my favorite moments of the year

Friday, December 30, 2011

Herein I have compiled my list of some of my favorite moments of the year. Both my own and others'. (Did I mention that I love end of the year lists?) Some of these moments are deep; some are not. I'm not pretending like they are all of equal life importance and eternal value, but they are still all my favorite moments. Because like real life, my favorite life moments include the trivial and the significant, the fun and the serious, the extraordinary and the mundane.

1) Happy Adoption Day!
We became an official family on August 23, 2011, surrounded by our friends and family, filling the courtroom with the most people the judge had ever had at an adoption. This is what love looks like:




2) Joy! 
My favorite picture of the year - this is what Jesus looks like on someone's face. I love this picture more than I can say. It's from Carlos Whittaker's blog - check it out here: Jesus Shot Out - Ragamuffin Soul





3) Friday Night Lights - the Series Finale
Everything that a series finale should be. Everything. It was beautiful and tear-jerking and just everything lovely. It encapsulated everything about this little-watched, under-appreciated, done-far-too-soon show - just perfect. The last eight or so minutes are some of the best television I have ever seen.




4) One Thousand Gifts - halfway
You can read about it here. It was a defining moment in a defining year for me.



5) The Civil Wars in concert
This was just one great evening of music. Great venue, beautiful music, one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Loved it; love them. We saw them just as they were on the cusp of ridiculous popularity. It almost made me want to quit liking them because I have a natural aversion to trendiness, but they are just so flippin fantastic. I can't stop listening.

 



6) Learning how to pray for real
Not that I didn't know how to pray before, but there was a moment this year...It came flat on my face before God, asking and praying with boldness for Him to intervene NOW. Easily the boldest prayer I've ever prayed, and I'm not sorry that I've lost some inhibitions when it comes to seeking God's face and His intervention in my life and in the world.


7) Community - the Foosball Episode
Genius. Community is the smartest, funniest sitcom on television right now, and this episode is proof positive. I laughed more during this half-hour of TV than I have for a very long time.



8) The point at which I found peace
This was just an answer to the bold prayer that I prayed. We went to the final team meeting for Brenden and Raniah as their case switched to the adoption unit. Thirteen different people - case workers, supervisors, therapists, the head of the local medical center, CASA, foster parents...all of us around one table, everyone wanting what was best for our kids and their older sister. We left not knowing what would happen, but at peace. It was just a remarkable meeting. The rest of the people in that room may not have been believers, but God's presence was there. He worked; we witnessed it, and we left in awe. It was truly remarkable.

What was your favorite moment of this past year?













books of the year

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Once again, through a complicated series of equations, I have deduced my top five books of the year. Basically, just the ones I liked the most. I completely attained my goal of reading 50 books this year – 70 total! Of course, several of them were re-reads, and I tend to read a book fast the second time through. However, I was pretty pleased with myself. Reading has always been an extremely important part of my life. It rejuvenates me, it gives me greater focus for my life, it educates, it inspires, and above all else, it gives me great pleasure. I highly recommend each of these books, so if you’re not an avid reader and definitely need something that you know is good – take any one of them. Click on the picture to link through to Amazon.

1) One Thousand Gifts - Ann Voskamp
If you’ve read this blog for long, this book doesn’t come as a surprise. It quite literally changed my life, and I consider it required reading for the Christian life.









2) The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh I just finished this book, and it was truly amazing. It is about a girl who ages out of foster care (obviously why I was interested in the first place), but the characters are well-developed and the writing is wonderful. It is simultaneously uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and hopeful.







3) Kisses from Katie – Katie Davis
It's not that this book is classic literature or anything; it's just that this woman's story is so incredibly compelling. Radical obedience, reckless abandon, total commitment to Jesus - this is the life I want to live too. Not that I want to move to Africa and be a single mom of 14 children - that's Katie's part of God's story. But I want my story to echo hers in exactly the ways that count. Sacrifice, service - following Jesus as close as I can.





4) Bossypants - Tina Fey
Of course Tina Fey is a favorite of mine, but this book is poignant, hilarious, and well worth your time. I laughed all the way through.









5) She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems
Caroline Kennedy

This is a beautifully edited book of poetry. I found myself picking it up night after night. It’s the kind of book made for a long bath, lit candles, and a glass of wine. I don’t even have a bathtub, so that’s something I’m just imagining myself doing. But it sounds awesome, and if I did, this is the book I’d be reading.






What's the best book you read this year? 

Christmas gifts

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

As I counted the gifts through this past Christmas week, I have been overwhelmed with God's goodness in the face of difficulty, His grace in the face of undeservedness, and His faithfulness in a world that changes.

I am a grateful servant....

570. oranges, candy canes, and gingersnaps
571. lighting Advent candles nightly
572. crystal bowls to put Grandma Fisher's Christmas cranberry jello salad in
573. one more family member at the Christmas Eve dinner table
574. parents who have given us a legacy of faith, compassion, generosity, and always thinking of others first
575. a mama who always knows exactly what to give us. without lists.

576. sweet raised eyebrows and furrowed newborn brows
577. a van big enough for our family
578. light traffic, no rain, easy travels
579. yet even more unexpected generosity at just the right moment


albums of the year

Monday, December 26, 2011

End of the year list time! I completely adore end of the year lists. I don’t care if it is a list of the top five nano-particles, I’m going to read that article and pick my own favorite. Since I’m on vacation the last week of the year, you’ll probably see quite a few of these lists pop up. I’m thinking it serves three purposes: 1) to educate, inform, and inspire, 2) to keep record of the things I loved at this particular moment in time, and 3) to entertain – mostly me, but hopefully you readers too.

Here’s my top seven albums of the year (10 seems too cliché, and I just had too many for five), calculated through a complicated algorithm involving various criteria such as talent, musical brilliance, and how much I personally love and listen to the album. OK, maybe it’s just entirely based on how much I love and listen to the album, but I wouldn’t love and listen to an album that wasn’t really good stuff.  I wouldn’t admit to loving and listening constantly to an album that wouldn’t objectively be viewed as great music. Click on the images to purchase through Amazon.


1) The Civil Wars – Barton Hallow
Brilliant. I have nothing else to say about that probably hasn’t already been said. I thought quite a bit before putting the rest of the albums in order, but this one was and is number one all year long. No doubt.

 

 

2) Adele – 21
I know Adele is everywhere, but I do not get tired of this record. She is one-of-a-kind. This album is fun for the whole family – my kids love it.

 

 

 

3) Gungor – Ghosts Upon the Earth
You can read more about what I think about this album here. You can also read some really thought provoking stuff from Michael Gungor here. This album is just so musically intricate and amazing. The talent contained in these songs continues to blow me away.

 

 

4) Jay Z and Kanye West – Watch the Throne
This here album is grown folk music. GROWN FOLK MUSIC. If your child learns some language you’d rather them not use because you play grown folk music in front of them, then I am absolved of all blame. That said, it’s brilliant. I absolutely love this album and listen to it nearly every time my kids aren’t in the car with me (which is unfortunately almost never). Nevertheless, I remain conflicted over all the language. I wish the music was cleaner. This also brings me to a pretty interesting post/comment thread that I read this past month: Rap, Jesus, and Self. What do you think?

 

 

5) The Decemberists – The King is Dead
This set of songs got a significant amount of playtime this year. Also, I went to see them in concert this spring. Great concert, great band, great album. They just keep getting better.

 

 


6) NeedToBreathe – The Reckoning
The band doesn’t get enough recognition. They are really amazing. They could hold their own in any musical arena. Their 2009 release is still a favorite, and this one is just so very good.

 

 

 

7) Shaun Groves – Third World Symphony
Simply put, this music is the heart of the believer put to words and music. It’s inspiring, worshipful, and just so very lovely.

 

 

Honorable mentions: How Emptiness Sings (Christa Wells), Torches (Foster the People), The Great Awakening (Leeland)

fresh mercy in the morning

Thursday, December 22, 2011

It seems like nothing has gone right for me the last couple days. (I know, I know – bloggers who use their blogs to only complain suck…but this has a point, I promise.) I’m overwhelmed with cleaning, working out our Christmas weekend schedule, preparing both physically and emotionally for our trip to Oklahoma, and dealing with two of our children who are having a particularly hard time right now. Oh, and I think that Niah is sick.

In addition, yesterday I gave up two things that were very close to my heart. One by choice; one was taken away from me. Both were extremely painful, and I’m not feeling at peace yet with either one. The weeks that are to come will be two of the most physically and emotionally draining weeks of my year. I will need supernatural strength and peace to overcome my own complicated emotions to be fully present for my children. I feel at the end already, and we haven’t even begun.

Then today, a friend. I hesitate to write that because true friendship is hard to find and online friendships often aren’t true, but online friendships can be true and genuine and intimate and above all else, understanding. I didn’t seek it out, but God brought something to me through a friend, a true friend whom I’ve never met in person and likely never will, that I didn’t expect and desperately needed.

Life to my soul.
Strength to my spirit.

Sing, O heavens! Be joyful, O earth!
And break out in singing, O mountains!
For the Lord has comforted His people,
And will have mercy on His afflicted.
Isaiah 49:13

In the morning, when God brings His mercies new, He brought me this word.
I can lean into Him.
He comforts.
He is compassionate.
He has mercy.

Once again, right at the end of myself, I know that my Savior is there to do what I can’t. He fills in where I’m not. He gives strength when I am weak. He gives peace where I have none. He gives joy when I feel pain.

They were just typed words on a computer screen.
But they were God’s very Word spoken straight to my heart.
That’s what Love looks like to me today.



~Wishing yet again that I could write as beautifully as Ann. She expresses my heart today: When your Christmas stretches you...

love all

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This, the final week of Advent, brings us to the last and in my opinion, most fun week of Advent Conspiracy. Our family has grown in ways I couldn’t have imagined when we started this all, but in ways that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

[love all]
When Jesus loved, He loved in ways never imagined. Though rich, he became poor to love the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked and the sick. He played to the margins. By spending less at Christmas we have the opportunity to join Him in giving resources to those who need help the most. When Advent Conspiracy first began four churches challenged this simple concept to its congregations. The result raised more than a half million dollars to aid those in need. One less gift. One unbelievable present in the name of Christ.
description from
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The main focus of our local church when it comes to this week is water. Clean water is the most basic of human needs, and yet a billion of the world’s most vulnerable people are without access to clean water. As a congregation, we’ve given our funds to Clean Water for Haiti which provides sand filters to Haitian communities and families in need. Haiti has been close to our church’s heart for a number of years as we also send at least one, if not more, of our members in service there yearly. (One might not seem like a lot to some of you, but our congregation is SMALL. One is significant.)

Other things our family likes to do include putting together Christmas food baskets for the needy in our own community, giving a donation to The Sudan Project in honor of the church and pastor who started this whole change of thought for us, participating in Operation Christmas Child, donating various items through World Vision’s gift catalog, and sponsoring a child through Compassion International.

We have also tried to buy local in support of growing our own struggling economy, buying direct handmade gifts, purchasing gifts that give back (like Toms, Noonday, Show Hope, etc.), and forgoing actual tangible items in favor of gifts to a charity (like World Vision, Compassion, Clean Water for Haiti, etc.)

There is a definite time and place for the discussion about helping versus hurting. There are valid concerns with the marketing of “charity”. I think that all of these ways to love all are important, but are not enough in and of themselves. Each problem in our world right now needs boots on the ground, preferably local boots. I do not believe Americans are the saviors of the world. That honor belongs to the true Savior alone who empowers each one of us, no matter our economic condition, no matter our geographic location to change the world where we’re at. Sometimes we need some help – thus the gifts, the money, the products. They’re not bad. But they’re not the answer. That said, I think they’re better than nothing, and I believe that purchasing with purpose and conscience is our responsibility as the richest (in finances, anyway) people on this earth.

What are some ways that you love all during the Christmas season?
What’s your favorite item-with-a-cause site? My new favorite is Noonday, but I’m easily persuaded.
What’s one way that you are going to forsake your comfort zone, sacrifice what you hold dear to love others this year?

this is what love looks like

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Revolutionary.

hear the angels sing

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My favorite traditional Christmas carol is It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, and that’s the song that is ringing in my heart during these sad past few days. It really has seemed like there is just so much heartache this year in particular. Death, illness, family break-ups; it is a crushing, crushing load.
This is the verse in particular that’s been in my heart:

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

I’m praying for rest beside the weary road this Christmas season for those I know, for those I don’t know. During days when the glad and golden hours seem far off, I have peace that they are coming.
Jesus is coming.
Peace will reign.
Love will win.

in suffering

Friday, December 16, 2011

Yesterday, I came home from a perfectly lovely, although loud, girls’ night out (although, I’ve learned yet another truth about myself. I’m too old for a college area sports bar. Far. too. old.) to find that my mom’s first cousin had died in a car accident. He was kind, loved Jesus, was a father of 7 children, and we were bonded in a different way than I have with the other cousins as his youngest child was adopted through foster care about a year and a half ago. He and his wife talked with and encouraged me through our initial licensing and foster placement.

Today, while it is sad to lose your father in any circumstance, I am just broken for their little girl who was also in the car with her mom and dad. She has a broken collarbone, they think, nothing too serious. But I can’t stop grieving for yet another loss in this tiny little life who is the same age as my Brenden. For a little girl who has lost everything already and has now lost the father that she has known and loved for most of her life. For how she felt alone at the scene and in the hospital since her mom was also injured in the accident. I can hardly bear to think of it.

So today I grieve.
For his wife.
For his oldest daughter who is many, many states away from her parents and literally due with her first-born any day.
For that first grandchild whose birth will always be shadowed with this news, who will never know his or her grandfather.
For the rest of their boys who are now left to navigate teenage years and young adulthood without their dad to teach them how to be a godly man.
For the rest of the girls who will not have their father to walk them down the aisle at their weddings.
And for their youngest daughter who has already gone through more pain and loss than any person should ever experience and now will have even more.

I know the truth. I believe the truth. But I also believe God is not frightened by our suffering. He is not threatened by our angry questions. He definitely doesn’t get mad at us when we doubt. So while it is my temptation to answer all questions with Christian platitudes and to quote Scripture at tragedy, while truth is truth no matter the circumstances or feelings, while in my heart of hearts I trust the One who loves us, today I just want to ask…Why?

give more

Thursday, December 15, 2011

We’ve been working our way through the Advent Conspiracy this Advent season. You can find weeks 1 and 2 here and here. We’ve worshipped fully, spent less, and this week, we’re going to give more. (And at long last, I am caught up on Advent posts.)

[give more]
God’s gift to us was a relationship built on love. So it’s no wonder why we’re drawn to the idea that Christmas should be a time to love our friends and family in the most memorable ways possible. Time is the real gift Christmas offers us, and no matter how hard we look, it can’t be found at the mall. Time to make a gift that turns into the next family heirloom. Time to write mom a letter. Time to take the kids sledding. Time to bake really good cookies and sing really bad Christmas carols. Time to make love visible through relational giving. Sounds a lot better than getting a sweater two sizes too big, right?
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What do my kids want this year? Well, they did make crazy lists with cell phones, toothbrushes, and various other items on them, but that’s not what they’ll remember year after year.

They want me to read them a story on demand rather than say, “In a minute,” and then never get around to it.
They want to cuddle on the couch while we watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
They want to hear Anne of Green Gables night after night beside the lights of the Christmas tree.
They want me to come to their Christmas concerts.
They want me to make them special Christmas goodies.
They want me to rock them to sleep.

They just want me.
Not presents.
My presence.

When we intentionally decide to forgo gifts and instead spend our time, effort, and even finances on spending time with one another, the Advent season is really fulfilled. Christmas is about the incarnation – God with us. Emmanuel.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.
John 1:14 (the message)

That’s the Gift God gave us – his very own Son.
Flesh and blood.
Living here in our mess with us.
Sharing joys and delights with us.
That’s the gift He calls us to give one another as well.
To be with.

joy

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On this past Sunday, we lit the third Advent candle – the candle of Joy. To be honest, I think joy is an over-talked-about attribute. Or maybe I just mean that it’s poorly discussed. I realize that the common Christian thing is to say that true joy is not equated with being happy. I looked it up though, and you know what the dictionary says about joy?

1 a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: delight b: the expression or exhibition of such emotion : gaiety

2: a state of happiness or felicity : bliss

3: a source or cause of delight

That sounds an awful lot like being happy to me. I think that sometimes we take joy and make it something less. Maybe joy does mean being happy. Maybe joy means that you can choose to be happy for keeps.

A lot of things that make us happy fade…a good cup of freshly roasted, fair trade Chiapas coffee makes me exceedingly happy, but eventually that cup is gone. My really nice pair of leather riding boots with the double buckle at the top makes me feel like all is right in my little world, but I can only wear those boots so often. My freshly cut North Carolina Fraser fir lit with many strands of multi-colored lights makes my heart sing like no other Christmas decoration, but when Christmas is over, we take that tree down.

True joy lasts.

Usually it’s like this: Our circumstances dictate our feelings of happiness.
Joy is like this: Our joy dictates our feelings about our circumstances.

For me, it’s as simple as finding the delightful moments in my day and as complicated as realizing that my entire being is held together with the joy of the Lord.

In the book of Nehemiah, Nehemiah is in charge of rebuilding Jerusalem. The Jews have spent many years in captivity and have only recently returned to their homeland. They hear the law for the first time in the place where they belong, and they begin to grieve. I’m sure they were grieving for all they had lost, for the oppression they had endured, for their own failings and sins against a faithful and righteous God. I’m sure they had good reason to cry, but Nehemiah and the other leaders tell them to stop. Then the real fun starts:

“Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’” – Nehemiah 8:10

Celebrate this holiday season. Feast. Share.

Yes, there’s brokenness.
Yes, this world is dark and painful.
Yes, we should feel those things deeply…

But God gave us another emotion as well.
We can have strength through the brokenness.
We can have light in the darkness.
We can choose joy.

Joy is the certainty that whatever leashes your life to less than Love, or whatever has stained your soul with shame or failure has been neutralized by the one power that can free and forgive us all –
the living Christ.
Jack Hayford

What things delight you during Christmastime?
Do you think joy is different than happiness? How so? I’d love to hear some other perspectives.

spend less

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The second week of Advent Conspiracy has come and gone. It tends to be the most difficult week for me because we live in a culture that is the exact opposite of what this week is about. That’s the Kingdom Jesus calls us to live in though – the upside-down Kingdom.

[Spend Less]
Before you think we’re getting all Scrooge on you, let us explain what we mean. We like gifts. Our kids really like gifts. But consider this: America spends an average of $450 billion a year every Christmas. How often have you spent money on Christmas presents for no other reason than obligation? How many times have you received a gift out of that same obligation? Thanks, but no thanks, right? We’re asking people to consider buying ONE LESS GIFT this Christmas. Just one.  Sounds insignificant, yet many who have taken this small sacrifice have experienced something nothing less than a miracle: They have been more available to celebrate Christ during the advent season.
Looking for ways to give gifts that don't cost a lot of money? Have a few ideas you'd like to share? Head to
rethinkingchristmas.com today.
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We do this several ways at our house, but no matter how many ways we try to spend less, there always seems to be one more thing that we need during the holiday season. This isn’t even all about presents – think about how much money you spend during the holidays on clothing for special events, food for holiday parties and baking, eating out when your schedule is so busy you don’t have time to make something at home, decorating for your home…it’s a lot of money.

One of the things that I’ve done is recent years is less baking and creating goodies. Instead of fourteen different kinds of treats, I just make two or three. We don’t need all the sugar anyway. It’s saved far more money than I initially anticipated. It’s kind of sad how much I was spending on food supplies during the Christmas season. We also try to simplify our schedule which helps with clothing and food purchases. Still, these are small things. Let’s talk about what this week is really about:

Presents. We celebrate birthdays big here so we don’t lack opportunity to give gifts to one another, and I’d love to get away from the consumerism that gifting at Christmas puts in our lives. I suggest this link for inspiration (it sure has made me pause): When Christmas gets radical... I so wish this is where our family was right now. However, I think the important part of the Voskamp family decision was that it was child-led. I don’t want my children to have to give up all gifts at Christmas unless they themselves decide to, and right now they’re pretty little for that. So I continue to talk about spending less, giving to other things instead; I continue to say, “Christmas is not your birthday.” Someday, I pray this will be our family’s story as well.

In the meantime, we do three gifts for each child – one educational, one clothing item, and one toy/for-fun item. Even that is seeming like a lot this year. The children give each other stocking stuffers, so the amount of items seems large to me this year. I’ve been thinking of ways we can pare down. We’ve done a lot of used items this year. Once Upon a Child and EBay have been my friend when shopping for the kids. Ben has picked out a couple of toys that are his to give to his younger siblings, eliminating any cost at all. Maggie enjoys making things; she is good at crafty items for gifts.

In our extended families, we don’t do gifts at all. The grandparents have been giving one gift to each child, but the siblings definitely do not exchange gifts. And you know what? No one has missed it. It’s freeing to just be together – the gift of our presence…but that’s next week.

This post didn’t at all flow the way I’d hoped, but I hope that you are challenged to think about this week’s (truthfully, it was last week) focus nevertheless. What are some ways that you are trying to spend less during the holiday season? Ideas?

peace, peace

Monday, December 12, 2011


A week ago yesterday, we lit the Advent candle for peace, which kicked off a week when I felt very little peace at all. A week where I came face to face with my own pride in a way that I didn’t realize was still (or ever) there. A week where I spent much time in anger and pain on behalf of some dear friends who are in the middle of a terribly emotional and painful battle. A week where I was overwhelmed with the pain and suffering that living in this broken world brings. The irony of the entire week was that even though I didn’t feel peace in many ways at all; if my life wasn’t grounded in the ‘peace that comes from the good news’ (Ephesians 6:15), I wouldn’t have been able to deal with any of that in any productive sort of way.

Sometimes, especially at Christmastime, we make peace all about white doves, musical angels, and happy children of many races. Often, however, peace is hard won in the midst of a battle. Peace can be violent, painful; many times, peace is about justice. It’s about so much more than ‘sleeping in heavenly peace’.

For many of us, we understand peace to be the absence of conflict. We talk about peace in the home or in the world or giving peace a chance. But the Hebraic understanding of shalom is far more than just the absence of conflict or strife.

Shalom is the presence of the goodness of God. It's the presence of wholeness, completeness.

So when Jesus tells the woman [
Luke 8] to go in peace, he is placing the blessing of God on all of her. Not just her physical body. He is blessing her with God's presence on her entire being. And this is because for Jesus, salvation is holistic in nature. For Jesus, being saved or reconciled to God involves far more than just the saving of your physical body or your soul - it involves all of you.
from Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

This past week, peace was just about the sure knowledge that my foundation is secure even when I don’t feel it. Peace is my whole life put right even when the world seems wrong. Peace is knowing Jesus.

Counting through the weeks of Advent…
529. answers to long-prayed prayers
530. eye prescription holding steady, four years running
531. a long overdue first visit to my sister's new apartment
532. hair clips on cat legs
533. busy nights with huge trees and good sales
534. building memories with extended family
535. the sweetest, bossiest two-year-old, her first birthday as our daughter
536. the most entertaining bridal shower I've ever been to
537. feet grounded in the gospel of peace
538. shelter from the everlasting, unending pouring rain
539. a sweet, understanding husband
540. friends to share small tragedies with
541. a God who forgives me my foolish pride
542. family to share burdens with, to encourage and pray for
543. happy children with sticky hot chocolate, candy cane, and pine needle scented fingers
544. the smell of a burning Scotch pine
545. return customers
546. more answered prayers and happy sisters
547. monkey cupcakes
548. bestest cousin friends
549. thankful gift-receiving
550. getting to be a part of seeing someone grow to spiritual maturity
551. father-daughter movie dates

with apologies

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I’ve had a rough and complicated week for a myriad of reasons that I may or may not blog about in the future. Since I didn’t get my Advent post done or my list of gifts done, and since I have a full weekend of working my Grandma’s Christmas tree farm and prepping for my baby’s 2-year-old birthday lunch, here are some links I’ve been collecting in case you have some extra time this weekend:

For a sweet and tender smile: White Bread - Jumping Tandem

For a thought-provoking read: Church, State, and The Least of These - Deeper Story

For a challenge: Why Does Skin Color Matter? - Multicultural Familia

For encouragement: Never Give In, Never Give In - One Thankful Mom

worship fully

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One of ways that our church community celebrates Advent each year is to take part in something called Advent Conspiracy. We’ve done this for four years now, and it has quite literally changed the way our family and I would guess a significant percentage of our church does Christmas. Our church joined the year after it started with just three churches in various parts of the country, but today there are thousands of churches participating all over the world. This is exactly the kind of thing the body of Christ should be known for, rather than the conspicuous consumption that overwhelms this season.

Truthfully, God was working on my heart long before Advent Conspiracy came around. We used to attend another local church in addition to our own quite regularly, and many, many years ago, their pastor was convicted to change the way they did Christmas at their church and started The Sudan Project. One of his favorite things to say is something we’ve adopted in our family ever since we heard it the very first time years and years ago, “Christmas is not your birthday.” You’ll hear this phrase around our house nearly daily during the Christmas season. Christmas as Jesus’ birthday seems like something so juvenile and Sunday-school. But it’s the truth. We spend so much time making Christmas like our birthday – there’s gifts and games and parties and cookies…what are we doing to change the focus?

Brief plug: Mike has a new book out this year highlighting this – Christmas is not Your Birthday. Buy it – it’s good stuff.

So, for this year, I thought I’d do a series to highlight the various weeks of Advent Conspiracy. Hopefully inspire you to make some changes in how you celebrate the season! Originally, I had planned to do this series on Wednesdays. (That didn’t work this week, and I hope you don’t hold me to it in subsequent weeks.) I plan to share the basic principles of the week, and then some ways that our family is celebrating them this year.

The four weeks of Advent are Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All. Simple. Yet so very complicated given all of our cultural traditions and family pressures and selfish desires. Advent Conspiracy reminds me every year how very difficult it is to live a life of true discipleship.

[Worship Fully]
It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus. This is the holistic approach God had in mind for Christmas. It’s a season where we are called to put down our burdens and lift a song up to our God. It’s a season where love wins, peace reigns, and a king is celebrated with each breath. It’s the party of the year. Entering the story of advent means entering this season with an overwhelming passion to worship Jesus to the fullest.
(description from adventconspiracy)

Here are some things we’re doing this year to worship God more fully:

  • Truth in the Tinsel – This is an Advent series specifically for kids. Last year, we did a Jesse Tree, but that was pretty difficult for Brenden and even Maggie to understand. This year, with Niah old enough to participate with certain things, I wanted something geared more towards the kids.
  • Advent candles – We have an Advent candle display on our dining room table. We’ll be lighting each candle each week and talking about each specific week. For example, this past week was the Hope candle. A question for the kids is, ‘Where, specifically, are you showing hope to someone around you?’ Even preschoolers can grasp this concept.
  • Music – We play a lot of Christmas music. Not just the ‘fun’ songs either. (Although, the Beibs has gotten quite a bit of play time lately. Don’t mock me. He’s a wonderful Christmas pop of delight.) I spend time talking with the kids about what the songs mean, what my favorite songs are and why, and we play a lot of newer Christmas worship music.
  • “The Prayers” – This is what Brenden continues to call my Common Prayer book. Building some regular devotion time, reading the same readings that people all over the world are reading each day – they both connect me to God and to His family here on earth in a way that other spiritual practices in my life do not.
  • Readings – I have a lot of Christmas books. I read them all every year. Sometimes for fun, sometimes for devotional purposes, sometimes alone, sometimes with the children. I’ll highlight a few of my favorites later this month.

What are you doing to worship God more fully this year?
What are some ways that you are changing the focus from ourselves to Jesus?

I’d love to hear your ideas and practices!

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