How Do You Prepare Him Room?

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I’m feeling the stress of Advent creep into my bones.

This weekend we had our big Christmas at the Cabin weekend with my side of the family and friends. Such a good time. So full of wonderful Christmas memories for the children. So good to visit and not have a baby attached to me that I need constant supervision over. Christmas carols, food, late conversations into the night, Nerts games by day. All is well. We come home and unpack in a reasonable time and fix a light dinner then realize the Christmas Encounters church program is in less than half an hour. Little girls need to be in dresses, hair needs brushed, boy needs jeans, kids need shoes and winter coats.

We’re almost there. No time to redo my messy braid but I do manage to throw on a red Christmasy-ish shirt and ribbon. Girls are beautiful with a special strand each of mom’s pearls. Dad says all are ready and we rush toward the van. Then I realize that boy is still not in jeans. He is in van with coat and shoes but also pj pants covered in food from the past two days. I rush him back inside as he whines that he has no jeans. I yell. I am not pleasant. We hurry into jeans that I find for him and rush back to car.

Still on time, I think. We pull into parking lot and I realize, with a pit in my stomach, that my camera is sitting on boy’s bed back home. I’m feeling really frustrated. I wanted a picture of their song. I wanted a picture of the girls in front of the Church Christmas tree looking beautiful. I wanted this Christmas memory captured. I seek out hubby to take over kids and run back home. I hear an emphatic NO and I know he’s right, but I feel panicky. We rush in to find seats in the crowded auditorium.

We sing. The opening song is beautiful. Mary Did You Know. This was the song my mother requested we learn this Christmas. My kids know the words and are excited to hear it. It is a beautiful accapella rendition except one of the main singer’s microphones aren’t on and you can barely hear him compared to the sound of the others on stage and I see the worship leader straining a smile as he keeps singing and pretends it’s not happening and I know he has a pit in his stomach too because this isn’t how the night was suppose to go.

I start to slow and say a quick pray for God to change my heart. What I want to do is tell my boy that it was his fault that my camera is not here to capture this moment. What I do instead is bite my tongue and hug him him and rub his back during the song. My heart is pierced with how broken I am. I am so glad I did not let ugly sin words stain this night and break my boy’s spirit.

Soon my littlest girl is squirming in my lap and making noises that are disruptive. I realize that with her I wouldn’t have been able to hold a camera and take pictures anyway. I remover her after hearing the kids sing and we traverse to the bathroom and then hang out in the foyer. I meet another large family mother with two littles crawling around her and we commiserate together. I tell her my story and she tells me hers. She didn’t want to come but her son really wanted to go. She capitulated at the last moment and dropped everything, very literally, with her mixer still sitting in potatoes and milk and no supper in anyone’s belly except for a rushed grabbed cookie. She realized that if she was going to make the decision to go it had to be now regardless of circumstances. And here she was in the middle of that act of love sitting on the floor in the foyer with littles that wouldn’t sit still and be quiet missing the whole thing.

I returned to my seat for the last two songs thinking about this woman and her story while singing the chorus of O Come Let Us Adore Him. The last song was a raucous rendition of Joy to the World. As I was swaying the baby and enjoying the music a line jumped out at me.

Let every heart prepare Him room…”

How do we even do that? Prepare Him room? What does that even mean?

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I think of our tradition of keeping Advent. Of meeting nightly and reading scripture and singing songs to remember. Surely this is good. Surely this is what that means. Or so I have always thought. Yet every Advent season I walk away feeling slightly still empty. Sure there were good memories, beautiful pictures. Yet there is always something that I can’t put my finger on that seems missing or off kilter. I always thought of Advent as a time to draw nearer to the Lord. And I always chalked up my not feeling nearer due to this season of life with littles. Surely one day when everyone was bigger and could sit still and not fidget, when everyone really got what Christmas was about, surely then Advent would fill up my soul and satisfy that yearly holiday longing.

But as I listen to Joy to the World and think of that line again I begin to wonder if my thinking is what’s off kilter.

Let every heart prepare Him room…”

I think of Mary in that dirty stable. I think of her in real pain from labor. I think of the messiness of birth with no sanitary hospital staff to whisk it away. I think of being up all night with a crying, fussy child who won’t latch on properly. I think of being bone-tired and no matter what not abdicating responsibilities. I think of raising a toddler who won’t sit still while wise men come in a formal display of gifts. I think of the frustration of how this ceremony feels less than ceremonial with a toddler’s antics. Did Jesus hide shy-like behind his mother’s skirt or did he interrupt wise speakers by poking at the fancy feather on the turban?

Mary was in no different season of life than I. She knew this was the Holy Child. The Savior. Did she so very often ask her Father above why this experience didn’t feel very “holy” at all? Or did she understand in a way that we too often don’t that He chose this vehicle of human experience exactly because it’s not holy. Because in our brokenness He meets us.

Maybe preparing for Him is recognizing those moments when life interrupts and instead of trying to fix it we allow Him in during that very unholy moment in order to sanctify us. Maybe we need to stop waiting for a feeling to show up and instead focus on moving over a little in our hearts. We make room in our own brokenness to prepare room for Him to show up. Is it as simple as that?

So I’m going to hop off this mom guilt-train of not “feeling” spiritual enough and just prepare Him room by allowing Him into my mess this Christmas. Won’t you join me?

Prepare Him Room

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The Silent Advent

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Advent and Christmas time is notorious for being filled with busyness. We are all subject to it and it is hard to escape even if we wanted to.

The malls are decorated and ready and waiting for shoppers not even a day after Halloween. We skip right over Thanksgiving and learning to be content and rush right into a season of the gimmies.

Pinterest abounds with ideas, ideas and more ideas. Delectable ideas, to be sure, but so many that we are either paralyzed into doing nothing or we try to be super moms and take extra lengths to crowd into every day an activity that will spark creativity, grow the minds of our child, inspire character growth, bring home the “reason for the season”. We advent our kids to death in the hope that this year our child will get it and not be duped by this Santa fella.

And when we are not using Pinterest for this, we use it to wow those around us. Surely our neighbors will be envious over our lights, our tree, our decor, our china, our food, our community gift-giving efforts. We do this all in the name of family and Christ. We are sure that this year we did Advent right. This is the year we will wake up December 26th full of soul satisfaction at a job well done.

But I know us. I know me. And we won’t. Ever.

Not unless we slow down. Not unless we stop doing. Not unless we allow God to pull us into forced silent retreat.

This was my Advent this year. My lights still aren’t all the way up. Parts of my home do look beautiful but among that is the mess of moving rooms around, school not put up for vacation, and boxes of Christmas decor still sitting in my living room that I walk past daily completely in denial and convinced that the last few things will get put up even if tomorrow is already Christmas Eve. My advent calendar never got put up. I did not get to do the Christmas Story Advent countdown. We didn’t do the Jesse Tree. We barely made it most nights to carols and quiet advent time as a family. There was no special activity for each day. No marathon of special Christmas cookie baking to hand out to neighbors or take to family gatherings. We missed the hometown Christmas-y stuff. We missed sitting on Santa’s lap or making Christmas lists or writing letters to the North Pole. Our Netflix box sits full of Christmas movies that we haven’t watched.

But it’s okay. At least that is what He is whispering to me. God chose to equip me with something more beautiful this year. A forced silent retreat. {I sense a reoccurring theme here.} And I panicked at first. I wanted to be a part of all those special Christmas events. I wanted my children to carry those memories. Instead I was graced with being forced to socially retreat. And during it I was blessed to have found this Advent book to read during this time of silent night, holy night. The only Advent devotional book available for me to check out at the library. God’s Advent gift to me.

Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent.

And daily (mostly) I read and wept and prayed. The focus was not on Mary or Joseph or baby Jesus but instead on Elizabeth and Zachariah and their forced silent retreat. God needed them both to stop, listen, prepare and to do this they were taken out of the busyness of life. Okara’s take on how God used them is beautifully, breathtakingly simple. Every day I took something very powerful away to ponder. And while I encourage you to pin this book to your Advent board to remember for next year, I’d like to leave you absorbing a few of it’s treasured nuggets for yourself this Christmas week.

Part One – Surprised and Silenced By God

Traditionally when we think of Advent we immediately call to mind Mary, Joseph, and the angel Gabriel. But in the Gospel of Luke, Zechariah and Elizabeth are the first two people we meet in the Advent narrative. Much as John the Baptist was the forerunner to Christ, his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth seem to be the forerunners for the holy family. The angel Gabriel comes to them first to astound them with good news. Yet, Zechariah and Elizabeth teach us that receiving divine good news can be fraught with all kinds of tensions and questions. It is an understatement to say that Zechariah and Elizabeth are caught by surprise. Their shock dumbs them into silence and seclusion, affording them time to dwell with the news.”

Lamentations 3:26

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.”

Lamentations 3:28

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him.”

Day 2 – Lament

In America, we live in a pain-avoidance culture that rarely sees any meaningful significance in sitting with discomfort. When something feels bad, society and corporations have conditioned us to self-medicate with media, food, or shopping. It may take discipline and practice to learn to appreciate the importance of lament for our soul’s and our community’s health”

Day 10 – Silence

What if the silence God bestowed on Zechariah was not fully punishment but also an odd blessing. What if God was offering Zechariah nine months to sit with the news, to ponder God’s words, and to process the stupefied awe in which he surely found himself. What if the time of formal silence was God granting Zechariah the gift of some necessary internal solitude in preparation to receive the miracle and to dwell in God’s faithfulness…”

Day 12 – Divine Preparation

Most of us would consider a silent retreat an unreasonable way to spend our time when our to-do lists seem unending. But carving out space for contemplation and solitude can invite God to speak into our lives and offer us an opportunity for us to sleep in the depth of what God is already doing and saying. Elizabeth has five uninterrupted months of quiet solitude to take in the reality of her growing miracle. Not even her husband’s voice can intrude on this time of reflection. Both Elizabeth and Zechariah are forced into holy retreat to dwell on what God is doing in their lives.”

Day 13 – Holy Retreat

The more we inhabit silence, the better our hearing becomes. When we step back into the noise of our world, our hearing is a bit more fine-tuned and more likely to hear God’s whispers.”

Psalm 37:7

Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him…”

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As you sit with these words of encouragement and wisdom, I urge you to revisit Luke 1:5 – 2:40 and sit with the Christmas Story for a while. Allow it to penetrate your hearts this Christmas.

If you are, like me, in that season of forced retreat (health, kids, stress, depression, life!), consider also reading some more encouraging Christmas Advent posts from myself and other mothers who have been there.

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Preparing for the Season ~ Pinterest and Christmas

This is my favorite time of the year. Has been ever since I can remember. This is a cozy, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug, jack frost nipping at your nose, hot chocolate-y, hibernate at home season. As a mother of six children, traditions have become even more important to me just as much as letting go of unrealistic expectations have. (Umm…still working on that one!) I figure by the time they are all leaving the nest I will be just starting to get good at it!

This Christmas I’ve discovered a new tool that has been such a blessing for my sanity. You see, I am a visual learner. And because of that I am also a visual rememberer (is that a word?). And this little program {insert Pinterest here} has become my lifeline this holiday season. A wonderful little online space to bookmark things I’d rather not forget. When I look at my board I immediately think, “Oh, yes, that is the project I wanted to do!” I can lazily look through my boards on a free Saturday morning while drinking a hot cup of coffee and decide to do a project with the kids or just dream of future projects. Or I can browse quickly while homeschool planning and remember where to find projects, experiments, books, and ideas.

I’d decided I’d share a few of my favorite things this winter from my own Pinterest board. So go grab a cup of hot cocoa and let the browsing begin! Pin away and don’t feel the least bit guilty if you never do a one of them!

~ Preparing for the Liturgical Season ~

~ O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree ~

~ Letters to Santa ~

~ Christmas-y Crafts ~

~ Wrapping Up Love ~

~ A Very Recycled Christmas ~

~ Winter Decor ~

~ Christmas Photography ~

~ Comfort Winter Foods ~

~ Homeschooling by the Fire ~

Oh, and don’t forget to PIN this page while you’re at it! In fact, come back and pin up each category separately. Great way to organize that Christmas board!

Blessings Amidst the Christmas Blues

Christmas was a laid back, mellow affair this year. We didn’t go out (#281). Others came to us (#282). Adam picked up last minute store items (#283). I mainly nursed a baby. Presents were fewer and naps still got taken (#284-5). This, to me, is a present in itself.

That being said, I woke up the Sunday following Christmas with a serious case of the blues. This season was not how I envisioned it. This year was suppose to be more intentional. And we did do that to a degree. We managed advent every night and did it with dad (#286). We sung carols and actually taught the kids some songs (#287). We incorporated the Jesse Tree tradition and made it a point to teach the real reason of Christmas (#288). We slowed down and tried not to stress gifts (#289).

But Christmas day came and there was a disconnect…a let down. This still didn’t seem like a day of celebration and jubilee. Of course the kids were excited in the traditional way of waking up early and wanting to tear into presents. But I meant for a Jesus peppermint birthday cake to have been made. I meant to watch the Nativity cartoon with the kids. Instead I was wiped out physically. I napped. I nursed. And in between I did chores (since the kids were absolved for the holiday!). We managed to watch the traditional 24/7 TBS Christmas Story special but somehow missed Jesus. Where was he this day? I couldn’t seem to find him and I was too wiped out to try. I felt failure. My heart longs to connect and this season is just so overwhelming to me.

My dear husband has been such a blessing trying to help me organize and set up routines (#290). I humble myself and try to maintain a servant’s heart while listening to what needs to be changed by me in order to bring the lack of discipline up to speed. And I was encouraged by this wonderful small, but mighty, little post over at Small Notebook (a wonderful #291!) that let me know it was okay. A perfect Christmas wasn’t in the cards and it was okay.

So today I will post what pictures I have taken this holiday season (way less then usuall) and allow the Lord to minister to my heart as I look into the faces of my dear children (the best of all #292).

Other blessings this season to be thankful for. Small victories is our theme of the week in the house with a new born, doing school, and ending the year.

#292 ~ the first 4 hour stretch of sleep during the night for my new wee one at only 3 1/2 weeks!

#293 ~ nursing well enough to get that stretch.

#294 ~ wearing a T-shirt and not looking like I’m 6 months pregnant!

#295 ~ a mellow little guy who actually sleeps occasionally to the bouncer vibration and for car rides (baby #6 is the first to do this!) and sometimes even through dinner!

#296 ~ down to one dose of ibuprofen before bed

#297 ~ my boppy

#298 ~ iron pills

#299 ~ the up and down head-bob nod that Ivy has mastered

#300 ~ no more pine needles to vacuum up!

#301 ~ baby’s first smile!!!!!!!!!

Happy Holidays Readers! Hope everyone had a blessed Christmas and an upcoming favored-by-God New Year!

 

Unexpected Grace

I am tired….oh so tired. I can barely think straight. Functioning is difficult. My recovery is slow and long and I have not had over an hour and a half’s sleep (combined) in any night since I’ve been home. My body is older, slower, weaker. I am literally up all night nursing this precious new child of mine. I am still up the next day tending to the others. There is no sleep when the baby sleeps time. There are needs all across the board. I let things go…dishes, laundry, clutter, fingerprints. They bother me but I release them in the name of my sanity. I pray all night long…just one uninterrupted hour, Lord. Surely He understands that I half to have sleep to function. But no relief comes. I offer up Psalms of “Lord, hear my prayer.” All is quiet.

I struggle with the question that has been bombarding me from all sides ~ friends, family, those I thought understood ~ how are you going to handle this? Isn’t it too much? Isn’t enough enough with this whole giving God control of your womb thing? Is it too much? Should I stop? I, too, feel overwhelmed…especially now. But I also feel the call of obedience. That call feels right, at peace in my soul. To die to oneself ~ to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed ~ that was never promised as easy. And looking at the faces of my children…which would I give up? How could I possibly choose who should stay and who should go? Who am I in my earthly wisdom to make such a call?

In this morning’s light as kids pile in and I protectively cover the baby snuggled next to me, tempers start to flare. A grumpy husband who graciously helped as much as he could the night before. Kids who want breakfast and attention. I say a kind word to them, softly remind him to be nicer to them this morning. He says he is awed by my patience. I ponder that as I lay in bed at 7ish after finally rolling into bed at 6ish. Normally my temper would be flaring too. Normally it is my voice fighting for self-control with the kids and discipline issues. And it hits me that another prayer is being answered. An unexpected grace of patience with my children has washed over me. My voice is softer, gentler, more willing to listen first.

And I realize that despite the weariness, despite the headaches and the muscle pain and the unexpected swelling of postpartum edema, there are other unexpected graces. I don’t have the baby blues. I don’t have that wash of depression that threatens to suck you in. I should have. In the physical state I am in I should have the blues. But I am really happy. I like talking with the kids and preparing for Advent. I love running my lips over the soft tender head of a newborn. I like showering Ivy with extra attention and assuring her that she is still my baby. I love the taste of that first cup of hot coffee in the morning. I love seeing the kids dive into the Christmas toys and books that are finally allowed out after Thanksgiving. I love listening to Pandora’s Christmas Jazz. It mellows my soul.

So I may still have to walk this road of weariness. I may still feel utterly overwhelmed for weeks to come. But I am not alone. He is gracing me in other ways, not to distract me from this call or lift the burden but to allow me to carry the burden. To remind me that He wants me to walk it. He unexpectedly graced me with others words at exactly the time I needed them to remind me that this is the path He chose for me to walk with Him. Reading an article from the Mater et Magistra by Jenn at Wildflowers and Marbles on Mary and the nesting instinct reminded me that this baby is a call from Him. There is purpose and molding and shaping that will come from what seems like such a heavy load to bear right now.

There would be no interior struggle trying to decide what to clean, order, list, craft, read, or do first in order to prepare. There was quiet adoration.  Stillness. Trust…Full of grace, she [Mary] nested according to her calling…Her preparation, her nesting, was in her heart, and from this quiet stillness and knowing there came joyful hope and life…and as we ready our hearts and our homes to receive Him, let us ponder with the heart of Mary. Let our nesting be as hers was: in our hearts. There may be chaos all around us, a grueling physical or emotionally uncomfortable journey may be before us, but we wait with Our Lady this Advent in awe of the great mystery she shelters within her womb.  (Available for download here.)

And reading a back-Advent post by Elizabeth Foss about expecting her sixth child made me think of where she is now at child number nine and how she continued in obedience to the only One who truly knows her ~ weakenesses and all. I relate as she says:

I spend my moonless nights with a toddler who cannot sleep and wants to nurse and I sing the song to him, tears rolling down my face, wondering how I will meet the needs of two babies when my Christmas miracle is born. I am cold in the darkness, despite the comfortable home that envelopes us. I  hardly notice the weariness; it has been so long since I was without it.  The load I bear: is it my burden or God’s? (Read the rest here.)

Reflecting on words of encouragement and the struggles of others during the Advent season will sustain me and remind me that He does hear my cry. And I will spend this season with Mary and her load heavy on my heart. I will strive to take it all and ponder it in my heart as treasure for this season of life.

Twas the night before Christmas…

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring all the creatures were stirring just like a mouse!  Last night was a bit of a disappointment for the kids.  With extra snow piling up in our current blizzard (over the 12″ we already received a few weeks ago),  our plans for Christmas Eve were canceled.  No Grandpa Dave’s…no cousins…no extra presents…just sitting at home with mom (even dad had to work) and watching boring Christmas specials on T.V.  What is a child to do?

Luckily, grandma and pop decided to surprise the kids with their Christmas pajamas and stockings a day early.  They live only a block away and were willing to get stuck driving down the street knowing it was only a short walk if they needed to bail the car.  The kids were so excited…for pajamas…plain old clothes…gifts that would otherwise have been tossed aside amidst the excitement of toys.  And so our evening took on a much needed different hue…back to a silent night.  Now sitting with mom watching Christmas specials didn’t seem so bad.  Now mom wasn’t stressing about wrapping and getting cranky-up-too-late-full-of-too-much-sugar kids to bed at a decent hour.  And when daddy got to come home a bit early, we were able to sit by the fire and read the much anticipated Clement’s Twas the Night Before Christmas…a Payson tradition.

The evening ended peacefully…a silent night if you will, much needed by mom after the day’s activities!  Now…the being all tucked warm in their beds is another story.  And, after much coffee today, one that mom is still too groggy to tell!

Merry Christmas everyone!  Have a blessed day!

I didn’t know…

Last night for Advent we read a story I have been meaning to get to for a long while…An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola.  We are in the middle of studying early American History so when I spotted this little gem at the library I snapped it up.  I meant to do it as a history study but time ran out and it has been sitting there on our shelf while we are busy preparing for Christmas.  I finally got it down and decided to read it during our evening meal.  After many false starts and warnings about paying attention (there may have been a threat or two about not getting to do the Advent calendar) we got on with the story, and what a story it was!

I have always loved Tomie’s books, especially his own children’s autobiography (which inspired me to go out to buy each child their own box of 64 count real crayola crayons).  This one was no exception.  His author’s note is at the beginning instead of the end and helps to set the stage for the story of how the colonists might have celebrated this special time of year.  The story was simple, the illustrations wonderful, but even better it was filled with tidbits of information we never knew before.  Like the bayberry bush.

Summer Bayberry

Winter Bayberry

Now I have heard of bayberry candles…I think I may have even smelled them at one point.  I’m sure they smelled spicy with evergreen undertones.  But I always assumed it was a candle scented like a bayberry (having no idea what a bayberry was).  But did you know that bayberries can make wax?!?!  Reading this book immediately sent me on a computer hunt.  What is a bayberry?  How does it grow?  Can I grow it?  Can you get real, authentic bayberry candles?  Can I make my own?  I feel another project bubbling under the skin.  I know, I know…trying to slow down.  This will have to be a project for next winter.  But I feel it will play into my winter reading of garden catalogs!  How fun to grow and make your own bayberry candles.  What a new and fun concept to add to my growing list of sustainable skills to know!

Authentic Bayberry Candles

Towards the end of the book, when Christmas is finally brimming, the kids were intrigued by making your own ornaments out of dough.  This made me remember just having seen such a recipe in Susan Branch’s wonderful book Christmas From the Heart of the Home!  If you haven’t read this book I would highly recommend it!  It will instantly transport you into the Christmas season no matter how much like scrooge you feel.

We set to making dough, which the kids loved doing.  The recipe is absolutely simple and the kids loved squishing, mushing, and using all the cookie cutters.  My only warning is to anyone with dry winter hands.  Wear Gloves!!!  The cup of salt the recipe calls for works it’s way into any little nicks on the hand and stings like needles for hours, as Lily and I both came to find out later!  Today we spent the afternoon painting them – interesting to say the least (will put pictures up tomorrow).  Then tonight we will bake and put a clear sealer on the top.  The kids are so excited to be making their own.  Lily even said that painting these was better than getting a gift!  All in all, I’d say this little Christmas book led to some wonderful rabbit trails for us.  May it do the same for you!