Keep it Simple: An Advent Resource Guide

Many of you arrived here by signing up for my Advent audio guide, Journeying to Bethlehem Together, and for that I’m grateful. It’s a joy to have you here as we hold longing together.

I still consider myself a newbie when it comes to observing Advent, and if not a total newbie, at the very least I’m a lazy observer. I like to keep it as simple as possible. None of us need more expectations during a time of year already fraught with unruly lists, disappearing money, and social obligations.

In order to help you observe Advent the lazy way alongside me, I thought I’d offer a few resources. May I make a suggestion? Choose one thing off this list, just one, that might lead you closer to Jesus this season.

Books:

Light upon Light: A Literary Guide

Compiled by writer Sarah Arthur, this collection of prayers, poetry, readings, and scripture is the perfect companion for the season. I’ve used it for a number of years, and it is by far my favorite resource.

Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation

This slim volume of poems by Luci Shaw is a lovely way to begin or end the day. Her poetry is accessible and written with such care and precision. A great starter for those who don’t typically read poetry.

Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

I bought this book recently, and I’ve enjoyed the perspectives from the numerous authors featured in this compilation (Aquinas, Bonhoeffer, Donne, Eliot, L’Engle, Lewis, etc.) It’s dense, and often I re-read each entry to fully grasp the depth and richness of it, but don’t let that deter you. I highly recommend it.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas

This gorgeous children’s book by Ann Voskamp is a must if you have children. I use it with my kids every year, even though they’ve outgrown it  (and they would happily tell you so!), because I love the language and the structure of the stories. A must for families.

The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent

This is Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift for littles. I bought it for all of my nieces and nephews this year, and they love it. It’s a beautiful book with an Advent activity, and I could see it becoming an heirloom to pass down to the next generation.

Music:

At Christmas, I typically listen to classic holiday music on whatever radio channel I can find. However, this year, I wanted to be more intentional about my listening for Advent, and it’s made a big difference in the tenor of my heart and home when I choose music that prepares my heart for Jesus rather than preparing me for a visit from Santa.

Melanie Penn’s Immanuel is the perfect antidote to an overdose of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. It’s a gorgeous concept album, and her voice is angelic.

Songs for Christmas Time by Lowland Hum is a folksy-acoustic take on classic hymns and Christmas songs. I just discovered this album recently, and I think it would be great to choose a few songs from the album for a different kind of playlist.

Speaking of playlists, I love the playlists Tsh Oxenreider creates on Spotify. She has superb taste in music, and has compiled two separate lists specifically for Advent. Brilliant.

Other Resources:

A Simple Advent Guide:

Again, I’ll refer you to Tsh Oxenreider. She offers a simple guide for advent with a number of suggestions for the season on her blog. I’m not sure I’m going to hand-roll my own beeswax candles, but most of her resources are incredibly do-able and simple.

Printable December Calendar:

Shelly Miller offers the loveliest (free) printable calendars all year long based on her (excellent) book Rhythms of Rest. December’s calendar offers us exactly what we need: space to breathe and space to worship. I print mine and tape it to the pantry door. Every time I reach for a box of cereal, I read the prompt and it reminds me rest is a commandment. Even at Advent.

It’s not too late to begin a simple practice of celebrating Advent. I hope you find something here that helps you move towards a spirit of anticipatory waiting rather than overwhelm and frustration. Happy reading, listening, and observing!

 

Journeying to Bethlehem: An Advent Audio Devotional

Hello, dear readers! I have a small gift for you this season. I’ve been quietly working behind the scenes on audio Advent devotional just for you!

Is Advent one more thing you don’t have time for this holiday season? Are you unsure where to begin? Are you already tired of the ads, the over consumption, and the expectations associated with Christmas?

Do you want to center your thoughts more on the joy and expectation of waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah? Me too.

Beginning November 26th, all subscribers to the blog will receive a weekly Advent Devotional sent straight to your inbox. Every Sunday, for five weeks, I’ll offer you a few words to help you connect with the heart of the season, and put busyness and excess in its place. This Sunday, I’ll introduce you to the series, and we’ll journey to Bethlehem together from there.

No money, no time commitment, no fuss. Just pop in a pair of earbuds, and join me for a few minutes every week as we prepare to make room in our hearts for Christ.

If you’re not a subscriber to the blog yet, sign up for the free devotional here . If you’re already subscribed, I’ll meet you in your inbox on Sunday.

As always, thanks for reading (and now, listening!). I hope this new series will be a gift to you this season.

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Generosity at the Thanksgiving Table

The frozen bananas on a stick were the straw that broke my pre-pubescent back. After sharing several Thanksgiving meals over the years with family friends, I’d resigned myself to celebrating with dehydrated potatoes whipped up from a box and various side dishes poured from a can. But fruit masquerading as a dessert? This was too far for a kid whose mom made every dessert, right down to the piecrust, from scratch.

My siblings and I held up the dessert offered by our hosts, and giggled at the half-moons smothered in a shell formerly known as chocolate…

Join me at Grace Table for a delicious recipe and to read the rest of this Thanksgiving story.

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How to Live a Listening Life

My husband and I sat across from each other with menus and a white linen tablecloth between us. Soft tones murmured around us as glasses clinked and waiters shuffled by with heavy white dishes. In an attempt to muffle the ambient noise, I tried to cup my hand around my ear without looking obvious. I leaned in close to hear the conversation clearly, and I smiled when the words floated across the table directly to me.

My husband glanced at me and closed his menu with a snap. “Will you please pay attention to me?” he said, and my eyes flickered to his face. My hand fell from my ear as a sheepish smile crossed my face. “Hon,” I reminded him, “you know my spiritual gift is eavesdropping.”

We were a week into our vacation Stateside after spending the previous year living abroad in Switzerland, and I planned to absorb all of the random chit-chat and conversation. My American ears longed for the sound of ambient chatter. I’d spent the last year in a fog of misunderstanding. Small talk, eavesdropping, and snippets of conversation were no longer a part of my everyday experience. My adopted country and I didn’t speak the same language.

I hadn’t exercised my so-called gift in months, but I also hadn’t become aware of the fact that the loss of spoken English had sharpened my other senses. I’ve heard this is true for those who lose their sense of sight or taste or hearing. Suddenly, everything else comes into sharp relief. Our un-compromised senses compensate, and where there is loss, there is also an intense focus.

What remains is everything we’ve been missing.

Eugene Peterson writes, “We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores.” This is my version of aspirational living. I want to live a listening life. A life that sees the value in silence, waiting, hope, and adoration. A life wide awake–one that honors this world and the One who created it, with its attention.

In Switzerland, with the loss of understanding, I was able to give the rest of the world my attention. Musical notes as opposed to lyrics. The sound of jackhammers and birdsong and laughter on the street as opposed to a passerby’s conversation. I noticed the way the clerk in the grocery store inclined her head to the customer or how the man behind me in line handled his vegetables–carefully organized by shape and size on the conveyer.

I spent far more time outside, adopting the Swiss motto, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” and I noticed what each passerby wore. Red beanie. Checked scarf. Thick treaded boots. Triple-layer down coat with a logo in the shape of a wolf paw print. I drove to the store and bought the same jacket.

I peeked in grocery carts. I absorbed body language. I followed footprints as I ran through the forest. I looked where people looked. I stopped where they stopped. I saw Switzerland–in all of its glory and decay and stunning beauty. I saw and heard and touched and smelled all of it.

I regret nothing.

I regret all of the time I spent inattentive, not listening.

We can’t adore the world if we refuse to wait for it. It unfolds like paper-wrapping and ribbon tied around the gift of ordinary glory. This is counter-cultural work. It is the work of the Spirit whispering this reminder: see, smell, hear, taste, feel. This is how we learn to love our neighbor. This is how we live life more abundantly. This is listening.

How, then, do we wait in the listening? I moved back to America four years ago, and I am just now learning to listen to my life in Switzerland. I sat with it. I turned it over in my pocket. I placed it on my nightstand. I stared and stared and stared at those years, and I am just beginning to make sense of them. How much more so the rest of my life before them? How much more so today? Tomorrow?

The gorgeous, the grotesque, the mediocre– the listening life is one that pays attention to all of it. And someday, after waiting and turning it over, and paying attention, comes understanding.

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One: Living in Harmony with our Inner and Outer Lives

“Ah, not to be cut off,

not through the slightest partition

shut out from the law of the stars.

The inner–what is it?

if not intensified sky,

hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke (Ah, Not to be Cut Off)

I know urbanites who possess the soul of a farmer, stay-at-home mothers with the soul of a CEO, and 9 to 5’ers who dream of life as an artist. I know parents whose desires sit at odds with the act of parenting, pastors separated from the life of Christ, and families disconnected from the love that once bound them together. It seems many of us are living divided lives, detached from each other, our spirit, or our own desires.

At times, I find myself living in this same divided state–one in which the deepest desires, longings, and needs of my inner self are not expressed in the self that empties the dishwasher every the morning, teaches the technicalities of college writing, and fills  in the squares on the calendar with the same activities on endless repeat. I long for the serendipity of glancing in the mirror to find my inner and outer selves perfectly aligned.

For most of us, the divided self is the one that sings slightly off-key. We sense a dissonance in our life’s song, but we can’t quite find a way to connect the person we know ourselves to be on the inside, with the person we present on the outside. We wish for harmony between them, but we’re content to remain at odds with our very self. We think it’s either too hard, or too tiring, or it requires an upheaval of our structured lives to live in harmony.

And for some of us, this might be true. To live with congruence might mean letting a relationship go or encouraging the growth of a new one. Perhaps it means switching jobs, or homes, or towns. But, more than likely, it means simply dropping the pretense and allowing our dreams to be our dreams, our desires to be our desires, and our needs to be our needs.

It is living with what is, while carrying hope for what our lives could be. But where to begin? Most of us can’t and shouldn’t turn our lives upside-down overnight. So how do we begin to sing our divided self together?

We remember ourselves.

We take the memories of our younger self, or most whole self, and we allow them to remind us of who we are and what we love. We remember the way a story slid beneath our skin and sparked us alive, or how slipping into the cool water of a lake transformed us into a fish. We stop cutting ourselves off from the little version of our big selves, and we remember who we were meant to be before real life intervened.

We speak words that are congruent with our inner life. 

Which is to say, we speak the truth in love. We say the things we mean–our yes means yes and our no means no. We tell the truth about ourselves. We stop ruthlessly editing our lives for fear others won’t believe us, desire us, or understand us anymore. It is impossible to live a life of inner harmony, when we spend all of our energy worrying about pleasing other people. This requires a healthy dose of wisdom and maturity, and a reliance on the Holy Spirit. We aren’t here to make others comfortable. We are here to live out the fullness of Christ at work in our lives.

We grow to love our shadow selves.

An undivided life is one that embraces both the best and worst of ourselves. We accept that part of living a life of harmony and congruence means receiving our fears, wounds, and limitations. These are just as much a part of us as our strengths and potential. We recognize our woundedness and our limits as integral to the formation of our character, and we allow the shadows to become an expression of the light of Christ in our lives.

When we find our inner self and outer self at odds with one another, it’s time to listen to our life, and ask where do we hear harmony and where is there dissonance? We must envision what congruence looks like, and take a first step, however tentative, in its direction.