Whose Work

Whose work have you been called to do, and when have you been called to do it? Today we are reading a short poem, a Scandinavian folktale from which a lesson can be easily derived, and a wee dram of Scripture. As we introduce the virtue of WORK, I want to encourage you to each think about two things: WHOSE work have you been called to do? WHEN are you called to do this work?

Mr. Meant-To by Marva Collins

Mr. Meant-To has a comrade,
And his name is Didn’t-Do;
Have you ever chanced to meet them?
Did they ever call on you?

These two fellows live together
In the house of Never-Win,
And I’m told that it is haunted
By the ghost of Might-Have-Been.

Hear these famous words of Benjamin Franklin: “Work while it is called today, for you know not how much you may be hindered tomorrow. One today is worth two tomorrows; never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

“The Husband Who Was to Mind the House” ~ a Scandinavian folktale

Once upon a time there was a man who was so bad tempered and cross that he never thought his wife did anything right in the house. One evening, in haymaking time, he came home, scolding and grumpy, and showing his teeth and making a commotion.
“Dear love, don’t be so angry. That’s a good man,” said his wife, “tomorrow let’s change jobs. I’ll go out with the mowers and cut hay, and you can mind the house at home.”
Yes, the husband thought that would do very well. He was quite willing, he said.
So early the next morning, his wife took a scythe over her neck, and went out into the hay field with the mowers and began to mow. But the man was to mind the house and do the work at home.
First of all he wanted to churn the butter. But when he had churned a while, he got thirsty and went down to the cellar to tap a barrel of ale. He had just knocked in the bung and was putting in the tap, when he heard the pig come into the kitchen above. As fast as he could,
he ran up the cellar steps, with the tap in his hand, to keep the pig from upsetting the churn. But when he got there he saw that the pig had already knocked the churn over, and was standing there routing and grunting in the cream which was running all over the floor.
He got so angry that he quite forgot the ale barrel and ran at the pig as hard as he could. He caught it, too, just as it ran out of doors, and gave it such a powerful kick that he killed it on the spot.
Then he remembered he had the tap in his hand. But when he returned to the cellar, all the ale had run out of the barrel. Then he went into the milk-shed and found enough cream left to fill the churn again, and so he began to churn, for they had to have butter for dinner.
When he had churned a bit, he remembered that their milk cow was still shut up in the barn and hadn’t had a bit to eat or a drop to drink all morning, although the sun was high. It occurred to him that it was too far to take her down to the meadow, so he’d just get her up onto the roof, for it was a sod roof, and a fine crop of grass was growing there. The house was close against a steep hill, and he thought if he laid a plank across to the back of the roof he’d easily get the cow up.
But he couldn’t leave the churn, for his little baby was crawling about on the floor. “If I leave it,” he thought, “the child will tip it over.” So he put the churn on his back, and went out with it. But then he thought he’d better first water the cow before he put her onto the roof, so he picked up a bucket to draw water out of the well. But as he stooped over the
edge of the well all the cream ran out of the churn over his shoulder and down into the well.
Now it was nearly dinner time, and he hadn’t even finished the butter yet, so he thought he’d best boil the porridge. He filled the pot with water and hung it over the fire. When he had done that, it occurred to him that the cow might fall off the roof and break her legs or her neck, so he climbed up onto the house to tie her up. He tied one end of the rope around the cow’s neck. He slipped the other end down the chimney and tied it around his own leg.
Then he had to hurry, for the water was now boiling in the pot, and he still had to grind the oatmeal. He began to grind away; but while he was hard at it, the cow fell off the roof, dragging the man up the chimney by the rope. There he stuck fast. As for the cow, she hung halfway down the wall, swinging between heaven and earth, for she could neither get down nor up.
Now the wife waited seven lengths and seven breadths for her husband to come and call her home to dinner, but he never came. At last she thought she’d waited long enough, and she went home. But when she arrived home and saw the cow hanging there, she ran up and cut the rope with her scythe. When she did this, her husband fell down from within the chimney. When the woman came inside, she found him with his head in the porridge pot.
“Welcome back,” he said, after she had fished him out. “I have something to say to you, my dear.” And so he said he was sorry, and gave her a kiss, and never complained again about the work he was given to do. He learned to appreciate his own work, and also the hard work of his diligent wife.

The Husband Who Was to Mind the House' | ASBJØRN et al. East of the Sun and  West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North. Kay Nielsen… | Картинки,  Иллюстратор, Книги

Here is a lovely little video version at Around The Hearth:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMlFq-8Ng-o

Philippians 2:14-15
“Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…”

Galatians 6:9
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Well-Read

“Well-read” may be an adjective attached to someone you know, and I am quite confident that I have many friends who fall well within this category, but I am not positive I have ever thought of myself as well-read. Of course, it technically means that a person is knowledgeable and informed as a result of extensive reading: which perhaps is only allocated to a specific subject or realm. Perhaps well-rounded and well-read do not always overlap, or perhaps the Venn diagram would show only a minor connection between the two. Regardless, as we come to the close of another calendar year, I am looking back at my reading journal and consider myself as growing towards the well-read. My friends at scholesisters.com have encouraged and challenged me to read widely, think deeply, and apply faithfully this last year… and now I am gearing up to jump in again.

A year ago when I created my first 5×5 reading challenge with the Scholé Sisters, I chose five categories and assigned myself five books within each. I thought it might have been lofty, especially as I do not always stick to a set reading stack, but tend to read a good bit on a whim, particularly when relying on library holds because those are absolutely unpredictable. I can put twelve things on hold at once, and never know whether they will be doled out one by one or all arrive the very same day. And if they are a popular title at the time, I may only have a month (or, in some cases, a mere 14 days if it is a newly released title) to finish the book before it is due back for the next person in line on holds. Let’s just say, I do find this more than a little anxiety-provoking.

But I gave it a shot, and apparently it went well enough for me this last year that I am willing to give it a go again! In fact, I have friends telling me to add the Literary Life reading challenge to my year… perhaps if I can overlap them enough, I might just see how far I can get on that one… but I make no promise and will not hold my breath.

I thought about going through my entire reading list in a post, but realize that isn’t necessarily helpful or even fun. I’m not entirely sure I want to read the lists of others, so I decided not to share mine either. 😉 The point is: I read widely, I thought deeply (and enjoyed deeply), and have been seeking to apply faithfully. I set out to read 25 specific books for the 5×5 challenge, and completed 23 of them. One is still untouched on my shelf, and one was a “through the year” prayer book that I wasn’t nearly as faithful to as I had hoped so I am not counting it. But when I received an email from the Scholé Sisters which said “twenty books counts as complete for 2020,” I was pretty stoked.

In all, I have read (combining audiobooks with handheld paper books) 115 books this year… plus countless picture books that I would never even begin pretending to keep track of. I am actually really surprised that I have that many titles under my belt for 2020! While some people have said this year brought them a superabundance of free time, or time for different pursuits, I absolutely did not find that true for myself. As a fulltime homemaker and home educator already, this year did not give me less time commitments or responsibilities: if anything, it added to my plate. The presupposition that homeschoolers didn’t find 2020 bringing alterations to habits or routines is completely false. Let me tell you: we were thrown for a loop as much as anybody.

I read 60 books on my own this year: 31 nonfiction, 29 fiction. I had zero plan of seeking to balance fiction with nonfiction, but I am rather pleased that it happened to shake out that way. I also did 40 read alouds with all my children (please note that when you live out in the country, you can make a lot of headway in audiobooks while driving over the course of a year), and 15 more read alouds with just certain children (some with just my daughter, a couple with my younger set, a few with just one son at a time and a few with my two oldest sons).

I knew that I was always keeping my reading stack going as well as always keeping my earbuds at the ready. I went through this year continually acknowledging that I wanted to be engaging in both fiction and nonfiction, with and without my children, on a regularly ongoing basis. But on a day to day, or week to week, basis I never really knew how much progress I was making. The plod of my daily and weekly routines as worker, wife, mother, educator, and friend kept me so constantly on my toes that I simply kept reading, kept listening, kept writing titles down upon completion… and only now have finally gone back to count them up and see the real accomplishment. Honestly, it is super satisfying, gratifying: a blessing.

I may not have read as well-rounded of a list as some others I know, but this was a year where I branched out, planned ahead, kept moving forward, and honestly grew. I didn’t know I could grow even deeper in my love of reading… but I actually did. Just when I thought I was already passionately in love with books, I realize there is always more to learn, more to apply, more to love, more to read.

I have always known that I loved historical fiction, but Susan Meissner and Ruta Sepetys have shown me that there is a bittersweet depth to it which I had not previously plumbed. I have also always known that I loved books which marry cooking with memoir (thank you, Robert Capon), but I discovered Ruth Reichl this year with great pleasure. I learned that I feel a much stronger gravitational pull toward Christian nonfiction than secular, particularly when habits or disciplines are discussed: for instance, while I really gleaned goodness from Atomic Habits, I can not get over how much more it would have left an impression if James Clear had backed up his philosophy with fruit of the Spirit. (I genuinely missed Jesus in that book.) I learned anew how much my children love a good series, and are much disdained if I ever feel tempted to give up a series before its completion. They are diehards and love to complete a story arc. I also learned this year that it is okay NOT to complete a series, or even to set a book aside that isn’t whetting the appetite. There are too many marvelous books to read in my one short life to waste hours on something that doesn’t spur me on to love, good works, blessing, or fancy. And honestly: I want my kids to learn that lesson too.

As I type this, my five year old is sitting beside me with exactly twenty picture books splayed all around… he is reading them aloud to himself, and each time he picks up a new book, he declares with glee: “ooooh I love this one!” That’s my boy. (Let’s be honest: I only produce bibliophiles. Ginger book-lovers, all five.)

Are you setting reading goals for 2021? Do you put together a literal TBR stack? How do you keep track of your reading habits or completed books? What reading challenge(s) are you signing up for this year?

I will occasionally share more bookish updates here as I seek to become ever more well-read. It brings me joy right here in the center of my domestic little life. Bring on the books!

Merriest Christmas

Merriest of Christmases to you, my friends! From my family of gingers, we wish you many blessings as the hope of Advent ushers us into the joy of Christmas! We look forward to the light of coming Epiphany, for the light of the nations has come. Sing loud, sing long, sing with gladness ~ sing of this joy, come to all the world!

“Then let us all with one accord,
sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
[who] hath made heav’n and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought!”

“Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!”

Feasting Through Advent

A practice that I have enjoyed with my family in the last few years is focusing on feasting and hospitality for the duration of the Advent season, and actually right up through Epiphany when possible. I think it stemmed from two different traditions: one, with family; the other, with friends.

The first, with family, stems from my childhood. I grew up in a Silicon Valley suburb in California, living within two miles of my entire maternal side of the family, which consisted of five generations for almost a decade. Many of us attended church together every Sunday morning, and I still love remembering the long pew we filled in the balcony of my childhood Bible Church. A pillar for about a dozen years in my formative years, that place still makes cameo appearances in my dreams and holds a tender spot in my heart. But even the relatives who didn’t join us in worship on Sunday mornings, joined us for Family Dinner on Sunday evening. There was always a standing invitation (and, honestly, expectation) for family members: 6pm Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s house. Those evenings of food, loud table conversation, helping in the kitchen, reading the funny papers with my Great Grandpa, watching America’s Funniest Home Videos with my uncles, and pitching in with my little cousins planted in me the love of tradition, family dinners, and generational living. After we moved away from CA, and all of our relatives, the tradition died – and it was dearly missed.

The second tradition root is the annual habit of sharing an Epiphany feast with friends (alternating between their home and our home). As a way to reconnect and celebrate with longtime friends at the conclusion of the Advent/Christmas/Epiphany narrative, we have actually managed to keep this annual celebration for roughly a decade already, and I thought it would be fun to extend that idea to other friends as well.

Those are the two backstories which grew into my current practice of Advent weekends. It makes for an intense month of hospitality – but what is the Incarnation about? Ultimately, it is about the most intense hospitality imaginable. It is my joy to nibble at the edges of that glorious example of generosity and grace.

On Saturday evenings, we have an open invitation to family to join us for our Advent feast. This is the uppercrust version, where we have fancier foods, use goblets and china, sing hymns, read Scripture & a liturgy, have candles flickering all over the room to light the darkness, and light the candles in our advent wreath. We also give a group gift to our children after the meal, reminding them that the reason we give gifts is because we have been recipients of the ultimate gift of Christ. The gifts this year have been Advent calendars (the classic chocolate-a-day), matching flannel pajamas, a board game, and an outdoor game. This year, my parents and my grandma have joined us every Saturday evening, and it has been an enormous gift.

On Advent Sundays after corporate worship, we have a family over to share a simpler meal and fellowship & play & rest together, in the wake of Jesus coming to make all things new and spread the Gospel to all peoples. We usually have some variance of soup and bread and dessert to share, although a casserole in lieu of soup has been just as simple this year. We set up the meal buffet-style, often use paper plates/bowls, and have no set liturgy (but are always glad to hand out hymnals and carol together).

These four weeks of hospitality, fellowship, feasting, and anticipation are something our family looks forward to throughout the year. And each year, I think I grow personally in my skill & joy of hosting. Be not deceived: it is hard work! But by God’s grace, I am learning to focus on the aspects of it which actually matter (filling bellies, fattening souls, engaging minds, encouraging hearts), and letting go what is unnecessary or selfish or perfectionistic.

The hope of Advent is almost fulfilled… the joy of Christmas is almost here… the light of Epiphany is on its way…

We are Christmas people! Let us feast together & rejoice!

Friendship in the Christmas Narrative

“He who walks with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Prov. 13:20)

O who will walk a mile with me
Along life’s merry way?
A comrade blithe and full of glee,
Who dares to laugh out loud and free
And let his frolic fancy play,
Like a happy child, through the flowers gay
That fill the field and fringe the way
Where he walks a mile with me.

And who will walk a mile with me
Along life’s weary way?
A friend whose heart has eyes to see
The stars shine out o’er the darkening lea,
And the quiet rest at the end o’ the day—
A friend who knows, and dares to say,
The brave, sweet words that cheer the way
Where he walks a mile with me.

With such a comrade, such a friend,
I fain would walk till journey’s end,
Through summer sunshine, winter rain,
And then?—Farewell, we shall meet again!

–Henry van Dyke

As we walk through the season of Advent, ever closer to Christmas day and on toward Epiphany, my question for us this morning is simply, where do we see friendship in the overall Christmas narrative?

……

Zacharias and Elizabeth (were of old age, without children—shared grief and longing can breed friendship)

Elizabeth and Mary (similar situations often grow friendship, and we know Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months during pregnancy)

Elizabeth’s neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her (rejoicing with others shows friendship or friendliness)

Mary and Joseph (betrothed, destined for marriage and life together—and if nothing else, they had shared experiences of angel visitation! I imagine their conversations together could have been awesome)

Shepherds who worked together in fields (work often builds friendship)

Wise men, magi, from the East (worked or studied together: again, common interests and communal work are solid ground for friendship building)

John and Jesus (cousins and comrades, both working toward the same Kingdom goals)

……

But where do we see the deepest friendship of all?

The deepest and truest embodiment of friendship is in Jesus Himself. And we don’t just see that in the Christmas narrative, but we live even today in the reality of that friendship.

In John chapter 15, Jesus tells us of His deep love for us—for those who abide in Him, and abide in His love. He wants our joy to be full. (What better description of friendship could there be than that? A desire that another’s joy would be full!) And then listen to what He says: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:12-15)

Jesus calls His people—His disciples then, and all of us now who are called by His name—He calls us His FRIENDS.

He took on human flesh because He was sacrificing Himself for us. And when He says that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends—He is reminding us that it is friendship with Him that ought to be our deepest love, our biggest desire, our truest relationship. He laid down His heavenly glory to be clothed in flesh. He laid down His flesh to be slaughtered as the sacrifice to atone for our sins. He sent us His Spirit to be our Comforter. He promises to come back.

Jesus is the one who walks with us along life’s merry way, life’s weary way, all the way until journey’s end—and beyond. Because He is such a Friend, we can see other friendships in Advent, in the nativity, in the Word made flesh, in the magi’s journey, in the presentation at the temple, in the Gospel arising and being the light to the nations!

What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!

Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness

Precious Savior, still our refuge

Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he’ll take and shield you;
you will find a solace there.

–Joseph Scriven (excerpts)

Indeed, we will find friendship there. We DO find friendship with Jesus. Those who are called by His name are called His friends, and He was born to lay down His life for us so that we can go and do likewise.

The Virtue of Friendship

Friendship needs no studied phrases,
Polished face, or winning wiles;
Friendship deals no lavish praises,
Friendship dons no surface smiles.

Friendship follows Nature’s diction,
Shuns the blandishments of art,
Boldly severs truth from fiction,
Speaks the language of the heart.

Friendship favors no condition,
Scorns a narrow-minded creed,
Lovingly fulfills its mission,
Be it word or be it deed.

Friendship cheers the faint and weary,
Makes the timid spirit brave,
Warns the erring, lights the dreary,
Smooths the passage to the grave.

Friendship–pure, unselfish friendship,
All through life’s allotted span,
Nurtures, strengthens, widens, lengthens,
Man’s relationship with man.

The ancients listed friendship among the highest of virtues. It was an essential element in the happy or fully flourishing life. “For without friends,” said Aristotle, “no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.” Words worth remembering in a world of perishable “goods,” and in a season when we can so easily put long lists together of more perishable goods we would like to unwrap on Christmas morning!

According to Aristotle, friendship either is, or it involves, a state of character: a virtue. There are three kinds of friendship argued for, with different bases: pleasure in another’s company (friendship of pleasure), usefulness in association (friendship of utility), or mutual admiration (friendships in virtue). All are essential to the good life, and the best sorts of friends will not only admire each other’s excellence, but take pleasure in each other’s company, and find their association of mutual advantage.

Steve Wilkins said in his wonderful book Face To Face that friends are not a luxury but a necessity. They are not optional but vital. God, in His mercy, does not save us in isolation from other people but rather in community with other people. If we are to be all that God commands us to be, we must realize that having godly relationships with friends is vital to the whole process.

Proverbs 18:1 says that “a man who isolates himself seeks his own desire, and rages against all wise judgment.” The isolated man does not realize what he is doing, but he is in grave danger. He needs friends! Why? To hold him accountable. To add to his joy. To spur him on to love and good works. For mutual sharpening of one another. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He that walks with wise men shall be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” Without godly friends, Scripture tells us we will spiral toward destruction. Godly friendship is absolute necessity because of how God created us (in His triune image, borne for community), the consequences of the fall, and the manner of God’s dispensing of His grace corporately.

All this talk about friendship of course reminds us of what a blessed thing it is to have a friend who sticks closer than a brother, our kinsman-redeemer, our truest holy Friend. Without Christ as our closest companion, we would be of all men to be most pitied. It is vitally important to have faithful companions for He is the One who is the ultimate companion and friend of His people. We need more Christians to live with one another in the manner of Christ: always with us, never leaving or forsaking, but rather causing us to grow in grace and faithfulness for the sake of God’s glory.

This is the kind of friend we need. This is the kind of friend we should seek to be. This is the kind of friendship we see all throughout the Christmas story during this season of Advent.

Have you ever thought about that? Have you seen friendship in the Advent narrative? The next post about friendship will be concentrating on seeing examples in that particular story arc. But as we ponder this throughout this current week, notice the friendliness or the friendships or the charity or the compassion… in short, notice the acts or words of one person toward another which shout: “now THAT is acting like a godly friend!” and be ready to ponder that anew with me next time.

Cranberries

I don’t know why, but I love the Cranberry books. Cranberry Christmas, Cranberry Thanksgiving, Cranberry Easter, we even have a Cranberry Halloween book while my family doesn’t really even “do” anything for Halloween. I just love the stories, the characters, the artwork.

But I also really love cranberries: they are just a delicious, pretty, little tangy fruit. Ha! I remember loving a particular cereal when I was a kid that had cranberries and walnuts in it. It felt like a very grownup thing to enjoy, and I thought it was super special when my mom would let me put a box in the cart when wandering the grocery aisles with her. (Have I mentioned that I am a second generation homeschooler? I did ALL the errands by my mom’s side, and sometimes we were even bold enough to run errands before 2pm… that was our kind of brazen rebellion back in the eighties and early nineties of California living.) My mom was big into country style shabby chic arts & crafts… and for a handful of years she partnered with a friend to do a Christmas market they called Cranberry Corner. I’m not sure I have ever asked her exactly why she chose that name. But I still remember it! And I remember the ambiance of that annual event, the pungent smell of cinnamon & a tart sweetness. Perhaps it was a cinnamon-cranberry candle burning in the back! My mom was also keenly into potpourri at the time. It was the nineties, after all.

I also have always loved my mom’s homemade cranberry sauce. Nothing particularly unique about it: just fresh cranberries with sugar, water, and some kind of orange flavoring – usually zest. She also occasionally made cranberry muffins and put dried cranberries in our trail mix or granola. I was never a big fan of raisins, but I sure enjoyed their cousin, Craisins. Yummers.

So here I now find myself continuing to love cranberries. But my kids don’t have the same affinity for them. So I’m trying to find ways to incorporate some cranberries into my kids’ holiday traditions. This year, I made a cranberry-pecan coffee cake for Thanksgiving Day morning. It paired perfectly with a side of crispy bacon and a hot latte… well, the kids had milk, but the latte is my favorite. Anyway, that is definitely a recipe we would enjoy again. We have had homemade cranberry sauce twice so far this season (including once when I added a splash of frangelica liqueur, which was a lovely touch). But I still want to try something else.

I think I may need to whip up a batch of cranberry orange muffins to start our Saturday with some zip. And then to pair with a pork loin roast tomorrow evening for our second Advent dinner, I think a cranberry apple chutney might work really well. And if I have any cranberries left that make it without getting gooey in the fridge by next week, I would love to try a cranberry balsamic chicken with cranberry brie bites on the side and cranberry apple upside-down cake for dessert.

It’s time to plan and prepare some more meals. It is just more part of the joyfully domestic life as a full time keeper of home, with seven people living here full time. There are no fewer than twenty-one meals a week which need planned and prepared to some extent. Perhaps breakfasts are mostly haphazard scavenging by the children on most days, but I need to be sure we have muffins or eggs or cereal or oatmeal available. That in itself takes some level of planning on my part. Lunches are often quick things to cook or compile, often just the heating up of leftovers and adding a side of fresh fruit and a cup of milk. But dinners can honestly be the bane of my existence sometimes. I go through seasons of loving the dinnertime routine… but often it is a rotation of cookery that simply feels like work without the pleasure. I know my people need fed well, so I do my utmost to use healthy ingredients and prepare tasty meals. But it honestly CAN get to be a bit monotonous and predictable and uninspired. Sometimes I ask a friend for new ideas. Or I will even just call my sister-in-law and ask, “what’s for dinner?” A friend of mine had dedicated a category of food for each day of the week (Tuesday is tacos, Wednesday is chicken, Thursday is soup or salad depending on the season, Friday is pizza, Saturday is leftovers, Sunday is takeout, Monday is meatless…) just to have a starting point. When I was preparing for my fifth child’s arrival, before I even knew that bedrest was looming on the horizon, I compiled a list of our family favorite meals and posted it on the fridge. So if I ever felt too sick to come up with ideas based around food myself, I could just have a family member glance at the list for inspiration and we would move forward with it… sometimes with Mommy sucking on peppermints while trying not to smell anything meat-based or heated and seeking to avert my eyes from certain things because they would absolutely turn my tummy just on sight. (Honestly… blackberry jam and ground beef are pretty much ruined for me for life.)

But so much of holidays are based around foods. So how do we maintain beloved traditions while not letting the grow stagnant? How do we make holiday meals our own? How do we incorporate our children into the planning, the preparation, the cooking, the work AND the delight?

For my part, I take what I loved from my childhood and mix it with what my husband tells me he loved from his childhood. And we take a few things from each… then we try out different things on our kids like guinea pigs. I try to log what is delighted in while tossing aside what wasn’t anyone’s favorite. Sometimes you know it is an instant hit (like when Grandmama makes homemade donuts for everyone after cutting down Christmas trees on family property… and all ten grandkids devour them, declaring it to be a new annual must), while other times it takes a couple of tries to know that it has made the cut (like hosting weekly Advent meals… not because of any particular recipe, but because the energy of a mama wavers & wanes from time to time thanks to motherhood and hormones and any number of other things).

So I am learning. Growing. Trying. Often succeeding. And praising the Lord for the lot of it. He is good. I am only fourteen years into my own specific homemaking, but I helped my mother before that, so I might be a couple of decades into it. And honestly, sometimes He gives me something as simple as a cranberry to remind me that this is good. From stories to memories to recipes ~ these are the things of which memories, traditions, cultures are made.

Gather

I feel like I’ve never wanted a big old “gather” sign on my wall more than I do this year. It’s like our eyes are all opening to all kinds of things. Like covering coughs with elbows rather than hands- or washing your hands on the regular to remain sanitary- or that we actually do believe corporate weekly worship is important and needs to include singing. Other things I learned this year have included things like: my babies adore my parents, and ought not be kept from them- staying home for twelve weeks in a row can actually be an enormous gift- hugs & handshakes are not scary nor death-sentences- and welcoming people into our homes for various hospitality can not be taken for granted.

If you have ever had family drama surrounding holidays and extended relatives… that whole rubber band type stretch of how much you can fit in, or whose year it is (as though time spent with your family were a bargaining chip or hot commodity rather than an undeserved gift)… well, I’m pretty sure 2020 took the cake AND the icing on top.

So how about that “gather” sign, hmm?! I keep thinking I just need to rearrange some things on a wall or two… but then again, there are timeless options that I really want even more than that… because solagratia.co has this gorgeous option. Actually, let’s be real: they have LOTS of gorgeous options that would bless your home as well as mine. Consider that my unapologetic advertisement for a shop I love, as well as a resource I am saving pennies for myself!

All pithy pleasures aside, gathering for Thanksgiving this year was splendid. And because my family as well as my parents all have immunity to the bug that is trying to take over the world (tongue is in my cheek…), we felt zero guilt or shame in joining my brother’s family for the day. Honestly, we are basically just one big family anyway. They were in our pod from day one (literally! March 14!), and our kids are actually cousins but love each other (& treat each other) an awful lot like siblings. If there is a cousin-sibling hybrid out there, I guess that’s what these ten munchkins are.

I was happily assigned baked goods for the family feasting table. I made sourdough rolls plus six pies (pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate chess). A week later, we are finally licking clean the last of the pie plates. Of course we followed Thanksgiving up with two Advent meals for hospitality & celebration… so we have not been dieting our way through the pie plates.

But here is the real point of the celebrating, the abundance, the joy, the feasting, the hospitality, the pies that are decadent down to the last crumb: Christ has come to make us new, and He is coming again to finish the good work He began. He proclaimed on the cross, “It is finished”! And this is the best news for us as His people. Because it is finished, because He lived & died & resurrected & ascended, He will come again in glory! And from now until then we aren’t just waiting around for the good part of the story. We aren’t just wondering how to endure this life until we reach the life to come. No indeed, may it never be. This life in the meantime is a gift! It is our participation in the early/middle chapters of the story. It is our opportunity to imitate Him, to practice worship through work, to learn abundant grace by abundant giving, to learn immeasurable joy by immeasurable gratitude.

Gather. Feast. Sing. Show your gratitude through gifts like thanksgiving and gratitude-gifting. This is what Christ equips us for: good works. Let your hands get to work. Sweep the floor, make some food, fill the bellies of neighbors and strangers.

Be overcome with abundance. Because that’s exactly what you are.

Sacred psalmody, December

We worked hard on Psalm 70 all November, and while my kids had it perfected more quickly than I did, we all got there eventually. I would still love to learn the center section in four part harmony. Considering the month we had, I’m pretty pleased that the kids could absolutely hold their own on soprano, even when I broke into confident alto for the polyphonic section.

Now we have embarked into December, and we began learning Psalm 130. Again, it is a musical version of the actual NKJV text, so we are committing an entire Psalm to memory this month. It is a worthy endeavor and beautiful practice! I’m not entirely certain that the kids will fall in love with it because they tend to prefer major keys over minor, and complicated harmonies where they can each master their own part rather than needing to excel in unison and pitch-matching.

I think the meditations, discussion, and prayers this Psalm inspires will be a glorious gathering of blessing, and memorizing it through song will make it joyfully attainable.

Celebrations

Why do we celebrate? Why do we have traditions around things like birthdays and holidays and seasons and the Church calendar? These are not commanded celebrations or traditions, to be sure, but they are gifts to myself and my family and those whom we embrace in hospitality. God loves to show abundance in His kindness and mercy in His remembering. As image-bearers, I think it is particularly beautiful when we seek to copy Him in this abundance and mercy. If I have an opportunity to be kind, let me be showing it with abandon. If I have an opportunity to remember, let me do so with an active mercy to all around me.

As the wife and mother in my household, I get to set the tenor and timbre of most of the family traditions and celebrations we pursue (especially those we ultimately keep), and this is a huge privilege as well as honor. I want to do it with joy! But does that mean that, in order for it to bear good fruit, I also need to have a facade of happy whimsy or only put my hands to this work when I am feeling full of glee? No indeed.

As the tradition-maker, tradition-leader, tradition-keeper in our home, I get to set my hands, my mind, my heart, and my attitude toward the principle of joy in these things whether it comes naturally or not. I won’t seek to cultivate traditions that nobody likes or enjoys or remembers fondly, nor will I seek to be legalistic about traditions. Birthdays happen whether we have a cake, blow out a candle after singing a certain song, give gifts, or not. The only thing necessary for a birthday is to have a birth followed by a passage of time. My husband turns 38 today regardless of whether or not I made him a cake and gave him a gift. But I did those things because I love him, and we happen to keep those traditions in our family… I knew it would bless him if I kept those habits.

And with other traditions, this is likewise true. Tomorrow is the first day of Advent (which begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas), although some of our Advent traditions won’t start until two days later, because some things just do 25 days in December. Both work just fine for me, and help me lead in gently. I can wade in each year without just throwing myself off an unseen sandbar. Advent does not necessitate nor imply drowning.

The Church calendar still begins the new year tomorrow, whether I mark it or not. There will be a candle lit in its honor at our morning worship service whether we light one at home or not. Christmas is still coming! We can’t keep it back! Even the world around us knows that they can’t stop it from coming. Just ask the Grinch. The Light has come: darkness has been shattered.

But in my love of Advent, I have gathered up some traditions through my years as the keeper at home. Keeping in line with our family’s deepest loves and culture-cornerstones, our traditions with Advent center primarily around books, music, food, and hospitality.

I am going to share some of our Advent traditions here this year. From recipes to poetry to devotional stories artwork, it is good to Mark what one’s own pursuits are as well as to learn from those of others around you.

One of our Advent traditions that starts today for us is our weekly Advent Dinner. On Saturday night, we kick off the next week of Advent with an upscaled dinner complete with chocolates, wine, readings & singing, and a group gift for the children. My parents live next door, so they have an open invitation to join us, and sometimes my grandma comes as well. It is full of candles and sparkle and my great-grandma’s china dishes. Then on Sundays after corporate worship at church, we have a family or two over for a simple lunch coupled with robust fellowship.

To start off my sharing this week, here were our menus:

Saturday Advent Feast:

•buttermilk biscuits with peach jam
•roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus, carrots, & onion
•southern fried chicken
salted caramel brown sugar cheesecake

Sunday’s Hospitality Lunch:

•lasagna (gooey, cheesy, beefy!)
•sourdough bread with soft butter
•salad with bright balsamic dressing
•buttered carrots
•pecan pie
pumpkin cake with cinnamon icing