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.

Be Where You Are

For most of the last eighteen years, our family has spent one week each summer vacationing in Pacific Grove, California, a NorCal coastal town nestled between Monterey and Carmel. Many years before our annual vacations began, while we were dating and newly married, Guy and I would drive from his childhood home in Santa Cruz to walk along the rocky coast, to picnic, to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. For almost 30 years this place has inspired me with its beauty.

When our boys were little, we had to get up early to exercise them. As they got older and required more sleep, I began to get up early to exercise me. All year long I anticipate with physical longing my morning walk/jogs along the trail paralleling Ocean View Boulevard.

I am not a morning person, so it’s truly something when I can yank myself out of bed, start the coffee while I get dressed, swallow a half cup and be out the door before anyone else stirs. I’m at the beach, I reminded myself. I’m only here for a few days.

Every morning without fail I hit the trail, either walk/jogging toward Monterey or walking the longer, less even trail toward Asilomar. My body felt tired but healthy. Stronger. And my will felt stronger, too, more determined.

I told myself it was the view that pulled me outside. It was, but I wondered: if I lived here, would it motivate me 365 days a year? Would it ever grow old?

I live in a beautiful, walkable neighborhood. I love walking my dogs, walking with Guy or friends, walk/jogging myself around our neighborhood. I can take a slightly different route every day of the week, though by now they are all familiar.

But I live here, so it’s easy to say I’ll get outside later, or tomorrow. That we can take the dogs to the park, or I can go to the gym.

I came home from vacation with a new resolve to stop making excuses and get outside to appreciate the gift of living in this particular neck of the NorCal woods. And so I have put on my shoes, leashed the dogs, and gone outside each day since.

I live here, and I am going to soak it in with gratitude.

Create Happiness

My One Word aspiration for January 2019 is to Create Happiness. A microcosm of life, this month presented both expected and unexpected happiness challenges. I know I’m living my best life when I am reading, writing, and cooking regularly; this month has been all out of whack on all fronts and the best I’ve been able to do is to ask myself whether I am present in the moment (sometimes yes, others no). Still, I’ve been conscious of happiness and what I might do to develop more.

To that end, I’ve read a few articles on happiness (this one from a minimalist perspective and this one on time). The best was this one in The New York Times. Culling together what I’ve learned, here are some things I’m committed to to increase my happiness.

MIND
Process my life through writing. Writing helps me become aware of myself and it’s a whole lot cheaper than therapy.

Talk to myself like a friend. I can get lost down the rabbit hole of my own ruminations, completely stuck in negative thinking. I’m going to try to stem that flow by imagining I am my own best friend.

Keep up my gratitude practice, which also helps me stay in the moment. I keep a gratitude journal to record at least three unique-to-today things for which I’m grateful, along with quotes from Scripture or other books.

Use the Pomodoro Technique. Set timers to focus for 25 minutes/5 minute breaks x4 for 2 hours of increased productivity.

BODY
Move for 30 minutes most days and some days more. Just do it.

Say thank you. It’s too easy to be critical. I want to increase my appreciation for the gift of being a living, breathing, healthy human.

Get outside with my pets and my humans. Four things working together here: exercise, beautiful NorCal fresh air, the joy of furry loves, and shared time with people who matter.

Cook and eat real food. Bulk cook so that there is (almost) always something healthy in the fridge. Choose fresh over processed food.

Hydrate. More water, more tea.

Smile more. Find reasons to laugh. Be silly. Don’t take myself too seriously.

ENVIRONMENT
Declutter at the speed of my own life. Don’t wait for time to do the massive decluttering projects, just spend 1-15 minutes right now (not on social media but) eliminating, organizing, or cleaning to make the environment more satisfying. I already make my bed (research shows that happy people make their beds!), but I want to turn my bedroom into an oasis, which means no clutter.

Light candles and turn on the diffuser. Pretty light and intoxicating scent are relaxing.

Practice silence. Minimize noise and negativity of all sorts and choose quiet, deep breathing.

RELATIONSHIPS
Invest in positive relationships. Minimize negative ones. I have my go-to people, but I can more consistently invest in them: both in time and in letting them know how important they are to me.

Spend money and time on shared experiences. Create memories rather than collect stuff.

Be kind and generous. Let people know I’m thinking of them. Become more thoughtful towards those I don’t see regularly, especially in recognizing important events (birthdays, etc). Give away time and stuff to bless others.

Enjoy alone time. Relish time alone to indulge in my favorite pursuits, especially reading.

Happy Thanksgiving 2018

What are you facing this week? Traveling or family coming in? Stay-cation with lots of local activities? Business/work as usual? Cooking, eating at another’s table, dining out?

Little about this week has been our family’s version of usual. Q14 got an unexpected day off school, closed due to unhealthy air quality from the Camp Fire in Butte County, CA, hours from here but close enough to make our air quality the worst in the world. A good call on the district’s part, but an anticlimactic way to begin ten days of vacation. Often we travel or have family travel to us, but this year we’re staying put. Guy’s brother will join us, the only one who doesn’t eat at our table at least once a week. And I’m still working, albeit remotely. The gross air outside keeps us all indoors, so we’re not even enjoying local day-trips. Cleaning out closets may be productive, but less fun.

Still, we’re looking forward to a day of cooking (we all like to cook) and lots and lots of veggie goodness. Plus lots of family time and thanks-giving. To that end, I turned to Ted for ideas…

10 Questions to Ask Around the Dinner Table

What are you grateful for?
What are you proudest of?
What has been the happiest moment of your life so far?
What has been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?
What important life lessons have you learned so far?
How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?
Who has been kindest to you?
How do you want to be remembered?
If you could share any wisdom with your great-great-grandchildren years from now, what would you want them to know?
If you could honor one person in your life, living or dead, by listening to their story, who would that be? What would you ask them, and why?

And here’s a super-short Ted talk on the importance of giving and receiving thanks.

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Overflow

The Friday before the Monday C19 left for college out-of-state, neighbors we hadn’t met posted on social media that they were giving away a full-size bed, a few years old with limited wear-and-tear, with an almost-new mattress. Free.

That morning, C19 had awoken in the twin-over-full bunk beds he’d had since childhood. We asked if he’d like a new bed, even though he wouldn’t sleep it in often. He replied with an emphatic, “YES!”

We didn’t need more to do that weekend, but nevertheless we made arrangements to see the bed, and the owner, congenial and overly generous, helped us load the pieces into our minivan. He easily could have sold the bed/mattress, but he just wanted it gone. Two trips and less than a half-hour later, our kid had a new bed he loved.

Q13 liked it, too. Since his bed was the metal frame we’d found, free, when the crib-daybed-full bed frame that had served both our children finally cracked, he decided he’d be moving in to the new bed as soon as his brother left home.

Guy recognized that Little Brother, easy-going and uncomplaining as he was, had grown tired of hand-me-downs. He needed a new bed of his own. He also needed a show of provision from his parents. So he checked online and found another almost-new bed/mattress combo for sale at a ridiculously low price. He bought it, and wouldn’t you know?, it matched the existing decor of Q13’s room as if we’d planned it all along.

We donated all the matching bedding from the twin-over-full bunks to charity. We listed the bunk beds for sale, and the low purchase price was still enough to pay for the purchased bed plus new bedding for the free bed.

And somehow, we still had a good quality full-sized mattress left over. We gave it to a young friend in her first apartment + (low-paying) professional job.

We thought we didn’t have time for more in an already overly-full weekend. But generosity flows downhill. Someone generously giving something away led to more, and more, and more. In the end, our kids had new-to-them beds they love, we came out about even on the cash flow, and we still had things to give away.

God is good!

By the way, I was going to title this post “Pay It Forward,” but I’ve already used that title on another post about someone’s generosity. C19 still enjoys that gift when he’s home and driving about town!

Abundant Life
Week 2: Grace-Fueled Gratitude
Luke 7:36-50

Connect
Share about a generous gift you have received.

Study
Read aloud Luke 7:36-50.
Describe Simon. Describe the woman. How does each interact with Jesus?
How does Simon view the woman? How does Jesus view her?
How would you retell this story in a contemporary context? Who would play the Pharisee and the woman?
Based on this story, why do you think the religious establishment and “sinners” had such different reactions to Jesus?

Live
Write a Yelp! review for the banker who forgave your $36,000 debt (equivalent to 500 denarii today). How would your review reflect your gratitude?
How are you like the Pharisee? Like the woman?
What moves you about the woman’s response to Jesus? Does anything about her response unsettle you, and if so, why?
How can we demonstrate our gratitude to Jesus?
What prayers has God answered for you?
How do we prevent a pharisaical, judgmental mindset? In other words, how can we keep God’s grace in constant view?
What would it take for the Church to be as welcoming to sinners as Jesus was?
Discuss: “Appreciating beauty and giving thanks for life’s treasures is not living in denial of life’s suffering and challenges. It’s what helps us cope with life’s suffering and challenges” (Rene Schlaepfer).
Create a Generosity Project—something you can do, ideally with others, to demonstrate and share your gratitude to God with others.
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you stay grateful and reflect His generous spirit to others.

Favorite Things

Sing along…

Raindrops on roses And whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

While I’m a big fan of dew-dropped roses and kittens, my favorites list includes different items:

My family, my marriage (coming right up on 25 years!), our home
Our menagerie of pets, and animals in all their wild and wonderful weirdness
The beach

Well-told stories, and a library system with access to more books than I will ever read
Sharing a crisp sauvignon blanc with girlfriends on a warm summer evening
A fire in the fireplace on a cold winter’s night, and candlelight all around
Cooking healthy and delicious food to share with people I love
Walking our neighborhood and hiking trails, especially with family, friends, and dogs
Meaningful work
Adventures in exploring the world near and far
Beautiful home-grown flowers
Farmers’ Markets overflowing with fresh produce
Laughing so hard I cry
Heartfelt conversation
Quiet moments of awe, wonder, peace
Cheering on my people as they do what they love
Art and creativity in oh-so-many forms

I recognize all these things (and so much more) as gifts from God, examples of the riches of His grace which He lavishes on us.

But sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I get tired and cranky, disillusioned, caught up in my own frenzied spirals or the harshness of others and the world’s brokenness.

All the more reason to keep reminding myself of the good gifts God pours into my life…

When the dog bites
When the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Abundant Life
Week 1: Lavish Generosity
John 10:10-11 & Ephesians 1:3-8a

Connect
Reflect on a generous gift you have given.

Study
Read aloud John 10:10-11.
Contrast the thief and the good shepherd. What happens to those who are near them?
Read aloud Ephesians 1:3-8a.
What has God done for us, and why?
How would you explain “every spiritual blessing” with which God has blessed us to someone who doesn’t feel blessed (v3)?
What does it mean that we are “in him” (vv4, 6-7)?
How does this passage describe our relationship with God? What difference does that make?
Which of God’s blessings depend on us? Which change or affect us, and how?

Live
Why do people choose to follow the thief instead of the good shepherd?
Name some of your favorites of God’s lavish riches. How do you respond? How can you share them with others?
“…worship and praise are so crucial [because] they give opportunity for us to tell the truth about ourselves and God” (Klyne Snodgrass). How are worship and praise appropriate responses to reflecting on what God has done for us?
How can you hold on to the truth of the abundant life God has designed for us in light of the daily realities of a messy, pain-filled world?
What is God saying to you through this passage, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Read aloud from Psalm 145 as a hymn of thanksgiving to our lavishly generous God.

Thankful Thursday – 25 January 2018

What a week! One kid had a day off school while the other, too far away, landed in the ER with a mystery illness. Rain on and off, dogs didn’t get enough exercise, and I had sleepless nights and a migraine for days.

Still, as Kelly Corrigan reminds us, life is like that. And, as Seth Godin writes:

Beginning is underrated

Merely beginning.
With inadequate preparation, because you will never be fully prepared.
With imperfect odds of success, because the odds are never perfect.
Begin. With the humility of someone who’s not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it’s possible.

So, we begin. And we keep on. One foot in front of the other.

Things for which I’m thankful:

  1. C19’s health seems to be improving…?
  2. Q13 diving into a book I loved (Moon Over Manifest, BTW).
  3. Library books. I’ve been to the library three out of three days. Some wins, some losses, so many yet to be discovered.
  4. Consistency in important arenas, like Bible reading & my gratitude journal.
  5. A break in the rain and headache pain to walk the energetic pooches.
  6. The geniuses who thought through leash-splitters, Soda Stream to sparkle tap water, and at-home shiatsu back massagers.
  7. Verdant green grass and patches of blue sky.
  8. A night to cozy up at home, the weekend coming, and family who will be visiting.

And you? What are you thankful for this week?