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Finding Advent

Finding AdventIn my book Not Just on SundaysI share a story about how one year, I secretly laughed my way up to do a family Advent reading in church—not because Advent is funny, but because I felt like a hypocrite telling the congregation to take rest in the anticipation of Advent when I hadn’t found rest that particular season. Not one ounce of it.

And ever since then, I’ve been in pursuit of Advent. Unlike the pursuit of finding Nemo, the orange clownfish that needed his friends and father to locate him many years ago in the infamous Disney film, Advent doesn’t need to be “found” in order to be rescued. It is there whether or not I choose to observe it. But if I looked for it, paused for it, and asked God about it, I just knew I could find it in more meaningful ways.

And I figured out a few things along the way. It’s been a journey. There’s been a learning curve, and I’m often a slow learner.

1. I give myself permission to not put up all decorations. I don’t even have to decorate each room. Twenty-one years of accumulating decorations and traditions pile up and start demanding to be followed. I can’t keep up. It’s okay to let some of those go. What I did as a newly married 20-something decorating those first few Christmases does not have to define how I choose to make the house merry today.

This year, we are minimalists: tree, some candles, advent setting, wreath, stockings.

I do not have to set up a Biblical times village or Thomas Kinkade-like warm scene of a street and candle shop in ceramics to usher in Christmas. Jesus did this for us. A simple baby in a manger, a humble birth, among the animals in a barn.

2. Advent observations can be few and still incredibly meaningful. The LEGO Advent calendar is fun. So is a box of pop-open windows with chocolate inside. Starbucks has even joined the Advent celebration with a chalkboard of tins dating through each day of December. Reading the Christmas story each day on a book ornament is sweet. So are lit candles each Sunday, with a time of songs and Scripture. We like reading through a Bible times Advent book (see these awesome Advent books by Arnold Ytreeide).

What isn’t fun is feeling like we have to do all of these. Legalism. Bah! So we got smart this year and chose about three of those.

3. I do not have to be a Christmas card overachiever. If writing 100 cards puts me in a Jesus Love frame of mind, then awesome! I love to write personal messages to folks. But if it’s a year when life is frenzied, and meeting that self-imposed or societal obligation will cause me angst, which takes me away from dwelling on why my Savior came, I don’t need to do it that year. Striving is never our goal. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. If we are doing something that feels like striving, we are not finding His true rest. And Advent is about resting in the gift of Him.

Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus speaking, ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I also can enjoy Christmas cards other people wanted to send me and not experience self-condemnation for not sending them out—or not sending them quickly enough, or on time. (I have to admit the first one to arrive in the mailbox Thanksgiving weekend always taunts the overachiever in me and fills me with angst all at the same time, even though I love reading handwritten notes.)

4. I am avoiding the mall from December 1st on. For me, crowds of people drain me. Others are energized by them, but for me, Advent rest means escaping the retail scene in December. What is super fun for one person is someone else’s dread, so I’m just agreeing not to stress out over traffic, parking lot spaces, and massive amounts of people (especially the ones coming out of their kiosks to approach me if I want this hair extension or that flying helicopter—I know it’s their job to do that, but the introvert in me always wants to run).

5. I do not need to throw a cookie exchange, attend The Nutcracker, visit three living nativities, or attend five Christmas parties to mean the season is important or here. It’s already here. It’s important with or without me. I can jump on and grab what I’ve found, or I can let it pass me by because I’m getting dolled up or food-prepping for too many December events on the calendar. (Don’t get me wrong: Those events are all fun. It’s more about choosing a few wisely than stressing out our family calendar and feeling forever frenzied, thereby missing the point, despite our good intentions.)

6. What That Other Mom Over There does has nothing to do with my Advent. Comparison is a holiday slasher. It sucks the joyful spirit out of festivities and celebration like a thirsty kid getting every last bit of that Blue #1 food coloring Icee out of the paper cup. [Even though it has nothing to do with Advent really, don’t even get me started talking about Elf on the Shelf! I’m not morally opposed to it; it’s a cute idea. Many of my friends have so much fun with it. I’m just afraid to start myself up yet another Mombligation I will fail or that will take years off my life stressing about achieving.]

7. The reverse of No. 6, Advent is not about my expectations on other people. It’s not about whether we were included in the neighborhood white elephant party, were invited to Aunt Nancy’s for Christmas dinner, received gifts from a certain family (because after all, we give their kids gifts every year for 17 years), and “can you believe the tacky blow-up Santa across the street? And she didn’t even put up her window candles this year! She’s really slacking. At least we’ve got those!”

Advent is actually the opposite of that. It’s everyone coming to the baby in the manger from the same humble position: bowed low. When we are bowing low, we are only looking at the position we came from—our own stance—and we cannot be concerning ourselves with what those around us are doing.

That’s the position of Advent.

8. Advent worship might look different every day. Today, I might be able to read my kids part of the story of Jesus. If we can’t sing around the table that week, we might enjoy “O Come All Ye Faithful” while riding in the car. Prayers might be geared toward children around the world needing to know the gift of Jesus. One day it might be a mention of thanks for Christ, or a journal entry. It could be sharing why and what our hearts celebrate with a friend who is curious but doesn’t share our faith.

Advent is every day in remembrance, but it is not a huge project or effort. It’s living from what Jesus has transformed inside our hearts.

9. No matter what, I don’t “do” Advent. It’s not an action verb on my part. It’s not something I achieve. God did this. Advent came to me. In a manger. Crying like me. Feeling pain and joy like me. Tempted like me. Dying for me.

10. Jesus wants me. The person. The relationship. The conversation. The yielded heart. The lover of His truth. He doesn’t care if my tree is up, my presents wrapped, if I’m a last-minute panic-shopper or the most organized mom on the planet. How many Christmas services/recitals/plays I attended or participated in make no difference in our relationship. He loves me right where I am, and stopping to spend time with Him, being still, listening for Him to lead my life, telling Him everything like a Holy BFF, coming to Him like a child: This, this is what He wants.

What do you think? What does Advent mean to you?

Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah the Prophet speaking, ESV
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” 

 

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Fighting “Still”—and Other Struggles of the Season

Fighting Still—and Other Struggles of the SeasonI am not very good at keeping still. In fact, I turn still into a such a multitasking event that I defeat its entire purpose. Last night, for example, I sat down to watch The Peanuts Movie with my youngest son, and I turned it into a moment of buying a subscription to a creation science magazine for my oldest child for Christmas.

I was always the child who had to play a board game with myself or work on a scrapbook project while watching television. Even when my friends would come over to play Barbies, I would sing commercial ditties or manage multiple tasks at once. Ask any one of my childhood friends, and she will tell you I drove her nuts! Being at rest is not a concept I have ever understood. I have always been driven and project-focused. The night of my bridal shower, I stayed up late for hours to make sure all thank-you notes were immediately written, stamped, and addressed.

For a long time, I chalked it up to an amazing work ethic. I was the ant of Proverbs 6—and proud of it!

Proverbs 6:6-9, ESV

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief, officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?

Right now, for example, I am writing an email reply to my mother while

–looking for dressy heels for my daughter at Famous Footwear online, 

–writing this article, 

–checking on the dogs, 

–and thinking about the school evaluation forms I have to fill out and promptly sign and return to special education office in the school district. 

I also might stop and wrap one present.

I might be productive, but I certainly am not focused.

What does still mean for you?

My still consists of the few moments Read the rest of this entry »

 

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Expectant Like Mary

Expectant Like Mary

This year, I made myself a promise that I would buy 95 percent of Christmas gifts before Thanksgiving. I’ve even managed to ship a few care packages and boxes of presents already. I think I learned from previous years that if I want a peaceful, Christ-focused Advent season, I have to be organized, planned, and efficient.

Two years ago, my father passed away on December 2. Advent was a blur. I don’t even remember if I shopped. This is a difficult time of year for that and other reasons, and I am choosing to spend December reading about shepherds watching their flocks by night, singing worship carols, and focusing on Immanuel, God with us. I want to create more family time, play board games, do a jigsaw puzzle, watching the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, The Christmas Story, and Elf. I can’t wait to cuddle my dogs on cold nights and breathe in Christmas candles and essential oils diffusing in every room. I look forward to my daughter baking cookies and filling the house with the delightful smells of Christmas.

I want to be expectant in my heart and soul, like Mary, mother of the Christ, my heart trusting in my God.

Luke 1:46-50, ESV

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.”

What about you? Did you anticipate the fun or the stress of last-minute grocery runs for the cranberry sauce, post-Thanksgiving cleanup, Black Friday shopping, crowds, traffic, and the tensions that can be both beautiful and stretch us taut when around extra family during the holidays? Did you put up your Christmas tree? Lights?

Is there anticipation in the air—or just weariness?

Whatever season you are in, wherever the needle on your stress gauge is at the moment: Read the rest of this entry »

 

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A Book Review of “Ishtar’s Odyssey”

A Book Review of Ishtar's OdysseyI rarely review books, but when I was asked by Kregel Publications to review Ishtar’s Odyssey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide, I didn’t even have to think about it. My family and I have been enjoying his Advent books for years. They have become part of our tradition around the table each Advent season during which we find ourselves eager to begin the next chapter every day.

Considering we have read Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, and Tabitha’s Travels, I can honestly say that Isthar’s Odyssey is my absolute favorite!

What I love about these books is that they are historical fiction through interwoven tales of families and characters who meet up throughout their individual stories, ending at the point of Jesus’s birth. You can read the books in any order, and while each one offers its own unique tale, after reading all of them, you will see a rich tapestry unfold. The collection does a great job communicating how so many different groups of people must have regarded the birth of a baby Messiah with a bright star leading them with such awe, confusion, and yet tremendous hope.

What is refreshing is that these stories contain the true grit of life, Read the rest of this entry »

 

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My Reading List

Christian Living/Inspirational

Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning
http://brennanmanning.com/

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller
http://www.seejesus.net

Always Enough: God’s Miraculous Provision Among the Poorest Children on Earth by Rolland and Heidi Baker
http://www.irisglobal.org

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
http://www.drcloud.com
http://www.drtownsend.com

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul by John and Stasi Eldredge
http://www.ransomedheart.com

Compelled by Love: How to Change the World Through the Simple Power of Love in Action by Heidi Baker
http://www.irisglobal.org

Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Dennis E. Johnson
http://www.elysefitzpatrick.com
http://wscal.edu/academics/faculty/dennis-e-johnson

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung
http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan
http://crazylove.org

Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry
http://www.jackiehillperry.com/book/

God, Are You There?: Understanding God’s Character and How He Interacts With Us by Bruce Hartley
http://www.amazon.com/Bruce-Hartley/e/B07D42FS3S?ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vu00_tkin_p1_i0

Healing for Today by Paul Teske
http://paulteske.com

Hosting the Presence: Unveiling Heaven’s Agenda by Bill Johnson
http://bjm.org

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh
http://www.adamsmchugh.com

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter by Nancy Guthrie
http://www.nancyguthrie.com

Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
http://bobgoff.com

Name Above All Names by Sinclair B. Ferguson and Alistair Begg
http://www.ligonier.org/blog/teacher/sinclair-ferguson/
http://www.truthforlife.org

One Race One Blood: A Biblical Answer to Racism by Ken Ham and A. Charles Ware
http://answersingenesis.org
http://www.crossroads.edu/aboutcbc/whoweare/ourpresident.php

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp
http://www.aholyexperience.com

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt
http://www.radical.net

Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew C. Mitchell
http://matt-mitchell.blogspot.com

Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God by Brennan Manning
http://brennanmanning.com/

The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts by Gary D. Chapman
http://www.5lovelanguages.com

The Cure: What If God Isn’t Who You Think He Is and Neither Are You by John Lynch, Bruce McNicol, and Bill Thrall
http://www.truefaced.com

The Dream Giver: Following Your God-Given Destiny by Bruce Wilkinson
http://www.brucewilkinson.com

The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey
http://philipyancey.com

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy J. Keller
http://www.timothykeller.com

Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do With You by John MacArthur
http://www.gty.org

Victory in Spiritual Warfare: Outfitting Yourself for the Battle by Tony Evans
http://tonyevans.org

What’s So Amazing About Grace by Philip Yancey
http://philipyancey.com

Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society by Henri J. M. Nouwen
http://henrinouwen.org/

You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan
http://www.youandmeforever.org

Raising Children

Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men by James C. Dobson
http://www.drjamesdobson.org

Bringing Up Girls: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men by James C. Dobson
http://www.drjamesdobson.org

Effective Parenting in a Defective World by Chip Ingram
http://livingontheedge.org

Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World by Christine Carter
http://themomcafe.com

Grace-Based Parenting: Set Your Family Free by Tim Kimmel
http://familymatters.net

On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam
http://www.parentwisesolutions.com/babywise/

On Becoming Child Wise: Parenting Your Child from Three to Seven Years by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam
http://www.parentwisesolutions.com/babywise/

On Becoming Preteen Wise: Parenting Your Children from Eight to Twelve Years Old by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam
http://www.parentwisesolutions.com/babywise/

On Becoming Teen Wise: Building a Relationship That Lasts a Lifetime by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam
http://www.parentwisesolutions.com/babywise/

Teaching True Love to a Sex-at-13 Generation by Eric and Leslie Ludy
http://www.ellerslie.com

Special Education/Mental Health

Defusing the Mental Illness Crisis Triangle by Nancy Pizzo Boucher
http://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Pizzo-Boucher/e/B003WHK23I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1548692737&sr=1-1

Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey
http://www.drhallowell.com
http://www.johnratey.com

Growing Up Brave: Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety by Donna B. Pincus
http://www.bu.edu/card/profile/donna-pincus-ph-d/

Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia by Natasha Campbell-McBride
http://www.gaps.me/dr-campbell-mcbride.php

Hidden Victims Hidden Healers: An Eight Stage Healing Process for Friends & Family of the Mentally Ill by Julie Tallard Johnson
http://www.julietallardjohnson.com

Replanting Lives Uprooted by Mental Illness: A practical guide for families by Nancy Pizzo Boucher
http://www.amazon.com/Nancy-Pizzo-Boucher/e/B003WHK23I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1548692737&sr=1-1

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
http://www.smartbutscatteredkids.com

Soul Pain Revealed: Bridging Psychology With Faith as the Way Through Suffering by Dr. Julie Caton
www.drjuliecaton.com

The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Whole Body Program to Stop Racing Thoughts, Banish Worry and Live Panic-Free by Ali Miller
http://www.alimillerrd.com

The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Bruce M. Hyman and Cherlene Pedrick
http://www.ocdhope.com/about-hyman-bio.php
http://www.cherrypedrick.com

Why A.D.H.D. Doesn’t Mean Disaster by Dennis Swanberg, Diane Passno, and Walter L. Larimore
http://www.dennisswanberg.com
http://drwalt.com

Wilma Jean the Worry Machine by Julia Cook
http://www.juliacookonline.com

Youth (Junior High/High School Students)

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris
http://therebelution.com

Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World by Christine Carter
http://themomcafe.com

My Favorite Cookbooks

Betty Crocker: Grilling Made Easy by General Mills
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1410009.Betty_Crocker_Grilling_Made_Easy

Made Whole: More Than 145 Anti-Inflammatory Keto-Paleo Recipes to Nourish You from the Inside Out by Cristina Curp
http://thecastawaykitchen.com

Superfood Smoothies: 100 Delicious, Energizing & Nutrient-dense Recipes by Julie Morris
http://www.juliemorris.net

The Anti-Anxiety Diet: A Whole Body Program to Stop Racing Thoughts, Banish Worry and Live Panic-Free by Ali Miller
http://www.alimillerrd.com

The Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook by Barbara Schieving
http://www.pressurecookingtoday.com/author/sch_barbara/

The One Pot Ketogenic Diet Cookbook: 100+ Easy Weeknight Meals for Your Skillet, Slow Cooker, Sheet Pan, and More by Liz Williams
http://fitketogirls.com/

Fiction

Blood Of The Righteous (The Ki Kalendeen Chronicles Book 1) by J. E. Sandoval
http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Righteous-Kalendeen-Chronicles-Book-ebook/dp/B007JCUML4

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
http://abrahamverghese.com

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
http://zusakbooks.tumblr.com

Main Street: A Gables and Gingerbread Story by Mollie Lyon
http://missmolliesmusings.blogspot.com

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
http://www.jodipicoult.com

Pirates of the Decian Sea (The Ki Kalendeen Chronicles) by J. E. Sandoval
http://www.amazon.com/Pirates-Decian-Sea-Kalendeen-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0088268EO/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1?ie=UTF8&refRID=0354H45WY1SPR9FYHDG9

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline
http://scottoline.com

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
http://zusakbooks.tumblr.com

The Centurion’s Wife by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke
http://www.davisbunn.com
http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/authors/janette-oke/932

The Change by Darlene McKenna
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Change-by-Darlene-McKenna/376601302386483

The Infinite Plan by Isabel Allende
http://isabelallende.com

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
http://khaledhosseini.com

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
http://anitadiamant.com

The Trouble at the Scholar’s Inn (The Ki Kalendeen Chronicles) by J. E. Sandoval
http://www.amazon.com/Trouble-The-Scholars-Kalendeen-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B0088IMLA8

Advent Readings

Bartholomew’s Passage by Arnold Ytreeide  
http://www.jothamsjourney.com

Ishtar’s Odyssey by Arnold Ytreeide
http://www.kregel.com/childrens-story-books/ishtars-odyssey/

Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide
http://www.jothamsjourney.com

Tabitha’s Travels by Arnold Ytreeide
http://www.jothamsjourney.com

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy: Daily Readings for Advent by John Piper
http://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-dawning-of-indestructible-joy

Island Stories/Fiction

Breadfruit: A Novel by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

Frangipani: A Novel by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

Tiare in Bloom: A Novel by Celestine Hitiura Vaite

Ground Truth Press Publications

Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World by Christine Carter
http://themomcafe.com

God, Are You There?: Understanding God’s Character and How He Interacts With Us by Bruce Hartley
http://www.amazon.com/Bruce-Hartley/e/B07D42FS3S?ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vu00_tkin_p1_i0

Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness by Christine Carter
http://themomcafe.com

The Little Shot (The Little Shot Series) (Volume 1) by Tasha Eizinger, Illustrated by Lauren Moyer
http://thelittleshot.com

The Little Shot Gets Too Big (The Little Shot Series) (Volume 2) by Tasha Eizinger, Illustrated by Lauren Moyer
http://thelittleshot.com

The Little Shot Loses Her Luster (The Little Shot Series) (Volume 3) by Tasha Eizinger, Illustrated by Lauren Moyer
http://thelittleshot.com

Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day by Bonnie Lyn Smith
www.bonnielynsmith.com

The Hills of Vincere Ridge by Mark J. Musser
http://www.markjmusser.com

 

 

 
 
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