Advent Prep, NaNo Wind-Down, and Thanks(?)giving

This time of year is always a strange balance of looking back (nostalgia), looking forward (anticipation), and looking around, wanting to “live in the now.” Thanksgiving sort of demands that we look back, and around, and express gratitude in—if not necessarily for—all things. (Diana Butler Bass shared some wonderful thoughts about this distinction.)

Advent, which begins a week from today, is an expression of yearning. We look around and see that this world is not yet as it should be… so we wait “with eager longing” for the day when God’s reign will be realized. In the meantime, the holiday season is loaded with family traditions, church traditions, personal traditions—all with their own set of expectations to live up to. It’s practically impossible to detach our memories of “Christmas past” from this day, this year, this season. Even if we wanted to. (For better or worse.) And on top of it all, we (at least I, and maybe you too?) are already looking past the turn of the clock on New Years Eve, toward what 2021 will bring.

Maybe we should stop being surprised that the last months of the year are so exhausting. We’re pulled by the past and the future—and trying to stay “present”—all at once!

Advent prep (and a sneak peek).

Beginning November 29, the first Sunday of Advent—and including Longest Night, Christmas Eve, and Epiphany—I’ll be posting a short reflection and prayer. The theme I cooked up months ago is “Welcome,” which turns out to have been an ironic theme to choose, considering how Covid has turned our usual holiday season of gatherings and parties upside-down. I’ll invite you to reflect on what you’re welcoming—hope, peace, joy, and love—and how.

You can go a step beyond reading along, and create a small sacred space area in your home or workplace. Each week I’ll suggest a small item you could add to your space, something you may have on-hand at home, or you could make a quick-and-easy DIY version. If you’d like to take this pre-Advent week to do a bit of prep, here’s a quick list of what you might want to gather before we begin next week:

  • a candle (or one for each week; I didn’t specifically plan for a traditional Advent wreath but you certainly can use one if you like!)
  • a party invitation
  • a table placecard
  • a recipe card
  • a napkin
  • an unused (ideally burned-out) Christmas tree bulb or lightbulb
  • a gift tag
  • a thank you note

Next week I’ll share a printable version of the framed quote in the photo above. I hope you’ll join me in anticipating welcoming Christ in this season.

NaNo wind-down.

In “present” news, today begins week 4 of National Novel Writing Month. I’m just over 36,000 words and if I stay steady I should be able to “win” without too much stress. Two thousand words a day will get me there, and then some.

This morning I started a new (unexpected and not entirely happy) routine. Does every couple have one person who can get up at a ridiculously early hour, use the bathroom, and go straight back to sleep—and one who can’t? I’m the “can’t” in my household, so for the past several days I’ve been awake during the 4 am hour. Yesterday I struggled to write in the afternoon; I was so tired by then I barely managed 600 words (far short of the 1700 I needed to stay on track). I realized that if my most awake and relatively energetic time of day is at zero-dark-thirty, then maybe I should try to do my writing then.

So this morning I did my 2000 words starting at about 5:15 am. (I’d already been up an hour by then. Let me just say I’m not happy about this situation, but at least I can work with it.) In any case, it was a good writing session; I plan to keep this practice at least through next Monday. Being a holiday week, my family’s schedules are different—kids have short school days, husband will be off work for a few. I’m a much happier writer if everyone else is, you know, not around. So if 5-something in the morning is when I can get Quiet Alone Time, I’ll take it.


The other night at dinner my 12-year-old son started a conversation about Thanksgiving—yes, dear reader, I was shocked too! One of his teachers had initiated the topic during a Zoom class. Specifically: what have you realized you are thankful for because of your experience with Covid/quarantine life this year?

First of all, thank you teachers everywhere for not only doing your actual teaching jobs, but at the same time engaging your students in these kinds of questions—questions that resonate with even preteen boys so much that we end up talking about it around the dinner table!

And with that, we come full circle. Not thankfulness for Covid, or even in spite of it. Not even thankfulness for politics (or in spite of), or for any headline, blog post, tweet—or in spite of them. But in this life, this moment, with all that it brings, what do we learn about ourselves? What has this year taught us about what really matters, about who we really are?

We can answer lightly—we can always list our thanksgivings pretty easily, the holiday version of “Sunday School answers” (old joke: if you don’t know the answer in Sunday School, just say “Jesus” and you’ve got a good chance of getting it right). Around a typical Turkey Day table you can call ’em out: family, friends, food, health. But in a year when many relationships have been broken by ideology, when we can’t gather with our favorite people, when more and more people are hungry, when hospital beds are full—the “Sunday School answers” simply aren’t good enough. We have to do better.

I want to take time to reflect on this year, and to push beyond the pat answers to find true thankfulness in this season—if not for it.

Stay well, friends. Wishing you a week to be thankful for. 🙏🏻

P.S. I almost forgot: this week on yours truly has a series of devotions on Gratitude and Generosity. No Sunday School answers anywhere, I promise!

One thought on “Advent Prep, NaNo Wind-Down, and Thanks(?)giving

  1. RE: “old joke: if you don’t know the answer in Sunday School, just say “Jesus” and you’ve got a good chance of getting it right.” I used to teach 4-5 year old Sunday School and we had a boy who would reliably wave his hand and answer “Jesus” to ANY question. At that time we used to take turns doing the Children’s Sermon. So when it was my turn I had a question for which the correct response was “Jesus” so I called on Mr. Reliable who was once again waving his hand. And what was his reponse? “The devil”! Yes, that got a big laugh out of the congregation as I struggled to find the words to tell him “no, you’re wrong” without destroying his little confidence.
    Thanks for the memory!
    Enjoy your postings


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