Advent Week 1 – Hope

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I wrote this post last year, a few days after the First Sunday in Advent, but I felt too raw to share it. This year has brought different challenges for most of us, both personally and globally, and I’m sure we’re all now feeling a bit raw from those. May hope enter into all our hearts throughout this season of preparation and contemplation. 

–  Jenna

 
We caught up on lighting the first Advent candle at home today. I was thinking of my Nana all the while, as I used her wreath and the last candles she bought for it. She passed away last January, making this our first Christmas without her.

I remember when I was very young she let me light one of the Advent candles when we were gathered at her house. We listened to her read, and I sang with her at the piano. I properly learned “I Saw Three Ships” that night. I don’t know why that detail in particular has stuck with me all these years.

Tonight Anastasia said, “I’ll bet Nana’s really loving it in Heaven.” She is, my sweet baby girl. I know she is.

We lit the Hope candle tonight, and as tearful as I was, hope was there with a certainty which, to be very honest, I did not expect, though I should have. It sustains me always. It is a hope that began before even the prophets, a hope that carries on beyond the Advent of our Lord, a hope that goes beyond the cross and the grave, through to the resurrection, and beyond.

More than hour has passed since we lit that candle, and I have pored over verse after verse trying to find just one to sum it all up. But the truth is that they are all so inseparable from one another, as the birth of Christ is inseparable from his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Still, the following passage struck a chord,

“I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait,

And in His word do I hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than the watchmen for the morning;
Indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is lovingkindness,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
And He will redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.”
Psalm 130:5-8 NASB

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5 Rules for a New Year

I’m not usually big into resolutions. They’re so often forgotten a few weeks in, given up on out of discouragement, or they turn out to be unrealistic. Like many people I know I had a pretty rough 2016 (that it’s been a year and two days since my last post is just one symptom of that), and while I don’t regret removing pressure from myself during that time, I’ve been noticing that I’ve completely lost many good disciplines, and as a result have a good deal of what I can only describe as flab, emotionally and intellectually (ok, I have some of that physically too!)

With that in mind, I’ve created a short list of rules for myself, to help guide me over the next year. I can’t really call them goals, since they’re not very concrete and don’t have measurable success points, really, but that’s not what I wanted out of them anyways. I find that daunting, strange though that may seem. I prefer to operate under simple and positive life rules when starting a fresh year (with a good measure of grace given for those times that I can’t avoid being thrown off-course), and with that in mind, I have written the following five rules in my journal:

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  1. Assume the best in others.
    When you’ve had a rough year (or rough few years…), it’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of negativity. Particularly when you have had to deal with difficult situations and people repeatedly over the course of a short period of time, the temptation is to preemptively start assuming the worst, which of course very often sours encounters and circumstances which would otherwise have been good (or neutral at worst). The only reliable way I’ve found to get out of that cycle is to make a very deliberate effort to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, “taking captive every thought” as it comes along.
  2. Give away more than you buy.
    This year I’m going to try donating, recycling, or re-gifting at least one more item than what I’m bringing into the house (except groceries…of course, with two growing kids the result is the same as if I were including them). The purpose of this is twofold: First (and most obvious of the two), it will cut down the clutter. Second, I believe it will make me consider every purchase more carefully and not just think of myself or my family when I’m out (and not that thinking of one’s family is bad, but it can be all too easy to justify purchases when they’re “for the kids”).
  3. Look for inspiration everywhere.
    The cure for the creative rut, right here. This goes hand-in-hand with assuming the best, in a sense, because looking for beauty and inspiration in even difficult situations is an amazing tool for turning negativity on its head. I used to be quite good at this, I think (maybe better in memory?), but it’s another “discipline” (which doesn’t feel like one, really, when you’re in the process) I’ve lost over the last year.
  4. Spend at least one evening a week buried in a good book.
    I don’t know what it is, but something about how I’ve been doing life since college has made me lose some of the joy of reading. Maybe it was the boatload (courseload?) of reading one DOESN’T do for pleasure in college, maybe it’s that adult life just makes it hard to read at my favourite time (late at night to early morning when the house is dead quiet), or maybe it’s a combination of factors, but where I once could finish a longer novel in a week, I now read maybe two or three a year. How sad is that?! And I know that I really COULD be reading instead of watching TV many nights. This goal may seem small to those of you who have kept up the good habit, but it’s something I need to do more mindfully right now and this seems like a good way to start.
  5. Don’t be afraid of starting over.
    So often I get trapped by the idea that I’ve wasted time and energy when something I’ve been working on doesn’t work out. It happens when I have to pick up a skill again that I’ve lost from lack of use, when I make a big mistake that needs fixing, or when I change my mind entirely about what I want to do. When I fall into this discouraged thinking, the monologue in my head starts to sound like, “why should I bother starting/completing this when it’s just going to end in disaster and waste anyways?” The truth is, though, that no effort is ever wasted. Mistakes can teach us, effort stretches us, discipline is learned from going forward despite obstacles. If there is always something to be gained from our efforts, even if it’s not what we THOUGHT we would gain from them, we don’t have to be trapped by the fear of wasting them. I hope to remind myself of that so often this year that it becomes my default position.

Well, those are my rules to live by this year. Do you write resolutions or rules for yourself when you need a re-set, at New Year’s or otherwise? How do you stay on track?

Butterfly Emerging from its Chrysalis

My son and I almost didn’t go on today’s class field trip: We awoke to a cold, rainy day, he’d been sick all week, and I woke up disorganized. Still, we bundled up and trudged out the door. I spent a good deal of the morning asking myself why we’d come, and I was sure the day would be a total flop. Somehow, seeing this brief magic (and my son’s wonder at it, though unfortunately I didn’t catch that part on the video) made the whole day worthwhile.

Faith and Risk

Hello world. I’m slowly making a return to blogging, so as I work on some other posts, please enjoy this one that I wrote almost a year ago, but decided not to post (probably out of some sort of insecure “not good enough” feelings or something…more on those another time)


 

“Good job, you’re doing great! Remember to steer!” My voice is all encouragement and bright excitement as I coach my daughter on the finer points of riding a two-wheeler (with training wheels: this is her first “long” ride around the neighborhood on this bike). My eyes, however, are far up ahead, on my five-year-old, precocious “little” boy, who has already made it to the bottom of this quiet suburban cul-de-sac and is looking to take the very steep bike path that is our route home.

This is his first long trip on his new-to-him bike too, and though his front wheel wobbles often and he drags his feet to brake, he’s already entirely confident that he can take this short but very steep hill down to the other part of the path. I’m his mommy, though. While he’s surely imagining a victorious rush to the bottom and a smooth glide at the finish, I’m picturing a flip over the handlebars, a bloodied nose and dental work.

Biting my lip, I watch him go. And wait.

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I want to yell for him. I want to drop my daughter’s bike in someone’s front yard, scoop her up and go tearing after him. I need to know my boy is safe, that he’s not lying on the ground unconscious (“surely his helmet would prevent that,” I tell myself), that he took the right hand path and didn’t go straight, to the road, that he isn’t talking to a stranger, or trying to pet a strange dog without asking.

As I shoot my prayers to heaven, preparing myself to run if I have to, God gives me a little nudge, a reminder of what my husband had said to me weeks ago (as I was tearfully reciting yet another list of mommy-fears), “have a little faith. You’re not the only one looking out for him.” I keep my mouth shut, my feet alongside my daughter’s training wheels.

Finally we round the corner, steep hill conquered with me holding her handlebars. Finally, seeing my boy–my good little boy!–circling the “traffic circle” created by the convergence of several paths (waiting so patiently for his slow mommy and little sister), I understand these small daily feats are as much a test for me as they are for him. Can I let go? Can I take the risk of letting him fall when a fall needs to happen? I can’t be there holding his handlebars for him the rest of his life.

This year he’s going to Kindergarten, and my firstborn will be out there, in the world, most days of the week without me. Yes, it’s just afternoons, yes I’m sure the teachers are quite competent. And this is the smallest of his steps to getting “out there.” But I’m so freaked out! God, give me the faith to continually be giving my kids into Your great hands, and remind me daily that that’s really what this is about. It’s not about them going it alone.  How often I forget that.

Present Help in Trouble

Well, I guess I’ve been absent long enough. I have been meaning to catch you all up on what’s been going on here, but I just haven’t found the time or the words. I’ve quit one of my jobs now, though, and I’ve had a little time to take stock.

These days I am feeling very broken, friends. There’s a lot that has happened over the last couple years that has made them very hard, most of which I don’t quite know how to talk about yet. But God is true to His promises and has been with us every step of the way. Leaning heavily on Him, we make it through the long hours, finding the grace, the daily bread we need to just keep going.

It hasn’t all been bad: Along the way, I have been blessed with so many little encouragements; my son’s progress (he’s learning to read and his speech has improved!), the success of various small projects (the Lake Country Throw has gained more positive attention than I could have hoped for!), and the love of my extended family (especially my aunts and my grandmother)…all these little things have been given to me at just the right time, reminders of grace and hope to keep me going.

It’s easy for me to trust God when life is going well, easy to the point of apathy. But it’s something else when the storm is raging all around, the waves are only getting higher, and God doesn’t stop them right away but says, “draw near.”

I want to rage sometimes. I want to cry (and often do). I want to quell the storm by shouting and beating at it. But it’s not until I stop and let Christ take me into His arms that I find rest and safety. While the storm tears down so much around me, while my own plans fail, I catch a glimpse of His ways.

“…the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in time of trouble.
The LORD helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
Because they take refuge in Him.”
– Psalm 37:39,40 NASB

I can see the edge of the storm now, at least, and now the air feels like fall (so early! but this year it would suit me fine to have a long autumn and more days to sit with my knitting and drinks with fall spices). I’m ready for a change of season.  I hope to share more with you soon, in more detail, and I WILL get that pattern up (I just need to find it…I’m in the midst of re-organizing the house and not everything’s where it should be yet).