Advent: Hope

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Advent wreath

It’s been a rough week in Chattanooga.

The bus wreck that killed six children has made national news. This accident happened not far from my own children’s school, in the school district where they also ride buses. My fearful daughter is having a difficult time grasping that tomorrow she will have to ride a bus again. Our community is grieving over what seems to be a senseless, preventable tragedy. I have personal connections to two of the girls who died, through friends and acquaintances.

And it just feels like the endcap on a rough year.

In January, I got pregnant. I’m certainly not unhappy about that – I never was, because I truly wanted a fourth child – but it was unplanned and surprising. And expensive, given our high-deductible insurance. It’s been a huge change for our family.

In April, we thought we were going to move to another apartment this summer. When that fell through, it was extremely upsetting for me. We were hoping to have a little extra space for our expanding family (and hard floors for our messy kids), and we had to go back to square one on fitting six people into this apartment. Again, it’s fine – but it was a road bump in the year.

And as we surged through these and other sad events, there was this crazy election. I don’t consider myself to be a very political person, but this election was enough to get me to cast a ballot. The results were, to me, somewhat baffling. I’ve cried. I’ve been perplexed. I’ve been scared for the future of our country and what I thought it was and what, apparently, it really is. (I certainly do not wish to have any political discussions here. So please don’t argue with me about politics, because that isn’t the point.)

And now, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are confronted with hope.

Advent wreath
source: rosalynlouise

I stared at the candles on our Advent wreath tonight. That one lone candle, burning, its friends unlit, waiting. We hope and we wait for the joy, peace, and love. And we wait for Christ.

There’s been a lot of waiting for me in 2016, between the election and a pregnancy and the pushing back of some dreams. Not all of it brought joy. But I think of the surge of emotions after Hannah was finally born, all 8 pounds and 5 ounces of baby, finally freed from my body and her own little person. Pure joy, bright like fire. All the hope fulfilled, as we saw her perfect form and tiny fingers and toes and everything doing what it was supposed to do.

I’m trying, desperately, to lean into hope right now in Advent. It’s not an easy parenting season for us; our kids are all reacting to the new baby in their own way. It’s a time of being needed in four places at once, of stuffing Hannah into her carseat again, of going to the grocery AGAIN. It’s waiting to see how we will adjust to life with four kids. It’s also much nursing, cuddling, loving, reading books, and relying on God’s strength instead of my weakness.

Hope refuses to buckle and instead believes we will find that new normal. It sees the promise of children grown to responsible adults instead of every speck on the carpet. It fills my heart and lets me lean into the everyday joys.

In Advent, I’m saying yes more. Because in Christ, God said yes to us in every possible way. The fulfillment of all hope.

 

Panic at Christmas

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It appears I took an unintentional blogging break here. We hosted Thanksgiving this year – my parents came into town, and my sister and her husband spent a lot of time here, too. (They live in Chattanooga.) It was so nice not to have to travel for a holiday! We still had lots of late nights and crazy family time, but being at home helps the kids readjust easier.

I’ve also been battling a sickness that keeps coming back, which may account for my lack of writing and the vast amount of Jane the Virgin episodes I’ve watched in the last two weeks. Thankfully I felt mostly better over Thanksgiving, but then it seemed to come back with a vengeance. Argh. I am not sick very much, and it’s frustrating not to feel well when there is so much to be done.

1121740_christmas_gifts_2

But, see, I think the real reason I haven’t written is because I want to write about Christmas. And this year Christmas seems to have me a little panicky.

It’s not that I’m worried about making it magical, or buying the right gifts, or the fact that my kids will probably ask me why we don’t have Santa gifts or an Elf on the Shelf (again).

It’s just that it seems like IT WAS JUST CHRISTMAS.

Seriously. Where did the year go? How can it be Christmas again when I so vividly remember last year’s celebration? Wasn’t it just summer?

And then I get into the MY KIDS ARE GROWING SO FAST AND SOON JOSHUA WILL BE THREE AND THEN HE WILL BE 18 WAHHHHHHH!!!!

I wasn’t even sure I would want to do the Christmas things this year at all, because it seems like I just took down the tree. I have, of course. I’ve put them up, the big tree and the stockings and nativity and wreath and all the things that will fit in our little apartment. And I’m listening to Christmas music, even though it’s been in the 60s outside and it feels wrong.

I still don’t feel it.

But what I do feel is Christ. I actually made an Advent wreath for us this year, and on Sunday we lit the first candle of Hope and sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I shared in my Sunday School class about the traditional Hope passages of Scriptures, those being taught in liturgical churches around the world on the first Sunday of Advent. We talked about acknowledging pain, and how that is a part of hope. We wait, and waiting is not easy, but in it we hope.

I don’t have any great proclamation about how my heart has changed. I am still feeling panicky about the kids getting older and the years going quickly. I am still not feeling especially Christmasy. But I am also convinced that Christ is with me in this “wait” – these years that may seem both long and fleeting. And, like Brené Brown says, what gets me through is leaning in to the good, sweet moments. Breathing and not rushing and holding them when they want to hug and cuddle.

I look at our tree and remember the Light of the World, and how much He deserves to be honored, every Christmas, every moment.

Christmas tree

The Craving to Write

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I spend a lot of time scouring ye-olde-mommy-blogs, although gracious, I know we don’t call them that anymore, right? It does seem to undermine what we really are: women who write. Some of whom stay home with their children all the time, some of the time, or who work full-time. Whatever. But Mommy Blog is just a convenient title, considering I’m looking for posts to publish on For Every Mom.

A while ago, I came upon a couple British mommy blogs, together in a link-up of everyday kind of posts. Posts without Pinterest-worthy graphics; posts that were simply about being a mom or what happened that day or the fact that a woman figured out a great trick she wanted to share.

It stopped me in my tracks. It was 2009 blogging deja vu!

Maybe it was just the group I was looking at, or maybe British mom blogs are just getting off the ground. But I miss that kind of blogging. I miss just writing! Now, I think way too hard about what I am going to write, whether it’s actually worth publishing, knowing that my pictures are sub-par and that my only traffic really comes to recipe posts.

But something’s come over me lately: the craving to just write. Period. I mentioned on Instagram my desire to get down a few children’s fiction stories that have been dwelling in my head for 10+ years. I want to share everyday life again. I just feel like God has been prodding me constantly to sit down and just let the words flow out. I know it’s a gift from Him – I just never feel like my words are enough compared to the amazing ones that seem to flow constantly from other Christian women I admire. I write about how God is like a fictional farm animal … ’nuff said.

But this is my space, and I can write whatever I want, right? No one has to read it. I do write for an audience and to encourage, and I hope that will show. But I also need to write, for me. And if something doesn’t connect with you, you’re welcome to move on.

Maybe I’m moving to something different in my writing career. Maybe things are going to change. I need to dive into prayer. But mostly, I don’t want to be afraid to just hit publish. On something without a picture. On something that isn’t perfect.

So here it is.

How God Is Like Babe the Pig

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babe

Say WHAT? I know. You’ll have to stick with me on this one.

Today I started a 30-day challenge of writing Scriptures. This kind of copywork isn’t something I’ve really done before, but I do like to write out Scripture and quotes to help me really dwell on the words.

The first Scripture is Psalm 95:1-7. It’s a beautiful passage, including the words, “Come, let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the LORD our maker,” which I can’t write without singing the tune in my head.

But what caught me today was the last verse, verse 7: “We are the people he watches over, the flock under his care. If only you would listen to his voice today!”

Psalm 95:7

It wasn’t long ago that I rewatched Babe, which has always been a favorite movie of mine. And since I don’t meet a lot of sheep in Chattanooga, I guess that’s why that flock popped into my head.

They’re an unruly bunch when we meet them, all baaing loudly about different things, not knowing life without a sheepdog nipping at their heels to bring them to some semblance of order. It turns out all they really needed was a dog who would listen and to respond in return. And they got that in Babe, the tiny, polite pig who ends up being a better sheepdog than any others on the farm – simply by talking to the sheep and asking them to do things.

I feel like this verse is speaking to us sheep, as we wildly roam around in confusion. Look! the author is writing. Just listen! You have no idea how simple it could be! We’re so used to chaos that we can’t embrace the leading of the Shepherd; we can’t imagine a life where things make sense. And all we would have to do is tilt our heads up and listen to His voice.

His yoke is easy, Matthew 11:30 says, another favorite verse of mine. His burden is light. That’s because HE is carrying it – not us. As long as we are letting Him remove it from our own tired shoulders.

So there you go. That’s how God is like Babe, the sheep-pig. I always knew Babe held a special place in my heart.

One Teaspoon

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Lessons from Making Chocolate Cake

I made a cake yesterday for our dorm boys, the smaller group of six of whom my husband is “in charge.” He’s sort of their parent in Chattanooga, since their parents are spread out all over the world.

Between the cake and its ganache frosting, I used three-and-a-half sticks of butter and almost two bags of dark chocolate chips. There was a good bit of sugar (a pound … plus all the chocolate!), eggs, flour, the usual suspects. It was a rich, dense cake that should have knocked my socks off.

But instead of the called-for two teaspoons of vanilla, I decided I would substitute one teaspoon with almond extract. Yes, I know that is a lot of almond flavor, but I usually adore almond extract in just about anything. I made my vanilla probably a year ago with bourbon, and to me it still smells like bourbon instead of vanilla. So instead of saturating the cake with bourbon flavor, I went with some almond.

It was a mistake.

I could smell it a mile away with my very strong sniffer. The cake was permeated with cheap almond extract, taking away from the richness of the dark chocolate and good sugar and butter. One teaspoon of almond was all it took to fight through the rest of the strong flavors.

Maybe it’s silly, but it made me think of sin.

We can be rolling along pretty well, but there’s one sin issue that we just can’t seem to let the Spirit conquer. Fear? Overeating? Acting in anger? (Guilty on all counts.) It seems small in comparison to all the good in our lives, all the obedience we have, but it’s there. Seeping into other areas of our life, separating us from the Godhead. It permeates as quickly as a teaspoon of clear, pungent extract. It can eat up all the sweetness we have.

You can’t cover up the flavor of sin with dark chocolate ganache. Or with good deeds or wanting it badly or washing yourself from head to foot. All you can do it start again, asking for forgiveness from the One who says His mercies are new every morning.

In that repentance is a promise both ways, His to cleanse and yours to let Him be the one in control.

Just like I will probably never make a perfect chocolate cake in my lifetime, short of heaven we will never be perfect. We’ll probably return to the same sins again. But as we become more willing and able to let Him take control, the sin that seemed so enticing becomes dull compared to life with Him.

I won’t be making chocolate cake with almond extract again any time soon. And I pray that I can remember this lesson a baking experiment taught me yesterday.

image source: Arrqh via Flickr Creative Commons

soliloquy

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It’s just been one of those days.

I feel gross. I still haven’t figured out how to tame my coarse, curly-ish hair in 33 years, and now it’s flecked with gray. My gums ache because I went to the dentist and I don’t floss enough.

I tried to sit down and write this afternoon, blessed with a few solitary and quiet minutes, and the words wouldn’t come. I feel like I have much to write until I sit down, intimidated by the keyboard before me. No wonder every blogger has a book coming out except me.

My kids don’t even attempt to eat dinner for the second night in a row. I’m not sure how that’s possible when they didn’t eat lunch either, preferring to put on a sideshow in Applebee’s for my sister, her coworkers, and everyone else within a mile radius.

Lest you think I am exaggerating about Joshua’s antics, tonight after sitting on his little potty, Joshy stuck his finger in the big potty and then directly into his mouth.

AGHHHHHH!!!!!!

I laid on the floor and felt like the worst mom ever. The worst person. Nothing.

Tonight I need to tell myself something true instead of the negative thoughts that want to fill my brain, saturating me with lies and anger. 

Here is the truth: I am in no way the worst mom in the world. They will eat when they’re hungry. No one is judging me based on my hair, and if they are I feel sorry they don’t have better things to worry about. I am a writer, and God will guide my words at the right time for His purpose.

God says I am His treasure, the one He paid a great price for. And that is the truth – not whatever I happen to think about myself today.

Thank You, Lord.