The Advent App

Jessie, my youngest daughter, has an app that plays Christmas music while telling you how close it is to Christmas. As I write, Christmas is exactly 4 days, 17 hours, 17 minutes, 32 seconds and 543,790 heartbeats away. Oops, I mean, Christmas is 4 days, 17 hours, 16 minutes, 55 seconds and 543,735 heartbeats away. Wait, now it’s…well, you get the idea.

Jessica is anticipating the arrival of Christmas. Since before Thanksgiving, she has been planning, preparing, decorating and getting ready for the big day.

For Christians, we call this the season of Advent. The word advent actually means the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. When we talk about the season of Advent, we’re referring to the waiting, anticipation, longing – even yearning – for the arrival of Jesus.

During the season of Advent we acknowledge that a Savior is coming, but He isn’t here yet. Hope is on the way, but we haven’t experienced the joy of it yet. Advent acknowledges the integrity of a promise made that has yet to be fulfilled.

The Jewish people were well-acquainted with waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Four hundred years of slavery longing for God’s deliverance; four hundred years of silence waiting to hear a word from God. Centuries of enduring oppressive rule from polytheistic while anticipating the arrival of God’s Kingdom.

At Advent we’re allowed room to acknowledge the pain and longing that often accompanies the waiting. This is incredibly freeing because, for many people, Christmas can be a less-than-holiday-cheer-and-merriment time of year.

  • Many of us are living far away from people we love and not being able to them during the holiday makes Christmas a lonely time.
  • For some of us, Christmas can be a painful season. Someone who was with us last year isn’t here this year. That hurts. The pain is still fresh and real.
  • For others, Christmas is difficult season of year. Financial pressure, relational struggle make the celebration of Christmas seem forced. It’s tough to navigate the tension and put on a cheerful face.

Advent invites us to be honest with our grieving, disappointment, longing and loneliness. We acknowledge the world of deep darkness in which we live and desperately wait for and long for His light to shine upon us.

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I don’t know what this year was like for you. This year may have been a great year. But perhaps this year, you have a greater understanding of the longing that accompanies advent. Perhaps you’ve experienced unexpected loss, pain, heartache or unimaginable disappointment.

Advent says, “It’s ok to feel that way.” You don’t have to fake happy, push through or prop yourself up. Advent acknowledges the longing in our soul, but contains the expectant hope that our story is still being written.

Advent is a hope-filled reminder that what is broken will someday be repaired; what is hurt will someday be healed.

The extravagant promise of Christmas – even though darkness may surround me, the light of Christ will shine upon me once again. A baby is coming. He’s not here yet, but hope is on the way.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). Matthew 1:21-23

What Really Matters to Our Kids

I have a couple of confessions to make. Here it goes. Deep breath. First, my kids ate cereal for dinner twice this week…. TWICE! And, we had Taco Bell another night. Secondly, as a mom, I’ve come to realize I can’t do it all. Honestly, I’ve tried and failed miserably.

Moms, would you agree that some days we’re just trying to hold the family together? Helping kids with homework, driving the nightly Uber to sports practices, breaking up fights, keeping up with laundry, cooking meals, entertaining toddlers and scouring the house searching for enough popsicle sticks for your child’s project that happens to be due the next day. (Yes, with just days left in the school year, this did happen.)

For years as a mom, I wavered between exhaustion and guilt, striving to do it all so I could at least have the appearance of having it all together (Key word: appearance). Let me be honest with you, that level of perfection is a sham.  It’s unattainable. Exhausting. And not really that important.

Not once, have my kids complained that the house wasn’t vacuumed or the dishes sat in the sink overnight. They don’t complain about the dusting of beach sand covering my floors either (although, that one really bothers me). I’ve come to be happy with a moderately clean house, unimpressive meals and a philosophy of, “If you want a drink, wash your own cup.”

My conclusion after many years of conversations with countless moms, we’re too hard on ourselves. Cut yourself some slack, mamas! Don’t cower in shame, carry condemnation or relentlessly compare yourself to other moms.

If we’re to be really truthful, most of the expectations are those we place on ourselves. We compare ourselves to an ideal picture of motherhood that is unattainable for anyone to achieve.

Years ago, I read a precious devotional by Ruth Bell Graham and her daughter, Gigi, titled Mothers Together. In this devotional, Gigi asked one of her sons what a home was and how he would describe it.

His response was perfect,

“Home is a place where you come in out of the rain.”

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I sincerely believe if we do that, we win.

If we create a safe place, rich in love, laughter and affirmation, our kids will grow up to be just fine.

If we give them a refuge to come to when they encounter life’s storms, they will know the importance of providing love and comfort to others.

If we provide them with a place to talk, be themselves and even cry sometimes, they will learn the value of authenticity and respect.

Motherhood – it’s difficult, heart-wrenching, tearful, messy, joy-filled and beautiful. It gives us the opportunity to shape a little heart. To etch God’s loving truth forever into their souls. And, like wet cement it will solidify over time, providing them with a solid foundation on which they can build their lives.

Dear mother, you are enough. Enter the abundance of God’s grace.

Don’t listen to the voices nagging you, “do better” or “try harder”. That’s not God’s voice speaking to you. Here are the words Jesus speaks to his children, to YOU,

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Jesus doesn’t place an endless list of expectation on moms. There’s not a “prescription” to follow for creating a well-rounded child. There isn’t a “Christian Mom” to-do list for you to earn an Awesome Mom award.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Throughout scripture, we see Jesus taking away regulations and requirements. He’s the best at reminding us to pare our lives down and focus on the essentials, the non-negotiables.

Jesus’ yoke is not a crushing burden. It’s not an extensive to-do list. It’s an invitation to love Him, trust Him and extend that love to others. As mothers, that’s our most important  task: to model for our children a loving, life-giving relationship with God that makes Jesus attractive to them.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said,

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.” 

Trust for God’s grace and goodness to flow out of your incompleteness today. You got this. You are enough, because He is more than enough.

Blooming After a Long Winter

I love Springtime. After months of barrenness, everywhere you look there’s evidence of new life bursting forth. Following a long, cold, hard winter, hope springs forth. New life begins to break through!

You may live in an area, as I do, where you don’t witness the dramatic seasonal changes; however, we all experience changing life seasons. Some happy, some fruitful, but other seasons will be sad, barren, dark and cold.

When our lives feel “dead” on the inside and there is no evidence of growth, no budding of life, how do we melt the frost crusting over our heart? Where do we go to find enough sunlight to help us pierce through the dark clouds shrouding around us?

Perhaps you’re currently in a wintery season, desperately hoping for brighter days and clearer skies. If so, Isaiah’s message is for you, my friend…

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!,… Isaiah 35:1-4 ESV

I love how Isaiah uses a crocus blossoming abundantly as his illustration. The crocus is among one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. In fact, crocuses are known to thrive in late winter and early spring because they’re hearty enough to break through frost and bloom even in light snow.

I want my life to resemble the heartiness, yet hopeful beauty of the crocus. A life that can endure winter and emerge to blossom without any evidence of the harsh climate it pushed through to bloom. A life that perseveres through wilderness and dryness to experience joy and singing once again.

Don’t discredit the hidden potential of winter. Buried treasures can be found there.

In fact, winter prepares the way for spring.

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Wintery seasons will come. Seasons of loss, discouragement, fear and isolation.

But you can be sure of this – no season lasts forever. Winters will come and go, just as the fresh loveliness of spring will come and go.

When I look back at “wintery” seasons in my life, there’s something in me that wants to forget those painful seasons – to erase them from my memory, blow past them, dismiss them as a waste of my time. I don’t want to dig up the dark storms, lonely nights or relationships gone cold.

It’s easier to focus on the “happier”, more pleasant seasons – seasons of fruitfulness, warmth, clear skies and sunshine.

Yet, I’ve noticed that God has brought some of my greatest seasons of fruitfulness out of my wintery seasons.

Out of the frozen, dry ground, new life appears. On the bare trees, buds begins to bloom and once again, we begin to feel the warmth of the sunshine on our face, flowing through our bodies.

God has the power to bring beauty out of our brokenness.

Our lives have the incredible ability to flourish after a famine. New life can and will spring forth from the cold, hard lifeless ground. It’s hard to embrace the warmth and joy of spring when you’re winter has seemed unrelenting.

Perhaps you’re feeling as if your life is in a wintery season. Take heart, your life will bloom again. Spring will come and you’ll experience new life in a new season.

As Isaiah reminds us, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!”.  Don’t lose heart. Persevere through the winter, trust God’s presence to be with you and strengthen you.

You may be asking, “How do I begin to move forward? What do I do during my wintery days?” Here are a couple of things I’ve found helpful.

  • Reach out to God. Dig into his word and allow the roots of your life to be developed in Him, not in your circumstances. Allow God to use this barren season to draw you closer to Him. It’s often in our most desperate, darkest times when God grows our faith and we learn to depend on Him.
  • Remember the promises of God. Never doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light. Wintery seasons aren’t absent of God’s presence and they don’t discredit God’s faithfulness in the past. This season will end. You will get through it.

He will make your life bloom again. He is faithful.

The temperature will rise, the ground will thaw and the beauty of new life will begin to bud.