Posted in Around the Web, Christmas, Friday Faith Nuggets

What is Advent, Anyway?

‘Tis the season when Advent books and products are everywhere! There are Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, Advent devotionals, Advent Bible studies . . . and the list goes on. But, what exactly is Advent? What does it mean?

Advent Defined

In one of his devotionals, my husband describes Advent as “the idea of coming, of expectation.” Christmas celebrates the incredible moment when Jesus, King of creation, left royalty beyond our imagining to come live as the humblest of humans — all for the sake of mankind’s redemption. Our redemption!

When we celebrate Advent, we do more than simply set aside one day to wish Jesus, “Happy birthday!” We reset our focus over the course of the whole season. Nothing can make Christmas more precious than an increased awareness of what Jesus really accomplished by taking on our flesh.

When is Advent?

Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and runs through Christmas Day. Because of this, the season can vary in length from twenty-three to thirty-five days, depending on which day of the week Christmas falls.*

Some devotionals and celebration plans also include the Twelve Days of Christmas. No, that is not just an annoying Christmas song! It is, in fact, the time between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), the day traditionally set aside to honor the Magi’s visit.

How Does One Celebrate Advent?

The celebration is about as varied as the people who celebrate. As long as you are diving into the spiritual significance of the incarnation of Christ on a weekly or daily basis, you are celebrating Advent. But, just in case you need a little more guidance, here are a few suggestions:

Find a Devotional

Advent devotionals range in style from weekly (each of the four Sundays and Christmas Day) to daily. Strive to find one that not only meets your schedule but also has content to appropriately meet your family’s needs.

Light Candles on an Advent Wreath

Advent wreaths, like devotionals, come in many forms, shapes, and sizes. But all Advent wreaths have at least four candle holders. The idea is to light one candle each Sunday of Advent. A fifth, larger candle should fit in the center of the wreath (some wreaths will have a candle holder for the middle). This is the “Jesus” candle, intended to be lit either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Each Sunday, light one candle. If you have chosen an Advent devotional, read the entry for that Sunday. If not, choose a focus for the season and discuss a portion of it each time you light a candle. Here are some ideas:

  • people of Advent such as the shepherds, Magi, angels, and Mary & Joseph; or Zacharias & Elizabeth, the innkeeper, Anna, and Simeon
  • Messianic prophecies
  • topics such as love, joy, peace, and patience, discussing how they relate to Christmas

Use an Advent Calendar

There are Advent calendars designed to open windows to cute pictures each day, create a manger scene, decorate a tree, discover a surprise, play music, and on and on! Whether you choose one of these or create one yourself, let this be more than just a daily countdown to Christmas Day. Let it be a time when you stop in the midst of the busy season and honestly refocus on the true reason for celebration.

Sing a Carol a Day

There are enough fantastic Christmas songs to pick one a day throughout Advent. Every day, sing or listen to one Christ-centered Christmas song as a family. Then discuss what that song communicates about Jesus and his first coming. (This can also take the place of a topical discussion when lighting the Advent wreath.)

In the words of my pastor husband, “You cannot fail Advent.” As long as you take a moment weekly or daily to step back and consider the truth of Christmas, you are appropriately celebrating Advent.

*This year, 2016, Advent began on Sunday, November 27, and runs a full five weeks. But, it’s not too late to start! 

This article was originally written for Well Planned Gal and published on hedua.com, now wellplannedgal.com. Reprinted with permission.

Posted in Around the Web, Thoughts from Others

The Impact of Story

My job opens the door for me to interact with some fantastic people. Last fall, I had the privilege of interviewing Warren Walsh, Editorial Director for YWAM Publishing, for a pair of Family Magazine articles. This morning, the first of these articles was republished online.

The stories Warren shared express so beautifully the reason I believe strongly in the ability of story to impact lives. This article also shares a fantastic opportunity for ministry this Christmas – one dear to the heart of my family.

Read and enjoy!

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Prison Heroes 101

Stories are the mother tongue and currency of our hearts. This is the stuff with which we do the business transaction of life. It’s worldview. – Warren Walsh

For decades, YWAM Publishing has worked to produce and distribute resources that stir Christians to actively impact their world for Christ. But recently, a door has opened for YWAM to directly partner with their readers to minister in a powerful way through the Prison Heroes 101 project. YWAM Publishing Editorial Director Warren Walsh shares that, in all his years at YWAM, he has “never seen a project that has as much traction as this one does.”

What exactly is the Prison Heroes 101? What does it accomplish? Why is it such a powerful and successful project? And how is it relevant to the HEDUA audience? Family Magazine had the privilege of sitting down with Warren Walsh to discuss these very questions.

Please click here to read the rest of the article.

Posted in Thoughts from Others, What Works for Me

The Beauty of Story

Some time ago, I commented on someone else’s Facebook post. It was an innocent comment about letting my children grab books from the library. I made the comment and forgot about it. But, months – yes, months – later, I was drawn back to the post when a complete stranger replied to my comment. It was a simple response:

“Non-fiction.”

That’s all it said. But the meaning was very clear. I would be a bad mother if I allowed my children to choose a new fiction favorite. I would be a bad teacher if I dared think they could learn from fiction.

Yes, I read all of that into this stranger’s simple response. Why? Because I’d heard the argument many, many times before.

Beyond What We Love

A quick response popped into my head. I wanted to make some comment about how sad it was that this stranger had never had the joy of learning from a fictional story. But, something stopped me. And as I took a moment to breathe and think, my irritation was replaced with sadness as two thoughts came to my mind.

Today, I want to share the first of those thoughts.

It is true that learning through story – whether fiction or non-fiction – can be incredibly joyful. But this stranger’s comment led me to realize just how often we dismiss forms of teaching that are not natural to us, simply because we do not learn well through them.

Several dear friends of mine greatly dislike fiction. It holds no allure for them. In fact, their minds simply do not process through story. Yet, they still recognize story as a powerful teaching tool. I, on the other hand, struggle with non-fiction that is not story-based. My mind needs a picture to take raw facts and turn them into something meaningful. Yet, I know that there is great value in learning to process factual information. So, I challenge myself to read non-fiction.

Learning happens in so many ways, yet we often get so caught up in our own learning preferences that we neglect – or even deny – all others. Then we criticize those who do not learn our way.

Every single time I have a “what works for me” thought, I am instantly reminded that it will not automatically work for my husband or my children or my dearest of friends or my fellow church members or my co-workers. If we all learned the same way, how boring would that be?!

So, what works for me? Learning through story and through narrative while stretching and challenging myself through non-fiction.

What works for you?

Posted in Marriage Monday

In Time

Advent season officially started yesterday. Each Sunday between now and Christmas, we will light a candle representing one aspect of the Christmas story or season. On Christmas Eve, we’ll light the last one, symbolizing the birth of Jesus. I love the excitement and beauty of welcoming Christmas through Advent celebrations.

As we process through Advent, I can’t help but think of all those who waited but never saw the Messiah during their earthly lives. God promised a Savior all the way back in Genesis, as the first sin created an uncrossable divide between God and man. Generation upon generation of God’s people awaited the Messiah and never saw Him. But in the fullness of time, God sent Jesus.

I could go on and on about why the timing was beautiful and perfect and amazing. Instead, I want to focus on the waiting and the fulfillment – and how that relates to marriage.

It sounds like a stretch, doesn’t it? Connecting the long-awaited birth of Jesus to marriage? But, I invite you to stop for a moment and remember all of the times you waited for God in your marriage.

Somehow, you just knew it wasn’t the right time. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time to make a move or have a baby or change jobs. Maybe it was simpler and just wasn’t the right time to have a conversation with your spouse. Or even get a pet. Or buy a new car.

When we get an idea in our heads, an idea we know to be a good one, we often push for it. We push God. We push our spouses. We push our children. We push our finances. We push our schedules. We push, push, push to get something accomplished. And every time we push, we suffer the consequences.

But, if we wait…oh, if we wait, God’s timing is perfect!

I can look back on my own marriage and see the times I pushed. I regret those times profoundly. But I can also see the times I waited. I waited and prayed. In those times, God worked. Sometimes I waited in quiet, sensing that God just might be preparing my husband and me differently for something. Other times, Doug and I waited together after discussing and realizing that it wasn’t God’s timing yet.

And yes, the waiting has covered everything from children and moves to buying cars and houses or welcoming pets into our home.

So very often, it feels like God is stalling. Or withholding. Or denying. It seems to take so long for Him to come around to fulfilling the thing we’re waiting for. But, look how long mankind waited for its Savior! Look how long we continue to wait for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus’ second coming!

God’s timing in my marriage is perfect in the same way His timing with eternal promises is perfect. Ultimately, His timing allows my marriage to give glory to Him, draw us closer to Him, and allow us to be more greatly emptied of ourselves and filled with Himself.

I don’t know about you, but I believe that’s fully worth waiting for.

Posted in Reviews

The Captive Heart

I must confess, I’m a bit particular about new authors. As much as I love to read, my fiction reading time is rather limited. So, I tend to reserve it for the latest from a handful of favorite authors, and I reserve my explorations for highly recommended books.

Something about the description of The Captive Heart caused me to make an exception, despite the fact that I had not read anything by Michelle Griep, nor have any of her books been recommended to me. It seemed, though, to be a book that would somewhat break the mold of the standard Christian fiction fare, focused on more than strictly a romance – offering depth of storyline and intriguing history as well. In other words, my kind of fiction.

I was not disappointed.

Beyond the Formula

Admittedly, like with most romantic fiction, it’s pretty obvious that the main characters will eventually fall in love. And, I could have predicted that they would each wrestle silently with their feelings, trying to deny and then hide them, each constantly misunderstanding the behavior of the other because of their own preconceptions. Those are not spoilers. They are just the nature of romance novels such as these.

But, Michelle Griep has taken a standard romance formula and turned it into a novel that overflows with rich character development, fascinating history, and a powerful story line. Perhaps the faith aspect of the novel is what grabbed me the most, though. It wasn’t forced, but it also was not lightly sprinkled. Instead, faith for both characters was real and hard won. It was interwoven throughout the storyline with such a natural inclusion that I can’t help but feel that I have caught a glimpse into the author’s own tried and true faith. Only someone who deeply understands what it means to have a growing relationship with Christ can communicate that to her characters. It resonated with me as personal and genuine.

The History

I must take a moment and confess that I did give this book four stars instead of five on Amazon. Why? Well, I’m a history nut. I absolutely love historical fiction. When compared to my favorite historical fiction novels, this one left me just a big hungry. The Captive Heart introduced a side of the pre-Revolutionary War years that is not widely addressed in the most popular history books or historical novels. In the process of trying to keep certain aspects of the storyline mysterious (which was fantastic, by the way) the author also obscured some of the potentially fascinated history of the time.

Ultimately, what does that mean for my inclination to recommend this book? Absolutely nothing. It’s a personal preference only. I highly recommend this book, and with just this one title, I now consider Michelle Griep to be a part of my “watch for the next release” list. Meanwhile, I will also begin gradually collecting her previous books. I already have my eye on a few rather captivating titles.

Michelle Griep states that she desires to glorify God in all that she writes. If The Captive Heart is any indication, she is fulfilling that desire by creating beautiful stories which fill her readers with a desire to know God as her characters do. To that I say…keep up the good work!

I received this book for free through the Amazon Vine review program.
Posted in Marriage Monday

I’m Proud of You

I’m proud of my husband. In so many ways for so many things. He’s a pretty amazing guy.

I’m proud of him when other people are proud of him. I’m proud of him when others are agitated with him. I’m proud of his successes and I’m proud of the way he learns from his failures.

The problem is that I don’t always tell him I’m proud of him.

The older our marriage grows, the more I learn that words matter. The spoken words matter, but so do the unspoken. The things we learn to leave unsaid because we know it’s best to not say them. The things we refuse to say, even though we know we should. And the things we just forget to say, whether for good or for ill.

It all matters.

Some days, when there are words I haven’t said to my husband or my children or even to others in my life, I think it might be easier to say those words here. To process them in writing and say them to the wide world, offering advice that I know to be true rather than implementing the truth into my own life. Sharing publicly in hopes that my husband or children or friends or extended family will just read it here instead of making me go to them. Writing it out in a relatively generic thought instead of forming deeply personal and sometimes very raw, unprocessed words in a face-to-face conversation. But, it is my goal to never do that.

So, instead of leaving you with examples of saying the words that matter, I’m simply striving to do it myself. To be sure to speak when I am proud, to share when I have a challenge, and to converse face to face when I’d rather try to hash it out with a keyboard.

What spoken words do you need to keep quiet this week? What unspoken words do you need to say?

Remember, it all matters.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

Willing to Work

I find it funny when people say, “Oh, I could never do _________. I’m not ________ enough.” Go ahead – just fill in the blank. You just might be able to remember at time when you have said just such a thing. I know I can!
As is frequently the case, God has used both life in general and my children specifically to make me completely rethink my “I could never” statements. Take my oldest child, for instance.

No Outlet

For years I have marveled at the stories floating around in my daughter’s mind. She is so incredibly creative, and she has concocted entire worlds in her imagination. For years, I tried to figure out how to get those worlds out of her head and into a form that she could share with others. When she was little, I had this notion that, as soon as she learned how to write, she would be able to keep a journal and just write everything out. When she finally did learn how to write, however, it didn’t take long for that notion to crumble.

The physical act of writing proved to be excruciatingly tedious for my sweet girl. She could draw all day long. But handwriting was a completely different story. She hated it. And I finally accepted the fact that my sweet girl would never write. She finally accepted that it was okay to hate writing, even though she needed to learn the basic skills involved. But when it came to those stories, I was determined to not give up. We would just have to get them on paper another way.

Discovery

Fast forward a few years. As my daughter grew older, she learned a new skill: typing. Or keyboarding. Or whatever it is called these days. She learned how to push the letter keys on a computer keyboard in quick succession to cause letters and words to appear on a computer screen, an action that opened a whole new world to her. And created quite a shock for her mother!

First, she wrote a nearly perfect book report without help. Then, single-paragraph writing assignments for school became easier for her.

But it didn’t stop there! I nearly fell out of my chair the day she said, “Mommy, I got to write three paragraphs in language arts today!”

Got to? GOT to? Whatever happened to “had to”?

It got better still. She followed that statement up with, “It was fun!” I almost cried.

A few days later, I walked into the living room to see her propped up before a laptop, tapping away.

“What are you doing?” I asked, curious.

“Writing a fantasy novel,” came her matter-of-fact reply. Later than night she asked me to help her set a daily writing goal. Yes, that time I really did cry.

Work for It!

My child thought she hated to write. But she discovered she just needed the right avenue through which to do it.
All of us have dreams and talents. But, we often find ourselves limited when it comes to actually turning those dreams into reality or utilizing those talents. So, we hole up. Or give up. Or push it all down. We neglect to fight for those dreams. We refuse to push for ways to express our talents. We are unwilling to think outside the box.
Scripture is full of evidence that God is not limited by normalcy. Story after story reveals how He worked creatively, uniquely, and unexpectedly in the lives of biblical heroes. The incredible reality is that you and I are no different. Were our talents and dreams to be fulfilled through normal ways, how often would we give glory to our Creator? But, when He makes us turn to Him for a creative solution, He is glorified as the world watches what only He can accomplish through us.

I have been privileged to read some of my daughter’s novel and peruse several related short stories. It is so obvious to me that God made no mistake when He created an incredibly imaginative child who hated to write. She had to blossom. She had to push. And now, she loves writing more than she ever would have had she not had to work for it.
What are you willing to work for?