Being Fully Present Today

It’s now a tradition. For the past five years, Glenn and I have embarked on a prayer and planning retreat around the new year somewhere in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

IMG_0001As we sat in silence looking out the window at the snowflakes fluttering to the ground, I sensed the small, still voice of the Lord inviting me to draw near. With no children running in the background or cries to attend to, I had a moment to be still. Actually, be still. My desire of the Lord in that moment was to hear something from Him. Maybe a word that would lead me into his calling for me this year. No sooner than I asked, I heard. And I don’t often hear so easily. Oh how I wish I took the time to be still, to listen more often. But what matters now, is that I’m listening.

And the word that I heard was, Abide.

Packiam-50My babies are growing up. It doesn’t seem long ago that most days were filled with nursing, cuddling, and rocking them. My youngest is now two and half. And yet, I’m entering a new season of sorts, one that might give me a little space. Space to step out, even if just a bit, to attempt to lead, teach, and maybe write. But at the center, He is stirring me to abide. To be rooted in Him, founded in Him rather than being caught up in what others are saying or doing.

His question to me…What have I called you to?

As I abide, I’m choosing to live intentionally, choosing to be fully present each day. And isn’t it a choice we continue to make every single day? As with so many things in life, we want to decide to love, to be at peace, to be present once and for all but it just isn’t so. As Kathleen Norris says in The Quotidian Mysteries, “When humans try to do everything at once and for all and be through with it, we court acedia, self destruction and death. Such power is reserved for God, who alone can turn what is ‘already done’ into something that is ongoing and ever present. It is a quotidian mystery.”

In this new year, I’m asking the Lord, “How can I live fully each day?” I can’t, without Him giving me eyes to see Him and ears to hear Him.

If it’s the only prayer I offer at the start of each day, it might sound something like:

“Lord, help me to truly see you today. Help me to be fully present today.” 

So simple and short but it’s a prayer that focuses and grounds me.

IMG_0002I’m asking the Lord to awaken wonder in my heart, to see this world as He sees it. I don’t want to miss the brilliant, white snow falling to the ground this season or the opportunity to draw my children to the miracle of a snowflake. Or the moment to engage in a meaningful conversation when my child asks a question as we read books aloud. Or taking the time to lay down with my two year old when she calls out, “Mommy, I need you.”

Lord, help me to see what is truly most important. None of us can escape the menial tasks of life, but we can choose to believe that God is truly everywhere, in every moment with us.

“Let us remember that the life we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life. We can, each of us, only call the present time our own….Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.  ~ Gregory of Nyssa

Let’s be present, fully embrace each moment…even in the piles of laundry, dishes stacked to the hilt, muddy footprints tracked through the house, popcorn trails from the living room.

Let’s abide.

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Celebrating Advent with Kids

Fisher_advent_candleThe Advent season is nearly upon us. Tis the season when we yearn, groan, anticipate, settle in to a kind of holy waiting. We echo Isaiah’s ‘How long, o Lord?’ as we wait for Simeon’s ‘At last…!’

Life with children is lively and wonderful, but every once in awhile I feel the expectations pressing in from all sides. Today, I found myself attempting to organize the attic, while at same time instruct my children (in a nice, calm voice, of course) to stop turning our living room into a gymnastic studio,  to please put all the furniture back where they found it, and to please return all the bath and pool towels to the closet. Oh and Jane, Please stop turning the faucets on in every room of the house and draining the entirety of the water supply from the refrigerator water spout.  After each incident, Jane mournfully confesses, “I sorry mommy, I won’t do it again”, only to turn around and do the very same thing exactly one minute later.

Our home is filled with erratic moments like these and today, like every day, I am yearning for Him to come near.  I’m anticipating his coming. I’m ready for Advent.

So, what is Advent? Is it just the month of December?  Is it an excuse to give a child a gift each day from the Santa Advent wall calendar?

Advent is different than Christmas. Advent is like the 37th week of pregnancy; Christmas is delivery day. In Advent, we are waiting; we hope. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming”.  We are in the season of anticipating Christ’s birth, His coming to us.

How do we actively participate in this holy time of year? If we are not intentional, the season slips away and we wistfully recall the scurrying, the busyness, the hustle and the bustle…..And miss the joy and the miracles all around us.

Lately, I’ve been pondering our past Advent seasons and remembering the numerous ways we observed Advent and the church calendar as a family. As the ground yearns for the precipitation of the first snow, I long to begin each Advent season prayerfully and thoughtfully, or at least as much as is possible for a family of six! And then there’s the ever-present temptation to plan, attend, holiday parties. Christmas celebrations are extremely merry and yes, we too will joyfully host one.  But, I try to be vigilant about directing our attention toward Christ and helping our children to think of ways to give to others.

A few years ago when all of our children were younger, we were doing well if we managed to read an occasional Advent devotion, to color an ornament for the Jesse tree, and to light the weekly Advent candle (all while enduring meltdowns, children reaching for and blowing out the candle, and even climbing on the table to take the candles out of the Advent wreath). This year, now that the children are a little older, we hope to add to these practices.

Life can feel crowded, but I wish to inspire you to guide your family on a journey that will shape their souls and imaginations and lead them to truly behold the beauty of Christ during Advent. Remember, these aren’t legalistic rituals to impress God; these are life-giving practices that adapt to the unpredictable nature of family life.

Here are a few ideas I’ve culled over the years from several places:

  1. Thank You Notes: Each day, write a note to someone sharing how he or she has touched your life.  You may want to place cards and stationary in a visible location (our kids are putting together a basket) so all family members are reminded to write daily.
  2. Gratefulness List: Hang a sheet of paper or use a chalkboard to write an “I’m grateful for” list and ask all family members to write how they have been blessed this year.
  3. Advent Devotional: Gather the family for a daily Advent devotional, discussion, and craft.  Family read-aloud favorite: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.
  4. Acts of Kindness: Each day, commit to engage in an act of kindness toward a family member, friend, or neighbor. (Spend focused time with a child, bring a hot drink to a friend, deliver a warm meal to a family, give a baked good to the mailman)
  5. Serve Locally: Commit to serve a local organization, like a Rescue Mission or a Salvation Army or a shelter. You could also gather a group to go caroling at a nursing home.
  6. Give Globally: Give something to an organization that serves people in need around the world. Last year, our kids chose to give a goat and chickens to a family in Africa. Organizations: Compassion, World Vision, Children’s Hope Chest.
  7. Advent Wreath: Every Sunday of Advent, light a candle in the Advent wreath along with reading a devotion to your family as you prepare to celebrate hope, joy, and love.
  8. Consume Less: Consider discussing how shopping less and giving out more to others could make this season more holy and Christ-focused. Encourage your kids in giving to others rather than thinking about what to add to their Christmas list.

These are just a few ideas. For a bit more on the ‘why’ of Advent and the Church Calendar– along with some prayers and further reading, here’s my husband’s Advent 2014 resources post.

What about you? I’d love to hear what practices have helped you and your family prepare for Christ’s arrival and engage the season of Advent with expectation and hope.