A Magical Season

Yesterday I wrote a somewhat difficult post about my Christmas shortcomings – what I saw as my failure to worship Jesus as I had anticipated and planned. What I missed in those musings, though, was the fact that Jesus himself was very much present in Florida – in my kids’ exuberance as they danced over waves with their Pepe; in my parents’ laughter; even in my own surprise at finding the Disney extravaganza more delightful than draining.

So today I’m posting a few pictures from the trip as part of the "You Capture" series over at I Should be Folding Laundry. This week’s theme is “holiday,” and while my photos aren’t typical Christmas fare (no tree, no unwrapping), they do illustrate the joy of the season.

Turns out it is indeed a small world after all -- and God turns up in the most unlikely places.



Christmas Grace

Today I’m reflecting on my attempts to “give presence” during Advent, and I have to say, the process did help me appreciate more of the small moments this holiday season.

I baked cookies and pumpkin loaves with the kids and let Rowan fold all the Christmas letters. I watched cardinals and downy woodpeckers swoop down towards the feeder swaying in the crabapple tree.

I bought fewer gifts, gave a little more to those in need and reveled in the company of my friends and co-workers. I thought about God and Jesus more than usual. I was more contemplative, less harried. Peaceful.

Of course I’d be lying if I told you it was effortless. Embracing peace doesn’t come naturally to me. You know by now that I fret, gnaw my nails and harrumph. A lot. So this presence-giving, this peace-making, really did require focus. It required work.

The night before we left for our trip to Florida I felt anxious. The weather was going to be chillier than expected down there, which required a last-minute repacking (of course, Triple Type A had packed several days prior, all for naught). I had a million, trillion things to do, but I decided to swing by church, to sit quietly in the dimly lit sanctuary. I prayed by myself and in hushed whispers with Pastor Sara and left refreshed, uplifted and joyful in anticipation of Christmas Day.

The next day though, en route from Omaha to Tampa, I realized with shock and horror that we were headed to Disney World, of all places, to spend the Christmas holiday. “Could we be celebrating the birth of Jesus in a shallower, more commercialized place?” I thought, sinking into my seat with guilt. I was struck with the fear that all my efforts, all my Advent presence, would be trampled by a parade of dwarves and princesses.

So...dramatic drum roll please...you’re probably waiting for me to tell you I found Jesus walking hand-in-hand with Tinkerbelle, as the castle lights twinkled and the fireworks dazzled.

Nope. Didn’t happen.

In fact, it was as I had anxiously anticipated: I totally lost sight of Jesus as I ducked beneath Dumbo and set sail among Pirates of the Caribbean.

During most of the ten days we spent in Florida – both at the Magic Kingdom and St. Pete Beach – I forgot to pray. When I did pray, it was desperate, selfish thoughts tossed up to God as Rowan writhed with a stomach virus on Christmas Eve: “PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod don’t let it be the barf bug. PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod don’t let anyone else get sick…especially me…”

I didn’t think about God. I didn’t ponder the birth of Jesus. I didn’t read a single Bible verse (worse yet, I hadn’t even brought my Bible with me; instead I chose to reserve each of the allotted 50 suitcase pounds to sandals, purses and cardigans).

I made a couple feeble attempts. I brightly reminded the kids, as they tore open their presents in the hotel room, "Hey, it's Jesus' birthday!" but my voice rang hollow. My heart wasn't in it.

Mine was a Christmas without Christ. I had replaced Jesus with Jiminy Cricket.

I was disappointed, and, frankly, sort of disgusted with myself. “So much for giving presence; so much for the reason for the season,” I thought dismally on the flight home. I felt like a big, fat failure – dismayed that all my work, all my efforts, all my trying and planning and focusing had gone to waste.

And then, the realization hit. It’s not about me.

It’s not about how hard I worked to give presence this Advent. It’s not about how much progress I made. It’s not even about how I had come up short in the end. It’s not about any of that at all.

It’s just simply about God and his unwavering love for me, no matter what.

So today, once again (I seem to do this a lot), I’m thanking God for his grace. Today I’m forgiven for forgetting. Today I’m offered a second chance to remember Christ next Christmas…and every day until then.

This is my last post in the series Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts.


Winter Waves

We just got back from ten days in Florida with my parents. I admit, I spent a fair amount of time kvetching about the chilly temperatures down there. Seriously, I came home paler than I’d been before we left. I wore shorts once. We “basked” in the sun wrapped in layers of hooded sweatshirts and long-sleeved tee shirts, beach towels tucked around our thighs and ankles. My mom wore knit gloves.

I tried to go with the flow, really I did. But it was cold…low 60s, occasionally dipping into the 50s, with a fierce wind gusting off the gulf. Frankly I was a little bitter – who wants to wear socks on the beach? I painted my toenails for crying out loud!

As usual, my kids showed me joy in the midst of jostled expectations. The gale force winds and Icelandic temperatures didn’t stop them from frolicking in the waves – in their fleece jackets. Even I couldn’t quite bring myself to put a stop to the fact that they were literally swimming in their winter clothes. The look on their faces and the kick in their steps – pure delight, joy in the moment.


Recovery Mode

Because I'm just back from "vacation" and facing a pile of laundry that bears a startling resemblance to Aconcagua, and because part of that "vacation" was spent at Disney World (more on that later), I'm taking the easy road today and linking to the column I wrote for Saturday's Lincoln Journal Star.

It's about New Year's resolutions, grace and Cheez-Its. I figure anything about Cheez-Its and their preservative-laced, faux-cheesy delightfulness is enough, but pair that with thoughts on grace, and you've got a win-win. Intrigued? Read on... and I'll be back tomorrow with a cheat-free post!

I'm also linking up with Ann's Walk with Him Wednesday series at Holy Experience. The topic of the week -- "Repentance and Renewal: Looking to the New Year" -- fits well with my thoughts in this New Year's Journal Star column.

holy experience


Christmas Day

And they will call him Immanuel -- which means,
God with us.

Matthew 1:23

May your Christmas Day be filled with joy, peace and love.



Wrap Impact

Wrappers Aaron and Kyle

Hundreds of underprivileged kids got to shop for their loved ones last week, and my family was blessed to participate in their joy and excitement.

City Impact, a non-profit here in town, runs what’s called the Gifts of Love Store each year. They collect thousands of new gifts, dramatically mark down the retail price, and then open the store to allow low-income parents and children to shop for their family members.

This year, my Southwood small group decided to volunteer an evening to wrap gifts at the store. I admit, it sounded like a great idea back in November, but by the time our assigned night rolled around, I was less than enthusiastic. It was cold out; the roads were icy. I had to rush home from work and scarf down a sloppy Joe. Brad had pink eye and couldn’t go – and I was actually envious. Rowan couldn’t find a mitten. Noah was whining about not wanting to go. I felt like whining right along with him.

But I tell you, it was worth every harried minute. I’m not saying it was a blissful, peaceful experience. It was chaotic. Lines formed behind my table as I struggled to wrangle gift wrap around a football – an unboxed football. Rowan spilled his hot chocolate. I wore a turtleneck sweater and sweated. Profusely.

But it was a joyful experience.

To see the grins on those kids’ faces, to witness their pride and joy, the satisfaction they took in explaining to me who each gift was for in their family, and why they purchased that particular item -- now that was priceless.

Tania held up a soft blue blanket, “For my baby brother, he’s only 18 months,” she explained.

Brittney handed over a High School Musical doll for her niece, who, she noted, "is a very important part of my life.”

The generosity of these children was astonishing. One young lady used the bulk of her points (earned in Bible study and other after-school programs), to buy her mother a vacuum cleaner – “hers broke,” she told me with a shy smile.

Another young man bought his older brother a set of screwdrivers: “He’s 19, he needs his own tools now,” he explained.

I wrapped aftershave, bubble bath, a basketball, that pesky football, earrings, a knit hat, a striped scarf. Child after child stood in line, black trash bag bulging with gifts in hand, an explanation to go along with each one.

My own kids were remarkably helpful. Granted, Noah cut enough ribbon to fill the Astrodome. And Rowan hermetically sealed each gift with no fewer than 45 pieces of Scotch tape (it may take the recipients until next Christmas to unwrap the packages). But they were engaged and eager to help. Once they got over the fact that they were not there to browse the gift tables themselves, they were enthusiastic participants in the wrapping.

All and all, it was an amazing experience. Sure, I had to call in the reinforcements (Mr. Pink Eye) to retrieve the kids about 1.5 hours into the project, and I did have to yell into my cell phone over the din, “Yes! Come now! I don’t care where you have to park, just come get the kids!” as Carlos, one of the young shoppers, whacked his brother over the head with an empty wrapping paper roll. But when all was said and done, it was an amazing experience. Sweaty, back-aching, hectic, noisy, yes. But amazing.

I’ll do it again next year for sure – and I wouldn’t change a thing. Well, actually, maybe just one thing: I might wear short sleeves.

This post is part of an ongoing series called Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read more posts in the series.


Move Over Ab Roller

Today my husband Brad is guest-blogging on the topic of dissipation. Read on to find out what in the world that is!

Image of white blood cells
Nineteenth-century writers and religious thinkers commonly described sinful, self-indulgent young men as “dissipated.” They referred to gambling, philandering, drinking men whose hard living presumably resulted in accelerated aging and weakened constitutions.

I’ve always found “dissipated” to be a wonderfully descriptive, slightly humorous term. It’s as if the moral force of the individual, after first being pushed out of the body to make room for all the incoming vice, were diffused, uselessly, into the atmosphere. (My graying hair at age 25 would have left 19th-century citizens wondering where I found the time for so much sinning).

In our more enlightened age, of course, we don’t believe in such a close connection between immorality and physical decline. Some recent studies on giving, however, suggest that a kind of reverse dissipation may exist.

A recent article on cnn.com describes a Harvard study that links giving to improved immune function. Moreover, the article cited another study in which children “who displayed generosity and a giving attitude grew up to have lower rates of heart disease and depression” (read more here).

In short, expending our thoughts and actions on others is beneficial to our emotional and physical health. By turning outward, by sacrificing our energies in the service of others, we make room for God. We become vehicles of grace instead of searchers after pleasure, wealth and power. We were, after all, created to give, and in giving we realize our perfect spiritual (and maybe even physical) health.

Individual results may vary. Consult a religious counselor before beginning any charitable program.


Shining Light

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

I love this passage. I cited it at the end of my grandmother’s eulogy two years ago because I felt that Nana’s actions embodied this verse her whole life. My grandmother wasn’t outwardly religious. She didn’t quote Scripture or study the Bible. In fact, she talked more about what she would be wearing at her wake than about the afterlife itself. Yet somehow Nana exuded spirituality. Her kindness, compassion, generosity and zest for life spoke volumes. Her light, the light of the Holy Spirit working within her, shone so brightly on everyone around her.

In some ways this verse lets us off the hook. Earlier in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells the brothers Peter and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 18-19).

Not all of us are comfortable with evangelizing. Verbally spreading the Good News feels a bit awkward to me; talking about God or the Bible, even among friends, makes me squirm

Nonetheless, Jesus tells us we all need to fish for souls; we all need to become fishers of men. Thankfully this doesn’t mean we all need to proclaim the Good News from the street corner. Sometimes our actions speak louder than your words.

Are you forgiving? Compassionate? Generous? Do you love your neighbor? Does your light shine onto others?

Speaking through actions sends a Christian, Jesus-loving message loud and clear. Try fishing for men through your actions today. Let what you do, not necessarily what you say, be a bright light by which others can see God.


Beyond the Book

I’m feeling grateful today. Grateful for a new community I’ve found and been welcomed by.

I first started blogging for one reason and one reason only: to attempt to build a platform for a book I’ve written and really hope to publish someday. I spoke to a kindly literary agent at the end of the summer, who told me that while he liked my writing, my lack of a platform was a killer.

Platform schmatform. I was so damn irritated by the fact that it had just taken me 2.5 years to write the book, I just about decided to take up taxidermy instead of writing. Except of course I didn’t. I decided fine, I’ll do it. I’ll build this schmatform.

What’s happened along the way has been nothing short of amazing.

I’ve met friends, like fellow bloggers Deidra and Susan. I recognized them one night in a local coffee shop here in town – I actually recognized their faces from their blog profile pictures! Meeting them in person, spontaneously and out of the blue, was so exciting. You’d think I’d met Elvis that night in the coffee shop, I was that giddy.

I’ve learned to appreciate gifts all around me, from Emily and her Tuesdays Unwrapped community over at Chatting at the Sky.

I learned more about photography from Melissa at A Familiar Path and Beth at I Should be Folding Laundry.

I learned how to blog from Kim at Kimmy Does Denver.

I’ve learned new spiritual practices from Ann at Holy Experience.

I’ve found kindred spirits in women half a continent away. Love. Support. Camaraderie. Empathy. Compassion.

Who knew? Who knew, the day I signed on with Blogger, that the gifts would be so limitless.

It’s not all about the book anymore. Of course I’d be lying if I said it’s totally not about the book anymore…it's still a little bit about the book. But it's also about much, much more.


Giving Presence to God

When we were young, my sister and I would crowd around my mom as she kneeled at the fireplace hearth to arrange her Hummel nativity. Of all the figurines on display, I was most drawn to the mysterious wise men.

We weren’t permitted to touch the Hummels (the time our Dalmatian’s tail thwapped one of the wise men and sent his head rolling did not go over well), so I would crouch at the hearth to gaze at the scene. As a kid I always wondered why the three men were called wise. Was it because they recognized that the infant was Jesus? Because they figured out how to follow the star to Bethlehem?

Today as I read this passage in Matthew I think I finally know the answer:

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. (Matthew 2:9-11)

The wise men were wise because they had their priorities straight.

Isn’t it ironic that 2,000 years ago visitors came bearing gifts for Jesus, while today Christmas has become a season of gifts for ourselves, with little or no thought given to the Savior himself? The magi sought Jesus not because they expected something from him in return, but simply to celebrate his birth with joy and thanksgiving.

They came simply to worship him.

I know I spend far too much time wondering what God is going to give me, what prayers and requests he’s going to answer of mine, and far too often I neglect what I’m giving to God. Too often I forget that I should be serving him, rather than vice versa.

The magi didn’t forget. They traveled many miles for one simple purpose only: "On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts."

What gifts will you give God this season and this year? How will you serve as a twenty-first century magi?

This post is part of the series entitled Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts in the series.


Blessings All Mine

I thought long and hard about the You Capture assignment this week: to photograph a favorite Christmas decoration. Should I choose my sweet nativity scene, a gift from my friend Kathleen when she returned from a trip to Mexico? Or perhaps a special tree ornament – the dilapidated paper chain made by Noah in kindergarten, or the play-foam angel with the photo of Rowan's head pasted on crookedly?

It wasn’t until I took a late afternoon walk, camera in hand, that I realized the most precious decorations weren’t in my house, but outside – the ones God offered every day. The ones I so often fail to see.

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

This post is part of a series entitled Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts in the series.

Lyrics from Great is Thy Faithfulness.


Crock Pots

Last week my coworkers raised more than $1,000 for the local Food Bank with a few crock pots of soup, some crackers and bread. A simple but brilliant idea.

Steaming crock pots lined tables in the meeting room; ladles were poised, crackers ready for crumbling. Pumpkin, chicken wild rice, lentil curry, chicken noodle, chili, spinach, white bean – bubbling vats of warm goodness, rich scents seasoning the bland office air.

The people came from offices and cubicles – engineers, producers, graphic designers, fundraisers, marketers, radio announcers, techies, camera operators, sound technicians. They came, opened their wallets, pulled out a $5 bill, filled their bowls.

They laughed. Shared stories. Exchanged recipes. Enjoyed a brief respite in a busy day.

Last week my coworkers came together in community to support the community. They came together in generosity. In kindness. Last week my coworkers came bearing small change…for big change.

I'm sharing this story as part of the Walk with Him Wednesday series at Holy Experience. This week's question was where we are finding Christ this Christmas. I found him, in all places, at the office.

In which unlikely places are you finding Christ this Christmas?

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts in the series.

holy experience


Hymn Walk

Recently I grabbed Brad’s iPod as I stepped out the door for a run. Breaking into a slow jog I hit “play,” only to hear the sounds of How Great Thou Art fill my ears. “What?! Oh, come on, what the heck is this Jesus music?” I thought irritably, hitting fast forward again and again through hymn after hymn. “Who in the world can run to Oh Mighty Fortress?” Not technologically inclined, I couldn’t figure out how to skip to another play list, so I lumbered through my run to the dirgy notes, pining for the Black Eyed Peas.

This weekend, though, was different. Late Friday afternoon when I headed out the door for a walk, bundled like I was embarking on the 1,500-mile Iditarod, I popped in the ear buds and tuned purposefully to Brad’s hymn play list. And it was just what I needed.

Before I’d left I’d been all ornery and cranky, nitpicking at the kids, sweeping up seemingly endless flecks of glitter leftover from Rowan’s afternoon art project, anxious over a small dinner party I was hosting that night, restless after a blizzardy week cooped up in the house.

But as I walked along the Rock Island trail, my breathing grew deeper. Inhaling draughts of icy air, I navigated the treacherous path slowly, methodically, not racing to burn calories or sculpt thighs, but instead simply walking. Appreciating.

Long, bluish shadows lazed across the dazzling snow. Scarlet berries dangled like ornaments against the sapphire sky. Spears of brittle, golden grass swayed.

Quiet descended as the sun slid. The rhythmic footsteps of a runner approaching behind me mingled with the last bars of How Great Thou Art in my ears.

I was thankful. My soul sang.

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees;
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze;
Then sings my soul,
My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art.
How great Thou art.

Lyrics from How Great Thou Art.

This post is part of an ongoing series on Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts in the series.

I'm so grateful to Emily over at Chatting at the Sky for hosting Tuesdays Unwrapped each week, giving me an opportunity to slow down, open my eyes and appreciate.


Heart on Your Sleeve

This Advent season has me thinking a lot about Jesus, which is a good thing. But in the process I’ve discovered something startling, which is this: Jesus does not feel totally real to me.

I know, it’s shocking to see it written in black and white. And it doesn’t seem a very Adventy thing to admit. But it’s true.

As I read through so many poignant, eloquent posts by my fellow bloggers, it’s obvious to me that a lot of people have what seems to be a more real, heartfelt love for Jesus than I do. They write about love, anticipation and a growing excitement as Advent progresses. Some describe how emotional they are, how overwhelmed and amazed they are by Jesus. And they’re genuine, these bloggers; many are downright fervent. They wear their hearts for Jesus on their sleeves.

All I can think as I read their musings is this: “Why don’t I feel that way?"

Yeah, I like Jesus. I know rationally and concretely that Jesus did amazing things. That he performed miracles, that he sacrificed himself for us. That he died for us. My brain tells me this is true. My Bible tells me this is true. But I know it like I know a well-read story.

The problem is that Jesus seems more like a character in a much-loved, familiar book, and less like a real, live human being-God. Ironically, he’s more like an icon, a caricature -- not a grotesque, goofy caricature, but simply like a cardboard cutout. His story is so familiar, so ingrained, that I can’t get close to it. His story feels distant. Magical, yes. Amazing, yes. But not entirely real. Held at an arm’s length rather than nestled snugly into my heart.

Jesus is someone I can admire, study, think about, ponder, pray to. But love? Love like a person? Love like my own children? Love more than my own children? That kind of love, that selfless, reckless, overwhelming, loving-with-abandon kind of love doesn’t seem attainable.

I feel badly about this realization, terribly guilty that I don’t get all worked up in anticipation of Jesus’ birth and just plain terrible that I don’t feel profound love for Jesus in my heart. What am I doing wrong, I wonder? How am I missing this critical element that everyone else seems to enjoy with abandon? Maybe I’m not reading the Bible enough, or practicing devotionals, or lighting the candles (I admit, I forget sometimes).

Maybe I’m not a true believer.

Except j
ust when I’ve wound myself into a complete panic, I realize the saving grace in all this. The saving grace, of course, is that I experience Jesus -- the living, breathing, real Jesus -- in my fellow human beings, nearly every day.

I can cite countless examples. I saw Jesus in Gary, my next-door-neighbor, who sauntered over to help the kids and me shovel the driveway after the blizzard last week while Brad was out of town. Gary, you should know, is a man with a hearty laugh and few words. After a few scoopfuls of snow, I said to him as we stood in the whipping wind, “Hey, you know, you don’t have to do this, Gary; I really appreciate it, but really, you don’t need to do this.” And he responded simply, “I know,” and kept right on shoveling.

I see Jesus in my children every day, in Noah’s generosity; in how Rowan embraces life with gusto. And I see Jesus in my husband, when he makes my coffee every morning (he doesn’t even drink coffee himself!) or gives me a “dish rub” – a shoulder massage as I stand hunched over the sink washing the dinner dishes.

Maybe this is what my fellow bloggers mean. Perhaps their love for Jesus is reflected and felt in their love for others.

What do you think? Is your heart bursting with love for Jesus? And if so, how in the world did you get there?



Last week we received a lovely Christmas card from one of Brad's colleagues, the poet Roy Scheele. It was a simple, handmade greeting containing a poem that took my breath away. The verses are especially suited for this season, and the poem spoke to me personally as I travel this journey of giving presence during Advent.

As we weathered this blizzarding, homebound week, with the kids home from school three days in a row (and thus me home from work as well), we slowed our pace and rhythms to match the cadence of this poem. The boys and I spent a lot of time gazing out the French doors into the backyard, laughing as the tiny chickadee squawked the giantess blue jay away from the feeder; mesmerized by the cardinal couple, the male resplendent in Christmas red, the female fluffing her mellow brown plumes.

The snow fell, drifts rolling like ocean swells across the yard. It was a rare, quiet time. We breathed it in and relaxed into a new rhythm, for a moment.

Some birds have left their tracks here in the snow.

They look like runes or hieroglyphs somehow,
a wry pronouncement that they had to go.
But our attention's trained on advent now,
comings, not goings.
                                 Come, birds, take a bow,

belt out your brimful tunes against the cold,
fling grains of song like pebbles from your craw,
spin out a run of notes like storied gold.
You are a means by which we may take hold
of faith again. Junco, wren, or sparrow,
return to us in this abandoned scene,
reclaim your presence on unprinted snow,
renew our hearts, till like a wreath of greens
grown flush with berries, they may softly glow.

Copyright 2009 by Roy Scheele

This post is part of a series on Giving Presence during Advent. Click here to read other posts in the series.


Through a Glass, Darkly

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Beth over at I Should Be Folding Laundry challenged us to Capture lines this week in photos -- a challenge indeed, especially considering most of my week has been spent indoors during a Nebraska blizzard! I focused on window panes, and Brad was kind enough to suggest the verse from Corinthians, which I thought was more than fitting.



Fully Present, Fully Alive

My kids frequently lament that I’m not fun. “Papa plays big games and Daddy tells stories,” they point out. “How come you’re not fun like them?”

Usually I respond indignantly: “Well, guys, I hate to break it to you, but Mommy has a lot of responsibilities – cooking, cleaning, laundry, emptying the dishwasher, picking Daddy’s dirty clothes off the bathroom floor. Someone’s gotta get this stuff done you know. These chores sure don’t get done by themselves.”

But today Luke reminds me that my priorities are often unbalanced. The verses in Luke 10 (38-42), it seems, were written explicitly for me.

When Mary and Martha welcome Jesus into their home, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and soaks up his presence, while Martha runs around like a maniac, undoubtedly whipping up appetizers, serving cocktails and ensuring that every detail is perfect for the guest of honor.

Later when Martha complains to Jesus that she’s had to do all the work herself, he answers, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but just one is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (10:41-42).

And the same could be said for me.

I am Martha. I moan and groan, harrumph and complain. Busy myself with a zillion tasks that “have to get done, right this minute.” But while I’m doing all that, zipping about the house like the Tasmanian Devil (with the disposition to match), I’m missing the one big thing: loving and caring for my family as Jesus intends. Spending fun, quality time with my kids, enjoying them before they are suddenly slouching teenagers unwilling to make eye contact.

So this Advent season I’m learning a lesson from Martha. Jesus clearly valued presence over preparation, and I’m trying to do the same. I’m focusing a little less on the hustle-bustle, and a little more on soaking in the joy of Christmas with my children.

I’m making peppermint candy cane cookies with them (you should have seen the kitchen this past Sunday!) – the same recipe I used to make with my best friend Andrea when we were kids.

I’m motoring through neighborhoods at 15 mph, ooohing and ahhhing over Christmas lights.

I’m snuggling on the couch, watching Santa Buddies (quite possibly the worst movie in history, but Rowan adores it).

Sure, the mantle is a little dustier, the laundry pile a little higher, but as Jesus advised, I am choosing what is better.

This post is part of an ongoing series entitled Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read other posts in the series.

I'm also posting as part of Ann Voskamp's Walk with Him Wednesday over at Holy Experience. This week's theme is Christmas: How We Celebrate.

holy experience


Folding and Stamping

Last week Rowan helped me with our 116 holiday newsletters and cards. For those of you who know me well, it will come as no surprise that this “helping” required a tremendous act of self-control on my part.

Rowan’s job was to fold the newsletter. I demonstrated four times: fold paper in half, fold in half again. “Get it?” I asked him, when the demo had concluded.

Oh yeah, he got it all right.

Turns out, Rowan had a markedly different folding approach. Rowan preferred to fold my letters in a more elaborate accordion-style format. I watched as he flattened the paper on the floor and then folded and folded and folded and folded the newsletter, using all 36 pounds of his little body to make the deepest possible creases. First he used his knee, gliding it back and forth over each fold. Then he resorted to his forehead, bending at an angle only a child can muster and sliding his forehead over each accordion fold.

“Ta da!!” he exclaimed, handing me a newsletter folded into a two-inch strip. I took it from his outstretched hand, the paper unfurling into a makeshift fan.

Believe me, it went against every fiber of my Triple Type A being to encourage Rowan to participate. After all, I am neat; I am orderly; I fold with absolute precision. Messily folded letters, all crooked and cockamamie, wrinkled and off-kilter, give me night sweats.

And then came the stamping. Again, I carefully demonstrated the proper positioning of the stamp on the envelope. And then Rowan, head dipped towards his chest, brow furrowed in concentration, went to work. And yes, I was forced to peel and re-stick – some with scotch tape – the stamps in their proper place on nearly a dozen letters. And I believe the postmaster may think the person applying the stamps on this batch of letters surely suffers from a grave balance disorder.

 The folding and stamping took approximately twice as long with Rowan’s help as it would have had I done it myself.

But doing it myself would have missed the point entirely.

As would have precisely folded Christmas letters and perfectly straight stamps.

Because the point, after all, was a little boy excited and eager to help. A little boy overjoyed to participate in a mundane chore, a task I considered a burden. A little boy bursting with pride at a simple but important accomplishment.

But just so you’re not tempted to think I’ve turned over an entirely new leaf, I did scratch a disclaimer on the bottom of the most seriously wrinkled letters. Note: letter folded by Rowan.

This post is part of the series entitled Advent: Giving Presence. Click here to read more posts in the series.

I'm also posting this story of a simple but joyful moment as part of Tuesdays Unwrapped over at Chatting at the Sky. Take a look over there...you'll be glad you did.

All material and photographs copyrighted Michelle DeRusha 2012

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