Be Still. Wait with Anticipation.

advent

Two more days.  Advent begins on Sunday!

I know that I have been harping on this theme. I have been pestering. I have spent far more time on this this year than ever before, and probably more time on this than any other theme on the blog…at least for writing on one theme over several days. Other than maybe the theme of wonder.

There is a reason.

I need the harping and the pestering myself. Even with all this, I still feel slightly unprepared. I fall into a trap fairly often in my parenting: I want to make things perfect. Pinterest worthy. Picture perfect.

Rarely do they work out that way, and often I become stressed.

So, that is part of the harping as well.  Advent is absolutely, non-negotiably, emphatically NOT about being stressed.

Whatever we do, this season is about stilling ourselves so we can listen and we can wait. Wait with anticipation, and wait with hope. Wait with joy.

Advent is about the awareness of our need for a savior, yes. There is in the history of Advent the element of penitence, but it is more I think about this anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child. And that should be filled with wonder and awe.

In the midst of of struggles with jobs and with life and with raising kids and with being tired and with laundry and with family dynamics and with the turmoil around us in the world…and it is great…we need moments when we focus on wonder and when we focus on hope. When we still ourselves and we wait.

So I pester and I harp and I poke you, and myself, to pause over the next four weeks and pay attention. Do something to make this season stand out.

Light candles. Sing songs. Read poetry.

Be still.

How is this going to look in our family? Steve and I decided we would not ask for the technology to be completely shut off, because that would feel more like punishment to the kids. We are, however, pulling it back. We will only have one tv show a day (and one a week for mom), and the tech time is being cut in half…down to just an hour and half a day. And it has to be off by 6pm.  At 6pm we’ll have dinner and light the Advent candles and we’ll talk and sing and be with each other.

Not drastic, but something to make this season stand out. In the midst of the days there will be other activities that draw our attention toward the coming of the Christ child. We will keep pointing and focusing and making room to think about the wonder of Christmas.

And we will pray that God will meet us in this season. That He will enlarge our imagination and He will infuse this season with His Spirit. I hope you will come along with us!

Here are a few more links with ideas and resources…

Ideas for Adults:

I posted a few links Wednesday  here which will help the adults with some devotionals and focus, and I will be posting poetry each day through Advent here on the blog.

Poet and musician Malcolm Guite  last year posted sonnets from his book Sounding the Seasons. Each of the seven sonnets is accompanied by art.

SimpleLiving has a fantastic list of ideas on ways to make your Advent season and Christmas stand out from the commercialized season it has become.

Ideas for Families:

Baby Steps for Celebrating Advent

No Panic Advent – with a bunch of great book suggestions

Simple Kids – Great ideas on how to make Advent simple and kid-friendly

Homeschooled-kids has an $8 printable packet with activities and crafts and lots of ideas.

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Thanksgiving

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Our Thanksgiving Tree is beginning to fill out. We are writing one thing on each leaf, and they range from quieter dishwashers to our salvation. Family and the laughter of Maddie to jobs that provide meals and shelter.

While I have been writing much about Advent over the last few days, I do not want to miss Thanksgiving. I wanted to take the time to write about Advent with enough advance that we can be prepared before it begins, but I also do not want to simply skip over Thanksgiving.

This holiday is one of the best. One of the simplest and purest.

Thanks.

Gratitude.
Family and meals and sharing around a table.

There is of course drama in every family, I am sure. There are things we can find wrong with the holiday, and there are things we can find to complain about. But there is so much more we can find to be thankful for. I know tomorrow I will not have time to write, so I thought I would post my Thanksgiving post a little early.

Every year Thanksgiving heralds the beginning of slowing down for me. I know that it means Christmas is around the corner, and sometimes that can mean things are hectic because so much needs to be done, but instead Thanksgiving means the beginning of the a season of the mixture of memories and the making of memories.

I have been blessed with 40 plus years of Thanksgiving meals that were filled with wonderful food and great conversation. My mother knew how to prepare a meal in a way that stood out and heralded something grand. Thanksgiving stood out. The food was grand and the setting stated that it was special. We knew it was something different. We didn’t rush through the meal and we learned to enjoy the conversations.

Even though I cannot tell you all the specifics of the meals, I am thankful for the overall sense of family and of meaning that I have from all those years. Dad sent a picture today of the meal they are having, and I am thankful they are sitting down to a special table again with sister-in-law who will prepare a great meal even when Mom doesn’t understand what it is all about anymore.

I am thankful for special days that are marked out to remind us to take the time to be thankful. I am thankful for the traditions in our midst that train us to remind our children of all the things we have to be grateful for. I am thankful for the moments around the table where stories area shared and where we focus our attention on blessings rather than grievances.

I am thankful:

For family.

For laughter of children. For their giggles and their silliness. For their grins and their goofy jokes.

For my husband who sustains our home and provides a foundation that allows the goofiness and the giggles and the freedom to be silly, because we are not worried about where our meals come from or our shelter.

For my father who teaches us through his example and love what it means to love in faithfulness and sacrifice and generosity. And who taught me to love animals and outdoors.

For my mother who taught me to love table settings and china and proper forks and I promise we will use them again in our home when Maddie is a bit older.

For friends who are honest and willing to encourage and to challenge. Friends who are like-minded and enjoy enough to have fun with, but are different enough to surprise me with new things. To broaden my world.

For our church that provides fellowship that feeds our soul and nourishes us and encourages us and sustains us and builds us up and challenges us.

For our pastor and his wife who teach us in the Word and in prayer and in example and in friendship.

For a God who loves us and redeems us. Who creates with wonder and imagination and creativity and who delights in us and surprises us. Who is holy and yet gracious and merciful.

I am thankful.

What is this Advent you keep talking about?!

One more post on Advent before Thanksgiving. The rest of the day today will be spent preparing food and thinking of all the things for which I am thankful. The kids are happy to have a day off school and I am happy to have a day to putter around the kitchen. Although my thoughts on the blog have been focused on Advent, offline we have been talking much about Thanksgiving…putting up leaves on our thankful tree and celebrating family.

Today will mainly be a day of links on Advent. Resources where you can cull some ideas of how to make Advent your own. First, though, some history lessons. These links will help you understand Advent, the moment in the Church Calendar, more fully. Some ideas for devotionals and a few links on music are listed as well.

Friday I’ll write more about what Advent is going to look like for us in our home.

Introduction

Calvin Seminary has a brief, but helpful overview in Introducing Advent.

If you have a hot cup of coffee and time to read, head over to read Mark D. Roberts What is Advent.  He actually has a book called Discovering Advent, which is only 2.99 on Kindle. The blog post, however,  pulls together several articles and gives a thorough overview of Advent and how Roberts has been impacted by the season of Advent.

Here is brief overview from ChristianHistory.com

One more short article of history from Christianity.com

Devotionals

Mark D. Roberts has an easy to follow devotional from last year.

Again, The Village Church has a great Advent Guide, especially for families.

God is in the Manger is a devotional of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings, formatted specifically for Advent reading.

Max Lucado has an Advent devotional, which is only 1.99 on Kindle:  Celebrating Christmas with Jesus

Marva Dawn also has devotional, at only .99 on Kindle: Follow the Story- Daily Advent Devotionals

Ann Voskamp has some great ideas about turning Christmas Upside Down. You could spend hours on her site. Seriously.

Music

If you are hoping to include some music in your Advent practice, here are a couple links that might help.

Tony Jones at Patheos has a post on Advent Hymns. Read through the comments for lots of suggestions for songs to use in our discipline of training our focus on the coming of Christ:  Best Advent Hymns and a suggestion for the CD Advent Carols from St John’s

The Seedbed has 11 Songs to Add to Your Advent Playlist

Reformed Worship has a list of a few songs, with some good thoughts.

How about a Steve Bell CD, written specifically for Advent.  Keening for the Dawn

The Extraordinary Thing is Coming…

“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin b​ows are poised. The conductor has raised the baton.

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of yourself somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.”

 -Frederick Buechner  “Advent”

Yes.  This is what I am trying to convey in my own clumsy way. Advent is not something that belongs only to certain strains of the Church. Advent is not some ritual which aims at adding burden to our lives.

Advent is the opportunity to concentrate. The opportunity to change our focus, and we need this all the more in the midst of a season that screams at us constantly. The Christmas season has become so filled with noise, we need the reason and the opportunity…and the push…to be silent more.

We need the tradition and the ritual and the rhythm of Advent to bring wonder into our midst and to teach us to sit with that wonder.

God made flesh.

Incarnation.

Redemption.

I know that I am spending much time leading up to Advent pestering you about this tradition. No, I have not forgotten Thanksgiving, and I promise I will pause the Advent pestering to spend some time thinking about Thanksgiving. Here’s the thing, though…Advent takes preparation. I have so often been caught by surprise that Advent is beginning, that I enter the season feeling flustered. Or worse, I simply decide I have failed and it’s not worth trying to jump in.

So I pester.  Advent begins this Sunday.

You may not want to make a big deal of Advent, but I encourage you to take a look around at some of the resources that would help at least get your toes wet. Again, The Village Church has an excellent Advent Guide which will have sermons connected and even a Spotify playlist of music to go along. They have done a great job of including ideas for ways to bring your kids into the understanding of Advent.

Tomorrow I’ll post mainly resources and links. For now, read again Buechner’s words above and begin preparing your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

Enlarge That Imagination!!!!

Okay, I know I am repeating one more article, but again it says what I want to say. Part of the wonder of Christmas, and part of the wonder of the Advent season, is story. I have a multitude of friends who enjoy participating in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. This year Mr. Creative, our middle boy, has been pestering me for an Elf on the Shelf. He is at that precarious age where he knows Santa is not real, and he knows these things are imagination and play…and yet he is not quite ready to give them up. He doesn’t want to say outloud that all of this was fairy tale and play.

So, we’ll pick up an Elf. And we will heartily play with our imagination that this little doll can come to life at night and we’ll try to keep the cats from eating him. And hopefully we will expand our imaginations a bit, and we will mark the season by joy and by laughter mixed with the awe and amazement of the true Story of the season. All of these other stories are truly just play…and they pale as we begin to talk of the God who created the heavens and the earth, and then walked that earth.  Here are some thoughts again from last year:

December 22, 2012    Enlarge that Imagination

I did not know that the sugar cookie recipe called for orange zest, so I had to run back to the store. Yep, that sugar cookie recipe that I mentioned the other day…we’re making Grandma’s sugar cookies tonight and the kids are decorating so they can take them in the morning the Children’s church workers. They are, well, children-decorated. You can tell the kiddos did the work. We’ll do some more that are a little more, well, less “sprinkly”

Back to the story, though. I didn’t know it called for orange zest, so I had to run quickly to the store. The show ‘This American Life’ was on NPR, telling stories of how people celebrate Christmas across our country. The story I caught made me stay in the car in the parking lot at the store…it was a story about parents who made Christmas amazingly magical. The children, now around 30, were telling the story. Telling of the elf that lived in the attic before Christmas: they could hear him working wood up there, hammering and sawing. They would go up and find wood chips after Christmas. Their uncles and Dad would tell of how this elf could do great mischief, sharing stories of the past.

Then, they told of Christmas morning when the rather bedraggled looking Kris Kringle showed up. One of the boys said it felt a bit like they were helping him out; that he had had a tough night and they were giving him a little bit of rest before he went on his way. Then, one year they were walking near the golf course by their house and they saw someone ahead of them hiding behind the trees. Their father encouraged them to go and catch him. They did, and found another of the Santas, this one Klaus. His clothes were a little worn and he had a bag of toys. Well, sort of. He pulled out vegetables and finally bones. Telling the children that the bones were from Rudolph and it was what he used to call the reindeer.

Then the children, who had been 2, 4 and I think 8, told how this Santa, Klaus, asked them if they wanted to go on a sleigh ride to the North Pole. Only, it could only be the kids…no adults. And all three kids told how they were scared to death, even though a part of them wanted to go. Only, that part didn’t happen. Turns out the “Santa” never invited them on a sleigh ride…it was a suggestion of their dad when they were talking late that night.

The story goes on, talking about when they finally found out that all of this was an elaborate…very elaborate…ruse that their parents had developed. It was part of the story of their childhood and led to many discussions and a myth that their childhood chased after.

I was completely caught up in the story…laughing out loud in the parking lot. I was completely caught up in the lengths they went to in the attempt to create something magical and filled with wonder and imagination and surprise. The capers of the Santas, because they believed there were several different ones working together, became part of the lore of the family. To the point that the oldest boy defended Santa to his Junior High class and got in trouble, and even later blamed his parents for his inability to trust. He laughed about it as well, though.

So, here is what struck me. As I sat and listened to this really delight-filled story, I watched the people coming and going from the store. Heads down, furrowed brows, heavy hearts. There was not much wonder or joy or delight.

It seems to me that children grab hold of stories of delight and wonder and they cling to those stories. I have friends who do the Elf on a Shelf, and I know their kids look forward to the antics. It is part of their lore. Our oldest just really came to grips with Santa not being real…but now he is excited about being in the lore himself and helping to keep it alive for his siblings.

In a world where terror is very real and where fear is easy to imagine, I think it is important to give our children a framework of fantasy and wonder and imagination. These stories, whether it be Santa or the Hobbit or Star Wars or Cinderella, they enlarge our children’s imaginations. They open their eyes to something beyond what is before their eyes. The create a lore for their childhood. When they hear their parents talking about the stress of some fiscal cliff, or they hear of children slaughtered in their classroom, or they hear of 9/11…they may not understand, but even the innocent little ones in our midst get the glimpse that there is something bad out there. These stories…they tell the children that there is also great good, and that that good is strong and creative and surprising.

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” G.K. Chesterton.

I do not think that the story of the Gospel, or the story of Creation, or the story of Easter is diminished because we played around at the stories of Santa and the dragons and the hobbit. Rather, I think the mark of our Maker is a great creativity and imagination…and as we create a framework for wonder and surprise our children find that the greatest surprise and the greatest wonder is that the most amazing story….

Is true.

We play at Santa and we play at fairy tales, but the reason we keep coming back to them is we have this itch we cannot scratch…this desire for there to be someone, something, that puts it all right. Someone who rescues or who simply knows that we are lonely and we are desperate to know someone cares and will save us.

And the Incarnation, the Gospel….Jesus…tells us that that itch can be scratched. That ache we have to be known and to be saved…it can be fulfilled. The fantasies keep our attention and keep us coming back because they hint at the truth. Santa is fun to play at, but ultimately the truth of the Incarnation brings us to our knees.

So, I hope that I can have an inkling of the creativity of the family I listened to today. I hope that I can live in a way that inspires imagination and fun and wonder and creativity….but I also hope that as we laugh and giggle and tell stories the children catch when the hush comes over our voice and we proclaim…Unto us is born this day….in the City of David…A Savior…who is Christ the Lord.

He was my first…celebrating anniversaries.

I published this originally two years ago…thought it was worthy of another read- 2015

I know that today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. I was not personally impacted. I was not born for another 7 years, and I have no memories of the event. I know the importance, and the impact, as a student of history books knows things. I have a friend who wrote about his personal journey and the impact of hearing the news of the death of the President, sitting in a room of Southern 4th grade kids. Read about it on my friend Michael’s blog, the title of the article is “We Cheered…God help us, we did.” That should get your attention.

50 years ago, however, another man died as well. He has impacted my life in countless ways, even though I still wasn’t born for 7 years after his death. I know him, though, not as a character in text books, but as a living grandfatherly voice in my walk of faith.

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C.S. Lewis was the first author who grabbed not only my attention, but my imagination. He understood the wonder that is around us, and his imagination fueled stories that have inspired so many of us. That is not a trifle.

We need imagination. We need wonder. We need those who can be in our midst who are filled with wisdom and yet can translate that wisdom through stories which capture the heart of children as well as adults.

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” – On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature

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Stories are not an extra in our lives; they are a necessity. Our homeschool format is heavy on fiction. We study history, we learn our math and languages. We study science. But we fill our souls with stories which pull all those truths into a focus textbooks cannot achieve. Stories remind us we have a place, and that there are those around us who feel the same things we feel: who fear and wonder and get excited just as we do.

He mixed the innocence and wonder, and the hopes and fears and thrill of adventure, that is so raw in our childhood with wisdom which reminded us there is great depth and the imprint of the Father in the story.

“Someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Lewis understood stories. He understood relationships and he reminded us of simple things that we sometimes take for granted or are prone to ignore. He wrote in a way we could understand.

 “The sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal.” -The Weight of Glory

He gave us words that help to convey the wonder of faith. He helped us find a voice.

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” -Mere Christianity

And….he knew what it was to suffer. He knew what it was to love and to lose someone. He understood pain because he had walked through pain, not because he simply thought about it.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – The Problem of Pain

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“God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.” – Collected Letters

So, today is a day of anniversaries. They evoke memories and conversations about where we were and how the event impacted us. They evoke conversations about what has happened since the event. They are our markers as we make our journey, and they are the opportunity to reflect and realize where we need to repent and rejoice.

Sometimes, they are simply the opportunity to recognize the gifts we have had in our lives. Lewis opened my imagination, then captured my desire to learn. He was the one who inspired me to read and to think and to write. For that I am so grateful, and today we will talk about the power of our words as I sit around the kitchen table for three young men who have imaginations eager for stories.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen — not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” -Is Theology Poetry

If you’d like to read a bit more about Lewis today, check out the following links:

BBC Profile on Lewis

Guardian article about a paper saved from a fire in Lewis’ home.

Anglican article about 50th anniversary

Official C.S. Lewis website

Atmosphere of wonder, not punishment…

I wrote yesterday about Advent, just touching on the idea that we will do something different during this season.  I know the whole concept of Advent is still a bit strange to many who did not grow up in liturgical churches. We are fairly ignorant of the rhythm of the church calendar in the other denominations.

Advent begins this Sunday, December 1st, and it ends on Christmas Eve (well, actually I think it officially ends on the Feast of Epiphany…my truly liturgical friends will have to help me out with that).  You can find all kinds of resources just by searching Advent 2013. Loads of places have devotionals, and of course there are a frightening array of Advent Calendar apps  you could download, including a zombie one.  Yep, even Advent is commercialized and sought out for entertainment and profit value.

Don’t let that stop you. Ignore the noise and focus on the benefit.

We are still deciding what our Advent season will look like; we’ve talked about shutting down technology altogether. TV, iPods, iPads, FaceBook. That’s fairly drastic, and there is a slight danger there. See, the goal is, especially with kiddos, to create an atmosphere and a frame of mind that is focused on the true Reality of Christmas.

Creating the space and the environment where we can think about the enormity of God-made-flesh, of Incarnation. Of all that that means, and all that that holds for us.

Of Hope.

Of Gospel. 

Of Truth.

Of Awe.

What we don’t want to do is take away all the fun and make an atmosphere that is more resembling punishment than adoration. The memories of Christmas that we are hoping for are a rhythm of Advent that sets this season apart from the rest of the year, but not because we simply took the toys away and asked the kids to contemplate the nativity set.

That won’t cut it.

Instead…we set aside a bit of the normal and increase the amount of wonder.  We string twinkling lights that make us smile, and we use them to talk about joy. We play with the nativity set and talk about the journey of wisemen and shepherds, of Mary and Joseph. We light candles and read Scripture. We enhance the normal with extraordinary.  We minimize the technology so we can hear the wonder of the simplicity.

A star leading shepherds. Wise men coming to worship. Birth of a King.

Okay, maybe not so simple. Still…wonder.

So, over the next few days until Advent begins I’ll continue to give some ideas, and I’ll also be reposting some articles from last year. I’m going to pester you now, and remind you to make some plans for wonder in the midst of the shopping and the cooking and the school plays. They can be wonder as well.

Sometimes we need a little help in finding the wonder and in being intentional about something, especially for an extended period, so each day I will also include a few links with ideas about how to celebrate and engage in Advent.

Just one link today, but if you follow this link, you will find a variety of resources:

Christine Sine has a fantastic list of resources. Grab a cup of coffee and spend some time reading through her Advent pages.