Getting Unstuck: On the Way to Advent

This post is the fourth installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines:  Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development.  For more information about this series, click here.  Mihee & I met about nine years ago.  My husband gets the bragging rights as to our introduction, as he attended Princeton Seminary with Mihee and her husband, Andy.  Mihee writes at First Day Walking and has just published her first book (links can also be found below in the bio).  I admire her immensely, pour over each blog post she writes & now rely on her friendship, support, encouragement & humor as we navigate parenthood together.  I can’t wait to share her thoughts & insights with you today and hope you’ll consider following her blog regularly.  

The tree is up. Right on schedule – Black Friday.

Last year on Black Friday on a strange whim we took the babies to Bloomington’s Canopy of Lights (later at night with 9 month old twins???) because we’d heard how irresistibly festive it is to be in the crowds when the Square downtown is lit up. We took our chances, bundled them up and strapped them to our chests in baby carriers. It was actually quite magical.

This year we opted to stay in. Actually, the babies never made it out of their footie pajamas. All day Thursday and Friday, and most of Saturday. It felt considerably colder – the wind had that familiar northeast kind of bite to it, and one that promised to be merciless at night. Though the sun was out most of the day, D had a runny nose and I didn’t want to risk it even though I was sad to not carry on the tradition. But we ate turkey leftovers, read books, watched a little basketball, Skyped with grandparents, and eventually had a free-for-all for most of the afternoon post-nap. I managed to sneak away to pull the artificial tree reminiscent of my childhood tree – the one with color lights – out of storage and put it up relatively quickly. Of course, the babies were immediately fascinated. I wonder how many times they will pull it down (that’s why it is sans ornaments)?

Sidenote: Did anyone ever, ever tell you that something so tiny could be sooooo exhausting? Or that something so exhausting could simultaneously be so amazing and wonderful? So much so it makes your heart feel like it might burst and you want to laugh and cry out of gratitude and mind-numbing pain? Sheesh I must have skimmed that part in the manual.

While D played with his miniature farm animals, making them free-range style roam all over the living room, A occupied herself with the booster seats on the floor. She was intent on getting the straps to buckle together and it wasn’t long before she was successful. There was no breaking her concentration. She has really incredible fine motor skills and she likes to use them. But, unfortunately for her, she is like her mother and an absolute clutz. Big. Time. So she kept getting her foot or leg stuck or caught in the straps. Rather than calmly assessing the situation she would trip and fall flat on her face and then scream baby curses at the chairs. THE AUDACITY!!! How dare they tangle her up?!

She kept getting stuck. Over and over.

I kind of get it. I’ve been feeling stuck in a way. Not the screaming kind of stuck but more like the tired, complacent, I-don’t-want-to-bother-getting-up kind of stuck. But, here we are on the verge of Advent and I feel ready to untangle my feet so I can really journey unencumbered through this season. I don’t want to miss the lights. The surprises. The laughs. The connections. The epiphanies. And, I’m seeing that Thanksgiving – despite the unexpected chaos of holidays that perhaps get built up with too much sentimentality and nostalgia – it’s a good way to step into Advent. It’s a good way to get unstuck.

Gratitude is a response to grace. The compassionate life is a grateful life, and actions born out of gratefulness are not compulsive but free, not somber but joyful, not fanatical but liberating. When gratitude is the source of our actions, our giving becomes receiving and those to whom we minister become our ministers. -Henri Nouwen

So, I want to focus on gratitude – I know there’s a key in there for making the days more meaningful. Because I want to be surprised this season. I want fresh wonder. Awe. Reverence. All the sights, tastes, touches and sounds, and the smells, all the earthiness and humanity to make me feel and remember Heaven came down thousands of years ago and left its mark:

It didn’t smell like shampoo or lotion, like sweat or tears, like food or playdough or paint (or anything worse) that I often find smeared in his hair. Nothing of the normal eau-de-bébé. It simply smelled pure. Fresh. Warm. Holy even.

Right in the curve between the muscles at the nape of his neck, such a small soft space, was buried this primal scent of possibility.

All I can think is it smells like God.

…For now I breathe it in everyday, when he’ll let me. A deep breath or a secret sniff and I remember all over how earthly an incarnate God can become. And I wonder what small spaces within my own body – hands, feet, limbs, neck – might still hold some trace of the original.

The mark of the maker.

Dear friend, Laura, from over at Mothering Spirit wrote this a bit ago. It comes to mind now as I think about how it’s the small things, the almost-invisible things, the things I take for granted, the things that my eyes, ears, and nose just pass over that when I have the wherewithal to notice them…they not only come out of but also inspire this kind of gratitude. It’s cyclical and connected in ways I never imagined would make sense (linear thinking seems almost antithetical to faith and spirituality). It’s this kind of openness to the Divine – our Maker – that the Advent season compels us to cultivate and seek out. Nothing new here – just a reminder that what’s necessary for these seasons is receptivity. A seeking heart. A malleable spirit. And the inner (and outer, I suppose) quiet to create the room for it. What better way to teach the twins – as young as they are – then by living it out myself? Getting on the floor with them and ooh-ing and ah-ing over the Little People Nativity toys? Running out with them and tasting the falling snowflakes? Shovelling popcorn in my mouth by the fistfulls with them?

Funny, that once again, I find the twins minister to me much more than I do them. Who better to show me something new about the coming baby God – Emmanuel – this season?

Mihee is an ordained PCUSA minister and mom to twin babies with #3 on the way in Hoosier country trying to keep up with college students in part-time ministry. Zealous about God and church, parenting, books, writing, snow, running, goldfish crackers (i.e. remnants from the babies’ meals), social justice, and fresh air. She recently had her first book published called Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Theology. She also blogs regularly at First Day Walking.

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