Four months just flashed before my blogging eyes.
How do you switch gears from a place that was used to document little people’s days and travels for eight years to one that might look more outward, reveal more about what our day-to-day lives in ministry look like, and perhaps be more of a true reflection of what Omar and I (and the kids) are living each day?
I think I have two options: I don’t and therefore say “so long” to this space or I just do it.
So I’m just doing it.
Omar and I have been having lots of “What in the world are we doing here?!?!” conversations lately. What are we communicating to our congregation and family and community about what is important and needed and necessary? How are we choosing to use the hours in our days?
We feel a shift. There is change. We are talking to the kids about this. I love that they’re old enough to talk about some of these things.
A few months back a friend told me to pray for godly unrest. I desperately wanted (and want) it, and so I did. And things started happening. Some things have been exciting and beautiful. Other things have been exhausting and messy and dirty and tear-streaked.
I think I can count on one hand the times I have shared openly about ministry life here. It was something I wanted to keep separate from here. But no longer. I tried for too long to keep strict borders between certain aspects of life in the church and our life at home. But that all started becoming harder as the kids got older. Clean and clear borders have gone, and truthfully I’m glad.
But I need to learn how to talk about this all here. I want to be honest and clear, but gentle and careful, if that makes sense.
I just realized that it was eight years ago yesterday that I wrote my first post here. Such a short time, in the grand scheme of things. A blip. But oh my, how much has changed. Advent 2007 looks so different than advent 2015.
Today there was present making. There was felt cutting and scrapping and sewing. Pillowcases were made for the boys. Mulling spices were packaged and wrapped. Glitter made an appearance.
I found the time and space to just sit for a few minutes and read Sarah Arthur’s Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. It has been the Advent guide that I’ve been the most consistent with (in a perfectly inconsistent way). It is a mixture of scripture, literature, and poetry. It fits me at this stage in my life. And Susanna Childress’ poem Bethlehem, Indiana is worth the price of the book.
Yet even in the midst of carols and fabric and cookies and presents real life showed up. The oven rose up against us and decided to go on strike. The dishwasher went on strike last week, and it got fired. We think the oven just needs to be negotiated with.
But I still found tears coming to my eyes. When one of the boys walked into the kitchen and heard what had happened, a dramatic monologue took place about how awful this week has been and how bad things are. Broken dishwasher! Broken oven! Their passion about the situation highlighted how ridiculous it all was. Is.
And so I did what I knew I was supposed to do, even if I wasn’t feeling it and would have rather high-fived and agreed with him. I told him how blessed we were. How this is just life. Full of beautiful things and full of broken things.
And then a full week of Advent flashed before my eyes.
The highlights were a beautiful wedding by a lake (complete with coffee on tap), a stay at my aunt and uncle’s (also by a beautiful lake), a visit to a new brewery in Deland, a trip back south, an unexpected purchase of a new dishwasher (Did you know they sell them according to decibel levels now?! Too funny. Ours is 51, if you’re curious.), painting the front of our house (Those with four children and small budgets paint in long, drawn-out stages. For now we request that any visitors only look at the house once they are directly in front of it.), and finally, gingerbread houses with the kiddos. It was the first year that I didn’t have to help them at all with the decorating. I got to stay out of the way for most of it, and they got to sneak an ungodly amount of candy as a result. Win-win.
Twelve and a half years ago Omar and I went on our first date in Winter Park. First dates are always kind of awkward, and this one was no different. We dressed up and went to a restaurant out of our price range. I remember exactly three things about that first date: it took only 15 minutes for a bad seminary/bible joke to be made, Omar and I had to switch seats so the TV wouldn’t be a distraction, and as we were walking around after dinner I looked down at what I was wearing and realized I had let my mom buy me a dress that was so un-me (unbeknownst to her, at the time I was just so thankful she bought me a dress) and I wore it and felt strange the whole night. There you have it.
Fast forward two years. We were back in Winter Park walking around. Omar suggested we have a seat on a bench. And the next thing I knew we were engaged.
Jump ahead 10+ years. We found ourselves in Winter Park on our way to a wedding. But this time there were no uncomfortable dresses, nervous first date laughter, or nerve-wracking proposals. This time it was two people completely comfortable with each other, with their fourth kiddo along for the ride.
We topped the night off with a dinner at Cask & Larder (which I swear got their name from this site), and Asa now knows about rock shrimp, fancy hams, pork burgers, and beer-fried donuts.
Advent activities have been kept to a minimum this year.
But I did promise the boys I would make them Christmas pillowcases. Lenna’s was made last year, and after a bit of discussion, I convinced the older three that Asa does not need one this year.
Yesterday we walked into Joann’s. Now I realize Joann’s is not always the best place for up-to-date fabrics, but they have come a long way in the past few years and I got Lenna some great Christmas fabric last year. So we are standing in front of the Christmas section, and in the blink of an eye, my two boys’ bodies become overtaken by 60 year old women and these are the fabrics that they look at and fall in love with.
I stood there having an internal debate as to whether or not I should practice my manipulation skills and decided against it. Please praise me. I didn’t try (much) to change their minds. They stuck to their guns.
I’m still laughing.
Tuesday was luncheon day.
And did you know that all ladies luncheons are made better when the 90-something year old hostess comes over to you and your husband and whispers in your ear, “Now would you like me to put Kahlua or Bailey’s in your coffee?”
Best luncheon ever.
All Mondays should start with cinnamon rolls.
All Mondays should include afternoon walks, book reading, tree trimming, A Christmas Carol watching, or a combo of all four.
All Mondays should end with good conversation and meet-ups with friends.
Today I learned that there is such a thing as cannoli cake. I love cannoli. I adore good cannoli. I bet I could love cannoli cake. Now I just need a reason to head back and brave the crowds at Costco to buy one.
A few weeks ago I learned that there is such a thing as eggnog pie. I love eggnog. I love the good stuff that is thick but not too sweet with tons of freshly grated nutmeg on top. And bourbon doesn’t hurt it, either. I picked up the Four & Twenty Blackbirds cookbook from the library and quickly decided the egg ‘n’ grogg pie would be the first to try. Holy smokes it is good. It has a gingersnap crust, just enough spice, a smooth and creamy texture, and just enough bourbon to make it pleasantly boozy.
Last week I learned that there is such a thing as cranberry pie with thick pecan crumble. I live in a home of cranberry sauce lovers, so I think this one will be a hit. I actually prefer when only one or two out of the four kids like a dessert I make because then it lasts longer. If none of them go for it, I end up eating too much of it. If all of the kids like it (and remember Asa is now at the eat-anything stage), it lasts for all of five minutes and I don’t get “enough” of it. It’s all about finding the balance.
One year I will bribe my family with something so they will let me put only white lights on the tree and nothing else. I love the lights. They love the ornaments, and the bigger and gaudier the better. Today I couldn’t hold them off any longer. I think they caught on to my scheme of leaving off the decorations for a few days just to make sure the tree was drinking enough water. That worked for a day or two, but four days was pushing it.
And if that wasn’t enough excitement for the sixth day of Advent, my parents took the oldest boys to a Christmas concert and then let them spend the night. And Lenna? There was a great deal of weeping and gnashing of teeth when she was told she would be staying with us. But then we ordered in pizza, watched a pirate fairy movie, and ate ice cream and all was right with the world.
Today’s compost bowl made it look like I’d thrown away Thanksgiving along with a little bit of Christmas.
Every Advent for the past few years has found me in throw-away and cleaning mode.
For some people Spring Cleaning is a thing. For me it’s Pre-Christmas Cleaning. Cleaning and purging before we bring yet more stuff into this house.
One Christmas we’ll declare it an all and only Family Experiences Christmas!! Science museum passes, zoo passes, movie tickets, you name it! It will have the double blessing of giving my kids good times and yet there will be no accumulation of stuff. It will be beautiful.
This morning the tree lights came on, a boy came out to read beside the tree, and James Boice’s words looked back at me saying, “If the babe of Christmas is God (‘God with us’), then Christmas takes us back to Christ’s pre-existence as the second Person of the Godhead, from all eternity, and forward to His work of salvation on the cross, His resurrection, and beyond. A theme like that is inexhaustible.”
Well, if you put it that way. A theme like that should make me pull myself out of any kind of funk I’ve been wallowing in and see this season for what it is: something just beautiful. For all of eternity, let alone my mere 34 years, I should not be able to say I’ve exhausted the joy, the excitement, the anticipation, the gift, the goodness that is Christmas.
So my holiday spirits are rising.
And just in case you’d like a little something extra to raise your spirits, just think on a certain boy who’s new found love of Home Alone led him to call out to our other pastor in Sunday school, “Get the hell outta here…”(not positive if he included the “filthy animal” part). You’re welcome.
I had high hopes of a little tree this year. A table top tree would’ve been preferable, but my tribe would have revolted. My thoughts and feelings about Christmas are mixed this year. There is a Scrooge somewhere in me that I’m trying to keep at bay. Truth be told, my struggles with this season have increased over the past few years. Last year I tried to chalk it up to being pregnant. But this year I’m not, and I’m still fighting the temptation to be forever overwhelmed with a temper that’s quick. But here we are, right? Here I am with kids who love everything about this time of year. Kids and friends and family who’s excitement is catching. So the lights are up on my not-table top sized tree, Asa found yet another way to be all adorable when the lights were pulled out, and the second day of Advent proves my anticipation for Christmas is being kindled, ever so slowly.
Omar and I gifted each other a trip to Charleston to see friends for the second weekend in advent. Savannah has become a required stop for any trip north of Florida, and this trip just confirmed its status as number 1 pit stop. I came across Fabrika and Omar found Back in the Day Bakery. And Charleston? It’s a blur of good friends, lots of conversation, and lots of restaurants all packed into a mere 36 hours. It should become an advent tradition.
Back home Lenna got to attend her first ladies’ Christmas party. She was thrilled that she got to dress up and stay out late and then stay up even later with her papi telling him all about it.
Christmas pjs might become an advent sewing tradition. Or maybe just the pillowcase.
I think Elisha’s favorite advent activity was a campout by the tree. The boys lasted the whole night. Lenna? Not quite.
And as for Christmas Day? Elisha’s easel dreams came true. Asher is now the proud owner of Ed the betta, and Lenna’s baby swing is beloved.
Advent is now over and today marks the second day of Christmas. Omar went back to work, and for the first time in forever, I was itching to take all the Christmas stuff down. I’m usually a big proponent of celebrating Christmas through Epiphany, but this year? Not feeling it. Getting day-to-day things done is starting to take more effort, and it feels like big trees and decorations are getting in my way. I’ve caught glimpses of my profile (heck, even my shadow) recently and been taken aback a bit. I’m just ready for this little guy to be here, and perhaps cleaning this season’s things away and checking off to-do lists makes me feel like it will happen just a little sooner. What? You didn’t spend the week before Christmas cleaning out closets, getting rid of all unneeded baby clothes, and organizing all your tax documents? I drew the line at removing doors and sanding and painting. Lord willing there will be a squishy 9 month old around next Christmas, and that will definitely distract me from the to-do lists and push me back into a celebratory mood.
Here we go. This year’s advent calendar. An advent calendar with little bags that allow me the option of filling them with a little wooden coin with an activity written on it or, on those days when doing any extra activity would put me in a decidedly UN-adventy mood, candy. The cheap side of me wanted to fill ’em up with leftover Halloween candy, but since I’ve already eaten most of the good stuff, I figured I’d splurge a little on some special candies for them. As for the activities, they range from watching a Christmas movie to decorating their rooms. We’ve also been working with the kids on earning a commission/allowance for doing work around the house, so this year one of the activities will be for each of them to go out on a little mama/papi date and buy their siblings a little gift with the money they’ve earned. They’re actually really excited about this part.
The scrapbook paper circles and mini clothespins are repurposed from past years’ advent garlands. I couldn’t figure out how to mark the days until I saw a surprisingly similar calendar pop up on this blog. Of course, number stickers. And now we’re set.
This calendar is the treat side of our advent celebrations. We also read from a variety of resources during the season. This year I’ve got 2 new books to go through: Handel’s Messiah Family Advent Reader with accompanying cd and Elyse Fitzpatrick’s new book Counting the Days, Lighting the Candles: A Christmas Advent Devotional. Fitzpatrick’s includes daily readings for both adults and kids and one activity/craft per week. And each night we try to remember to read from one of the mini book ornaments that comes with The Story of Christmas. Evidently I have an advent book buying problem. For the past few years I buy a new one at the beginning of the season and then unearth one I bought on sale at the end of last year’s advent season. Some past reads are Nancy Guthrie’s Come Thou Long Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas and Phyllis Tickle’s Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from the Divine Hours.
We never do each thing every day. Some days life just goes by too quickly and on others I simply forget, though the fact that this year there is a possibility of getting chocolate, I’m sure the kids won’t forget to remind me about the advent calendar.