This week marks the beginning of Advent.

While I want to be the type of person who always thinks ahead and has detailed plans in place before they’re needed, I’m just not.

I used to be cool like that. When my kids were little, I had spreadsheets and lesson plans prepped for entire seasons. I knew where we were going and what we were doing every day of the week, sometimes the entire month. Of course, back then our whole world seemed under my control.

Now with two teenagers quickly growing toward autonomy, life looks different. I’m pulled in so many different directions, even big things like anniversaries and birthdays seem to sneak up on me. Part of me kinda hates it.

Anyone with me? Maybe your kids aren’t teens gently pulling away from your dictatorship. Maybe little ones under foot have zapped every ounce of mental energy you have. Maybe you’re just busy. Maybe life is really, really hard right now. Maybe 2020. It’s okay.

If you feel behind in this season, you’re not alone.

The bulk of my Christmas decor is still in my garage, and guess who remembered just last night that we threw away our Advent Candelabra during one of my purges of quarantine. (It was broken, and I intended to replace it, but … Well … Were you, too, among the hordes of people cleaning out their basements this summer?) So there I stood on Sunday night with two (not four) mismatched candles, scrounging for something to read, while one teen FaceTimed a friend about video games and the other ran off to play music in her room.

I reminisce fondly of those preschool days filled with themed art projects, field trips, and simple Bible lessons; meals and snacks coordinated to reinforce the season and the truths of life and God and wonder.

That was a great season! This season can be great, too.

It’s tempting to lament the loss of those uber-organized days, but the detailed plans were never the goal. The goal was to connect with my kids and lead our family in knowledge and growth. That goal hasn’t changed. The pursuit of that goal, however, may look a little different. It may be a bit less formal or controlled.

If you’re with me, here are a few tools that might help you toward that goal without requiring color-coded spreadsheets or too much advanced prep time.

Ready, set, tools!

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus

by Asheritah Ciuciu
Available in print, digital, or audio.
Find it here.

First, this book has a great deal of helps. You’ll find resources for why and how to celebrate Advent, lists of activities ready to roll, and some great material about names of Jesus. All good stuff.

Second, the book includes 28 daily readings and reflections, but it also has 5 easy-to-use scripts for once-weekly Advent celebrations. In other words, it tells you what Scripture to read, what questions to ask, and how to lead your family through the weeks of Advent. Voila! No prep. 🙂

Now, you could get this and read through it each day together as a family. You could just do the once-a-week devotion. You could encourage every family member (including teens/pre-teens) to read through it independently, then discuss it together as a group once or twice a week when you’re able.

The point: this tool gives you loads of flexibility! You can do as much or as little as you want, each bit helping you with that ultimate goal.

Touching Wonder

by John Blase
Available in print or digital.
Find it here.

This little book has almost become an annual read for me. It’s short — only twelve readings — and surprisingly powerful.

The author begins with Scripture: Luke 1–2, The Message. He then puts himself in the shoes of the characters, imagining what they might have felt or experienced. Then he adds a personal note of prayer and reflection.

This isn’t a theology book. It’s not an exegetical study. It’s an attempt to put flesh on a story that sometimes feels overplayed and too familiar. The purpose (as the subtitle says) is to recapture “the Awe of Christmas.”

I recommend this for personal use, reading with your spouse or good friends, or even with your teens. It’s going to go over the heads of little ones.

Before and After Christmas

by Debbie Trafton O’Neal
Available in print and digital.
Find it here.

I’ve given you one book that suits all ages, one for families with older kids (or no kids at all), and now this one. This is for families with littles.

Designed with full readings and activities to fill the days from Advent through Epiphany, this book offers more than 40 different ready-made opportunities to connect with your kids and with the season. Some are more involved than others; some are as simple as singing a song. Activities range from crafts to service opportunities. The format makes it easy to pick and choose which ones you want to do with your munchkins.

The point is: it’s ready to go! You don’t have to think about it, research it, or put it together. You grab the book, make sure you have supplies, and there you go.

Just so you know, most of the “supplies” you’ll need are probably already in your house: construction paper, tape, yarn or string, sticks from the backyard…stuff like that.

The Nativity Story

Available on DVD, digital purchase or rent.
Find it here.

Give purpose to your family movie night! Bible time doesn’t have to be a book or traditional worship time. It could be a film. This one is really well-done.

This dramatic re-telling of the Jesus’ birth may be a bit rough for younger kids, but it’s a beautiful, realistic portrait that could inspire some wonderful questions and conversations within your home.

If you have any Star Wars fans in your midst, you can always entice them with this trivia: Oscar Isaac plays Joseph. He’s the same actor who played Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens, and frankly, I think he does a tremendous job here.

Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

This isn’t explicitly Christmas or Advent, but it does touch on the subjects, and it is a beautiful way to engage your family in the wonder of the Gospel and the anticipation of His coming. This story speaks to the longing we have for salvation, the struggle we have in accepting and giving grace, and the lengths to which God will go to rescue us. I love this story so much!

The book is available in print, digital, and audio formats (find it here). You could read it together chapter by chapter or even listen to it while decorating the tree or baking cookies!

It’s also available for family movie night. If you have Disney+, you’ll find it included there. If you don’t, you can rent or purchase it online as a DVD or digital download (find it here).

BONUS: You could even snag a cookbook to make some Turkish Delight or other Narnian treat to enjoy while you watch. 🙂 The cookbook I have appears to be out of print, but I did find this other one that might prove worthwhile.

Remember why you’re doing this.

Whether you employ one of these tools or another of the many amazing resources available, remember your WHY.

It’s not about the schedule or even the tool. It’s not about the appearance or level of social media appeal. It’s about the connection and the focus.

Choose to celebrate the coming of Christ without stressing over what specifically is or isn’t done. He meets us where we are. He greets us with joy and hope and wonder. Let that be enough.