Archives for December 2012

Looking Back, Leaning Forward.

So, New Year, we meet again.

I really enjoy this time of year. I anticipate opening the new calendar and filling it up. Having two planners on my kitchen table for the past month has been driving me crazy. But now all the Christmas celebrations have passed, and all that’s left is reflection and goal setting for 2013. So if you haven’t already started resolving, dreaming, cleaning, and declaring… there’s no time like the present.

 

calendar

 

If the idea of making anything close to a resolution causes you to pull your hair out, this post is for you. I’m not about banishing snacks from my home or even picking a number on the scale. I prefer to speak in terms of goals that help me to live a better story. So today I wanted to share some thoughts, resources, and encouragement for embracing the new year.

1. Write out your story from 2012. I did this last week and spent  45 minutes to an hour tops on the whole project. I wrote out my highs and lows for the year. After doing so I stared at a list of God’s provision and providence. I was overwhelmed to see how many good gifts were poured out in abundance. I’m also humbled to see His hand in the midst of heartache. Writing out my story helps me to remember where I have come from and where He is taking me.

2. Read this post by Kevin East. Every year this list influences how my husband and I create our family goals, but the areas could be applied to ANYONE, even if you call all the shots in your family. If you are looking for a great place to start when it comes to some serious introspection and goal setting, look no further.

3. Watch this video that talks through how I create my personal goals with some important guidelines: the goals should be measurable, attainable, realistic, and time managed. It’s dated from last January, but the main points apply just as easily today.

4. Don’t get discouraged! I didn’t finish everything on my list from last year, but that doesn’t mean I failed. It just means those things need to be reworded, reworked, and refocused. This verse keeps me encouraged:

“So here’s what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart’s been in the right place all along. You’ve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can’t.” 2 Cor 8:10-12 Msg

5. Write out your hopes for the year. When I step into 2014 (yikes!) I hope to:

– Have a copy of my book in hand. (Whether e-reader or printed.)
– Know my neighbors – beyond their names and a few surface details. I want to know their stories.
– Have finally read “Mere Christianity.” (How many times can you stop and start one book?)
– Tried out and attended a group activity class at my local rec center. (I’m not meeting people jogging by myself.)
– Have given away multiple copies of the Jesus Storybook Bible in English and Spanish.
– Own and have utilized an Advent wreath during the season.

Those are just a few… there are some more that are going to stay close to heart for safe keeping. But more than any hope I have for the year, I am waiting in expectation for all that the Lord has in store. For “many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21) I trade in my lists for whatever He purposes!

My hope is that these words encourage you in your own story!

Following,
Ginger

This side of the manger.

manger

“What we do when we leave the manger says a lot about who we met there.” – Bob Goff

That phrase is sticking with me today. It’s just two days since Christmas and already my routine is changing. My Advent books are back on the shelf. The final to-do list of 2012 is quickly filling. But something about this Christmas just won’t let me go.

Perhaps reading the Story in a new way opened my eyes to see the humanity of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and even Simeon. Perhaps it was the extended time of rest with my family. Or it might have even been the losses felt most deeply this time of year. I know without a doubt that those hurting and grieving in Newton have been laid heavily on my heart.

The manger points me to the God who entered into the mess and anguish of our world in order that He might bring us light.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:6

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew 4:16

There’s something about the darkness we witnessed on December 14th which made the light that much more poignant.

We grieve, but because of the manger, we grieve with hope.

 

Traditions

Family traditions are straight up random when they don’t belong to your family. I’ve been quizzing friends and acquaintences this season to see what I’m missing by not being part of your family for Christmas. A lot of people all wear new pajamas on Christmas Eve. Several families actually hide pajamas for everyone to hunt. One family plays a giant game of hide and seek in the dark late Christmas Eve – this includes Grandma.

 

I didn’t ever think of our family traditions as odd… until I verbalized them to several people this year and everyone shook their heads knowingly. “Yep. Your family is weird too.” Perhaps it was the fact that all of the kids slept in the same room (even as recently as just a few years ago), or the random assortment of goodies in our stockings (batteries, tic tacs, and a lint roller), but I think it was the fact that we still claimed our spots for our Santa gifts when I was 20 years old. We also used to identify the earliest time everyone could wake up on Christmas morning. As soon as we stepped out of the Christmas Eve service at church, the bartering would begin. When we were really young we used to open Christmas gifts around 6:30am. We’ve now progressed to roughly 8:30 or 9:00am.

 

traditions

 

Christmas Eve for the past few years has been spent at my Aunt and Uncle’s Church. We usually attend a later evening service. It’s beautiful. They often have a professional vocalist from the Houston Opera, a full orchestra, and a massive choir. The pipe organ is gorgeous. As I look around and see teenagers checking fantasy football scores and texts on their phones, I can’t help but notice my own distractions. I have to turn off my desire to wonder about the fonts chosen for the bulletin or the turn-around for the next service. “You do not work here. Stop worrying about child-care.” The distractions of the season are everywhere and they beckon us to concern ourselves with just about anything but the Christ-child in the manger.

 

We started a new sermon series in youth this month looking at The Story. My hope was to strip away everything that’s been added and pull out just the story from Matthew and Luke. Mary was not chosen out of her perfection, but out of her willingness. That first “Silent Night” that was probably anything but silent. For although our Savior was sinless, He was most certainly fully human… and much crying He probably did make. You get the idea.

 

All this to say, in five days, when you sit by yourself… or with your crazy family – in front of a tree, around a table, in a wooden pew, or on a cushioned chair… remember the 42 generations who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Recall the young teenage girl who gave up her expectations for God’s amazing reality. Picture the infant breathing His first gulp of air and wailing – and then the man who cried out and gave up His last breath on Calvary. This God made flesh has come.

 

“Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

 

Following and waiting,

Ginger

Friday Finds: Advent Activity

The internet is full of great ideas for Advent Readings, Calendars, and the like- so I wanted to share something today that’s pretty unique. I’ve talked about Praying in Color before, and I’m sure I will again. ;)

Today I’m specifically sharing the Praying in Color Advent Calendar. The doodling side of my brain loves this format for prayer and meditation. Check out Sybil MacBeth’s blog posts on using color to pray this Advent.  This isn’t a product to purchase, but something you can start today with items in your home! She even has templates for recreating and printing. Take advantage and try coloring your thoughts and prayers this weekend.

Praying in Color Advent

“Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 The Message)

Happy Friday!

Following and waiting,
Ginger

Advent Sounds

advent sounds

I have a vivid memory from my childhood, one that was replayed yearly. The Christmas tree is decorated to the hilt and all of the lights in the house are extinguished. Choral Christmas music is playing through the speakers and we are sitting on the couch just gazing at the lights. No more rushing, no more fighting to hang an ornament, no more talking… just resting.

We are such sensory creatures. I notice how my heart and mind respond when I step outdoors and gaze at the stars, or chat around a fire. There’s something sacred about tiny lights in the dark. I have a list of music to share with you today, but like most art… this music might not speak to you in the same way. My hope is that you explore, listen, find tunes and lyrics that quiet your heart and then take the time to shut off the lights, turn on the tree and just rest. Let every heart prepare Him room!

1. Dona Nobis Pacem performed by Yo-Yo Ma.  I could listen to this delicate rendition with cellos all day long.  It calms my heart and focuses my mind on the simple lyrics: Give us peace… over and over and over.

2.Advent Cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach.  I find myself aided in times of prayer by the sweeping sounds of Bach’s choral music.

3. Behold the Lamb of God by Andrew Peterson. This is not a traditional Christmas album. This is an album about the who God saw the brokenness of humanity and then resolved to heal. This is the story of the Incarnation.  Listen. Purchase.

4. Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant. These are moving words. Read Mary’s story in Luke 1:16-38 and then push play. I’m immediately taken into the story, into the fears and doubts, and into her resolve: May it be to me as You have said.

5. Christmas Songs by Jars of Clay. This is my favorite Christmas album to play while I’m working. Chill, calm, and tender.

6. Oh Come Let Us Adore Him by Shane and Shane. This whole album is wonderful, but this is the one I put on repeat… and then repeat once more.

7. Handel’s Messiah, The Nutcracker, The Four Seasons- Op. 8 Violin Concierto, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir(talk about beautiful singing!)… the list of classical goes on and on for good reason. If you need a new Pandora station just type in Classical Christmas.

 

What are the sounds of your Advent?

Following and waiting,

Ginger

 

Advent Viewing

star

I have a few favorite videos on my Christmas/Advent list and wanted to share just in case you’ve missed these.

Advent Conspiracy: A movement to Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.  Follow the link to the site, watch the video below, and move from envy to action.

[AC] Promo 2012 – Living Water International from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

The story of Christmas as told by the children of St Paul’s Church, Auckland, New Zealand. These kids make me super happy. I know you could argue the details, but you can’t argue the wonder and excitement in this retelling of the Christmas Story. I’ve already watched it MULTIPLE times this week.

 

Bethlehem StarThe Bethlehem Star.  Spend some time on the website.  I watched this DVD for the first time in 2006 and I have rented it from the library every year since. My mom bought the film this year and we are going to watch her copy on Thursday night. I’m so excited to share The Bethlehem Star with my husband. This film reminds me that you can press the Scriptures hard and find scientific evidence for the things that it says.

 

Obviously I have other favorites for this time of the year. Meet Me in St. Louis, White Christmas, Elf, The Christmas Story, and others usually come out while I’m wrapping a present or two… but there’s something beautifully different about the Star, the Story, and the Advent Conspiracy. Let every heart prepare Him room.

What’s on your list?!

Following,
Ginger

Advent Reading

Resource list #1. Favorite reads for December…

“Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas” by John Blase. I can’t tell you how much my heart enjoys reading the Story with new eyes. “This retold story of Word made flesh invites readers to react appropriately—with eyes opened wide in wonder, jaws dropped in amazement, and hearts rejoicing.”

The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent by Calvin Miller. These 31 days of readings and Scriptures will invite you to rest in the presence of God throughout the Christmas Season and the whole year. “Revisit the Manger… the miracle… the meaning.”

“How in the World to get ready for Christmas?”  A beautiful blog post by Ann Voskamp over at A Holy Experience. ”This will take time. This will take waiting. I must make space for these….”

God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This book comes highly recommended by one of my nearest and dearest friends. Becca’s desire to savor the mystery of the season causes me to want to pick up every book she reads… this one by Bonhoeffer especially!

God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ by Max Lucado.  A beautiful book that paints a unique picture of the humility and humanity of the Incarnation.

Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen. This book was a gift from a dear friend and I have treasured reading it for the past 6 years. There are so many thought-provoking reminders throughout this devotional.

The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Every story bears His name… and I especially love the voice given to Mary’s story in this one! “At the center of the Story is a baby, the child upon whom everything will depend. Every story whispers his name. From Noah to Moses to the great King David—every story points to him. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle—the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together.”

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Although I don’t own this one (yet!) I’ve given multiple copies away in the past year. The text, the artwork… everything about this book is beautiful. “On one quiet night, creation whispered a secret. Grass and bees, robins and trees all spread the word. Sheep told their young while angels sang the song to the shepherds. Hushed news of a miracle echoed to the ends of the earth. The moment had come. The long-awaited child had arrived!”

What am I missing?

Following and waiting…
Ginger

Preparing Room

Last week there wasn’t a stitch of Christmas in my home. And although we still have a long way to go, the tree is up with lights (sans ornaments) and the Bach Christmas Station is playing through Pandora this morning. Even though it might look or seem like a half-hearted or minimalist attempt, my heart is more engaged with the Story than it has been in a long time.

I’m continuing to read through Revelation, but I also picked up a great little e-book called “Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas” by John Blase. I can’t tell you how much my heart enjoys reading the Story with new eyes.

“Let every heart prepare Him room!”

That’s one of my favorite stanzas from Joy to the World. I love the visual imagery and the perfect reminder to prepare what’s most important.

Our small group discussed that very idea around a fire and S’mores (WIN) last week. How are you preparing your heart for Advent? I can’t stop thinking about that question, especially when I wake up in the middle of the night.

Do we begin our own traditions now or wait until we have kids one day? My parents used to light the candles of an Advent wreath in the evenings during the month of December. The three siblings would fight to light and extinguish the candles, we would sing a song or two, and someone would read a small passage. I’m sure it was stressful at times, but there was something about the hush of the lights, the circle, and our small family celebrating together.

I’m currently on the hunt for my own Advent wreath. It might take some convincing to get my husband to sing, but the hope is that our home, as a family unit, will prepare for Christmas in a very intentional way.

What about you? How are you preparing the room of your heart this Advent?

This week I’m going to share some of my favorite Advent resources and I hope you’ll do the same. Preparing the way for Emmanuel… who was, is, and will be.

Preparing,
Ginger

 

With You

“Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.

Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”

God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”

God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”

Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.

God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

“The Israelite cry for help has come to me, and I’ve seen for myself how cruelly they’re being treated by the Egyptians. It’s time for you to go back: I’m sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the People of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Moses answered God, “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

“I’ll be with you,” God said. “And this will be the proof that I am the one who sent you: When you have brought my people out of Egypt, you will worship God right here at this very mountain.” (Exodus 3:1-12, The Message)

Check out the question from Moses in the second to last paragraph. “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

How many times have I… have we responded to God similarly? “But why me? What makes you think I could ever ____________?

I love the response from God. “I’ll be with you.”

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Emmanuel. God is WITH us.

Take heart! He is with you.

Following,
Ginger

Was, Is, and Will Be

Advent is upon us. It’s time to celebrate and prepare our hearts for the coming of the King of Kings. In my mind, the Advent readings, candles, and music serve as a giant pause button. That pause tells me to close my computer, hide my to-do list, and stop with the shopping and decorating. The pause helps me reclaim peace in the midst of busy.

Usually I read through two Advent devotional booklets during the season. But this year is different… not intentionally, it just worked out that way.

I’ve been reading through the Bible for the last two years and am just about to finish up this time around. Ordinarily I would take a break for Advent, but I’m so close to the finish line. That’s how I found myself reading Revelation chapters 1-2 yesterday morning.

My Advent reading appears to be the book of Revelation. I’ll admit, the thought was a little deflating until I found the narrative of Scripture swirling all around me – reminding me that all of the pieces point to the same promise:

“Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come…” (Revelation 1:4)

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the LORD God, ‘Who is, and who was, and who is to come…”  (Revelation 1:8)

On Sunday morning the candle of promise was lit in our small church sanctuary and our pastor shared from the lyrics of the beautiful hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Not only has the song been in my head for three days, but the promise of God with us replays as well.

The main theme of the sermon: “Through faith in Jesus – God was, and is, and will be with us.”

Advent is the promise of His presence. God is with us. This was the comfort provided to a fearful Mary, a worried Joseph, terrified shepherds, and doubting disciples. Time and again the answer, the hope of all our fears, is met in the promise of God’s presence.

Confession: I have yet to play a single Christmas song in my home. There’s not a stitch of decor in my house. It’s 80 degrees outside. It doesn’t feel like Christmas.

But the promise running through the Gospel story rings clear this morning. The truth of God’s presence trumps my wandering feelings. God is with us.

“The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored. The LORD is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

This is the theme for my reading and writing this season. I welcome you to join me.

Following,
Ginger