Thursday, December 1, 2016

A December State of Mind...

"Let us be courageous in these days.  Let's choose love and rest and grace.  Let's use our minutes and hours to create memories with the people we love instead of dragging them on one more errand or shushing them while we accomplish one more seemingly necessary thing.  Let's honor the story - the silent night, the angels, the miracle child, the simple birth, with each choice that we make."

-Shauna Niequist.   
December is here and I'm once again bouncing from overjoyed to overwhelmed, like a pinball in a arcade machine, most likely playing some kind of Christmas music.  Tonight, I look forward to heading downtown for Jingle and Mingle on Main, an annual tradition that marks the kickoff to the Christmas season with a few girlfriends who have shared in this event since before we even had babies.  Next week includes a women's advent dinner at church, a Christmas concert, a friends' party, a family event with Santa, and a volunteer opportunity at Christmas in Walnut, one of my favorite church mission events of the year.  And at the same time, my most favorite ways to spend this advent season are hunkered down in the house, with hot cocoa, Christmas classics on rerun, cozy pajamas and blankets, and the house lit up with Christmas trees and candles and fires in the fireplace.  The fact is, there is much to love about this season and so many opportunities to celebrate it, but for the love there is so.much.  

Cruz's elementary school is a Leader in Me school, and every month he has been coming home with another one of the seven habits in his repertoire.  This week, as we made our way in the house, hands full of school papers, Christmas catalogs from the mailbox, and our first family Christmas card to admire, Cruz asked if he could play iPad.  After listing off a number of things that he needed to do before that could happen, he thought for a second and said, "Oh yeah, put first things first."  This simple habit is exactly my hope for this last precious month of the year.  There is much opportunity in December, and with that, much opportunity to be intentional about how we spend it.  Thanks to a slower ease into the season this year, some guidance and encouragement from my friends who feel similar, and some good reading material that inspires me to take a closer look at my life and how I'm living it, I've been thinking a lot about this Christmas season and how to trim it down in order to make room for what's most important.  

I started planning early, first identifying the family traditions that our family loved the most, while also making room for a few new ones that would center us around advent and the anticipation of Jesus' birthI also started shopping earlier this year, hoping to have most gifts purchased before December 1stThen, I erased our dry erase calendar in the mud room and started with a fresh slate, slowly filling in the events based on what was most important for this month.  Instead of letting the calendar control us, I made a point to control what I put on it, and made sure there would be lots of room for some of our very favorite Christmas traditions.  Nights for a trolley ride downtown and a drive around to look at lights, movie nights of Elf, Home Alone and It's a Wonderful Life, and plenty of camp-outs under the Christmas tree with our favorite stories and cocoa cups.  And lastly, and maybe most importantly, I made sure that Jesus, the one this season is all about, was present in our December, too.  Remembering that while this season very much begs for comfort and joy, God calls us to give our time, resources, and comforts to others.  In my current Bible study on the life of Paul, I'm reminded that God isn't always after my happiness, but that he's really looking for my holy.  I've been praying for fresh eyes to the needs in my community, as well as identifying some pretty wonderful opportunities to serve and love our neighbors, and involve Cruz and Mila in that, too.  I have a long ways to go, but am finding His face in small, uncomfortable places and long to keep showing up. 

So, as December kicks off, I will attempt to remember these words of Jamie Ivey as I count down the days of December and live richly in the anticipation of all that comes with Christmas: "This year I’m looking December in the eyes and I’m declaring a few things about her. I will not be manipulated into thinking I have to do it all. I will declare that my people in my house matter more than the best holiday party in the world. I will make cookies when I want to and feel no burden to put them in cute buckets with burlap and pass them out to everyone that I see. I will invite my family into daily reflections on what the Advent season truly means. I will invite my children into the greatest story that’s ever been told – God always had a plan for his people, and that plan was Jesus."

Wishing you a slow and meaningful Advent season with the right balance of busy and slow, the people under your roof and others who need your love, of a few glad tidings and a whole lot of Jesus.

A few of our glad tidings to share...

I ordered our first family Advent study through She Reads Truth this year and just a few days in, it's been one of my favorite Christmas blessings.  While Beau and I each have a book of our own, what I am most enjoying are the kids' table cards we pull out each night and hang on a piece of twine in our dining room.  The messages on each card are simple, and I love that they go beyond the Bethlehem birth story we all know so well.  We have conversations about our sin and our need for a savior, the ways we are like sheep and sometimes go astray at school, at work, or at home, and ways we can walk humbly like Jesus didWe talk about the card for a few minutes, say a prayer, and add it to the twine with a little clothespin.  It's centered us each night and challenged Beau and I to make scripture accessible and relevant to our kindergartener.   

These girls.  We signed up to host a life group through our church's college ministry, and I am still walking on cloud nine five days later after they blessed our home and our family Monday night.  I've learned that discipleship is being intentional about putting yourself in situations to both receive Christ in others, and extend his love to others at the same time.  While we truly loved having these girls in our home, filling them up with good food and hot cocoa, each of them filled our cups in ways we weren't ready for.  I love the creative ways Jesus brings his people together and am hopeful He has much in store for all of us.    

A slow-drip Saturday of tree trimming with two helpful little elves. 

Last night, I shopped in the dreamy Goods. Pop-Up Shop, a store downtown brilliantly curated by my friend, Katie, who has an eye for design and a heart for Jesus.  It's been beautiful to hear her story unfold at If:Table the past several months as she strove to combine her passions and gifts to live out God's purpose for her.  Goods. is a store completely stocked by local makers in our city, most with a mission to give back in some way.  I am so proud of her and amazed at her talent and bold courage to respond to her call and try this thing out.

And lastly, my blond free spirit, an enchanted forest, and a really good twirly dress.  

"My prayers is that we'll find ourselves drawn closer and closer to the heart of the story, the beautiful, beating heart of it all, that the chaos around us and within us will recede, and the most important things will be clear and lovely at every turn.  I pray that we'll live with intention, hope, and love in this wild season and in every season, and that the God who loves us will bring new life to our worn-out hearts this year and every year."

-Shauna Niequist

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