The Rhythm of Our Advent

This little corner of the internet has been quiet the past few weeks for a couple of reasons: 1) I’ve been working on a project for my church that is now in the out-of-my-hands-but-not-yet-into-yours stage. (If you attend Horizons Church, keep an eye out for the Advent guide!) and 2) Josiah and I have been spending most of our spare time preparing to move. I wrote a bit about how our rental home was for sale and it looks like someone is interested in purchasing it, so we’re moving. If you think about it, we’d love your prayers. We love our home and aren’t excited about leaving it, but we’re trusting that this is God’s best for us and trying to walk faithfully in that.  

Now that that’s out of the way, I wanted to share a few ways that I celebrate the season of Advent. Advent is the season on the church calendar that stretches the four weeks leading up to Christmas, and it’s traditionally a season to practice expectant waiting for Jesus’s coming.

There are probably hundreds of lists on the internet about ways to maximize your time this Christmas to attend all the parties and see all the lights and wrap all the presents with picture perfect homemade bows. If that is how you love to celebrate Christmas, then please do those things and enjoy them! I’ve found that a slower pace makes it easier for me to focus my heart on Jesus and enjoy the good gifts of this season without feeling rushed and frantic. Below are some of the traditions I’ve made that help foster that slowness and expectancy.

Before I got married, I celebrated Advent on my own using a few different devotionals/guides over the years. (One of my favorites was The Dawning of Indestructible Joy which I still highly recommend!) Last year, Josiah and I tried the She Reads Truth and He Reads Truth Advent books and loved them so we’re doing the same thing this year. Each day of Advent, there’s a scripture reading and online devotional that we do on our own. Then, each Sunday of Advent, we read the scripture together and light the candles in our Advent wreath. Celebrating Advent this way is one of my favorite traditions.

I’ve already started listening to Christmas music this year and have been loving The Oh Hellos’ Family Christmas Album. The songs/movements are soulful and deep with bouts of joy and celebration mixed in, which feels like the perfect mix for a season where there is much to celebrate but there is also much we are still waiting for expectantly while suffering presses into us. This album balances that in a really unique way.

Last year I perfected the art of the homemade chai tea latte. I use Twinings Chai Tea (which you can find at nearly every grocery store) and heat up about ¼ cup whole milk while the tea is brewing. My younger brother gave me a milk frother (like this) for Christmas a couple years ago and I use it to froth the warm milk before pouring it into my cup of tea. I top it off with a sprinkle of cinnamon and it always makes me feel Christmas-y to drink it in the morning!

One of the ways I practice simplicity during the Advent season is in the way I wrap gifts. Every year I buy a big roll of plain butcher paper and use it as wrapping paper. It’s significantly more cost effective than buying rolls of bright glittery wrapping paper, and I personally prefer the understated look of the matching gifts under our tree. To decorate them a bit, sometimes I’ll add a sprig of greenery from outside, some red or dark green yarn, or a hand-lettered word on the package like “merry” or “holly.”

A few years ago I tried my hand at making clay gift tags and I’ve made them every year since. They are a bit more labor-intensive, but I love the way they look on packages, and it’s a fun project to take on while listening to Christmas music. I used to use salt dough, but last year I tried a recipe for cornstarch dough and it’s what I’ll use again this year. It’s whiter than salt dough and smoother to write on. The recipe talks about adding glitter and making different shapes, but I like to keep it simple by making plain white circular tags that I can write on later with a Sharpie.

While not exactly an Advent-specific tradition, I love to make homemade bread this time of year. I follow a simple recipe and the rise time reminds me that Advent is a season of waiting. While it’s baking, our whole house smells wonderful and inviting, and the best part (of course) is eating it warm out of the oven with butter.

During Advent, Josiah and I love to diffuse Young Living’s Christmas Spirit essential oil. I don’t sell essential oils and nearly all of mine are the cheapest brands I could find on Amazon or at Target, but this little bottle is worth the $10. It smells like a Christmas tree and oranges and cinnamon, and it always lasts the entire month of December even though we diffuse it every time we are home and awake. Whenever I smell it now, I think of sweet Christmas memories with my husband and the cozy feeling of our home in the winter.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope this season is full and rich with reminders to you of the Lord’s faithfulness and love.

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A Letter to My Husband on Our First Anniversary

Dear Husband,

I wanted to write you a love letter with timeless words and meaningful sentiments for our one year anniversary. Instead, I could think only of your hands, your long fingers and bitten nails, the way the top is tanned dark and your palm is pink with creased lines. A few days ago, those hands held a dirty rag and cleaning supplies while you cleaned our whole house top to bottom as a surprise for me. You said it was cathartic to use your hands to make our house shine after a full morning of staring at a computer screen putting words together into sentences and thoughts and paragraphs.

Over two years ago your hands held a tiny black box with a ring hidden safely inside. They shook as you bent down on one knee and held that ring up to me, asking me if I would marry you. Do you know that was the easiest, “yes” of my life? I didn’t hesitate, I didn’t have to think. My answer was and is forever, “Yes.”

For months before we were married your hands tapped out text messages to me while I was at school. Even 250 miles away, your hands found ways of comforting me. On a warm August day, I stepped into a white dress, my hair curled and my makeup done, and I waited. When I saw you, I wanted to fall into your arms and never leave. I wanted to whisper all the things I love about you into your ear and watch you smile. I wanted your laugh to be the soundtrack I listened to for the rest of my life. When we said our vows, I tried to memorize the moment, not wanting to forget how the sun shone brightly on your dark hair and glinted off the new ring on your finger.

People ask me what it is like to be married to you and I want to answer it is like a dream. Every night that I fall asleep curled next to your warm body in a bed we share, I can’t help but think about what a gift you are to me. Every morning that I wake up and you are there beside me, sleep still in your eyes and your hair a morning mess, I feel as though I am waking up to a dream.

People say we are still in the honeymoon phase and have yet to experience what marriage is truly like. It is always spoken like a low warning, as if our joy and love is a threat because our marriage is less than a year old. Sometimes I wonder if they would change their minds if they had been with us on those long nights when your hands rubbed the small of my back while I cried into your chest. I wonder if they would try to stuff the words back into their mouths if they had stood beside us at the funerals we attended, if their eyes found the grave mud still on my shoes kicked off at our front door. When I say that being married to you is like a dream, it is not because we are unfamiliar with what it is like to live in a nightmare.

Our love is young, but it is not untested. At night in the darkness of our bedroom your hand always finds mine and you pray for us, your voice as soft as a lullaby. On weekends when you stand on a platform with lights shining in your eyes and the members of our church gathered in seats to hear, that same hand curls around your bible as you preach. You are a man who is as faithful in the quiet and the dark as you are in the spotlight on a stage, and this is something for which I am more thankful than you know.

When we are home, you slip your hand into mine while we sit beside each other. Your fingers are calloused from the strings on your guitar and I think about how you fill our home with music. With you, each moment is its own verse and bridge and chorus. Sometimes you sing quietly along with the music and I hold it in my heart like a secret, the way your voice lingers in the room even after you’ve stopped singing, as if the walls are still listening.

Your hands fit you. Your hands are big like your joyful laugh and the way you love people in a way that is larger-than-life. Your hands are soft like the way you speak to me after a long day, or the way you tear up at every sad scene of a movie. Your hands are warm like your smile and the way you invite people into friendship so easily and naturally.

I stand next to you and your hand finds mine just like your laugh found me and your soft voice found me and your smile and friendship found me. You pull me out of myself and make me better. You serve me tirelessly and encourage me without complaint. You are my counterbalance, the hand I find in the middle of the night when I am afraid.

We’ve now been married for a year and every moment feels sacred. I don’t ever want to forget that. I don’t ever want to forget how our hands, just like our lives, fit together perfectly. I am grateful that we found each other, that one night the Lord deemed it good and right for us to reach out, look each other in the eyes, and fit our hands together. I pray, even if it is a foolish prayer, that we will always have each others’ hands to hold.

With Love,

Your Wife

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from  Be Light Photography .  You can view the rest of our wedding gallery  here!

Photo by the incredibly talented Stefanie Madison from Be Light Photography.

You can view the rest of our wedding gallery here!

In All Our Affliction

My husband and I recently shared dinner with some older friends of ours, a husband and wife with years of marriage between them, looking forward to retirement and back on years of faithfulness in ministry and work and family. Josiah and I are young in almost every sense of the word. We are young at marriage and young at work and young in ministry. At some point the conversation meandered to our marriage, a baby of a thing not even a year old. They asked what has surprised us most about being married and we both were at a loss for words.

In truth, any surprises of marriage have been eclipsed by the suffering of losing my aunt and uncle within the span of 3 months. When I pictured marriage and imagined how it would be, I never pictured grief and death, and yet those were the experiences we have shared over the last nine months.

When I’m feeling especially self-absorbed, I find myself angry at the seeming injustice of it. I tell myself that my first year of marriage was supposed to be spent on dates with my husband, showing off my new wedding ring and eating all our favorite desserts while we talked about the things we love most about each other. The “Honeymoon Phase” as people call it! Instead, my first year of marriage was spent at funerals and gravesides, hugging my parents and pretending not to see my father cry for the first time in my life, and then going home and crying into Josiah’s chest while we both tried to get some sleep.

In truth, an easy, happy, honeymoon-esque first year of marriage was never promised to us. Still, when I watch other friends marry and struggle through normal things like sharing a bed and settling into a first home, I feel the sting of my own expectations. Their struggles are real to be sure, but I am envious of the normalcy of those struggles and how easy I think they would be to navigate.

A friend of mine recently shared that she was struggling with losing sleep because of wedding planning, and I had to bite my own tongue to keep from spilling over with the cynicism in my heart. The night before, I had woken up from a dream in which I thought my brother had died in a car accident. My subconscious mind had no trouble filling in the details of my phone ringing on the nightstand and hearing my mom’s voice, the sick feeling in my stomach, the wishing it was all just a dream. And it was. It was a dream. I woke up crying and sick, but it was a dream. Unlike the other deaths in my family, this was one I could wake up from. I didn’t sleep much the rest of the night.

When my friend tells me about losing sleep because she’s worried about the details of her upcoming wedding, it feels like comparing a stubbed toe to an amputated limb, my dream a type of phantom pain that threatens my hold on reality. My cynical and prideful heart wants to hold all the struggles of every other newlywed couple up to my own standard of suffering and declare them unworthy of complaint. At the end of the day though, there is no measuring stick for suffering and we were not promised a life without it. Pain is pain is pain. Suffering is suffering is suffering.

There is nothing in the Bible that says you must experience a certain level of pain before it is validated. The Father doesn’t withhold comfort from us, demanding we experience a certain amount of suffering or a certain amount of pain before he offers us his comfort. The apostle writes,

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

This passage has become both sweet and challenging to me over the last few months. God is named the God of all comfort, meaning there is no true, lasting comfort that can come from anything or anyone but him. This is sweet because of the very next line, “He comforts us in all our affliction.” All. Not just the afflictions that are painful enough. He comforts us in all our affliction. The stubbed toes and the amputated limbs. The funerals and the sleepless nights spent wedding planning.

The challenging part of this passage, to me, comes in the next few words, “...so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

I can feel the words grating against me like sandpaper, softening my edges but not before reminding me how sharp I have become, how my heart is turned toward measuring the suffering of another person before even considering comforting them. I am embarrassed to admit that I have been comforted by God and then found myself turned around to the next person and thinking them unworthy of even asking for comfort. I selfishly used that which was meant to bring glory to God for my own gain and to bolster my own sense of superiority.

Comforting others in this season of my life is unnatural and difficult; it requires the laying down of my pride, the surrendering of myself and leaning into the God of all comfort for strength and guidance. Even  pain is not meant to be hoarded as if experiencing more is a kind of competition, and the comfort we receive from God as a result of that pain is to be given away, shared freely without ever asking for the person to hand over their suffering credentials.

Even in this, God is teaching me. The Holy Spirit ministers in our weaknesses and through our pain, and what an area of weakness this is for me. He has reminded me again and again through his word that he is enough, and if he is enough then there is enough comfort for me and for you, for the stubbed toes and the amputated limbs. There is enough because the God of all comfort comforts us in all of our affliction.

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