Friday, December 26, 2014

One Year of Quilts (with some education stuff thrown in)

I can finally post about this. Finally.

One of my recurring fascinations is with education research and the brain (handy that it's my job, too), and something I've read so much about in the last couple of years is the importance of grit or determination. A kid can be a genius, but if he gives up the second something is difficult for him, then his genius doesn't matter at all. We talk a lot in my district about how to instill this grit into our students. This, after all, will be the edge that sets them apart in college or the workforce for the rest of their lives. It makes them problem solvers and not quitters.

I'm oversimplifying here, but instilling grit in students (or our own children) means putting tasks in front of them that are hard. It means congratulating their failures (rather than punishing them with bad grades or scowls or whatever) because they learned something from those failures and are one step closer to solving a problem. It means providing just enough support to push them to success, but not enough to make them comfortable.

The second part of my theory regarding grit is that we, as adults, don't usually choose to do things that are hard or that we're bad at. I know this is true for me. I find some disconnect - dare I say hypocrisy - in the fact that we want our kids to try and fail and branch out and learn, but we really like our comfortable situations. In short, I think I've gone most of my adult life without learning to do something new. I used to joke that before I retire I'd like to teach Algebra because I can't imagine anything farther from my comfort zone of teaching. But don't suggest that I would do that now -- what if I'm not immediately good at it? That would be terrible!

So I set out to change that in 2014. First, with the encouragement of some great friends, I signed up for a mini-triathlon. There's a half-finished, unpublished blog post somewhere about it, and it was an awesome experience.

I also decided to learn how to quilt. I chose quilting because if my house were burning down, one of the top five things I would grab is this:

It's a quilt my grandmother made. When I moved out of my parent's house to go to college, I may have "accidentally" packed it. (My mother might use the word "stole" but that's a little harsh, I think.) Since then, we've lost my Mammaw, but I still have this quilt and I think of her every single time we use it, which is probably daily. Quilting isn't eliminating hunger or anything, but it's something with a lasting impact. Something that will (hopefully) go on beyond me. After I made a practice quilt, I set a goal to make eight quilts, one for each of the adult women in my family, and give them for Christmas. It seemed a little crazy, but it kept me going because I had a goal.

This is another little part of teaching our kids and our students grit. If their work -- this hard, failure-creating work -- is related to something they are invested in, then they are more likely to stick with it. To keep trying. To work harder and learn from mistakes.

And so, armed with a new sewing machine, I started quilting. First I read articles and watched YouTube videos. Several people have asked for which ones I watched, and it was so long ago that I'm not sure I remember them all. I'm posting a few here that look familiar and I think are good:

  • Diary of a Quilter - Beginning Quilt Series
  • Jenny, from the Missouri Star Quilt Company, was my new best friend this year. I like all of her tutorials. Here is their channel. I also used her tutorial on the jelly roll race on one of my quilts. I liked the process a lot, but I've had a hard time finding jelly rolls locally that I really like. 
  • Regarding patterns: I only used a couple. For the most part I saw something I liked online and sketched it out on white paper, calculating sizes. Use pencil because it take a while to get it right. 
  • I studied and referenced quilting terms because I found I was reading articles and had no idea what they meant because I didn't know the vocabulary. 
  • I pinterested like crazy. "Easy quilts" was my most frequent search. You can see my sewing board here. Many of the easy quilts come with tutorials. 
  • Speaking of easy, my quilts were all quite simple. You'll notice only straight, rectangular lines in them all. I may be ready to branch out into triangles after one year of work, but don't hold me to it. 
  • I'm kind of terrible at basting. I thread basted using a spoon because that's what my friend Erin does, then I tried pin basting, then I started spray basting later in the year. I like spray basting the best. 
  • For my first few quilts, I made my own binding. Then I discovered bias tape for quilt binding and may have actually jumped for joy in the store. SUCH a time saver! My friend Jenny from Missouri Star has a great tutorial on binding. I re-watched it before binding my first five quilts (at least) because I was afraid I would miss a step. I hand bound my mini-practice quilt, but used my machine for all the rest. 
The biggest question I've gotten from people is about the actual quilting on the machine. Many people make quilts but send them off to be quilted, which can be very expensive. I was determined that these quilts were going to be 100% done by me, and since part of my original mission was to do something difficult I decided I had to do the quilting, too.

My friend Erin had the best advice. She told me to take a section at a time, get comfy, have a glass of wine, and just go. If you're too stiff or too worried about perfection, then you're asking for trouble. Just go. She also said that quilts are what you make them. In other words, it's your quilt, so if you like it then it's not wrong. This was probably the hardest advice for me to follow. I like to plan and control and follow the directions, so the freedom was tough. More than once I sat down to quilt and after about five minutes decided I couldn't right then because I was wound too tight. Most of the mistakes I made (that had to be ripped out and redone -- and there were plenty) were because I was trying to force myself to get a certain thing done even though I didn't really want to right then. Patsy Thompson has a four part tutorial that's pretty long but got good details. You'll see that I chickened out and straight-line quilted all of the first quilt and the first part of the second. 

Before I post the pics I also want to mention that these are far from perfect. Really expert quilters would likely look closely at them and see technical flaws -- uneven stitching in places, a repair here and there, etc. I know they are there, and I'm okay with it. See, I'm not an expert yet. I'm still learning, and not being perfect is part of that. Maybe some day I'll get there! 

The practice quilt where I first learned how to do stuff.

This is my first full-size quilt. I loved the fabrics, and it took me a long time to cut out all of the squares. I also counted wrong, so I have about a million more squares already cut out in these fabrics just waiting for another project. 

Tiffany's quilt. I bought a charm pack with the squares, and used a quilt I found on Pinterest as inspiration. I straight line quilted the center. The purple area is my first free-motion work. 

I'm pretty sure I did Mom's next. I saw this pattern in the quilt store and thought it would be perfect for her. Piecing this together was a huge puzzle, but I love the finished product. I bought the kit at Lone Star Quiltworks in College Station, and it was nice to have someone else choose just the right fabrics to make it. It was the first time I used an actual pattern. 

This is the jelly roll race quilt. I jokingly call it my Hawaiian quilt because the flowers on the fabric look Hawaiian to me. I wanted something quick and simple, and this definitely fit the bill. It was originally for Wendy, but when it was done it just didn't look like her. I ended up keeping it for myself. 

This is probably the most difficult quilt I made. It seemed simple, but it had more small pieces than the others I had done. Getting those squares to be the same size required some serious accuracy in cutting and piecing. It also turned out to be pretty big, so quilting it was hard on my domestic machine. I think looks great with such rich color, even if I can spot the few mistakes. 
I needed an easy quilt after the purple one. I found the center fabric and immediately thought of Jodi. It was so bright and happy that I didn't want to put another print with it to distract from it. It needed to be a in a big chunk. I found a quilt similar to this on Pinterest and just modeled this after the one I found. 

I used a pattern for this, too. Maybe only the second or third actual pattern I used. The funny thing is that the pattern made the center gray quilt. When I was done, it was itty bitty and kind of funny!  I added the maroon borders and stars to give it some size, and I like it much better with the addition. The back of this quilt is great fabric, too!

I knew I wanted to make this one for Mary (it's just like Mom's, only Aggie colors), so I saved it for last because I knew I wouldn't need time to choose a design or fabric. I put it all together, added the border, and was just about to baste when I realized I attached the bottom half to the top half upside down. EEK! I ripped out and redid more seams on this thing than all the other quilts put together, but it was worth it. Also, I accidentally bought backing fabric that was extra wide, and I didn't have to piece the backing together at all. I felt silly that I'd made quilts all year without realizing I could have been buying extra wide fabric for the back! 
Wendy's actual quilt. I finished the others in time to make one that was more like her, and I was glad I did. I have LOTS of this fabric left for other projects because I needed the long strips. 
There you have it!  One year of quilting and learning! I can't wait to get going on my next project!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Advent: Day 25

The Birth of Jesus

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

He is here! Merry Christmas!  

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Advent: Day 24

It's Christmas Eve!

We have had the best evening. We went to church where Keaton sang with the children's choir, then we ate Chinese food, then we dropped off Mimi's freshly hemmed pajama pants at her house. When we got home, the boys straightened their bathroom for company and made their spots in our room where they always sleep on Christmas Eve night. I've been watching White Christmas, which I've never seen before, while Trey puts together casseroles for Christmas morning. It's a pretty picture perfect Christmas Eve.

My absolute favorite thing at church on Christmas Eve (at least the last two years) is hearing Taylor Slocum sing "God is With Us." Her voice is amazing (she has several videos posted on YouTube if you're interested - just do a quick search). Tonight she was accompanied on the violin, and the resulting song was earth shattering. The chorus says:

"Love is raining down on the world tonight
There's a presence here I can tell
God is in us, God is for us, God is with us, Emmanuel
He's the Savior we have been praying for
In our humble hearts He will dwell
God is in us, God is for us, God is with us Emmanuel"

I am so thankful that someone recorded this and put it on YouTube so I could share it with you here!

(Video should be embedded, but if it's not showing up the link is here.)

I don't think there is anything else I can even add to that. The gift of Christ is love raining down from heaven. He dwells in us. He is always on our side. He is forever with us.

All because of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Advent: Day 23

My self-imposed challenge to post every day for Advent was rudely interrupted by the Great Black Plague of 2015. First Keaton got it, then about 48 hours later the other three of us got it at the same time. It was ugly, friends. The silver lining is that I already lost five pounds on my Christmas vacation, and we all feel like living, breathing human beings again well before Christmas. Let's focus on that.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Lucado's devotional surrounding this scripture is about the way that Jesus had joy in all that He did. He left his majestic kingdom of heaven and came to earth where He never owned anything or had a place to call home. The circumstances in His life were mostly awful. People hated him, used him, even murdered him. And He subjected Himself to it all willingly and with joy.

The Christian radio station we often listen to is challenging its listeners to "choose joy" this holiday season. Today as I was in the hair salon, I overheard another customer telling her stylist about some family drama or other but that she was "choosing joy" instead of letting that get the best of her. The Facebook-Win-of-the-Day goes to a share from my friend Emily R. and is about choosing joy: "39 weeks pregnant AND sick. This stinks...Could be worse I guess. I could be facing a 3-day journey on a jackass."

Being joyful is, in fact, always a choice.

So my prayer today is that I will deliberately choose to be joyful throughout the rest of this Advent season. That my perspective will be from Jesus - the one who chose joy through horrible suffering, and did so out of love for me. Amen.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Advent: Day 18

I'm still a day behind. I hope to catch up this afternoon.

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us. Luke 2:15

Lucado's devotional talks about how it wasn't enough for the shepherds to see the angels. They wanted to lay their eyes on Jesus. The King. He recounts the story of Simeon who knew he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Simeon continued in his quest for Jesus and once he had seen the child, he knew the promise had been fulfilled.

My prayer today is that I won't be satisfied with hints of Jesus, but will pursue Him in all His glory. Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Advent: Day 17

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

I kind of avoid the news. It's usually depressing and sensationalized, and if there's something I need to know then Trey usually tells me. Local news is an exception. I also recently starting following NPR on facebook, and I find that the news they post is not all negative, is usually thought-provoking, and I can choose what stories I want to read because the headlines are quite descriptive.

The murder of 145 people in a Pakistani school has, of course, been in the news this week, and it's troubled me more than the average news story. It's a complete disregard for one of the most fundamental institutions -- education -- and for all human life. It's not politics or religion or anger. It's evil. 

(For what it's worth, I have the privilege of knowing many Muslims, and my opinion is that the Taliban is no more Muslim than Westboro Baptist Church is Christian.)

While there is no answer to acts of extreme, evil violence in the world, there is comfort. The Prince of Peace has come. In Christ, there is peace. 

My prayer today is for all of the families across the world that suffered directly from these attacks. May they take comfort in God's peace and find a way to not live in fear. Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Advent: Day 16

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. John 1:10-11

Recently I re-tweeted an article about the "Cult of Busyness."  It really spoke to me because if you were to ask me how things are going I would probably say, "Great! Just busy!" If I said this to you, it would likely be followed by you saying how you're busy, too, or how it's such a busy time of year (no matter the time of year). Small talk at its finest. I thought I'd also blogged about it so I could find it again, but I didn't. Must have been too busy.

Think about the scene around the birth of Jesus. Tons of people had been summoned to Bethlehem. I'm guessing it was a pretty big inconvenience in what was probably a very busy time of year. The people who worked in Bethlehem probably felt like they were in College Station on game day. The travelers probably felt like they were stuck in government-induced traffic. It was busy.

Into that busyness, Jesus came. I wonder how many of the people noticed.

Which leaves me to question where I see Jesus in my busy life. Am I too busy to notice when small miracles happen? Do I look for Jesus in those around me and appreciate their willingness to minister to me?

Today I pray that I will say "no" to the cult of busy and "yes" to Christ. That I will live my days aware of the goodness around me. That I will notice, welcome, and be openly thankful for those who show Jesus to me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Advent: Day 15

O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy
hill and to your dwelling.  Psalm 43:3

I think I knew from a young age that the holidays can be a sad time for many people. My grandfather died when I was 4 1/2, around Christmas time. I remember another year or two (maybe the next year) that my mom told me sometimes the holidays were hard for my dad because he lost his dad around Christmas. I know that this time of year reminds many people of loss, of the person they wish they were celebrating with.

This psalm calls on the Lord to send the light to lead us. Isn't the birth of Christ the ultimate sending of the light? Because of Christmas, light comes even into our darkest moments. When it seems all is lost or that loneliness is taking over, we have hope that the Light is coming.

My prayer tonight is for those who are experiencing loneliness or loss this holiday season.  May they remember those they've lost in this world with laughter and happy memories, and may they find hope in their darkness through the Light that brings eternal life. Amen.

(Yes, I was singing "Send the Light" in head while writing this.)

Advent: Day 14

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with
one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. –Romans 15:5-6

I love music. Perhaps irrationally so. There is a song in my head for every occasion, every memory. I'm not one of those people who remembers details of things that happened many years ago, but I can tell you who sang a particular song in church when I was nine. When a friend died in a car accident when I was about 20, I needed to know what CD she was listening to when she had the accident. My kids both have songs that they would call theirs because I sang them when they were babies (Red Dirt Road for Tucker, Sweet Baby James for Keaton, Tiny Dancer for both -- the Tim McGraw version). I really love music. Life would be boring without a soundtrack.

That's why this verse speaks to me. Paul made the connection between music and the church. He said that God brings us together so that we are "in harmony" and of "one voice." We should all work toward the ultimate goal of glorifying God in all we do, and we can do that better together. Isn't that why Jesus came? To bring glory to the Father? If He can make that great sacrifice, then surely we as the church can put aside any petty differences and work together for good, helping others, having contagious joy, lifting each other up. I am often reminded that our job as Christians is to "go out" into the world. But today I'm remembering that it's just as important to be there for each other.

My prayer is that we, the church, will seek out those within our midst who need love and support and be willing to provide it. That will we not get caught up in silly things, but keep our sights on things above, thus living in harmony with one another. That our witness would be one that glorifies God. Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Advent: Day 13

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying; "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men. Luke 2:13-14

Imagine the hours after Jesus was born.

I've had two kids. I was in labor with Tucker for a long time (22 hours? something like that). When he was finally born, the doctor told us he didn't want to alarm us, but that he was a little blue so they were taking him to the nursery to look him over more closely. I very casually said something like, "Okay, sure. Can I have a cheeseburger now? And a nap?"Trey and I still laugh about how unconcerned we were about our newborn being blue. We must have been really tired. And maybe a little clueless.

I don't remember much about right after Keaton was born. I wasn't in labor too long and there was nothing unusual about it. Our family had been through a lot in the few weeks before his birth. I remember worrying that the sadness everyone felt would overwhelm the joy that comes with the birth of a child. I also remember (because I still give Trey a hard time about it) that I was only in the hospital for 23 hours after Keaton was born because it was busy there and Trey thought he could take better care of me at home (which he did). He ended up just breaking me out when he'd had enough.

What must Mary and Joseph have felt? Were they able to sleep? Did they weep, overwhelmed with responsibility or uncertainty? When we have those moments when we're face to face with God, when we feel completely surrounded by his presence, how do we react?

Tonight I pray that we will not only be aware of God's presence in our lives, but that we'll take the time to marvel at that presence. That we'll linger in those moments. Amen.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent: Day 12

Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Yesterday I wrote about finding God in the common things. Today I'm reflecting on finding God in the surprising, unexpected things. Lucado's devotional focuses on the shepherds watching their sheep at night. He asserts that their biggest desire is to have an uneventful shift. After all, if something happened overnight it would probably be bad -- wolves, sick sheep, etc. So when the angel came they probably weren't initially too pumped about having their calm night turned upside down.

If you know me in real life, you know that I almost always have a plan. If I don't, it's because I've thought it through and made a plan to not have a plan. I'm super spontaneous like that. My job is one that comes with frequent interruptions, and I think I do pretty well with them, but my strategy for dealing with them is much like planning...listen, assess the situation, problem solve, make a plan, execute the plan. It seems I even turn random interruptions into plans. I like control.

But God sometimes works in the surprising and unexpected, just like he did for the shepherds that night.

Tonight I pray that instead of trying to get my control back when things go off the course of my plan, I'll stop to look for God working in the unexpected. Amen.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Advent: Day 11

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Luke 2:8-9

The chapter I read in Max Lucado's book today is titled "God Dances Amid the Common." I like that a lot.

In this scripture, shepherds were doing what shepherds do. Shepherding. It was dark; they were watching the sheep. Nothing too exciting or earth shattering.

Then an angel appeared out of nowhere. And they were scared.

No kidding.

It's safe to say I would for real freak out if I were going about my business, let's say cleaning house, and an angel appeared in the kitchen. Freak. Out. I would probably say a bad word, which is not something one should say in front of an angel.

But the ordinary is exactly where God works. It's where the angels show up.

What if we spent all of our day to day activities anticipating angels? Looking through the simple and common to the extraordinary? Tonight I'm wondering what I would see in a day.

When my kids were little, everything they did seemed like a small miracle: sitting up, walking, saying words, dancing. I continually saw God working in these little humans. The older they get, the less I see it... or maybe the less I look for it.

My prayer today is that I spend my ordinary days looking for the amazing, for the miraculous, for the angels. I pray that God dances amid my common days, and that I'm paying attention enough to notice.

Advent: Day 10

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Matthew 1:22-23

When it comes up in Sunday school or other conversations I often contend that it is more difficult to draw close to God when things are going great than when things are going terribly. I think about times when I was scared or worried or truly afraid, and it is at those times that I find it very easy to pray, to ask God's intervention and comfort. Being faced with loved ones' illnesses or similar tragedies leaves me with no other place to turn. In those times I find it easy to give up control and let God take over.

Easy for me to say, I guess. My life has not been marred by great tragedy. I could make a list of all the bad things my family and I have had to endure, but it wouldn't matter. I guess I may read too much to consider my own difficulties tragedies because I can always think of something ten times worse that I didn't have to go through. Overall, I have lived a privileged, blessed, happy life.

But God didn't say he'd be with us only when we think we really need him. God is with us. Period. I remember Sunday school lessons from when I was a kid when the teacher asked us to think about how we would behave if we remembered that God is always there. It kind of scared me then because I figured I would be in big trouble!

My prayer today (my first one because this is yesterday's post) is that I will seek God even when things are moving along just like I think they should. That I won't wait for trouble, major or minor, to call upon Him for guidance. I pray that those who are going through a difficult time today will be comforted because God is with us, not matter what.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Advent: Day Nine

"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isaiah 7:14

Immanuel. God with us. Jesus's decent to earth is how he came physically to be with us. Leaving heaven and coming to a hurting, broken world is just about the biggest thing someone could do. Lucado talks in his devotional about when Jesus lived physically on the earth no one was afraid to be near him. No one considered him too divine to touch. No one stayed away for fear of rejection. And He's God.

No matter how far we feel from God, He is always there, waiting and ready. Lucado says, "It is man who creates the distance. It is Jesus who builds the bridge."

My prayer today is that I will have a welcoming spirit like that of Christ, and that I will be an example to those around me that in God's eyes, we're all equally his beloved children. No sin is too great, no habit too bad, no hurt too deep, to keep God from loving us.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Advent: Day 8

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18

What must it have been like to be Joseph? A decent guy, engaged, life looking like it's going to go just like he planned, and then this whole immaculate conception thing gets dropped on him. The angel says Mary is pregnant, but no worries because she was faithful to you. The child was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Um. What?

Talk about your life taking a crazy turn. So many things must have gone through Joseph's head. He stood to lose his reputation, his long-term life plan, the respect of the community. Everything. Well, not everything, but it must have seemed so.

God called him to step WAY out of his comfort zone to be a part of something great. It doesn't seem to me that he knew how this whole scenario was going to play out, but he had faith enough to step out anyway.

I'm having a hard time thinking of the last time I was called to step out of my comfort zone, which makes me think maybe I'm not listening well enough. I don't anticipate God telling me to pack up to head to Zimbabwe or anything, but I'm sure there's plenty of His work here that I could participate in if I were willing enough. Sometimes I say that a particular action or activity is not in my nature, but what I'm really saying is that it's not in my comfort zone. I'm hoping that today's reflection makes me ask myself "What needs to be done here?" instead of "What can I do to help without feeling awkward?" Sometimes awkward may be just where I need to be.

My prayer today is that I will listen to the still, small voice guiding me to situations where I can reflect the love of Christ. Give me the faith to step out of where I'm comfortable into where I'm needed. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Advent: Day 7

Today's devotional from Max Lucado's In the Manger centered around the idea that Christ dwells in us. Christ's first introduction to the world was in Mary's womb. (I really don't like the word "womb," and I don't think I've ever used it. Not sure why. I digress.) Jesus was within her, and he lives within us. He declared to his apostles in John 14 "I am in you." Colossians 1:27 says "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

But what does it mean to have Christ within us? It's a depth of his promise for sure. God will go so far to reach out to his children that he will dwell within us, regardless of our failures or weaknesses. Our job is simply to allow him to dwell. Mary didn't make excuses about being too busy or unqualified to do God's work. She simply said, "Let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38)

My prayer today is that we will be so full of the loving Christ that He will be evident in "our actions, our speech, and our decisions." Take our resistance and turn it in to willingness. Amen.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Advent: Day 6

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. John 19:25

I love to listen to Harry Connick, Jr.'s version of "Ave Maria." I keep it on my phone all year long and often loudly play it in my car when I need to breathe deeply and find a calm place, even in the middle of summer. I love the simplicity of the piano in this version, and Harry's voice is like butter. Or velvet. Or buttered velvet. Whatever. It's that good. 

Today I was at urgent care for Keaton's ankle (again), and while we waited I continued reading Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies. The novel is about four sisters in the Dominican Republic during the time of the Trujillo dictatorship. I've heard about it for years, and I'm really enjoying it.

The sisters are Catholic, one of them devoutly so. Today I read this passage which reminded me of my favorite "Ave Maria" and led me to today's Advent reflection:

"We knelt there in that hot little rectory, and we prayed to the Virgencita. She had clung to Jesus until He told her straight out, Mama, I have to go about My Father's business. And she had to let him go, but it broke her heart because, though He was God, He was still her boy."

I often think of Mary and what it must have been like to be a parent to Jesus. The King. His youth would have been challenge enough. My 11 year old thinks he knows everything. I can't imagine having an 11 year old who really does know everything! Watching him minister amid persecution and doubters must have been deeply, heart-breakingly painful. The most important people of the day tried to trick him and trap him. Even his closest friends betrayed him. She watched while he was put to death for crimes he did not commit. Can you even imagine watching your own son go through this? All the while trying to believe in your heart that it was God's will? It's a place so dark I can't even go there in my imagination. 

Yet Mary did it. She stood by her son, God's son. She endured. 

Today's prayer is for the moms. Thank you, God, for giving us mothers to hold our hands when we're little and befriend us and stand by us as we grow older. May the moms who are currently watching their children suffer find peace and comfort in God's will. May the moms who have lost their children find joy today despite their broken hearts. May we all find the endurance to surrender our children to God's will and to lead them always to the love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Amen. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Advent: Day 5

I actually have my Max Lucado book today!  Isn't that impressive!

Today's scripture:
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall ball his name Jesus. Luke 1:30-31

Lucado's devotional focuses on the angel Gabriel and what he must have thought when he got word that God would become a man. Gabriel delivered the news to Mary of her immaculate conception, and Lucado asserts that the angel must have been a little concerned about God becoming a baby born to an unwed mother. But Gabriel delivered his message as he was directed, and I believe that God did become human in just way the message said.

It's unbelievable, really. The whole idea behind Christ's birth and death and resurrection doesn't make sense in our small world. It doesn't seem possible. But I have faith that it's true.

How does this apply to my everyday life?  Our God is a miracle worker!  He does the impossible!  Why should I worry about the simple problems or issues in my life when I serve a God who can do anything? My stress and my worry imply that my all-powerful God isn't enough.

My prayer today is this: Lord, help us see you as the miracle worker you are. Help us to understand that all things are possible through the power of Christ. Helps us to give over our worries and our stresses to the One who knows every detail of our lives. Somewhere out there, someone is in great need of your miraculous healing hand. Demonstrate your power in order that the faith of that person and the people around him will be increased in their faith. Amen.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Advent: Day 4

Last year we started a new tradition in our family. I posted about it here, but the short of it is that we have an Advent wreath and candles on our dining table, and each week we read a devotional and scripture and pray together as a family. It was all Keaton's idea, and he's the one who made sure we put it all back out this year. We did this week's reading tonight. The scripture was Isiah 9:2 and 6:

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the shadow of death a light has dawned...For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

The devotional was about preparing for the coming Christ. Specifically, it called us to "make room" for Jesus in our family during this holiday season. We often hear about making room for Jesus in our hearts and lives, but it struck me that this particular devotional spoke of making room in our family.

It seems like a bland understatement that my family is important to me. I talk to my mom almost every day, my sister is, well, like a sister to me, my dad is still my hero. I only have one grandparent living (she's a feisty one), and I think of my other grandparents every day, especially at this time of year. They were the perfect grandparents for me. I'm also blessed with a mother and father-in-law, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law, and countless nieces and nephews. I would say that both my family and Trey's border cult-like closeness sometimes.

Of course there's also my husband and my boys. They really are the best part of me. I won't go on about it because I could never say enough to do justice. I have to also include the family I chose as best friends. I have, as an adult, been lucky enough to meet the most amazing women and form bonds with them that will carry on until until we're all old and cranky together.

So where does Jesus fit in these families? Especially during Advent, have I made a point to make room for Jesus in these relationships? I hope I can be more intentional about it. That Jesus will be reflected in the way I treat those closest to me because he's part of the group.

My prayer tonight is for families. May we all find ways to show how much we cherish our families and avoid the temptation to give them our leftovers after all other obligations are fulfilled. May we be intentional about being Christ-like in those relationships, "making room" for Him. I especially pray for those families who are struggling and those individuals who feel alone, without someone to call family. Show those hurting people to us so that we can reflect Jesus to them during this holiday season. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Advent: Day 3

Today's scripture


5   Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6   who, though he was in the form of God,
          did not regard equality with God
          as something to be exploited,
7   but emptied himself,
          taking the form of a slave,
          being born in human likeness.
     And being found in human form,
8        he humbled himself
          and became obedient to the point of death —
          even death on a cross.
I left my Max Lucado book in the bag I left in my office, so I'm going it alone tonight while writing this. 
This time of year I often wonder what must have been going through Jesus's head as a baby. Was it just baby babble and smiles and slobber? Or did He know? Did He know that he would one day have to choose torture and death to save even those people who were changing his diapers? Was he a melancholy child? Did he exude joy even before he could talk?

Several years ago I read Ann Rice's novel Christ, The Lord. Her account is a research-based fictional tale of Jesus's life from age 7 until about 12 (if I remember correctly). It's fascinating to me because the Bible doesn't tell us much about those years. She takes her own suppositions and tells how Jesus learned he could work miracles and even bring the dead back to life. I wonder what kind of kid he was. What kind of nine year old or eleven year old?

What we do know is that he humbled himself. He was obedient to the Father. Even though he was the King, he didn't act like he was better than anyone else. I'm certain he was humble and obedient even on the playground, which may have been one of the toughest places of all.

My prayer today is for humility. Not just in the things that everyone sees or knows or talks about (like the baby in the manger), but also in the times and places when no one notices (like the playground). Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Advent: Day 2

Christ himself was like God in everything...But he gave up his place with God and made himself nothing. He was born as a man and became like a servant. Philippians 2:6-7

Lucado's story today is about a young wife whose husband became terribly disfigured in a fire. He refused to have his face corrected with surgery and refused to see his wife, believing he was being punished and would have to endure a painful, lonely life. In the story, his wife goes to a plastic surgeon to ask for surgery that will disfigure her face, too, so that her husband will see that she is willing to suffer alongside him. 

In case you didn't get it, it's a metaphor. God was willing to suffer alongside us because He loves us. 

I read that, and then I realized quickly that I didn't have anything else to say about it. Good job, Max Lucado, on being thorough. But I made this writing commitment -- publicly -- so I knew I had to reflect more on this and come up with something. 

Of course that means I just put the devotional book down and went on about my day hoping something would come to me. I kept thinking about it, but I still had nothing to say. God loves us. A lot. That about sums it up.

Then I read tonight that Kent Haruf died this weekend. He's one of my favorite authors. I think his last book Benediction, is my favorite of his five. Three of the books are set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. The plots of each delve into the private, often silent, sufferings of several people in the town. Ultimately, even those who are suffering themselves become givers, unknowingly providing comfort or companionship to someone who really needs it. 

This sounds kind of depressing, but go with me here. The books resonate with me so much because I see suffering people everywhere. Some suffering is obvious -- the cancer patient or the kid at school with no coat when it's 38 degrees outside. But other suffering is not so obvious: people with financial trouble, jobs they hate, difficult family relationships, mental illness.  Part of being human is to suffer. It's overwhelming and heartbreaking. It can consume me if I choose to dwell on it.

Back to the scripture...God chose the suffering of being human because He loved us so much that He couldn't let us do it alone. Whoa. 

So what does that mean for me? I can't take on the suffering of the all the people in the world. Even if I could, I wouldn't have the strength to endure it. 

But what I can do is notice. Smile. Listen. Be a little more patient. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. We don't know all of the suffering the people around us are enduring, and we don't have to know to make a small difference. If we exhibit kindness in every encounter, then someone is bound to benefit. It seems like the least we can do given the immeasurable sacrifice that began with the first Christmas.

My prayer today for you and me and all of us is that we are more aware of the people around us. That we will notice when others are hurting and provide any comforts in our power to provide. That the light of Advent shines through us so brightly and constantly that it becomes the first thing others say when they describe us. Amen. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Advent: Day 1

I was shocked to learn that I haven't blogged since September 8th. Yikes!  That's months. In my defense, I've been a little busy with a few other projects

But still.

Yesterday in church as we began celebrating the season of Advent, I was reminded that I'm not so good about daily Bible study. As in, I don't do it. Kind of hard to admit, but I just did. What better season than Advent to begin a habit of reflecting on God's immeasurable grace and impact on my life, to be purposeful in listening to His guidance? I've got some big responsibilities coming up in the next year, and I'm going to need all of the divine guidance I can get.

Then I considered how I would go about accomplishing this Bible study and how I would remain accountable for it. Naturally, I then thought about the character in The Help who writes down all of her prayers (because who doesn't think of The Help during the sermon, right?). I remembered I hadn't blogged in a while and made a decision.

I'm going to write something every day of Advent, and I'm going to post it so that I know someone, somewhere will know if I don't do it. Since time is a precious commodity, I am committing to giving up some facebook or some candy crush time to get it done.  Because priorities. (Yes, I still play candy crush. That's like confession #2 here. But this blog isn't about confession.)

Today I'm writing while eating lunch, so ignore the smell of oranges and sticky keyboard.

I was thinking I needed some inspiration, some jumping off point for each day, and as we unpacked our Christmas decorations I discovered Max Lucado's In the Manger: 25 Inspirational Messages for Advent in one of our boxes.


So here we go. Day 1.

Then God said, "Let there be light." Genesis 1:3

Today's message is about the creation of the world. Lucado paints a picture of God as the author of all things, and surmises that the first word he wrote on the blank page that was the world was time.

God is the creator of time. I guess I never thought of that before.

I, and most of the world, often complain that there's just not enough time. Not time to work out. Not time to clean the house. Not time to fold the socks. Not time to blah blah blah.  Christmastime itself can be a matter of keeping pace - attending holiday parties and church services and all of the other functions that seem to keep us moving.

I always think about time with a little melancholy at the holidays because my boys are growing up and the holidays somehow signify the passage of time. Tucker is in the youth group now, for crying out loud! Keaton is in his last year of elementary school! I'll be a senior citizen by March!

Life seems so, well, short.

But in God, time doesn't exist. It's an earthly thing. When I get caught up in the rush of things, or overwhelmed with all there is to do, or teary about blinking and having grown kids, then I should know I'm caught up in something of the world rather than something beyond the world.

So my prayer for you and me and all of us is that we find the peace that transcends time. That the baby in the manger focuses our attention not on what we can get done in a day, but on what waits for us beyond time, in eternity.