So Thanksgiving is over. The leftover turkey has been eaten or frozen. The shopping frenzy has begun, with a new "lowest prices ever" sale every few minutes. People are starting to decorate their homes, inside and out, and some radio stations have begun playing Christmas carols all day every day. The Christmas season is here, right?
According to the traditional church calendar, the Christmas season begins (surprise!) on Christmas Day and lasts until Epiphany, the celebration of the coming of the Magi.
The season we are in now, that began yesterday, is Advent, a series of weeks that looks ahead to the coming of Christ, when we can prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Advent is a season that has tended to be overlooked, but it has gained more attention and popularity recently. There are a couple of great articles I've read that give the background of Advent and why to celebrate it, but what I want to share are some ways you can incorporate Advent into your home this year as you prepare for Christmas.
Advent calendar - even the secular world has picked up on this idea, with cardboard calendars that count down to Christmas Day by hiding a picture or a piece of candy or even a small toy behind a door for each day of December. But to help prepare your our hearts for Christmas, bypass the calendars that feature Santa Claus and go for one that centers on the birth of Jesus (like this one). Another version of this is the "Cradle to the Cross Wreath" that our family uses. No pictures or candies, but very significant.
Advent devotions - this goes one step beyond the Advent calendar to include a Scripture reading and thoughts about it for each day of Advent. There are online devotionals and print ones, for children and for adults. The website Grace for Moms has a free one that you can download that is very good!
Advent wreath - this tradition goes back to the fourth century. The idea is to have a wreath with four, or sometimes five, candles, one for each Sunday of Advent (yesterday was the first), and a white candle in the middle for Christmas Eve. For each candle, you read a Scripture passage that focuses on that Sunday's theme (traditionally, the most common are hope, love, joy, and peace, but there are lots of variations on this, as this at-home devotional guide demonstrates and this one that focuses on different themes entirely). By the way, if you have experienced the loss of a baby in pregnancy or infancy, there is series of Advent Sunday devotionals at www.naomiscircle.org. Check it out.Jesse Tree - this goes along with the Advent devotions idea, but focuses on Bible passages that tell the story of redemption, from Creation up to the birth of Christ, so lots of passages from the Old Testament. A great article about it and list of the Scriptures for each day is on The Voice from the Christian Resource Institute. The devotional at Grace for Moms would support this, although some of the passages may be a little different
Intentional Advent activities - doing anything during this time that focuses our attention on Jesus would fit the bill here. Some ideas:
- choosing a birthday present for Jesus by donating to a needy community through an organization like World Vision
- seeing a live Nativity
- random acts of kindness (here is a calendar from 2011 with some creative ideas)
- Operation Christmas Child (which is already over for this year, but you can tuck it away as an idea for next year)
- Angel Tree
- donating gently used toys
- wrapping up Christmas books you already have (or library books) and opening one each day to read and enjoy
What are you doing to make Advent special in your home?
It's Thanksgiving night. Dinner was eaten and cleaned up hours ago. The dominoes have been played and put away. And my children are asleep after a bedtime Thanksgiving story, Pilgrim Cat. Pilgrim Cat is new to me, borrowed from the library a week ago. I liked it. It's a sweet book about a girl who traveled here on the Mayflower and the cat she adopted. It was also a gentle reminder of the stark truth that more than half of the Pilgrims who came here on the Mayflower died that first winter, and that the harvest celebration the following autumn was held by a much smaller group than the one that had arrived the previous year. It was a group touched profoundly by loss and suffering...and yet they still found a way to praise God and give thanks.Maybe I - and many that I know - have more in common with that ragtag group of travelers than I've realized. Four years ago, Thanksgiving felt impossible to me. A week prior, for the second time in eight months, we said good-bye to a baby lost during pregnancy, and entered the world of recurrent pregnancy loss. Thanksgiving became my enemy. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I survived the holiday, but that is all. I was acutely aware of the number of chairs around the table, the number of high chairs, and where my missing children should have been. I survived, but that is all.I wonder if some of the early Pilgrims felt the same way. Acutely aware of who was missing from each family, the parents or children who should have been there. If anyone had the right to say, "What do we have to be thankful for?", it seems like it would have been them. Persecuted for their faith, a history of fleeing not just one, but two countries seeking the freedom to worship God, and then reaching their promised land only to see their numbers decimated by illness by more than half. And yet, they persevered, and they saw God's hand in their survival, so much so that they would publicly proclaim that in their harvest celebration. Four years down the road from beginning the journey of pregnancy loss, I can see God's hand as well. It was difficult at first, nearly impossible in the darkest of days. But as time went on, I could see His blessings in the people He sent my way, many of them survivors as well. I can see His hand at work in the physical healing He provided for me, in the fellowship of shared suffering I have found with other mommies of babies in Heaven, in the comfort of Scripture when I floundered in my faith.
Like the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, like so many others today struggling with life, I am a survivor. I wish I'd seen the connection in 2009, when Thanksgiving felt like the enemy, crafted to pour salt in the wounds of missing my babies. Instead, tonight I'm seeing it as the gentle companion of others touched by suffering and loss, helping us to take a moment to collect our thoughts, to consider how God has sustained us when we thought we would surely die from heartache, and to look to the future with courage and hope.
I am certain that tears were a part of that first Thanksgiving. How could they not be? They have been regularly part of mine for years now, without shame. Because ultimately Thanksgiving is not for the food, the football games, or even the family. It is for a bunch of survivors, leaning on God to get them through the worst of times, and trusting that even when they can't see their way to tomorrow, He will get them there.
I'm not going to bust on the door busters here. I understand the economic idea of Black Friday, of the fun of making memories shopping, and the fact that, although Christmas decorations have been up since before Halloween, the Christmas "season" starts once Thanksgiving is over. So be it. Y'all have fun going shopping while I sleep in on Friday.
But seriously, people.
I got a circular this week advertising the "doorbuster" for a local craft store. They will be open on Thursday (that's Thanksgiving, in case you weren't aware) from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Assuming you eat dinner at 2 p.m. (my goal but never my reality), you've barely got time to down your dessert, carry your plates to the kitchen and dash out to bust down the doors of your local craft supply store.
What happened to Thanksgiving?
I know not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving, but most Americans do, regardless of religious background. If the stores were closed all day on Thursday (with a nod to those who really want to go shopping at 12:00 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving), no one would complain.
Can we not set aside one day - one full day - to rest, to be thankful, to be with family or friends, to focus on helping other people - without the lure of a great sale or a great deal that we might miss out on if we don't run out the door to go shopping?
Remember the movie "Field of Dreams" - "If you build it, they will come..."The same could be said of store sales. If the stores are open, people will be there, justifying the choice to have the stores open in the first place.Unless....Unless we resist the lure of stuff and a saved dollar. Unless we dig in our heels and tell the American marketplace, "Enough! You will NOT have this Thursday, this holiday, this celebration that, for the most part, has escaped the rat race."Will you join me? On Thanksgiving, be radical - enjoy a meal and a celebration with family and friends. I don't care where (even restaurants - I understand that not everyone can be in a home for Thanksgiving). If you can't, or don't want to, then go volunteer at a shelter or hospital and spread some love to others. But make it a day about giving thanks and giving to others, not the almighty dollar. If a store has a doorbuster on Thursday (and no, I'm not talking about supermarkets and pharmacies and restaurants and the like, for whose employees I am thankful on behalf of those who truly need the things they sell, even on Thanksgiving), don't go. If no one goes, maybe we can roll back the calendar and reclaim Thanksgiving afternoon.There. That's my two cents. And you don't even need to go to a doorbuster to save it.
There is a sacredness to the shadows. When the lights have been dimmed and we're saying our final good-nights before eyes close for sleep. I lean forward to kiss her blond head and consider what words I want to leave her with, what final thoughts before she drifts into slumber.
Tonight I lean in an in an exaggerated whisper, I say, "Do you know what I want for you more than anything else?"
She nods, confident hazel eyes looking into mine. "Love."
I smile. I hadn't expected that answer, but it works. "And where do you get love?"
She was ready for this one, too. "God. Because God is love."
I nod. "More than anything else, I want you to know God and love Him, and to understand who you are because you believe in Him and trust Him." She smiles, snuggles in for another kiss, and curls up for sleep.
"Mama? Come check on me every twenty minutes and give me a kiss. You can make it every thirty if you want, but I prefer twenty." My little negotiator. I promise, because how can I not? These days are fleeting, when she will willingly take and give cuddles, when the love flows effortlessly between mother and daughter. Even now, at the age of five, our days can get contentious as she pushes for independence in areas where I want to insist on obedience.
But tonight, the shadows are sacred, and love is a language we speak easily. I turn off the light and breathe a prayer. May it always be thus.
When is it easiest to talk with your children? What are your sacred moments?
All of the fuss being raised these days about the Common Core State Standards Initiative has gotten me thinking more about what we are doing as we home school our children. As I've shared previously, for now at least, we have adopted the classical approach in our schooling and are using the Classical Conversations model specifically. And as I reflect on that choice, one area that I am thinking through more and more, is the goal of education.
According to a recent Washington Post article, the United States Department of Education believes schools should be asking, "What can we do to get better, so our students can graduate from high school, succeed in college and be competitive for good jobs?” The goal seems to be to prepare students to be competitive in college and, ultimately, the marketplace.
In contrast, many classical educators describe the goal of classical education as "to teach a student how to teach himself", to give them the skills of learning, so that they will become a "wise and virtuous person". The idea is that if you spend the elementary and secondary years develop the person with the ability to think and reason, they will be equipped to step into their role as a contributing and responsible citizen, and they will be free to pursue whatever advanced training is needed for their chosen career.
Obviously, contemporary schools can (and do) try to include character education and the like. But as the current sign on my local elementary school has been reminding me lately, "Begin with the end in mind" (Habit 2 of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). If the federal government's self-proclaimed goal is to encourage schools to produce high school graduates who can compete in the global marketplace, that goal is going to influence all other choices about curriculum and standards.
While the ability to serve one's community and support oneself and one's family at the same time is certainly important in life, the goals of classical education resonate much more deeply with me, and that is part of our reason for choosing a classical approach at this time. We want our children to be able to think clearly and critically about the issues they will encounter as they grow up. We want them to develop as communicators in both speech and writing, able to express their beliefs and opinions to others in ways that are both effective and considerate. And we want them to grow in Christian virtues, especially love.
Would it be possible for us to pursue these goals with our children while they attend a "regular" public or private school? Of course. Many parents do. But using a classical home school approach is allowing us to incorporate all this naturally into our day instead of figuring out how to make the time and effort to add it into an already-crowded curriculum, and that is what excites me about the choice we have made.
What do you believe the goal of education should be? How does that influence your choice of how to educate your child?
I've been thinking lately that being in my forties is not so bad after all. I actually feel more "comfortable" in my own skin that I have in any other decade - but maybe that's constantly true as we get older? Anyway, I've been also thinking back to my earlier decades and my earlier me, and pondering what, if I could travel back in time, I would tell my younger self, especially that self in my twenties. If I could, I think these are the lessons I would pass along:
1. Quit worrying about being single. You fret a lot about whether you'll be single and why everyone else is finding a good man except for you. It's not you, so stop worrying about that, too. You'll meet the right man when it's the right time for you and the right time for him (it takes two, remember). Just keep focusing on growing yourself and becoming the kind of person you want to be when you are married. It'll happen, trust me.
2. Good for you, investing your single years. I'm proud of you, single-and-younger-self! Instead of just acquiring stuff, you're using your single years to invest in the future and in eternity. You're going to grad school, teaching overseas (and you once said you hated Chinese food!), traveling more than most people do after they retire, and then you got that crazy idea about attending seminary in South Carolina. (Note to younger self - that was a particularly excellent idea, for many reasons, including lesson number one above!)
3. Spend more time memorizing the Scriptures. You started doing this and older-self-you still has a bunch of colored index cards with Scripture verses on them that you were memorizing at one time. In fact, I need to pull them out again and start that practice again, because at some point, my younger-self-me stopped. But you need it, so don't let anything get in the way. You are going to encounter some hard life situations down the road (don't worry about what those are right now), and when you do, you will need the wisdom and comfort that will come from hiding God's word in your heart.
4. Build other spiritual habits now also, while you can. Habits like regular times of prayer, Bible reading, thanksgiving, celebration. Remember the book you love, Celebration of Discipline? Read that at least a couple of times a year. And practice those things now, while you have time in your day. Because someday you will have (spoiler alert!!) a husband, and children, and a home to manage, and just having time to shower will seem like a luxury.
5. Learn how to cook. Seriously. You will not believe how must stress this will alleviate later if you learn now how to make more than pancakes and pasta.
What lessons would you like to pass along to your younger-you?
I'm both excited and honored to be guest blogging at Grace for Moms today! I share my story of two births and whether one was "better" than the other. Please join me there for a conversation about labor and delivery and the grace-filled choices that we can make. http://www.graceformoms.com/better-birth/
In the last eight weeks, I have become what I once thought I would never be allowed to be.
A soccer mom.
My five-year-old daughter joined a soccer team this fall, and we have had the fun of twice-a-week practices and Saturday games, and I've had the privilege of being on the sidelines cheering for my girl and remembering my childhood days of playing soccer and thinking I am becoming a little more like my mom everyday.
But along with the fun of soccer, we've also had the regularly-scheduled frustration of shin guards. Every practice, every game, it has been the same."
"I don't like them. They don't feel good."
And my response, like every good mom, has been, "Stop whining. I didn't like them either. Wear them anyway. And be ready in five minutes or you're not going."
After about five weeks of this, I did something new.
I listened. Why didn't my daughter like her shin guards? It was because these newfangled ones have a elastic strap-thingy that goes under a players foot, then the sock over that, then the shoe on top. Perfectly designed to keep a shin guard in place - and to completely annoy a sensitive little girl who hates to have bumps in her shoes.
So we went off to the sporting goods store, found an old-fashioned pair shin guards without the strap-thingy, and tried them on.
She loves them. "They feel wonderful!"
No more fights, no more lengthy "Get dressed or else" battles. No more tears. Peace. Smiles. Fun. Ahhhh.....
I'm all about training our children to obey their parents, and I know we have plenty of battles ahead. But I don't ever want parenting to turn into a power struggle instead of a relationship. The Battle of the Shin Guards reminded me never to stop listening to my daughter's voice, and that sometimes the stubborn heart that needs to give way is not hers, but mine.
What lessons have your children taught you lately?
Four years ago yesterday, I sat in an ultrasound room getting the worst news of my life...again. My baby had died. I was eight weeks pregnant, and this was our third ultrasound already. We'd had a couple of scares, but we'd also seen a heartbeat - twice! - which was supposed to mean that our risk of miscarriage dropped drastically.
Someone should have explained that to my body, because once again, we were on the losing end of the statistics. Seven months earlier, we had said goodbye to our daughter Naomi after I developed an abdominal infection that threatened my life and took hers in my fourth month of pregnancy. This baby was supposed to be our rainbow, the light after the storm. But no - not this time. It was good-bye again, and we'd barely said hello. There were no photographs this time, no funeral, no evidence that she'd ever lived except for our three ultrasound pictures and our broken hearts.
But the thing about rainbows is...they don't have to stick around long to make an impact on your heart. I remember on our honeymoon during a few days in Yellowstone National Park, the weather was misty and we were on the lookout for rainbows. It didn't matter if they we're brilliant or faint or if they lasted a few seconds or several minutes. Something about seeing rainbows filled us with joy and hope, as we remembered God's promise of future faithfulness, to never again overwhelm the world with a flood.
The same was true of our little rainbow. We named her Kyria Hope, assuming she was a girl, like our first two. "Kyria" from 2 John, when the apostle refers to the "chosen lady". We believed with all or hearts that God chose to give Kyria to us, that her brief life had a purpose, and that we will someday get to speak with her face to face (2 John 1:12). Her middle name, Hope, was because God used her life to fill me with hope - not in another pregnancy, but in the reminder of the lessons I had learned when we lost Naomi, that even when we despair of life itself, we can have hope in Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
Kyria often gets overlooked in our story. Naomi was our first loss, our most traumatic medically-speaking, the one we got to hold and take pictures of, and the one we named our Naomi's Circle ministry for. I some ways, my missing of her was more intense, and for a while I felt guilty about that. Losing Kyria, though, taught me an important lesson - it's okay to grieve different losses differently. It doesn't mean you love one baby more and another less. It doesn't make you a bad mother. I knew Naomi longer and losing her changed my life so drastically, ushering me into the pregnancy loss community. Kyria's passing was more of a "normal" miscarriage, but God has used her life to show me what so many other women go through, and that no matter how far along a loss occurs, it's still your child.
So today, I am thinking fondly of our little girl who, if she had lived, would have been three on our anniversary this past June - our third child, our inspiration for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Sunday, our little rainbow. I can't wait to meet her in Heaven!
I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to...talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 2 John 1:12