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!  

The Call of the Crows

CalloftheCrows1I’m writing this post under the tranquil setting of the tall oaks… okay it’s not true.  Unfortunately, the internet is not reliable here, and although I thought of playing it old school and using pen and paper and transferring it later… I am just too lazy for that.  (Funny how attached to our technology we are now, eh?)   So.  I am writing contemplating this post under the tranquil setting of the tall oaks near our summer home.  The olive leaves sway gently in the breeze, a mix of mature and mighty oaks and a few spindly little ash trees.  The ash borer beetle destroyed a lot of them a few years back.  It’s so pleasant here.  In the spring, the leaves are sparser and you can almost say we have a lakefront view.  The lake is there, the forest just blocks it most of the time.  Occasionally, if you are really patient, a chipmunk or squirrel will dart through, inquisitively eyeing you, hoping you have a treat or dropped one nearby.  The other night the foxes crept near,  sheltered by the dark brush, but close enough to let us know they are becoming less afraid of us humans.

It’s cooler here than over in the field where the sun beats down all summer.  It has its disadvantages though — nothing ever dries, and the dark, damp ground attracts mosquitoes.  We don’t picnic outside too often, here in the bush.  But it’s a great place to read — or contemplate blog posts.  We rarely have to cut the grass.  Nothing grows much, except the weeds that seem to tolerate the acidic soil.  It’s tranquil, but it is definitely not quiet.CalloftheCrows2

I live in the city, so you think I would be used to the noise.  However, up here it is nonstop.  We love how a good thunderstorm sounds on the roof of the trailer.  During the day you can hear the people playing and enjoying their vacations, or a boat out on the lake beyond the trees.  On Mondays, the garbage truck comes by and you can hear the bins clanging.  Cars make a distinct grinding noise as they go slowly down towards the private cottages along the gravel roads.  The squirrels and chipmunks climb high into the oaks and get at the acorns.  Every so often they drop one, and if it happens to drop on our porch roof it bangs with such a thud, you’d think there has been a shot fired!  Seriously — it’s loud.  When you get used to it, you wait for the ping ping ping as the nut rolls down the incline and off the roof.   Single handedly, the most annoying noise in the woods, however, is the crows.CalloftheCrows3

I say they are crows, but they might be ravens.  They’re big, but ravens are bigger, though, I think.  So let’s say they are crows.  You don’t see them often, their black, sleek bodies with just a hint of iridescent green, blend in to the dense foliage in the treetops.  Sometimes you can hear them fly in — the flapping of their huge wings like some horror movie from the sixties.  It’s their calling that is so obnoxious, though.  Kinda like a cross between a duck quack and dog bark.  Loud and harsh.  It doesn’t seem to hold any meaning either… perhaps they answer one another.  Perhaps they just like to be heard.  Like a two year old and a new, flashy, electronic toy that is stuck on repeat… caw, caw, caw… Either way, the sound is creepy.  During the day, they are there, but the other noises drown them out, and it is easier to ignore them.  It’s in the wee hours of the morning when they become most hideous.  The sun is barely up and the calling begins… like some sick rooster announcing the dawn.   No pretty songbird chirp, just caw, caw.  How come the falling squirrel acorns don’t hit them on the way down and knock ’em out?  Sheesh!

And yet, as I sit here in contemplation, I can’t help but compare the crows to the doubts, fears and insecurities in our lives.  Big, black, and often overshadowing the pretty songs of our other qualities, our doubts creep in and disrupt all our other solitudes.  “Am I good enough?” “Why does this always happen to me?” “Will we make it to the next paycheck?” “What about the kids?”  I don’t know what your doubt is, my friend, but I know that we all have those nagging worries somewhere down in our souls.  We can ignore them most of the time — when the other noisy distractions can push them aside.  They hide in the treetops until, sometimes, in the wee hours, when no one else is around to displace them, they come calling again.  Loud and harsh.  Caw, caw, caw.Callof theCrows4

I want to end this post on a positive note, but the crows will always be there in the treetops… and the doubts and fears will always be there, too.  Sometimes they fly away and the calling stops, but then a new set of crows show up and the noise begins again, in a different tune and tone.  Take comfort, then, that God is the orchestrator of the forest, the one who created the “call of the crows”.  I don’t understand why all the noise, to me it is just harsh and annoying — but He has some purpose in the call.  It’s up to us to give it over to Him, and let Him use those needling noises, the ones all unrelenting and severe in our ears, to blend them in to the swaying melody of the mighty oak forest, in a concert worthy of the master conductor.

 

It’s the Little Things

Little thingsThe Mitton crew has just returned home from a lovely vacation in our summer dwelling.  It truly was lovely.  Except, that about two days in, I got sunburnt.  It was my own fault, really, I did not re-apply the sunblock and could feel the crispy-ness attacking my legs… but was simply too lazy to head back in to shore from the rubber dingy I was lounging in.  Consequence received, I spent the next few days slightly pinked and diligently re-applying the “after sun” aloe vera gel and searching for home remedies for sunburn.  Then the youngest got a sliver in her foot after dancing around barefoot on the dock.  Why is a sliver always the biggest disaster to a small child?  Breathe.  Dig out the blessed thing, slap a Band-Aide there, and move on.  Sheesh.  I soon discovered that it’s the little things in life that make up your days.  Much to the delight of that same little girl, we also fed pistachios to a cheeky little black squirrel who was just brave enough to come near.  We watched the sun go down over the lake and marvelled at the orange and pink glows that silhouetted the trees beyond us.  We giggled under the covers as we read our book late into the night.  None of these things were super adventurous.  We didn’t save the world or climb a mountain.  There were no great heros.  None of these things were utter disasters, either.  There were no trips to the hospital or bank loans needed.  And yet, as I seek to be more grateful, I am again reminded that often it’s the little things that matter.  You can consider this post my gratitude journal of sorts.  A documentation of things that simply remind me of why I should be happy.Little things3

As time goes on and my hair gets a few more streaks of grey in it, I can’t help but stop and remember the days when the kids were babes and we rejoiced at their first steps, and encouraged them as they splashed and played in the sand at the beach.  The greatest joys were when the sandcastle moat collapsed and you had to quickly breach the leaks before the whole kingdom was washed away in the floods.  Slivers were a big deal then too.  But so was jumping off the dock, and pushing the limits was getting just a bit closer to putting their whole face under the water!  Now they strut about with their friends like proud peacocks, hoping mom and dad don’t totally embarrass them by acknowledging their presence.  Oh — the horror — you have parents!

I am delighted to see you grow and come into your own as you begin to lead.  To begin to take more chances and go off on your own.  To not only put your face underwater, but jump wholeheartedly forward… willing to sink or swim. I remember hearing a preacher say once that when you are a new mom, you should be thankful for every Cheerio you pick up off the floor — revel in the moment that you are in right now.  Little ThingsTo be honest, if you are that new mom… you have no desire to be thankful for those blasted bits of cereal… I know, I been there, sister…  but now that some time has passed, I can tell you…yup…it’s true… you are thankful for the Cheerios.  Psychology tells us that there are benefits to gratitude, to counting our blessings and to recognizing that seeking joy makes us healthier.  (Just so you know: it’s not psychology… it’s a God thing…)

Our lives are so full of little things.  The everyday blessings and hurts of this journey we call life.  The slivers and the sunsets.  I am trying to enjoy the learning process — are you?  Are you taking time to revel in the moment that you are in right now?  To not complain about your aches and pains, your lack of wifi, your bank balance or what the weather is doing?  It’s hard.  I get it.  I have those days too… when I am tired and sad and everything seems to go kaput.  But we are here for a only a brief moment, a mere blip in the eternity of time.  So pull out that splinter, slap a Band-Aide on there, eat the Cheerio off the floor, and go jump in the lake!Little things2

 

Would you like to muse along with me ?  I’m trying to reach my goal of 100 followers before I launch some exciting changes here on mittonmusings.com.  Wanna be a part of the adventure?! Share and follow along! I’d be grateful 😉 We’re almost there….

 

 

 

Mother’s Day Hoarding

forgetmenot2By the time you read this post, Mother’s Day (in Canada at least) will be over and the flower shops and restaurants will be filling their coffers with yet another year’s profits.  Teachers will be breathing a sigh of relief that their entire class of 27 six-year-olds managed not to kill off their forget-me-nots, which were sent home on Friday, delicately blooming in hand-painted pots destined for moms and grandmothers.  The “mommy-I made-it-all-by-myself breakfasts in bed” kitchens will once again be tidy and neat and the dose of antacid tablets will be taken to settle the fact that you actually ate that “mommy-I-made-it-all-by-myself” breakfast.  *gag*  The moms will smile and wink at the dads who managed a card and who dressed the kids for church and dinner so you could get two more full seconds of sleep on this “special day” (Trust me… little girl tights are not something dads should handle).  Oh… but friends, I promise you this:  We loved every minute of it!

Even now, as mom of two teens, a semi-adult, and an almost grown-up pre-teen, I still appreciate the grunt and nod of acknowledgement that is directed my way every once and awhile.  Come to think of it, I also still have to clean up the kitchen from the “mom-I-made-it-myself” messes.  Hmmn.  So, I muse:  Why?  Why do we, as moms, savour every glimmer of appreciation from our kids?  Why do we never forget a Mother’s Day, even as adults? I think because we were given this God given gift of connection the moment we weloveditheld those beloveds in our arms for the very first time.  According to some early-stage scientific research, we have things called “u-opioids” that are released in our brains when we are socially connected to someone… specifically our mothers.  It’s that whole bonding/proper imprinting thing that is exemplified by those little ducklings illustrated in classic children’s books.  Moms make us feel warm and fuzzy — so we connect — and are now willing to follow them into the water even though we have never swam with our newly hatched tail feathers before.  It’s already pre-wired in our brains.  (Reminds me of that post about chocolate.  In case you missed it, you can read about that here.)

I remember studying about Rhesus monkeys in animal behaviour — when removed from their mothers and isolated, the tiny monkeys clung to warm pieces of cloth in their cages… anything to help them feel safe.   Even the basic need for food was only used temporarily… the monkeys went back to the warm, safe feeling momma.

08harlow

It’s in our very nature to connect… especially to our moms. (Photo: via UoT research archives)

Not withstanding the controversies of animal research in the 1960’s, these studies certainly showed us something about our need for connection.  I’m sure it’s biological.  And spiritual. Or both.  How much more do complex humans struggle to connect and bond than our animal counterparts?  Our relationships are the key to our existence.  A God woven ticket into our complexities.  We are too fragile to exist without one another.  Every good Hollywood film or compelling book sets it’s protagonist in an entanglement of relationship woes — and we, as an audience, rejoice when they “live happily ever after”.

I don’t have any research to back it up, but I suspect that even moms who are not particularly close to their kids still hoard things that connect them to their children.  A picture, a note, a card.  Even estranged or adoption birth mothers reflect on the day of their child’s birth.  Just a little bit.  It’s really hard to ignore something that grew inside you for nine months.  I’m a die hard scrapbooker and have been since I was a child.  I collect every ticket stub, brochure and report card.  I have file folders for each one of my beloved offspring and a couple of random ones for the leftover stuff.  I am compelled to save these random trinkets — just in case.  Just in case I need to know that in grade 2 your sister got an 82 in English and was a “pleasure to have in our class”.  Seriously.  I have no idea why I keep these things.  I’m sure it has something to do with u-opioids.  Some inexplicable bond that keeps me connected to my kids and my kids to me — through random photos and sticky, wrinkled papers rescued from the bottoms of backpacks.  These things remind me of the experiences we have shared together — and so I hoard and pile them up as the kids grow into adulthood.

This was the first mother’s day without my sweet mother-in-law.  She was taken from us all too soon from the end stages of Alzheimer’s.  Even though her memories were clouded and her fragile body was fearful at times, the family rejoiced in glimmers of recognition at an old hymn, or at some pattern in the table that struck a chord with her somewhere back in the depths of her memories.  She loved to look at my family scrapbooks.  She’d point and smile, and you could tell something clicked.  This is why we keep these little bits of memorabilia.  Our humanness wants to connect.  We need to feel loved and nurtured.

So, if you are a young mom still struggling with sleepless nights and piles of laundry, I hate to tell you… not much changes.  We still have sleepless nights and laundry.  Only now we are awake because they are out past curfew.  And the laundry just stinks more.  But you learn to treasure the coloured mother’s day cards complete with sparkles that’s hoarded away in a folder.  Why?  Because they remind you of the times your little ones believed that you were all that mattered in the world, and they were willing to follow you into the pond water — no questions asked.  As they get older, your treasures become the Facebook likes on your posts,  or the “mom, how do you make that meatloaf I love?” texts. You even relish in the “Can you please wash these pants in time for tomorrow’s presentation?” just before midnight.  And when your mom needs to be the one who gets cared for, you rejoice that you have made the connection complete.  And you’ll smile when the time comes to clean out her closet after she is gone, and discover that she hoarded a few photos and mother’s day cards from you, too.

treasures

 

 

The City Mouse and The Country Mouse (What’s your Comfort Zone?)

mouseDoes anyone remember an old story about the City Mouse and the Country Mouse?  Two mice who were friends decided to visit each other’s homes and soon discovered they had stepped out of their “comfort zones”.  The city mouse lived with too busy a lifestyle and dangers (like the cat!) were all around.  The country mouse had to work too hard to get any of the luxuries of home and enjoyed too much quiet.  They quickly realized that although their friend’s home was a “nice place to visit” they didn’t want to live there.

We are much the same.  I have always lived in the big city.  Okay… suburbs… but still a place where opportunities are, and culture and diversity are readily available.  And yet, I am drawn to the country.  I love the quiet of a forest.  I want chickens.  Fresh strawberries mean summer.  It’s quite fascinating to me how the grass is always greener on the other side (be it manicured lawns or manure filled fertilizer), and yet we fall back into what is familiar to us.  It takes a special person to step out in faith and go out of that familiar spot.  I wish I had just a bit more of it.

I wish I had just a little bit of that “chutzpah”. To live on the edge, just a tad, and dangle my feet in the unknown.  To be radically changed.  Just a bit.  Not too much. Because the fear of the unknown is too great.  That cat does not exhilarate the ride.  It makes me want to go home where it is safe.  How do we gather up that gumpshun and try new things?  Where do we get that radical faith?  Many of those in history labeled as “great in the faith” or “radical” didn’t think they were anyone special.  They just did what they had to do, and were rewarded for their efforts.

crazy Love

Radical People of Faith often just do what they have to do and are rewarded for their efforts.

Francis Chan is a speaker/author I have been hearing a lot from lately.  As I write this post, they are celebrating the life of Rev. Billy Graham in the United States.  These men of faith didn’t do anything extraordinary.  They just did what they felt God told them to do.  The city mouse and the country mouse went to visit each other because they cared about their friend, and wanted to share in their experiences.  Perhaps our efforts are built around our relationships.  We care about the rights of the poor or the oppressed so we stand up against the injustices.  We care about the next generation so we teach our children and love, foster and adopt the orphan.  We care about families so we do our best to nurture our marriages.  We care about our friends so we love our neighbours as ourselves and serve in our communities.

Maybe it’s not about stepping out of our comfort zones as much as deepening our relationships.  Our passions flourish when we use our gifts.  We get the guts to be radically different when we truly want to accomplish something that we believe in.  Sheeesh… I started a blog!  (I just had to ask for help doing an e-transfer last week! Talk about out of my element). (You can read more about why I started my blog in this post!) We stand up against that big, scary cat and then we go home and appreciate where we have come from.  We are renewed by familiarity.  Seeing things from another’s perspective is hard.  My hubby reminds me all the time to do this.  It’s not easy for me to cross out of my “happy place”. To go beyond the boundary and try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. But when I do… I am often rewarded beyond my expectations and find my faith stretched and strengthened.  It doesn’t seem like such an effort when it means a lot to me.  I think that is true for many who go out of their “comfort zone”.  Perhaps we all need to just put a smile on our face, make the first giant leap and go for it!

b8ebe199ce22506773a2e38f9d74d95d

Maybe it’s not about stepping out of our comfort zones as much as deepening our relationships.


Did you like the little mice in this week’s post?  They are “felted”… a new craft I just tried (hey… I stepped out!) and the pics are on our new Pinterest Board under “Things we Love”.  Be sure to check it out and give credit to the artizans who have mastered the work.  They are soo cute!