Advent

Balancing Advent

balancing advent

 This is what I found this morning as I entered the kitchen. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. It's been that kind of Advent. Rather than lay out my laundry list of gripes, let me just say, we've been busy and stressed. Our whole family feels it... as evidenced by the circus Nativity.

Two days ago I had my own stint with acrobatics, when I fell down the stairs in our house. If someone had been recording my fall, I'm sure it would qualify for a least a small frame on AFV. While I am pretty certain there are no broken bones, I am sore. My back is sore, my neck is sore, my shoulder is sore; and don't ask me how, but even my hair hurts.

My "bounce back" time at over 40 is certainly less than it was 20 years ago. At 3am this morning, my not-so-bouncy-body woke me up. Pain is hard to sleep through so I got up, lit the Advent candles and had a little solitude and silence.

The three Advent candles put off such a glow, I could read these words,

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have light of life." -John 8:12

Our house has large windows that circle the perimeter to let in the light, but this morning at 3am there was no light from outside, no light from inside except the Advent light.

Advent light was more than enough to see by. It was more than enough to bring comfort and calm. It was more than enough to offer healing both to body and soul.

Take a moment to focus your gaze on the circus Nativity, which person stands out to you? Ask the Spirit to show you why this person draws your attention. Reflect upon your life and responsibilities, ask the Spirit to show you some areas in your life that are well balanced. Give thanks. Reflect again, and ask the Spirit to show you some areas that are unbalanced. Tell these to the Father, ask for guidance.

Blessed Trinity, thank you for reminding me that Advent is your open invitation to peace.

These Things Take Time

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany This time of year is the busiest. Gifts to buy, parties to attend, food to make,and that is in addition to work, school and kids. On our continent, creation has taken its cues from the earth and is slowing down.

 

During Advent the first signs of winter come. The trees are brown, animals are hibernating, and the sun sets earlier. There is more dark than light. Dark gives the signal to our bodies—slow down, reflect, and savor. It never makes sense to go against God’s already established rhythm. 

Advent is waiting time, where the air is literally pregnant with the presence of God. Like all pregnancies, too much stress and strain is not good for growing. So slow down, make the space each day to watch and wait as your family grows with Mary’s belly, ripe with the Christ child.

I encourage you to change gears this year. Get off the holiday treadmill, and savor these quiet moments of Advent.

Say “No, thanks,” to a few invitations and responsibilities, “I’ve got a baby to wait for.”

 

What would it look like to choose a slower pace this season?

 

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Fasting During Advent?

Wreath

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

 Fasting during the Holiday Season? Yes! Fasting has been used as a tool for thousands of years to help us listen. By turning off other things we open our hearts and minds to God who longs to whisper his great love to those who will listen. There are many ways and many things that we can fast to prepare for the Royal Baby.

This time of year strikes fear in the minds of all parents who have the foresight to consider all the sugar their children are about to ingest. As a family, save all sweets for Sunday. Sundays are traditionally celebration days, even during a time of fasting. Every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection—and what better way to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” than by saving the sweets for Sunday? Remember we are moving “counter-clockwise” to our culture. Here in the season of  Advent, we actively wait.

 Fast from media, when all family members are together. Evenings are usually the best time for most families. You can replace usual TV time with a Seasonal Fun activity, a family game, or read together. Try The Story of The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.  http://www.paracletepress.com/the-story-of-the-other-wiseman-new.html

Two Saturdays during Advent eat rice and beans only. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Discuss what it must be like to have this every day. Decide as a family on a charity you would like to work with during the Holidays.

Give up your gifts. Fast from giving gifts to each other this year. In-stead, use the money to buy gifts for a family in your community who has very little. Plan a covert operation to drop off the gifts without being caught. Spend all four weeks of Advent planning.

A few last words from Augustine

"In his fasting, therefore, let a man rejoice inwardly in the very fact that by this fasting he is turning away from the pleasures of the world to make himself subject to Christ, who in the words of this precept wants him to have his head anointed. With the same intent he will be washing his face, that is, cleansing his heart whereby he is to see God, with no veil intervening because of a beclouding infirmity- firm and unshaken because he is clean and upright. "

 

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On Wreaths and Singing

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany... Advent  Wreaths

Traditional Advent wreaths have four candles to represent the four weeks of Advent, three purple candles and one pink. (The colors can vary depending on the church tradition.) The wreath itself is usually made of evergreen branches to represent everlasting life in Jesus. The circle of the Advent wreath signifies God, who has no beginning and no end. Some modern wreaths have a single white candle, lit on Christmas Eve, in the middle that reminds us that Christ is the focus. Our family has remade some of the Advent traditions.

I’m not a big fan of pastels, so each November, I let the kids choose new candles in anticipation of the coming of Advent. Instead of the birth order deciding who lights the candles, we simply take turns. A good time to celebrate Advent is during the dinner time meal.

Unfortunately, for us, it doesn't work so well. My husband works shift work, and many times he’s not home during dinner. So we may celebrate at breakfast, lunch,dinner, or even stop in the middle of the afternoon. If he can’t make it we proceed without him, praying for him in his work.  We begin our celebration by lighting the candle(s) for the corresponding week. 

Boisterous Singing?

Singing is a product of celebration and worship. Humans instinctively sing when we’re happy and often we sing when we are in “awe” of something or someone. Think of all the love songs in this world. Advent is both a raucous celebration and a reason to worship—to sing our love songs to God. If you are not much of a singer you may be inclined to skip this section; please don’t. Give it a week, sing with all you have, and see if your body, mind and spirit don’t follow.

If you are celebrating Advent with your children, they  will love it and in fact they need it. A great way to learn is through song, by repetition. For that reason we encourage you to sing the same song each day for one week. By the end of the week you may be sick of it, but your children will have learned it, and hidden those words of love, joy, celebration, and worship in their hearts.

What does your practice of Advent look like?

What songs move you into worship?

 

 

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Preparing for Advent

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An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany I  hear the laments of parents. I am a lamenting parent. Christmas is too much about the stuff. The stuff begins to clog up the supermarket aisles as early as September. My kids are bombarded by ads trying to get them, to get me, to want to buy them their heart’s desire of shiny junk. As a Christian I want to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a way that honors him and follows in his ways.

Advent is four weeks of preparation for the King of Creation. When we put it that way it almost seems that four weeks isn't long enough. Blue is the color for the season, specifically Royal Blue as my eldest daughter reminds me, because Jesus is the King. I admit sometimes I forget that. With all thsale ads and the meals to prepare and the ever present Christmas music, I can hardly think, I can hardly remember.

Advent is preparation, it’s remembering that Royal Blue is for a Royal King. With all the distraction that is modern life,plus the added distraction of Christmas, we need ways to rememberSeveral years ago at Ridgeland Community Church some saintly ladies taught me the importance of Advent. They limped my non-crafty self through the process of making an Advent wreath. They taught me the significance of preparation for the Christ Child. I am forever grateful. Through the practice of Advent I learned to lean in and celebrate this blessed season. During those first few years of practicing Advent it was just my husband and I, and surprisingly we never fought over who got to blow out the candles. Now, my children take turns to see who gets to blow candle wax all over the table. Advent is a staple in our home. It is a practice that grounds us to the truths of Jesus.

What do some of your Advent practices look like?

How do they draw you into the quiet preparation for the Christ child?

 

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Dirt-Advent-Christmastide-Epiphany/dp/1482697459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416502191&sr=8-1&keywords=good+dirt

What are your markers?

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I like to think of the Seasons of the Church as an opportunity to mark our lives by the life of Jesus. Everyone marks their lives by something. Often as parents we mark our lives by the developmental stages of our children. Or we might mark our lives by a joyful and traumatic events. For one year, what would it look like to mark your life by the life of Jesus?

Our children are still going to develop, we will still have joy and trauma, but what would it look like to step back and see these markings within the vision of the life of Jesus?

Advent starts Sunday November 30th. You can purchase Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany here.

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Dirt-Advent-Christmastide-Epiphany/dp/1482697459/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415985946&sr=8-1&keywords=good+dirt

It can also be downloaded for free on our web site.

Here's an excerpt from Good Dirt...

"In this devotional we are immersing our lives in the life of Jesus by celebrating the Seasons of the Church. Another way to say it is that we are marking our lives by the life of Jesus. The Christian Church began formally celebrating Easter as early as 325AD, and even before that Israel had seasons of fasting and feasting to mark their story with God throughout the ages. There is a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. 

The seasons follow a pattern of preparation, celebration, and then living out what we have prepared for and celebrated. In Advent we prepare for God with us, at Christmastide we celebrate God with us, and during Epiphany we step into a life with God. In Lent we prepare for our own death and the death of Jesus, at Eastertide we celebrate that he died, is risen and us with him, and during Pentecost and Kingdomtide we live out his resurrection and ours.

We are meant to live seasonally. Who can feast all the time without becoming a glutton? Who can fast or mourn all the time without losing their mind? When our days lose the gift of thankfulness and celebration we become a depressed and dying people. As the physical seasons set the rhythm of the earth, so the church seasons can set our rhythm to the rhythm of Christ."

So how about it?

One last word from Carlo Carretto, "To have found God, to have experienced him in the intimacy of our being, to have lived even for one hour in the fire of his Trinity and the bliss of his Unity clearly makes us say: 'Now I understand. You alone are enough for me.'"

Purpose in Struggle

This week led to some profound discussion in my home.  There were topics that seemed pretty heavy for a 10 and 13 year old.  “Why did He let them arrest Him?”  “Why did He heal the people who were there to kill Him?”  Our discussion (as always) steered us in a direction I did not anticipate. Jesus came to earth for a purpose and it wasn’t so that we could spend too much money giving gifts and sing carols once a year.  He came, fully God and wrapped in confining flesh, to do nothing less that offer salvation to a lost world.  To save us.  To show us the greatest love that the world has ever known.  At any time He could have given up.  He could have decided that it was too uncomfortable to live a life limited by the constraints of a human body. He could have returned to Heaven. Every day that He lived on Earth he made a choice to finish he task that was set before Him.  A task that was more than difficult but had a greater purpose than the suffering He would endure.

Everyone has to make hard choices.  As Christ-followers we have the choice to seek out our purpose in life.  The purpose that God Himself placed before us.  We have to choose to carry on when things get hard, when our lives don’t turn out like we thought they would and even when it doesn’t seem fair or when we think that someone else has it better than us.  We have to choose to stick around and not run away, to lean into our struggles and accept them as they build our character and sift out the ugliness of our flesh even as they make us more like Christ Himself.  Our choice doesn’t lead to the salvation of the world.  But our choice can lead our families to salvation.

One of the choices our family has to make every day is how to view autism in our lives.  We could choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to get mired in the why’s.  We could choose to compare our lives and our calling with the callings of more “typical” families.  And sometimes we do just that.  We cry out to God for answers and for relief for us and for our sweet girl.  He is always gracious to answer us and that answer always remains “this is your purpose.  This is how my Glory will be played out in your lives.  This is how others will see Me through you.”  This answer is humbling and so full of love that it makes my heart swell.

What an amazing gift to give to my children at Christmas time: the gift of knowing that though God doesn’t always step in when times get hard, He always has a greater purpose in mind.  The greater Glory.  And if we are patient, and learn to listen and to wait we just might get to be a part of that Glory.

Touching Heaven

Anwen's heaven

Just last week we were reading the passage in Luke where the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus with questions about the resurrection. As we were reading Anwen’s eyes began to glaze over. I knew just by looking at her she was following her own thoughts. I let her, hoping that the Holy Spirit was teaching her. (I didn’t know I was the one getting the teaching, but more about that later.)

The “water” part of this day was to draw or paint a picture of heaven. After we finished I set her about the task. I watched as the picture began to reveal itself. She is very verbal and talked the whole time, not to me, mind you.

At one point she exclaimed, “Hey, I’m in here.”

And that’s when she traced her hands.

Her hands touching eternity.

Her hands in the thin place where heaven becomes earth.

Her hands in the presence of the Father.

The Father met her flanked by angels and our newly deceased cats.

She knew that in the presence of the Trinity there is glowing, thus the glitter.

Bottles of glitter. She couldn’t get enough. (Our Basset Hound who usually eats anything that falls from the table, including Monopoly pieces, decided glitter is not for her.)

We talked afterwards about heaven being any place that God is. That heaven is both now and later.

I asked her, “When is God with you?”

“Well,” she said, “We work together when I play piano. And when I’m swinging. I can feel the Holy Spirit when I’m swinging.”

My kid, she teaches me.

I think I’ll go dust the snow off the swing set and swing awhile, heaven’s waiting.

Pondering All These Things

© macinate, used under Creative Commons License. How is it that amid all the bustle and keeping of commitments during this season, a mother can be deep in thought about the future and the present and the shape of her kids' spirits? It makes me smile to realize that the pondering I'm doing is not really so odd. There was another mother who pondered the child she held and the shape of his future and his spirit.

"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19

Mary pondered Jesus' life on the day of his birth, and all these years later as we look back on that humble yet glorious day, I feel in the best of company doing some pondering at Christmas over three boys and the way the Spirit of Christ is forming and shaping their futures.

Are they growing more and more in their sense that God is life and life is God? Do they get that what matters most is a life lived daily with God? Are they learning to be still inside and listen to the voice of the Spirit? Are they learning to live and grow in community with the people of God? Are they learning to choose the hard way  sometimes rather than the easy way or the attractive way or the natural way because sometimes it's the road more difficult that brings life?

Mary pondered how the particulars would play out for this Savior babe. She considered how it would be that the Child born of her loins would mean eternity for every soul to ever live.

And I ponder how this Christ Child will day by day, year by year draw my children into an ever-deepening life with himself, Immanuel, God-with-us. As we focus with our boys on Jesus' birth, I think along with Mary about all Jesus means to me and to them.  It's the story of Jesus that I ponder as I consider my kids' stories and how they will live into--and out of-- this story of Christ.

Christmas and pondering. The season of the Story gives us mothers and fathers a lot to think about.

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go? Growing up in the Catholic Church, following the seasons of the church is a very familiar routine for me. I have memories of lighting an Advent Wreath with my mother, but not with my whole family gathered. The wreath was displayed more as a symbol of the season, part of the regular Christmas decorations my mom so meticulously put out each year, than as an element of discipleship. But I also remember that it wasn't a family event to sit by the wreath, light a candle, and read a devotional. My husband Steve's background is Nazarene, and while he was familiar with the names of the church seasons, there was nothing like an Advent wreath in his home growing up. Christmas, when God came among us, was pretty much a stand alone holy day. In the early years of our marriage, we weren't attending church and therefore not following any calendar other than the usual 12 month one. After a search we began attending a  United Methodist church, which retains more or less a liturgical heritage, and I wanted to again display an Advent wreath. This was several years into our marriage and I recalled, then, that we had actually received an Advent candle holder as a wedding gift. I remember thinking when I first opened it that it was a beautiful 4-candle holder, but at the time had no idea what it was for other than a pretty centerpiece that went with no furniture that we owned. It turned out to be a providential gift.

Wreath

As our children grew older, I wanted to begin taking time out of the day to study the Bible with them using devotionals. Our church gave out different ones during the year with special ones for Advent and for several years I took them graciously and brought them home just to be lost in the abyss of our house. By and by, each year we managed to do  a little bit more of the readings during Advent - our percentage of pages actually read increased. I think the first year it was Sundays only, just to light the additional candle (we were reminded to do so that morning at church). And then life would move forward, back into the regular hectic routine, with God again pushed to the background until His day came by again. But, each year at Advent we added to the time we set aside to read and discuss a bit of scripture. It's been a frustrating process, trying to fit in family devotional time, not the least because of our difficulty of actually being able to spend time together before rushing to the next event or blessed bedtime.

Advent really has become the consistent time we can sit together and talk about the Bible, reviewing the promises of God leading up to our Savior's birth and our own responses  to Jesus. Over the decade that Steve and I have been introducing our sons to God through the different sit-down devotionals, we've reached the point where the boys now will usually respond to the questions in the readings with appropriate examples. Better still, they'll add other bits from the Bible that relate to what the daily reading is. Though only our eldest has taken on a proper Bible translation to read (illustrated versions are highly popular with all three), it warms the heart and lowers parental anxiety to know that a foundation based on God revealed in the Bible has started to form in each of them. I can only think God has taken those fitfully crowded times we've spent together with His word and made it His time.

Informal Advent

Living the Seasons of the Church is new to us.  Neither Mike nor I grew up knowing anything about Advent or its meaning.  My family had an advent calendar growing up but I just thought it was a candy countdown to presents. I still have that one… however I don’t use it any longer. I used to put a candy in it when it was just Isabella, then Quinn came along and doesn’t like a lot of candy so Isabella would eat his too. Then I just got frustrated that we had just finished our bowl of Halloween candy and this was not about candy and I didn’t like counting down to presents anyway. It seemed so hollow. Over the past couple of years we have learned about the Seasons more. We are still newbies but love the intentionality of it. I love the history and that we are participating in something that believers have used for centuries. Mike likes the non ritualistic aspect of Advent. He is enjoying the tool of the remembering. He has always been averse to the Christmas holiday being so over rated.  We don’t have the traditional wreath with the pastel colors. We have a 5 candle stand with 4 white and 1 red. It sits on Kadins royal blue Superman cape. It reminds us not only that Jesus satisfies tradition but is constant with the times too…plus he is Superman!

Our family hasn’t been able to get the tempo of doing our readings in the morning. Our daughter leaves for school before our youngest is even up. So our daily rhythm begins with Mike taking her to the bus stop and praying with her individually.  As the boys get up, our days go many directions but we know we will be together in the evenings.

My favorite thing is the anticipation of knowing that we will sit down as a family. Just last night our big girl said “Daddy during our bible study will you rub my neck?”  Kadin our 4 year old not only lit the candle by himself at 11:00 am (I know! SCARY… we had a talk!) but also asked if we would pray for his cut finger at our night prayer time. Quinn is our most scheduled and loves that he is the candle lighter each time.

We are not rigid people. We find ritual restricting. We don’t eat at scheduled times, we don’t hardly ever show up anywhere on time, we don’t have strict timetables for work as we work for ourselves. But learning to live this season is breath to our lungs. Our family has struggled through some very hard times recently and the anticipation that tonight I will sit with my most beloved people and Jesus will be there too makes me smile.

The Right Way

There is a tiny guard who casts a fierce shadow who stands between us and anything worthwhile. His name is The Right Way. You see, The Right Way is a cruel taskmaster. There are parts of me that have been liberated and no longer live under his tyranny. But other parts still stand at a trembling attention when he barks, "You better get this right."

When it came to Advent my old adversary The Right Way came knocking. The problem is there are dozens of good Advent traditions and loads of variations of each. I was agonizing over this, as if there is some magic combination that will instill Christmas joy and reverence in the hearts of my children forevermore.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. - Gal 5:4-6 MSG

How about that. Turns out there is no magic combination, just faith expressed in love. The cure to my Advent-angst was simply picking something and trying it. Or, as my wife wonderfully suggested, picking two things and mix-matching them: pulling Jesse Tree symbols out of the numbered pouches of the Advent calendar. Take that you lame old legalism! Simple action in love is like a kung-fu chop to the jugular of The Right Way.

So the other night we had a bunch of friends over. We lit a candle in the Advent wreath and did a Jesse Tree reading and sang carols while kids danced with streamers across the living room. While I didn't understand all the steps of what we're doing--What do the candle colors in the wreath represent again?--I did know this: we were turning our hearts towards our Maker and anticipating the coming Christ. The strong arm of The Right Way was overcome by the gentleness of love and community and simple action.

Someone said that children are so free because they don't have an inner list of all the things that could go wrong. Father God, give us hearts like children, free to make mistakes and stumble into wonder.

Expectant Waiting

“What the heck is Advent?”  This was not the question that I expected on December 1st when we started this adventure of living by the seasons of the church.  But I could tell that my 13 year old was sincere.  I had clearly not explained it to her in the way that I thought I had. I grew up in a Presbyterian church on Sunday and an Episcopal school during the week.  I understood the seasons of the church because I lived them.  So when Genevieve was a very little girl it seemed a natural fit to take a job as the Children’s Ministries Director at the Episcopal Church that we were attending.  Since Gen was only a year old and she tagged along with me, I took for granted that most of what I was teaching and doing was sinking in the way it did for me growing up.  I was wrong.

So that first night we had a crash course in Advent.  Advent simply means “coming”.    I explained that the entire Christmas season is to be a time of celebration and planning for the advent, or coming, of Jesus.  After a little discussion, my daughter looked at me and said, “We are waiting for Him, just like Mary waited for Him.”  She got it.

My favorite definition calls it “a time of expectant waiting”.  Doesn’t that bring the absolute beauty of the season home?  Especially for a mother?  Can’t we just imagine those 9 long months that Mary spent waiting for the birth of her baby?  The baby she was told would be “Christ, the Lord”. Little more that a child herself she would be giving birth to the One who would one day deliver those who would choose to believe in Him.

In my home we are reveling in this time of expectant waiting.  We anticipate our daily Scripture readings.  I anxiously await hearing from Genevieve how she welcomed Jesus that day or how the meaning of the message we shared really hit her as she was with friends or as she was sitting in her Bible study class.  And my absolute favorite part of the day is when I hear my sweet Charlie’s voice whispering in my ear the words “We welcome your light, Lord Jesus” each night when we light our candle.  She is a girl of few words and so these feel especially sweet coming from her.

Already, after just one week, this is becoming a treasured part of our day.  This time to slow down, to remember, to reflect on the words spoken by our Savior is changing us.  This season feels more poignant than it has before.  And my prayers are focused on asking that we will be more accountable, more faithful and more hopeful for the coming of the Second Advent.

Advent's Gift of Anticipation

From Tamara:

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This first Sunday of Advent, we set out our nativity pieces around the house and put the green paper up on the wall to fill in as our Christmas tree this year.  Small living spaces require alternative solutions for holding to tradition.  The 'tree' went up on Saturday actually, but the lights were too heavy on the paper and it began to fall down right about bedtime.  Seeing as our son sleeps at the foot of that particular wall, I couldn't risk the rest of it peeling off on top of him during the night - so down it came for the night.  After the tree was up properly the next day and lights were twinkling, we let Kaiser open his first gift of the season - a LEGO Star Wars Advent Calendar.  And, yes, we saved for three weeks to get that thing.  The first window held lego pieces that made a little R2D2.  How cute.  How cool.  How crazy.  How luxurious.  I swing back and forth between embarrassment of its opulence and sheer excitement of watching Kaiser open the next window.  We showed it off to Grandma and Papa and Auntie Em on Skype this morning - it's that exciting.

When I watch my son's face light up with the excitement of anticipation rewarded each morning, I recognize the powerful pull from my own experiences.  Waking up the morning that we're going up the hill to get our Christmas Tree with Dad and the brothers.  Waking up the morning we're heading up to Cooper Lake for huckleberries and perfect fishing.  Waking up the morning we're heading down to Colorado for the summer.  Waking up the first day of school (yes, weird children can look normal on the outside).  Just writing about these memories makes my heart skip a beat remembering the flood of anticipation.  I know that for my 4 yr old, the time that passes between opening each window in his advent calendar is about the same as the passing of a year for me.  Anticipation builds.  Consumes.  Causes some strange comments throughout the day.....attempts at masking hope, I presume.  But hope cannot be masked on a 4 yr old.  It shines brighter than the lights on the Christmas tree.  Hope that Mom will declare today the 5th, 6th and 7th of December - and it'll be the 8th of December by dinnertime!!  Wouldn't that be fantastic!?

I really do love how anticipation grows and consumes every thought.  It really was meant to do just that.  My difficulty is in managing where my anticipation lands.  It's easy to set my heart on things that are pretty and fun and, I'll be honest, tasty.  But most things that fit into those categories are either quick to disappoint or quick to satisfy with disappointment growing on your hips.  When I see my son's anticipation and recognize its pull, my heart cries out to the Lord that He would hold our hearts fast.  I want to long for Him.  I don't always long for Him.  But I want to.  One of the most precious aspects of Advent for me is how it gently holds my face, like a Mother with two hands under a child's chin.  Its time and focus demand that my attention remain on Christ and Christ alone.

Introducing Advent Traditions to our International Church

Each morning now, we pull out our Good Dirt Devotional and Bible, sit together on our bed and set the pace for opening our hearts to the Lord.  I've found some of the questions difficult to navigate with my wee boy.  "What is one way you can welcome Jesus into your day today?"  We settled on thinking about Jesus being with us during Taekwondo class.  At the end of the day we reflected, "Were you able to welcome Jesus today like you planned?"  Um.....  "Was it easy or hard?"  Yeah, it was hard.  Did we forget?  Yes.  Not only that, it was difficult to imagine how Jesus could be there with us when he wasn't running the drills and practicing His 품새, too.  Is Jesus a purple belt like me, too, Mom?  But the biggest blessing we've received so far is the daily consideration of His Word.  We read the suggested readings twice each day and it soaks in deep.  I pray that as we listen to the way Jesus calls us to follow Him - what He requires of His disciples - our anticipation will become steadfastly set on doing just that.  Following Him.

And we'll see what He says about R2D2 coming along, too.

The Many Voices of Christmas

© Luke Saagi, used under Creative Commons License.
© Luke Saagi, used under Creative Commons License.

What's not to like about Christmas? It's a wonderful season. The music and good cheer, bright lights and parties, secrets and stories and sentiment. It's a magical time for children, and a time that as parents we love for our children's sake even as we cherish quietly, and with them, the focal point of the whole celebration--the coming of Jesus to our lives.

This will be our fourteenth Christmas with children, and as I think back on the years and look toward another celebration this month, its the voices of Christmas that come flooding to mind. The voices that have spoken into our choices about what and how to celebrate...

"What if Christmas, [Grinch] thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!”

Three gifts for each child--Gold, something they will value and treasure. Frankincense, a gift to help them meet with God. Myrrh, something to anoint and care for their body.

Sinter Klaus Day, Dec. 6. A first gift to each child in celebration of the caring bishop who provided dowry's for girls without one.

A birthday cake for Jesus on December 25.

Cub scout giving of gifts to needy families. Operation Christmas Child gift boxes. Gifts to men and women  serving far away in the military. Gifts to orphans  in Africa and others at risk worldwide.

Advent wreath lighting and reflection.

Epiphany remembrance and observance.

Creative and tasty gifts for neighbors.

Crafty holiday touches throughout the house.

Meal traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and Christmas lunch.

Caroling in nursing homes.

Gingerbread houses and cookie exchanges.

"Bah," said Scrooge, "Humbug."

Oh, the list goes on. Each of us with many voices, many choices before us each year as we hurtle from Thanksgiving to Christmas and New Year's. And laid back as we might be, surely we all have to squelch just the vaguest inclination toward a "Bah, humbug" as we spend our December days determined to remember the reason for the season and to keep the meaning the main thing as we live out all the ways of doing that.

Just last week I heard on the radio that many years ago, Christmas was not even celebrated. The church celebrated Easter in a big way, but because birthdays were not celebrated overall, the birth of Jesus just was not a church holy day. The thought. No Christmas, compared to ChristmasofToday. It's a startling dichotomy.

An article by Eugene Petersen tells the story of his family's Christmas when he was eight. Eugene's mother had found  a passage in Jeremiah that seemed to speak against the tradition of Christmas trees, and so that year, much to his own and his neighbors' chagrine, his family had no tree.  He reflects back now:

Mother, thank you ...  for providing me with a taste of the humiliation that comes from pursuing a passionate conviction in Christ. Thank you for introducing into my spirit a seed of discontent with all cultural displays of religion, a seed that has since grown tree-sized. Thank you for being relaxed in grace and reckless enough to risk a mistake. Thank you for being scornful of caution and careless of opinion. Thank you for training me in discernments that in adult years have been a shield against the seduction of culture-religion. Thank you for the courage to give me Jesus without tinsel, embarrassing as it was for me (and also for you?). Thank you for taking away the Christmas tree the winter I was eight years old. And thank you for giving it back the next year.

I don't know that we ever settle into an easy, contented Christmas rhythm. Much as we would like to, the good and the tradition and the holy are so intermingled that, without tossing away the holiday and stepping back a few hundred years, we can't escape the cacophony of voices and choices year by year.

For me, one voice helps bring perspective each time I feel I've failed or fallen irreparably behind. Funny, it's Scrooge again, but later in the story: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

Each day, all year, is a celebration of Jesus' life come to change mine. Each day is the time to spend meaningful moments with family, to care for another in need, to offer a thought-filled gift, to meet God in his Word over the light of a candle. It's a wonderful season, and all the more when we let Christmas illumine each day of our lives.

Slowing Down for Advent

from Carolyn: If you're like me, you've heard this message a hundred times before. In fact, you may have even considered skipping this post because you already know what it's going to say--and, ironically, you don't have time to read it anyway.

"Slow down and enjoy the Christmas season. Eliminate the non-essentials. Remember the 'real reason' you're celebrating. Take the time to enjoy it."

And, also if you're like me, you've agreed with it a hundred times and then returned to life at a fast pace anyway. Because there are so many things to do this time of year--and they're all really good things. What am I going to eliminate? The tree decorating? Never. The shopping for gifts? My 5- and 8-year-old children would be heartbroken. The Christmas cookies? Sacrilege. But I've learned that when I hear a message repeatedly, it's generally God trying to get my attention. So I made the decision that this year would be different. This year I truly would slow down and savor the moments. And then yesterday happened.

Mind you, this was only day 2 of the "holiday season"--and that's if you go by the after-Thanksgiving-we-can-start-listening-to-Christmas-music rule. The season doesn't even start until today if you're only counting Advent. But there I was, rushing around the house yesterday like a mad woman. My parents were coming over last night to help us decorate the Christmas tree, as they do every year. I was fairly convinced that every single one of our 10 boxes of Christmas decorations needed to be unpacked and perfectly placed before their arrival. And the house needed to be completely cleaned. And the perfect gingerbread dessert needed to be cooking when they arrived--absolutely delicious while also being gluten-free, of course. Oh, and the kids should be wearing coordinating holiday outfits, so that they would look adorable in the pictures... Did I mention I'm a perfectionist?

At about 2:30 in the afternoon, my husband arrived home after being gone for most of the day. It only took about 2 minutes with me before I saw the look on his face. The look that said, "Who took my wife and replaced her with this crazy, stressed-out woman?" And, being the brilliant man that he is, he said, "Do you need a hug?" He didn't tell me to chill out, or point out all of the things that didn't really need to be perfect for our evening. He just made me stop and be still for a moment. My commitment to slow down this season came back to my mind and I started making a mental checklist of what was truly "required" for the evening. Only 3 things remained: put up the Christmas tree (because it's hard to have a tree-trimming party without it); clean the bathroom (because, let's face it, a dirty guest bathroom is just gross); and feed the family dinner. Everything else was nice, but far from necessary. And certainly not worth the price of my sanity. So the dessert became cookies from a box. The unpacked boxes of Christmas decorations got shoved into the bedroom. The kids wore their jammies instead of non-existent holiday outfits. And a more sane wife hosted our little gathering.

I have a feeling this lesson is one I will be returning back to again and again over the next month--not to mention the next few years. But my heart is fully convinced it is worth it. In The Good and Beautiful God, James Bryan Smith writes, "Why is eliminating hurry from our lives so crucial? When we eliminate hurry we become present, or more specifically, present to the present moment in all of its glory... In short, we 'show up' and experience the fullness of life. And that includes, not least of all, being present to God. If I am to live well as a Christian, I need to be constantly connected to God. Hurry is not part of a well-lived life."

Above all, I want to experience a well-lived life, and hurry does not bring about the person I want to be. So here's to an Advent season full of lingering, and slowing, and long hugs. May yours be blessed.