Advent 3: Preserve Peace (2019)

True confession: I worked on this post yesterday and got confused on my dates. I thought today would be December 14 and so the invitation should read: “Preserve Peace.” My partner in creativity made two beautiful images, only recognizing my mistake after she had them ready.

Thing is, I think Jesus does that sometimes. He directs us to what we need even if it’s “out of order” from our expectations. I needed to dwell on peace this weekend, and so that’s what God gave me.

May God always give you what you need, and may you have ears and eyes to receive His truth! Side note: we put our devotional cards in biblical order, but please feel free to shuffle the deck to get what you need from Jesus (to get your own set of cards, click for your FREE download).

Cranberries are one of my favorite holiday season tastes. They’re in everything: cheese, salads, pastries, savories and sweets. I typically make cranberry sauce the Monday before Thanksgiving and Christmas, always making sure we have more than enough to go around the table for a few days. My recipe includes lots of ginger, orange juice, and orange marmalade to finish. The results taste sweet and tart-bitter and never fail to please the pucker.

I’d never thought to wonder why jam can be called “preserves.” It seems obvious that the fruit has been “preserved” in a different form, right? Yes, and because early cultures used sugar as a preservative to keep fruit from spoiling.

I did a quick google search on preservatives when I saw the Advent invitation to “Preserve Peace.” Jesus made peace between God and humanity and, as we follow Him, we are called to be peacemakers, to make peace where conflict reigns and to keep peace when it is fragile.

We are the sugar preserving the fruit, the marmalade in the cranberry sauce. In other words, Jesus invites us to be delicious and make life tastier for everyone.

 

Advent 2: Be Content (2019)

Get a modest place and be content there Mark 6:10

Jesus invites us to be content, an invitation we struggle to receive. The focus of Advent is our longing for the Savior, but instead we make it about longing for the perfect gifts. Santa may be making a list and checking it twice, but we hit the malls more than twice. I read that the average American household spends over $1,000 on Black Friday sales alone.

I like the advice on shopping for children: something they’ll want, need, wear, and read. Now that my kids are young adults, we’re all about experiences. Tickets and gift cards and memberships they can enjoy with friends or family. Experiences that will create memories and won’t clutter up their rooms with more stuff to manage, clean, organize.

A good question during this season (and throughout the year): am I content with what God has provided? Am I content with my home, my job, my neighbors and friends, my hobbies? Another helpful question: Where do I notice grumbling and dissatisfaction, and what will I do about it? For example, if I’m frustrated with housework, I can clean up, even if that means delegating tasks to less than enthusiastic young people.

One way to cultivate contentment is to practice gratitude. I am grateful for the people living under our roof who also make messes. I am grateful for the healthy food consumed on plates that mean more dishes. I am grateful for the clothes we wear that make piles of laundry. I am grateful for the appliances that make cleaning dishes and clothing easier. I am grateful for the holidays and the opportunity to decorate and celebrate even though, at the moment, my home contains a hodgepodge of both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Jesus, help me be content with what you have provided. Amen.

Want your own set of these devotional cards? FREE download right here. Perfect for stocking stuffers, or feel free to share the link so others can get their own set.

Reading: November 2019

Let’s all Read More Books!

I’m always reading, and I always have more to read. We have so many bookshelves people have joked that we live in a library (sounds good to me). My library basket also overflows, and I regularly have to return unread books because I can’t finish them fast enough.

Books star at the top of my gift lists, both to give and receive, like the star at the top of the Christmas tree. We’re all thinking about gift lists right about now, aren’t we? Below are thoughts on what I’ve read this month; for more suggestions, you can see my reviews through the link to Goodreads at the bottom of this post, or search “reading” and “books” on my blog.

Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam, #2)The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Given the madness of the world in recent years, I’ve tended to stay away from dystopian fiction. However, Oryx & Crake was a favorite when it came out, I was between library runs, and I had The Year of the Flood on my bookshelf. It does seem interestingly prophetic… I may have to go back and reread Oryx & Crake before moving on to MaddAdam, though.

Dear Evan HansenDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Trigger alert: in case you’ve been under a rock & didn’t know (I didn’t…) this is about suicide attempts, both successful and not.

I read this cover to cover in one day as we traveled from the West to East Coast. It’s beautifully written, believingly charactered, and simultaneously tragic and life affirming. Now I need to see it on the stage…

Update: I’ve been listening to the soundtrack on repeat whenever I’m in the car, and I have to say, I like the book better than the music.

You Think It, I'll Say ItYou Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sittenfeld just may not be speaking my language. I gave up on Prep a few pages in. I made it through Sisterland, but it felt forced. I loved Eligible, but it’s a modern day Pride & Prejudice. I had high hopes for You Think It, I’ll Say It that didn’t pan out. An exploration of romantic love via short stories, some characters felt repetitive, only a few stood out as well-developed, and mostly I felt sad for the personal and relational brokenness depicted throughout.

The Last RomanticsThe Last Romantics by Tara Conklin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a family saga different from any I’ve ever read. The storms the four Skinner children weather together knit them together, and also form them as unique individuals. They are wild and strong and expressive in different ways. The book doesn’t move fast but I was so intrigued as to what was happening with each character that it pulled me along, especially with an intriguing twist near the end.

“What I wanted to say to this man was that the greatest works of poetry, what makes each of us a poet, are the stories we tell about ourselves. We create them out of family and blood and friends and love and hate and what we’ve read and watched and witnessed. Longing and regret, illness, broken bones, broken hearts, achievements, money won and lost, palm readings and visions. We tell these stories until we believe them, we believe in ourselves, and that is the most powerful thing of all” (195).

The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and MoreThe Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype–and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More by Michael Breus
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed for relevant information. A fascinating look at how people can best honor their individual body clock.

Since I quit my day job six months ago, I have had the opportunity to notice how and when my body/brain work best. For example, when I need to sleep/wake. When I’m hungry without the call of “lunchtime!” When the internet distracts me and how to harness it. When I feel most/least productive and creative. Skimming this book helped me to understand both why and what to do to take advantage of how my body wants to operate. Not always practical when you have standing obligations, but still helpful as a guideline.

View all my reviews

What are you reading? Any books you’re giving or hoping to receive for the holidays?

Advent 1: Follow Me (2019)

Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people. Mark 1:17

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the church season in which we remember our longing for the arrival of the Messiah. My friend The Creative Resource and I have created a set of devotional cards you can use in any order all year long, or you can use them in order during Advent as an Advent calendar. This set of cards all feature two words spoken by Jesus as found in Mark’s gospel; you’ll find Nancy’s artwork on one side, and the corresponding Scripture and a prayer written by me on the reverse.

FREE download, available here.

Also during Advent, I will post a longer meditation on Sundays using the words on that day’s card. We’re not following the traditional themes—love, joy, peace, and hope, or the characters of Jesus’ birth narrative—but the way the two word themes of Jesus play out chronologically in Mark’s Gospel.

The First Sunday of Advent: Follow Me

Jesus met people where they were: the seashore, the tax collector’s booth, in a tree, caught in sin. He went to them, gracefully interrupting their lives in progress. He didn’t expect them to clean themselves up before they came to Him, holy and ready. Truly, He loved but didn’t much like those who considered themselves holy; those were the ones who thought their own goodness could save them; they didn’t need a Savior.

Sinners who recognized their need for a Savior, that’s who Jesus looked for. And Scripture shows us so many beautiful scenes of sinners recognizing their Savior Jesus when He arrived.

Simon and Andrew, James and John, fisherman at work casting and preparing their nets, Jesus called them first. Was it a crisis? Did they wonder at this stranger who walked up with an unlikely invitation to follow Him? Though they did, at once and without delay. Maybe they had heard of Him, this One who had strolled their town, Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God: God’s kingdom has come near. Repent and believe!

Maybe they were intrigued by His words: I will sent you out to fish for people. Fishing for fish, they knew; what could it mean to fish for people?

We still think we have to get cleaned up for God. We gussy up for church, out of respect, perhaps, but also to fit in. We wouldn’t want anyone to look askance. Would they, would we, look askance if we knew the truth of one another’s lives?

The first disciples must have reeked of fish. They didn’t shower and change before following Jesus, before He put them to work fishing for people. He accepted and loved them just as they were, and began immediately to show them what God’s kingdom looks like: healing, teaching, praying, loving: restoration.

That’s the journey Jesus still invites us on. Wherever we are today, this moment, Jesus appears to us if we have eyes to see Him. He wants us, just as we are, to follow Him. To learn from Him what His kingdom looks like. What love looks like.

Jesus, thank you for inviting me on the adventure of loving others. Amen.

Creative Collaboration

One of the great joys of my professional life over the last many years has been my ongoing partnership with my friend Nancy, aka The Creative Resource. I write/edit words and she makes them pretty. I hatch ideas and she makes them real and, in most cases, even better than I imagined. She is a fabulous photographer, graphic designer, artist, hand lettering extraordinaire; she is also a woman of deep faith with a kind heart of gold. And she loves dogs and coffee, which makes her an all-around terrific friend.

We have both moved on from our side-by-side week-in-and-out roles; in fact, she moved more than an hour away. But that didn’t stop us from continuing our collaboration.

Last year we created a set of devotional cards—her hand lettering art on one side with a Bible verse and a prayer written by me on the reverse. We sold them at our church craft fair and book shop to great response. People appreciated them as attractive countertop reminders to pause in each day and remember what’s important. They also make great stocking stuffers.

So we decided to produce another set: To Do Cards take two.

This set is so fun (if I do say so myself)… Each card features two words spoken by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. Nancy did a beautiful job hand lettering them in on-trend black and white, an classy fit with any decor. Though they are currently arranged in the order they appear in Mark’s Gospel, you can use them in any order as they strike a note in your heart. They are numbered but not dated, though if you start with Day 1 on December 1 (this Sunday! How in the world did we get to December already?), you’ll begin the month—and Advent—by making preparations and end on Christmas Day by asking Jesus to stay with you, an Advent calendar of sorts designed to fill your heart with love rather than your mouth with chocolate.

To Do Cards take two are available to you as a FREE download. All you have to do is give us your email. We promise not to spam you; we’ll email you just a few times a year about other inspirational creative projects we’ve cooked up. Please feel free to share this post so others can get in on the fun as well.

Merry Christmas already!

What Thumper’s Father Said

In the classic Disney movie, Bambi, Thumper comments on Bambi’s clumsy first steps, “He doesn’t walk very good, does he?”

Thumper’s mother jumps in: “Thumper, what did your father tell you?”

A chastened Thumper—and a chastened me, when my mom reminded me of this scene throughout my childhood—quotes:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

Good advice, wisdom I passed down to my own kids.

Except sometimes life isn’t all that nice, and on those occasions you may have an obligation to call it as you see it: messy, ugly, unjust. Which might mean saying some not nice things. Important things, on important issues, things that need to be said.

Still, for the most part, I try to be mindful of the words bouncing around in my brain before they fall tripping off my tongue. When I practice speaking compassionate words to myself, I feel better. When I give others the benefit of the doubt, when I hold them in my mind with compassion rather than smacking them down with all the words I might feel like saying, I’m happier still.

I recently read about a study where two groups of college students were sent out individually to wander around campus. One group received instructions to notice physical traits of people they passed; the other group was told to silently offer people a blessing, something like, “May you be happy and well.” At the end of 20 minutes, the group that offered blessings felt noticeably happier than they had at the beginning and happier than their counterparts who focused on appearances.

As Jesus reminds us, our words originate in the heart. The words I speak reflect whatever I’m mulling over, the thoughts and feelings I allow, or better yet cultivate, internally. So choosing to meditate on nice words, kindness and compassion for myself and others, should result in nice words.

Our Thanksgiving week will be a quiet one. We’re staying put since we just returned from NYC and the guys have another big trip coming up in January. I am conscious, however, of those who will be traveling and interacting with others—from harried staff and travelers in airports, railway stations, and interstates, to extended family and neighbors, some of whom you’re overjoyed to see and others you’d prefer to have seated out of reach. And I hope it may help to think of Thumper’s father’s advice: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

May you be happy and well this Thanksgiving, and all through the holidays!

 

Cover image: Simona Robová from Pixabay

More NYC

We crammed so much fun into just a few days that my heart and head are full of NYC…

Since we returned, I’ve been posting pictures and reflections (art, architecture, history, public spaces, etc) over on Instagram. Follow me there for more: @sivricketts.

And meanwhile, settle into fall with a delicious, healthy, and oh-so-easy Cauliflower Soup.