Common Sense for Christmas


(If you’re lucky, Santa might just bring you this book.) 

It’s nearly Advent, and the Christian readers of this blog (do I have any readers?) probably know what that means… happy new (church) year!

I don’t know about you, but for me any prospect of a fresh start is both thrilling and dangerous. It’s thrilling because this is my chance to finally live out all of my best intentions. And it’s dangerous because my “best intentions” often don’t take into account such pesky little details as, oh, reality.

I’m really hoping that this holiday season (and Year A in general) buck my usual trend.

That trend goes something like this: at first, I’m buoyed by the general excitement of a new beginning. At the beginning of a new church year, school year, or calendar year I make tons of resolutions and move forward with gusto. But all too soon, I abandon whatever it was I was theoretically so passionate about incorporating into my life. And then, as an extra-special emotional bonus, I pile on the self-shaming because I was “too lazy” to make those changes.

My spiritual life is certainly no exception to this grim pattern. Let’s take this upcoming Christmas season as a case in point. I’ve been scrolling through Pinterest, collecting images of beautiful things that the more motivated mamas are already doing. I build theoretical plans to do this art project or start that ritual… and then I guilt myself because I’m not already doing it.

I feel all this self-induced pressure to make Advent and Christmas magical and meaningful for my family. Unfortunately, all that pressure renders me too anxious to truly enjoy anything with them and I often spend the holidays as a sweating, resentful bystander… or, conversely, treating my partner and children like expendable window dressing in the display of my theoretical perfection. (“Just go away so that Mommy can create precious memories for you!” I find myself thinking. And yeah, I realize that’s not a statement that should be on any reasonable person’s radar. But there you go.)

So this year, I’m going to do a little pre-thinking. Before I get seduced into trying out a cute tradition or a truly awesome reverse advent calendar, I need to ask myself: what is it I’m actually trying to accomplish here? And what are the actual parameters of my life that I need to acknowledge while pursuing that goal? Where can I simplify? Where can I say no?

Saying no is incredibly hard for me, but also (usually) incredibly rewarding when I can manage it.

While I ponder our 2016 plans for Advent and Christmas, I’ll be consulting an invaluable resource—Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being. The author of this book, Dr. Beth Cabrera, works in positive psychology. In Beyond Happy, she puts her expertise (plus tons of her peers’ meticulous research) to work analyzing (a) why the culture of anxiety thrives and how we can say no to it, (b) how we can uncover our individual purpose, and (c) how to access that purpose in practical ways that dramatically enhance our quality of life. In covering these points, we can also (d) make a more positive impact on the world as a whole.

Self-induced pressure, you may be a familiar and longstanding companion. But I’ve got to tell you, Cabrera’s message is much more in keeping with the spirit of Advent and Christmas!

Chapter Five of Cabrera’s book is titled “Be Hopeful.” In it, she advises readers to visualize their ideal future and set specific goals that will move them in their desired direction. After completing this important initial work, Cabrera then recommends:

  • Using if-then planning to guide action.
  • Identifying several alternative strategies for achieving goals.
  • Keeping a victory log as a record of all successes.
  • Considering the efforts expended by role models to achieve success.

As I work through the steps recommended by Cabrera, I’ll be posting the seasonal-specific questions I used to guide my planning, as well as some specifics on how they shaped or shifted my perception of our family’s needs.  I’ll add link-backs to those further musings in this post.

But in the mean time, dear reader, how do you create meaningful and memorable holidays?


A Spiritual B+


Image Credit: Rogue Cheerios

The third blog post feels a little like the third date: time to drop the diplomacy and reveal some neuroses.

So here’s the thing. There are tons of bloggers out there already sharing fabulous ideas on faith formation. I cruise their beautifully photographed projects on Pinterest. I read their heartfelt prose. And I admire their conviction, even as I wonder… how do they approach religious family life with such creativity, patience, and certitude?

My emotions in this particular area tend more towards guilt, anxiety, and confusion. Part of that has to deal with my goals, which I plan to blog about extensively later (lucky you). But part of that also has to do with my fundamental makeup, and our collective human tendency to imagine God in terms we can personally understand.

Anne Lamott first introduced me to this idea in Bird by Bird. She wrote of her priest friend Tom advising, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Well, hate’s not really my thing. I’ve clearly got other issues. Namely, I imagine God as Cosmic AP Teacher: He has very high expectations and a lot of material to cover, so woe betide those of us skipping and/or half-assing an assignment here or there. We may just earn a spiritual B+… and yes, that’s tantamount to failure in my personal grade book of life.

A bit of background: the creeping crud hit us hard this week while I was trying to finish up holiday prep. (Note to my children: this may be the season of giving, but nobody wants pink eye or a viral cough. Stop sharing.) And at church, we’ve been prepping for the Christmas pageant.

Now, a sane person would reflect on these events with gratitude that her family’s health is on the mend, and joy that her kids have such a wonderful opportunity to experience and share the story of Jesus’ birth.

Unfortunately, I am not that person. The family-wide flu, apparently, doesn’t bring enough suffering. I also have to berate myself that I’m not doing more to make this a magical, meaningful Christmas season.

I’m a little bit better about the church pageant. At the very least, I can laugh as Big Sister dithers over her costume choices and Little Bro drags the baby Jesus doll throughout the entire sanctuary.

But there’s another small (okay, medium) part of me that protests this deviation from the norm. I long for our lectionary-based Sunday School curriculum. I want to shriek, “There are assigned readings and handouts to be done, people!”

You may be wondering what this has to do with my kids’ faith formation. Nothing, really… except that they have a martinet mother who tends towards prioritizing process over product. It definitely impacts their lives. Also, I think I may be writing this blog for fellow neurotic perfectionists, so I might as well “out” myself now.

What aspects of your personality deeply affect your parenting style and/or spiritual practice?

Intro to Advent

DIY Advent wreath title 2Image Credit: House for Five

Advent is the first season of a new church year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve.

Quite frankly, I’ve only ever associated the word “advent” with Christmas countdown calendars (usually the cardboard ones with little doors revealing chocolate). This form of counting is a great way to build anticipation for Christmas, and you can bet my kids will be savoring their shared Advent calendar.

But for Christians, this is a time to prepare for the birth of Jesus, to reflect and acknowledge our gift of salvation through Him.

One of the most traditional ways to celebrate this season is with an Advent wreath. Here’s the ELCA Lutheran PDF file on Advent wreaths, which covers all the symbolism–including the rationale behind a recent widespread switch to royal blue candles. (Short version: this symbolizes hope, longing, and royalty.) This website explains the more traditional color scheme of pink and purple and includes a detailed description of how to light the candles.

At a minimum, I’ll be creating and using an Advent wreath with my children. As an intro, we’ll watch the Whirl kids celebrate. We’ll also memorize this (very) simple song to learn what all the different candles mean.

I’m also intrigued by LecFamily’s Photo-A-Day Challenge and family devotional activities. I want to see how much of this I can incorporate while feeling joyful, rather than burdened, by the prospect!

How do you celebrate Advent? Do you have any great resources to share? 


This Blog’s Purpose

church year lutheran

Image credit: Internet Monk

I suppose it’s only fitting for a faith-based blog to begin with a confession. Here’s mine: I’m a wee bit jealous of my Catholic and Mormon gal pals. They’ve got so many fabulous resources for raising children within their respective religious denominations. Bonus: many of them have also been raised within their faith tradition.

That’s not me. As a child I attended Lutheran services, but my family moved cities and never really found another congregation. For me, this marked a long phase of spiritual searching that ended about a year ago with a return to the ELCA Lutheran church.

So, yeah. I left the church around age 8 and returned at age 34. The majority of my life (getting my formal education, embarking on a teaching career, marrying my husband, birthing and beginning to raise our two children) has happened outside of the Lutheran faith. Not surprisingly, I am sometimes puzzled by my own church’s traditions. (“Why is everyone wearing red? Oh, Reformation Sunday… that’s nice. Um, what is that, exactly?”)

On this blog, I plan to record my research regarding the Lutheran liturgy… as well as how I plan to share that liturgy with my family in a concrete, kid-friendly way. Currently, my children are ages 4 and 1. I’ll be focusing on preschool faith formation, but also hope to look ahead.

This blog is part of two separate goals. On the personal front, I hope it will help me evolve as both a person and a parent. And for my family, this is the spiritual side of our larger quest to live (and eat!) more seasonally. Ultimately, I want to create space, time, and ways for us to enjoy ourselves and each other with intention and gratitude.

Readers, can we serve as resources for each other? I would love to learn from people with other backgrounds and/or beliefs!