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Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

Is it just me or has 2016 flown by? Here we are shopping and cleaning and all the general preparation that goes into hosting Thanksgiving this year (my first time EVER, more on that later) and I just realized the First Sunday of Advent is THIS WEEK!

But honestly, I can’t remember a time where I have been more grateful for the literal darkness and the reminder to slow down and wait on God with expectant hope. I need this advent season more than I ever have before. Maybe you do too?

I’m looking forward to using this devotional for my own personal study this month, and as a family we have two traditions that help us enter more fully into this season of waiting and hoping.

So thankful my church is passing out these books!
So thankful my church is passing out these books!

First off, this will be our third year of daily readings from this Jesse Tree devotional. The past two years we have used the printable ornaments provided with the book, but this year I am so excited that we now have our own set of homemade ornaments to hang with each story because I was able to recruit 24 friends to join me in a Jesse Tree ornament exchange. There are several blog posts on the interwebs detailing how to host an exchange, but I’m happy to share my own experience here. Since you don’t have enough time now to organize such an exchange before Christmas, I’ll blog this bad boy sometime in the New Year.

This is our Jesse Tree book, but there are many options on the market.
This is our Jesse Tree book, but there are many options on the market.

The other thing our family has done since the girls were itty bitty, is to gather around an advent wreath each Sunday evening. The first year we had an advent wreath I couldn’t find a devotional guide that I liked, so I wrote my own. We’ve been using a modified version of those devotions every year since, and each year I wonder if this is the year I’ll have to write something new. We’re not there yet!

I thought I would share these advent devotionals here with you this December. My plan is to post the Sunday’s devotion on Friday so that you have enough time to pray and prepare before Sunday. These devotions are intended for the preschool/elementary set and are therefore pretty short and sweet. Any supplies needed are listed but you are likely to have them around your home already. The readings I include are from the “Jesus Storybook Bible” which I think is an amazing children’s Bible and should be in your library for sure. But, if you don’t have a copy you are in luck, because the stories included have YouTube videos available and well, since you’re reading this on the internet I’m going to assume you have internet access in your home.

If you want to join along then this week (before Sunday preferably) you’ll need to gather up some supplies to make an advent wreath or pull your wreath out of the attic where it’s been collecting dust all winter. There are a million ideas on pinterest if you need to create one, and of course you can purchase a premade wreath as well. I’m partial to using the traditional colored candles (3 purple, 1 pink, 1 white) but that is not a necessity. If you have little kids, there are wreaths to make that don’t take burning actual candles, or you can do like we’ve done and use votive candles instead of pillar ones. My kids really like blowing out the candles after the prayer, so we want to include that fun part for them.

This is the advent wreath we have used the past two years: cake stand, votive candles, large white candle, greenery collected from the yard.
This is the advent wreath we have used the past two years: cake stand, votive candles, large white candle, greenery collected from the yard.

Advent is a wonderful time that allows us to calm our hearts and our heads in the midst of December craziness, a time to focus on the baby Jesus. I pray that taking the time each week to light a candle, share a story, have a discussion, and pray together will be meaningful for you and your family and draw you close to the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel, God with Us.

See you on Friday!

What to do the morning after…

What to do the morning after…

I cried myself to sleep last night.

And then woke up this morning still carrying the crushing weight of grief and worry. It sits in my gut like an anvil. It makes my hands shake when I try to type and my eyes water over at a kind word or gesture.

As I pulled the covers up over my shoulder last night I remembered the last time I had cried myself to sleep: when our son Tony was taken from us. This crushing weight, this mind-numbing worry, this panic for the future, it all feels very familiar.

So what did I do then? How did I get up and go about life? How did I not lock my doors and shut my windows and keep my family safe inside this bubble that I think I control?

Here’s what I did then:

  • I was very tender towards myself. I didn’t rush to get dressed or put makeup on or get back to business as usual. I let myself grieve. I sat on the floor and sobbed. I laid on my bed and shouted at God. I let myself feel.
  • I dug into Scripture. Into the truths found there. I spoke them aloud even if I didn’t believe them. I let friends speak them to me, even if they made me mad. I knew that ultimately hope and healing would be found within, so I kept going back to those words.
  • I prayed. Sometimes with words, most often with tears. I prayed for my son and for the family he left behind–especially the sisters who didn’t understand his abrupt departure. I prayed for the family he joined. I prayed for the social workers and the people who worried for me. And I prayed for my enemies: for the ones who took my son and scrutinized my actions and told me I wasn’t a good mother.
  • I nourished my body when I could. I gave it long walks and good cheese and the best chocolate.
  • I looked for God’s faithfulness. And when I looked I found it in big and in small ways. I opened my eyes to the wonder that is God’s constant care of me and I was renewed by the gratitude it brought about in me.
  • I answered my children’s questions with the best honesty I could. I let them see me sad, grieving what in no way was right or fair. I showed them a mother daily fighting to choose faith over fear, confident that someday I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.
  • I scrubbed my kitchen floor on my hands and my knees. I gave myself work to do. I sweat it out. I was proud of my labor.
  • I let my people love me. And when I was ready, I got to the work of loving them back.

 

Here’s what I’m going to do now:

  • I’m going to be tender towards myself. I won’t be rushed to get dressed or put on makeup or get back to the business as usual. I will let myself grieve, to cry and wail and sob and feel what I need to feel.
  • I’ll return to the Book that gives life and hope and healing. I’ll speak its words aloud, even if I don’t believe them right now, because I know I will again.
  • I’ll pray. I’ll pray for my friends and my neighbors. I’ll pray for Holy Spirit power over my fears and panic. I’ll pray for those who lost and those who won. I’ll pray for my enemies, and ask God to grow in me a tender heart where I do not see anyone as such.
  • I will nourish my body with movement and with good food. I’ll let myself rest. I’ll drink a Starbucks without regret.
  • I will continue to look for God’s faithfulness and proclaim it when I find it. Because I know it is here.
  • I’ll sit with my children in their feelings too. I’ll show them a woman grieved and grieving, but a woman who will use this grief to fuel her actions. I will answer their questions and hold them tightly. I will remind them of what I know: they are loved fiercely by the God of the universe and the parents to whom God entrusted their care. We will work together to choose faith over fear.
  • I’ll find work to do. Laundry and sweeping. Cooking and crafting. Reading and writing. This is holy and I do it not to distract myself from my pain, but to work my way through it.
  • I will look for love. Always. It is there, it is here. It is all around.

 

When we lost Tony a friend shared these words with me. They comforted me and challenged me in the way Scripture seems to: inspite of everything, keep doing good.

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In her gracious and humble speech today, Secretary Clinton invoked these words from Scripture, and in a similar way my friend had, reminded us to keep doing good. “My friends” she said, “let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

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So dear ones, if you are grieving with me today let us grieve and cry and work through our pain. Wallow. Sit in it. Wail if you need to. You have my permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. But at the end of it, we must get back up. Let us not give up or run away. Let us continue to do the good work that God has called us to. Let us together promise to choose faith over fear, to love with abandon, and to look for God’s presence and care because I promise if you look you will find it. It may be in unexpected places and unexpected faces, but it is there. And together we will not only find it, we will become it.

on doubt

on doubt

Note: this post first appeared on my personal blog May 2015.

 

Dear Daisy,

Honestly, I don’t know how this conversation even started (maybe I have should written about it right away, huh?). But then you asked a question,

“Mom, what do I believe as a Christian?”

Oh girl…where to begin?!

I explained a few things, like how we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and came to earth to teach us about God and show us a way to Him; how we believe what the Bible teaches, especially the things Jesus tried to teach; how we believe God created us and knows us, and how we can live forever with him someday.

But then I paused, and I realized I need to answer another, unspoken question.

“But, Daisy, here’s the thing: this is what Papa and I believe. This is what we hope you believe and what we teach you to believe. But you have to decide for yourself what you believe. We can’t force you to believe what we do.”

“Yeah,” you told me. “I believe in God and all that…but sometimes it is hard.”

Can I just tell you how proud I am for you admitting that? That this thing called faith has an element of doubt woven in. That belief isn’t easy.

Here’s what I told you that day, and what I will continue to tell you every time I get the chance:

God doesn’t give us an easy proof for his existence. Faith isn’t easy. Mama and Papa doubt too, and I would venture to guess that most of us who call ourselves Christians do as well.

But here’s the secret: this faith thing is a journey. And the longer you walk along this journey, the more time you spend in reading God’s incredible story called The Bible, the more time you spend hearing the stories of His people, and in experiencing your own, the doubts begin to recede. They may always be there, but lean in to what you know, and trust the rest to God.

A lot of us adults have spent many years trying to “prove” things in the Bible using scientific methods, or sociology, or language study, or whatever tools we can muster to arrive at an undeniable “truth”. We approach the Bible as a book to be understood, if only we work hard enough. We want a list of rights and wrongs, dos and don’ts. We want to be sure we’re on the right side. We love our clichés and easy answers and want to be all about “the Bible clearly says” because gosh darn it, having the right answer always makes life easier.

Papa and I grew up at the edge of this generation, often called “modern” and your generation, clearly rooted in new thought and often labeled “post-modern.” There is so much about this way of thinking that appeals to me: the skepticism, the wonder, the pursuit of justice, the value of story, of community, of art and beauty. You’ll read the Bible for what it says, not what you want it to say. You’ll understand that there is context and culture and language that influence the text in ways you’ll never fully understand.

You’ll find a way to worship in community with others saying, “I’ve studied and I’ve prayed and this is the conclusion I’ve come to…but I could be wrong…” and then you’ll get to the work of Jesus: the loving the poor and the marginalized and the working to right wrongs and restore the broken.

In some ways you guys are going to get this Jesus-following thing so much better than we did.

And so, I trust you when you say “I want to believe, but it is hard.” I know that faith and doubt can co-exist. That you can be a Jesus-follower full of questions and OK with few answers. May this be the prayer of you and your generation:

“Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

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We love you kid and we are so very proud of you,

Mama

get thee in the picture

get thee in the picture

Note: This post first appeared on my personal blog, October 2012.

I have a little talk on photography I developed a few years ago to share with my MOPS groups. I’ve given it a few times now and am schedule for once more this year. I love this talk. I love encouraging moms in their photographing of their kids. This talk has little technical stuff, and lots of creative stuff. And my last big point is to remind moms that they need to step out from behind the camera, and get in front of it.

Even if that means handing your camera to a stranger.

Even if that means learning how to use your timer or purchasing a remote.

Even if that means sticking your arm out for a self portrait.

Even if that means paying someone every now and again.

This article is making its way around the internets, and reminds us moms once again of the importance of getting ourselves in our pictures. Even if we aren’t at the weight we want to be, or dressed the way we wish we could, or we look pretty darn tired.  As the author writes,

I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.

So in that spirit, here is one of my newest favorite photos. Yep, I’m in my robe. Yep, I haven’t showered. Yep, you can see quite a mess in the background (or you could, but I did a little cropping and black and white conversion). But this little girl wasn’t feeling well and needed a snuggle. And my amazing husband grabbed the camera and captured our moment together.

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I don’t know how long I’ll get to be her mama, but an image like this will remind her (and me) just how very much she is loved.

 

Another note: I get to give this talk again this year. Click on over to my speaking schedule if you’re interested in coming to hear it. 

 

Diffusing the Temper Before it Becomes a Tantrum

Diffusing the Temper Before it Becomes a Tantrum

Note: I submitted the following article to a magazine. It was not selected. So why not share with y’all?!

 

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My second daughter was born on the hottest day ever. Well, probably not the hottest day ever in the world, but in our neck of the Pacific Northwest, June 28, 2009 is the hottest day ever recorded. And I use this fact to explain much of the hot-headedness of this strong-willed, big-emotioned girl of mine.

At 6-months old she was throwing her first tantrums. She would get so angry she’d throw herself backwards from a sitting-up position, of course making herself even angrier at the pain that would cause.

At 18 months her verbal skills could rival that of a 3-year-old and she was using them to her advantage against me. (Once at a MOPS meeting a speaker claimed our toddlers were not actively pushing our buttons and it was all I could do not to exclaim that she hadn’t met my daughter, who most certainly knew how to push every single one of my buttons.)

At 2-years-old I was checking out all the books on strong-willed-children the library would let me.

My daughter is now (miraculously) 7-years-old and is an incredibly bright, funny, inquisitive little girl. But she is still as fiery and unpredictable, dramatic and emotional as that baby I gave birth to in that overheated hospital room.

I have learned a few tricks over these past years that have helped us both when emotions of all kinds, especially anger, start to overtake her. If you have a hot-head of your own at home, maybe these will help you too.

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Tip #1: Lean In

There was a season when my daughter’s anger would express itself in foot stomping. The minute the first foot would hit the floor I was there encouraging her to stomp harder, or stomp with both feet, to shake the floor or even the whole house. Sometimes I would join in with the stomping or the jumping and before you know it we would be laughing and the anger would be diffused enough for us to have a conversation if needed, or more often simply to move on.

Sometimes the anger would show up in her facial expressions. (That kid can give some serious stink-eye!) In these instances I would use the same trick as with stomping: encouraging her to show me just how angry she could make her face look. Sometimes even a good wail would be added for emphasis. It wouldn’t take long for us to move on to silly face, or surprised face, or anything else that would calm her down enough to talk or move on.

Honestly, for some kids when the anger starts to boil I know a challenge to let it all out might feel patronizing or make it worse. You have to know your kid. For my daughter, if I caught it early enough and used this trick of leaning in, those anger episodes often ended in fits of laughter instead.

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Tip #2 Change it Up

My brother-in-law taught me this trick: whenever my nephew started to get frustrated about something, his dad would take something my nephew said and “hear it wrong.” The next step would be to twist the words into something nonsensical—“What? You’re mad about not fletting a yern? Petting a worm? Why would you want to pet a worm?” My nephew will crack a smile and very quickly join the silliness (how could he resist?) and forget why he’s mad.

This trick has worked great on my daughter as well. I have to be sure there is a silly grin on my face, to invite her in on the joke. But once she knows this is an attempt to get her to change her tone, it often works just in time to avoid a major meltdown.

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Tip #3 Use Brain Science

In their incredible book Parenting the Whole-Brain Child, Drs. Daniel Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D. use brain science to help frazzled parents to connect with their kids. When it comes to strong emotions, like anger, Drs. Siegel and Payne Bryson discuss the difference between the “upstairs brain” (responsible for higher-order, analytical thinking) and the “downstairs brain” (responsible for basic functions like breathing and for strong emotions). When strong emotions start to erupt, the downstairs brain takes over and it is nearly impossible for a child to use the upstairs brain.

For us, it has looked like this: in a moment of calm, I asked my daughter to make a fist with one hand and place the palm of the other hand over that fist. The fist represents her “downstairs” brain and her strong emotions, and the palm is the “upstairs” brain that when in control is able to regulate those emotions and make good decisions. But when strong emotions take over (open the fist) she “blows her lid” and off goes the functioning of her “thinking brain” we have started calling it.

Now that she had a picture, when strong emotions begin to erupt, I show her that picture and remind her that her “feelings brain” has taken over her “thinking brain,” and in order to close her lid, let’s put that thinking brain back to work. We do that by asking her lots of questions, helping her to identify the strong emotion, the reason for it, and if her reaction is logical. We also give her lots of support, comfort, and reassurance. This knowledge of brain science has helped tremendously in helping her regain control.

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I am so thankful for this strong-willed, and strong-emotioned daughter of mine: she has challenged me to become more knowledgeable, more creative, and more caring as a mother and as a human.

Daughters, Jesus, & the F-Word

Daughters, Jesus, & the F-Word

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For the past few years my daughters have been involved in a local Wednesday-night girl’s ministry. They have loved the program and it has been a great opportunity for them to learn Bible verses, make friends, be mentored, and grow in their understanding of Christian principles. They were excited to go each week.

But at the conclusion of the end-of-the-year awards night, my youngest leaned over and told me she wanted to join the boy’s club next year. And I didn’t blame her. We had just heard all about the fun things the boys were doing: survival skills, rowdy games, snow cave building, archery, and campouts.

My husband looked over at me and rolled his eyes, knowing that if our girls really wanted to join that boys club, I would fight for them to do so, no matter how many enemies it might make us. (Or maybe I would just have to fight for some big curriculum changes to the girls’ program?)

Honestly, I don’t want to take anything away from the boys and all the cool things they’re doing. I’m just wondering why the girls group isn’t engaging in those kinds of activities too? Sure, my daughters love pink and a good glittery craft. But they also love building forts and going camping. My oldest wants to be an inventor and is really into robotics. My youngest is super athletic and loves a good challenge. I want to do everything I can as their mama to cultivate their interests and encourage learning and play in all the ways God has designed them to learn and play. Seriously, girls AND boys can be both Christ-followers and outdoor adventurers!

You see, I’m a proud feminist. I’m the daughter of feminists. I’m married to a feminist (yep, men can be feminists too). I’m raising feminists.

Last semester at school we read some feminist theology and a lot of my male colleagues had no idea feminism meant “equality for women” and not “men are evil.” I hate that the word feminism has such negative connotations, but I love that my classmates were getting shaken up a little. Over the past few years I have come to embrace Sarah Bessey’s notion of Jesus feminism: “I define feminism as the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.” Sarah calls this Jesus feminism because it is most-heavenly influenced by the attitude she sees in Jesus.

Just this week a picture went viral that reminded us feminists just how much work we have to do. A mother snapped this picture of two magazine covers:

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Ugh. Just ugh. Girls are told about fashion, makeup, hair, and getting a first kiss. Sure, there is something there about friendship, and a note about getting good grades, but they are pretty buried, especially when shown next to the Boys’ Life cover. Look at all these cool jobs you could have! As the mother who snapped the original photo and wrote to the Girls’ Life editors said, the girl’s magazine is all about “be as pretty as this girl” while the boy’s says “be who you want to be.”

So a big hearty thank-you to Katherine Young for fixing it! Now this is a magazine my budding engineer, artist, athlete, entrepreneur, and feminist would definitely want to buy. And this mother would happily fork out the money to do so.

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Now a change in our family’s schedule meant that the Wednesday night programs were no longer a possibility, but you better believe I would have gone to the mat for those girls if they had asked me to.