How to Make the Days Count {Celtic Advent}

Have you found that when God shows you something there are “sacred echoes” (as Margaret Feinberg calls them) everywhere?

When I wrote “Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas” I shared with readers about observing the four Sundays of Advent to slow down the holiday season. Certainly nothing new; people have been doing this for hundreds of years.

But observing Advent is new-ish to me.

Dr. Susan Forshey at the Contemplative Cottage is one of those sacred echoes in my life. Because Advent begins this year on December 3rd (my daughter Leah’s birthday) the days before Christmas are fewer than is often the case. Observing Celtic Advent this year is one way to extend the season. Susan at Contemplative Cottage has designed a calendar that begins on November 15th and marks the 40 days prior to Thanksgiving, through Christmas and all the way to Epiphany, with a simple encouragement for each day.

It’s a lovely way to slow down the days with intentional living. Enjoy!

I am From–A Poem About Place

I am from doughboy pools and homemade Barbie houses

from Huffy bikes and Helms Bakery donuts.

I am from three sisters to a room and broad green bermuda lawns.

I am from bright sandy beaches and weeping willows

whose drooping green sheltered me from California’s sun.

I am from Coppertone and Sun-In

from Helen and Wes and John.

I am from belting out a tune and scribbling in the dark

from roller skating and tree-fort-building

from fighting at the top of my lungs and finding quiet at any cost.

I am from Bible stories with Mrs. Cluck and anywhere-you-can-take-5-kids-on-a-Sunday.

I am from the Hebjums and Lindseys, a Best at heart with an adopted name

from porkchops and sauerkraut, applesauce and meatloaf

from a father two generations back that made a grown girl flee

and a mother who lived chasing beauty wherever she could find it, rich or poor.

But mostly poor.

I am from luaus and carnivals, beach trips and berry-picking

babysitting and in charge at age 12 and hiding with a book to make it all go away.

I am from those moments of running, singing, writing, hiding, lying in the sun

but never far from the watchful eye of an invisible Father

held in arms more real than scratchy lawns and doughboy pools and donuts and

roller skates.

A Father more present than my own skin, closer than the sunshine on my bright brown hair.

Lover of my soul who was there every meandering minute, keeping time until I came home. 

~~~~~~~

I had the joy last weekend of participating in a gathering called “What’s Your Story? Discovering the Gift of Hearing and Telling our Stories.” Guest speakers were Cornelia Seigneur, founder and director of the Faith and Culture Writer’s Conference, and Velynn Brown, mentor and speaker. They are both from the Portland area.

I’m grateful to Velynn for sharing her “I Am From” poem with us and modeling how to write our own. The original form and idea comes from George Ella Lyon, writer and teacher.  If you’d like to write an “I Am From,” there are resources and examples on Georgia’s website. Mr. Google can also oblige.

Less Can Really Be More This Season

Have you ever had to move house during the Christmas season? How much fun is that, eh? Several years ago our family participated in the journey to a new land during the holidays and I discovered something.

It’s impossible to celebrate a “normal” Christmas when your living room is crowded with moving boxes. That wasn’t my discovery. No. The good news I found was that surrendering my ideas of what Christmas “should” look like left space for God to surprise our family beyond what we could imagine. I was forced to adjust to a new season as I viewed things, not as I dreamed they would be, but the way they were. My ideas of what-was-to-come–a new home, settling in, making it my own–kept me going through those few months.

Oddly enough, as I looked around at our temporary rental, the empty walls and barely-furnished rooms greatly improved my mental state, making it easier to ‘see’ the future. Although I felt untethered and impatient, desperate to begin nesting in our new home, the emptiness created room for waiting.

The focus and intent of the Advent season is just that, providing space to wait—physically, spiritually and mentally—to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Maybe like me, your thoughts about Advent are tied to those consumer-driven Advent calendars, the ones that start on December 1st. Actually, the first day of Advent is different and changes every year; this year it’s December 3rd.

I was recently surprised to learn that Advent was originally a period of fasting in preparation for the feast of the Nativity (now Christmas) and was practiced in some form as early as 400 A.D. Unfortunately for us, Advent as a season of fasting and reflection has all but disappeared from many church landscapes. Advent has been defined, instead, as the number of shopping/party/activity days there are until Christmas, and thus, our gift-driven Advent ‘calendars.’

The practice of fasting seems like a shocking suggestion prior to the rich celebration of Christmas. But it makes sense when you think about it. Letting go, putting off or making room for one thing makes space for something else. Like the empty walls in my new rental house, extra space can help us “see” better without all the distractions. When the too-much of Christmas presses in, it helps to make room for the joy we crave by saying ‘no’ to what we don’t need.

Instead of the usual going without food, fasting during Advent can simply be a variation of giving up, putting off, setting aside or laying down. All these provide a way to make room for Jesus in our soul and spirit, where we are hungriest. Because, goodness knows, there are so many other things that want to “feed” us. Too much of anything can fill me so full that I never know I’m hungry.   The Christmas season provides the greatest number of opportunities to drive this lesson home. Thousands of sparkly doodads, an overabundance of rich food, an explosion of visual input from every possible screen in the universe…


To read the rest of this post, join me at the “Simplify the Season” Blog Party. Terryn Whitfield is the host at Just a Simple Home and has rounded up 30 great bloggers sharing messages about the season of Christmas.

simplify the season graphic

God With Us, Always

I realize it’s still a few days before Halloween, but unless you’ve been under a rock (or in North Dakota somewhere) you know the Christmas parade has started in stores all across the land. (My apologies to anyone in either of the Dakotas).

Yes, the holidays are fast on the heels of All Hallow’s Eve and we’ll be reminded once again – I hope! – that God is with us. I guess we can blame capitalism and commercialism, but Christmas seems to come sooner every year, doesn’t it?

No doubt due to Seattle’s drizzly weather (and the Costco displays), I started humming this Christmas song* the other day and realized that “Emmanuel, God With Us” are words I can sing year ‘round.

Because God is always with us. And has been with us from the beginning.

– – – – –

Our Home Group has been walking slowly through the book of Joshua, a portion of God’s Word I love greatly for the message of salvation in its pages. God with us, right there in the Old Testament, in the unlikely guise of Rahab, the harlot. Fast forward, or read forward, and the New Testament records Rahab’s unlikely inclusion in the lineage of Christ, revealing the scarlet thread that ran, not only from her window, but all through history to Christ’s birth and ultimately his death.

I love how God’s story is throughout the pages of the Bible, salvation from beginning to end, God with us for all time.

– – – – –

My new book Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas talks about the story of Christmas, not as a single day, but a season. I write about the days including Advent (on December 3rd this year) all the way to Epiphany on January 6th—the observance of the “showing forth” or manifestation of God to the world—and how we can spread out the joy of Christmas over weeks, not days.

I think the real message of Christmas is not that Jesus came, but what we’re going to do with what we know about His coming.

He was manifested to the world—God with us—so we can show others who He is. All year long, wherever we go.

Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas can show you how. You can purchase it on Amazon or from Barnes and Noble. Thank you~

front book cover

*We Have a Saviour, Hillsong United Christmas

Things I’m Not Good At (or Why I Decorate With Books)

                       “So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and

marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, 

6 let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be,

without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other,

or trying to be something we aren’t.” 

Romans 12:5b, 6 The Message Bible

* * * *

My sister Elle got all the creative genes in our family. She can watch a how-to show on HGTV and then go to Home Depot to shop for plywood and staples and vinyl covering, go home and 5 hours later, voila–she’s got a way cool headboard for her bedroom. She was a do-it-yourselfer before DIY was part of our current vocabulary.

I’ve seen her re-fashion fabric pieces into throw pillows, make a shower curtain out of a bedspread, design, sand and paint a picture frame, recover chairs. The list goes on.

Me, I decorate with things that make me happy--books, photos in small frames, fresh flowers from our yard, rocks I collect from the beach. There is no ‘decorating’ scheme in my home, simply moving things around in the seasons. Oh, and candles. I do like candles.

But imagining something out of almost-thin air then creating it to go in my home? Not me.

So not me.

~~~~

There is a great deal of freedom in knowing what things you don’t do, what you’re not good at. Being aware of what you can say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the truest part of who you are.

I’m in a small book study group at our church, going through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet-thoughts on change, grace and learning the hard way. (Zondervan, 2010). I don’t need anything extra to read at this time in my life, but frankly, the content is perfectly timed.

In particular, the affirmation that it is okay to not be awesome at everything, because we aren’t meant to do everything.

It’s often easy to buy into the lie that says we should be like all those “other people” who have remarkable gardens, super-original clothes, the ones that knit or cook, bake, sew, decorate, craft, fill-in-the-blank. The enemy of our souls would like us to think we should be able to do it all, whatever that all is.

If we buy into that argument, then the “this” that we should be doing, which is often the one thing we were made to do, gets lost.

We’re spread too thin trying to be something we’re not, trying to fit in where we shouldn’t be, trying to look like everyone else.

May I suggest that you do what Niequiest challenged us to do? Make a list of “Things I Don’t Do”

Her list included things like gardening, scouring flea markets, baking, making scrapbooks–definitely not in her DNA, although they are all the “right” mom things to do.

Niequist also added something intangible that she doesn’t do,
“I don’t spend time with people who routinely make me feel like less than I am, or who spend most of their time talking about what’s wrong with everyone else and what’s wrong with the world…”

* * * * *

Life is a constant decision to redefine our boundaries again and again, making them tighter and smaller, not so that we can live in a hidey-hole kind of place, ignoring the world and staying safe, but so that we can live in the freedom of being who we were created to be, where we are, doing what we have been gifted to do.

As the writer of Romans declares in the opening quote, “let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be.”

Maybe you’re a remarkable photographer that captures a world that some of us miss, adding to our lives by showing us what you see. But you definitely don’t do windows.

Maybe you like to run. For fun. Because you sense God’s presence when it’s just you and He together, pounding the pavement. But cooking is so not your thing.

Maybe you enjoy setting a beautiful table, creating a welcoming piece of art for others to enjoy while their souls and bodies are fed. But you haven’t weeded your garden for 6 months. And you’re probably not going to.

Lean into your list. Write down “The Things I Don’t Do” and then listen to what you hear in the spaces.

What are you free to do? What have you been created to do? Live into that.

And be ready to make a new list when the time comes.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’d love to hear in the comments what’s on Your List….

Sharing with Jennifer Lee and the lovely community at #TellHisStory

1c9ac-tellhisstory-badge

 

Keeping in Step with Jesus (Vlog)

In the middle of all that goes into releasing a book and talking about a book and promoting a book**, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. This entry from Oswald Chambers “My Utmost for His Highest” (October 12th) was encouraging to me; I hope it encourages you. (forgive my cough; of course, as soon as I began to speak, my voice got all scratchy).

 

**Living the Season Well-Reclaiming Christmas