Advent thoughts

I wrote this following Christmas of 2013. Some of you may have read it already. But I’m posting here at the beginning of the season, partly as a reminder to myself, partly in case anyone else needs it as we move into Advent 2015. I hope you have a joyful and blessed Advent and a very merry Christmas!

Each year, I go into the Christmas season thinking this will be the year.  This will be the year of the perfect holiday experience.  I’ll procure thoughtful yet inexpensive gifts for everyone on my list.  We’ll bake cookies and make ornaments and actually finish our Advent study.  Also, my children will not fight with each other, will not be selfish and greedy, will not be consumed with the stuff they’re getting rather than the joy of giving and serving.  It will be peace on earth and goodwill toward men–a holy season of worship and wonder.

Somehow it never happens.

I plan it every year.  I download the Advent studies.  I make the to-do lists and the shopping lists and the budget outline.  And it still falls apart.

We made a few ornaments this year but no cookies.  My Christmas shopping all took place the weekend before the day itself and was rather uninspired.  We spent all of Advent being behind on our study, and we never did finish the whole thing.  My daughters longed for nearly every item they saw advertised–and a few other things to boot.  I lost my temper a few times, and we never quite achieved holiness or peace or even a whole lot of goodwill.

I am a failure at the whole perfect Christmas thing.

However, I’m coming to see that failure as the most perfect Christmas celebration of all.

For Christians, this holiday is the remembrance of God himself taking on human flesh and coming to this world as a baby.  Did he come to perfect people or perfect circumstances?  No.  His native country was under foreign control.  His parents were in a strange town and had no place to stay.  A manger subbed as his baby bed.

And why did he come in the first place?  Was it because we were all such decent folk?  Such a joy to be around?  No.  He came to save us from our sins.  He came to keep the law we could not keep and to be the perfection we could never attain.

Each time I flop and fail and scramble, I am reminded I am not perfect.  I will never be perfect.  But there is One who is perfect on my behalf.  He bestows on me his righteousness (now there’s a perfect Christmas gift).  And he meets me in all of my shortcomings because this is the very reason he came.

So take heart if your own Christmas was less than perfect.  Let it remind you that it doesn’t have to  be–and even more importantly, you don’t have to be.  Even today, the Christ Child comes to dirty feeding troughs and cluttered homes and harried people.  When we don’t quite get it all right, we can rejoice because he did.

And in that, I find peace.  Maybe not peace on earth, but peace within my own weary heart.

And a heart filled with peace can give goodwill toward men in the year to come.

yoga for depression

Because I love yoga, I’m always fascinated when I find new ways the practice might be helpful. I’ve already posted how yoga is beneficial for my migraines. Today I found this video, which discusses how yoga can be useful for those suffering from depression.

I absolutely love finding and sharing any natural remedies I come across. However, some people think this belittles whatever condition the remedy is supposed to address. That would never be my intention. Depression is a very real medical condition, and I take it seriously.

But I think one should use ALL the tools at one’s disposal. Use medication. Use counseling. Use cognitive therapy. Use vitamins and herbs and light boxes. Use cardiovascular exercise and fresh air and the support of friends and family. Use everything you’ve got. 

Use yoga, if you like.



3 ways to honor Ash Wednesday at home

I really wanted to attend an Ash Wednesday service today. It would have been my first time doing so. I scouted out churches in the area who’d be open and welcoming to a newbie, and I was really looking forward to it.

“The best-laid schemes of mice and men…” and all that. We are having massive storm systems in our area (most of the local area school systems dismissed classes early today. The storms are that severe).

A normal storm usually triggers a migraine for me. This crazy intense storm?

It’s not pretty. Removing my own head sounds good right now.

Our homeschool “dismissed early” today too.

So I won’t be attending any services this evening like I’d planned. But I still wanted to acknowledge Ash Wednesday somehow.

If you’re unable to attend a service today but still would like to participate in some small way, perhaps one of these ideas will work for you.

1. Use a Lenten devotional.

I tend not to be a fan of devotionals. I prefer Bible studies. But a local church offered to email devotional readings for Lent. I went ahead and signed up, and now I’m glad I did. Today’s reading might not be exactly the same as being presence at a service, but it at least gave me some thoughts to ponder. It reminded me of my sinful condition as fallen man and of the Savior who loves me and redeemed me.

I found the image below on Twitter. I don’t have an ashy cross on my forehead today, since I’m unable to be at a service, but I still loved seeing this. I won’t pretend looking at a picture is the same as participating in a church service, but it did speak truth to me and gave me something to reflect on and pray over.

Which brings me to Point 2.

2. Pray Scriptures.

Sackcloth and ashes were a symbol of sorrow and/or repentance  in the Old Testament. Repentance, prayer, and fasting are all important aspects of Lent.

I wanted to spend time in prayer and repentance today. I often find it helpful to use various Scripture passages in my prayer time. Today I used Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

And Psalm 51 (NASB)

A Contrite Sinner’s Prayer for Pardon.

For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when [a]Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

51 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For [b]I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You [c]are justified [d]when You speak
And [e]blameless when You judge.

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the [f]innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
[g]Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
[h]Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
[i]Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins
And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create [j]in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew [k]a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will [l]be converted to You.

14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, [m]open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

18 By Your favor do good to Zion;
[n]Build the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then You will delight in [o]righteous sacrifices,
In burnt offering and whole burnt offering;
Then [p]young bulls will be offered on Your altar.

3. Do as much of a worship service as at home as possible.

I can’t replicate an entire church service in my house. It isn’t even remotely the same.

But I did talk with my daughters about the symbolism of the ashes. I did read a Bible passage and sing a hymn with them. We did talk about sin and confession and repentance.

It’s not the same, but it is something.

I hope to make it to a real Ash Wednesday service next year. I look forward to experiencing it for the first time. This year, the above 3 things at least helped me acknowledge today.

step by tiny step

I want to write. I want to keep this blog updated. I am passionate about the topic. I feel strongly, down to the depths of my soul, that people are whole, integrated human beings. And until you address all aspects of health and well-being–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, societal, etc.–you are aren’t really healthy at all. It all matters.

But I feel like I’m failing utterly in pretty much all of those areas, so what would I write about anyway? I’m tired. I’m physically, spiritually, and emotionally exhausted.

And I know the original  premise of this blog was that I wasn’t coming from a place of knowledge or authority. I’ve never claimed to be some teacher or guru with it all figured out. This whole thing was supposed to be about the journey, about taking those small steps and seeing where they led. I was supposed to be a fellow sojourner, stumbling along with everyone else.

Only I think I stumbled straight off the cliff. So definitely don’t follow me.

But I guess I need to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and admit that I don’t have it all together. Admit that sometimes I don’t have any of it together. And sometimes I can’t even bring myself to care a whole heck of a lot.

It really is a journey. And it has a whole lot of detours and switchbacks.

But maybe if I go back to just taking baby steps–teeny, tiny, wobbly baby steps–I can find my way back to the right path.

Fall down seven times; get up eight.

–Japanese proverb

Today I went back to basics–I did yoga and drank water. I journaled, did my Bible study, and prayed.

And I stood back up.

learning to love Lent

Not growing up liturgical, I’m relatively new to the seasons of Advent and Lent.

But I love them. I love the focused intensity of those weeks. I love the depth and richness they can add to Christmas and Easter.

I find Easter is far more joyful and celebratory if I’ve gone through the preparation of Lent first.

I don’t usually “give up” things for Lent but rather try to be more focused and intentional. I try to reflect more deeply on Jesus’ sacrifice and my need for Him and grace and the gospel.

I find Psalm 51 helpful as I examine my heart and life.

I also think Isaiah 58:3-12 speaks to the whole idea of what seasons of fasting ought to look like. (Hint: God’s more concerned about our hearts than our outward show. And it isn’t always what you fast from–you can fast to something as well.)

I’m using several studies and reading plans for Lent this year. I won’t bore you posting them all here, but I will highlight a few.


  1. Lenten Study This gives some basic background on Lent then readings from the Bible starting on Ash Wednesday.
  2. His Mercy Is New. This gives a few verses from Matthew to read, write, and pray over each day. Also check out 31 Verses That Lead Us to the Cross. Love the concept of really just chewing over a few verses at a time.
  3. Lent Verses for Reflection.
  4. Prayers and Liturgies for Lent. I love this site. So much beauty here.

I’ve printed some stuff from other sites to go over with the girls. Today’s devotional included a reading of the Lord’s Prayer from Matt. 6 and a short responsive reading.

My Lenten fast:

I read last year that if you do choose to give up something for Lent, there are some guidelines to make it more meaningful. I’m not legalistic about it, and I’m not going to tell anyone how to do (or not do) Lent, but I admit I found this post to be good food for thought. I also like the companion post that you’ll probably fail at whatever your Lenten sacrifice is–and that’s kind of the point. It’s a constant reminder of how desperately we need grace.

I like that.

So this year, I’m tackling what has recently become a rather bad habit in my life: poor meal planning.

Particularly supper.

I used to be a good meal planner. I knew what I was cooking for supper each night. I was a grocery shopping ninja, feeling us for relatively little.

Lately, I’ve been hit and miss with the grocery shopping. I’ve been tired, and I haven’t felt well, and I don’t know what to fix anyway. Nor do I care that much. And my my very understanding husband offers to pick up something quick for supper. And it’s easy, so I agree. And then there’s no money to grocery shop, and I’m more tired, and I feel worse, and it’s all just overwhelming.

So I want to give up fast food. Or at least unplanned fast food. We can work some fun outings into the budget. I just want to get back to being intentional with meals and having a plan and not taking the easy way out.

I also want to try something I saw on Facebook: finding one thing each day that I don’t need anymore so that at the end of 40 days, I have 40 things to give away to others who could use it. I’m think I could get the girls involved with this.

So…your turn! Do you do Lent? Hate Lent? Not really sure how you feel about Lent? I’d love to hear any and all thoughts!

thinking about the seasonal depression

I ran across an article awhile back regarding SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). I didn’t think too much about it at the time. I just kind of mentally noted, “Oh, that’s interesting,” and went on with life.

Then January hit. And the bottom dropped out of my mental health.

My worst bout of depression was post-partum. But I do struggle with “winter blues” as well. A full-spectrum light bulb and a high octane vitamin D supplement usually enable me to survive until spring.

Not this year.

Several things happened at once. I was trying a new type of progesterone supplement (bad idea; I’ll be going back to my old one). I had to replace my light bulb. And we had a snowstorm that left me housebound for days.

I reached a point where I just wanted to sleep all the time. Or cry. Or sleep and cry. And eat.

I wasn’t functioning very well. If at all.

Eventually sunshine returned, and I remembered the article I’d found weeks and weeks before.

I decided to read it again.

I’m even more fascinated now. I first learned of cognitive therapy in college, and I’ve always felt drawn to it. It’s a highly effective form of therapy, especially in combination with anti-depressants or other medication.

And I had the crazy idea that I could fit it in with my Christian faith. The Bible tells us to meditate on Scripture and to “take every thought captive.”

Someone else had that same crazy idea and did a study on it.

So I’m recovering now. Still taking my vitamin D. Still using the light bulb. The snow melted,so I’m getting out more. Even weak winter sunshine helps.

And I’m doing a devotional chock-full of Bible verses specifically for depression. I’m also making my own list of verses and passages to think on, recite, etc.

I still want to learn more about the specific cognitive therapy used in the SAD study, but for now I’m going to stick with what I’m doing. And I think I’ll be okay.

link love

Confession: I’m mostly posting these so I can find them again easily. Is that cheating? If so, sorry.

But while reading an article on good starting workouts when you’re out of shape, these two routines popped up. And since I do fit that criterion and I do love yoga, I thought I’d hang on to them.

And maybe someone else will find them useful too. 🙂

Slow Flow Yoga Sequence


on listening

The world is incredibly noisy. Social media can be the noisiest of all. No matter the subject, people are shouting their opinions and suggestions and solutions. They feel strongly about whatever their point of view is.

And there are things we should feel strongly about. It may not matter what my favorite movie is or which book you like best, but some things aren’t subjective or inconsequential. Standing up and speaking about these weighty matters is both brave and necessary.

But maybe, just maybe, people might be more willing to hear our thoughts on those important subjects if we did a bit of listening to them first.

Maybe we’d understand the opposing viewpoint a little better, even if we still don’t agree with it.

Maybe we’d have more empathy. Maybe we’d treat those who disagree with us with a little more kindness and compassion.

But all too often, precious little listening occurs amid all the noise.

Why is that? Are we afraid to listen to opposing viewpoints? Afraid they might actually succeed in changing our minds?

Or just too angry that they don’t see it like we do?

Maybe it’s a mixture of both.

A joke I’ve seen making the rounds on Facebook talks about a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, and sometimes an atheist and/or pagan walking into a bar. They sit, chat, and have a lovely time. Because that can happen when you’re not a jerk.

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey says to first seek to understand then to be understood.

So listening first is more effective, and it makes you a nicer person. Sounds like a win, right?

I think we could all stand to display the courage to sit and listen a bit more often.

Disclaimer: link is affiliate link. 

the fear of not being good enough

The assignment is to start the post with a quote. I knew immediately that I wanted to quote Brene Brown.

The problem was choosing which quote to use. There are so many good ones. I want to use them all. I want to sit you in front of her TED Talk videos and make you watch them. Then you can choose your own favorite quote.

I guess that’s cheating though.

I do love the videos though and have watched them more than once. I love her books (at least what I’ve read of them). I think what she shares is important and worthwhile.

It’s just hard to narrow it down to the most important or the most worthwhile.

But finally I decided to just suck it up and pick one. I’m already crazy late posting this.

To create is to make something that has never existed before. There’s nothing more vulnerable than that. –Brene Brown

The above quote is actually quite apt. I feel incredibly vulnerable as a writer. Every single time I click post–whether it’s here or whether it’s the stories I write and post elsewhere or sometimes even just a Facebook post–the nerves almost kill me. Oh, my gosh, is this even any good? What will people think? 

Once I started admitting to “being a writer” it got worse. It’s one thing to play around with a blog. But to admit that someday you’d actually like to do something with this writing stuff–well, that just raises expectations, doesn’t it? Suddenly you’re supposed to be good at this.

And I’m always terrified that maybe I’m really not. I’ve read good writers–really good writers who are deep and profound and awe me with their ability to use words. I frequently find myself thinking, I want to write like them when I grow up.

Of course, I keep learning and improving, but I only ever write like me.

Talk about feeling vulnerable.

Writing is my most dearly held dream, and in all fairness I’ve never had anyone not be supportive of that. I have truly great friends and family who get excited on my behalf when I talk about writing.

And then they want to read something I wrote.

Ugh. The fear comes again. I’ll never be able to live up to their expectations.

Or maybe it’s that I’ll never live up to my own.

And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough” … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.–Brene Brown

And the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll ever be wholly satisfied with where I am as a writer. I kind of hope not, actually. I want to always be learning, growing, improving.  We don’t ever really arrive.

But I’d like to reach a point where I at least feel comfortable–being proud of where I am now and how far I’ve come even as I strive to get better. A place of being “kind and gentle” with myself (that’s harder for me than being kind and gentle with others).

A place of not being terrified to click “post.”

P.S. I seriously do love Brene Brown’s TED Talks. If you have a few spare minutes I highly recommend them.


The assignment yesterday (yes, I’m a day behind–I’m going to try to catch up this weekend) was to use a photo to inspire a post. The above picture was one of the options given.

It immediately made me think of this song.

(I’m sorry–I know linking a random YouTube of the song isn’t the best. But I can’t get Spotify to work at the moment, and I got tired trying to figure out why.)

I really can’t think of anything more profound than what the song says–it sums it up pretty perfectly. So I hope you enjoy.