Grace and Forbearance

Still thinking about words for the new year. Here are some good ones.

I have nine children, and I have been a parent for more than 28 years, but I’m learning all kinds of new lessons in parenting and people skills. As everyone gets older, extended periods of time when we’re all gathered (15 in all, including my husband, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren) are intense life learning sessions.

I noted recently that this term’s theme is forbearance. 

Read the rest here, please.

Some Words for the New Year

Outside my window: It is gray and dreary. The windows here at Whole Foods are huge and I have a full view of the bustle of the parking lots. People come and go, heads down against the rain. The scene seems a little incongruous to me today. I have had my head down for weeks, plodding purposefully, working too hard. Today, I feel lighter than I have in a couple months, but the rest of the world is all head down and gray.


Listening to: The noise of the place. I'm in a loft above the bar. There are several TVs tuned to college basketball. At the table next to me, people are engrossed in a Bible study, while the table next to them is some sort of AA accountability meeting (these are the things you can deduce from the books on tables and snippets of conversation as you fill your cup with cream). The place is at once busy and cozy. I'm hunkered down to write on these pages at long last. 

Clothing myself in: Leggings, a long sweatshirt, a pale blue NorthFace fleece (Katie's, I think) and makeup. That makeup is significant only because I've rarely worn makeup in the past few years (decades?), but a trip to Ulta with my girls just after Christmas yielded the discovery of Tarte and suddenly makeup doesn't itch any more. My face is tired and I see age. A little makeup is not a bad thing.


Talking with my children about these books: We are revisiting our Civil Rights studies from last year, with some new additions. I thought I linked to those books last year, but I can't find the post when I search. So, perhaps I'll share a little of those studies with you later in the week. 



In my own reading: I recently read an advance copy of Sally Clarkson's Different: The Story of an Outside-the_box Kid and the Mom who Loved Him. It's the story of her son Nathan's struggles, told in two voices: Sally's and Nathan's. I'll share that one at length next week, but let me encourage you now to get a copy for yourself if you have a child who is outside-the-box. If you haven't been blessed with such a child, buy one for a friend who is. It might be the kindest things you've ever done for her Mama heart. 

I'm currently reading Rebekah Lyons' soon-to-be-released You are Free: Be Who You Already Are. I'm only about three chapters in, but I can tell that this is one I will give to friends, if only for the selfish reason of having someone to discuss it with me. 

I'm on the launch teams for both these books, so I'll be bringing more info to you as they get closer to publication. 

I'm also listening to Commonwealth. I recently joined Anne Bogel's Book Club. I'm already behind, but I'm optimistic that I can catch up. It'll be fun trying, regardless.

Thinking and thinking: Oh my goodness! I've pondered on this whole "Word of the Year" thing for far too many hours this month. It's as if I'm so fixated on words that I think naming something can bring clarity. I've abandoned quite a few "almost, but not quite" words in my quest to find the one that is just right. 

Words I considered:





That last one was Aimee's suggestion. It feels like as long as I've been choosing words, Aimee and I have had these New Year's conversations. She suggested Belong and the word itself made me cry, but ultimately, I decided that wasn't it either. Nope. This probably isn't the year of belonging, so much.

I chose Harmony. I was committed to choosing a word from Colossians 3:12-17. I've been spending a lot of time every day with these verses in the last couple months. They are integral to a Lent journal I worked on with Blessed is She, so they've been running around in my brain for several weeks, and they've been very much a part of a running conversation with God. No doubt Harmony deserves its own post. So, I'll put that on my ever-growing list of things I want to share with you. 


Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Carefully Cultivating Rhythm: I am happy to report that our winter term is under way and we are hitting our rhythm everyday.

For the last two days;-).

Still, it's a start and I'm really, really encouraged by it. 

Creating By Hand: During Advent, I was so busy with my contribution to the Blessed is She Lent journal that I didn't really get to my usual Christmas crafting. I was still creating, but with my words. Sometimes, that kind of art isn't readily recognized as art, but for people who use words as their medium, it is certainly creative work. I just got the news a few minutes ago that some of those words, tucked inside this beautiful book, are ready for you. I prayed every day and I will keep praying that they bless you. 


Learning lessons in: Words. Even when we love words and even when we're careful about words, it's possible to completely misunderstand another person. And then, words can either bridge the misunderstanding or not. In a broken world, there are broken people who can't understand one another.  Our hope in those moments is grace. Lessons in grace are often both broken and beautiful.

Encouraging learning in: Writing. It's been such a joy to see my children grow to be writers. Even the ones who struggle with spelling and grammar have such a good sense of story, and such a winsome way of telling what they understand. Patrick recently graduated from UVa with his Master's degree, and it has just hit me that our frequent late night sessions, redlining on Google docs, have come to an end. I'm going to miss them. It was a privilege to continue the editor/writer relationship through his college and grad school days. It was a pleasure to share what he was learning well beyond the time when I was his teacher. The ideal bond between editors and writers is one of trust--we trust each other to help one another grow in understanding. When that trust bond grows out of the homeschooling experience, it's pretty special. Sometimes--very rare times, indeed--I even get texts before dawn with terrible news and then the request, "Will just look at what I wrote, Mom?" And I know I wouldn't touch a word, because I know how to recognize when a heart has written; I recognize his sacred words. Those are the golden days. There are lots of other days of gentle persuasion and careful grammar lessons (and even some begging and pleading to please just put something on the paper--anything). I am incredibly grateful to have access to this window into my children's minds.

Keeping house: My house is clean. After our California peeps left last week (was it just last week?), Stephen and Nick and I blitzed through our house. We cleaned all the things that should have been cleaned before Advent. Then we cleaned all the things that needed cleaning after Christmas. We've all agreed we like this level of clean. On to the maintenance phase...

Crafting in the kitchen: I'm uninspired. I'm not so much uninspired about cooking. I'm uninspired about menu planning and grocery shopping. This strikes me as ironic since I've chosen to spend two free hours on a Saturday here in a grocery store writing, but there you go. It's just thinking of what to cook...

To be fit and happy: This one is inked in my Power Sheets as solid goals for the year. I always fall off the exercise wagon when it gets cold and dark in the morning. Also, while I was writing for the Blessed is She Lent journal, all during December, I got into a rhythm of getting up around 4 and staying there, Bible open for two or three hours. It's not reasonable to do that all the time, and it really killed my exercise routine, but I do kind of love that early morning quiet time. The new plan is to get up and get in 15-20 minutes of yoga and then settle into the chair with my Bible. Then, when it's warmer at lunch time, walk and listen to books for about an hour. That's the plan. I've not been sleeping well lately, so I haven't really implemented the plan yet, but... 

Giving thanks: For a husband who listens to all my crazy and makes sense of it for me. He hears my words, but knows my heart. And for a  daughter-in-law who does the same. 

Loving the moments: When they're so inspired by a story that their own creative writing based on the story gives me chills. 

Living the Liturgy: Did anybody else feel rushed through the liturgical year last week? 

Planning for the week ahead: I don't plan to offer Restore again this year, but I do hear you wanting to revisit those themes and bring to life again that community. I think I have a plan for doing that this Lent, and I promise to get after it quickly. One thing I can tell you is that you'll want this journal to join us in our conversation, and they do sell out quickly. So, pre-order yours as soon as you can.


Eager to Turn the Page to a New Year?

Last year, around this time, I was eagerly anticipating the turn of the calendar page from 2015 to 2016. It had been an extremely difficult year, a year when I was beginning to feel like God was raining the twenty-first century plagues of Egypt on us until we finally relented and we were crying out for mercy.

I thought that turning of the page to a new year would somehow be magical. It would make all things new. I had hope in the power of the calendar. Last Christmas, I settled into a romantic meditation on the Blessed Mother and the tiny baby and all the hope the Christmas story offered. In that moment, I was a Christmas Person, clinging tight to the thrill of hope.

Or maybe it was actually just the faintest glimmer of optimism left at the end of a very bad year.

The new year came. I was sick, sicker than I’d been in two decades. For three months, I could not draw a breath without whooping, could not speak above a whisper. I was so sick.

My son and his wife and their darling baby girl moved across the country. Every appliance that hadn’t broken in the previous year, broke in the beginning of the new year. My mother-in-law died. My friend Mike died. My father’s health deteriorated. One of my children faced heretofore unimaginable challenges.

It was not the year I’d hoped it would be.

What of the tiny baby and the Blessed Mother?

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very heart and soul.” Luke 2:33-35

Oh. With this blessed motherhood, with this acceptance of the vocation of Christian womanhood, comes a sword to pierce my very heart and soul. I’d always skipped that part. Now I was living it. I’d bought into the joy idea and thought it could come without the pain. I was a Christmas person through and through, but an Easter person, especially the Easter person who suffers and dies just before the resurrection? Not so much. The idea of an extended period of suffering in fallen world was sort of novel, even though it should have come as no surprise.

As this year closes out, a day rarely passes when someone doesn’t comment on how terrible 2016 has been. If nothing else, for all its awfulness, we seem to have the comfort that comes with suffering together. I silently shake my head as people share how eager they are to turn the calendar page. It doesn’t work that way, my friends. Optimism is very nice.

But hope is of God.

Hope says life is going to get hard, sometimes very, very hard, but that’s not the end of the story. Our hearts will be burdened with heaviness we cannot even fathom, but He comes. He comes humbly into the stench of it all so that we don’t have to walk the hard journeys alone. He knows. He knows the pain of sword that pierces us. And He feels it, too. He is the compassionate Savior who speaks peace into our troubled nights. We can turn the calendar page not with optimism, but with genuine hope in the God who saves. This year, next year, this burden or the next one: we are not alone.


God with us.



So Much Advent Goodness...

Looking for some advent inspiration? Want to do some clicking around?

Here's the best I have to offer:

Comfort and Joy is like an Advent Toolbox. There are lots of ideas for things to make and food to bake and goodness to create. Tangible, touchable, tactile traditions are waiting there to become yours. None of us will every do them all in one season, but there are more than enough from which to choose to find something that suits you and your family.  Truly though, in Comfort and Joy, there are more quiet moments than active ones. There are short meditations that don't require too much time on your part, but keep you grounded every day in the waiting of the season. And there are essays of encouragement--every day a whisper into your womanhood that acknowledges that this season isn't easy, but it is rich. There's more: opportunity for community if you want it, printables to keep you organized, a podcast to focus your prayer life and encourage your self-care strategy. It's all here.

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By the Manger in the Morning is a movement underfoot in the community of Blessed is She. It's a daily journal of scripture and prayer, a quiet focused few moments each day that will nourish you with strength and grace aplenty. It's not too late to journey with us. A digital version of the sold-out bound version is on sale here. Just be sure to print the pages back-to-back and fold. It's never too late to jump in!

How to pull your children into the season? In our house, we begin with some well-chosen pictures books. There are some detailed lists from which to choose here. 

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Grab a Mug and a Book

Advent and Christmas are wonderful opportunities for giving heirloom books. Over the years, we have gathered many, many books into our family's library. This list is a great one to print off and take to the library or to send to grandparents or godparents who might want ideas for gifts.



Advent and Christmas with Tomie de Paola

I think it's safe to call something a classic when it's been around for more than 20 years and it's going strong in its second generation. When my big boys were little, I created a way to homeschool through Advent--hitting all the important things like reading and writing and research--while making Advent the subject of study for everything. we put "regular school" aside for the season and we learned a whole lot in a very meaningful way.  In years since, we've employed this strategy every year in lots of different iterations. But this was the first all-encompassing Advent unit. It's a way to relax into the season, embracing all its richness, instead of making Advent an add-on.

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A Christmas Read Aloud Around the World

Here's a way to explore the cultural traditions of Christmas around the world. 

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One Quiet Moment with God

We remember that the prayers of the Church associated with this season are devotions and not potions. They work on our souls and bring us closer to God. So, it's not late to jump in even if you missed the beginning. We love the St. Andrew Christmas novena. You can learn a little about it here and download a beautiful free printable for a reminder.


Little Love Notes for Advent

My oldest daughter is my youngest daughter's godmother. Last year, unbeknownst to me, she resolved to do something special with and for her every day. She left her a note for her to find every morning, with a little chocolate and an idea for something to do together that day. This year, she gathered all the notes and ideas and resources in to an editable document to share.


Thinking Ahead...

Tuck away a book or two for this fun Epiphany idea. 

Free Printable: Little Love Notes for Advent

My oldest daughter is my youngest daughter's godmother. Last year, unbeknownst to me, she resolved to do something special with and for her every day. She left her a note to find in the morning, with a little chocolate and an idea for something to do together that day. I was so struck by her gestures that I shared a Little Love Note on Instagram. You loved the idea!

Lots of you asked if I'd ask Mary Beth to tell you all about her sweet daily acts. 

I did. And she did.

She made you pretty notes that you can edit to suit your family. AND she made you a little list of helpful hints and links so you can pull this off. 

Trade you?

I'm gathering a list of friends with whom I can share thoughts and links and recipes and good stuff in a newsletter every once in a while, but not too terribly often. Would you leave your email address for me and I'll send you the Advent Little Love Notes files?

Here's a sneak peek (Shhh. Don't tell Sarah!)

Get the Newsletter and Printable Advent Little Love Notes!

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