional church calendar, Advent is the season to reflect and prepare our hearts for the coming King. I read what I could find about it and came across the Advent Wreath. I loved the idea, but didn’t care so much for the way it looked and couldn’t imagine having this green wreath with pink and purple candles sitting on a table in my home. I know, picky picky! But, hey, if we’re making our own traditions, I want something I can really live with. So, I designed my own.

Each bud vase is filled about half-way with sand to stabilize the candle then wrapped with red ribbon and a tag which tells us which word of the season to reflect on following the traditional Advent Calendar.

Inside our Advent Box, a recycled cigar box, are envelopes with a card inside telling us what we’ll read and which Christmas song relating to the word Tony will sing and play for us on the acoustic guitar.

So, each Sunday evening leading up to Christmas, we’ve incorporated our new tradition into Claire’s bedtime routine. We get our pajamas on, come out into the living room, and she watches while we light the candle. I'll share a short reading, Tony plays a song, we pray and then carry her off to bed.

Above is a close up of the book canvas I made to hang over our Advent display. Inspired by this blog, I chose books I've read that would reflect the heart of the season; My Utmost for His Highest, The Sacred Romance, a Bible and a Hymnal.

This how we've decided to reflect on each week of this Advent Season…
Week 1, Sunday, November 28th
We light the Hope Candle, traditionally the Prophets Candle
We read about the name Immanuel, God with us, and the promise foretold centuries before Christ was born.
We sing O Come O Come Emmanuel. Our current favorite version of this song is by Sufjan Stevens

Week 2, Sunday, December 5th
We light the Love Candle, traditionally the Bethlehem Candle
We read about Jesus as a Child, born in a manger.
We sing O Little Town of Bethlehem. Our current favorite version of this song is by Sarah McLachlan.

Week 3, Sunday, December 12th
We light the Joy Candle, traditionally the Shepherds Candle
We read about the shepherds from Luke 2:8-20.
We sing O Come all Ye Faithful. Our current favorite version of this song is by Chris Tomlin.

Week 4, Sunday, December 19th
We’ll light the Peace Candle, traditionally the Angels Candle
We’ll read about Jesus as the Prince of Peace, as the Angels declared in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good will toward men.”
We’ll sing O Holy Night. Our current favorite version of this song is by Michael Crawford.

Christmas Eve, Friday, December 24th
We’ll light the Noel Candle, traditionally the Christ Candle
We’ll read about Mary and the birth of Jesus from Luke 1:26 – 2:20
We’ll sing Silent Night. Our current favorite version of this song is by Phil Wickham (Thanks, Tyler!).

Our hope is that as she gets older we can add crafts and fun activities or maybe even a special meal each week that will help build these memories for us. This way we’ll have weeks of reflection before the glorious morning when she wakes us up at 5am, like we did to our parents, to open up all of the presents under the tree.

We'd love to hear the wonderful ways you've made this holiday special with your families!

Merry Christmas!