These Things Take Time

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

This time of year is the busiest. Gifts to buy, parties to attend, food to make,and that is in addition to work, school and kids. On our continent, creation has taken its cues from the earth and is slowing down.


During Advent the first signs of winter come. The trees are brown, animals are hibernating, and the sun sets earlier. There is more dark than light. Dark gives the signal to our bodies—slow down, reflect, and savor. It never makes sense to go against God’s already established rhythm. 

Advent is waiting time, where the air is literally pregnant with the presence of God. Like all pregnancies, too much stress and strain is not good for growing. So slow down, make the space each day to watch and wait as your family grows with Mary’s belly, ripe with the Christ child.

I encourage you to change gears this year. Get off the holiday treadmill, and savor these quiet moments of Advent.

Say “No, thanks,” to a few invitations and responsibilities, “I’ve got a baby to wait for.”


What would it look like to choose a slower pace this season?

Fasting During Advent?

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

 Fasting during the Holiday Season? Yes! Fasting has been used as a tool for thousands of years to help us listen. By turning off other things we open our hearts and minds to God who longs to whisper his great love to those who will listen. There are many ways and many things that we can fast to prepare for the Royal Baby.

This time of year strikes fear in the minds of all parents who have the foresight to consider all the sugar their children are about to ingest. As a family, save all sweets for Sunday. Sundays are traditionally celebration days, even during a time of fasting. Every Sunday we celebrate the resurrection—and what better way to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” than by saving the sweets for Sunday? Remember we are moving “counter-clockwise” to our culture. Here in the season of  Advent, we actively wait.

 Fast from media, when all family members are together. Evenings are usually the best time for most families. You can replace usual TV time with a Seasonal Fun activity, a family game, or read together. Try The Story of The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.

Two Saturdays during Advent eat rice and beans only. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Discuss what it must be like to have this every day. Decide as a family on a charity you would like to work with during the Holidays.

Give up your gifts. Fast from giving gifts to each other this year. In-stead, use the money to buy gifts for a family in your community who has very little. Plan a covert operation to drop off the gifts without being caught. Spend all four weeks of Advent planning.

A few last words from Augustine

“In his fasting, therefore, let a man rejoice inwardly in the very fact that by this fasting he is turning away from the pleasures of the world to make himself subject to Christ, who in the words of this precept wants him to have his head anointed. With the same intent he will be washing his face, that is, cleansing his heart whereby he is to see God, with no veil intervening because of a beclouding infirmity- firm and unshaken because he is clean and upright. ”

On Wreaths and Singing

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

Advent  Wreaths

Traditional Advent wreaths have four candles to represent the four weeks of Advent, three purple candles and one pink. (The colors can vary depending on the church tradition.) The wreath itself is usually made of evergreen branches to represent everlasting life in Jesus. The circle of the Advent wreath signifies God, who has no beginning and no end. Some modern wreaths have a single white candle, lit on Christmas Eve, in the middle that reminds us that Christ is the focus. Our family has remade some of the Advent traditions.

I’m not a big fan of pastels, so each November, I let the kids choose new candles in anticipation of the coming of Advent. Instead of the birth order deciding who lights the candles, we simply take turns. A good time to celebrate Advent is during the dinner time meal.

Unfortunately, for us, it doesn’t work so well. My husband works shift work, and many times he’s not home during dinner. So we may celebrate at breakfast, lunch,dinner, or even stop in the middle of the afternoon. If he can’t make it we proceed without him, praying for him in his work.  We begin our celebration by lighting the candle(s) for the corresponding week. 

Boisterous Singing?

Singing is a product of celebration and worship. Humans instinctively sing when we’re happy and often we sing when we are in “awe” of something or someone. Think of all the love songs in this world. Advent is both a raucous celebration and a reason to worship—to sing our love songs to God. If you are not much of a singer you may be inclined to skip this section; please don’t. Give it a week, sing with all you have, and see if your body, mind and spirit don’t follow.

If you are celebrating Advent with your children, they  will love it and in fact they need it. A great way to learn is through song, by repetition. For that reason we encourage you to sing the same song each day for one week. By the end of the week you may be sick of it, but your children will have learned it, and hidden those words of love, joy, celebration, and worship in their hearts.

What does your practice of Advent look like?

What songs move you into worship?

Preparing for Advent

An excerpt from Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany

I  hear the laments of parents. I am a lamenting parent. Christmas is too much about the stuff. The stuff begins to clog up the supermarket aisles as early as September. My kids are bombarded by ads trying to get them, to get me, to want to buy them their heart’s desire of shiny junk. As a Christian I want to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a way that honors him and follows in his ways.

Advent is four weeks of preparation for the King of Creation. When we put it that way it almost seems that four weeks isn’t long enough. Blue is the color for the season, specifically Royal Blue as my eldest daughter reminds me, because Jesus is the King. I admit sometimes I forget that. With all thsale ads and the meals to prepare and the ever present Christmas music, I can hardly think, I can hardly remember.

Advent is preparation, it’s remembering that Royal Blue is for a Royal King. With all the distraction that is modern life,plus the added distraction of Christmas, we need ways to rememberSeveral years ago at Ridgeland Community Church some saintly ladies taught me the importance of Advent. They limped my non-crafty self through the process of making an Advent wreath. They taught me the significance of preparation for the Christ Child. I am forever grateful. Through the practice of Advent I learned to lean in and celebrate this blessed season. During those first few years of practicing Advent it was just my husband and I, and surprisingly we never fought over who got to blow out the candles. Now, my children take turns to see who gets to blow candle wax all over the table. Advent is a staple in our home. It is a practice that grounds us to the truths of Jesus.

What do some of your Advent practices look like?

How do they draw you into the quiet preparation for the Christ child?

What are your markers?

I like to think of the Seasons of the Church as an opportunity to mark our lives by the life of Jesus. Everyone marks their lives by something.

Often as parents we mark our lives by the developmental stages of our children. Or we might mark our lives by a joyful and traumatic events. For one year, what would it look like to mark your life by the life of Jesus?

Our children are still going to develop, we will still have joy and trauma, but what would it look like to step back and see these markings within the vision of the life of Jesus?

Advent starts Sunday November 30th. You can purchase Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany here.

It can also be downloaded for free on our web site.

Here’s an excerpt from Good Dirt…

“In this devotional we are immersing our lives in the life of Jesus by celebrating the Seasons of the Church. Another way to say it is that we are marking our lives by the life of Jesus. The Christian Church began formally celebrating Easter as early as 325AD, and even before that Israel had seasons of fasting and feasting to mark their story with God throughout the ages. There is a great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. 

The seasons follow a pattern of preparation, celebration, and then living out what we have prepared for and celebrated. In Advent we prepare for God with us, at Christmastide we celebrate God with us, and during Epiphany we step into a life with God. In Lent we prepare for our own death and the death of Jesus, at Eastertide we celebrate that he died, is risen and us with him, and during Pentecost and Kingdomtide we live out his resurrection and ours.

We are meant to live seasonally. Who can feast all the time without becoming a glutton? Who can fast or mourn all the time without losing their mind? When our days lose the gift of thankfulness and celebration we become a depressed and dying people. As the physical seasons set the rhythm of the earth, so the church seasons can set our rhythm to the rhythm of Christ.”

So how about it?

One last word from Carlo Carretto, “To have found God, to have experienced him in the intimacy of our being, to have lived even for one hour in the fire of his Trinity and the bliss of his Unity clearly makes us say: ‘Now I understand. You alone are enough for me.'”

Purpose in Struggle

This week led to some profound discussion in my home.  There were topics that seemed pretty heavy for a 10 and 13 year old.  “Why did He let them arrest Him?”  “Why did He heal the people who were there to kill Him?”  Our discussion (as always) steered us in a direction I did not anticipate.

Jesus came to earth for a purpose and it wasn’t so that we could spend too much money giving gifts and sing carols once a year.  He came, fully God and wrapped in confining flesh, to do nothing less that offer salvation to a lost world.  To save us.  To show us the greatest love that the world has ever known.  At any time He could have given up.  He could have decided that it was too uncomfortable to live a life limited by the constraints of a human body. He could have returned to Heaven. Every day that He lived on Earth he made a choice to finish he task that was set before Him.  A task that was more than difficult but had a greater purpose than the suffering He would endure.

Everyone has to make hard choices.  As Christ-followers we have the choice to seek out our purpose in life.  The purpose that God Himself placed before us.  We have to choose to carry on when things get hard, when our lives don’t turn out like we thought they would and even when it doesn’t seem fair or when we think that someone else has it better than us.  We have to choose to stick around and not run away, to lean into our struggles and accept them as they build our character and sift out the ugliness of our flesh even as they make us more like Christ Himself.  Our choice doesn’t lead to the salvation of the world.  But our choice can lead our families to salvation.

One of the choices our family has to make every day is how to view autism in our lives.  We could choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to get mired in the why’s.  We could choose to compare our lives and our calling with the callings of more “typical” families.  And sometimes we do just that.  We cry out to God for answers and for relief for us and for our sweet girl.  He is always gracious to answer us and that answer always remains “this is your purpose.  This is how my Glory will be played out in your lives.  This is how others will see Me through you.”  This answer is humbling and so full of love that it makes my heart swell.

What an amazing gift to give to my children at Christmas time: the gift of knowing that though God doesn’t always step in when times get hard, He always has a greater purpose in mind.  The greater Glory.  And if we are patient, and learn to listen and to wait we just might get to be a part of that Glory.

Touching Heaven

Just last week we were reading the passage in Luke where the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus with questions about the resurrection.

As we were reading Anwen’s eyes began to glaze over. I knew just by looking at her she was following her own thoughts. I let her, hoping that the Holy Spirit was teaching her. (I didn’t know I was the one getting the teaching, but more about that later.)

The “water” part of this day was to draw or paint a picture of heaven. After we finished I set her about the task. I watched as the picture began to reveal itself. She is very verbal and talked the whole time, not to me, mind you.

At one point she exclaimed, “Hey, I’m in here.”

And that’s when she traced her hands.

Her hands touching eternity.

Her hands in the thin place where heaven becomes earth.

Her hands in the presence of the Father.

The Father met her flanked by angels and our newly deceased cats.

She knew that in the presence of the Trinity there is glowing, thus the glitter.

Bottles of glitter. She couldn’t get enough. (Our Basset Hound who usually eats anything that falls from the table, including Monopoly pieces, decided glitter is not for her.)

We talked afterwards about heaven being any place that God is. That heaven is both now and later.

I asked her, “When is God with you?”

“Well,” she said, “We work together when I play piano. And when I’m swinging. I can feel the Holy Spirit when I’m swinging.”

My kid, she teaches me.

I think I’ll go dust the snow off the swing set and swing awhile, heaven’s waiting.

Pondering All These Things

© macinate, used under Creative Commons License.

© macinate, used under Creative Commons License.

How is it that amid all the bustle and keeping of commitments during this season, a mother can be deep in thought about the future and the present and the shape of her kids’ spirits? It makes me smile to realize that the pondering I’m doing is not really so odd. There was another mother who pondered the child she held and the shape of his future and his spirit.

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19

Mary pondered Jesus’ life on the day of his birth, and all these years later as we look back on that humble yet glorious day, I feel in the best of company doing some pondering at Christmas over three boys and the way the Spirit of Christ is forming and shaping their futures.

Are they growing more and more in their sense that God is life and life is God? Do they get that what matters most is a life lived daily with God? Are they learning to be still inside and listen to the voice of the Spirit? Are they learning to live and grow in community with the people of God? Are they learning to choose the hard way  sometimes rather than the easy way or the attractive way or the natural way because sometimes it’s the road more difficult that brings life?

Mary pondered how the particulars would play out for this Savior babe. She considered how it would be that the Child born of her loins would mean eternity for every soul to ever live.

And I ponder how this Christ Child will day by day, year by year draw my children into an ever-deepening life with himself, Immanuel, God-with-us. As we focus with our boys on Jesus’ birth, I think along with Mary about all Jesus means to me and to them.  It’s the story of Jesus that I ponder as I consider my kids’ stories and how they will live into–and out of– this story of Christ.

Christmas and pondering. The season of the Story gives us mothers and fathers a lot to think about.

Where does the time go?

Where does the time go? Growing up in the Catholic Church, following the seasons of the church is a very familiar routine for me. I have memories of lighting an Advent Wreath with my mother, but not with my whole family gathered. The wreath was displayed more as a symbol of the season, part of the regular Christmas decorations my mom so meticulously put out each year, than as an element of discipleship. But I also remember that it wasn’t a family event to sit by the wreath, light a candle, and read a devotional. My husband Steve’s background is Nazarene, and while he was familiar with the names of the church seasons, there was nothing like an Advent wreath in his home growing up. Christmas, when God came among us, was pretty much a stand alone holy day.

In the early years of our marriage, we weren’t attending church and therefore not following any calendar other than the usual 12 month one. After a search we began attending a  United Methodist church, which retains more or less a liturgical heritage, and I wanted to again display an Advent wreath. This was several years into our marriage and I recalled, then, that we had actually received an Advent candle holder as a wedding gift. I remember thinking when I first opened it that it was a beautiful 4-candle holder, but at the time had no idea what it was for other than a pretty centerpiece that went with no furniture that we owned. It turned out to be a providential gift.


As our children grew older, I wanted to begin taking time out of the day to study the Bible with them using devotionals. Our church gave out different ones during the year with special ones for Advent and for several years I took them graciously and brought them home just to be lost in the abyss of our house. By and by, each year we managed to do  a little bit more of the readings during Advent – our percentage of pages actually read increased. I think the first year it was Sundays only, just to light the additional candle (we were reminded to do so that morning at church). And then life would move forward, back into the regular hectic routine, with God again pushed to the background until His day came by again. But, each year at Advent we added to the time we set aside to read and discuss a bit of scripture. It’s been a frustrating process, trying to fit in family devotional time, not the least because of our difficulty of actually being able to spend time together before rushing to the next event or blessed bedtime.

Advent really has become the consistent time we can sit together and talk about the Bible, reviewing the promises of God leading up to our Savior’s birth and our own responses  to Jesus. Over the decade that Steve and I have been introducing our sons to God through the different sit-down devotionals, we’ve reached the point where the boys now will usually respond to the questions in the readings with appropriate examples. Better still, they’ll add other bits from the Bible that relate to what the daily reading is. Though only our eldest has taken on a proper Bible translation to read (illustrated versions are highly popular with all three), it warms the heart and lowers parental anxiety to know that a foundation based on God revealed in the Bible has started to form in each of them. I can only think God has taken those fitfully crowded times we’ve spent together with His word and made it His time.