December 30, 2010

His Flame Still Burns Bright

The Advent altar has been disassembled. Four candles burned to nubs, thrown away. Yet the bright white one still stands tall. I couldn't bear to put it in storage. It deserves new life, as the One it represents has given us.

I pull out a white linen cloth once handed down from my husband's grandmother. I reminisce about the strong foundation she laid for my man, and how she loved the Gospel of Luke. The white cake stand has been turned upside down, and I can't help but think of how His life has turned my own topsy-turvy.  I scrounge to find white candles left over from last year's Advent wreath, placing them in silver candlesticks gifted to us on the day we began our new life together.  I steal the votives from the nativities set up around the house. No one waits in the manger, for the Child has already come.

The tableaux is complete.

In these quiet winter evenings, His light will burn bright as we gather for dinner and feast on the Word. As we read through the Gospels until Easter, we will light the candle representing His life. We will remember how we anticipated His birth as we wonder at His life. Then we will fix our gaze toward Calvary, to be humbled all over again at His death and to marvel anew at His resurrection.

Yes, Christmas Day is done, but the Christmas Child still reigns.

(*Still Unwrapping Jesus @ Faith Barista)

December 29, 2010

2011 - A Year of Giving

It is our shame & disgrace today that so many Christians...go through this world in the spirit of the priest and the Levite in our Lord's parable, seeing human needs all around them, but (after a pious wish, and perhaps a prayer, that God might meet them) averting their eyes, and passing by on the other side. That is not the Christmas spirit. Nor it is the spirit of those Christians - alas, they are many - whose ambition in life seems limited to building a nice middle-class Christian home, and making nice middle-class Christian friends, and bringing up their children in nice middle-class Christian ways, and who leave the sub-middle-class sections of the community, Christian and non-Christian, to get on by themselves.

The words slice my heart deep and I catch my breath. I wriggle in my seat, squirm at the conviction. Seeing yourself in words is uncomfortable sometimes.

The pain of realization is fresh. I know what I must do. No excuses, no rationalizations.

I'm setting aside the theme I had planned for next year.  A new one calls urgently, unrelentingly.

2011 will be A Year of Giving.

Each month, my family will consciously seek to share Jesus in practical, life-changing ways. We will look for opportunities to give of our time, money, and talents.

Even though our income has been drastically reduced.

Even though our spare time is in short supply.

Even though we don't overflow with talent.

The goal is at least one project a month, but I am praying that we will be stretched to give more, to love more. That we can help change lives but, more importantly, that our lives will be changed. That we will be more aware of our blessings. That we will come to this time next year with a deep appreciation for what we have been given, and a burning desire to continue giving to others. That giving will become second nature, a way of living.

This theme is different from the others. It's shifting our perspective from what we can gain to what we can give.

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.
- Luke 12:48 (ESV)

Will you join us in A Year of Giving? Pray that the Lord will open your eyes to new opportunities to give and share the love of Christ with others.  In God's kingdom, the heart of the giver matters more than the size of the gift.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."
- Luke 21:1-4 (ESV)

holy experience


December 28, 2010

When Christmas Isn't a Letdown

Reading the Christmas story.

Unwrapping presents.

Breakfast and laughter with dear friends. Toddler squeals and little boy hugs.

An afternoon cuddled under quilts, the love poured into each hand stitch warming us through.

A quiet, candlelight dinner and the final Advent reading.

Christmas carols played by hesitant fingers reaching for the right keys and stumbling over a few notes. Voices raised in praise anyway. Joy to the World!

Soft white flakes falling to the ground, bringing an answer to the prayer I've whispered every year since childhood. Finally, a white Christmas.

And for the first time in so many years I've lost count, there was no This is it? or I can't believe it's over stirring in my heart. I wasn't tempted to think about the hours I'd spent working, only to see the fruit of my labors consumed within mere minutes.

A short gift list saved me from hours of shopping.

A short grocery list saved me from hours of baking.

A short activity list saved me from hours away from home and family.

Instead of preparing for the holiday, preparing for His coming. Not anticipating a perfect Christmas, but a perfect Christ. Longing more to light that final candle than to unwrap any gift under the tree.

When the expectation of Christmas is Christ Himself, there are no disappointments and no letdowns. 

There is no guilt for not finding the perfect gift, because we know it's already been given and there's no way to top it.

There is no shame in not filling the kitchen with food that spoils, because we know the Bread of Life sustains us.

There is no remorse in skipping parties and productions, because we know a lowly manger hosted the greatest celebration the world has ever known.

There is only joy because even though Christmas Day is done, we know the Christmas Child still reigns.

December 22, 2010

Book Review: The Clouds Roll Away

It's been forever since I've participated in a blog tour or posted a book review.  My reading habits have definitely changed in the past few months, with R in college.  But I couldn't pass up the opportunity to read The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello. I'm so glad I didn't.

The Clouds Roll Away is the latest installment in the Raleigh Harmon series.  I met Raleigh in The Stones Cry Out, and I just adore the forensic geologist turned FBI agent (is that a cool job or what?).  Raleigh is perfectly imperfect. She's good at her job, even though she bends the rules. Back in Virginia after a disciplinary transfer, Raleigh finds herself trying to solve a series of hate crimes targeting famous rapper RPM. Her investigation takes Raleigh to a crack house, a prison, and the home of a known member of the Klu Klux Klan. As if that weren't enough, Raleigh finds herself dealing with her mother's increasing mental issues, her tenant's increasing distant and strange behavior, and her ex-boyfriend's increasing attentions.

If you enjoy a fast-paced, riveting read, do yourself a favor and check out The Clouds Roll Away.  You'll thank me for it. (You can buy the book here)

To find out more about author Sibella Giorello and the entire series, visit her website.  Check out the blog tour and see what others are saying here.

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Clouds Roll Away by giving away a KINDLE prize pack worth over $150.00!

One Grand Prize winner will receive:
  • Latest Generation KINDLE with Wi-Fi
  • $25 gift certificate to
To enter simply click on one of the icons below! Then tell your friends! Winner will be announced January 3, 2011 on Sibella's blog:

About The Clouds Roll Away - "Beautifully written with exquisite descriptions, Giorello's mystery also features well-developed characters..."
—Booklist, starred review

December 20, 2010

The Advent Altar - Part IV

(Read why we have an Advent altar here. This is the final post in a series on how we put our altar together. You can also read Part I, Part II, & Part III.)

The Family completes our Advent Altar. Joseph, man of honor and strength, who agreed to raise a child not of his flesh. Mary, girl of faith and deep thoughts, who subjected her reputation and her life to God's plan. And Jesus, the baby who created the couple who would raise him from infancy. God bound by flesh and time. A miracle our human minds will never fully understand.

The other nativities around our home are complete with shepherds and wisemen, stable animals and angels. This one alone is the family of three, sitting quietly on the altar where our family of three gathers each evening to prepare our hearts for the Coming One.

May you be filled with Hope this Christmas, as you prepare for His coming.

Because of Jesus,

December 15, 2010

Eyes Wide Open

Christmas is tougher this year.

Not because there are fewer presents. There are still plenty.

Not because there are fewer decorations. The ones scattered among our home are the most meaningful.

Not because I didn't send Christmas cards. I stopped doing that years ago.

And not because the calendar is too full. Although, honestly, it's more full than I would like and I'm already committing that next year will be different.

Christmas is tougher because I've been reading about Katie's work in Uganda, watching Eric's video about our Depraved Indifference, thumbing through the Samaritan's Purse catalog, and thinking about all the Compassion children who need sponsors.  Feed the World comes on the radio, and I listen intently to the words -think of the children they're about - instead of trying to remember which popular singers took part in the Band Aid project.

I want to reach out to them.  Give until it hurts.  But my little drop in the bucket is just that. The truth is, no matter what I give, someone will still be hungry.  Someone will still be homeless. Someone will die from a curable disease or lack of clean water. Someone will still need Christ.

The need is overwhelming to me.  At times it crushes my chest so that I can barely breathe.  Tears well up and rain down my cheeks.  I don't understand.

Why them?

Why me?

Why do I get to sit on my sofa and look at these images through the veil of a laptop screen? 

Why do I get to put them out of sight and move on to the next thing? 

Why did you open my eyes to this hurt, Lord? 

And then I realize that, painful as it is, I do not want to go back. After the nativities are nestled safely in storage containers and the Christmas tree is boxed up for another year, I do not want to return to the world of comfortable oblivion. I want to keep walking toward my Savior, loving others as He instructs me to love them. To give from the ridiculous abundance I have been given.

The message of Christmas doesn't belong packed away with the decorations.  It must be lived out every day of the year.

I ponder what that means for my family, pray for guidance and wisdom.  Will you join me?

holy experience

December 14, 2010

The Advent Altar - Part III

(Read why we have an Advent altar here. This is the 3rd post in a series on how we put our altar together. You can also read Part I & Part II)

We continue to prepare for His arrival. Each night after we read, we count.  Down, not up. It increases the anticipation.  The numbers wait, nestled alongside tacks that bring to mind the nails used to pierce His skin. The stack gets shorter each night.  We are filled with eagerness to get to the card that proclaims, "He is Born!"

Already I know next year will look different. Behind each number is a picture from Ann's Jesse Tree Devotional.  Next December, we will line all the numbers on the board and turn them over each day as we read the devotions. But this year, as we learn to find Him in our traditions, the numbers are enough.

They point to the promise. Not of the night a man in a red suit comes down the chimney, but of the night God, wrapped in human flesh, came down to earth.

This Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity - hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory - because at the Father's will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.
-J.I. Packer, Knowing God excerpted in

December 10, 2010

Christmas in the Middle

Ann wrote of being pregnant with Christmas, of being stretched to the limit by God.  I nod as I read.  Today, I understand.

Today feels like I am stretched further than I've been since we started on this journey. I imagine Mary great with child and riding on a donkey, its every move jarring her teeth and sending shockwaves of pain up her back. The end is near.  Soon her son will arrive. The pain of being mother to the Savior, unknown to her. She can only think of bringing forth the child, giving her body relief.  Joseph feels it, too. They are weary.

I am weary.

Just a few hours away from the end of my man's first semester back in college. I am so full with the expectation of it that I could burst. We don't know what next semester will bring, but today I am ready to put these hard months behind us.  To take a break.  To be a normal family again, if only for a few weeks.

Sometimes the path God puts us on isn't easy. I've learned that over and over again these past 13 months. Mary and Joseph had a difficult and long journey to Bethlehem. It didn't seem logical. Could Joseph have claimed extenuating circumstances, pleaded to stay at home until the baby was born? Yet they went in obedience, on a journey that took who knows how long. Bethlehem must have been a welcome sight.

I tell myself that we, too, are giving birth. Not to a child, but to a new life. Like Mary, I am eager to leave the road and settle in. This last day, these last exams, will soon be behind us. I look at how far we've come since last Christmas. I dream of next Christmas, when, Lord willing, my man will be graduating. Yet we are here, at this Christmas in the middle. It's not comfortable, but even though I am worn with exhaustion, I wouldn't chose to be anywhere but here.

December 8, 2010

The Advent Altar - Part II

(Read why we have an Advent altar here.  This is the 2nd post in a series on how we put our altar together. Part I can be found here

Before lighting the candle in our wreath each night, we read from the Word and from our Advent resource. This year we're learning to look for Jesus in The Adventure of Christmas: Helping Children Find Jesus in Our Holiday Traditions. We are able to see Him everywhere.

In the Christmas tree, standing tall to point to Heaven, arms outstretched like His were on the day He was crucified.

In the lights that mimic starlight falling on trees.  Heavenly winks from our Creator.

In the ornaments, the fruit of the tree in the garden.  The one that tempted Eve and ushered sin into the world.  The one that represents our need for Christ.

This is why we celebrate Him.

The enemy has tried to capture these holy items, to desecrate them.  He's tried to hide Jesus. We have let him.  When we participate in Christmas traditions without seeking their true meaning, without searching out Christ, we are no different than those who want to keep Him hidden. When we share in the worldly holiday, we miss Christmas. 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
- Luke 2:13-14 (ESV)

May we proclaim His glory in each of our traditions this Advent season.

holy experience

December 7, 2010

The Advent Altar - Part I

If you're here from (in)courage, greetings! Welcome to my humble corner of the web. Feel free to pour a cup of coffee, kick off your shoes, and browse around.  If you're a regular visitor, you can also visit me over here today.

How do you build an altar for a set apart season?

First, the wreath itself.

Nothing fancy, just an evergreen wreath with some plastic berries and silver ribbon.  Our candles aren't the traditional Advent colors.  The composition itself isn't what matters.  It's the soothing ritual, the hushed voices as we gather around the light, waiting for the Light.

In a season that the enemy tries to overcome with busyness and chaos, we take time to be intentional. To quiet our souls.  To remind ourselves what we're about to celebrate.

We must both read and meditate upon the nativity.  If the meditation does not reach the heart, we shall sense no sweetness, nor shall we know what solace for humankind lies in this contemplation.  The heart will not laugh nor be merry.  As spray does not touch the deep, so mere meditation will not quiet the heart.  There is such richness and goodness in this nativity that if we should see and deeply understand, we should be dissolved in perpetual joy. - Martin Luther, excerpted from Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas (emphasis mine)

December 2, 2010

Finding What Matters in Christmas

Even with its candle glowing, the Advent altar looked bare. A new Nativity scene, perhaps? After all, what's Christmas without the baby?

I looked in several stores, finding nothing that fit. Then I remembered my girl's childhood set, given by a friend. It would be just right there.

Can we move it to the altar?

But it's mine. I want it in my room.

And how can a mother argue with that?

I remembered a set in the attic, a small one I don't use anymore. I offered that to her. Once again, I was content to offer my leftovers to this sweet child.  She reluctantly agreed.

When I went to find it, I found another I'd forgotten about. It fit perfectly.

I'm ashamed that I had casually tossed the Holy Family in with other Christmas decorations I no longer use...and there are many. I've tried numerous ways to deck our halls over the years, wanting to find the perfect combination befitting a magazine cover. I ran myself ragged, only to find that shiny baubles and figurines left me empty. Their shouts of look at me!, much too loud, drowned out the quiet of the manger.

This season is different.

Yes, there are still a few shiny baubles tucked among a small number of Santa Clauses from my youth.  There are sappy holiday movies. There will be Christmas cookies, parties, and gifts.

But in the hushed glow of the Christmas tree

I gaze at the past - treasured decorations from my own childhood that bring to mind Christmases gone by.

I see the fiery love that has spanned nearly two decades - beautiful ornaments and trinkets given by my love.

I hear the quiet of the Heavenly hosts holding their breath in anticipation of God becoming man.

I feel the lump in my throat, as I swallow hard & resolve to no longer mar Christmas with my own self-indulgence.

I hear the beat of my own heart as I prepare Him room and wait expectantly for His arrival.