Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

This week's gifts...
1129. Sprout being declared "small but mighty" by the APN
1130. A little quiet time when I got home, after Adam went back to work and before Brooklyn woke up from her nap
1131. Brooklyn getting a pen - not something sharper or more breakable - off the table while I was in the bathroom
1132. Starting a new gifts journal
1133. A digital billboard with photos of a sunset, baby toes, and a daisy - no agenda, just happy thoughts
1134. Brooklyn waving and saying "Daddy! Ah nu [love you]!" as we left from meeting him for lunch
1135. Sever hours spent at Mugs, unplugged, journaling by hand
1136. Brooklyn's addition of props while reading - a blueberry in her Colors book sends her looking for a toy blueberry to hold
1137. A refreshing, connective day, even though we didn't spend much of it together
1138. Four more Warm Up America! panels in the basket at church
1139. Teamwork lunch while Brooklyn napped - he made bacon, I made pancakes
1140. Nose-boops from Brooklyn - so cute!
1141. A warm, if rainy, morning
1142. Long naps for both of us, since we both woke up early
1143. Sprout's room all set up - I'd like to prettify it a little, too, but que sera sera
1144. Thank-you notes from the STEP girls for teaching them to knit
1145. An evening of sitting and knitting and talking, instead of watching a movie
1146. Reading Mama, How Long Will You Love Me over and over to Brooklyn
1147. Having a car to drive to my appointment in, instead of waiting in the cold for a bus
1148. Reasonable, understanding, explanatory doctors and nurses
1149. Meeting Adam at church for New Community, then dividing-and-conquering to get Brooklyn in bed, and also get stocked up on groceries.

Yesterday morning I got up in the darkness before dawn, ate a solitary breakfast by Advent-candlelight, then distracted myself from the cold by taking pictures of the frost on my windshield while I waited for it to melt, before joining the line of cars waiting to get onto the main road - as I have twice a week for the past five weeks.

At my October prenatal checkup, they discovered that Sprout was smaller than "normal" at that point. By November she hadn't caught back up, so they set me up for twice-weekly monitoring and once-weekly ultrasounds - not really what you expect or want to hear when everything's been apparently fine, up to that point.

Initially, I was concerned - then that was replaced by frustration, as each appointment went smoothly and showed nothing to be concerned about (other than size). Finally, I began to see it for the gift it was. The quiet drive to and from the clinic, that I could spend praying and processing - uninterrupted knitting while I waited (morning traffic meant being either 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late) - listening to her heart beat on the monitor - seeing his little spine curve and his fists wave as he curled up with his back to the ultrasound tech's prodding...

Before I had Brooklyn, people described to me the sensation of your heart growing to accommodate the child who's just been placed in your arms, like the Grinch when he finally got some Christmas spirit. I didn't experience that. I love her to bits, but the joy has been a gradual process as I've gotten to know her as a person.

Over the past five weeks, I've begun to get to know Tobin - and tomorrow afternoon we have an appointment to meet him face-to-face. I don't know what the day holds - the doctors and nurses have all been calm and reassuring, and used the word precautionary liberally - but whether this goes according to their plan or not, I can rest in the knowledge that it's part of God's plan, be grateful for what we've been given, and be comforted by a sovereign Creator who consistently acts out of love.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will trust in Him.
[Lamentations 3:22-24]

Won't you join us in counting (and recounting!) His mercies anew? Just grab a journal or notebook (it doesn't have to be fancy) and a pen and write them down, then join us each week to encourage each other by sharing all of the blessings we've spotted. Catch up on everyone's posts and if you don't have a blog, feel free to participate by commenting, instead!

Check out these #NewEveryMorning hosts, as well, and don't forget to use the hashtag on Twitter so that we can find each other:
   Kayla [at] Renown and Crowned
   Kelsey [at] Faith Fun and the Fergusons

I never really know what tomorrow may bring - but sometimes it's easier than others to pretend that I do...

Monday, December 15, 2014

And Let It Begin With Me

I am not a sunrise gal. I have some fond memories associated with sunsets, and I will stay up late in order to watch the full moon rise, but setting an alarm for 4 hours before I normally get up in order to sit and wait for the dark to become light, marking the beginning of what will now be a long day which must be gotten through, does not fill me with spiritual thoughts.

But yesterday morning I woke up wide-awake at 6am, so I went ahead and got up. I journaled for a little while by the dim light filtering through the fog, then read the intro devotion for this week's Advent focus (joy and peace). As the sun rose, the mist slowly cleared, but not before creating a cotton-candy sunrise, pinks and blues swirled together with no definable shapes of sun or trees - just the diffused glory of a rising dawn. It was a fitting moment to ponder peace.

I've been journaling more lately... the stream-of-consciousness, processing-through-thoughts kind, instead of planning posts and drafting letters like I usually do. After everyone goes to bed, before everyone's up in the mornings... on Saturday Adam took Brooklyn on an adventure and I spent a few glorious unplugged hours at my favorite local coffee shop, no computer, no music, no agenda - just writing.

It has an odd effect on my outlook --- after I spend time writing (more so by hand, but a blogging spree will also produce this), I become more aware of what's going on around me. The act is a balm to my introverted nature, refreshing and allowing me to interact with others more gently and more lovingly.

Another plus is that processing through ideas on discipline and education before they're necessary helps me to be more consistent with Brooklyn, and to not be caught off guard and ending up making an impulsive, emotional decision that I later regret, or miss a teachable moment (she is actually chording in that picture - imitating my Mum, from watching her a few weeks ago). I want to be proactive instead of reacting to things as they come - things tend to go much more smoothly, happily, and peacefully that way.

I succeeded in crossing everything off of my list last week, along with the additions that were scribbled in at the end, so this week should be a fairly calm one. All of the gifts are wrapped and neatly tucked into a sturdy box for easy transport (and I had a grand time making tassels, and matching the yarn I used to my little stash of Washi tape), the distant cards were mailed and only a couple remain to be written in (because I feel compelled to actually write in them, instead of just signing our names), we did most of our grocery shopping over the weekend so I think we'll be able to make it until Friday before we need anything...

...and the fire starters are finished, thanks to some help from our upstairs neighbor! I was out of lint (well-loved clothes don't have a lot of fuzz to shed...) but he does a lot of laundry (usually at strange times, which is why I noticed) so I ventured up to leave a bag and a note on his doorknob, requesting lint and explaining what I needed it for. By evening, the bag had been returned, full of more than I needed, so I was able to finish them off. A roll in pretty paper and stacked neatly in a basket, and they're ready to go.

With preparations completed, this week has been set aside for rest and recovery before a busy holiday week. There's so much possibility for stress and crankiness... I want Brooklyn (and Sprout - and Adam and I, for that matter) to look forward to Christmas as a time of joy, not as something to dread. I'd like there to be peace in our home, always, but especially now - and I'd like it to begin with me.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


It's Five Minute Friday! A weekly flashmob of bloggers internet-wide gathering to write for five minutes (no stopping, no editing) on a prompt provided by sweet Kate, then linking up and sharing a little comment love. For more posts, more info, and/or to join in, head here!

In the weeks (or months, or days, depending on your personality) leading up to Christmas, a whole lot of preparing goes on. Listing and planning, shopping and wrapping, cooking and baking, inviting and being invited... all for the sake of a single day. A day which, by the time we finally reach it, we just want to get it over with so we can stop trying to keep people out of the closet where the gifts are hidden, get rid of the tree that's been shedding needles all over the carpet, and finally turn on the radio and hear normal music.

A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." [Isaiah 40:3] That's a verse I've heard many times, especially around Christmas. I never really thought about it much, and when I did, it sort of puzzled me. Why does the way of the Lord need to be prepared? I mean, He can descend from the clouds in a chariot of fire, so why on earth would we need to level mountains in order to make a road for Him?

Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before Him and that followed Him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" [Matthew 21:8-9] But this year, working through an Advent week devoted to preparation and waiting, it finally clicked: it's not for His sake, it's for ours. We are the faithless and forgetful, caught up in our own little kingdoms, and the continual actions of preparation while we wait are what make our hearts ready to receive Him.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas (or the first 24 days of December, again, depending on your personality) is a gift - an opportunity to clean out our hearts while we're cleaning our homes, and to prepare to receive anew the most important Guest of all.

How can you make time to prepare, not just physically, but spiritually, in such a way that Christmas has a positive impact on your life beyond the 25th of December?

Gift #23

The weekly reckoning...
1108. A busy day at the clinic - I got the cushy chair in the ultrasound lab for my NST
1109. Adam having dinner ready when I got home - amazing stirfry!
1110. Teaching knitting at STEP, and one of the girls drawing a spiritual correlation from it during their closing prayer
1111. The classical radio station coming in until almost Russellville (about half of my trip)
1112. Standing in the rain for an hour with Theo, waiting in line for The Little Craft Show, and having no idea it had been that long because we were talking and having a grand time
1113. An hour of late-night snuggles with Brooklyn when she woke up missing Daddy
1114. Sipping chocolate with a toasted handmade vanilla bean marshmallow from Onyx
1115. Three-generation photobooth silliness
1116. A hot shower, which sort of made up for a lack of sleep
1117. Steel-drummed Christmas songs (there's a guy who sets up his drums outside Whole Foods on the weekends)
1118. Most of the molten wax I dripped getting on my fingernail instead of my finger
1119. Hot vanilla and blogging while Adam showered
1120. Adam staying home with Brooklyn in the morning while I had an appointment, and letting me get groceries alone on my way home

1121. New orders for Adam, beginning January first (since the current set runs out on December thirty-first...)
1122. God's mercy in knowing when I need to take a leap of faith, and when I just need the grace of provision before it's needed

I started the last page of my gift-listing journal this week - sometime in the next few days, I'll finish and file it, then begin a new one. At the bottom of the first page, written just over a year ago, I found a note of gratitude for the job that moved us to Little Rock together (instead of Adam going to Afghanistan and Brooklyn and I staying in Fayetteville).

In the four years we've known each other, and the three years we've been married, there has been a lot of uncertainty. Two averted deployments. A couple of jobless stretches, one followed by a job that paid not-enough (and yet, somehow, we always had enough). God has always provided - odd jobs, commission work, gifts from friends and relatives (sometimes monetary, sometimes needed items, often without them being aware of the need), unexpected checks from strange sources (like a rebate for a surgery Adam had years ago - apparently the doctor was no longer a doctor), reduced expenses... time and again, He showed Himself faithful - even when we maybe didn't make the best possible decisions, and even when we doubted and complained.

That job that we moved here for was a good one, supposed to go until March of next year, and in the mean time he was practically hired for a permanent position --- and then there were budget cuts and a hiring freeze, so not only did the permanent position cease to be, his orders were shortened to end with the year (and only lasted that long because he's a faithful worker and a lot of people put in a good word for him). But with Sprout due in January and a lease that runs through February, that was still kind of an issue.

But we both had a peace about it. We didn't know what provision would look like, but we knew that it would come (if perhaps not with the timing that we might prefer). Elections and political shuffling led to a few positions opening up - but they were already filled (some military jobs require reapplication at set intervals and depending on who applies, the person currently holding the position might get bumped out by a preferred applicant). Which is exactly what happened - so Adam's new job begins January first, which means no gaps in insurance coverage or paychecks, and we found this out a whole 24 days beforehand.

His mercies never come to an end... There are definitely times that I need to be pushed toward a leap of faith that I wouldn't have volunteered for, if given the choice. But there are other times when I am already bent to nearly breaking and simply need the grace of assurance --- and I'm grateful that He knows when to give me that push, and when to extend a loving hand and lead me gently along.

1123. Brooklyn wanting to play my keyboard, then attempting to play like she saw my Mum playing last week (because she can actually play the piano, unlike me)
1124. All the sheets and towels clean and fluffy
1125. Gluten free/dairy free pumpkin spice pancakes (made by replacing the milk/water called for in the recipe/mix with So Delicious Pumpkin Spice coconut milk :)
1126. Writing most of the Christmas cards uninterrupted (if I can't sleep, I might as well be productive)
1127. also, redeeming the time that Brooklyn spent contained during multiple losses of freedom (which has the added side effect of helping me to be less frustrated)
1128. Chamomile tea - I am determined to conquer this insomnia!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will trust in Him.
[Lamentations 3:22-24]

Won't you join us in counting (and recounting!) His mercies anew? Just grab a journal or notebook (it doesn't have to be fancy) and a pen and write them down, then join us each week to encourage each other by sharing all of the blessings we've spotted. Catch up on everyone's posts and if you don't have a blog, feel free to participate by commenting, instead!

Check out these #NewEveryMorning hosts, as well, and don't forget to use the hashtag on Twitter so that we can find each other:
   Kayla [at] Renown and Crowned
   Kelsey [at] Faith Fun and the Fergusons

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Martha and Mary

So much to do - and a dwindling amount of time to do it in. We traveled Thanksgiving week, Brooklyn and I spent 24 hours in Fayetteville this past weekend, there are a few things left as far as holiday preparations are concerned, and I've still been having twice-weekly doctor appointments. In an attempt to stay alert while driving (without resorting to caffeine) at one point last week, I went through a copious amount of minty lip balm (which was surprisingly effective - I'd usually go with a pack of Doublemint or Winterfresh gum, but stopping with a toddler for the sake of a thirty cent purchase takes the convenience out of convenience store).

Sunday night, tired though I was, I laid in the dark and just kept getting awaker instead of sleepier, so at the end of an hour (which is my limit) I got up and made my to-do list for the week, then knitted until I was wound down and able to fall asleep. Some life seasons resist simplification, and sometimes peace and preparation seem mutually exclusive.

I try to make a list for each week - on one side, it has groceries (things from Whole Foods differentiated from Kroger items by a small star) and on the other, tasks. I write down appointments and deadlines, things-that-need-to-be-done, and make sure to include naps and at least one "jammy day" per week. The number beside each thing corresponds to a day - 1 for Monday, 2 for Tuesday, and so on - and I try to divide the tasks out evenly, that way I won't feel overwhelmed at the beginning, or end up with a ridiculous amount undone at the end (some weeks this works better than others).

The List helps me keep within our grocery budget, saves me the stress of forgetting about something until the last minute and then having to rush through it, and also reminds me that things like rest are important, too. There's a balance to be had, somewhere between getting the busy bossy to-dos to-done and tossing the list to the wind in favor of spontaneity and freedom - and in that middle ground lies calm and order.

Like Sunday - Brooklyn and I went to Whole Foods after church, armed with our list (she carried it, and allowed me to consult it at intervals) but we deviated a little and got a snack to leave in Adam's truck, since he was going to be at the Armory all day for Drill (and because it was the anniversary of the day we met). Like planning for a Sabbath, a nap, or a hot bath, sometimes morale becomes a priority.

The best things are the ones that are both productive and peaceful. Last night, Brooklyn and I ate dinner and I gave her a bath - and then I dressed her in jammies and a jacket, and we went on an adventure. They had a Christmas shopping event at church from 6 to 8, so we spent a little time browsing all of the buy-once-give-twice options and perching on a couch near someone with an acoustic guitar, and spent a little money for the last few gifts I needed. She thought it was a grand adventure, and it also accomplished the double purposes of making a long Adam-less evening go more quickly and enabling her to stay up happily until he got home.

That means that the only gifts remaining are handmade - one knitting project that I hope to finish today or tomorrow, and fire starters that I'm going to have to spend now-'til-Christmas working on, because I can only make them as quickly as we produce dryer lint and empty toilet paper tubes. (It's not very cute right now, I'll admit - but the final step is wrapping it in paper and basketing it neatly, so don't let the slightly lumpy appearance put you off!)

Then comes wrapping - I love that part. I'm going to use inside-out brown paper bags as wrapping paper, supplemented with upcycled gift bags and whatever tissue paper I can find lying around, and I have visions of tassels dancing in my head (totally The Nester's fault). Washi tape will probably also be involved... and I have the fun of matching tags/Christmas cards to the perfect recipient (since, partly thanks to several years of collecting, I finally have an assortment of both). Just a few more weeks to go!

How do you simplify the dichotomy of preparation and peace?

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Little Cheer

Preparation and waiting are this week's Advent focus, which Brooklyn and I read about over dinner, with our two little candles - a mindset I was already in, between soon-to-be Sprout and wanting to get Christmas wrapped up (in a literal sense) this week so that it's off my conscience.

So in the spirit of preparation, I hung Brooklyn's ornament for this year on her doorknob, thereby making her quite happy (she likes to walk by and poke it). I've been getting her one each year - this year's is by Fayetteville-local Gingiber. I spotted it at The Little Craft Show and Brooklyn delightedly waved it around when I showed it to her, then carried it (without dropping or losing it) until we'd forgotten that she even had it. I want to get her (and Sprout - and any subsequent small Burches) an ornament a year 'til they're 25 - then if they want to do some sort of countdown-y thing, they can. With that in mind, I'm trying to find things that are relevant to their life that year but won't be embarrassing once they're grown.

Oh, The Little Craft Show. Totally worth waiting an hour in the rain for (the line for the 5pm Friday night preview started forming at noon, and stretched about 3 blocks by the time we joined it). They do such a good job putting it together - choosing vendors, and then the vendors outdo themselves with what they bring...

Like Gingiber - I was ornament scouting on Friday night, but couldn't resist a die-cut hedgehog card, which I plan on using as art in Sprout's room (which is brown-and-orange-and-animals). 

Or Little Mountain Bindery - they're a newish shop in Fayetteville (sometimes I'm glad we moved away - I gave them the last of some carefully saved, hard earned design commission money without the least bit of hesitation... leather and paper fumes, they get me every time!) and had "Fillions" at the Show. It's an expandable leather case that holds Moleskine notebooks and filing pockets and folders. They have a beautiful type for debossing your name onto it... and lovely options for the pockets and inserts... and two built-in ribbon bookmarks, if you use the cahiers that don't have their own ribbons.... and it's both practically indestructible and gorgeous all at the same time. (Ahem. end advertisement/> But seriously. They're awesome.) 

Bella Vita was there, too, so as consolation while I wait to see if Sprout is a December baby or a January baby, and an A or a T, I snagged a "maker" charm to add to one of the bookmarks on my Fillion - it's a reminder that I'd like to have handy.

Even the food was amazing - Pure Joy Ice Cream had "milk and cookies" flavored goodness (think "cookie dough," but gluten free!), Greenhouse Grille had a tabbouleh that I ate and enjoyed (crunchy veggies and all), and Onyx. Oh, Onyx! I was headed over for some cider (I chatted last week with the barista who'd been aging the spices in a rum barrel for the past three months and he was contagiously excited about it) but ended up succumbing to the two-lined title of another masterpiece: sipping chocolate with a toasted handmade vanilla bean marshmallow (emphasis on sipping, toasted, and handmade, please). It was ridiculous in an amazing way.

They had also given students from the UofA's art department total creative license for some installations. The photobooth was one (the reason all four shots from Friday night look good is because Theo decided on what-to-do in each one and I followed her directions --- and then Mum and Brooklyn and I had a riotous and blurry time doing a three generation photostrip on Saturday). There were pennants hung outside, pieces scattered throughout the vendor space, and one artist had made snow-globe renditions of everyone's pieces (here's the inspiration for the snow-globe I got - 40,000 zip ties of amazingness!)

Christmas shopping is nearly complete (and hopefully will be so by the end of this week), and now I've gotten to the wrapping/tagging/card-writing part of holiday preparations - and after that, I should be free to wait in peace!

Christmas in July, slow and steady, last minute panic... how do you get ready for Christmas?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Twinkling Lights

This week's gifts...
1087. Filling Adam's big truck up for less than $2 a gallon (yay Kroger fuel points!)
1088. Him and Brooklyn going to see his parents while I took a nap
1089. A quiet winding-down evening
1090. Good relationships with small business owners
1091. The sun countering the cool breeze so I could practice peace on my parents' back porch
1092. A much-needed date night, looking at lights and keeping warm with Onyx coffee, a new scarf from Terra Tots, and lots of laughing and conversation
1093. Taking Brooklyn to an alpaca show - so cute and fuzzy!
1094. A pretty new GreenCraft magazine
1095. Sharing a bag of gf yogurt pretzels on the drive home
1096. A few moments of quiet on the balcony to start my Sunday
1097. Adam taking Brooklyn to get groceries, while I did some needed cleaning/tidying (made much easier without her "help")
1098. The Warm Up America! basket at church being full to overflowing with panels
1099. Only one early appointment this week
1100. A week to focus on hope and promise and new beginnings
1101. Adam making it to Auto Zone with just fog lights when his headlights both went out at the same time (after dark, of course!)
1102. Brooklyn's cough going away (without having to resort to medicine)
1103. Frozen pizza, since neither Adam nor I felt like making dinner
1104. Getting all caught up on my knitting quota
1105. and then getting ahead
1106. A verse in Psalms that I'd never noticed before
1107. Rice to make for dinner, so we wouldn't have to get out in the cold and the wet

I strive not to fall into the trap of negative comparison. This time of year is rife with opportunities for it, but for the most part I admire everyone else's decorations and traditions and pins and Instagram photos and remain wholly content that our visual reminders of Christmas pretty much end with the front door (which I hung a store-bought evergreen spray on. It smells nice, it doesn't matter if it drops needles because it's outside, there are no ornaments to pack away, and when it turns brown it's small enough to toss in the trash compactor). Not being able to string our own lights shouldn't keep me from enjoying others' sparkling displays.

But the comparison pendulum swings both ways; you can compare up, but you can also compare down. There is always someone who has it worse than you, regardless of your present circumstances, but that's not really an encouraging line of thought, either. Telling myself that it could be worse just starts me on a downward spiral into darkness: acknowledging my own situation (rationally, not in a pitiable or whiny sort of way)... trying to downplay it by thinking of someone else's (you have it so good! how can you think otherwise when they're going through something so much worse!)... not being encouraged by that... feeling guilt because I think that if I was more grateful then I wouldn't find things so difficult...

Comparison is the thief of joy - and really, that's all comparison (well said, Teddy!). Looking up in envy at someone else's gifts can cause us to miss the ones that we've been given, but a grateful attitude doesn't necessarily mean that storm clouds never come (because they do, and sometimes they bring floods that seem to rise instead of waning, and threaten to drown our hope) - it just means we're able to see the silver lining. Gratitude doesn't make the hardship or grief or trials or pain cease to be, but each gift counted is a star in our valleys of shadow that will eventually be overwhelmed by the dawning blaze of a rising sun.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will trust in Him.
[Lamentations 3:22-24]

Won't you join us in counting (and recounting!) His mercies anew? Just grab a journal or notebook (it doesn't have to be fancy) and a pen and write them down, then join us each week to encourage each other by sharing all of the blessings we've spotted. Catch up on everyone's posts and if you don't have a blog, feel free to participate by commenting, instead!

Check out these #NewEveryMorning hosts, as well, and don't forget to use the hashtag on Twitter so that we can find each other:
   Kayla [at] Renown and Crowned
   Kelsey [at] Faith Fun and the Fergusons

Do you more often fall into the trap of comparison by looking up, or looking down?