Advent and going back to basics.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and we are packing up everything we own and moving right smack dab in the middle of it!  Christmas is my absolute favorite holiday and, despite the craziness associated with moving a family of seven and downsizing, no less, I just couldn’t let it keep us from celebrating it as normally as possible.  Not only will it make the transition easier for our kids, but it will be the beginning of many years of beautiful memories in our new home, Lord willing.   I have been determined to preserve the traditions that are meaningful and get the tree(s) up in our new house even before we move in.  So the Christmas stuff may or may not have been moved into our house ahead of my clothes!

Priorities:)

In the controlled chaos of packing/moving/homeschooling and all the busy of our normal life with five athletic and extremely social kids I had to take a good look at Christmas this year and narrow things down…a lot.

I tend to be a “bandwagon celebrationist.”  (Yes, I just made that up.)  Whenever the latest book, devotional, or idea for celebrating a holiday in a meaningful, Christ-honoring way comes across my newsfeed I’m all, “Yeah!  I need that!  THAT is the key!  THAT will make our Christmases unforgettable!  I must add that to the 6 devotionals, 7 trees and fourteen advent wreaths we already have!”  (Kidding…about the wreaths, anyway.)

I’m always looking for the next great idea and then Christmas comes…

The half-read devotionals lay stacked on the side table.  Candles failed to be lit all of last week.  And, shoot, I was going to make that newest recipe for the holidays and the ingredients sit, untouched, because I ran out of time.  It’s too much.  And in the middle of my great intentions sits a festering seed of frustration and failure.  Jesus loses his place, once again, because I crowded him out with all of this “busy work.”

As I have packed and pared down our lives for this move, it has been eye opening.  First of all, I had way too much stuff.  It’s embarrassing.  Second, the determination to keep Christmas and be able to enjoy the season in the first days of life in our new home has made me realize that there are a few things of real value to our hearts, but many more that are not.

I have filled up a lot of giveaway and throwaway bags and it has been so freeing.

I got rid of the old, dusty wreaths and garlands.  All the ornaments that were, to be honest, ugly.  Even the stuff my kids made over the years, so many things that I couldn’t even remember who made them or when.  I chucked them in a bag and didn’t look back, only keeping the special ones that brought a smile to my face and warm fuzzies to my heart.

Kind of like Marie Kondo, without talking to my stuff.

Why do I make occasions like Christmas so complicated?  Why do I feel the need to fill this already beautiful season with experiences and create Pinterest-worthy memories?  Why are the holidays so exhaustingly busy?

Because we forget why we are celebrating in the first place.  And…we forget exactly who we are celebrating.

Jesus is not complicated, friends.  Everything about him is beautifully simple.  His birth, his life, his ministry, his death.  It was all very straightforward.  No frills.  He had a message and he taught it.  He had a mission and he completed it.  He knew why he was here and he let nothing distract him or deter him from it.  Jesus is not complicated, but he is beautiful.

And that is the key, if you ask me.  Creating beauty as we walk out the season of Advent can be so simple and meaningful.  In fact, I believe we can create beauty without opening a single devotional book or suffering guiding our kids through a single craft-making session.  Just this morning, as I was contemplating the words I am writing now, I asked my twelve year old daughter what she remembers most about Christmas as she has grown up.  What has been meaningful, and what has she thought was a waste of time?

Her answer surprised me.

She listed two meaningful traditions among the many we have upheld:  Watching Christmas movies together and putting twinkle lights all through the house.

The wastes of time in her eyes?  “Prettying up the tree.  Really, Mom, I just love the star on top and the ornaments.  It doesn’t need all that other stuff.”  This, from my artsiest and most creative child.   Do you know how much time I spent last year arranging and fluffing two different colors of extra-wide, sparkly ribbon on our big tree until it look just right?  She just cared about the star and the ornaments.

This is so profound to me.  We need less, friends.  Less gifts and more time spent talking about the meaning behind all of our celebrations.  Less hustling and bustling and more time to rest, to be restored and remember our First Love.  Less trying to fulfill our kids’ every wish and more attention on the longing fulfilled when the Son of God emerged from Mary’s womb in a stable surrounded by the lowliest of creatures and visited by the forgotten of society.

Jesus deserves our very best, but best does not mean busy work that will be forgotten next year.  It means sincere, heartfelt adoration of our King.  It means offering ourselves fully and slowing down long enough to let His still, small voice speak into our spirits.  That is what we will remember, and that is what our children will look back on fondly.  Simple beauty.  Candlelight and snuggles in front of a fire.  Words of life spoken in the quiet.  And laughter.  Always we must make time to laugh because following God is JOY.

Advent is about the waiting, the longing for the Promise.  In creating simple beauty we can find that place and be truly transformed as we recognize, anew, the incredible gift of God’s son.

Rediscovery

I read books because I love them, not because I think I should read them.

-Simon Van Booy

For as long as I can remember, I have been a voracious reader.   Our local library always had a summer reading program where kids were rewarded based on the number of books they read.  In the summer between my 5th and 6th grade year I read thirty books.  Mostly Nancy Drew.  I walked around my house with my nose in a book, artfully dodging furniture and objects on the floor without ever taking my eyes from the page.  I read myself to sleep, awakening the next morning with the book still open.  On my face.

I LOVE to read, but as the years have gone by I realized something important and disturbing about myself.  Though I continued to compile a library of books and would tell you that one of my favorite hobbies was reading, the truth is I was reading very little.  In fact, it would take months to get through a book.

I wrestled with this, at first blaming busyness and the season of life that I was in.  Sure, that was part of it.  But I had to take a long, hard look at how I was using my time and be brutally honest with myself.

I spent more time on social media than I spent reading good books that blessed my heart and mind.  I could tell you what Susie had for dinner last night and that Jane was now low-carb.  I could also tell you that Carrie’s toddler refuses to wear socks and that Mary’s son is a star pee-wee football player and sports a custom pair of cleats.  Nothing wrong with any of these things, right?  Except that they were gradually eating away something that had always been very important to me:  Immersing myself in a beautiful book filled with rich language and beautiful prose.  Allowing my eyes to rest from the blue light of a computer screen and settle on the Times New Roman font evenly spaced across the off-white pages of a novel.  Feeding my imagination with images of cities far away and encouragement to live simply and live well.

Instead, I was scrolling mindlessly, taking in tidbits of information that would be forgotten within days and training my mind to operate on what I believe to be a very shallow level in the interest of being “connected” and “in the know.”

So I stepped back.  I didn’t delete the apps from my phone or deactivate my accounts.  Extremes have never worked to break bad habits in my life.  Instead, I began to replace the bad habits with good ones.  It started with keeping a book in my purse.  At first it was largely ignored as I checked my phone in waiting rooms or parking lots, but the mere presence of that book literally called to me.  Eventually, I put the phone down and reached for the book.  It felt silly, at first, to have to be so intentional about this but that is exactly what needed to happen.  I had to make a choice.

A simple choice.

Over days and weeks the choice became easier.  Reaching for the book began to feel normal again.  Reading in my easy chair became my go-to.  My desk, now organized, has become a place of study and journaling and creativity that it had failed to be for several years.  And the result of making one choice at a time, of slowly replacing a bad habit with a good one, is that my stress level has dropped tremendously and I have the head room free to enjoy silence and give God a blessed chance to speak.

And speak, He has.

My relationship with Him is growing every single day as I make one choice at a time.  My prayer life has deepened and the Word of God has come alive.  I have read more books in the past three months than I had read in, probably, the last three years.

Social media no longer sucks me in like it used to.  I can put it down.  In fact, I am more hesitant to pick it up because I can feel the difference in myself after and hour in a good book vs. an hour of mindless scrolling.  Facebook does so many good things, reminding me of birthdays and anniversaries and helping me keep in touch with dear friends who I would have otherwise lost touch with many years ago.  But it is also addictive and endless.

And there are few things more satisfying than reaching the end.

We are now in the midst of the most beautiful season of the year, where we stop and give thanks to God and prepare to welcome anew in our hearts our Savior.  Nothing is more important right now than really immersing ourselves in the wonder and glory of the Holidays!  But if we are not careful, we can allow distractions to suck away precious hours that we can never get back.  It’s not worth it.  I want better for us, don’t you?  I want my kids to see the value of meditation over the crazy beautiful story of the Nativity and get lost in the shadows cast by the candlelight in our family room.  I want my life to be filled with music and poetry and scripture so that it drowns out the lies the enemy throws at me in weak moments.  I want God to be honored in how I spend my time, down to the precious minutes of “down time” He sprinkles throughout my days.  If I’m always looking down I will miss it and I will miss HIM.

So here are a few tips for making the change from screen to page:

  1.  Be honest with yourself.  How much time to you really spend on social media?  Don’t give in to the temptation to “round down!”
  2. The best way to stop a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.  What do you know you should be doing when you habitually reach for your mobile device?  In my case, it was read.  So bring along whatever it is…book, planner, etc.  Keep it near you and convenient so that you don’t have an excuse.
  3. Ask yourself why you keep going online?  Ann Voskamp has a printable that I posted on my refrigerator with suggestions for things to do before clicking.  It was convicting to realize how five minutes here and there can truly make a difference in the level of productivity I achieve on any given day!
  4. Turn off your notifications.  This really helped me!  Something about what I call “the little red drops of blood” with flashing numbers screaming, “Attention!  You have posts to read!  Hey, you!  Look at me right now!” would make me crazy and I felt like I had to keep them cleared out.  So I turned them off.  Simple.  And that goes for your email inbox too.  That thing can be a beast.  If I had a nickel for every minute I spent deleting junk mail…
  5. Start each day early, making time with the Lord first priority.  Open your Bible before you open Facebook.  Linger over the Word of God, read different translations and compare, maybe creatively journal the words that God uses to pierce your heart.  But keep it simple.  Prayer is not complicated, and neither is reading the Bible.  It’s a love letter, not a textbook.
  6. Work before play.  An old friend told me this was what she taught her kids when training them to clean up after themselves.  (She was much more successful at that than I have been, by the way.  Judge away.  It is a parenting fail I humbly own.)  As adults we can model that adage by choosing not to “play” (go online for pleasure) until all of our work is done.  House clean?  Dishes done?  Laundry put away?  Quiet time spent with God?  Great.  Then reward yourself…but resist the urge to go straight to screen time!  Start with a good book.  Light a candle and wrap up in a soft blanket.  Get really comfy in that big chair and see if, an hour later, you still care about what Susie made for dinner.  Chances are, your book is much more interesting.

Now go.  Feast and rest and love and enjoy all the beautiful bounty of this season!  Look your loved ones in the eye and be all in, not wasting a single moment.  Don’t give in to distractions and complications.  It’s not worth it!    Have a blessed and SIMPLE Thanksgiving!

How to be Thankful (Lessons from the Torture Chamber)

This year has been a doozy.  Dear ones whom I love have suffered immeasurably. Devastating injuries, sickness, death, divorce, struggling children and the inability to just pay their rent have beaten them, literally, to a pulp.  Continue reading “How to be Thankful (Lessons from the Torture Chamber)”