an imperfect, happy Christmas

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“My discomfort with the gifts was a result of the circumstances that rendered me impotent to deal with buying them.  By the very nature of things, there was a limit to the time that could be expended in acquiring them and an even greater limit to the money that could be spent.  While the season’s moralizers will always claim that the amount spent is not important (“It’s the thought that counts”), intelligence and simple observation militate strongly against that position.  The thought behind a standard boy’s bike and the feel of a ten-speed racer under that same boy are very, very unequal to a fourteen year old.  In 1984, they were also very unequal to my checkbook.

That year, the inequalities and loss of time were multiplied by children, children-in-law, grandchildren, grandmothers, and godparents.  The real issue, however, was that children need to experience the security and the largess of having those this-world things that help them fit easily into the patterns and flow of their own lives, both social and domestic, private and public.  For fourteen year olds in a farming village, that meant ten-speed racers…

Gifting is a way to demonstrate love.  It requires that we study another so intensely as to perceive his or her unspoken desires and meet them.  It means to startle with the unexpected, the perfectly chosen.  For our children we had always seen it as a way to form a thankful and satisfied adult, to create a readiness for generosity, the early habits of appreciation, and a sense of blessedness.”

I read these words by Phyllis Tickle in her short book of stories from her farm called What the Land Already Knows early in the month of December.  A small little book, yet multiple times in the dark night while I would be reading it, tears would prick my eyes.  Yes, to feel overwhelmed with the December things–the gift buying, the desire to bless our children and hope to provide them with hearts that understand what it feels like to both receive and give generously.  The desire to spend our affections richly on the One to whom the seasons is all about, Jesus, the babe in the manger.  The tug and pull of gatherings, pageants, birthdays, meals, Advent readings, the gift buying and wrapping (which largely falls on me and it can bring such weariness even though it is a joy).  The questioning of ourselves–are we spending ourselves (both our time and money) well in this season?  Are we giving our children too much?  Too little?

Her words brought freedom and the reminder of what it’s like to be a child–to hope for an item and to receive it.  To anticipate the good gifts of Christmas morning, to work through the ungratefulness and dissatisfaction in our hearts that can sometimes follow.  Her words helped me as a mother to wrestle my own guilt and frustrations with myself down–we are finite, limited.  We have so many pressures in these years with little ones and so few resources.  We cannot hope to dance through this season perfectly, we will mostly limp through it held up by the gracious and loving arms of the babe who came to save us.

This Christmas morning began with a child who wet the bed and then a screaming baby woken up too early.  I had slept quite poorly and had a hard time being in a good mood until well into the afternoon, unfortunately.  I apologized multiple times to everyone and was mostly very grateful that Brandon was unusually chipper and unaffected by my grouchiness.  Three different loved ones gave me products intended to help puffy, tired eyes this year and I do so hope these products do the job! 🙂

We had filled the children’s stockings with dried fruits from nuts.com, chocolates, a stainless steel cup, pencils, a couple of small toys, as well as a pair of knitting needles.  Yes, everyone got needles because all three older children are asking now for knitting needles and yarn. 🙂  Phoebe wanted her first pair of circular needles, which I had told her she would receive if she stuck with a knitted project and finished it.  (She has mostly done that).  Wren received some new rubber bath toys, her first glass sippy cup, new spoons, a rainbow stacker and a ball.  Each child got a book, one smaller item they wanted, and then one larger item.  Grandparents had sent along new pajamas, dried mangoes, books and such, plus one larger gift: a trampoline!  Both Brandon and I had gifts from secret santas (my family drew names for Christmas) and we both got each other a few things when in previous years we haven’t simply because of inability.  He bought me a beautiful pendant necklace (theres just something so romantic and lovely about a man giving jewelry to his girl).  He treated me to way too many bath salts, lotions, candles, as well as a new ball winder which feels heavenly to use.  I treated him to some new tools and carhartt overalls, a new belt and hat.  He spent the remainder of the day putting together Phoebes bike and the trampoline and we had a simple dinner of veggies/hummus, cheese and sandwich meat with a little bit of sushi (my favorite!) from our favorite local spot.

After baths and reading together the children treated us to a surprise performance of the nativity while they requested I play “Silent Night” on the piano.  It was so precious and sweet and it blessed me so — yes, when it’s all said and done and they’ve been inundated with far more than they really need by way of material items, they do understand what this season is all about.  We’ve been remembering the waiting for the Savior and what it’s like to hang in the long dark waiting for His coming and then to celebrate His arrival, Immanuel, God with us.  How we need Him!  What a miracle it is, God wrapped in such small, frail human flesh–given to us.

It was a Merry Christmas filled with the usual interruptions, bad attitudes, apologies, forgiveness, snuggles, joy and laughter that typically fill a family’s day.  All this holy wrapped up and tucked into all this ordinary.  I hope it was a Merry Christmas for you too, dear reader.  May these days leading up to the New Year be filled with sweet reflections, peace, and joy!

ps. I’ll pop back in here soon with photos from both Noah’s and Phoebe’s birthdays. ❤

one special thing

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Photos from the first week of Advent.  A tree hunt at several local roadside stands ended with a car full of disappointed children and no tree–they were twice as expensive as our little favorite tree farm!  So the next day we made a special trip back out to “our” farm, even though it was a bit of a drive, and cut our own tree as we’ve done for many years now.  It’s way more fun, anyway.  I guess I stupidly assumed roadside tree stands would be cheaper.  Anyway, the children were so happy to bring that tree in the house and make room for it.

We’re trying to do one special thing each day of Advent, whether it’s something as small as pulling out one more Christmas decoration, or something a little more time-consuming like dehydrating orange slices to sew into a little garland, or an act of charity/kindness to a neighbor.  On December 6th, St. Nicholas Feast day, we watched a little educational movie about St. Nicholas and colored pictures, and the children had set out their boots by the door the night before and woke up to find their new pair of knitted mittens.  Phoebe and I worked on finishing up her first semester of school, both of us feeling weary and needing a winter break.

 

 

yarn along

DSC_0133I finished the Advent mittens for the kids, but decided to give them to them tomorrow for St. Nicholas’ day.  I’ve printed off some coloring sheets and we’ll make some Christmas cookies as we learn about who St. Nicholas was.  I thought it would be fun for them to have a little something to open on that day.

I need to get started on Noah’s birthday sweater, as his bday is quickly approaching, but while I wait to get the yarn I cast on some mellow shorts for baby girl.  I’ve been dying to cast this on and all I want to knit is baby knits!  🙂  But Noah has asked for a red sweater, and he truly enjoys my hand knits so I can’t resist making him something for his birthday.  I just visited my favorite yarn store today to get yarn for him and will hopefully cast on sometime later today/tonight.

Also, the needle case pictured was a birthday gift from Brandon (though I picked it out) from the etsy shop Pea Pod Thread and I love it.  My only complaint is that I can’t really fit my fixed circulars in there, and definitely no DPNS so I still feel like I need another case for organizing those.  My knit picks interchangeable needles are very happy, though, to have a new home, after the plastic case they came in was completely torn.

I’ve been really enjoying the first week of Advent readings from this book, Hallelujah, by Cindy Rollins.  Her book, Mere Motherhood, has been one of my very favorites.  This one journeys through the scripture and music of Handel’s Messiah, which we have been doing together in the mornings.  We still spend evenings in Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift while the kids color corresponding ornaments to decorate our little wooden Jesse tree.  I grew up listening to Handel’s Messiah every Christmas and it holds a special place in my heart, so it is exciting to share it with the children, even if it may be a bit over their heads.

Joining with Nicole’s weekly Crafting On.
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yarn along

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Still reading To the Bright Edge of the World but also daily in this book by Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift, as I have read through it every advent season for the past three years.  Good every time and the Lord always uses it mightily.

Knitting a bright green Christmas surprise hat for Brandon (improvising a pattern).  I promised him a hat a long time ago but have been busy with other projects.  I can only knit on this when he’s not home which leaves very little time for it (since I usually knit in the evenings).  I’m making headway on Noah’s sweater as well, maybe 1/3 of the way through the second sleeve.  Phoebe’s sweater is blocking finally and buttons have arrived for both, so I’m hoping I will finish them both in time for their birthdays (the week of Christmas).  We travel with Phoebe tomorrow afternoon to Winston Salem for her procedure so I should have about 5 hours of car knitting time and I hope to nearly finish Noah’s sweater?  We’ll see.  If you think of it, send prayers our way for our girl, for answers and healing and for courage for us all.

Happy knitting and reading, friends!

xo

I’m joining with Ginny of Small Things for her weekly yarn along link-up.
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yarn along

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Almost done with the body of Noah’s sweater and getting ready to split for sleeves.  I haven’t knit a sweater bottom-up before, so it will be interesting to do it this way!  I love love love it so far.  It’s different/challenging enough to keep me interested, but also a very relaxing knit, and who can’t love working with Brooklyn Tweed?  I keep worrying it’ll be too small but I *think* it’s good.  We’ll see!

Reading Come Thou Long Expected Jesus advent readings with Brandon in the evenings before we fall asleep.  I’m also still finishing up Missional Motherhood.  Needing some good fiction next, I think.

I’m linking up with Ginny’s weekly yarn along today, where we share what we’re currently reading + knitting.

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season of light

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It’s the season of lights, the season of looking, waiting, longing, expectancy.  For the first night of Advent last night we talked about this as we rolled beeswax candles and then lit them.  This song by Gungor + All Sons and Daughters ringing in our hearts.  Hallelujah, He is with us!  Be blessed this Christmas season, dear friend.  May His light shine so brilliantly within you and all around you and may you find Him nearer and better than ever.

(Beeswax candle kit found here.)

season of light

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Our week has been sort of slow, quiet, different.  We started off the week with a stomach bug which thankfully didn’t pass through the family as we thought it would, but it took a couple of days for Phoebe to be herself again.  And we’ve been battling a head cold.  And it rained for half the week.  So we have been pretty hunkered down.  As much as I hate battling sickness, it has given us some time to just be together and read books, snuggle, knit, watch movies, stay in our jammies.  In the midst of it, we’ve been observing Advent together, momma reading this book in the mornings in the early + dark quiet, bent over coffee.  Kids gather over this book in the evenings, freshly bathed and coloring ornaments to decorate the Jesse Tree as I read.  We’ve slowly been pulling out Christmas decorations, putting things here and there as we have time.  Phoebe made my bed for me this morning, and I snapped a picture of that simple grace.  In all its rumpled glory, it sings of her sweet spirit, her kindness and the quiet way she serves even at her young age.  I hope I can be more like her.

It’s been sweet, savoring this season of light so far.  Remembering our Savior, the hope of His birth, the way it proclaims the Gospel to us:  Jesus came, even in the midst of a very broken and fallen and evil world, a wicked generation.  He still came.  He didn’t just come to visit us, God visiting man, He came as one of us, God and man.  The hope in this!  The glory!  That He knows our frailty in an experiential way.  He knows our need.  Our weakness.  He offers Himself to us.  I pray for you and for myself this season that above all else we open our hearts and hands to receive Him.

 

yarn along

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The past week has been busy with family and gathering, the best sort of busy.  I’ve been trying to crank out some knitting on this sock in the few quiet moments in between.  This is my first time knitting in the round + knitting socks, I really am enjoying it now that I’ve started to see it take shape.  I’m skeptical that I’ll finish 4 sets of these before Christmas at this rate! 😦  But maybe I’ll get faster as I get the hang of it?  I’m just about ready to start on the heel flap on this one.  Lots to learn!

I’m still reading The Things of Earth of course, it will take me a bit to work through that one.  I’ve also started a few Advent books, this one is edited by Nancy Guthrie, an author I love, and is a compilation of some Christmas reflections from some of the best pastors and theologians such as George Whitfield, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, Tim Keller, Jonathon Edwards, Augustine, Schaeffer, etc.  I’m enjoying it so far.  I’m also reading Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift and the children + I have been eager to dive back into the child’s Advent book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  We worked through it last year and all loved it so much.  I think it will be a treasured family tradition for us!

(Joining up today with Ginny Sheller‘s yarn along!)

Remember the War

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One of the books that kept company with me during the Advent season was Piper’s “Good News of Great Joy.”  It was a sweet guide prompting me to see and to savor Jesus’ glory specifically in His incarnation.  Piper is clear that observing the Advent season + traditions is not a biblical mandate but is simply a tool for meditating on the wonders of the incarnation, God coming to earth in human form, and thereby increasing our worship and enjoyment of Jesus.

I loved how Piper argued for the benefit of observing Advent, even though it is not required, at the outset of his book, and finished it with an exhortation not to worship the tradition of Advent itself.  He reminds that keeping a tradition such as Advent is a religious ritual that was meant to be a shadow pointing us to the substance.  It serves a purpose but ultimately we must set our gaze not on the religious ritual itself, but on the person of Jesus.  See, we are creatures who are bent toward worship, and easily we begin to worship the means of worship, the traditions themselves, instead of the Object.

I love the sharp, quiet, and simple exhortation at the end of Piper’s Advent readings:

“Religious ritual is like a shadow of a great and glorious Person. Let us turn from the shadow and look the Person in the face (2 Corinthians 4:6).  My little children, keep yourselves from (religious) idols (1 John 5:21).”

*          *          *          *          *

There is a war of feelings in me as we close the year, the end of a beautiful and hard year.  As I look at Christmas decorations and begin to tuck them away; as we find our souls missing the habit of Advent readings and longings.  As December closes, I find my soul weary from the constant beckoning of materialism and the endless marketing campaigns to “buy more” and “not to miss this sale.”  My soul is weary from the shallow, empty promises this world gives to satisfy.

I love this quote a fellow blogger shared earlier this week:

“I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in.  I start to love what others love.  I start to call earth ‘home.’  Before you know it, I am calling luxuries ‘needs’ and using my money just the way unbelievers do.  I begin to forget the war.  I don’t think much about people perishing.  Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind.  I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace.  I sink into a secular mindset that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do.  It is a terrible sickness.  And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mindset.”

{Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life}

As we turn toward January, toward a New Year, our hearts are full of resolutions and goals, hopes and dreams.  Let us engage in the work of examination, looking for ways we have grown addicted to the world and to our own flesh, and for ways we can forsake these sins and grow in holiness as blood-bought children of God.  Let’s remember the war we are in, and armor up for it once again.

When you don’t want Jesus

What if at the bottom of it all, at my deepest core, I don’t really care about Jesus.  I don’t really want Jesus.

What is wrong in my heart that the greatest gift could become of so little consequence in my estimation?  What is wrong in my heart that some new clothes, books, or a device are more appealing to me than Jesus?  What is wrong that I could be more excited over birthday and holiday parties to come, over planning for events and chopping down a Christmas tree and decorating the house, over Christmas cards and music, than Christ Himself?  What could have caused such a shift that what is priceless and perfection and the answer for my every longing would be lost under the pile of material things?  (Things supposedly done in the name of celebration over the Savior’s birth.)  That when the words “He is the greatest gift are whispered to my soul, my soul isn’t satisfied?  Or exhilarated?  That I don’t feel much of anything.  Maybe it’s just me.

This is why I need Advent this Christmas.  This is why I need the journey, the slow and steady and deliberate plodding from the Garden to the Manger to the Cross and the empty Tomb.  Because my heart is bent away from God.  Because lesser things continually come in and slowly, quietly, choke out the good things.  Because I want to see Him again, anew, as the greatest gift, as the best and highest and most precious thing this Christmas season.  Because I don’t want to miss Him and I don’t want a Christmas I can buy.  Because I want my heart at its core to want Jesus.  Because “the greatest gift we can give our great God is to let His love make us glad” (Voskamp, The Greatest Gift).

May He be found anew and treasured more highly than all else!

“We must be sure of the infinite good that is done to us by our Lord Jesus Christ, in order that we may be ravished in love with our God and inflamed with a right affection to obey Him, and keep ourselves strictly in awe of Him.”  -John Calvin