The second week of Advent: peace

I find this week of Advent ironic. Peace, huh? Peace in a week where I only have one night without extra obligations? Peace in a house with three kids? There’s no peace happening here. And that’s not even considering big picture peace among humans.

But I suppose that’s part of the challenge of Advent isn’t it? To find peace in an otherwise busy world. Last week, I led an activity during youth ministry night. This is for kids 11-18 years old. I wrote the word God on the dry erase board in big letters. I handed each kid 5 post-it notes and asked them to write five things they could have chosen to do besides be there that night. They could be responsible things such as “do homework” or they could be fun choices like “binge watch Netflix.” When they were done writing they had to put the notes on the dry erase board and the only rule was that the notes could touch but couldn’t completely overlap.

As you can imagine, it became very hard to see God when we were done. And that’s the point. We can’t let our everyday busyness hide God. If we look for God… if we look for peace… it’s there. So that’s my personal challenge this week: seeking peace.

Peace in waking up a little earlier than normal to say a few prayers.

Peace in a warm cup of tea at the end of a hectic day.

Peace in plugging in the Christmas tree in the middle of the day, even though I’m the only one home, so I can enjoy it while I eat lunch.

Peace in the smile of a good friend.

It’s there. I just have to remember to appreciate it.

 

The first week of Advent: Hope

A few years ago I made an Advent wreath for our family and started our own prayer tradition. We light the candle before Sunday dinner and say an Advent prayer. After dinner, we blow the candle out and go to Sunday evening Mass.

advent

In the past year or two I’ve assigned a week to each kid. They find a prayer and lead that week’s Advent reflection. This year I listed out the theme for each week of Advent and let them pick the one they wanted. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. I had the first week: Hope. This is the prayer that we said last night around our table:

Dear Heavenly Father, it’s the first Sunday in Advent, a season of anticipation and hope—a time to reflect on every good thing you’ve already done for us in Jesus, and the glorious things yet to be realized.

You’ve made promises you alone can keep; you’ve pledged a hope you alone can fulfill. We praise you; we bless you; we worship you. As Advent progresses, fill us to overflowing with gratitude, humility and joy.

I love Advent for many reasons. This simple wreath and prayer circle is one of them. I try to set up small traditions for my kids to build memories and tie us closer together. I don’t know if all of the traditions will make their way to their future families but I hope at least a few of them do.

A memory prompt

There are small moments in life that I want to remember. Not because they are momentous but because I know that they are so small I’ll forget the feeling they instilled. Those are the things I try to list in my prayers each night but I know they are so fleeting that I won’t even remember them tomorrow without a prompt. So here’s a prompt for future me…

I updated the kids school photos today.

img_0042

(Aren’t they cute?)

I always write the year and grade on the back. And as I did I realized… this is the last school photo I’ll place in that frame for my eldest. I’m so excited for her as she gets ready to go off to college but it hit me today… I’ll miss having her in my life everyday.

Dunes Hike Friday

I don’t get to do this every Friday but when I can I try to move my work schedule around to make it a Dunes Hike Day. As soon as I drop J off at school I head north. This time of year I’m getting there as the sun is rising over the dunes. If I hurry I can get to the beach in time to see the sun just peeking over the tops of the trees.

The weather is ridiculous today – 60 degrees at 7am in November – and tomorrow some sort of wintry precipitation is supposed to fall from the sky. I seized the day and headed out to one of the longer hikes I like to do: Cowles Bog Trail. Depending on which sets of trails I choose, and how long I meander on the beach, it works out to be a 5 mile loop. There are few things in life that make me as happy as hiking rolling hills with fallen leaves underfoot, scrambling up & down dunes, pausing at the shores of Lake Michigan to take some deep breaths of Lake air before heading back. It’s…. well…. here’s what it’s like…

Start in the woods and this time of year the trail is carpeted with crunchy, fallen leaves.

img_0016

After some rolling hills and climbs you are rewarded with this view.

img_0018

Bound down the dune and make your way out to the Lake. Today the wind is out of the south so the water is like glass. Last week it was out of the north and the waves were taller than my head. That’s one of the beauties of hiking along the Great Lakes, it’s different every time. (And yes, this is right here in Indiana.)

img_0019

Wander down the beach a quarter mile or so to pick up the trail loop back. Be sure to take one last look at that beautiful lakeshore.

img_0024

The hardest part of the hike is ahead of you: a steep, scrambling climb up the dune.

img_0025

Back across the bog from which the trail gets its name. Listen to the frogs. Watch out for snakes (I almost always see some small ones – I did today.)

img_0026

Get back in the car and begin planning the next time you can get out to the Lake. I had a conference call immediately after my hike. One of the people said “I hope everyone gets some time to enjoy this unusually warm weather before it shifts.” I smiled knowing that I had already done just that.

It was a sign

I’m trying to squeeze as many outdoor bike rides as I can out of this fall. I’ve decided if it’s close to 40 degrees, I’m bundling up and heading out. That was the case today. 39 degrees at the start made for a chilly ride but after a couple of miles my exposed skin stopped hurting and I warmed up a bit (or got numb).

I made my way up to the nature preserve intending to do a loop around it and head home. That loop is one of my favorite places to raise up a few petitions. If I know you and know that you’re struggling in some fashion or need to feel God’s grace, that’s where I lift you up – with the sun sparkling off the water. (There are other places too but that’s a common spot.)

preserve

I can’t tell you how often that I’m finishing my prayers and see my friend, the great blue heron rise up out of the water. I feel like it’s a sign from God that he hears me and is giving me a gift. Today I didn’t see the heron at all – not even in the water. Do herons migrate south??

It’s okay, I know my prayers are heard. I pedaled around the final curve, hit the street and made my way back to the trail. There weren’t a lot of people on the trail this morning so it was quiet. As I came up a small rise something caught my eye that hadn’t before. Between the trees there’s a field with two horses. A dappled grey and a chestnut brown. And they had come up right to the fence, maybe 20 feet off the trail. I’d never seen that field or those horses before – maybe the leafy trees covered it and now it’s more noticeable since the leaves are gone? Regardless, it was there and I saw an older man there feeding them apples and petting them on the nose.

It made my heart smile. And then I realized… that was my sign.