Sunday, November 30, 2014

Welcome to #HolyLens for Advent 2014

Welcome to the home of #HolyLens. We are focused on seeing the sacred in the everyday by taking a photo every day during Advent. This is where the weekly photo prompts will be posted. I'll be posting the photo prompts daily on our HolyLens facebook page starting the first Sunday of Advent.

This project is about more than just taking photos. It's a spiritual discipline, designed to help us notice the places in our ordinary lives that God is already at work. It's inviting Christ's presence with intention. It's building a moment of reflection each day into an otherwise busy time of year. It is holy work.

If this sounds like something you need this year, please join us on our journey. You can share your photos on Instagram with the hashtag #HolyLens or our facebook pageour Facebook page.. Be sure to like the facebook page so you won't miss any updates. 

Thanks for being part of our community of photo-taking pilgrims on our way to Bethlehem. Our shared experience is richer because you are a part of it.

(Prompts from previous weeks are below.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving {a playlist}

I made this playlist just for you. (Really, I made it for me, because we have to drive some distances with our kids in the car in the next few days, and we need real music to keep us from going crazy. But I'm sharing it with you for your traveling, or your turkey basting, or your pie baking, or your pajama dance party, or whatever you're up to.)

Happy Thanksgiving. I'm grateful for you. Thanks for sharing the journey with us.

Monday, November 24, 2014

3 ways to get ready for Advent (so you can get ready for Christmas)

Advent is coming. 

It is. It's coming.

I always start out the Advent season feeling panicky, like I'm falling behind before I've even started.  Time to find the wreath and the prayer book. Time to make all the, cookies, cards, events. Time to start getting everything ready. I'm not even ready to think about getting ready. Part of me wants to run away down the street and not look back, squeezing my eyes tightly shut so I won't see all the giant Christmas inflatables that are already popping up on my neighbors' lawns.

Maybe it's okay that I feel apprehensive. Jesus is going to be born. We're not could we be? Having recently welcomed a baby who is not the Son of God, I'm more than aware that there's a lot to do. We need time to make preparations, to quiet our souls, to sink into the knowledge that in the midst of all the chaos and confusion of our world, God is entering. God is going to sit down with us right in the middle of our mess, because that's what God does.

Emmanuel. God with us. Ready, or not.

But that's why we have Advent. We don't have to be ready yet. This season exists to help us become ready, to bring us into a space where we can prepare.

We have a choice. We can spend the next four weeks running around and wringing our hands about the crazy that surrounds us, or we can take a deep breath, accept that it's coming, and decide to prepare.

I'm going with the deep breath option.

If you are also starting out this Advent feeling a bit behind, these three things might help:

First, there's the new Advent journal from Blessed Is She. This slim booklet is so lovely. It's filled with scripture verses, prompting questions and space for your thoughts and reflections each day from the first day of Advent through Christmas. A lot of love and care went into creating it especially for you, the busy reader who wants to take time to ponder and reflect but doesn't have a lot of time to spare. I am really looking forward to using my copy, and guess what? I have one to give away to one of you!

If you'd like to win, just leave a comment here on this post or on our facebook page with either a challenge you are facing this Advent or something you're especially anticipating this season.

If you don't want to wait, you can purchase a copy of the journal here or by clicking on the ad in the sidebar. Your purchase helps support the ministry of Blessed Is She (an entirely volunteer effort).

Second, I'm sharing my favorite Advent music in a playlist on Spotify. You can find the playlist here. (If you don't have a free Spotify account, you'll need to set one up and download the software, which is easy to do.) I love Christmas music, but in this season of preparation, I'm not ready to listen to it yet. I fill the gap by listening to Advent music (yes, that's really a thing!) If you have favorites that would be good additions, drop me a line- I'd love to expand the list some more this year.

Finally, how about joining me in a photo challenge? I'm focusing on finding holy moments and treasuring them in my heart by doing #HolyLens again. #HolyLens started during Lent 2014 as a way to notice and share the sacred moments we find each day. I will be posting a list of daily photo prompts for you each week. Just take a picture related to the day's prompt, post it on Instagram- don't forget the hashtag- and share your everyday holy with our little photo-happy community. Your eyes and your photos create our shared experience, and we all get to reflect on the little bits of grace that surround us. You can follow me on Instagram here...I'm dere_abbey.

If you are not on Instagram, you can post your photos on our brand-new HolyLens Facebook page.

I need to prepare my heart and mind for the arrival of Christ. If you do, too, please join me in any or all of these things. Together, we'll be a little community of works in progress, headed down the road to Bethlehem just as we are, getting more and more ready to receive Jesus all the time.

That's what Advent is all about.

The fine print: The Blessed Is She journal giveaway closes at 11:59 pm on Wednesday night, 11/27/14 (so I can mail you your journal in time for the first Sunday of Advent). This giveaway is open to US residents only. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Notice

You're in your blue period now, we say, by which we mean you'll methodically cover almost the whole paper with all the different shades of ocean, turquoise, cornflower and navy you can find, leaving a deliberate white border around the sides.

Your outfits always begin with your socks- usually the yellow striped ones, if they're clean (usually a tantrum, if they're not). It's hard to change your mind once you've made it up. You always make your choices on purpose, and you can't be hurried. You know what you want, and you move toward it with the determined, plodding focus of a marathoner at mile 24 of a race...never rushing and unwilling to be distracted by anything.

Sometimes, I want nothing more than to push you out the door in my overwhelming desire to get us someplace less than 15 minutes late, but you are solid, sister. You take your time, carefully putting on your purple sparkly sneakers and your striped mittens and your red-white-and-blue star-shaped sunglasses. And just when I think I can't wait one more second, you pause, lifting your head with a curious, delighted look on your face, cocking your ear toward the lilac bush.

"Mama! That's a chickadee!" Your chuckle crinkles the corners of your eyes as the black-capped bird takes flight.

I never would have noticed.

I have to kiss your head, sweet girl, and remind myself to move over into the slow lane with you. You're on the scenic route, and I don't want to miss any more of it.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Kate's blog.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When yes is no and no is yes

I chronically overpromise.

Maybe it's the dark side of being an optimist. I always hope to have more time, more energy, more resources than I actually end up having. I want to do more, be more, and create more. I feel I have a lot to give, so I want to give it. Then an opportunity comes up that seems perfect for me, I say "Yes, I'd love to!" and end up running around like the proverbial chicken trying to find my keys and one of my kids' shoes and mittens that match for everyone on the coldest day of the year.

(I know, the chicken was looking for his head. The thing is, it's a lot harder to find keys, mittens, etc. if you also can't find your own head. And that's how I felt today.)

Do you ever have days where the ordinary everyday stuff seems too much to handle? When deciding what to have for breakfast and getting it on the table is going to completely overtake you? Or when putting that load of laundry in and starting the washer is such a monumental task that you might just fall in the washer along with the clothes and end up drowning during the rinse cycle? I'm not sure what it was today...everything just seemed hard. During the throes of lunch and nap and accompanying tantrums from overtired kids, I realized I'd forgotten last night to soak the beans for our dinner tonight. The idea of having to do the "quick soak" method and set them on the stove to simmer before I could lie down for a rest was so overwhelming that I texted my husband and asked him to bring home frozen pizza for dinner.

Sometimes, I think overcommitment is almost expected of us. Our priest even talked about it this week in his homily. If you do well with the obligations you already have, people will ask you to do more things. You can sing in the choir? Great, we'll ask you to be a lector. You used to teach preschool? Oh, wonderful, we'd love to have you be a scout troop leader! I look around and see I'm far from the only one doing so many things and being so overextended that I can barely scrape myself off the couch at the end of the night to go to bed.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we put so much into our lives that we exhaust ourselves trying to keep up? If we run ourselves completely ragged doing all these good and worthy and important tasks, do we even have room to remember the reason we're doing these things in the first place?

Is there ever a time when saying "no" to commitments means saying "yes" to more space for God?

After I took a nap with the baby this afternoon, I still felt overwhelmed. Responsible Me said I should put Felix in his swing, turn on some music, and tackle the chores I hadn't finished this morning. I was dragging myself and the baby swing into the kitchen when Nora appeared at my side, eyes big.

"Do you know what is a really good snack?" she said, a smile forming in the left-hand corner of her mouth. "Something flat and kind of soft but kind of crunchy. That involves oatmeal. And chocolate chips."

"You're asking me to make cookies?" I sighed.

She wrapped her arms around my leg and squeezed me. "No. I want to help you make some cookies."

And you know what? I said Yes. Forget the chores. Forget the fact that I haven't posted on my blog in a month and that the sidebar still excludes the existence of my now three and a half month old son. Forget the hats that haven't been knitted even though it's 24 degrees today and the meals that haven't been planned and the floor that really needs to be mopped. Let's go make some cookies.

So we did.

And while God wasn't telling me explicitly to go bake cookies today, I think He'd be glad I did.

Let's not get so busy with all the have-to-dos, even the really good, worthy, well-intentioned ones, that we forget to make room for the spontaneous encounters and experiences that really make life worth living.

Like warm cookies with chocolate chips eaten with smiling three-year-olds.

And licking the spoon...because I said "yes" to that, as well.

Today is the big release day for Lisa Hendey's new book, The Grace of Yes. It's all about cultivating the virtues that help us to say "yes" to God in our lives. I'm only halfway through the book, but I'm loving it so far. Lisa weaves her personal story with wise advice. Reading her book feels like having coffee and seeking counsel from a warm, faithful friend who shares from her own experience without telling me what to do. You can check out The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living on be sure to look for all the stories people are sharing on social media  today with the hashtag #GraceofYesDay.

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