Saturday, December 01, 2018

Go Slow, Let it Go, Anticipate

I love mantras, intentions, a focus. Each month, I spend some time going through the prompts provided by my Cultivate Planner and chose a word or a phrase that will serve to guide me intentionally through the month.
I ask God to set words apart for me that will provide a visual reminder of how He wants me to cooperate with His Spirit and His work in my life for that month. 

Obviously, I cannot know what the month ahead will hold, but I can look at my calendar, think about the season of life I am in and decide how to make the most of it all. 

For this December, I chose the phrase, "Go slow, Let it go, Anticipate."

Christmas can be such a time of frenzy. It can come and go so fast that by January 1st, we wonder what just happened. It can also be heavy with expectations that are hard to meet, demands we place on ourselves and others. 

I've spent too many years getting to December 25 and feeling like I wasted a month. I have stood at Christmas Eve service with my candle lit, unable to truly enter in the solemn anticipation of what we are about to receive in recognizing the coming of Christ because I cannot stop obsessively going through the mental checklist of all I wanted to do, had to do, forgot to do, and still need to do. 

So, for several years now, I have sought to approach December differently than I have in the past, intentionally, purposefully.  I want to come to January 1st knowing that I was not whisked through the whirlwind of shopping, decorating, baking, and all the other typical trappings of Christmas and missed the wonder of it all. 

Go slow
I am task oriented by nature and love efficiency, probably to an idolatrous level. Just this morning, I found myself stirring my emergen-c drink while trying to fill my K-cup with coffee grounds at the same time. I mean, I do have two hands.  Might as well make both of them work at the same time?! Ah...this is my default setting. 

And, then I remembered how I actually want to go through my days: walking not sprinting. I want to go slow.
For me, it means

  • doing ONE thing at a time
  • walking through my house at a reasonable pace (I am known to move rather quickly from task to task)
  • not allowing my brain to shift into its default setting of frenetically thinking through all that needs to be done but rather purposing to be fully present with what is right in front of me.
But, guess what happens when I slow down, am fully present and not rushing through my days?  I don't get to everything I want to get to. 
Laundry piles up. 
Floors remain crumby. 
Leaves continue to blanket my yard. 
I miss a lot of deals on stuff we might want to buy for ourselves or others. 
There is not a ubiquitous supply of cookies and fudge in my house throughout December and so on and so on. 

Hence, the second part of my guiding mantra for December, "
Let it go."

Let go of my endless expectations to make it all perfect.
Let go of the expectations others may have of me to show up, give the best gift, give a gift at all.
Let go of the expectations the culture around me that tells me there is a specific and comprehensive way to "do Christmas right."  It just ain't so. 
Let go of the fear of letting my kids down.  (Maybe the hardest one for me. Am I right, mommas?)

As I go slow and let it go, it makes room for me to anticipate, and this, for me is what December is really all about. Or, at least for me, this is what I want the month of December to be all about. 

A few ways I anticipate the coming of Christ.

A plethora of advent material exists. Do just a quick search on Amazon, and you will find a host of products, books and materials to choose from.
A few of my favorite over the years are:
Ann Voskamp's, "The Greatest Gift."  She has a book for adults and separate ones for you to use with your children. 

When my children were preschoolers, I simply looked up "Free printable advent coloring pages," found something I loved and printed them.  I had the kids color them, and we hung them on a long piece of twine in our basement as a fun visual for them to add up the days to Christ's coming.

  • Light it up!  My husband and I are big fans of light: natural light, candlelight, LED light, etc. Christmas is the perfect time of year to confront the ever-darkening days of winter with lights of every kind. We light our Christmas tree, wrap stringed lights around our floor lamp poles, weave lights through our pine garland, and set candles wherever there may be any shadows.

    Each morning, I amble down the dark hallway with the glee of knowing I get to turn on all the lights. I used to wait until the evening came, but I am finding this year, I want to enjoy the lights all day long.

    I try to pass on the spirit of anticipation and glee by giving special permission to my youngest to light the candles.  Kids love playing with fire, and this builds an atmosphere that something special is happening.

Over the years, there have been other ways I have built anticipation into our daily December rhythms such as putting an empty manger (think shoe box with straw inside) under the Christmas tree. On Christmas morning, "baby Jesus" shows up in the manger (think whatever baby doll I can find lying around the house, usually one that had no clothing on it...which, come to think of it, is probably rather accurate.)  

I have a nativity set with a manger and baby Jesus that is separate. So, I hide that baby Jesus as well; He comes out on Christmas morning to take His place of 'honor.'  

I have visual "cues" around the house to foster a spirit of anticipation such as scrabble pieces that spell out "We Wait" on my kitchen window sill above where I wash dishes daily, the word, "Adore" decoratively hanging from a birch peg log my parents gifted me years ago, nativity sets from all around the world providing the bulk of our Christmas decor in the main living areas of our home, and framed Christmas cards that speak of the Christ to come. 

These are just a few ways I have sought to cultivate a spirit of anticipation in my home. I know many of you could come up with many more and creative ways to do similar. And, I would love to hear about them in the comments. 

If you love the hustle and bustle, and the frenetic pace most people get caught up in this time of year gives you a buzz, then go for it. It's your jam and your way of making the most of this season.  For me, however, I will choose to go slow, let it go and anticipate. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Make Your Purchases Count

A quick google search will take one to several sites where she can find people and/or companies doing business in a way that leaves the consumer with greater confidence that her purchase is making a positive impact on other humans and/or the environment.

In fact, here is a site with a hefty list of what is known as "fair trade" or "ethical" shopping: 
I want to provide for you a list of companies that are not on the above list because they may be a little smaller but are nevertheless close to my heart for the products they sell, the people they empower, the ministries they support, and the causes they trumpet.

Consider what they might offer you and yours this Christmas and in turn, how you can make your purchases count.

Jewelry, Accessories, Art, Prints, notecards, journals, T-shirts, apparel (including kids' clothes!), Home Decor (including christmas ornaments!):

(I have a friend, Amy, who is an ambassador if you'd like me to connect you for your purchase!),-assorted/ (my birthday gift to myself this year!)

I have participated with home shows and adore my local compassionate entrepreneur, also named Amy.  :)   The stories behind each product go from heartbreaking to heartwarming because of the impact of Trades of Hope. I'm so grateful for this organization. 

3. The Grace Crafted Home, supported by one of my favorite authors and board members of The Mercy House, Ann Voskamp. 100% of all funds not only empowers artisans around the world, but partners with Mercy House Global to support several homes for young women and their babies in crisis pregnancies in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. 

4. Elora Inspiredfaith-based children’s tees, hoodies, and other clothing items. With each order you help us support many kids through Compassion International

5. The Shine Project. Her tagline is "Wear Change. Ignite Hope." Founder, Ashley LeMieux, is a radiating ball of energy and hope. I love her vision to empower teens, encourage women, and connect the two demographics through her business.

6. Better Life Bags founder, Rebecca Smith, is making a better life for a number of women in her local community of Detroit, Michigan, while simultaneously making beautiful, custom made bags that you are bound to love. She also makes stockings (as in the ones hung from the chimney with care), earrings, luggage tags, and prayer card sets specific for adoption, pregnancy, children, and grief. 

7. Be a Well Watered Woman  by investing in the various Bible saturated products sold in their shop from bible studies to memory verse card sets, mugs, T-shirt's, journals, stickers, and jewelry.

8. Grab all the good things at All Good Things Co-owner, Jess Connelly is one of my top five favorite women to follow on instagram. She daily encourages me in my walk and witness of Christ.  Check out the unique art prints, t-shirts, hats, bible study helps, and one of my favorite products, "victory cards" (meant to inspire and equip you to get in daily physical fitness).

9. Ornaments 4 Orphans is a fair trade social enterprise dedicated to providing critical support for orphans and vulnerable children in Africa. I have ordered ornaments for my kids from this company for the last several years, but they also sell jewelry, nativity sets, and stocking stuffers. 

10. It is an effort with which I am most passionate to participate: the resettling and empowering of refugees around the world. I love the work of Preemptive Love, have gifted their soaps and supported their efforts to "love anyway" all around the world. On their site, they provide the opportunity not just to purchase products, but also to gift hope and a future to some of the world's people most in need.

That is my "Top Ten" places to purchase this year; I'd love to hear if you do!

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bitter or Better, Our Choice

I rounded the corner at the end of the hallway and realized I knew where I was. This was a familiar place. When it dawned on me, I looked to my boys, now 13, and with a smile, pointed to these two chairs and said, “Boys, I nursed you in those chairs and on the floor of one of the exam rooms in the back. Initially, I recounted this to them as a fond memory, filling them in on a time they were very much a part of but would have no remembrance because they were just babies, days old as a matter of fact. 

But then, as I took a seat to wait once again for an ultrasound to be taken of my oldest’s (by two minutes) eyes, the tears welled up in my own eyes. Surprised by this rush of emotion, I tried to quell the sobs that were building, to no avail. There in the pediatric division of Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins, I sat and sobbed. My sons inquired; a nurse walked by observing and offered us dum dums, the quintessential, “This will make everything better” offering to all children in every hospital or medical clinic worldwide, I am convinced. The external stimuli jolted me out of that traumatic place the sight of those two chairs took me, and I was able to compose myself enough to decline the sweet nurse’s offer of comfort in lollipop form. 

It’s been 13 years walking a road I never could have anticipated traveling. When we were first told about our son’s diagnosis of Sturge Weber Syndrome and all the potential havoc it could wreak on his, and subsequently our lives, we were shell shocked. Entering Hopkins’ clinics just days after my twins were born introduced us to a world of specialists, medical jargon, tests, procedures and surgeries we would not know anything about should God have spared us from this lot. But 13 years later, I can see how much we have all grown through what God chose for us. I can see we have learned so much; we have grown in empathy and informed compassion for a whole segment of this world that we may have otherwise overlooked or even ignored. I can see our endurance for life’s challenges, curve balls, unexpecteds and unknowns has been strengthened. 

 I want to take this opportunity to encourage anyone who’s been thrust upon a life path you never would have chosen and can’t get off of. Or maybe you did run after & welcome a certain life trajectory, but it’s all new and proving to be harder than you thought it would be, with costs you aren’t sure you’re prepared to pay. Time really is an important player that you will either thank or regret depending on what you cultivate with that time. 

It may be cliche, but the truth nevertheless remains. Circumstances can make you bitter or better, and it’s time that will deepen what you chose to cultivate. Let me be a voice in your life today urging you to fight to be shaped for the better by whatever it is that is pressing down hard on you right now. Be vigilant about uprooting those bitter seeds that want to grow deep in your soul. They often sound like, “This isn’t fair. I deserve better than this. I hate my life. Why do things go well for everyone else but me? What have I done to deserve this? How will anything good come from this?” 

I’m not saying that there won’t be struggle or that I never thought these things or still don’t sometimes think these things. But, let’s together remember we have a choice in what we’re going to do when these thoughts come. We can choose to nurture these embittering thoughts or reject them and replace them with God’s truth. He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. He has promised to fulfill His purposes for our lives, and as those who love Jesus and have given our lives to Him, we can trust His purpose is to prosper us and not to harm us. It might look oh so different than we could ever have imagined, but He is wise. He is good. And He will sustain us even through the darkest of times. 

We received another diagnosis yesterday for my son, one that likely has been there since he was born. And despite the numerous eye specialists who have spent hours, that could likely amount to days if added up, looking into the depths of my son’s eyes, this anomaly was not discovered until yesterday. It’s likely the cause of his extremely poor vision in his one eye, at least according to the doctor we saw yesterday. Honestly, who really knows? 

I could be tempted to anger over this, but for 13 years, I have sought to cultivate a firm belief that God is my son’s Creator, Sustainer and his ultimate Physician. And He reveals what He wants and keeps hidden what He wants hidden even to the “Best of the Best.” And because I’ve cultivated that truth over a long period of time, I do not have to get angry about this potentially missed diagnosis. I do not have to wonder if we could have preserved better vision in that eye had this been discovered earlier in his journey. I can fully trust that we have sought God throughout my son’s whole life for help with his needs. We have followed through on what God led us to do, the doctors to whom He led us. And we can have confidence that though we undoubtedly have not walked this out perfectly, we have a God who is perfect in all His ways even when His ways seem to run counter to our finite wisdom. For 13 years, I have imperfectly but genuinely cultivated trust in God, and I’m not going to stop trusting Him now. 

Today, I’m beckoning you to do the same.