Monday, November 30, 2015

Making space

Over Thanksgiving break, Annie and I spent almost every evening before bedtime watching Hallmark Christmas movies on TV. As a result, I'm pretty sure she is under the distinct impression that at some point in her life a distant relative will bequeath her an Inn in some quaint but very removed location, she will become engaged to a wealthy and attractive, but humorless man, until she has a chance encounter with a humble tradesman (also attractive) who teaches her to laugh again and so she will promptly, but gently, dump McScrooge. And finally, she has also learned to be very wary of any sort of corporate mogul (land developers are particularly shady) who wants her to sign anything lest Christmas and all Christmas spirit be placed in immediate jeopardy.

She also still hides under the covers for any and all kissing.

I know it all sounds very cozy and sweet, and believe me, I love it, but it isn't always as comfortable as you might imagine.

These movie watching sessions take place in my bedroom with both of us tucked under the covers of my king size bed. You'd think that leaves plenty of room for the two of us, wouldn't you?

Let me try and paint you a word picture here...

Visualize a large, king size bed. Travel in your mind over to the left side of said bed (I'm a left-sider. I have no idea what that says about me but I'm sure there is a Facebook quiz that could tell me.) No, travel farther over to the left side. Farther. Mentally place yourself in the furthest 12 inches of the left side of the bed, teetering on the right side of your body so you don't fall off the edge. You might want to tuck your right arm under the pillow, grasping the top edge of the bed as leverage. Just a suggestion.

Sound comfy?

This is where I inevitably end up every evening because my daughter is not content for us to lie in close proximity of one another, or even next to one another. No, she prefers some form of cuddling that resembles a twist tie on a loaf of bread (I'm the bag of bread, she's the twist tie). And if I should try to gain even a little breathing room, or shift even slightly, she will immediately wrap tighter so as to eliminate any white space between us.

It is my futile attempts at freedom that cause me to find myself in those final 12 inches of bed space. Every. single. night.

Cozy, is putting it mildly.

But in that space, even as my arm is falling asleep and claustrophobic feelings start to rise in my chest, I hear all of the words that have been waiting to be said. Words that either get lost in the busyness and distractions of the day, or words that feel too vulnerable to be spoken out loud except in the one place you know yourself to be completely safe and unconditionally loved. Words about fears, and dreams, and hurt feelings, and questions, and general wonderings about the world, and God, and her place in it all.

In making space, blessings abound.

Yesterday began the season of Advent which is another opportunity to make space. And, again, we might find ourselves a little uncomfortable in doing so. In a season that demands activity and consumption and never ending to-do lists, it can be hard to say 'no' to one thing so that we can say 'yes' to something else. Yes to making space.

Space to listen.

Space to reflect.

Space to absorb.

Space to remember.

And the biggest challenge is not turning Advent into one more requirement, but instead finding a way to journey through the season honoring its true intentions.





It's impossible to cloister ourselves away for the next 25 days doing nothing but reflecting, praying and fasting (I have trouble fasting for 25 minutes). But I'm determined to make space everyday getting reoriented on what this season means for me and my faith.

Everyone is different and I don't presume to know what makes sense for anyone else, but in case you are looking for some resources, here are some suggestions that have been meaningful for me:

Naptime Diaries Advent Devotional: I purchased the hard copy version of this devotional and it is beautiful. Unfortunately, that is sold out for this year but they have made available a digital version that you could still download. It offers thoughtful reflections, scripture and prompts to inspire your own thoughts and prayers.

She Reads Truth: I used the hard copy devotional from this group last year and loved it. It's so pretty it is really like a keepsake journal (which explains the high price). However, you can follow along for free with their Advent reflections just by going to their website or if you sign up you can have them sent to you via email. Reading the daily SRT scripture and reflection is one of the first things I do each morning.

There are lots of great published Advent devotionals out there, but a few that I have read in the past are Watch For the Light (a collection of well known Christian writers from Bonhoeffer to C.S. Lewis to Philip Yancey), Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen  (you can never go wrong with Henri Nouwen), and the Irish Jesuits put out this devotional booklet each year that is really lovely and thought provoking, Sacred Space.

Ideas for celebrating Advent with your children (beyond eating a chocolate treat everyday-not that there's anything wrong with that...):

Story of Christmas ornaments: This is a newer tradition in our family that I have used with Annie (we didn't have them when the boys were young). We have been using these for at least five years now and she still enjoys reading them and putting them on her own little tree in her room each night. The ornaments are mini-books that progressively tell the Nativity story.

Advent Storybook: This is a sweet storybook that successfully walks the line between being fictional while also being true to the essence of the Christian Nativity story and ideals (at least I think it does). A mother bear tells her little cub a story that weaves both fiction, adventure and the true meaning of Christmas. Annie enjoyed this book for many years.

The Jesse Tree: I found this book when looking for something a bit older than the Advent Storybook mentioned above. Annie still enjoys reading a story together each night of Advent, but she was ready for something a little more sophisticated. We have just started this book together but we are already enjoying it.

Jotham's Journey: By now you are probably thinking I didn't do any sort of Advent celebration until Annie came along, but not so! This is the book I read each Advent with my boys for several years. I have not pulled it out with Annie because honestly I think she would find it too scary. It's exciting! And full of adventure! And kinda nerve wracking at times! My boys loved it... Even when Jack thought he was too old for it, he would still always end up listening in as I read it to Timothy. It's almost like a kid's historical fiction novel that then ends up tying into the Nativity story.

And, finally... it nothing else....just consider lighting some Advent candles. Don't get too worried about having some sort of correct candle configuration, the candles are not the point. The point is to take a moment, slow down, breathe, pray,and remember what we are celebrating.

Some faith traditions use purple as the color of Advent, and some use royal blue. Again, it doesn't really matter that much. I decided several years ago to use glassybaby votives as my Advent wreath. It was a bit of a splurge and a gift to myself, but now I have them year after year and they never wear out.

The themes for each week of Advent can vary among faith traditions, but the ones I am most familiar with are:

1st Sunday- Hope (purple)
2nd Sunday- Peace (purple)
3rd Sunday- Joy (pink)
4th Sunday- Love (purple)
Christmas Eve/Christmas candle (white)

Honestly, you could light a simple white candle each night of Advent and call it good. Making space is not about creating new obligations and opportunities to feel guilty. If you only remember to light the candle once a week, then breathe in, breathe out, and be grateful for that one moment of peace in an otherwise hectic time of year.

Just make some space and listen for the words that have been waiting to be said.

Words that you may be hearing for the first time, or words that you have heard so many times you carry them in your soul.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be upon his shoulders.
And he will be called 
Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:2-6

Wishing you an abundance of hope, peace, joy and love this Advent season.

(P.S. If you have other Advent resources or traditions, I'd love to hear them!)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The future is here

When Ben and I bought our charming Magnolia bungalow 24 years ago..

(That's exactly what it was called on the real estate flyer.) (It still makes me laugh.)

....we found ourselves settling into a neighborhood perfectly suited to our personalities.

We had retirees all around us.

Even in our 20's we made good neighbors for old people. You won't hear a peep out of us after 8pm.

One of the oldest old people was our neighbor Alice. I swear she had to have been at least 85 the day we moved in and she was with us for at least another 12 years after that. She was sweet as pie and as we started producing children she was never happier than when she would spot me out with the baby while she was having her daily stroll.

And the thing is, for a woman her age and limited physical strength, her daily strolls were really more like a daily marathon. She would get out with her walker at least once a day, usually twice, and steadily spend the next 30 minutes pushing that contraption up the street and back. It was truly inspirational because it did not look easy.

But Alice always had a smile on her face.

She also always had a parka on. I do not mean a jacket, or a windbreaker, or a sweatshirt, or a raincoat. I mean a parka. This was true whether it was the middle of winter or smack dab in the heart and the heat of summer. In the winter she would don some extra layers with a warm hat, a scarf, gloves and boots, but whatever the temperature the blue parka was a given.

I would stand at the window and watch Alice make her way up the street and marvel at her blue parka and wonder how she was fairing in the 75 degree heat. I was often concerned about her but she never seemed to break a sweat during her jaunts so I had to concede that she must know what made her most comfortable.

One day as I was clucking away about Alice and her parka and whether I should go check on her and do-you-think-one-of-these-days-we-are-going-to-find-her-facedown-on-the-sidewalk... Ben looked up from the television and said simply, "You know that's gonna be you, right?"

I. Was. Speechless.

Well, I never. I mean, honestly. What kind of thing is that for a man to say about his spritely young bride in the prime of her life?!

The man should be a freaking fortune teller.

This was me today.

Now, let's be clear. It wasn't anywhere near 75 degrees out today. In fact, it barely hit 55. But...there were people playing tennis, and children were stripping their sweatshirts off at the playground, and I passed at least one person still wearing running shorts while out for a jog. This is the Pacific Northwest, people. No one takes cold weather seriously until it hits at least the low 40's.

And I was in a parka, a wool headband and mittens. I'm pretty sure it's a slippery slope from here.

Just call me Alice.

And it's true, I did overestimate the chilliness of the temperatures today and I probably could have removed some of my layers after getting warmed up on our walk. But then what would I have done?  I'd have had to carry all that stuff and that just seemed silly when it was easier to just leave it all on.

And, truth be told, I was perfectly comfortable. Cozy, you might say.

I didn't think it was too obvious that I was a bit over-dressed until a cute little boy, wearing nothing more than a long-sleeve t-shirt, approached and asked if he could pet my dog. As I started to say, "of course", I noticed his mom sort of waving him off and trying to hurry him along. Now my hearing isn't what it used to be (are you noticing a pattern?) but I could have sworn I heard that woman mumble something about "not bothering the old lady."

I'm kidding.

I think.

I really can't hear all that well.

So, I hope Ben is feeling pretty smug about his prediction lo those many years ago. Because he's the one who is stuck with me. And if I end up as much like Alice as I seem to be, I'm going to be around a loooong time.

Nice and cozy and warm.

As long as I have my parka.