Joy

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Luke 2:8-11

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

When I was a kid we often had children’s musicals at our church. They were usually in the spring, but one year when I was around 10 or 11 we had one at Christmastime. This was not your typical Nativity pageant, but a musical with original songs and a storyline. This particular year, I had one of the main parts — I was an angel named “Halley Lou.” (Honestly— this is a true story!)

About a week before the performance, I became ill and was hospitalized with pneumonia. Heartbroken, I didn’t think I’d have a chance to do my part. As it got closer, the doctor and nurses agreed that I would be out in time to perform. They even let me leave for a few hours to attend the dress rehearsal, and then I performed that Sunday.

I remember feeling so…happy… so joyful! And then, as I remember, I was confused because I’d once heard someone say that joy and happiness aren’t the same thing and we should really be “longing for joy”. I was unsure of how I should be feeling. When certainly, as a 10 year old, being able to be in the musical that night brought me happiness and joy.

I’ve experienced this many times over the years as a Christian. Confusion surrounding what “true joy” really is.

I recently read (and loved) what Margaret Feinberg has to say about joy:

Scripture reveals joy as a spectrum of emotions, actions, and responses that includes happiness, gladness, cheer, merriment, delighting, dancing, shouting, exulting, rejoicing, laughing, playing, brightening, blessing and being blessed, taking pleasure in and being well pleased. Discovering the fullness of joy means opening ourselves to the wide spectrum of ways God has wired us to experience it. Suddenly, joy isn’t elusive, but every day. It’s slips into our prayers when we say gracias. It tumbles in rumbles of laughter and dances when we lift our voice in praise. It curls on the couch as we embrace moments of deep shalom.

Today, and always, I’m giving you permission to not overthink it. When you’re feeling happy or playful or glad, call it what it is — joy! As we all know, it’s not always easy to find joy. So when you find it — embrace it as the gift that it is.

(You can read the rest of Margaret Feinberg’s essay here.)

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Daily Peace

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Luke 2:8-14

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Yesterday was the second Sunday of Advent, and I had the privilege of teaching at my church. We hoped and prayed for peace as we lit the next candle.

We discussed several aspects of peace, including the practice of Daily Peace. I see Daily Peace as the small, seemingly insignificant things we do each day to bring peace to others and to our world. Daily Peace is forgiving when you don’t want to; it’s staying calm with your kids when they are out of control; it’s asking your cashier questions about their day, and it’s picking up trash on your hike. Daily Peace is saying yes to small everyday opportunities to be a peacemaker.

After the service, I was holding Sister and talking with a few women. We discussed books we’d been reading and our week ahead. Without warning, Sister threw up all over me. All over the ground, my clothes, in my boots and all over herself!

As I was trying my best to get cleaned up in the bathroom, I was reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote I’d read before: “The great thing is, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of ones “real life.” The truth of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely ones real life.”

When I came out of the bathroom I saw three of the women I had been talking to cleaning up my child’s vomit. They were kind and selfless to help me with something so gross! Once we had everything cleaned up, someone said, “Holly, I don’t know how you do it!” (I think referring to dealing with kids’ bodily fluids). But I immediately thought — this is my life. It doesn’t happen everyday, but this isn’t an interruption — it’s “real life.”

So yesterday afternoon, instead of working on this post, writing Christmas cards or getting the house cleaned up for the week (or even cooking dinner), I cuddled a sick little girl. I kept her close and held her hair back. I watched Christmas movies and rubbed her back. For once, I didn’t see any of it as an interruption, but as a chance to practice Peace.

November 2017 Books

Be what you are, of the earth, but a dreamer too. — Mary Oliver

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We are continuing to make our way through the Little House series. We recently finished Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Honestly, we didn’t enjoy this one as much as Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy, but more on that in another post!

Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems by Gary Snyder — my husband is a huge Gary Snyder fan and read him (and even met him!) before we were married. I love thinking of Brian reading these poems and being moved by them so many years ago. Our shared love of poetry is one of the things that first connected us.

I have continued reading the works of Mary Oliver. Upstream, a book of essays, has proven to be as powerful and inspiring as the poems I read through last month! I’m still in shock that I’m just now reading her works, but also so thankful I’ve found Mary Oliver now!

The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime — I’ve found encouragement in liturgy the last several years and I’m so thankful Phyllis Tickle and this wonderful resource she’s provided. I’d definitely recommend checking out her prayer manuals, I’ll be using this through the winter.

My favorite book from the past month was One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Her words have given me confidence and support to live a life of thankfulness.

I have been wanting to begin consistently getting up early and have my own time in the morning before the kids get up and the house gets moving for a long time. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod was just the motivation that I needed. Some of the language felt a little cheesy, but the overall message was just what I needed to encourage me to get up early and make time for myself.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt, holds the record for the longest standing book on the New York Times Best-Seller, lasting 216 weeks. The story is fascinating and the themes explored surrounding Savannah in the 1980s are still just as relevant today. If you’ve never read it I’d definitely add this to your 2018 “to read” list!

Peace on Earth

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Luke 2:8-14 

Glory in the Highest

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold,[a] an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace, goodwill toward men”

As a child, I always loved the Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. The lyrics come from a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In 1863, Longfellow was a recently-widowed father of six children. His eldest son had nearly been paralyzed fighting for the Union in the Civil War, and Longfellow felt the heaviness of injustice all around him. He wrote this poem on Christmas Day:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Longfellow was dealing with grief, his country was at war and his son was badly injured. All this on top of the daily stress of raising six children on his own. But we see in this poem that he still longed for peace, and he still believed it could be found.

Sarah Bessey says “peace is what we are headed towards, what we believe in and what we practice.” Jesus left us with peace and he offers us peace — we just have to be willing to find it.

Carrying Hope

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A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

It’s hard not to think about my time as an expectant mother as we begin Advent. Advent — which literally means “arrival” — is a season of anticipation. Waiting on the arrival of our first baby is one of the most memorable times of my life. We read up on birth and breastfeeding, we prepared a space, and we planned for the family culture and rhythms we wanted to create. We worried too, but mostly we hoped.

And then my thoughts turn to Mary, carrying a tiny, fragile, dependent baby. Carrying Immanuel. Carrying God With Us. Carrying hope.

This has been a hard year to have much hope. I could remind you of the kind of year it’s been and the kind of world we live in, but you already know. You know when you listen to the news in the morning, or read about it at lunch. You know as you look at your partner and spell out each letter of “shooting” and “church” and then quietly say “26 people” as you try and protect your 5 year old from the harshness they’ve been born into.

So then we ask: “Can we find hope in the midst of tragedy and heartache?”

I think the answer is that we do our best to carry hope with us. Sarah Bessey says: “I am in exile in this fallen and broken world, here to plant gardens and to prepare for the coming day when all things will be renewed and restored, to tend the earth and to humanity— and my place in the world — with tender ferocity. We are participating in the life of Christ.”

It has been said that the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet. Believers give us hope as they live it out in the “now” and wait for the “not yet”. The Kingdom of God is single women fostering and adopting babies who need safe homes. It’s pastors continuing to serve their tiny church even when money is tight. It’s new mothers making phone calls and coordinating donations when a hurricane hits three states away. It’s retired men giving their time to clean up a flooded church. It’s choosing to talk with the cashier and look her in the eye and listen. It’s smiling at your child when they walk into the room. It is the young virgin that said “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” God’s people give us hope when it feels hard to find.

 

The people who walked in darkness

have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

on them has light shone

— Isaiah 9:2

Resources and Inspiration for the Advent Season

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Last Advent, I was inspired by the words of Sister Melannie Svoboda. She writes “…what we’re really celebrating during Advent: [is] the slow and beautiful coming of the Son of God into our world, into our time, and into our lives.” The prophets waited for Jesus’ birth for centuries — we are called to take just 4 weeks to remember the waiting, prepare for his arrival and slowly breathe in our days. Over the years, we have generally kept things simple during Advent and Christmas, but this year I wanted to plan and feel prepared as we entered the season.

So, in the spirit of “slow and simple” (and fully embracing Advent), here are a few ways we plan to celebrate and some of the resources we’ll use:

As a family, we will be reading through Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift and hanging up Jesse Tree ornaments each day. We’ll also have an Advent calendar that will include simple daily activities (making bread for neighbors, making and wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards, eating snowman pancakes, etc.). I referenced Let us Keep the Feast, edited by Jessica Snell, Faithful Families by Traci Smith, The Lifegiving Table and The Lifegiving Home by Sally Clarkson, as I planned our days.

For my own studies, I’ll be reading through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift as well as Paula D’Arcy’s Daybreaks: Daily reflections of Advent and Christmas. I’ll also be using The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime to guide my own prayer and meditation.

We’ll be enjoying stacks and stacks of picture books as well! A few of our favorites are: Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally Lloyd Jones, Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray, and Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (adapted from Little House in the Big Woods). We use Sarah Mackenzie’s guide, Our Favorite December Picture Books, — she has lists of picture books for each month, and we always love her selections. I would also recommend her podcast, The Read Aloud Revival, specifically episode #36: “Christmas and Advent Read Alouds with Elizabeth Foss.”

The kids and I love to listen to Elizabeth Mitchell’s The Sounding Joy. You do not want to miss this compilation of Christmas folk songs! We’ve already been enjoying the audio version of Letters From Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkein, and we can’t wait to take advantage of the free trial that Sparkle Stories is offering. Audiobooks and podcasts are a great way to keep screens off, and they’re lifesavers on holiday road trips.

In our family, we love acknowledging the change in seasons, and we like to do something small to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Taking a cue from Night Tree by Eve Bunting, we plan to decorate an outdoor “edible tree” for the animals (like this activity mentioned on Wilder Child).

We plan to begin our Advent season by planting an amaryllis bulb, carefully watering it and tending to it each day in hopes that it will be flowering by Christmas. I hope this will be a beautiful practice in watching and waiting. I found this idea and others on this post from Rachel Held Evans. Sarah Bessey and Tsh Oxenreider also have great resources and offerings that will inspire your Advent.

This can feel like a lot, but most of it is happening in our home. Which means — we won’t make it to every party, light show and activity that comes across our path this year. We’ll have to say “no” to some things in order to say “yes” to these more meaningful activities.

For these days of Advent I will slow down, not speed up. I will take more care with people, not less. I will be aware of my own personhood. What am I creating with this life I’ve been given? — Paula D’Arcy

Join me for my Slow Advent series here each week as I reflect on Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. How will you choose to slow down this Advent season?

Thankful

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Early in the season I bought a small decorative “gratitude tree” at Target. I thought it would be a great way to emphasize thankfulness with my littles during the month of November. Each day I ask, “what are you thankful for?”, and I write it on a leaf and stick it to the tree. As the kids are 5 and 3, I didn’t expect their initial responses to be thoughtful or profound. I assumed they’d just say “Legos”, or “toys” — I did not expect them to shout “butts” and “toots!” I redirected quickly and said, “being silly, that is a great one!” As we’ve considered thankfulness more, Brother has given more thoughtful answers, but Sister stands by “being silly”, and both kids giggle uncontrollably every time she says it.

For my own study in thankfulness, I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. In it, she challenges herself to write down “one thousand gifts”, or 1000 things she’s thankful for. She writes that spending time each day identifying and acknowledging the gifts in her life has changed her for the better. Inspired by her example, I’ve taken on the same challenge. Thus far, my list is simple:

2. Healthy kids

3. Little boys with red curls

10. My favorite autumn candle

25. Quiet mornings

30. Reading aloud with Brian

Recently, I was watching the kids play out the kitchen window. I couldn’t hear their what they were saying, but I could hear their giggles and thought about how much I love that sound — what a gift it is to hear them laughing together. I quickly wrote it down:

55. Littles giggling together

Then I thought about something Dr. Laura Markham writes in Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings — “Laughing releases oxytocin and endorphins, so everytime you laugh with someone, you’re building trust … when your children laugh together, they’re bonding.”

Though I knew they were probably giggling about “butts and toots”, I knew the giggles were a gift. I grabbed a pen and added to my list:

56. Being silly