Advent

I hate waiting.  I hate waiting in line, I hate waiting for my food to be cooked, I hate waiting for the kids to get out of school.  I just don’t like sitting around with nothing to do when something else should be happening.  I bring books or snacks or my phone or a crochet project on long car rides because my hands need to be doing something (or else I crash into a nap… which is a whole other story).

So, when I discovered that the real meaning of Advent was anticipatory waiting… I wasn’t too keen.  I don’t think many of us are good at waiting.  Have you noticed that radio stations are playing Christmas music already?!  The stores have been in Christmas mode since the day after Halloween!  The marketers out there certainly don’t like waiting!  They want us to be spending our dough faster and faster these days… no waiting!  Order now!  Direct ship!  Buy online!  Available 24 hours, seven days a week!  

Let’s step back for a minute. In case you are not familiar with the term “advent”… it is a traditional practice of the Christian church to anticipate the coming of Christ at Christmas, and then, in turn, His final return to earth.  Similar to the practice of Lent before Easter, it gives us a chance to slow down, to think and ponder, and to hope for the future.  It’s something I have to work on… this waiting.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.

My first exposure to advent was those cardboard chocolate calendars.  The ones with the little doors you would open every day from December first until the 25th.  Back then, I didn’t understand what it meant… I simply enjoyed the treats everyday!  Later, we began to celebrate the four Sundays of advent at our church.  It was then, that I understood the symbolism, the tradition, and the true meaning of the practice.   It is something I have come to cherish as an adult.  It’s a discipline that that reminds me to slow down, to appreciate my family, to encourage my church family, and to rejoice in the season — and not to be so caught up in the rush of the “stuff”.  It forces me to focus each week on learning to wait.  To anticipate.  To revel in the beauty of hope.

Here’s what I have learned about the traditional advent symbolism:  it begins with an evergreen wreath… the symbol of a circle of eternity.  Our Christ is timeless.  He’s been around much longer than the babe in the manger.  Surrounding the wreath are four candles and one central candle.  Each candle is lit on the four Sundays of Advent, and culminate with the lighting of the white, central candle, which is lit on Christmas eve.  This central candle is sometimes referred to as the Christ candle… and represents His purity and the sacrifice He made for us on the cross.  

The first candle is purple.  It represents “hope” and the prophecies that Isaiah spoke about when He described the coming of our special Christmas baby.  The second purple candle represents love, and is sometimes referred to as the Bethlehem candle or the manger candle.  So much love happened in that lowly stable…. I imagine my own beloveds and how the whole world fell away the moment they were born and I saw them for the first time face to face.   Can you imagine Mary’s first glance at her special baby?  Yup, love for sure.  The next candle is pink… and represents joy.   It is the shepherd’s candle.  It embodies the joy and celebration the shepherds must have felt when they were given the good news that a Saviour had been born!  The last candle is also purple and reminds us to be peaceful.   This “angel” candle points us to worship, to reflection, and to remember that the season is not about gifts under a tree, but the ultimate gift given to us.  The One the angels were made for… simply to worship for eternity.  

So… as you prepare for your Christmas season, and you rush out here and there, be reminded of the advent tradition of waiting.  Take time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas… Christ’s coming.  Anticipate through hope, love, joy and peace, and the pure and holy sacrifice that Christ paid for you.  May you be blessed, my beloveds, as we journey towards the holidays together.   Take time to rejoice in waiting.  Oh… it shall be no easy task!  Especially if there are Christmas cookies in the oven! But we can practice it together, shall we?

Want to learn more about Advent?  Check out my Pinterest Boards for more ideas on DIY calendars, symbols, studies and more!

Legacies

a guest post from Abbie B.

Super excited to be sharing from a friend today!  Abbie is much (much!) younger than I, and yet, I am slightly jealous of her adventures.  I asked her to share a bit of her story after seeing a photo from her Jamaican trip.  Ya’ll know I love a good photo — and this one struck something within me — there is compassion and hope embodied in it, and yet sorrow and despair.  So I knew there must be a story behind it.  I have asked Abbie to share the story.  Enjoy!

Growing up knowing that both my Nana and my Grandma were overseas missionary nurses had always been an inspiration, and created a question of whether or not that might be God’s calling on my own life. When I began my nursing journey, I had many people ask me if I was going to follow in my Grandma and Nana’s footsteps. I always replied:  “If that’s what God wants.” I never wanted to say “I don’t know”.

So, when the opportunity of doing an International placement in Jamaica came up, I jumped at the opportunity.  Being a hands on person, I knew that I needed to experience being an international nurse to know if that was where God was leading me.

I didn’t know what I was going to be walking into when I landed in Jamaica, I didn’t know how I would feel! There was a part of me that was scared to walk into a new culture that I’d never experienced, the other part of me was excited for the challenge that was waiting.  My time was split between an orphanage and a small primary school.  Both places were completely different.  Walking into the orphanage, my heart felt heavy,  it was so hard knowing that some of these children didn’t have a permanent place to call home and to feel safe. We spent a majority of our time with the babies. Some who were premature, some toddlers, some who were not able to walk because of varying mobility impairments.  It was so hard to see the needs of the children, whether it was just to hold premature babies or to take a toddler out of their crib and help them walk.  It was even harder when a new baby would come in and try to settle.  My heart broke at their cries for comfort and security.  Working at the orphanage really affirmed in me that my heart is for people who are displaced and broken. Really breaking my heart for what breaks God’s. Our days there were spent doing Head to Toe Assessments (checking all the major body’s systems to make sure that there isn’t anything abnormal), bathing, changing clothes and diapers, playing games, reading, feeding, giving medications when needed to the babies and toddlers, as well as teaching the care givers at the orphanage about the misconceptions of asthma or hygiene.  Which at times was difficult for me because I never wanted to feel like a “know it all”,  or that I was stepping on toes.  I really learned how to be collaborative with those around me.

Working at the primary school was a good break from the emotional roller coaster (not that I didn’t love the orphanage) because I got to use a different side of my brain and skills while at the school.  It was more of “health teaching” with the children there. We brought down nurse and doctor costumes and I got to explain what the different instruments were and played games with them.  It wasn’t a large school by any means, but it felt like a family there — which was such a different feel than the orphanage.  I took the teachers’ blood pressures daily,  to see patterns of increase and decrease, answered their questions about what diabetes, heart failure, asthma etc. all are, and how some can be avoided, and that some is just up to genetics. So many amazing conversations about what health is and what it means to people either physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  It amazes me how we can be from different parts of the world and find a common ground — and from there — relationships are built.

I loved my international placement,  and in a lot of ways I’m still decompressing and sorting through the lessons I learned.  The one thing that I will always hold with me is when I was leaving, the woman that we were staying with, said to me “You have a beautiful heart, don’t ever lose it.” God’s given me passions, He’s created a heart in me for people to feel safe and secure, to have a place where they feel like they belong.  By the end of my placement, I had a whole new appreciation for my grandma and Nana. Their faith, their consistency, and their commitment to serve God in the unknown. The whole time I was there I was asking God:  “Is this what you want me to do? Is this where you are leading me?” By the end I realized that being a long term missionary isn’t something that God is calling me to.   I think short term trips are still an open door that God isn’t going to be closing anytime soon.  I know that community is where God is calling me and I’ve really seen that in Toronto.  There are so many who are broken and displaced for varying reasons.  My heart breaks for them, and all I want to do is step beside them and walk with them through the hard times.  I’m excited to see where God leads me, as scary as that is,  I trust that He knows best and He will be faithful in giving me the strength to follow through.

Indeed He will, Abbie.  I wish you much joy in the adventure!  

Hosting a Fall Brunch

I love Chip and Joanna Gaines and all things Magnolia.  I wish my “fixer upper” house was as beautiful as theirs, but a little thing called my budget gets in the way far too often.  That, and hockey playing children.  Pooh.  But, a girl can dream, can’t she?!magnolia table's cookbook  Therefore, I was super excited when I found the Magnolia Table’s cookbook on sale!  I snapped it up and longingly poured through the pages.  Everything looked so yummy!  Down home, southern-Texas-hospitality yummy!  I needed an excuse to make some of these goodies!  Thus, the fall brunch was born!how to host brunch

I decided to have it on a Friday morning so that the kids were all occupied at school and since clean up day was Thursday, all would be neat and tidy for my guests!  I decided to go all out… handmade invitations, fancy china dishes, and little take home goodies.  If we were going southern hospitality in Canadian fall, by golly, we were gonna go big!  I got some tiny pumpkins and a matching orange Gerbera daisy.  This was my easy centerpiece with some strategically placed candles and fall leaves.  Easy and fall festive!  I wanted to make some cool gabled boxes as favours for my guests that I had seen on Pinterest, but I had to hand cut the template with my scissors — and they just weren’t turning out the way I wanted.  So, I scratched that idea, and went with these cute little boxes instead.  (see the tutorial here).  I decorated mine with some fall foliage and ribbon, filled them with either a teabag or a coffee pod, and we were good to go!  (As an aside, I am putting that gable box die cut on my Christmas list for the next time honey… hint hint…)fall brunch

My menu consisted of fresh fruits, yogurt, a coleslaw I made a few days before, bag o’kale salad,  a warmed up squash soup I had made earlier and frozen, and a few delightful recipes from the new cookbook:  a spinach and cheese quiche, roasted asparagus, baked brie and the star of the show: Joanna’s cinnamon squares!  A bunch of these were things my kids won’t eat, so I was happy to share… but the cinnamon squares were a hit with the whole household!  They are a labour of love… you have to let the dough rise and layer the filling by folding in layers of dough.  The book made it look easy and Ms. Gaines’ squares are beautifully symmetrical… mine were not quite as aesthetically pleasing… but did they ever taste yummy!  Coffee, juice and tea, and we were set for a delightful morning of meaningful conversation and fellowship!

I invited a variety of ladies… some neighbours, some from church, all of us at different stages of life, and we made introductions and chatted easily of education, our families, crafts, and how yummy the cinnamon squares were!  I hoped it was as delightful for my friends as it was for me!  I’m not always good at being social, (introvert that I am), so was stretched a bit to be the delightful hostess.  Yet, as I looked around the table, I was struck by how strong the women who gathered there were.  How each of them had significant influences on my life through their example, their mentor ship, their friendships, or a way they taught me personally through some action of theirs.  Unique ladies, and yet, here we were, gathered to enjoy a bond of good food and good conversation.  To celebrate nothing in particular, simply the joys of being invited to share at the table.friendship and coffee

Oh, my friends, it encouraged my heart to plan, and knead the dough, and bake, and tidy.  To laugh with friends and enjoy simple things like a warm cup of coffee.  We crave that time as moms, don’t we?  We were made for relationships.  Even introvert me.  Perhaps we have lost our old fashioned desire to connect the way women used to.  Before texts and meetings and running here and there.  Maybe the southern belles had it right.  Be a hostess.  Share a lemonade on the back porch.  Enjoy the company of a good friend.  Or get to know a new one.  And if ya’ll live way up in Canada, host a fall brunch with some warm soup and great cinnamon squares! It will make your heart glad.

 

Wind Beneath My Wings

road trip musingOur wayward firstborn was recently home from University for reading week.  It was lovely to have her, even though we have already given away her room to her younger brother.  She had to put up with the basement.  Nonetheless, on my trip to pick her up, the GPS app on my phone took me through some winding country roads.   I’ve made this two hour trip hundreds of times before, but for some reason that day, I was relying on my phone to pull me out of the back roads and get me to somewhere more familiar.  I seemed to be wandering in farmland for way too long… I began to pray that the power wouldn’t totally seep out of the phone before I arrived.  I was lucky — all of a sudden I came upon civilization and breathed again.

It was a dull day when I made that drive all on my own.  The skies were overcast and the wind was whipping around as rain threatened the skies but didn’t appear.  At two different stretches of highway, we seemed to have a “leaf storm”.  The leaves blew around the vehicle in great swirls and gusts as if they were snowflakes driven by winter winds led by Jack Frost himself.  It was quite unusual, really.  Yellow leaves mostly, from the ash trees of the area.  Twice I seemed to be the only one on the back roads, engulfed in this inferno of flying leaves.  Like something out of the Wizard of Oz.  I was not in Kansas anymore.  Or anywhere I was familiar with either, for that matter.

When the leaf storms subsided, I took note of the fields surrounding me.  I was taking the opportunity to reflect a little as the two hours of peace and quiet was a welcomed rest for my busy soul.  (And truth be told,  I was trying to figure out where the heck I was with respect to my final destination!)  The farmers fields were a dull yellow… dry corn husks left to be plowed under soon.  Flat, drab, and lifeless,  surrounded by the autumn forests of reds, greens, and browns.  Houses dotted the perfectly paved roads.  Nothing of great note.  Except for two black silhouettes on the horizon.wind beneath my wings

At two different points on my drive, I witnessed two giant birds soaring in the wind.  They were probably hawks or falcons.  Maybe one was an osprey — we often see their giant nests atop telephone poles in the area.  The first one I noticed seemed to be gliding effortlessly through the field.  Guided along with the wind beneath its wings… seemingly without a care in the world.  The other was also majestically soaring — but swooped up and down almost as if it was having fun in the windstorm!  Have you ever stuck your arm out the window of a moving car?  Okay… not recommending it … not safe…. don’t do this at home… blah blah… But if you ever have… you will know the feeling of the wind beneath your “wings”.  That pressure that pushes you back but encourages you forward… and you dip and rise your hand like in the commercials of pretty girls in convertibles advertising some vacation spot in sunny Aruba.

It struck me, as I watched this big bird for the brief few seconds as I drove past, that this is what Isaiah was talking about when he says that those whose hope is in the Lord, will renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles!  (Isaiah 40).  This big bird was dipping and diving and seemed to actually be having fun in the wind!  So often we get caught up in our daily grinds of work, ministry, kids, etc., and life seems to be taking us on the winding back roads.  We get overwhelmed by the “leaf storms” that blow our way and get confused by our whereabouts in what should be the familiar.  We get tired.  Yet, God is so much bigger than we can even imagine.   He becomes the wind beneath our wings.  Then we are carried and soar.  Dipping and diving as our strength is renewed yet again.soar like eagles

Apparently there are 4 different species of eagles in Palestine.  It’s no wonder that the bible authors make reference to their power, might and majesty, and uses them as our example for the never tiring Lord who renews our strength.  I’m pretty sure my birds were not eagles, but big birds nonetheless.   Even the Bette Midler song from way back, makes the bible reference of soaring eagles.  Who is your hero today?  Who is the wind beneath your wings when your strength is failing?  Rest well in knowing that God is big enough to carry you through the storms and uncertainties.   Enjoy the dips and dives as you swoop through the dull fields of leftovers.  May He be the wind beneath your wings!