Archive for December, 2011

A “Mary Christmas” to You!

I felt it coming on early this morning: I was shifting into “Martha mode.”   So far I’ve been very reflective about Advent this year, wanting to be like two Marys in the Bible—the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened, and the one who was His mother, with much to treasure and ponder in her heart.

But this morning was different.  I awoke with shopping lists and baby equipment on the mind, and visions of menu planning and baking, Pack’n Plays and car seats, dancing in my head.  I felt like Martha, “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (Luke 10:40).

We are extra-excited about Christmas this year.  In just one week they begin to arrive for overlapping visits: all 6 of our adult kids (each of our 3 and spouses) and all 6 of our grandkids.  We are very geographically scattered, from Wisconsin to Florida to New Hampshire and on to Ireland, so it’s a rare event that we will all be together for four whole days—for the first time in a year and a half.

We can’t wait!  But there’s a lot to do. And this morning, the length of my lists hit me full force.  Then I remembered wise words from the poet Mary Oliver (written in a different context) that a friend had sent me recently as a reminder of how to celebrate Advent: “Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  Is there any better time than Advent to be reminded of this?

“Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  I forwarded these words to our kids, with a brief note acknowledging how impossible that must seem amidst their busy lives with babies and toddlers and preschoolers.

My daughter-in-law Abby wrote back with a very interesting perspective (which I share with her permission):

“We were convinced that we couldn’t walk slower than we did with Soren (now 5 and a very fast runner!)…but Nils (22 months) has him beat!  The sun rises and falls before Nils can get himself from the car to the back door.  He greets every puddle, squirrel, and leaf with a glorious pause and ‘hi!’ It’s a long obedience…Now I’ll just have to think about bowing often as I stand holding the door open wishing I had a cattle prod.  Thanks, Mom!”

“Walk slowly.  Bow often.”  If you can do it while waiting for a wonder-filled but dawdling toddler, maybe you can do it while waiting in line at Walmart, or while on hold trying to place an order.  Or maybe even in a few moments of quiet before tackling the day’s List.

So I sat quietly for a few moments this morning pondering our nativity set and thinking of Mary—and me, and you.  “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…”   I prayed that I would not miss the wonder and mystery of it all even amidst the flurry of joyful family reunions.  I pray the same prayer for you—whether you walk the floor with a crying baby, or wait on slow-moving toddlers, or get ready for a houseful, or even prepare for a quieter Christmas this year.   May you find—or make—in this season a few “Mary moments” to welcome Him into your heart and life above all others.

“O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!”  Merry Christmas (and a “Mary” Christmas) to you all!

A Certain Slant of Light

I am mesmerized by the lights of Christmas.  I guess I always have been.

My mom loved to tell how I got her up in the middle of the night the Christmas I was two, begging to have the Christmas tree turned on.  I always loved the tiny white lights that outline the shops in the center of the charming New England town which was home to our family.  And when I think of Christmas Eve celebrations over the years, I see the faces around our table in the glow of the individual Swedish candle in front of each place.

Lately God seems to be pursuing me with Light, morning and evening.  In beauty, in joyful anticipation, in reflection, in uncertainty, and in grieving (yes, I still miss my mom every day, though December 19 will be the 4-year anniversary of her homegoing).

Early this week, Woody put up the single candles that we light in each window for Advent.  Even as he did the harder work of getting cords untwisted and finding outlets and extension cords, I heard Jesus’ voice: “I am the Light of the world . . . You are the light of the world.”  This is a yearly ritual.

But then there was the light incident of two mornings ago.  It’s very dark in Wisconsin when I get up.  I was sitting in my favorite place, having my morning “Come to Jesus” conversation about worry.  I need the reminder to start every day: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” (Philippians 4:6 NLT)  I looked toward the darkened family room and wished I had thought to turn on the light above our nativity set.  Because our conversation wasn’t finished (Jesus’ and mine), I didn’t get up and turn on the light.  But then suddenly, there it was—a tiny flicker of a light illuminating the nativity figures.  It seemed that for some reason a small electric candle on the mantle had turned itself on.

I got up and turned it off by loosening the bulb, only because these candles are particularly unpredictable and I didn’t want to burn out the battery.  Back to my seat.  The candle was back on.  Oh, that crazy candle!  I unscrewed it a little more.  I sat down again.  And the light was back on!  I’m not sure how many times this happened.  But I did feel a little like Samuel: how many piercings of the night does it take for God to get my attention?  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  (John 1:5 NLT)

The following morning, the bulb was still out of the candle.  But as I was sitting in my familiar place, the sun came up.  Cause for celebration in itself, as we don’t see the sun all that much in Wisconsin these days.  But there it was—a very distinct beam of sunshine slanting across our mantle to the nativity set.  Mostly it was still dark—except for the light slanting its way toward Bethlehem.  “A certain slant of light,” as Emily Dickinson put it (albeit in very different context).  A reminder, for me, of the True Light that came with Christmas.

Then there was my drive home yesterday in the darkness, much later than I’d expected to be.  One of those “routine medical tests” had turned out to be not so routine, and I was facing further testing and uncertainty.  Also, a recalibration of “Linda’s agenda” for getting ready to have everyone home for Christmas this year.   It was cold and dark as I drove home.   I wished we had our window candles on a timer, so I wouldn’t go home to a dark house.

But there they were, five candles radiant in the upstairs bay window.  I’m really not sure why they were on—most likely because I had unwittingly flipped a switch in that room and hadn’t noticed the bulbs lit in the daylight.  But it really felt like God getting my attention with” the Light of His presence”—again.   What did the ancient prophet say? “When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a Light for me.”  (Micah 7:8 NKJV)

May God surprise you with His Light this Advent.

Hope – and Humor – from the Trenches

"Loving the Little Years" by Rachel Jankovic

A few months back, a publisher kindly sent me a little tiny book which could be a great big gift to moms.  I’ve been meaning to write about it for a while.  But now it occurs to me that it might just be a good book to put on a Christmas list: for you, or for a mom-in-the-trenches friend—or both!

Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches, by Rachel Jankovic, first got my attention by being the right size for busy moms.  It’s a slim paperback with barely over 100 pages.  Good start!

As I began to leaf through the pages, I quickly took a liking to the grace, humility, and humor with which it is written.  An example: “At the time of writing this, I have three children in diapers, and I can recognize the sound of hundreds of toothpicks being dumped out in the hall. . . . I didn’t write this book because mothering little ones is easy for me.  I wrote it because it isn’t.  I know that this is a hard job, because I am right in the middle of it. I know you need encouragement very day, because I do, too” (p. 12).

Fact check: the author is, indeed, in the thick of it: she had, at the time of writing, five kids five-years-old and under (yes, including one set of twins).  Now I know this raises an obvious second question in your mind: How on earth did she manage to write a book?  My question, too!  I’m guessing that part of the answer lies in having a mother nearby.  (Her mother, Nancy Wilson, writes the foreword and alludes to her babysitting availability.)  Beyond that, I imagine it happened just as described in the foreword—“squeezing her writing into the nooks and tight crannies of her days.”

At any rate, we can be glad she wrote it.  In a way, the book reminds me of Mom to Mom.  It’s a great big dose of encouragement for moms, combined with some very practical parenting tips and a wonderful emphasis on the basic things that matter most.  A little bit like a morning (or evening) at Mom to Mom. 🙂

As you read, you may find that there are parenting challenges you personally approach differently.  Isn’t that always the case? But at the core, this author gets it right.  A few examples:

  • “There is only one thing in my entire life that must be organized . . . my attitude” (p. 11)
  • “It is no abstract thing: The state of your heart is the state of your home” (p. 14)
  • “Now try to think of discipline as . . . a sweet means of grace to your children” (p. 19)
  • “Christian childrearing is a pastoral pursuit, not an organizational challenge . . . Be a pastor to your children” (p. 50)

These loftier principles are blended together with a variety of helpful tips  (e.g., helping little girls manage their emotions), a refreshingly realistic perspective on real life with a houseful of little kids, and huge and wonderful doses of humor (you’ll love the story of the frantic husband pacing the floor with a phantom baby).

Thank you, Rachel Jankovic, for writing.  And happy reading to any of you who find your way to this book.  I hope it is the encouragement to you the author meant it to be.

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