#908 - Merry Christmas!

We want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas! We sent out just a few Christmas cards this year, so in this digital age we hope you'll accept a "card" via the blog. We love you all and are so grateful for our Lord Jesus allowing us to love and serve Him another year. We pray His blessings on each one of you as you celebrate His birthday!


#909 - A New Perspective

As many people in our culture, I grew up thinking Christmas was about me. I can remember greatly anticipating Christmas morning because I couldn't wait to count how many presents were for me. My parents were always so careful to be sure my brother and I had the same amount of gifts because they knew it would be a big issue if we didn't.

I. was. spoiled.

Lots of people told me that then, and I can freely admit it now. Yes, I knew Christmas was a time to celebrate Jesus' birthday. Our family always participated in an advent calendar together that was provided by our church. We always went to a Christmas Eve service. We loved singing Christmas carols, and most of the ones we sang pointed to Jesus. But, when I think back, my mindset at Christmas time for most of my 34 years was on myself and how I would benefit from opening presents on December 25.

Now it grieves my heart to see that in so many ways, I missed it. I missed out on the true meaning of Christmas because my focus was on self and not on Christ. I, in no way, fault any of my family members for this. They all did the very best they knew how and were so very generous. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that promotes self above everything and everyone else. I hear well-meaning people asking my children all of the time, "What did you ask for for Christmas? What's Santa going to bring you? Have you been good this year?" And the list goes on. Riley and I even had a conversation the other day about gifts at Christmas. Having small children has shown me how EARLY our selfish natures rear their ugly heads. Ella's still pretty clueless about Christmas and all that it entails. Riley, on the other hand, has experienced several Christmases so far, and he knows what's going on. So when I told him Christmas was just a few weeks away the other day, his response was: "Well you need to buy me presents then!" It hurt a bit to hear this immediate response because I realized WE had taught him this mentality. The past few Christmases he has been so showered with gifts that he assumes it will happen again this year.

It was time for a serious talk. I turned this one over to the man of the household. :)

Daniel sat down with Riley (Ella and I joined them, too) and explained that Christmas is not about receiving, but about worshiping Christ through giving. He then pulled out the Samaritan's Purse catalog and told Riley that this year we were going to begin a new tradition in our family. Instead of buying presents for Ella and Riley, we were going to let them look through the catalog and pick out anything (and as many things) they wanted to give away. Whatever they picked out, we would then give to Samaritan's Purse in their honor. Riley really got into this, and it was awesome to watch his compassionate heart take over. Daniel explained each of the 43 options with him, and he got to work picking out the ones he wanted.

So far, this has been my favorite part of the Christmas season. And it will for sure be an annual Bramlett tradition! I have loved watching how the Lord is transforming both Daniel and me during this time. He's using not only His Word but other people to confirm our convictions. Just two days ago I was reading an advent devotional called, "Joy! to Your World! A Countdown to Christmas," and here's what I read...

 Most of us go through the Christmas season focused on self ... on what we want and desire and deserve. Some people want a new house ... or a piece of great jewelry ... or for our children to come home for the holidays. Some folks emphatically believe that they deserve a Christmas bonus, a tree-laden with gifts or someone to clean the house for the holidays.

If these are your desires, you are missing it! You have Christmas all wrong! You are missing the hard lesson that the life of Mary teaches all of us today:

Our plans pale in comparison to His interruptions! The most significant desire that you will ever embrace is to ask God to interrupt your life with His love and His plans.

Mary learned, as we all must, that Christmas is not about me. Christmas is about dying to self, to preference and to normalcy. Christmas is the clarion call that none of us is able to live for human purposes ever again. We have all been embraced by the call of Christmas that resounds from Mary’s heart to our world today, “Live for His purposes! Live for Christ alone!”

Christmas is about the intervention of God into our ordinary lives; it is about Christ being born into our disappointments and failures.

Christmas is not about me - it is about Christ revealing Himself in me and to me! Now that’s something to celebrate!


#910 - Sibling Photo shoot

I in no way claim to be a wonderful photographer. I have a very basic digital camera, but I love to take pictures! Daniel makes fun of me all of the time for how many pictures I take. My response? "One day you'll thank me!" :)

A few days before Ella turned two we had a gorgeous day in the 60's. The trees were beautiful. I knew it was time for an amateur photo shoot of the almost-2-year-old and her big brother.

I sure do love these two! They are bigger blessings than I ever imagined possible! I'm thankful He entrusted them to us!


#911 - This Girl

**I didn't get to post this yesterday on her actual birthday because we were so busy!**

I can't believe this girl is 2 today!

I don't even know where to begin when trying to describe the enormous amount of love Daniel and I feel for the beautiful gift God gave us 2 years ago! Ella keeps us laughing, yet she can bring tears to our eyes in mere seconds with her compassionate and loving ways. Her personality is blossoming right now, and it is SO much fun to watch as she learns how to express herself. As you can tell from the picture below, though, she's never really struggled much with outward expressions of what she's feeling on the inside... :)

Our little pouty-lips was not happy to be removed from her Mama's belly!

And there's those furrowed eyebrows that she still displays multiple times a day!

Big brother was so excited to check her out! It was love at first sight.

Best buds from the beginning - now they're just trying to figure out how friends are supposed to treat each other. Oh, what fun it can be training them! ;)

Oh, that face! Thankfully, she no longer sticks out the lower lip. I'm thankful because I would be putty in her hands if she did!

How quickly these two have changed!

There's really no doubt they're brother and sister!

First visit to the beach. She wasn't a big fan of the sand.

Her 1-year photo shoot done by the amateur Laura Bramlett

Here comes little Miss Priss...Easter 2013

My sweet friend, Chelsea Gantt, took this one this past summer. I absolutely love it!

Wonder where she got those curls...

Little by little, she's growing!

Ella looks up to her brother so much. She will do anything he does...good and bad. If I want her to eat something, all I have to say is, "Look at Riley eating _____," and in her mouth it goes! We are currently walking through a competitive/jealous stage between the two. I am praying so hard that they will see one another as friends rather than foes. I'll be honest, though, I can't help but laugh when I hear Ella say, "Riyee (Riley), top it! (stop it)," or when she says with great emphasis, "No way!" I correct her as much as possible and try to diffuse the situations, but there have been several times that I've just had to look away and laugh for a second because her little voice and the way she pronounces words is so stinkin' cute!

She's completed 2 years of life, and I think she's ready to take on this third one. What do you think?!

Here are some fun facts about Ella at this age:
1. We went to the doctor for her check-up, and she's 25.2 lbs and 33.6 inches. She's petite for her age, but she always has been, so he's not worried.
2. Ella is a girly girl. She loves dresses, necklaces, bracelets, fancy shoes, purses, etc. However, she can hang with her brother outside pretty well. She's been known to eat a few tiny rocks at the church playground, and she finds no shame in climbing on her brother's old Lightning McQueen bike (the woes of being the 2nd child!).
3. She sucks her left thumb still, and I don't see the habit breaking anytime soon! I can't fault her, though...I sucked mine until I was 5.
4. Ella is a kisser. She loves to kiss us, kiss her stuffed animals, blow kisses to people, and just yesterday in Walmart she asked me if she could kiss a little boy who passed by in another grocery cart. I can see many a conversation about no kissing boys occurring in the near future!
5. Ella loves to cuddle. Many times throughout the day she'll come to me begging to be held. She then instructs me (in her adorable little language) to go "in dere (in there)" and sit on the "towch (couch)." When I sit down she snuggles up to me and is perfectly content just being held.
6. She adores her daddy! I love watching them interact and love on each other. I pray they will always have a strong relationship.
7. She is a Texan through and through. Her southern accent is hilarious, and she can draw out some words! One of my favorite phrases to hear her say is, "Come on!" It sounds kind of like "c'moan."
8. Ella is unashamedly addicted to whole milk. You better have her sippy cup full of milk when you first walk in her room in the morning, or you (and the rest of the neighborhood) will hear about it!
9. She still wears mostly 18-month clothing - as opposed to her brother who has always worn clothes bigger than the typical child his age (he's in 5T currently).
10. Ella loves God. She loves to pray, and it is absolutely precious to listen to her talk to her Maker. A lot of the words we still can't understand, but that's okay! She even changes her tone of voice when she begins to pray - she gets softer and more gentle. I love it!

I remember before Ella was born being concerned that I couldn't love another child as much as I loved Riley. The Lord set out to prove me wrong on that one! Ella is such a lovable girl - in fact, one of my former youth in South Africa gave her the African name, "Uyathandwa," which means, "she is loved." And yes, she is SO loved! Not just by her family, but more importantly, by her Heavenly Father. I'm thankful for His reminder all of the time that He loves her more than we ever could! She is Yours, Lord! Use her for Your glory alone!


#912 - Operation Christmas Child 2013

I can't remember the first time I packed a shoebox full of helpful items to go overseas through Operation Christmas Child. What I do know is how meaningful it has been throughout the years to share just a little of my resources to bring a smile (and the GOSPEL) to children all around the world. So, when we started having children, I knew this would continue to be a 'tradition' in our family. I think it is SO important for my children (who have SO much) to learn about others who may have no toys, school supplies, hygiene products, etc. I have been to places in the world where this is the case. And to whom much is given, much is required!

Right now, our tradition is to send a box to a little girl and a little boy. Here's little miss topping off her box with some candy.

And brother giving candy to his little boy's box

Our boxes are complete!

Without prayer, these boxes are just full of fun stuff. We took some time to dedicate our boxes to the Lord and ask that He use these Christmas presents to make Himself known to the children who receive them. Our prayer ultimately is that they know there is a God who loves them and wants a relationship with them. Here's our sweet oldest praying the most precious prayer!

Our church is a collection site for our area, so this week the Family Room at our church is full of huge boxes full of smaller OCC boxes. The tradition at our church is to kick off collection week by placing all of our boxes on the altar at the front of the church the Sunday before the week of collection. During the service, our children walked their boxes down to the altar from the back. Such a sweet time! Here they are waiting for their chance in the service to walk down.

Just some of the boxes collected

Here they come!

For the first year, Samaritan's Purse opened an OCC processing center in Dallas. Once the boxes leave our church they will head that way. Volunteers there will go through every single box making sure there's nothing in them that would melt or spill, and then they'll box them up to head to various countries. My goal for the near future is to help at the processing center. A long-time goal of mine is to be on a team that actually delivers the boxes to villages in another country. And the icing on the cake would be if our kids could deliver them with us! What a blessing that would be! 

If you have no clue what I'm talking about in this post, please go to the Operation Christmas Child website and find out!