Pursuing Peace, Expecting Joy: Five Minute Friday

I was sorting through pictures this year to find some for our family photo books that I make for grandparents this time of year. I came across this picture.

For some reason it moved me. I remember when it was taken. I was smiling so much my face hurt. It was probably the best day we’d ever had as a family of five. (I’m hoping to talk more about that special day next week).


I love this picture of myself. Because it’s one of the first times in the last year that I remember feeling happy. I know I was happy other times. But I never looked happy in pictures. I looked tired, worried, stressed, irritated. But never happy. Because being a mom of three isn’t always a happy time. I deal with lots of screaming, arguing, enforcing of chores and school work, breaking up of sibling fights, butt and nose wiping. In fact there are days when I hardly remember genuine smiles. You know the kind I’m talking about, the ones that you don’t have to think about or remind yourself to do.


I have a few very distinct memories of times when my face hurt from smiling so much. One was my wedding (and that was before we even got to the formal wedding photos). Another was in my parent’s dining room playing board games and laughing until we cried. After my daughter was born. My 30th birthday girls game night. Then our Edaville trip. I know there have been others, those are just the ones that stick out in my mind.


When I was starting my memoir in college I wrote a chapter that I shared at our final public project reading. Pursuing Peace, Expecting Joy. I’m just realizing now what a perfect description of the Advent season that is. Because for us joy is not a surprise. The Messiah was born! We are no longer the shepherd’s shocked by the appearance of the angels; we can be Simeon. He knew he would see the Messiah and in his lifetime, he believed God when he said it. So he looked for it, watched for it and anticipated the Incarnation.


We don’t have to just wait to feel peace this holiday season. Very little about the traditional way this holiday is celebrated in the United States lends itself to peace naturally. But we can pursue peace, seek the Prince of Peace in fact. We can expect joy because we know He already came. We can look for times to feel joy, remember the times that happiness overcame us and we couldn’t stop smiling. We may not be able to force it to happen, but remembering it can and will happen, is half the battle. We can nurture joy in our hearts by drawing close to the Savior Born to us and reveling in all he has done for us, both in the past, now and in the time to come.


As you review your year, (as many of us are prone to do during the year end holiday season) whether through pictures or just in your mind; remind yourself of the joy that came, even at times that didn’t appear on the outside to be joyful and the peace that descended into the most chaotic of situations.

Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.






Finding Advent in the Chaos: Five Minute Friday


Advent is my favorite season. Yes, I prefer to call it Advent rather than just Christmas because as beautiful as  Christmas is, it is just one day. Whereas I see Advent as a beautiful journey to explore the wait for the Messiah.

But this year we are also in the season of crazy. Newborn schedules, upcoming family travel, stir crazy kids as the cold and wet weather settle in, not to mention the extreme excitement of this time of year. (and we don’t even do Santa or Elf on the Shelf).

But I am determined to continue celebrating the season anyway.  The season of having a tiny baby boy at Christmas. The season of having a three year old and six year old so excited for the holidays that their small bodies might explode with sheer adrenaline. (I could do without the runny noses, but that season seems to have arrived as well).

So I break up yet another fight before the Christmas tree gets knocked down and try to coax the baby to eat and sleep amid the noise and chaos, I am reminded of the first Christmas. The unwanted travel, even though they probably got to visit with family as a side affect of being taxed. I often feel like I’m being taxed this time of year, if not just in the yearly insurance premium increase and worries about whether there will be a wage increase to match, but the portion of my time, money and energy that are taken by holiday activities. Some of them are things I love, others are not. But they all cost me something.

The noise of the human traffic, and the stable probably full of animals. I never understood pictures of a stable with a single donkey and a cow or sheep. If the inn was full, chances are the stable was too. Where else were all the pack animals being housed? I was probably not quiet, and certainly not clean or peaceful. So as I wipe another snotty nose, lament at the stickiness of my kitchen floor (even though I just mopped) and feel as though my house is getting smaller by the second I can relate, at least in part related to Mary and Joseph, in the stable with a newborn. (At least when we travel to visit family we get to stay in a clean hotel that offers free breakfast).

So even in my difficulties and struggles, or perhaps even more because of them, I can experience God this Christmas. He was born into this same world of busy, dirt and tired and yet he was found and worshipped. May I learn to join the shepherds and the wise men, as I stand aside and take notice that a Savior has been born to us.

If your family is new to exploring Advent, may I recommend my own devotional? I wrote As We Wait as a response to my mother who loves Advent but could no longer find a devotional she liked. As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one. It is one of the things I am most proud to have written and I find new inspiration and comfort in it each year. (I know it sounds weird to experience that with your own writing, but with enough time and distance, I sometimes forget that the words are mine and enjoy them again.)







Do You Ever Wonder Anymore?


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In his sermon last Sunday, our pastor talked about the fact that it is easy to lose our sense of wonder.  Christmas is an amazing time. There is a sense of Narnian magic in the air. The mystery of the Incarnation. Children experience this magic. The lights, the traditions, and of course, Santa Claus. They may not fully understand it, assuming it can be understood at all with the mind rather than the heart; but they sense that something is special about this time. As adults it is easy to become distracted.

We don’t even celebrate Santa at our house, and there is still a sense of excitement in the air. Part of it is related to the giving and receiving of gifts. Some of my fondest memories as a child are of anticipation of someone opening a gift I had carefully and thoughtfully chosen. I want to teach my children the same enjoyment that comes from giving. But, there is more than that.


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If I seem like I’m struggling to put this into words, it’s because I am a bit. I am an adult trying to put the memory of a child’s experience into grownup words. Even with my best intentions, I have lost my perspective, some of my joy and wonder. Until just a few years ago, I could never sleep on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t only the presents or the anticipation of family togetherness, both as wonderful and stressful as that could be. I remember lying awake in my childhood bed, the room filled with the light of a Christmas window candle and feeling as though magic lay heavy in the air. Now I am so exhausted with preparations that I stay up too late and finally roll into bed exhausted.  I have lost something.

The Incarnation, God with us, is truly part of that deeper magic that C.S. Lewis was talking about. Something that we understand deep in our bones, though our minds have forgotten and our hearts have strayed. It was part of us from our creation. A savior who would become one of us so he could die for us. A birthday that was a prelude to an execution that would end in resurrection. But not end, not really, rather point us toward an infinitely better future that is beyond what our minds can comprehend.


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Words and theology cannot fully explain why all of this makes my heart beat faster and my mind race with possibilities. I have heard the good news the shepherds were talking about and dared to believe it is true. A savior has been born to us. I can experience the wonder and joy again. But I need to let go. Let go of all the self-imposed responsibilities to create the picture postcard, perfect Christmas.

If you enjoy decorating your house, revel in it. But if it causes more stress than it produces delight, then simplify. If an elaborate Christmas meal fills your heart with joy; fill the house with the glorious fragrances of the holidays. But if at your house it always seems to end in acrid smoke and hurtful words, settle for something easier and do it with gladness. If hours of shopping or hand making gifts makes your heart sing continue on brave woman. But if going to the mall makes you claustrophobic and you are allergic to anything crafty, then settle for simple gifts purchased online (or Etsy for that handmade touch that you didn’t have to sweat over).

If I have the best decorated house, the most delicious food and expensive and elaborate gifts but I lack wonder; I have gained nothing. (Excuse the paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13). Worse than that, I have sacrificed my joy on the altar of holiday expectations. Grant yourself grace this year. Do more of the things you love, and only what you must of those that drain you. Gather close to those you love. Ask God to restore your joy and open your eyes to wonder this Christmas. Then set aside time to watch for it.

Do less, so you can experience more.



Why I Love Advent: Learning to Wait


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I’ve always loved Advent, it was a huge part of the Christmas festivities at my house growing up. Lighting of the Advent wreath, singing of carols as a family, sharing daily calendars and devotionals; all of these were central. As an adult, with my own family, I’ve been trying to figure out what Advent will look like at our house. Doing simple things with the kids can turn into just another stressful project, if I’m not careful. The point of Advent, at least to me is to slow down and do less so we can experience more.

At our harried pace of life, it can be difficult to tap into the biblical stories in a new way. To meditate on Mary’s deep love of God that she would risk her life to be the mother of the Messiah. To rejoice with the shepherd’s as they shared the good news. To wonder with the magi as they traveled into a country and culture not their own in search of a God they did not yet believe in.  To fully appreciate how long the nation of Israel had been waiting for their deliverer.

These are deep and sometimes complex thoughts. I find that the Advent season brings up many emotions in my own heart. I find myself analyzing the direction of my life and wondering if I’m really following God’s direction for my life. I am in awe of the manger and what it stands for; a God that gave up everything to become like me. As a mother I relate to Mary with amazement and yet sadness. Did she know she would have to give up her son? That after that first night he would belong to the world, not just to her?

When I wrote, As We Wait, these were the kind of thoughts I had in mind. I wanted to reexamine some of the traditional biblical stories in a way that would allow the reader to see the characters as more human. I also wanted to include scriptures beyond the typical birth accounts in the gospels. Yes, those are wonderful and important. But the birth of Jesus was the capstone event of a pattern that was being formed through the whole of the Old Testament. I wanted to appreciate the process not just the event of the Incarnation itself.

If you are looking for an opportunity to really slow down and appreciate the journey this Advent then I recommend incorporating As We Wait into your personal liturgy. Make the time to grow closer to God and your family through the celebration of Advent.


Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Celebrating Advent with My Kids

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Last year I did a series of various ways to celebrate Advent. But this year we are going to make a more specific effort to actually celebrate as a family. Our children are two and five, so much of what is traditional may or may not work for us. But I put together a list of things we are going to attempt.


Truth in the Tinsel

Since my children are a bit too young for my own Advent devotional, I got this e-book last year; but was too busy to do it. This year I’m working it into our homeschool curriculum. I plan to take a break from our usual lessons, except perhaps for phonics, and instead use this to guide our lessons for the month of December. I know we probably won’t do it every day, because let’s face it, life happens. But I think it would be a fun, hands-on way to engage my children’s interest.


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Christmas Count Down Chain

This is a simple idea, and one that I think may possibly be incorporated into Truth in the Tinsel. My daughter is constantly asking how many days until Christmas. We’re going to make a paper chain so she can count for herself. (So she works on her counting skills and I avoid a constant repetitive questions. Win, Win.)


Advent Wreath with We Light the Candles

I’m also considering pulling out the Advent devotional I used as a child and begin the tradition of lighting the advent wreath. They may be too young and it may not work, but I want to try anyway. Some of my fondest memories of Christmas as a child were sitting as a family around the Advent wreath, the nightly reading followed by the singing of a carol. This is something I want to begin to share with my own little family.


Jackie Lawson’s Animated Advent Calendar

The last several years, my mother has purchases animated advent calendars from Jackie Lawson for the whole family. While these are generally non-religious, my children still enjoy the idyllic wonder of exploring different parts of the Christmas village or the various rooms of the English manor as the pre-Christmas events commence. The antics of the adorable animals (especially the dogs) are a big hit as well.

How do you celebrate Advent with your family? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Celebrate Advent: Incorporating Service, Generosity and Gratitude

We’ve been talking for the last few days about ways to celebrate Advent with your family and I’d like to add one more suggestion, employing acts of service. In the devotional that my family used for most of my childhood, during the last week of Advent we each randomly picked a name of another family member from a hat and then did secret acts of service for that person until Christmas Eve when we each revealed whose name we had drawn. This was a very simple way to encourage acts of service and it worked well, even as children. I think it is a great place to start. I think that so much about Advent and overall Christmas can be about us. First we have the materialism of our culture that is focused on eating and buying and acquiring rather than gratitude, generosity and service. Even within Christian celebrations it can still be very personal. Jesus came for me, because God loves me. That is a good thing to remember. But what is even more important is that we are to extend the gift. Jesus is God’s gift to us and we are called to share his love and the gift of salvation with others.


I suggest an outward in approach to the process. Begin Advent by focusing on others, perhaps in another area of the world. This year my family and I are considering a donation to Gospel for Asia’s Christmas Critter Project or Heifer International. My daughter is excited about providing a family (maybe one with a little girl like her) with access to food and education via a goat or sheep.  My daughter’s Awana’s group participates in  Operation Christmas Child. I think it’s great to start Advent by focusing on others who have less than we do.

Then maybe on the second week of advent find someone to help in your community. Maybe a local soup kitchen or food bank needs help or donations. Or look for someone in your neighborhood who needs help raking leaves or shoveling snow. This can be as simple or as complicated as you decide to make it. Help you children purchase gifts for the Angel Tree Project. Donate your time and money to local causes you support.  My husband and I decided to donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sales from my Advent devotional to a local pro-life charity we love, CareNet of the Lehigh Valley. In our area we purchase gift cards for the clients local organization that supports the mentally disabled. During the school year our church fills backpacks with food each week for low income kids at a nearby elementary school and we host a cold weather homeless shelter one night a week during the winter months. Get your family involved with similar projects in your own community, as appropriate depending on the ages of your children.


The third week of Advent you can bring it in further and look for people to bless in your church and extended family. Ask your elders or deacons if there is a family in the church who has needs during the holiday season, whether they be financial or practical. Provide childcare for a low income mom so she can get to a doctor’s appointment or do her grocery shopping. Make a meal for a family in crisis. Have your children make a gift, write a simple card or bake something for an elderly relative that you don’t often see. Just to let that person know that you are thinking about them.

Finally in the last week before Christmas, encourage your children to serve each other and the family. Do each other’s chores, take turns cooking meals, being especially kind and accommodating. This may all feel strange in the beginning but the point is to cultivate attitudes of service in our children as we approach Christmas, a time of celebration for God’s ultimate gift to us, his son.

I know that sometimes acts of service can see like just one more thing on the seemingly never ending Christmas to-do list, but it’s a crucial opportunity to show our children that it isn’t just all about them this year.

Have you ever incorporated service into your family Christmas celebrations? What kinds of things did you do?

Celebrate Advent – Using an Advent Calendar


Most Advent calendars traditionally begin on December 1 and run through December 24 or 25. There are various styles ranging from a daily scripture to a daily piece of chocolate. The version I used growing up was a cardboard box with 24 little doors on it. Inside each little compartment was a small Christmas ornament. We would put them on a miniature Christmas tree each day. My sister and I would take turns opening the little doors before we left on the school bus in the morning and before church on Sundays. (After we grew up the cardboard box started to fall apart so my mother replaced it with a wooden box with 24 doors designed for an Advent calendar).


My sister has a simpler version of an advent calender. Each day you get a little magnet which attaches to the front of the advent calender. By the Christmas Eve all the magnets together form a Nativity scene.

As I’ve said before, this is really more about process rather than product. The point is to take the time to acknowledge the day, rather than how exactly you go about it. Some families have little slips of paper in 24 envelopes, each with an Advent scripture to be read aloud. It can be that simple.

Advent’s calendars can also be non-religious in nature. My mom purchases a fun online advent calendar from Jacquie Lawson each year. Each day there is a little Christmas themed animations that my kids and I click on to watch. It’s all about presents, decorating and snow, usually with some gingerbread people, teddy bears, cats and dogs thrown in. It’s a fun little tradition that my children enjoy. Usually the day after Christmas they sit down at the computer with my husband and watch all 25 over again.

Have you used an Advent calendar before? What was you favorite?