29 November 2009

first Sunday of Advent: hope

O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. (Psalm 130:7-8)

25 November 2009

Honoring Christmas: advent

Growing up in a church that didn't make much of Advent, I pretty much assumed that Advent was a fancy word for the Christmas season and sometimes included a fun Advent calendar that helped with the Christmas countdown. It's only been in the past few years that I've come to appreciate Advent for what it really is: the time of expectation and waiting for the birth of Christ. Nothing helps me to honor Christmas more than observing Advent in our home. When I have weekly and daily reminders of the reason behind the shopping and baking and partying, my heart is full and excited for Christmas when it comes. We're still making adjustments from year to year on the way we observe Advent, especially with the addition of 3 kids, but we're slowly finding practices that work for us. If you're not in the habit of celebrating Advent in your home, I'll share some ideas, and you can surf the web looking for more if you don't like mine.

One of the simplest ways to start is to use an Advent wreath. I always throw mine together last minute because I don't prepare before Thanksgiving, and the first Sunday of Advent catches me by surprise. (Not this year though. Writing this post reminded me that we need to pick up candles when we're out today.) In our family we don't particularly care if we we use the traditional color candles. We just make a ring of 4 candles with a white candle in the middle that is reserved for lighting at Christmas breakfast. We put the wreath in the middle of our dinner table. Each Sunday of Advent we do a short reading, pray, and light a new candle after we eat dinner. On subsequent days of the week we relight the candles before we sit down to eat. (We learned the hard way that thin taper candles won't last all the way through Advent if you light them every day, so plan accordingly.) We enjoy watching our Advent wreath and considering the significance of each candle as Christmas nears. Our only complaint is that we've had trouble finding kid-friendly readings and prayers we really like. We still haven't chosen ones to try this year, so I'll have to do some searching over the next few days. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.

We have tried to find daily kid-friendly readings in addition to the weekly candle lighting service. So far we've been disappointed with our choices 2 years in a row, so this year we're going to try a Jesse Tree. We know many people who use a Jesse Tree, and there are a variety of ways to do it. The name comes from Jesus being the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:1-2 ("A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him..."). The daily readings take you all the way back to Genesis and trace the way the entire story of the Bible is really about the coming of Jesus. If you search online, you'll find all kinds of Jesse Tree resources and ideas for making your own Jesse Tree ornaments. Last week I went wild and purchased a widely recommended ebook by Ann Voskamp that includes readings for each day and printable ornaments that I can just laminate. I don't do crafts, so it was money well spent. I've skimmed the readings, and I like them pretty well. We'll see how the kids respond.

Peter and I have also come to appreciate liturgical readings and structured prayers as a powerful way to prepare our own hearts during Advent. I realize that some of you had your share of liturgy in the past and have developed negative associations with it, but neither of us were even exposed to it as kids. If structured readings don't work for you, you could probably find some less "churchy" daily readings that you prefer. For us, we've found that liturgical readings help us to focus on the coming of Christ in deep and powerful ways. This year we'll be using Phyllis Tickle's Advent prayers on a daily basis. Sometimes we read them together at night after the kids are in bed, but that's a matter of personal preference. We've also been blessed last year and this one to be part of a small group that enjoys doing a weekly Advent service that Peter arranges from the Book of Common Prayer. (If you're interested in seeing or using the services, Peter would be happy to send them to you.)

There are countless ways to observe Advent. Finding ones that connect for you or your family may take some experimentation, but the work is well worth it. Bringing focus to the Christmas chaos allows all of us to move from mere celebrating to honoring Christmas in significant ways.

Up next in our series: giving better gifts.

Previous Posts
Honoring Christmas: a series
Honoring Christmas: the hard work

24 November 2009

did he read my mind?

As I was reorganizing my desk and trying to figure out how I can get even close to finishing my tasks for the day, I opened a random book in the pile and read:

We have hints that there is way of life vastly richer and deeper than all this hurried existence, a life of unhurried serenity and peace and power. If only we could slip over into that center!

(Thomas Kelly)

What an appealing and un-American concept. If only I understood how to live it out.

23 November 2009

an important tip

Every year the kindergarten class at our elementary school compiles a Thanksgiving booklet. All the teachers ask the kids how to cook a turkey, and they record the kids' responses word for word. This is what Patience told her teacher:

Hunt for the turkey at the turkey store. Take it home. Put it in a pot. Put peppers, onions, and strawberries all over it. Cook it for 31 hours at 36 degrees. When it is done, put it on the table. Eat it with cookies and milk.

I hope this helps you all as you prepare for your upcoming holiday dinner.

18 November 2009

Honoring Christmas: the hard work

Some of the feedback I've received since I started this series a few days ago has gotten me really excited about upcoming posts. This post, however, isn't one that's exciting to write. I'd love to skip over the tedious hard stuff and go straight to fun stuff. Unfortunately, life doesn't work that way. Christmas doesn't either.

The truth is that deciding in our hearts to honor Christmas and to make the most of it is one thing. Living out that decision is another. No matter where our hearts are, Christmas still brings lots of busyness that most of us can't escape. We have places to go. We have gifts to buy and wrap. We have food to make. We have decorating and cleaning to do. And if you manage a lot of these tasks at your house, the Christmas season can be a stressful time.

The year our kids came home I made the decision to finish all my Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. I figured that I'd be able to relax and celebrate Christmas with my family much easier when such a time consuming (and sometimes stressful) task could be crossed off my list. It really did help. In fact, the experiment was so successful that they were kicking me out of the stores at 11pm on Thanksgiving Eve the following year as I finished off my last few purchases.

Unfortunately, finishing the shopping didn't erase the rest of the busyness. I was still pulling late nights baking and sending Christmas cards and decorating and cleaning. As much as I love many aspects of the Christmas chaos, it's much harder to focus on honoring Christmas when I'm looking at my to do list after only a few hours of sleep.

So this year I committed to working harder before Thanksgiving so I can relax and honor Christmas in December. I'm a procrastinator by nature, but I know that every task I force myself to do now will free me up to enjoy the season later. One resource that has helped me to stay on track has been Simple Mom's 12 Weeks to a Peaceful Christmas. I realize it's a bit unfair to introduce you to it with less than 6 weeks to go, but you could pull an all nighter to catch up or do 2 assignments each week from now until Christmas. Better yet, you could read it, find a few ideas that will help you, and start small this year. Trying to change everything at once may create more stress than it alleviates anyway.

The most important thing is to consider for yourself what holiday tasks distract you most from honoring Christmas and take action to minimize the distractions. Focus on working ahead and simplifying the work. As we all prioritize these 2 goals, we will be more free to enjoy the season in significant ways.

In my next post I'll start sharing some specific ways we honor Christmas in our family. I hope you'll check back and add your input to the conversation.

Previous Posts
Honoring Christmas: a series

17 November 2009

quote of the day

I just overheard Garty saying to Peter, "Daddy, my belly hurts. Can you tickle it?"

16 November 2009

first gift update

For those who donated $10 on Friday toward the first gift campaign, I wanted to let you know that in 24 hours, over $10,000 was raised! Isn't it amazing what happens when many who have much make small sacrifices for those who have little?

I'm reentering family life after a weekend women's retreat. I'll be back tomorrow or Wednesday with the next post in our Honoring Christmas series.

13 November 2009

Honoring Christmas: a series

I don't want to freak anyone out, but Christmas is exactly 6 weeks away. It's hard to believe. Since our kids came home in 2007 I've given a lot of thought to Christmas. I love the hype. Buying gifts. Party hopping. Decorating. Listening to incessant Christmas music. Baking. Driving around to see Christmas lights. But an American Christmas was new to our kids, and I wanted them to understand the true focus of Christmas and not miss it in the wonderfully fun busyness. So we made a choice to become more intentional about our Christmas season. It's been good for the kids... and for us as well.

Over the next few weeks, we're going to do a series of blog posts entitled Honoring Christmas. Most of us enjoy celebrating Christmas, but honoring it requires focusing on the purpose of the celebrating. I don't know about you, but I've spent a lot more Christmas seasons celebrating that I have honoring.

Not everything our family does will work for you, but I hope something will. And I hope that as I share our family's Christmas traditions, you will leave comments and share yours.

If you want to set your heart on honoring Christmas this year, please consider giving your first gift of the season TODAY.
Water for Christmas is a campaign that started in 2008. It grew out of the heart of a mommy like me who has beautiful African children. Little did she know that her campaign would grow into a huge movement. So today Water for Christmas is kicking off the 2009 campaign by asking everyone to donate $10 as the first gift you give this Christmas season. Just $10. Some of us will spend that much to eat out today. Or to pay gas and tolls for your commute. Or to pick up an armful of necessities at the supermarket. But the $10 you donate will provide clean life-saving water to one person in Africa for 10 years. That amazes me every time I think about it. Today you can make a secure, tax deductible donation through an established and reputable organization that will save lives. I can't think of many better ways to set our hearts on honoring Christmas this year than to start the season by giving a truly significant gift. I know you're intrigued, so go read more about today's first gift campaign and consider making a donation.

Beyond believing in the power of the Water for Christmas campaign, I am personally biased toward it because the wells they're currently digging are all in Liberia. It makes me sentimental and teary eyed to think that one or more of the wells could save the life of our kids' father or sibling or aunt or uncle. That's powerful for me. It means that our $10 donation allows us to honor Christmas and our children at the same time.

In just a minute I'm going to click over to make our own donation. Then I'm going to sketch out a schedule for the rest of our Honoring Christmas series. I hope you'll check back and help me to think through ways to be more intentional about our Christmases. Let's not spend the next 6 weeks running around missing the point.

11 November 2009

sweet boy

Garty just climbed up behind me on my desk chair and said, "Mommy, your buddy's behind you." Then he proceeded to rub my back. I'm thankful that little things can momentarily erase my memory of last night's constant bickering, whining, and obnoxious behavior from 3 little people.

05 November 2009

our kids and food

Joshua just asked what we're having for dinner. When he heard chicken and broccoli alfredo, he screamed a loud and enthusiastic, "Yay!!" Then a pause. Then he asked, "Did we have that before?"

It shouldn't amuse me any more when the kids act that way about food. It's definitely not the first time I've had a similar conversation. We just love food around here, whether we remember the last time we had it or not!