Advent – a simple way to celebrate Christ’s coming

If you’re looking for a simple way to make Christ the focus of your days leading up to Chrsitmas, here’s a classic tradition that takes me back to my earliest childhood memories.

image

At our first Christmas as a new family, my husband and I chose to follow my family’s tradition of using an “advent” wreath to celebrate the first “coming” and anticipating the second “coming” of Christ, as we count down the four weeks prior to Christmas.

We follow a very simple tradition of lighting candles, asking easy to remember questions and responses, singing carols, and reading scripture that take us from Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah to the New Testament fulfillment in Christ.

image
Christmas Card front – John 8:12 is read EVERY NIGHT in unison as someone lights the corresponding candles — the rest of the card (front and back) is to be used on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning when you light the white candle
image
Christmas Card back- to be read Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning

Here’s a simple gift idea:   I’ve printed out our traditional readings and made simple little booklets for my dearest friends as early Christmas gifts.  (Adding the appropriate colored candle or making an advent wreath is also a nice touch.)

Traditionally there are 4 weeks and 5 candles:  purple for weeks 1, 2, and 4; pink for week 3; and white for Christmas morning.

WEEK ONE:

image
WEEK ONE – After the first candle is lit, a child asks, “WHY DO WE LIGHT THE FIRST CANDLE?” The father responds, “The first candle is the light of HOPE. It reminds us of the “LIGHT OF THE HOPE OF THE PROPHETS.”
image
WEEK ONE (back) – Isaiah 9:2-7 This passage, the only reading for the first Sunday, is read every night of the first week of advent.

WEEK TWO:

image
WEEK TWO – After the first and second candles are lit, a child asks, “WHY DO WE LIGHT THE SECOND CANDLE?” The father responds, “The second candle is the light of HOSPITALITY. It reminds us of the LIGHT AND WARMTH OF THE STABLE.”
image
WEEK TWO (back) – Luke 2:1-7 This passage, the only reading for the second Sunday, is read every night of the second week of advent.

WEEK THREE:

image
WEEK THREE – After three candles are lit, a child asks, “WHY DO WE LIGHT THE THIRD CANDLE?” The father responds, “The third candle is the light of JOY. It reminds us of the LIGHT OF JOY OF THE SHEPHERDS.”
image
WEEK THREE (back) – Luke 2:8-20 This passage, the only reading for the third Sunday, is read every night of the third week of advent.

Why is the candle for the third week pink?  Purple is a royal color, representing holiness and reverence, and is a traditional color for fasting.  It reminds of the time of waiting, praying, longing, and seeking the coming of Christ the Messiah and King.  But, week three is the week of JOY, a time to set fasting for celebrating!  The color rose is a reminder to rejoice at the good news of Christ’s advent!

WEEK FOUR:

image
WEEK FOUR – After the four candles are lit, a child asks, “WHY DO WE LIGHT THE FOURTH CANDLE?” The father responds, “The first candle is the light of GUIDANCE. It reminds us of the LIGHT OF THE STAR THAT GUIDED THE WISEMEN.”
image
WEEK FOUR (back) – Matthew 1:18-25 This passage, the only reading for the forth Sunday, is read every night of the forth week of advent.

(My parents made their advent wreath with candle holders in wreath itself.  For our first Christmas, I just chose to use a pre-made wreath that I thought looked “majestic” and placed a silver plate under it to set glass candle holders that I found at the dollar store.)

 ENDING WITH SONG and PRAYER

After we light our candles for the night and read the passages, we sing the hymn “O Come O, Come Emanuel” (If you don’t know it, you might enjoy singing along with the recording with lyrics posted at this link.) and whatever Christmas carol that the kids want to sing (We take turns picking songs depending upon how late it is and how much time we have.  Our family also started singing the Donut Man “Happy Birthday Jesus” song when our oldest was a toddler and wanted to sing it every night, and it has become a lasting tradition for us.), and then we close in prayer.

Tired? Weary?

imageDidn’t I just clean this?

Obviously, the answer is “no”.

Some things are so constant (and not in the beautiful “north star”, Shakepearian “ever fixed mark” sort of way; I’m talking about the dreary, on-and-on-and-on, “give-me-a-break-already” way).

Cooking, cleaning, dealing with annoying people… Do ya’ ever get tired of doing the right thing?

Maybe it’s something as simple as laundry ever needing to be done…

or something as tedious as listening to a youngest child laboriously sound out the same reader that you have endured with every other sibling…

imageMaybe it’s frustrating, like consistently doling out a punishment for the same child for the same willful disobedience for the 70X6th time this week…

or it’s beyond disappointing as you attempt to give grace and pray for reconciliation in a long strained relationship, yet somehow the ugly-side of you and them keeps making an appearance…

(and you’re wondering if Jesus meant a literal or figurative “70X7” for forgiveness)

Maybe it’s listening to that long-winded, negative stranger/friend who you know is lonely/depressed/anxious and needs a compassionate ear or shoulder to cry on…

imageor that well meaning child with the extreme sensitivity to right and wrong that is compelled to seek righteous justice and wrath, and it sounds an awful lot like legalistic-tattling…

Maybe it’s the daily discipline of prayer when the answers seem slow (or non-existent)…

or the routine of exercise and healthy living when you don’t see the pounds dropping…

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

imageWhat is the “good thing” you’re doing that you are tempted to let slide for a while or drop all together?  

or

What person are you loving that you have pondered neglecting or saying “I’m done with you.  I’ve gone this far with you, and I have no more to give!”?

STOP – Don’t just keep reading.  Answer the question.

Do you need to write it down?  Seriously, stop reading, get up, get a pen or Sharpie, and finish this sentence, writing your one word or phrase on a rock or stick or pretty sheet of paper or a post-it or something:

I am tired and weary of __________________.

Then on the back write these two references:

So, to get back to where I started, “Do you ever get tired of doing the right thing?”

Obviously, the answer is “yes”!  And the LORD knew we would or He wouldn’t have given us these verses.  They’re short enough to memorize yet simple and true enough to be relevant every day of our lives.

imageNow, if you’ll indulge me.  (Please do!)  I have two songs for you.  Maybe they’ll sound a little juvenile to you, especially if you don’t have a two year old, but if I were with you, I’d sing the chorus of both for you right now.  So, click on the links below and hug that ornery kid, fix that favorite meal for that ungrateful husband, call that mother-in-law, wrap that gift, wash that dish, make that bed…

(Some things are easier than others aren’t they!?!  But, you “CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens” you.  And we “have EVERYTHING we need for life and godliness” and there are “works prepared in advanced for us to do” and He who has called you will give you strength and grace to equal the task.  So, DON’T GIVE UP!)

Simple challenges with a simple promise.

As Winston Churchill so eloquently echoed, “Never, never, never quit!”

and

May your choices tell the LORD, and the whole world, that you love Him.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved. 

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!”  2 Thes. 3:16

Marathon? Or Mouse-a-thon!!!

Are you looking for a little motivation to stay active this winter?

mouse-a-thon 10

Even if you’re not a Disney fan, I hope reading how I came up with my plan will inspire you to make a creative plan of your own.

Let’s make exercise part of our routine in a fun and extra-ordinary way; so we will look forward to gettin’ up and gettin’ movin’ every morning!

I have a neighbor/friend that is almost a decade and a half younger than me that is training for a marathon.  A few weeks ago she popped in for a chat, all excited about going through her 60 day “Insanity” workout again.  All her energy and motivational words about healthy eating and active living inspired me.

mouse-a-thon 11I told her I’d find a more “doable” fitness routine (for a “near middle-aged woman”) and join her.  Shortly after starting we realized we were about to enter into the yummiest season of Halloween candy, Thanksgiving feasts, and Christmas pies and treats!  With a verbal commitment to moderation and healthy choices (and WE WILL NOT BE LIARS!!!!), we decided we would persevere and hold each other accountable.

So far, so good.  I’ve chosen to keep my fridge and cabinets stocked with a steady rotation of my healthy favorites.   My meals/snacks are intentional treats of Greek yogurt, granola, raspberries, hummus, celery, bell peppers, jalapeños,  avocados, black beans, limes, pepper-jack cheese, clementines, baby spinach, gala apples, almond butter, lima beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, bananas, and an occasional mango …  I’m in heaven!

mouse-a-thon 07Now I’m on week three of a twelve week DVD workout schedule, and I can’t believe how great I feel!  (more energetic, stronger, more flexible, motivated, excited!)  I think the difference is the variety which balances cardio with strength and flexibility circuits.

And, I’ve already faced my fear/pride of running (and having to walk most of the up hill) with someone who can run circles around me.  Once a week, I’m hitting the black top and dirt roads with my young “Insanity”/Marthon-training neighbor.  Yay, me!!!!

But, one question has kept coming to mind:

WHY am I doing this?

What is my motivation?

  • “to be healthy”, “challenging myself to stay active”, and “to feel good” are such vague goals
  • even to “honor the LORD with my temple” and “rededicate my body to Him” are excellent reasons but still abstract and difficult to measure

My neighbor has her marathon as the prize to keep pushing herself toward.

What will be my attainable-yet-challenging goal?

mouse-a-thon 01

Here’s my train of thought:

I batted around the idea of running a few more 5Ks throughout the next year, maybe a 10K, but how will that motivate me in the dead of winter?  I even considered setting the goal of a half-marathon, until I drove 13.1 miles.  That is REALLY far. — In light of that, the idea of running 26.2 miles is absolutely out of the question!  It holds NO appeal to me.  But with my trip to Disney earlier this year still fresh in my mind, the idea of the Disney Marathon, running through all the Disney parks, sounds so fun.

  1. Florida is flat. (I live in a land of mountains and every road home is uphill.)
  2. The parks are filled with wonderful, happy distractions:  music, characters, familiar rides and buildings, landscaping, and decorations.
  3. I love Disney World.

mouse-a-thon 08Then, after looking at the Marathon routes on a map, it dawned on me; they run the majority of the Disney race on the miles and miles of roadway between the parks. (Having ridden the bus from the Magic Kingdom to Animal Kingdom’s Kidani Villas, I know that is further than I ever want to think about running or walking.)

mouse-a-thon 03The half-marathon, though still farther than I am genuinely interested in running, at least sounds possible but only runs to and through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot (no beautiful paths through Animal Kingdom or the familiar streets of Hollywood Studios).  But, could I really justify the cost of entry fees, flights, hotels, meals, etc. when there are several half-marathons within an hour drive from my house?

 

Here’s my brainstorming conclusion:

mouse-a-thon 02Right now, I am motivated by the thought of running through Disney parks; so…  Saturday I ran through Typhoon Lagoon (24 minutes, 36 seconds) and today I ran through the Magic Kingdom (34 minutes, 32 seconds).  How?

I run on my treadmill and watch one of the numerous walk-through tours posted on Youtube.  Oh, how the quarter miles light-up and fly by for me!

(If you google-video: “Magic Kingdom (or other park) walk through”, you’ll find a wide variety of tours that take from 20 minutes to an hour; some at the park opening, mid-day, or late at night; during the summer as well as when decorated for Halloween or Christmas; and even tours during special events like the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot.)

mouse-a-thon 12So, here’s my plan, to run these paths and see how many miles I can log, and maybe by the end of winter, try to run/walk all 4 parks in one day.  I plan to keep mixing it up: running a late-night walk-through if I run in the evening, maybe running a “half-mouse-a-thon (just through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot) on a Saturday, maybe run through Blizzard Beach water park on a snowy afternoon, etc…

mouse-a-thon 06Besides the fact that I love Disney World. I have the added motivation that I’m heading back down to Florida mid-winter with my kids to meet up with my parents and one of my sisters; so though some many might find this boring, I am genuinely excited to run or walk everyday.

At the end of this winter, I would be quite pleased if I ran a 10K, 6.2 miles on my final “Mouse-a-thon”, but if I reach that goal, maybe I’ll push right on toward 13.1 (a half marathon).  Then, if I get close, maybe I’ll even take on one of those nearby races in the Spring or Fall.  (If I aim higher, I tend to go farther!)  I’ll never know how far I can go until I try.

What about YOU?

What is your motivation?

Abstract or measureable, what is your “WHY“, your reason that keeps you pressing on and pushes you forward to do and best the best that you can do and be?

WHY are YOU doing what you’re doing?

mouse-a-thon 05And if you’re not doing anything, why not?  Consider those who are handicapped yet pushing their wheelchair to compete in the Paralympics or those who are more out of shape than you that are slowly persevering to knock off their extra pounds, or folks with health issues that require them to have a restricted diet, or maybe consider those who are older than you who would love to have a younger body so that their physical activity had more options.  If they are finding creative ways to stay active and motivated, what can you do to optimistically face your challenges?

If you live in the country, you have wide open roads and quiet wooded trails.  If you live in the city you have sidewalks and paved paths, not to mention gyms and clubs to work out in.  So, what’s your excuse?

What will be your attainable-yet-challenging goal?

mouse-a-thon 09What are you interested in?  How could you creatively incorporate something you enjoy into your goal?  What are you afraid of, and where is your pride getting in the way of taking on a new challenge?  How can you overcome your obstacles in a unique way?

You only have one body.  You only have one life here on this planet.  Your body and your health affects your mood and your emotions, your perspective, your memory, and all these things either aid or hinder your spiritual life.

 

mouse-a-thon 04

Indoor weather, winter and snow, can be an excuse to try something new!  Let the holiday feasting and a new year approaching be a motivation to end this year well.

(As I write this there are 50 days until Dec 31st.  Make up your own 50 Day Challenge. Set a goal and go for it!  Start today!!!!)

“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” – 1 Timothy 4:7-8

Love the LORD your God will all your STRENGTH!

Keep seeking Him first in everything!

BEFORE the New Year Resolutions

Many people make New Year Resolutions, but have you ever considered making END OF THE YEAR RESOLUTIONS?

As I write this I am counting down the last 60 days of the year with specific goals for several areas of my life.  Why don’t you join me?!?

Choose at least one of the following categories:

  • body  (physical)
  • soul  (spiritual)
  • mind  (mental)
  • spirit  (emotional)

Then choose a sub-category and write out one or two specific goals:

Physical

  • rest  (# hours of sleep each night, Sabbath rest,…)
  • exercise  (run 5K/10K, complete an exercise program, walk a mile 5 days/week,…)
  • nutrition  (each a fruit and veggie every day, cut out sugars/processed food,…)
  • water  (drink 8 glasses of water, cut out sodas, limit caffeine, …)
  • things (tidy up your bedroom, create a “favorite” place in your house, buy less/give away more, clean out a closet…)

Spiritual

  • Bible Reading (read daily, or finish a book of the Bible,…)
  • Scripture Memorization/Meditation (choose a life verse and memorize it, memorize a verse a week, recite a chapter from memory,…)
  • Prayer (5 minutes each morning/before bed, write out your prayers till the end of the year, pray with a friend on the phone once a week/every day, read a book about prayer, write out several promises from the Bible on prayer, go through the day “praying without ceasing”, pray with your husband, join a prayer group or a church prayer chain, plan a special prayer day…)
  • Quiet Time (start a routine/habit for starting your day, decide upon a time and place, gather your tools in one bag/basket beside your bed,…)
  • Bible Study (join or lead a Sunday class or Bible study, order a study workbook/DVD to work though on your own or with a friend, start a study with your kids, …)
  • Find a Church or Accountability/Small Group
  • Choose a place of service (use your spiritual gift/talents, serve at church/in your neighborhood/at your school/in your community…)

Mental

  • Start a project/study/class that is stimulating
  • Teach Something (disciple an individual, plan a one day event, or prepare multiple week class to pass on something useful to others… for example: how to sew/make bread/canning/gardening, house cleaning inspiration and tips, a workshop on prayer,…)
  • Keep a journal (write down dreams and ideas, sketch out goals and daily progress, list challenges and invent solutions,…)
  • Choose a topic and become an expert (art, period of History, caring for elderly parents, parenting, geography of ancient Israel, the biography of a particular person, a place you’ve always wanted to visit,…)
  • Choose a hobby you have always wanted to pursue or pick up a neglected skill that you once enjoyed (oil painting, playing the ukulele, pottery, woodworking, cross-stitch, quilting, scrapbooking, card making…)
  • Read a book (or two or ten!)

Emotional

  • start a notebook and collect verses or motivational quotes related to a particular personal weakness or challenge
  • choose a day of the week to “Sabbath”
  •  make a list of fillers and do one every day (soak in the tub, sip a cup of Chamomile tea, wash dishes by candle light, sit by a fireplace and just watch the flames, watch comedy, read the Sunday comics, take a nap, go for a  walk regardless of the weather, step outside and just listen for 5 minutes, go star gazing, read a children’s book, …)
  • remove a stressor from your life (find a person to replace you for an obligation that you don’t fell called by God to do, make an apology, forgive someone, give your kids a bedtime/naptime and stick to it, call the kitchen “closed” and yourself “off-duty” after 7:00 pm, give away some itmes from your over-stuffed closet/basement,…)
  • schedule a prayer day or in-home spa day
  • make a weekly date night with your spouse (going out or staying in)
  • share your burdens and pray with a friend
  • meet with a pastor or counselor to discuss a problem/fear/relationship

You only have a couple months; so don’t choose so many that this challenge becomes a burden rather than a blessing. This is intended to be motivating not stressful.

I want to encourage you to tell a friend about what you’ve chosen and encourage them to join you.  I have had two friends invite me to join them on their journeys in the past month (one spiritual and on physical), and I have found it inspiring.  It can be extremely helpful to have a regular accountability as well as a voice of steady encouragement to persevere.

Whatever you decide, remember to SEEK THE LORD first and HAVE FUN!!!!

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”