Sun breaks today. Through the clouds. And, I see the beauty of the cherry blossoms. Light pink puffs like cotton candy set gently against the branches.
How can I—how could I—ever doubt your existence, your faithfulness, your presence?
Chickadees settle on the branches, soft voices singing. Petals fall like tears, soaking the ground with pink polka dots fragrant with God’s creation.
How can we look upon the Earth and not weep at the beauty or know joy? How can we not know there is a creator?
I breath in and reach toward beauty and joy. I reach toward the creator and celebrate His creation.
Counting my blessings of gratitude with Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience.
#102 – 120
A crisp spring morning
the grass that needs mowing
the son sleeping too long
warm tea and flannel
a gentle smile from my husband
good work for the day
moments of silence
a short text message from daughter
a calendar that says she’ll be home this week
cooking a meal with my son
sharing that meal as a family
a week to walk toward the cross
time to reflect on that walk
His loving arms
As the last days of advent slip by, the shopping malls become mobbed with last minute shoppers. The frenzy to buy those last minute gifts begins. The stress mounts. Traffic. Wet roads. Jammed parking lots. Lines to pay. Shoppers walking among other shoppers. The rudeness gene kicks in–you know what I mean? The “me first” attitude. The “I got here first” mentality. The “get out of my way” expressions. The dirty looks when you even slightly bump someone and turn to apologize.
Where is Christ in this picture? Well, I think you’ll agree, He’s not. He’s lost in the commercial, profit-driven, season. But the good news is that some folks are reclaiming Christmas and the Malls–reminding the crazed shoppers that Christ is what this season is about.
In a shopping mall in Canada, a flash mob blessed the shoppers with a beautiful, and moving, rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus. Over a hundred members of the Chorus Niagara converged on the food court and, well . . . see for yourself!
How will you reclaim Christmas (and the malls) for Christ this year? You don’t need to organize a flash mob. But, perhaps just plan or spontaneously do one small thing that might bless someone caught up in the commercial, profit-driven message. One small thing that allows God’s radiance to shine in the darkness.
(the video was made by alphabetphotography.com)
Christmas eve at our home was about dinner and then an evening of opening gifts. As young kids, we looked forward to it with great anticipation. We usually had dinner at the Gaddie’s house, so mom and dad would let us open one gift before we went to dinner, and then the rest when we got home–usually late at night.
I remember some of my favorite gifts. Mrs. Beasley, a talking doll. Shrinking Violet, another talking doll. Mighty Mike, a truck that could do anything. And when I got older, a pair of my favorite “Seafarer” jeans.
I think back about those holidays and I remember the tree and opening gifts and the feeling of anticipation. They were good memories. Time with family. Time with family friends.
But the focus was on the gifts and the opening of gifts. At times, it was embarrassing. So many gifts piled under the tree. We joined in the consumerism that drives Christmas in America.
Guilty as charged.
But, four years ago, that changed for me. Our Pastor and a few other pastors from around the United States introduced a radical idea: Advent Conspiracy. It was exactly what I needed–affirmation that I could get off the treadmill of consumerism and celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Christ.
I’m so grateful.
Advent Conspiracy is about reclaiming Christmas for Christ — worshiping fully, spending less, giving more [time], and loving all during the season of advent. Advent Conspiracy asks us to be present this holiday–present in the lives of those we know and love. To give of ourselves by making gifts or just spending time with those we love. To avoid racking up credit card charges for gifts out of a feeling of obligation. Instead, to focus on Christ and his love for the world. To worship Him, and in doing so, to love the world–to love the least of these.
Advent Conspiracy has changed Christmas for our family. We buy no gifts. In fact, after Thanksgiving, the only shopping I do is for groceries and household items. The stress of the traffic and crowds, the pressure to find the perfect gift for each person, is gone.
Instead, we pack up our car and spend three days together as a family at the beach. While it is still a “gift” to take a short trip, it is a gift of time together. This is our fourth year. And, I can’t tell you how it feels to have our now young adult children “anticipate” Christmas. Beginning in July, the kids start asking about the trip. And, from September on, we hear over and over how much they are looking forward to the trip.
It isn’t fancy or eventful, after all, it rains at the Oregon Coast all winter. So, we’re pretty much stuck indoors as a family for three days. Together, we cook, read books, build puzzles, play games, sit by the fire and look out on God’s creation–and even brave walking on the beach in the wind and rain. And, we also catch up on each others lives. We spend time being present–living in the moment. Laughing, talking, loving.
Advent Conspiracy–our celebration of Christ’s birth–is more than that, too. Advent becomes a season of Worship because we don’t have to think about buying gifts or spending money. And, instead of giving what might be meaningless or trivial gifts, we give to local and international charities–to the least of these. To those who Christ asks us to love as He loved.
God’s gift to us was a relationship with Christ–a relationship rooted in love. I’m praying that we celebrate Christ’s birth in a way that reflects His love. I’m praying for a season of being present in the lives of others.
May your season be so blessed.
Here is the Advent Conspiracy Video. I hope you enjoy it!
Sometimes I think that, as an American, I have an unfortunate life. I have much and those around me do, too. Most of us have roofs over our heads — nice roofs, and walls, and furnishings. And, most have food on the table. Ample food, although, not always healthy food. I live in a country where most people follow the rule of law — we have a government and laws in place. And, I live in a country that hasn’t seen combat on its soil for decades. I feel safe leaving my home and carrying out the business of my days. I have civil rights, freedom of religion, and the right to speak and write freely.
So with all those blessings, how could I believe I live an unfortunate life? While I have all the good — a home and food, a government, a country in which I have rights and privileges–I also have so much isolation. I–we, as Americans–might live in busy cities and share our homes with our families. But we tend to live in isolation from others because we fear authenticity–we fear being open and candid and vulnerable with others. And, we often don’t make the time to share in the lives of others in a meaningful way.
I become acutely aware of this every fall–when school starts. I teach in a demanding graduate program. I’ve sat where my students now sit. I stand now on the other side of the podium–in the front of the class. And, every year, I see the same thing: students, sitting upright in their seats. Game faces on. Trying to show, on the outside, that they are smart, intelligent, articulate, and successful. That they understand every word, concept, doctrine, and theory they are learning. That they are confident they will find success in school and beyond. That life is a bowl of cherries.
But I know better. They show the game faces–the faces we show the world, even when our lives are in crisis. I know this because I sat where they sat, game face on while I juggled family, marriage, and my mother’s terminal cancer. I sat there with my game face on while my teachers and classmates were oblivious to how close I sat to having everything fall down around me. I know this also because every year for the past eight years a few students come into my office, close the door and tell me. The stress of school, the pressure to do well, the events of life ongoing while they are trying desperately to stay on top of their studies seems too much to bear. The game faces come off and I see the individual’s heart — their true self. I see authenticity.
The rows of students sitting upright in class–and for that matter, the rows of people sitting upright around me in pews on Sunday–remind me that we are a broken people. But, because our worlds don’t look broken, we feel isolated. We see a world and reflect a world that looks great on the surface. But, when we look beyond the surface, we have broken relationships–shallow, meaningless or hurtful relationships–pain, crisis, loss, fears. True suffering. And we feel absolutely alone at times.
That is why I believe I live an unfortunate life, and that many Americans live unfortunate lives. The facade that life is good, the privilege of living in a country filled with affluence and rights and privileges and opportunities push us toward isolation–encourage us to put on our game faces.
I need authenticity. We, as people in community, desperately need it. We need to take off the game faces — the masks–and make life about building relationships, not about building lives that look good on the surface. We need to engage each other. Embrace each other. And throw off the things in this world that prevent us from doing that.
We might fear rejection or humiliation if we take off our game face. That is a risk. But, when the isolation becomes overwhelming, or when the task of making things look okay on the surface becomes too much, maybe then the risk will be worth it. And. maybe then we’ll find the lives that Christ wants for us. Lives that allow His light to shine, even in the darkness. Lives filled with hope and joy and love and grace.