DIY Cork Christmas Tree

DIY Cork Christmas Tree

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A few weeks ago I was browsing around Pinterest (one of my favorite things to do) when I came across these adorable cork Christmas trees. (Find the original here.) Not only were they festive and cute, but they also looked relatively cheap and super easy to make.

In other words, for a beginner just venturing out into the crafting world, they were perfect!

So I got out the Hot Glue Gun and decided to make a few of my own. Here’s how you can make some, too!

These little guys are perfect to add a bit of personal flair around the house, to hand out as last-minute Christmas gifts, or even to make with your kids to give as gifts to their teachers.

Here’s What You’ll Need: 

  • For 1 tree, 2 bags of Cork Bottle Stoppers, all the same size (I got mine from Michaels)
  • Several sheets of decorative paper, one sparkly for star
  • Hot Glue Gun
  • 1 sheet of card stock or cardboard
  • Scissors
  • Base of some kind (cut piece of wood, bottle cap, more corks glued together)
  • Pencil
  • Toothpick

Start by gluing your cork bottle stoppers in the pattern shown in the picture above. Three for the bottom, four for the next row, three, two, and then one. For the second row of four, it helps to start in the middle and then work your way out.

While it dries, you can begin cutting out your paper circles for the ends of the stoppers. I just grabbed an extra stopper and traced around it with a pencil on a piece of card stock to form a template. Using the template, I then traced and cut out my 13 different paper circles. I used 8 different kinds of decorative paper, but you can use as many or as little as you like. The original cork tree I saw also left some of the stopper ends without anything glued onto them and let the cork show through instead, which is also a neat look. So definitely let yourself be creative here! Go with what looks good to you.

What the back of your tree should look like once you've added the star topper and base.

What the back of your tree should look like once you’ve added the star topper and base.

Once they’re cut, go ahead and begin gluing to the ends of the stoppers. I chose to go with a more simple look, but you can also glue some buttons or ribbon onto your tree as decorations. Once you’ve decorated to your satisfaction, it’s time for the topper!

I created another template by drawing a star onto a piece of card stock, cutting it out, and then tracing the outline with pencil onto my gold sparkly paper. (Silver would look pretty, too!)

There’s two basic ways you can attach the star to your tree. The one I saw online looked as though they just hot glued it to the top. I wanted mine to be a little sturdier, so I chose to attach it to a toothpick instead. After I’d pressed it into the very top cork, I glued the star on and then just cut off the remainder of the toothpick. You can still see some of the toothpick doing it this way, but I personally liked that look. Kind of gives it a cute “Charlie Brown Christmas Tree” feel, I think! 🙂

The final step for me was the base. This time of year we have lots of firewood around for the stove, so I just asked my dad to find me a few good looking branches to form into a base. Using a Miter Saw, we just cut it and used a piece of sand paper to make it a little bit more level.

Once you’ve glued your base, hand out and spread the merriment! 🙂

DIY Cork Christmas Tree

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A Beautiful Surprise

A Beautiful Surprise  by Elizabeth Veldboom Beautiful Surprise

When she saw the test was positive, she started to cry.

Thought about her boyfriend, an option, and a lie.

Got down on her knees, sent a prayer to the sky.

It looked like the very thing to ruin her life,

But now she’d never give up being a mama or a wife.

Because in the center of His will is the safest place to be,

And it’s here we start to see:

That sometimes love comes in disguise,

And it’s such a beautiful surprise.

When he got sick, the diagnosis looked bad,

He spent some time frustrated, spent some time mad.

Wrote a letter to God, demanding what He had.

But he made it through,

And even better, he’s right with his kids now too.

Because in the center of His will is the safest place to be,

And it’s here we start to see:

That sometimes love comes in disguise,

And it’s such a beautiful surprise.

The homeless man kept her from taking her life that night,

At the time nothing else seemed right.

Alone in her darkness, she’d never seen the light.

He looked like the guy who wanted to ruin her every plan,

But now she’s so thankful to that man.

Because in the center of His will is the safest place to be,

And it’s here we start to see:

That sometimes love comes in disguise,

And it’s such a beautiful surprise.

His ways are not our ways,

His thoughts are not our thoughts.

And when He gives the opposite of what we pray,

We often feel betrayed.

Jesus asked, “Father, let this cup pass from me.”

But in the center of His will is the safest place to be,

And it’s here we start to see.

I Asked God for Candy and He Gave me an Apple Instead

Candy AppleIt happens every year.

You know the kind.

It’s a terror beyond all terrors, horror unspeakable, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if there’s any hope for humanity at all…

The person who gives you an apple (and I’m not talkin’ caramel here, either) instead of candy on Halloween night. You know–because it’s “better for you” and “healthy teeth are important” and all that.

As a kid, didn’t that just grate on every single nerve you had? “What is wrong with these people?” kids everywhere ask, shaking their heads. “Don’t they understand us at all? Don’t they know kids want candy, especially on Halloween? What kind of torture is this?”

I wish I could say that as an adult I grew out of that phase. Because yes, while it is extremely annoying to go to a stranger’s door with hand held out expecting one thing and receiving another, the reality is, you’re still receiving something. They didn’t have to give you anything at all.

Unfortunately though, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve done the exact same thing in my relationship with God.

The mature part of me says, “I need to be thankful to receive. God is good, and I will absolutely accept whatever He wants to give me as what I need and not necessarily what I want.”

Then there’s the real me that gets the apple and throws a fit.

“Lord,” I pout, “You said ask, and you shall receive! So what’s up with this? Don’t you get me at all? Don’t you care?”

But it’s not just the silly, small things. Sometimes it’s about the really big things, too.

It’s about that time we prayed for healing, and healing didn’t come. That time we prayed for money to come in, and hospital bills rolled in instead. The time we asked for a promotion and found ourselves fired in the very middle of our prayer.

There are definitely times when we’re stomping our feet without cause. But then there are those times where the hurt and confusion runs deeper–where lines get blurred and all we can cry is, “God, why?”

Jesus says this in Matthew 7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11.) 

Still doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? If God wants to give us good gifts, then how on earth does prolonging our suffering accomplish that? How does an apple compare to candy?

What to do when the disappointment hurts? 

All of us know the first option. We can stomp our feet, demand a re-do, or even turn away from God completely.

That’s definitely one way. But as God has been showing me lately, there is another alternative.

We can trust Him and surrender to His love and plan for our lives.

If you’re anything like me, I bet those two words made every single muscle in your body clench. Surrender and trust are not words that come easily to the human vocabulary. Haven’t since the very day Eve decided that she could be like God, discerning between good and evil, and brought her own kind of apple to her lips.

We fight God. In fact, unless we are reconciled to Him through His son Jesus, we are even called His enemy. And I get it–to surrender sounds like a very pious, saintly thing to do: “I surrendered my life to God, and now I’m a new person.” Or how about, “Well, you just need to trust God, honey. He’ll get you through this.”

And all the while, the same people uttering those phrases are the same people who are walking straight past the pain. The problem, they imply, is you. Trust God at all times. Be patient. Hide your emotions, because they’re kind of unflattering, and we’d really rather not see them. You should probably deal with that.

Because of  regular, ol’ sinful people (evil, I believe is the term Jesus used), I think we begin to look at God the same way. The way they react to us begins to color the way we see God, and we assume He’ll react in an identical manner. “Enough with all of this. Go take your temper tantrum somewhere else,” we imagine God as saying.

But here’s the truth, dear heart: Jesus will not ever walk past your pain. 

When you come with your requests in prayer you come not only to the throne of God, but to the cross of Christ as well. Understand that though He is King and asks for you to surrender to Him as Lord over your life, He is also the very same Lord who surrendered to your sins and died to save your life.

You can trust Him.

You can trust Him even with your pain. 

SurrenderBecause here’s the thing: while the subject of surrender definitely involves the laying down of our pride, it has a lot to do with the laying down of our pain, as well.

Wounds we won’t allow Him to touch because we believe He’s the one who put them there in the first place, and how dare He ask us to trust Him that somehow those are meant for our good?

If we peeled back all the layers, if we looked at the root cause, we’d probably all admit that the fear to surrender lies in an even greater fear: that He doesn’t actually love us like He says He does.

It’s okay to admit. You won’t find any condemnation from me. Because every Christian faces this at one point or another, and when we do, we have two very clear choices in front of us: “Either Christ loves me, is completely holy and good, incapable of doing me harm, and I will trust Him to make decisions for me knowing that He has the right to make those choices, or I turn my back on everything He did on the cross to prove His love and right to rule my life, call it all a lie, and live life the way I want to.”

The pain, the anger, the questions–they have to go somewhere. And in my experience, the best place is at the foot of the cross.

Because it’s there The Mercy King waits to meet us. 

It’s a place you’ll go to often as a Christian. Because surrender is a continual thing. It’s something you’ll have to do over and over again, and that’s okay. It can be a long process. It might take a lot of yelling and crying and even rebelling to get there.

But it doesn’t always have to. 

Ask, Jesus said, and you’ll receive. No, I never said you’d receive exactly what you asked for, exactly the way you specified, but I did promise I’d work it all towards your good. I did promise to love unfailingly, to never leave you nor forsake you.

Seek, child of God. Ask your questions, bring your complaints, try to make sense of it all–and I promise you’ll find Me.

I promise you’ll find not just empty answers, but The Answer. The way, the truth, the life. I’ll hold you as you sob, I’ll take your doubts and show you my hands pierced for your sins, and yes, I’ll open my arms to you once more.

God has a good gift in mind for you and only you, His child. It may not be what you expected or asked for. It could be a new job that doesn’t look very pleasant at the outset. It could mean being set free of your past through forgiving someone else. It might even look like a dumb ‘ol apple that’s supposedly “good for you” and all that.

But no matter what, nothing will ever change His promise: Dearest child, I have a gift for you, and it’s gonna be a good one. 

You just might have to let go of the junk before you’ll be ready to receive it.

How to Save a Life

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(Note to the reader: This article originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of Susie Magazine which has since gone out of print. With the recent passing of Robin Williams and the worldwide discussion its sparked about mental health and how we can help, I thought it was a good time to share this again. Some names have been changed to protect privacy.)

Sasha and I had been casually swapping notes in math class—ready to chuck our hands underneath our desks as quickly as Jackie Chan if the teacher looked our way. Now I stared in confused horror at the words on the slip of paper she had passed me:

Suicide . . . more than 20 pills . . . molested . . .

Please, don’t tell anyone. I won’t be your friend anymore if you do.

I was in shock, but I still managed to write back: I won’t. I cringed as I handed the note back to her and thought about the promise I’d just made.

Now What?
What was I going to do? Sasha had just told me she wanted to kill herself. I’d never heard anything more heartbreaking in all my life, and I couldn’t just stand by and let something like that happen!

The burden I felt was enormous. I was probably the only one she’d shared this secret with, and I felt as though it was my responsibility to share this pain with her, to save her. But I was only 16—like Sasha! What could I do?

That night I read her note again, sobbing and praying. “Father,” I prayed, “what can I do? How can such evil exist? Help me, God. I don’t know what to do.”

All I wanted was a good, old-fashioned mom-hug. But would Mom understand? How could she know how badly this hurt? I finally decided to break my promise and headed to my older sister’s room. Unfortunately, she wasn’t the ally I was seeking.

“She’s probably lying,” Heather said.

“She’s not lying,” I replied. How could my sister think someone could lie about something so serious?

I decided to give my mom a shot at this and found myself enveloped in that desperately needed but strangely avoided mom-hug. As I cried into her shoulder, she said the most amazing thing: “It’s OK. I’ll take this now. You don’t have to carry it anymore.”

I’ll never forget the relief I felt, knowing it was no longer in my hands. My mom would take care of it. She knew what to do. I didn’t have to carry the burden any longer; she’d carry it for me.

The very next day my parents and I went to the principal’s office with the note in hand.

How to Help
Perhaps you have been where I was. Maybe a friend has sworn you to secrecy, and you’re torn between loyalty and helping her. Maybe you simply feel helpless and don’t know where to begin or what to do. I want to offer a few suggestions:

1. Take the threat seriously.
If your friend is showing signs of being suicidal (see “Signs That Your Friend May Be Suicidal” below), don’t assume she’s being overly dramatic or messing around. Fifty to 75 percent of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or a family member.

Unsure? Ask her! “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” Many suicidal people are looking for a way out. Your question just might give her the freedom to open up about the struggle she’s been facing, and give you an opportunity to help.

My older sister’s first inclination was to say that Sasha was just lying to get attention. While in some instances that could be the case, it would be much better to find out you’re wrong than to not do anything and discover you were right.

2. Drop the burden.
Bring an adult—a parent, youth pastor, principal, or someone else you trust—into the situation who can help you and your friend. Tell a parent, youth pastor, principal or another trusted adult. It’s not up to you to save your friend. He/she may need counseling or professional treatment for depression. This is too big for you to handle on your own!

This was tough for me to do, because I had to break the promise I’d made to my friend. By doing so, I knew I was also risking her friendship. But if I hadn’t told anyone, I would’ve never gotten Sasha the help she needed. In the end, I realized that keeping a promise could never be as important as keeping my friend alive.

If you can sense that a friend is getting ready to share something heavy with you—and she tries to make you promise not to tell anyone—try hard not to make that promise. Instead, say something like, “I really care about you, and there’s no way I’m going to promise not to share your secret. If you were holding a gun to your head, I’d tell someone. I care about you too much to leave you in danger. But I can promise I’ll never gossip about you. If I have to share your secret, it will be with a trusted adult who has your best interests in mind.”

3. Pray.
Prayer is one of the best ways of dropping burdens. No one cares more about your friend than God, and there’s no one better at saving than the Savior. So don’t even try to handle this by yourself. It’s too heavy.

Just as I had felt so relieved when my mom had promised to carry my burden, Jesus stands ready to do the same. Check out what He tells us in Matthew 11:28: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Isaiah 53 describes Christ as one who “carried our sorrows.” What amazing grace that we can just relax in our heavenly Father’s embrace, release our burdens upon His able shoulders and let Him do the work!

The burden of a suicidal friend should not and does not have to be carried alone. And my friend Sasha? She got the help she needed and soon returned to school with one last note to drop on my desk:

Thank You.

You’re a really good friend!

Signs that Your Friend May Be Suicidal
If you suspect a friend may be contemplating suicide, strive to honestly answer the following questions that may serve as motivation to get her the help she needs.

• Is she not as interested in friends or activities that she’s previously enjoyed?
• Has she neglected her personal hygiene and appearance? (Stops bathing as often, doesn’t care about her hair or clothing, etc.)
• Do you notice a declining performance in her grades, work or extracurricular activities?
• Have you noticed a personality change? Has she become sad, withdrawn, tired, apathetic, anxious, irritable or extremely angry?
• Does she express feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt or self-hatred? Does it appear as though she may lose control or harm herself or others?
• Has she started giving away personal items that mean a lot to her (iPod, special jewelry, etc.)?
• Is she inappropriately saying goodbye?

If you’re concerned that your friend may be considering suicide in the near future, you can get help by calling 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

If you or someone you know has been suicidal, what helped? What didn’t? What’s one thing you wish others understood about mental health/suicidal tendencies?

A Letter to My Niece

Dear Mackenzie,

I still remember laying my hand on your mom’s belly, praying you would kick for me. And when I felt your foot against my palm, tears filled my eyes and I praised God at the miracle that was you.

When you were first born, the doctor said in surprise, “Oh, she has red hair!”

We laughed with delight, because neither your mom or your dad has red hair. No one was expecting it, and it was such a fun surprise!

Even though your mom was adopted, I’ve always believed that God gave you red hair so that you’d look a little like your Nana, who has red hair, too. What a precious thing you share, and what a bond, even if it isn’t a bond through blood.

IMG_8436-copy--giggles-nose-to-nose-Alicia-&-Kenz copy

Photography courtesy of Polka Dot Portraits

As a baby and a toddler, everyone always complimented you on your beautiful red curls, your dimple-kissed cheeks, and your sparkling blue eyes. You have always been so very beautiful.

But my precious Kenzie, I know one day you’re going to look into the mirror and not like what you see. I know one day you might get made fun of for your pretty red hair and start to feel self-conscious about your smile. The world is going to tell you to straighten those curls out of your hair and find some way to make that porcelain skin tan and freckle-free. They’ll tell you to straighten your teeth and wear the right clothes. You’ll probably go through a stage of feeling tall and awkward and wrong in every way.

In fact, it’s already started. You’re only eight years old and just the other day you looked at me with tears in your eyes and frustration in your voice and said, “You look better than me!”

You almost refused to leave the house because you felt as though you didn’t look good enough.

If only you could have heard my heart break.

Dear Kenzie, my heart does break for you. For you and every little girl or a little girl all grown up who feels she’s not enough. You’re only eight years old, and already you feel inadequate.

I looked you right in the eye and told you the truth: “Mackenzie, you are beautiful just the way you are.” But it’s as if you didn’t hear me.

What changed?

Photography courtesy of Polka Dot Portraits

Nothing, as far as I can see. You are still just as beautiful and just as loved. You have been since the day you were born. But your little heart is more aware. More open and vulnerable to what others may say about you, and I’m sorry to say even the media has targeted you. You look with longing at TV princesses who have perfectly styled hair, makeup applied by animators, and tiny figures trimmed down by pencil. You watch the Disney channel where every actress has a makeup artist to keep her looking ideal. They make you think it’s what you’re supposed to look like. That they are the average, everyday girl.

But sweet Mackenzie, I knew it the day you were born and I know it now: you were never meant to be the average, everyday girl. You were meant to be extraordinary. You were fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14), and no one could ever replace you, no one could be more beautiful, no one could ever be you.

I know the world will try to tell you that beauty will buy love. That without beauty, you’re not worth anyone’s attention. I know, because it’s been that way ever since Eve first bit into that apple, sold on the lie that what she had wasn’t enough.

I know, because I’ve craved the lie too and come away even hungrier than before.

But here’s the truth: love is already yours. 

Jesus hung and bled on a cross out of His crazy love for You, and the Bible says nothing in all the world can separate us from that love. (Romans 8:35.) Not through being blemish-free, but because He is blemish-free.

Don’t ever forget how much you have to offer the world. Your tenacious spirit that refuses to give up, your boldness that will take on any boy who gets in your way, your fearlessness and willingness to try new things. Your intelligence, your heart for the elderly, your love of laughter and fun… so many things God has blessed you with!

But when you do forget, Macaroni, when you go through that stage of  feeling tall and awkward and wrong in every way–when the braces start to hurt and your heart begins to hurt more–I’ll be right here to remind you of the truth:

You are loved. 

You are beautiful. 

And you are an amazing kind of miracle. 

With all my heart,

Auntie Lizzie

Big Grin