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How to Celebrate Advent as a Family

December 02, 2016

advent

ˈadˌvent/

noun
1. the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.
synonyms: arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise

Advent comes upon me suddenly every year, and I feel unprepared to provide a soulful Christmas preparation that is not solely baking and hunting for the best Christmas gifts. We end up doing some meaningful things, but I always feel a little harried.

This year I prepared in advance....maybe because it is the first year in many that I am not pregnant or caring for an infant. I thought I would offer some Advent suggestions for all who may read so that you might be jump started to get ready for this amazing season. Now is the time to make a plan and be ready for that first Sunday of Advent, right after Thanksgiving.

Advent is worth celebrating. Advent is considered the start of the liturgical year, as we prepare our hearts for Christ's coming--both in the end of time and in to our hearts more fully in the same way that he broke into this sinful world. A celebration of Advent saves the season from degenerating into a panicked commercialized circus. It reminds us for four weeks that we are not waiting on Santa, but on Jesus.

First, I would ask the Lord, "What do you want to do in me and in our family this Advent?" Then ask him to lead you to resources that will help make your Advent celebration intentional.

—The Advent wreath is a great tradition, partly because nothing quiets children and adults like darkness and a couple of burning candles. The symbolism of Christ bringing light into the darkness is right there before us. You do not need a specific Advent wreath to do this. I just bought a wreath of greens, wrapped a beautiful purple and gold ribbon around it, put four candle holders in the center of it with three purple candles and one pink one. (The pink one is for Mary, but you don't have to have a pink one). You will need a center candle of white for Christmas Day. We have a special table for the wreath, and on it we put a purple cloth we found at an ethnic resale shop. Along with the wreath, we usually put some nativity scene and an icon of John the Baptist, as the one who called us to prepare the way for Jesus. We let different children light candles, blow out the candles, and lead the prayers.

—This year I am going to use this small booklet you can find on Amazon for $1, O Radiant Dawn. It is a FIVE minute daily guide to lighting the candle, has beautiful selections of individual verses for each day and then asks a discussion question (one for older children or adults, one for younger children). It is good to have a short liturgy to do so that all can enter in. This book recommends learning the hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel by singing a verse everyday. You could choose any hymn. We will plan to do this everyday, and if we get in four days, that will be sixteen times around the wreath as a family. I may choose to do this in the morning starting the day, as it is dark where we live when we get up.

—In the evening, we will read a chapter in the storybook, Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide. The first one in his series is Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent, which we read for a couple of Advents. I will offer that whoever is reading may have to edit some violent scenes of Essenes defending themselves against marauders and such. This is a fiction series but helps place the nativity story in historical context, and we all learned through the story. Children are usually begging for the next chapter every night.

—Another chapter book that brings me to tears and my father has read to all of his grandchildren, as it is his favorite book, A Tree for Peter, by Kate Seredy. Though it is not directly about the nativity, it is all about opening our hearts to love and transformation, and this is catalyzed in the story by a Christ figure. You could also simply choose a different picture book every night. I will provide a list on another post, if you need suggestions.

—I will also be asking my children to choose one person or family who is in need for them to serve in some way over Advent. This could be making a meal, shoveling snow, free babysitting, writing someone who is lonely. I hope this will help pull them away from a self-focused expectation of Christmas.

—I am still praying about my own personal devotional time during Advent, specifically about what book God would have me read for the deeper stirring in my soul as I wait on him.

—A dear friend of ours brings Advent calendars every year for each child. The anticipation of opening each window is an exciting moment every day. Before we had the generosity of this friend, we all shared one calendar and took turns opening windows. This is a great way to build anticipation.

—Advent will also include beautiful music, and I have to admit that we are not liturgically correct and do listen to Christmas music during Advent. But here is a beautiful Advent collection: Birth of Jesus: A Celebration of Christmas by John Michael Talbot.

—And Advent will include baking, making Welsh Cakes for some friends. This happens throughout Advent with different children helping me on different days as they learn the family recipe and method. Then we all have fun packaging and distributing them.

—Try Joni Eareckson Tada's book of hymns that comes with a C.D. and a story about each hymn: O Come All Ye Faithful: Hymns of Adoration and Joy to Celebrate His Birth. This is a great book to work through over Advent, especially if your family is musical.

Many people use the Jesse Tree figures which you can google and download. These are figures that tell the story of the Scriptures over the whole of Advent and are a great way to review God's work in history leading up to his coming. You can find paper downloads and have children color them. I have a dream of felting these figures someday to hang on a tree, but that would mean getting ready for Advent in January, and I haven't yet gotten that good.

I hope that as you wait on God as to how you should live into Advent you will be able to see it not as a heavy burden, but as a tool through which to open your hearts and your homes to God's light. Remember, do not let perfection rob you of what God could bring. It will rarely be perfect or rarely what you imagined. But it will be full of life and laced with the presence of God himself.

A Timetable Not Our Own

February 08, 2016

The morning came far too early. 4:22 a.m. blinked loudly on his mobile. I lay in bed, listening to him snore. Listening to the kids toss sleepily in their beds next door. Ultimately, helped out of bed several hours later with no added sleep, I started the day in a fog. As the smell of the coffee started to awaken my senses, I peered out our back sliding glass door. The new day was dawning grey, and a heavy fog clung sleepily to the trees in our backyard. Low to the ground, like a blanket, it wrapped itself upon our world and reflected back to my soul the very same emotions it was grappling with. Heaviness. Thickness.

At 38 weeks pregnant I went into labor and our miracle baby was placed into my arms. We were up for days at a time, but despite our exhausted bodies, our spirits were filled with awe and wonder as we spent four full days in the hospital cherishing her every breath, counting her fingers and toes and photographing her endlessly, as if we had never before seen such a tiny and perfect human-being.

Now four short weeks later, and just as exhausted, my soul knew that change once more was coming. I cancelled my best friends weekend visit, didn't schedule any play dates, and tried to make sense of the emotions I was grappling with. Later in the day, the fog burned off with the rising of the sun, but the wetness in the air remained. Humidity clung to me and the heat made me far less patient than I wanted to be with my tiny beloveds. Soon I received the email we had been waiting to read for years and the heaviness not just of body, but of spirit, made sense.

Our daughters were ready to come home. They were waiting for us to get them. Their Article 23 Letter was released. Their Birth Affidavits were sent. The orphanage received their passports. All was in place for their new parents to fly to India to bring them back.

I cried in awe of what God had done... years of prayer culminated in this incredible news. Our never-ending years of adoption headaches and paperwork and nightmares and financial instability were about to come to an end. So I should have been filled with joy unspeakable, but instead I realized- that the heaviness inside of me was not only depression and exhaustion from this season of rapid change- but recognition of what God was calling us to do.

The weight of it all settled on me, wrapped itself around me until I felt suffocated and unable to move. 5 incredible children ages 6 and under. All with the need to be loved-on and held. Rocked and believed-in. Advocated-for and encouraged. Built-up and taught. Fed and hugged. Sung-to and embraced. This is the heart of our family and the mission we have worked towards for over six years. But as the journey of adoption is about to end on a timetable that is not our own, I can't help but feel completely unequipped to raise the precious souls God has entrusted to us. The heaviness knocks the wind out of me. I stagger under the burden of what He is asking us to do.

But then I remember that He who calls, promises to equip. He who beckons the sun to rise and puts the world to sleep under the guidance of the moon, assures us that His timing is perfect. Birthing our daughter on April 13th and picking up our last two on June 6th doesn't make any worldly sense. But God created us. And He created them. And when He decided to put all of us together under one roof and declare us family, who am I to question His timing in doing so?

Thus with a timid voice and buckling knees, with a tear-strewn face and an exhausted body, with a depleted bank account and a myriad of questions without any answers, I am choosing to stand up boldly and proclaim that He understands the timing far better than I do and for now, that knowledge has to be enough. Our confidence in His scheduling must empower us to end our adoption journey well. As all 5 of our children look to us in the busy, tumultuous weeks and months to come for assurance and guidance, they must see us looking boldly to Him. In place of our weakness and fear, may they see His strength and hope, for they will weather this season of transition only as well as we do.

originally published in June of 2015