I squatted on the sand in my sneakers and gym shorts this week. I looked out into the ocean. I looked down into the sand. I listened.
Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?
Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.
If all of God’s people would just breathe.
We crave the sweet togetherness of the holidays. Togetherness also brings out the tensions within our beloved relationships. The response to the tension is love. The deeper our love is connected to God’s truth, the deeper the love permeates the heart.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
As we love through the tension, deep into the hearts of our beloved, let’s welcome what is right, pure and lovely over the reality of the tension. Let’s breathe in and out what is excellent and praiseworthy.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I didn’t grow up with the tradition of the season of Advent. Over the last few years, I’ve learned that it is a simple way to prepare your heart for Christmas.
Advent celebrates Hope, Faith, Joy and Peace as we eagerly await the light of Christmas.
First, we celebrate HOPE. Advent opens with an invitation to PAUSE.
We are offered the chance to pause the push of the holiday merriment . . . This is a small but significant cultural resistance we can practice in our homes, minds, emotions and relationships.
– Tsh Oxenreider, Shadows and Light, A Journey Into Advent
As I look back to my Advent HOPE notes from three years ago, I see that I hoped to learn something new during Christmas. I journaled that I was grateful to need so deeply so that Jesus could show himself to me so deeply. I desired to remember the oppressed with generosity and to savor Christmas.
I ended the week of HOPE with this entry:
God, you are working in the shadows. Even the dark is light to you. I pray for shadows to be revealed so that the light may come in and shine. You are so kind. Your ways are gentle. Your voice is like a homecoming every time. Help me be gentle and kind like you.
Second, we celebrate FAITH. We believe that something GOOD is on the way.
It takes a lifetime to sharpen the tool of faith with the belief that there is always good ahead. Do you have a realist in your life? I do. My realist often tells me the obvious, fact based doom and gloom coming on the horizon. I tell the realist that God has been good before and he will be good again. Everything will work out as it should.
I am a woman of faith + optimism + imagination for the good things of God. At the same time, I haven’t always believed my own words to the realist.
I have been up many nights thinking about the breadth and kindness of God. Do both extend to me in this set of circumstances? Will God use his power and love to work out this scenario?
There used to be an “off limits” part of my heart that gripped onto self reliance in case God didn’t decide to help. God has a good sense of humor since most of the important things that have worked out in my life have had little to do with me. God is funny that way. He changes our understanding of him without our help. I love that.
Third, we celebrate JOY as we ANTICIPATE the birth of Jesus.
Intentional joy is hard to pursue. Life has an abundance of commitments where we put others before ourselves. Serving others at home, work, in friendships and the community is a huge source of joy. There is, however, another side of joy. This joy springs forth from within. This joy is the difference between an internal self that resembles a parched garden and a well watered garden whose waters never fail.
The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be like a watered garden and like a spring whose water never runs dry.
I mentioned that I found myself parched this Fall. The combination of low grade anxiety, sadness and tiredness brought me to pursue intentional joy. I aimed to replenish my joy one day per week with one small intentional act. My list may be small, but it has mattered to the state of my soul.
I walked with my mom in an outdoor nursery with calm music playing.
I ordered fun paper and embellishments to wrap holiday gifts.
I listed to the WHOLE original soundtrack of Mary Poppins in bed on a Saturday morning.
I wrote holiday cards to all of my Devoted sisters (my community group).
I filled an older purse with toiletries, food, cosmetics, two books and drinks. I am waiting to see a woman in need on the road to give it to.
I am pursuing joy in anticipation of the day of Jesus’ birth. He is the whole reason.
For unto us a child is born, unto 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. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore.
Fourth, we embrace PEACE as we dig deep into GRATITUDE.
Gratitude is a popular word. We hear it everywhere. We see it on the cover of journals. We are told by the secular and religious world that peace and joy grow from living a life of gratitude. To me, gratitude came alive in learning St. Ignatius Loyola’s Prayer of Examen. To break it down, each day we ask ourselves:
How has the Lord provided for me today? What am I thankful for?
How did I move toward the Lord today? How did I bring him glory through my words and actions?
How did I move away from the Lord today? Where did I miss the opportunity to bring him glory through my words and actions?
Listen and Respond
At the base of every difficulty that etches away at our internal peace, gratitude awaits. God sweeps in with peace as we count what we have instead of what we don’t. The last week of Advent is the time we express gratitude to him as we celebrate the Prince of Peace.
Sisters, I made for you an Advent Inspired Bucket List. I hope you enjoy as you embrace the season of Advent and Christmas this year.