Author Archives: Laura Cooper

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Giving Better Christmas Gifts to our Children

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Giving Better Christmas Gifts to our Children

by Laura Cooper, Strategic Development Director of FamiliesAlive

Black Friday is just a few days away! Do you feel weary already? It know I do!

Did you know that the average American family is expecting to spend $967.13 this year on Christmas presents? In a culture with a relentless thirst to obtain more and more “stuff”, we as Christians are called to resist this trend, but that is often easier said than done.

How can we do things differently this year? How can we honor God with our gift giving? How can we give better, more meaningful gifts to our children this Christmas? Read on to find out!

What the Bible Has to Say

As Christian families raising up the next generation of believers, we are called to take every opportunity to teach our children about God and His plan of redemption for us. And yes, this applies even to how we give Christmas gifts!

While there is no “perfect way” to do this, there are two important Biblical principles we can follow:

First, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. We should do all we can to remain focused on that story as a family during the holiday season.

The prophet Isaiah neatly sums up the reason we celebrate Christmas: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.”

Second, the Bible is quite clear that the pursuit of material possessions is a lifestyle to be resisted by those who follow Jesus.

As Paul says in 1 Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10)

It is clear that the culture we live in is one marked by an obsession with accumulating possessions, especially around the holiday season. And as Christians, we need to be very wary and intentional if we are going to avoid self-indulgence and limitless consumerism!

Let me introduce you to one way you can follow Biblical principles while giving gifts to your children this Christmas.

The Three Gifts Practice

The Three Gifts practice is a model of gift giving my family has used for years. The idea is that parents give three gifts to each child: a wanted gift, a needed gift, and a spiritual gift. This practice is rooted in the Christmas story, because it is modeled after the three gifts that the Magi brought to Jesus at his birth: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Gold: A wanted gift

The first gift of the Magi, gold, was a royal gift indicating that the wise, powerful kings from the east saw Jesus for what he was; the King of Kings. Gold symbolizes a gift of great value, one that is greatly desired. In our family, the gift of gold has come to represent a “want” gift, something from our personal wish lists that we desire to have.

Want Gift Ideas:

  • Toys
  • Electronics
  • Hobby-related gifts
  • Anything off their wish list

Some of my most memorable “want” gifts:

  • An American Girl doll
  • Tickets to our local theater
  • A karaoke machine

Frankincense: A spiritual gift

Frankincense was a type of incense used in temples. Priests would burn it ceremonially in their routines. As a gift presented to Jesus, it set him apart as our High Priest. For us today, this gift represents a spiritual gift, something that draws us closer to the heart of God and aids us in our walk of faith.

Spiritual Gift Ideas:

Some of my most cherished spiritual gifts:

  • My treasured leather prayer journal
  • A handmade jewelry box featuring a favorite Bible verse
  • A bracelet with the word “Perseverance” inscribed on it

Myrrh: A needed gift

The third and final gift the Magi gave Jesus was myrrh. In those days, myrrh was used as a medicinal product, an ointment to heal wounds. It was also used as an embalming agent when someone dies, foreshadowing Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. The gift of myrrh can be understood as a gift that we “need”, one that is practical and useful.

Need Gift Ideas:

  • Bedding
  • Clothing
  • A pair of shoes
  • Gift cards
  • A kitchen appliance or accessory

Some of the best “need” gifts I have received:

  • A gift card to go shopping with my dad for new clothes
  • Debt forgiveness on a loan given to me by a family member
  • An Omaha Steaks gift package

Summing Up

I have grown to love the tradition of the three gifts and I can’t wait to practice it when I have my own children. It is a powerful way to intentionally resist the crazed consumption this season is known for while keeping our children (and ourselves!) focused on the story of Jesus’ birth.

Bonus: Not only does this practice seek to honor God, but it is also budget friendly. In my family, sometimes these gifts were larger and sometimes they were smaller, depending on how we were doing financially that year. The genius of the three gifts practice is that it can be tailored to fit any budget.

Are you feeling weary of our culture’s obsessive pursuit of self-indulgence through consumerism? Are you dreaming of a simple family Christmas focused on the birth of Jesus? If so, give this method a try!

While you’re at it, we encourage you to take a look at the Words of Grace family devotion series as a potential spiritual gift. This series will draw your family closer to each other and to the Lord, and 100% of the profits go back to equipping parents to disciple the next generation. Learn more about it here.

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Forcing Family Fun: When Your Kids Don’t Want To Participate

By Becky Shultz
Curriculum Developer, FamiliesAlive
Homeschooling mom of 6

A Crazy Question

There we were…sitting at Chipotle with two other families after a U14 soccer game. Ben (our 16-yr-old son) was missing his partner in crime, Big Brother Aaron (18), who was serving on a mission trip out of the country. He had just been given his burrito, and was coming toward us. I saw the look on Ben’s face when he realized he had a choice to make. Sit with the littles (three 13-yr-olds, two 11-yr-olds) or sit with the (wait for it) parents. My friends and I invited him to sit with us. Seeing as how we’re all pretty cool, Ben’s choice was a no-brainer. 😉

Talk was light for a while. Laughter, banter, fun. My son is rather engaging, so his participation at the adult table was enjoyable.

I don’t remember exactly how it went down, but I know that the conversation got real real, real quick. One of the dads, who happens to be a good friend to our whole family, looked straight into Ben’s eyes and said, “Give us some advice on parenting teens!”

My boy was like Whaaaaa????


*Cricket* *Cricket*

“Just tell us what your parents do well and what they don’t do well.”

At this point, Mama was like WHO INVITED THIS KID TO THE ADULT TABLE??????

Ben started. “Well…”

Oh, boy! Here it comes…

I was sure he was going to begin with the bad stuff. And, believe me, there is plenty of bad stuff. Not only that, but this dad just asked what my teenage son thinks…about what we don’t do well. Are you hearing this? There are things I know we do well that fall into the category my teens think we DON’T do well. What was my friend thinking asking this question?

But, in all seriousness, if I’ve learned anything over the years it’s that parents need to be real with each other. And I don’t mean venting on social media about our kids’ (or spouses’, or parents’, or friends’, or neighbors’) mistakes. If my kids, my husband, my parents, my friends, my neighbors all shared on social media every time I screwed up? Well, you get the point.

So, I loved that my friend was questioning my teen. I figured I wouldn’t like his answer, but I wanted to hear it and I wanted my fellow teen-raising parent-friends to hear it, as well. Of course, my eyeballs were fully loaded and ready to roll at Ben’s answer (after all, eye-rolling is an art form many of us master during our teen years).

A Surprising Answer

Now, back to Ben. His answer was simple, yet powerful. Encouraging. He may have had other answers, but this one answer sparked incredible conversation, and I just knew that I had to share it with you parents!

“Well, the things that have become the best memories were things we did as a family that my parents forced me to do.

Ben went on to talk about our family game nights, our times playing at the park, family disc golf, fall colors’ drives, our family trips, field trips, and even our homeschool trips to other states. He recounted so many times that he didn’t want to participate, but how those times are the exact memories that he treasures. He remembers having FUN, even as I remember that he really didn’t act like it.

My eyes did NOT roll at my boy’s answer, but my jaw certainly dropped. And I know I shed a tear or two, even though Mama’s tears elicit eye-rolls from most of my kids most of the time.

Forcing Fun

Ben’s answer was music to my ears. You guys, we had to make this boy play games at the park with us — kickball, soccer, ball tag, football, relay races. Ben just wanted to sit in the dirt and sulk, or ignore the rest of us and play on the tire swing all by himself (we actually made a deal with him early on — he could sit and sulk, he could play by himself for a little while. Then he had to come join the rest of us in family fun). We had to make him get in the car to drive to some of our favorite disc golf courses. My husband and I had to put our joint foot down and say, “We know you don’t really want to drive through the mountains today looking at the fall colors, but this is what we’re doing.”

Can you guess which one is Ben? Hint: look for the grumpiest face!

Can you guess which one is Ben? Hint: look for the grumpiest face!


Another family fun day in the mountains...another cranky Ben.

Another family fun day in the mountains…another cranky Ben (on the far right).

Familiar Phrases

Ben wasn’t the only one. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve said things like…

Our family does not revolve around you.

This is who we are, this is what we do.

You WILL participate.

I bet you’ll actually enjoy our time today.

WE ARE THAT FAMILY! (Thank you to whomever coined that phrase!)

Do these sound familiar to you?

Final Encouragement

If so, my encouragement to you is, it’s okay! Be that family! You may not have a teenage son who’s already realizing the beauty of being forced by his parents to enjoy and participate in family activities (Lord knows it’s taken some of my other big kids longer to realize, and will likely take my last littles longer, too), but that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of these times together become lasting memories, times that are treasured.

Therefore, parents, you have permission. Permission to make your children do things that they don’t want to do, to force them into family fun. And who knows? One day, they may even thank you for it!

“Forced” Family Fun years ago in the Shultz home 🙂

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How to Deal with Halloween?

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By Laura Cooper

Does Halloween have you going crazy? It does for me! For a very long time, Halloween has been a source of debate and confusion in the Christian community. Many families, including my own, have wrestled with this question: How should we deal with Halloween?

I personally know Christian families that have landed all over the spectrum in how they respond to Halloween.

Some families celebrate Halloween but abstain from scary costumes, ghost stories, and the superstitions of the holiday. Some families don’t trick-or-treat, but participate in their church’s harvest festivals. Other families that choose to celebrate Reformation Day or All Saints’ Day instead. Others have a strict no-participation rule.

I’m not here to tell you which of these responses are right or wrong. But I am here to affirm that this is an important conversation, and to give you some general guidelines that will help you make a Halloween decision for your family.

Three Steps to Dealing with Halloween

1) Integrate your Faith into your Decision

The wrong, unbiblical approach to Halloween would be to ignore it completely, or to say that it doesn’t matter because it’s “just fun”. God isn’t just the God of our Sunday mornings. He is Sovereign over every aspect of our lives! God calls us to honor Him with everything we do.

Biblical decision-making involves Scripture, prayer, and seeking advice. As you think about Halloween, read Scripture, looking for principles that will guide you towards holy living. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Seek God’s will in your quiet time. And ask other Christian mentors, leaders, and parents for advice.

2) Include your Children in this Conversation (in age-appropriate ways!)

At FamiliesAlive, we believe that open, authentic communication builds trust and models good decision-making skills for your children. Teach your children about the pagan origins of Halloween, and what the Bible has to say about the spiritual world and how we are to engage our world. Talk together as a family about what it means to honor God in situations like this. Read your children Scripture passages and verses that apply to this conversation.

3) Trust God’s Grace

We’re human, and we’re never going to get things exactly right on this side of heaven. Remember, plenty of strong, Christian families have differed across the spectrum when it comes to Halloween. We will never be perfect parents, but we do have a perfect God that is full of grace when we make mistakes. We must trust in that great grace as we make tough decisions!

A Personal Story and a Creative Solution

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has wrestled with the Halloween decision for years. In 2012, we came up with a creative solution to the problem that I would like to share with you. We call it “Trick-or-Can”.

Each year on Halloween, we gather family friends together for a potluck chili dinner.

Afterwards, we break into groups and head out through the neighborhood with big canvas bags, knocking on doors. As our neighbors open the door to give us candy, we explain that we are collecting canned goods for a local food bank, to help those that have less than us. Most neighbors are able to run back to their pantries to find something to donate. Since we’ve been doing it for several years now, many neighbors have come to expect us, and they have cans of food ready by the door!

Dad drives around in the family Suburban, meeting up with the different “collection teams” and putting the collected goods in the trunk.

The day after Halloween, we take all the food items to the Denver Rescue Mission, a Christian organization that supports homeless people in the downtown area.

I love this tradition because it redeems a pagan holiday for the glory of God. The kids still get the fun of dressing up in costume and getting candy from the neighbors, all while learning about serving and taking care of others. The people in our neighborhood get to see the light of Christ at work within us, and the dinner before is a great way to build community and participate in Christian fellowship.

It’s a creative solution that captures the heart of what it means to be in the world, but not of the world.

Final Thoughts

As you decide how to deal with Halloween in your family, I hope you’ll think creatively as you seek to honor God. If you’re interested in integrating “Trick-or-Can” into your family’s traditions, feel free to contact me at with any questions you may have!

How do you deal with Halloween as a family? Do you have any creative solutions? How did you come to your decision? Comment below! We want to hear your thoughts!

Other Resources

Here are a few articles representing widely-varying positions about Halloween that may be helpful to you as you make your decision. (The views expressed in these articles do not necessarily represent the views of FamiliesAlive, but they were helpful for me as I did research for this article):

Christians and Halloween

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Kirk Cameron on Halloween

Seven Reasons Why a Christian Can Celebrate Halloween

Why Christians Should Absolutely Not Celebrate Halloween

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The Pinterest Trap

Last night, I fell victim to the Pinterest Trap.

Let me set the scene for you:

I get married in two weeks, and I am right in the throes of wedding planning. It was late, and I had been working furiously for hours. At the moment, I was scouring Pinterest, looking for the perfect, DIY, low-budget, shabby chic, über-creative way to display the seating chart for the reception. I just could not find one, and I was getting frustrated and emotional.


And then I looked at the time. It was 2 am, I had work the next morning, and I was almost in tears over a seating chart. A SEATING CHART!

Since getting engaged in December, I have insisted that I will keep my priorities straight, that I will not let the wedding take over my life, that I will not become a Bridezilla. And I have done a pretty decent job so far.reasons

But last night was a gut-check for me, as I had to confront myself and ask: “Am I really approaching this whole wedding thing right?” I’m not so sure I am.

Social Media and a Cultural Crisis

Like other forms of social media, Pinterest is a great tool when used properly. It is an amazing idea generator, and I would be lost without it.

But it also has a huge shadow side, what I call the “Pinterest Trap”. It sucks us into a fantasy world that leads quickly to coveting and greed. It sets an unattainable (and stressful!) expectation that every detail of our lives must be unique and meaningful and perfect. It espouses a worldview of perfectionism whether in wardrobe choices or house décor or meal prep or workouts or weddings.

But lest I be seen as a Pinterest-basher, make no mistake: Pinterest is not the enemy, but it is symptomatic of a greater cultural crisis, one where image trumps substance.

And when the image we project becomes more important than the substance we contain, we have a serious problem:

We have become a society of perfect weddings and failed marriages.

Some Hard Questions

If you asked me, “What are you doing to prepare for your wedding?”, I would rattle off, “Well, today I booked our hotel and designed the program and finalized the décor plan and ordered flowers and tasted wedding cakes and…”

But if you asked me, “What are you doing to prepare for your marriage?” I would be harder-pressed to come up with an answer.

I am convinced that Christian marriages are successful when two people with a commitment to each other and to God consistently act in ways in alignment to those commitments.

And that leads me to ask myself some hard questions:

Am I pouring into my walk with Christ with the same fervor I put into my seating charts and spreadsheets?

What is more important to me, staying true to my 30-day fat-blast pre-wedding workout plan or spending time with my Savior?

If I am criticizing my fiancé and causing conflict over a small wedding detail that he let fall through the cracks, am I not prioritizing my wedding day over my marriage?

What Do I Want More?

If I had to choose, I would rather have a simple, no-frills, courthouse wedding and 70 years of successful marriage than a Pinterest-perfect wedding and a divorce down the road.


Of course, no one gets married intending divorce, and I am not saying that you cannot have a beautiful wedding AND a successful marriage. What I am saying is this:

You cannot pull off a big, amazing wedding if you do not put months of hard work into it. How much more, then, will a marriage fail if you do not prioritize that hard work of intentionally nurturing your relationship?

Getting My Priorities Straight

I want to be a wife who is more concerned with her character than having that perfect wedding.

I want to be a wife who cultivates habits of intimacy, good conflict management, and communication over tending to her Pinterest boards.

I want to be a wife who sacrifices a morning workout to spend time with her Savior.

I want to be a wife who prioritizes showing love to her husband and practicing hospitality to others, even if it means sacrificing a perfectly clean apartment.

It is time to get my priorities straight.

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10 Reasons Why Growing Up in a Big Family is the Best

By Laura Shultz

As the oldest of six kids, I’ve learned a thing or two about the joy (and pain!) of having a big family. Looking back over my childhood, let me share just a couple reasons why growing up with a lot of siblings is basically the greatest thing ever.

1. It’s impossible to be bored or lonely, because with siblings, every day is a playdate!


 2. Growing up with siblings really toughens you up.



3. No one ever messes with you, because they know they’ll have to answer to your big brother or sister.

stand up

As a big sibling, I know this well. I get to beat up on my little siblings, but if anyone else tries to, they’re going down!

4. You and your siblings have enough people to field your own kickball team.

kickball fail

Which may, sometimes, end badly.

5. More kids = more birthdays. More birthdays = more cake. Need I say more?


6. It’s scientifically proven* that your immune system is stronger, because you’ve already been exposed to so many germs.


*Maybe not scientifically proven. But I’m convinced.

7. Laughs. SO MANY laughs.


…usually, it’s because one of the kids farted at the dinner table. Only the finest of humor.

8. 15-passenger vans are the sweetest ride around.

They see me rollin’, they hatin’…

9. You always have someone to catch you when you fall.


Literally, and metaphorically!

10. Most importantly….the Bible says that children are a blessing from the Lord. And if, like me, you’ve been blessed to grow up with a whole brood of them, you’ll know that this is SO. TRUE. Sure, we fight and get on each others’ nerves. But we’re each other’s best friends, closest allies, and biggest supporters. And that’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.