Thursday, November 21, 2013

Giving Thanks and Coming Home for the Holidays

It's that time of year again when the fall closes in around us and opens up mellow smooth.  Leaves fall from the trees, days shorten and all nature slows.  It is the season of transition and memories, when thoughts turn homeward and expectations can soar.  All around we see store decorations prematurely reminding us to hurry and get all the festivities and happenings and purchasing underway.  Pintrest pins remind us of all the crafts and recipes and activities we mean to try to pour more meaning and beauty into this season.  It can feel as though the weeks are speeding by and we are barely catching a breath.  We can be reminded of hopes and dreams of holidays as they "should" be and we compare those thoughts to the imperfect life around us.  As beautiful and precious and sentimental as this season is, it is also a season with all sorts of mingled emotions.

My father died in early November when I was twelve years old.  Fall always brings some grief in its many shades.  Some years the grief comes like an unexpected thunderstorm and sometimes it just drizzles light on my heart.  I love autumn for snuggling in blankets, drinking warm drinks and taking walks in cool misty morning air.  Still, I feel the hurt of loss more keenly as families around me talk about gathering together for the Courier & Ives, picture-perfect celebrations of the season.  Even when my family was all together, our holidays rarely were the stuff of which romantic stories are made. 

In years past when my heart was more unsettled and I was less sure of who I was and how I was loved by God, I was more prone to take on so much for the holidays.  I was bound and determined to make meaning and restore what was lost.  I wanted my boys to have the sweet comfort that I had never experienced.  Instead of sweet comfort, I created a more full schedule -- full of activity that drained both me and them -- and a stressed heart -- too stressed to bless them the way I longed to do.  There was one Christmas where I really lost it right as we were putting the star on top of the tree; that star meant to guide us home; that star meant to remind us that Jesus is the Way and the Home we long to find; that star that shined on God become innocent, helpless babe for me and for you.  I lost sight of the star in the fullness of my self-imposed holiday burdens.

Don't get me wrong, I love Pinterest (what did we do before we could pin?!) and I love festivities and decoration. I love gathering with friends and celebrating the season.  It can be tempting, even for the best of reasons, to crowd ourselves so deep and high in events and preparations and decorations that we forget the heart of Thanksgiving and the heart of Christmas.  We just lose Jesus in the hub-bub. 

So, as we come closer to these days of gathering with family, some of us are facing challenges of strained relationships or we are missing loved ones who are no longer with us or who are unable to join us for various reasons.  Some of us are wrapped up in the doing and we so need and long for the being.  We need to savor the moments of this season in ways that bring us closer to God instead of letting them blur by us as we speed through event after event.  We need to follow the example of nature and take on the God-given pace of slowing and reflecting.  We are called by so many external demands and invitations.  We need to be still long enough to hear God's calling -- to be still and to come Home for the holidays -- to come Home to Him. 

Here's what I am doing differently this Thanksgiving (and Advent) to ensure my heart comes Home:
  1. I am choosing my "yes" and "no" answers wisely.  

    We get so many invitations and opportunities in the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years.  I know not everyone has this "problem."  Some people face deep loneliness in this season where they feel like Tiny Tim pressing their nose up and peering in the windows of everyone's happiness while they shiver alone in the dark of their own life.  Thankfully for us, we have a full social life and we will be able to choose what we want to do.  It is so easy to say, "yes," to parties and gatherings and playdates when school is out.  It is easy to say "yes" to one more Advent craft, one more Christmas book, one more shopping trip.  Jesus asks us to say, "yes" to Him.  I intend this Thanksgiving and for the coming weeks to slow and ponder each option for a "yes" and see if it is something that is meant to come into this season.  I am looking ahead in my calendar and blocking off Sabbath days (not only Sundays which tend to fill with much sometimes -- but another day each week when we plan to say, "no" and stay in and rest and relax and reflect).  Just this week I got an invitation to a friend's son's party.  We don't socialize with them regularly.  Our calendar around that date is full.  I sent back a reply that we were so grateful to be included in the invitation, but we can not make it.  I told her we hope they have a lovely celebration.  It isn't that we have other plans that day, it is that we need margin.  We have to have some white space throughout the calendar of November and December or we will burn out instead of burning brightly with the love of God.

  2. I am choosing our celebration guides and devotions with care.  

    We love the Ann Voskamp materials for doing a Jesse Tree (check them out here) and we are making an Advent Chain (see this link).  I have also subscribed to a great Advent Calendar (here) which will provide us with rich devotional and historical information about this season.  We will use these tools to help lift our eyes upward as a whole family.  The Advent Chain and Devotional both encourage activities which include baking, giving to others, reflecting on Jesus, etc.  We can do those when they are suggested, or when we are able.  And if we aren't able, we can pass.  Our lives this season are about being steeped in Him and sharing His gift of love with others.  Anything that helps us along is included.  Anything that prevents His purpose can be set aside.  
  3. I am keeping gift giving simple and meaningful.  

     Sometimes the meaning of a gift gets lost to us (the giver) as we rush to get our list checked off, wrapped and delivered.  We forget that Christ is the gift.  We forget to take time to receive from Him.  This year we are giving gifts to the poor in the name of others.  We are making some homemade gifts for friends and family.  We are not going into debt to live up to external expectations.  Today I was with a friend as another friend's daughter came up to her and gave her a hand-painted birdhouse.  The craft was simple.  The paint job was obviously done by an elementary student.  The meaning was priceless.  Keep the heart of love in your gifts.  We are giving coupons for service -- caring for others' children, wrapping their gifts for them and serving them a supper on a busy night.  I want my gifts to sing of the giver -- just as Jesus' gift is His very self.  
  4. I am purposing to spend time alone with Jesus daily.  

    If  we are honest, it is one of the biggest challenges that mothers of small children face -- getting any quality time alone with God that lasts longer than five consecutive minutes.  Once I joked with a friend that I was going to make a painting for her entitled, "Mommy's Quiet Time," which had her on the inside of the bathroom door, kneeling on the floor, God's Word spread open and her hands clasped in prayer, while standing outside the door were two small children banging to get in.  I do have to challenge myself and each of us that we can make room in the Inn for Jesus this season.  We must.  If we have time to check Facebook, time to read email or time to Pin, we have time.  If we have time to see who is winning on The Voice, we have time to turn off our electronics and listen for His still voice.  I am going to enlist my husband, swap childcare with friends, and do whatever else I have to do to guard precious time alone with Jesus during this season of celebration.  I am going to make space to sit, read, reflect, pray, remember and connect with God.
    Will you join me?   

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