At Granny's House, the first Sunday of Advent means getting out the advent wreath, finding the appropriate candles, locating our current advent book, and setting aside time as a family (including any visitors still sharing leftover turkey with us) to sing, read, and pray together each night.
We live in a challenging household where, I am sorry to say, family devotions are more sporadic than I would like them to be. But Advent is the happy exception....at this time of year the nightly gathering, complete with lighting of the candles and singing of carols, is almost as regular as the setting sun. It's a time that honors our Savior and makes memories for our children and grandchildren.
I grew up in a tradition that pretty much ignored Advent along with the rest of the traditional Christian church calendar. It was all-too-close-to-Catholic for the comfort of evangelicals, and so our churches very spiritually replaced a four-week commemoration of Christ's coming with cookie exchanges and parties where someone's dad dressed up in a Santa suit and passed out candy and Dollar Store trinkets. Hmmmmm.....
So I'm thrilled to be part of a corner of American Protestantism that is not afraid to join with Christians throughout the world and through the ages in remembering the coming of Christ for more than just two or three frenzied days. I want my children and grandchildren to know the slow, purposeful, anticipatory joy of nightly worship in our home, punctuated by the coordinating observance in our Sunday service each week. Christmas, then, becomes another way that our families are knit together with each other and with a long line of Believers who have received the greatest Gift.
For the past few years, we've used the advent resources authored by Arnold Ytreeide for our nightly devotions. He has written a trilogy of short novels divided into chapters which correlate with the number of nights in Advent. They tell exciting stories set in the time around the birth of Christ and build each night toward a stirring Christmas Eve conclusion, and they illustrate concepts that we want to emphasize during our month-long observance. Parts of the stories maybe pretty intense for the tiniest children, but we've found that they are enjoyed and appreciated by most everyone, even the oldest among us (read: Grannies).
If you think you'd like to incorporate these books into your family's celebration, here are some links to the books of the trilogy:
Jotham's Journey: A Storybook for Advent
Bartholomew's Passage: A Family Story for Advent
Tabitha's Travels: A Family Story for Advent
We're looking forward to the weeks of reading, praying, and singing about Christmas with our children and grandchildren. I hope that however you choose to observe these weeks, they will be full of meaning and memories for all of you....
It's Cranberry Day! At Granny's House, always on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the children gather to listen to our annual reading of the classic children's book Cranberry Thanksgiving by Wende and Harry Devlin. And the best part is that the kids get to make and bake the "secret" Cranberry Bread recipe from the story. Aubrey, my oldest daughter and the mother of six of my grandchildren, heads this up....and figures out a way to include every child present in some part of the mixing and baking. Then, the fragrant, delicious bread becomes Wednesday morning's breakfast! You know...Wednesday, the heaviest cooking day of the year when even the most conscientious mommies serve their children Pop-Tarts for breakfast? Well this is a wonderful and festive alternative to something out of a box and we wouldn't think of doing it any other way! The first smells of the holidays greeted us today :-)
UPDATE: Cranberry Bread gone. A very nice snack for the mommies and Granny while on our feet for hours on end making yummy stuff for Thanksgiving Dinner. Thank you, kids!
I'm sure I should feel quite blessed that in thirty-one years of parenting (yes, Aubrey, I know that you're not 31 yet, but we're under a month (-: ), John and I have been spared the agony of seeing one of our children go through a long, chronic illness with no clear answers or prognosis. And though gratitude is one of the hallmarks of my life, perhaps you'll forgive me if that part of me isn't at the forefront this month. Ironic that in this week of Thanksgiving, I am having such a hard time giving thanks. . .
To those of you have spent weeks, months, maybe years waiting for answers, digging for clues, watching your precious child suffer. . .I'm coming to understand your agony. No, as far as we know this is not a life-and-death struggle. But it's a life-and-life struggle, a battle for a return of the hopes and dreams of an 18 year old young woman who had just taken the first steps of independence and has been stopped cold because of near-paralyzing pain. For a mother and father, it brings an agonizing pain all its own. But instead of being paralyzing, it tends to become mobilizing, creating an obsession with getting help and finding answers. Not that it doesn't create moments of paralysis. There are times when I feel like we're all walking through molasses and that I can't take another step. But step we do, one foot in front of the other, knowing that we won't, we can't stop as long as there's a single stone left unturned.
Why I write this here I don't know. My desire is for this "House" to be a place to come and receive encouragement, and tonight I don't have much to say that sounds encouraging. But just in case you're in a similar place, maybe just knowing you're not alone will give you a measure of comfort. If you're a much "newer" parent than I am, maybe it will help to know that I'm not any "better" at this than you are. . .that all the experience and all the years don't matter a bit when your child needs help you can't provide. You and I rely on the same Father, the same Great Physician, the same Comforter for every step, for every breath, no matter how far down the mothering road we've come.
And just writing that has made me feel better. As has looking at the above picture of CJ's smiling face in better days. . .
We have several friends in various stages of crisis right now. Our hearts break with word of failing health, ending marriages, mental illness...and our family huddles and asks ourselves and each other, "What can we do?" The holidays are approaching and we look at our calendars and scour for every opportunity to be ministers of healing and comfort to the displaced, lonely, and hurting in the Body of Christ. But whether a meal to a family with a new baby or taking in a displaced family or counseling a hurting friend or shuttling to doctor visits--helping takes time. In today's world, time is like a paycheck: too many of us have it spent before it's deposited, and last minute changes can be disorienting.
I bring this up because as I review my carefully laid plans for our school year, I admit that we are falling behind. I scolded a friend recently for saying this very thing (yes, you know who you are :-) )...I told her that in homeschooling there is no such thing as "behind" unless your child loses his book on purpose! But my compulsive personality, while being brought under control in some areas such as housework, still needs some work in this area. Once it's written down it becomes obligatory, and though I'm perfectly willing to set aside a day's or a week's work for something unforeseen, the problem comes when I go back and look at what didn't get done and try to put the burden on my kids to "catch up". I've done this in a variety of ways over the past two decades, and though I've become much more flexible over the years I can still benefit from some loosening up.
You'd think, of course, after graduating four lovely, articulate, well-educated and well-rounded young women who were homeschooled during years of my problem pregnancies, a dozen major moves, caring for invalid parents, Dad's deployment to war zones, and all sorts of other upheavals, I'd sit back and trust God to cover all these interruptions with His grace and His provisions. And most of the time, I do. But I continue to have to work at the best ways to be a family who stays available and ready to serve and minister without making my children feel the burden of making sure all the other squares get filled. You know, I firmly believe that this is one of the most crucial parts of my children's education, much more important in light of eternity than quadratic equations or the Peloponnesian Wars or punctuating introductory dependent clauses. If my children leave my home with a love for, no, a real thirst for ministry, and with the tools and the drive to structure their lives in ways that proclaim and give feet to that love, then I believe I will have been a successful educator as well as mother.
So...when you're called on to set aside your lesson plans or your to-do list because you need to be God's hands and feet in the life of someone who needs you, don't be surprised if you struggle with how to "get it all done." The struggle is part of the value. Let your kids watch you struggle with this. Don't make it seem too easy. Let them know that service involves sacrifice. Let them work with you to think of ways to spread that sacrifice among you so that no one's burden is unbearable. "Bearing one another's burdens" doesn't just mean the burdens of the "helped." It also means the burdens that come to the helpers from the helping. But bearing those burdens builds muscle in our children, the kind of muscle that strengthens and builds the Body of Christ. May we never avoid an opportunity to be part of the building for the sake of checking the last thing off the "list".