Transitioning from Thanksgiving into Advent

 

 

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Sunlight filtered through the trees last weekend as we neared the spot where we would see the eagles. It was more of a stroll than a hike to get there, as the trail meandered through the woods toward the Chehalis River.

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Later we crossed over a stream via a log bridge and wandered back along an easier path that paralleled a golf course. It was a gorgeous day — a day that filled us with thankfulness for the beauty of our surroundings.

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But thankfulness is more than expressing appreciation for what we have. It involves a response to Him who is the giver of all we have and are.

This weekend many will be transferring attention from Thanksgiving to Advent. We begin the annual time of preparation, readying ourselves to receive again the Gift beyond imagining… God among us, the Creator and Saviour of the world. But truly, there shouldn’t be a transitioning from one celebration to another. We need to carry our thanksgiving on through and into Christmas.

What traditions are a part of your Thanksgiving-into-Christmas preparations?

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“Thanks be to God for his indescribable Gift.”

2 Corinthians 9:15

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Are you motivated by the destination or the journey?

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There were just two daffodils in our entire yard. I know better than to plant tulips because the deer consider them a gourmet salad mix. But I’ve planted dozens of deer-resistant daffs and narcissus through the years, carefully selecting varieties said to be good naturalizers. The first year several bloom; the next only a few; and from then on I’m lucky if there are any. I just don’t seem to have any luck with them. But I noticed these two daffodils a couple days ago, gamely working their way up through the protection of a rhododendron branch, and I smiled.

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Yesterday my hubby handed them to me. We’d had an exceptionally heavy rainstorm, and he found both of them broken, with their sunny faces resting on the ground. I rinsed them off and tucked them into a vase. The sun came out briefly during the afternoon and shone through the window. I couldn’t stop admiring how the flowers looked, basking in the glow. Naturally I reached for my camera and took shots from every angle.

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It was only as I reviewed the photos on my computer that I noticed something. I had selected a vase based on its appropriate size, and not paid a lot of attention to which one it was. But the sun’s rays made it glisten, and now my attention was drawn to the beauty I’d overlooked.

We often chuckle at young children who get more pleasure from the box than from the gift inside. Other times we may go overboard and labour over gift wrapping until the exterior of a package is worth more than its contents. In my case, I found joy in sunshine through petals, and only later gleaned equal pleasure from the casually chosen container.

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How often do we miss seeing the obvious? And when we miss seeing, we forget thankfulness. And without thankfulness there is no joy.

Not long ago I printed out “A Year of Graces” from Ann Voskamp’s website — a perpetual calendar with lines on which to record those things for which I am thankful each day. On the first page is this statement:

“Joy is always a function of gratitude —
and gratitude is always a function of perspective.
If we are going to change our lives,
what we’re going to have to change
is the way we see.”

Later there is this:

“No one gets to joy by trying to make everything perfect.
One only arrives there by seeing in every imperfection
all that is joy.”

And in that was my analogy, just waiting to be found… the link to writing. I have always affirmed that I enjoy revising my writing. There is such satisfaction in refining to bring forward the best a story can be. Yet many times I struggle with revisions, trying unsuccessfully to find exactly the right words, too often becoming frustrated and disheartened. In retrospect, I think it’s because I’m seeing my failure and overlooking the process… focusing on the results instead of how I achieve them.

I love writing. The thought of not writing fills me with anxiety. I’ve always been better at putting words on paper than in speaking them. How would I express the chaos of unuttered thoughts if not on paper? What would I do with all the story ideas and blog posts if I didn’t let them flow out through my fingertips? Fulfillment comes from the doing, from creative expression, in wrestling thoughts out of the void into a finite place. I’m grateful for the ideas, for the ability to put them into words — however imperfect they may be — for the desire to communicate and the freedom and time to keep trying.

My gratitude prompts thankfulness, which in turn encourages joy to blossom. In those moments when I gather together my efforts and raise cupped hands in a gesture of thankful praise, it is the uplifted hands that are important, not the quality of their less-than-praiseworthy contents.

I have a new work-in-progress that I put aside in favour of revising something older. Lately both have been preempted by a church history project, but it doesn’t matter what I’m working on as long as I approach the task with that attitude of gratitude. There will be joy in the doing.

What small everyday joy will bring thankfulness to your heart today?

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“I will praise God’s name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving.”

Psalm 69:30

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Finding the bright spot

Daylight Saving Time wasn’t a problem for us. My hubby systematically turned all the clocks ahead during the previous evening and we went to bed an hour early without really noticing. Judging by the attendance at church on Sunday morning, however, not everyone fared as well.

There were a number of empty seats, and I overheard a lot of mumbling about lost sleep, the struggle… the reluctance… to get moving in the morning, and more than the usual grumbling about the drizzle after a much-too-brief sunshiny Saturday. Then in the sanctuary I found this exquisite bouquet on the chancel. A small note in the bulletin said it was placed in celebration of a child’s first birthday. I don’t imagine those parents got any more sleep than the rest of us, but they had found a reason for joy and shared it.

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The news broadcast last night told the story of a young woman whose joy was to sing. She has developed a rare form of throat cancer and yet she’s found a way to make the best of the situation while she waits for surgery.

I know people who are discouraged and/or depressed for many different reasons, but I also know others who are in equally difficult circumstances but still manage to find something, however small, on which to focus and glean joy. Ann Voskamp, author of ONE THOUSAND GIFTS, has suggested the answer to surviving our bad times is to express thankfulness. It sounds outrageous, I know, but she’s right.

“Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle.”

“…life change comes when we receive life with thanks
and ask for nothing to change.”
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Joy isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. I remember first hearing that from Sara Frankl. If you don’t know Sara’s story I hope you’ll take the time to check out this Dayspring video, Sara’s Story – Final. For years before she died Sara kept a blog. At a time when she needed much, she gave of herself to everyone she encountered. Her blog is still being maintained by her family, but on its sidebar you’ll find Sara’s own words:

I’m just a girl who used to write for a magazine to make a living, and now writes a blog to make a life. Extremely blessed, well-loved and choosing joy while learning that homebound doesn’t limit your life, just your location.

Ann Voskamp talks often about choosing joy, too, and has created a Joy Dare Collection of little cards that you can print out for each month with reminders to search for specific joys each day… to help us make a habit of looking for the tiny moments of joy that otherwise may slip past unnoticed.

As I step into this new week I am once again aware that no matter the circumstances, there is always joy. The choice is mine whether or not I will look for it and be thankful.

How about you? Can you think of at least one thing for which to give thanks today?

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“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart.”

Psalm 9:1a

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* Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

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‘Tis Christmas!

Thanks to all of you for your friendship and encouragement during this past year. I wish you God’s abundant blessings at Christmastime and throughout the coming New Year. May your hearts and homes reflect the love that prompted the greatest Gift of all.

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I’ll be taking a blogging break next week, but will see you here again on January 2nd.

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Reflections on a Mess

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Beside my favourite chair is a scrambled pile of books littering the floor. There’s the current issue of a home decorating magazine, my notebook of computer jottings (and a pen to jot down a new website password), a writing magazine, my daily journal and a second pen, a book I’m reading for review purposes, a novel I’ve just finished and one that I’m about to start. You don’t want to see the coffee table above. What a mess!

On the opposite side of my chair there are dog toys scattered on the carpet in a line leading to a bin overflowing with squeaky things, chew bones, stuffies and toss ‘n tug toys.

The kitchen counter has a loaf of bread cooling, empty coffee mugs, and a sticky note reminding us to phone a friend because today is her birthday.

The words of an old book title pop into my head: “Bless This Mess, and Other Prayers” by Jo Carr and Imogene Sorley. I’m sure it was written with my home in mind. Not every room is this messy, but in its various crannies there is always something either leftover from a previous activity or waiting for attention.

Messes like this used to frustrate me, whether they were mine or someone else’s. I remember telling my children, “When you’ve finished playing with that, put it away before you take out something else.” They didn’t often do it, and now I don’t take my own advice.

Oh, at the end of the day I’ll gather up the piles and redistribute them elsewhere. In the morning before they accumulate again, I’ll sit cradling God’s word and whispering my thankfulness for the joy that everyday messes represent. For friends, family and beloved pets, activities and the health to pursue them, for books and the time to read and write. For my life, even when it, too, feels messy.

Life is full of rules and regimentation. Home is where I live in between the structure of other pursuits. Home is where I meet the many facets of who I am, face to face, where I unwrap the kernel of me from its façade and let it out to breathe.

Bless this mess, Lord.

What are you especially grateful for today?

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Deer Friends

The fawn hesitates, oversize ears rotating as he watches me take his picture from the window. I’m sure he can’t hear me, but he stares unblinking, hoping the shape of me behind the glass is nothing. Hoping he is invisible.

On his rump there is a curious black and white mark that identifies him as the same youngster who has been visiting all week.

At the edge of the woods his mother hovers, nibbling snippets of cedar that were flung to the ground during last week’s windstorm. Despite the distance I sense she has seen my eyes fasten on her. When I shift my body ever so slightly to put the camera on the coffee table beside me, she stops munching. The bough hangs from the sides of her muzzle as she stands frozen in mid-mouthful.

I glance back at the fawn, still motionless, and when I return my gaze to his momma she has glided to the edge of the yard and stands alert, peering through the arbour.

“You’re too close to that house, sonny,” I think she says, because the little one leaps away to join her. Within seconds they have disappeared down the pathway to the marsh and I am alone again.

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Ah-ha, you think. Here’s a post that has nothing to do with writing. But you’re wrong because it was a moment to share with you, and I had to write it first.  As in photography, it isn’t finding a subject that’s important… it’s finding the words to frame it. In this case, finding ways to express thankfulness for the blessing of ordinary days. And I am thankful for the sweetness of this moment.

What ordinary moment are you thankful for today?


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I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart. [Psalm 9:1a]

Thankful for Being Me

“Weekends are for liking your own skin,” said Ann Voskamp on her blog Saturday. “…for liking the way you were made… you are like no one else… your kind of different is good… you are so wondrously, happily, astonishingly you! My compliments to your Maker!”

That brought me up short. Yes, I am uniquely me, and every day I am thankful for the life God has given me. But do I like the way I’m made? When I peer at my mirrored reflection am I thankful for this temple of the Lord that is becoming anything but attractive as it ages?

That’s one question. Another comes to mind.

In those times when my writing doesn’t measure up to my expectations or desire and I am frustrated and discouraged, am I thankful for the gift of ordinary words and my taken-for-granted ability to speak or write them?

What do you think God might say to you if he appeared at your side this very moment?

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I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. [Psalm 139:14]

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