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Fourth Sunday of Advent – PEACE

Fourth Sunday of Advent – PEACE

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REVIEW: Previous week’s candles. Advent symbols. How we are feeling about the upcoming arrival of the king.

LIGHT THE CANDLES AND ASK: What makes you feel peaceful? (blanket, cup of warm milk, hug, snuggles)

SAY: Those things help me feel peaceful too. (If your children mentioned cuddles or blankets, snuggle on the couch under blankets for the story today.) But you know what? The Peace that Jesus gives is even greater than a blanket or a warm cup of milk. Jesus is called “The Prince of Peace” because he gives us peace that nothing on earth can give. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

READ or WATCH: The King of all kings” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (The Wise men from Matthew 2)

ASK: The kings in this story had a lot to be afraid of. Like what? Why do you think they kept going?

ACTIVITY: Christmas is close. Are you feeling stressed or anxious? Take time this night to cuddle with your family. Have a special treat. Spend time together enjoying the Christmas lights. Feel the PEACE that Christ can bring.

SING: We Three Kings or Let There Be Peace on Earth

Third Sunday of Advent – JOY

Third Sunday of Advent – JOY

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REVIEW: Previous week’s candles. Advent symbols. Why we celebrate advent.

LIGHT THE HOPE and LOVE CANDLES, along with a PINK CANDLE AND ASK: What are you most excited about for Christmas? (This week’s candle is pink because we are over half-way through advent, there is great celebration to be had…Jesus is coming!)

SAY: That feeling of excitement is kind of like the feeling of happiness, kind of like joy. But joy and happiness are a little different. Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes because it depends on your circumstances: if someone is being nice, if you are doing something you like, if you got something cool. But joy is a feeling that is deeper, it is a feeling that comes from God. It is that always-there-never-goes-away happiness of knowing that you are loved by the Creator of the Universe. As I read today, I want you to listen for someone who might have felt joy.

READ or WATCH: The Light of the Whole World” in The Jesus Storybook Bible

ASK: Who did you hear about in this story who had joy? (Angels and Shepherds) What did they have to be joyful about?

ACTIVITY: There is great joy in giving someone a really cool gift that you think they’re going to love. Spend time together wrapping gifts and praying for people who will receive them. OR, go through the Christmas cards your family has received and pray for JOY for each family in the coming year.

SING: Joy to the World or Hark the Herald Angels Sing

PRAY

Second Sunday of Advent – LOVE

Second Sunday of Advent – LOVE

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REVIEW:  What was last week’s candle? What are some of the advent symbols? What does light represent? What does “advent” mean?

(This week light two purple candles. The “HOPE” candle from last week and a new purple candle.)

LIGHT THE CANDLES AND ASK: How do you show love to someone? How do you know if someone loves you?

SAY: God sent Jesus to earth so that we would know how much he loves us. That’s what the Bible says in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” But how did this Jesus get here?

READ or WATCH: He’s Here” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (The Nativity, from Luke 1-2, ending with Jesus’ birth)

ASK How did Mary and Joseph show love to each other in this story? How did they show love to Jesus?

ACTIVITY: Wrap a small box (like a shoe box) and cut a slit in the top. Leave out pieces of paper and pencils nearby. Talk about how you can show love to Jesus at Christmas by showing love to others. Encourage your family to “fill” the box with love, by writing or drawing when you do so and putting it in the box. (Open the box on Christmas eve as a gift to the baby Jesus.)

SING: Away in a Manger or Silent Night

PRAY

First Sunday of Advent – HOPE

First Sunday of Advent – HOPE

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Introduction:

ASK: If you knew you were going to have a visit from a really special person, like a king, how would you prepare?

SAY: At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our King. And these weeks leading up to Christmas we prepare our homes, we decorate and put up a tree and buy presents for loved ones. But how do we prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth?

That is what we call “advent.”  Advent is the time we spend preparing our hearts for Jesus’ arrival. One way we will prepare during advent as a family is using an advent wreath.

SHOW AND TELL: Show your family the advent wreath you have prepared and talk about the symbols:

  • circle: eternal, without end
  • evergreen boughs: eternal
  • color purple: royalty
  • color pink: joy
  • color white: purity
  • light: Jesus came to be the light of the world, to give light to the darkness

SAY: Each of these candles has a special meaning and we’ll learn what each one is as we light one each week leading up to Christmas.

 

Week 1: HOPE (Prophecy)

ACTIVITY: Turn off all the lights and make it as dark as possible. Discuss the darkness and how hard it is. As much as you are able, light the candle and do the reading and discussion with just that candle lit.

LIGHT THE CANDLE AND ASK: What do you hope for during this Christmas season? (Everyone share.)

SAY: The candle we light tonight is called the “hope” candle. For a long time God’s people waited for a savior. They hoped that God would keep his promise and send a Savior.

READ: Operation No More Tears” from The Jesus Storybook Bible (prophecies from Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 50, 53, 55, 60)

SAY: We know that God fulfilled his promise to his people because we know that he sent his Son Jesus to earth as a baby. That is what we celebrate this Christmas. And we have hope too, because we know that God will keep his promises to us: promises to care for us and keep us safe. Promises to love us, and to return someday to make all things right again.

ACTIVITY: Slowly add more light to the room. Light a fire in the fireplace. Turn on the Christmas tree. Turn on some lights. Share how the light makes you feel.

SING: Sing verse 1 of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” or “O Come, Emmanuel” and as you are able, explain some of the lyrics and how they apply to the Bible passage.

PRAY

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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source

 

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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source

 

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