Listening to Rhythms

I am not naturally an early riser. I am disciplined enough to get up with the sound of my alarm when it's necessary, but not without at least one snooze. I relish the rare alarm-free morning, especially if the kids sleep a little later than usual.

When my husband and I went on vacation last week without the kids, one of the things I was looking forward to most was sleep. The ability to go to bed when I wanted and get up when I felt ready, and maybe even take a nap if the moment felt right.

Yet, the entire vacation, I never slept later than 7:00 am. In fact, most days I woke up by 5:30, though I usually didn't roll out of bed until after 6:00.

The first day when this happened, I got up, rather oblivious to what time it was. After all, clocks are optional so far away from work and school and responsibilities. My husband and I both got out of bed, and started making coffee and breakfast before he laughed and told me the time.

Why did we get up so early? Because of this.

good morning sun

Every morning, we awoke to a stunning sunrise, our own private view of Nicaraguan scenery painted in pinks and yellows. As the sun filled our eyes, the sounds of cicadas, birds, and monkeys filled our ears. The earth was waking up, and we arose right along with it. We couldn't avoid it, but neither did we want to. These were some of the most peaceful and lovely mornings I have ever experienced.

One reason this worked was because of when we went to bed. The sun would set by 6:00 pm, while we were eating dinner, and after that, there wasn't a whole lot to do. We would read some by the dim lights of the house, but being off the grid, on solar power, there wasn't a ton of light to come by. We would walk out to the deck to say goodnight to the star-filled sky, and head to bed.

goodnight stars

Usually, the lights were off and our heads were on our pillows by 9:00 pm. Sometimes even earlier. 

So, when the morning sun broke through the haze of our sleep, we were rested, and we were ready to greet it. We paid attention to when the world around us was sleeping and waking, and we followed suit.

It was a lovely and unforced cycle of days.

I think about how often I force my life. When I go to bed isn't based on how tired I am, but how long it takes to get that one last thing done before I sleep. (Or, let's be honest, that one last show watched.) When I wake up isn't based on how rested I feel, but trying to get up a bit before my kids to get a jump start on my day. Those habits aren't necessarily bad: it takes some discipline and sacrifice to achieve goals and get stuff done. But it's the rule, not the exception, that I sleep based on when I can or should, not based on what the rhythm of the earth or my body is telling me. 

We have a pattern of forcing life into calendars and schedules and shoulds. We have lost touch with the natural rhythms of life.

Too often, we live by pushing instead of by listening.

What would it be like to bring some counter-cultural patterns into our days? To sometimes let the sun shine brighter than our calendars and our bodies speak louder than our expectations? How might this help us live by listening more than pushing? How might this make room to hear even more, maybe even the voice of God in our midst?

I want to bring that little piece of vacation back to real life with me. How about you? 

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On Failing at Advent

On Failing at Advent

We have a beautiful set of handmade Jesse tree ornaments at our house. Beginning in Genesis on December 1, each day we can place an ornament on our little tree, read a Bible story with our kids, and talk about the message of God’s love that culminates in Jesus, but has been told since the foundations of the world. It’s a wonderful routine to practice in Advent, for kids and parents alike.

It is December 15, and we have hung six ornaments. We hung four of those ornaments in one day, only reading the Bible stories for two of them. 

The truth is, with kids ages 4 and 8, a routine like this is difficult for us. In the morning, our oldest has to be to the bus stop by 7:15, and our youngest doesn’t get up until after he leaves. Plus, adding something else to the craziness it is trying to get out the door seems insane. In the evening, because of the early rising, we try to get the kids in bed by 7:30. A little dinner, homework, and playtime, and the night disappears in a snap.

In theory, Advent practices sound amazing. In real life, they can be surprisingly difficult to complete.

What do we do when we fail at Advent?

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One small detail of the story of the wise men visiting Jesus caught me off guard when I first noticed it. 

When the magi arrive from the East, the first place they go is Jerusalem. Whatever is happening with the stars is really more like a map than a GPS. The wise men have an idea of where to go, but they don’t know the specifics. They assume since they are being led to a king, they should go to the palace. So they end up in a conversation with Herod about where to find the baby.

Herod doesn’t know. But he wants to find out. So,

When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied. - Matthew 2:4-5

The religious leaders know where to find the Messiah. And yet, when travelers show up looking for him, they don’t follow. Their spiritual practices have become an end instead of a means. The routines that were meant to help them learn about who God was became such a strong focus that they missed God when He actually came.

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There are many wonderful spiritual practices that can become part of our Advent routines. Yet these practices themselves aren’t the goal of this season any more than Christmas trees or songs or shopping or any other tradition.

It’s human nature to judge ourselves based on our ability to successfully complete tasks, especially for someone like me who struggles with being an achiever. But this is not the point of Advent practices.

The point of Advent is to make space in our lives to recognize our longing for Christ. That sense of longing may come during a Bible reading or a candle lighting, but it may also come in times or places when we least expect it. If we get caught up in our sense of failure for not doing Advent right, we may miss the opportunities to connect with the longing of Advent when it does break into our lives.

Christ’s coming is not dependent on my emotions or actions or obedience. As was true thousands of years ago when Christ was birthed in this world is true today when there are opportunities for his presence to be birthed in my life. His grace has always been and will always be a gift, not a reward.

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Our Jesse tree still stands prominently in our living room. We will do what we can to hang the ornaments and tell the story in these last 10 days before Christmas. I don’t know if we will get it done.

But maybe an incomplete Jesse tree tells the story of God’s love just as much as a full one. The empty spaces of an unfinished Jesse tree tell the story of a God who comes not because we do all the right things to earn His presence, but because He is the fullness of love incarnate. It’s all the story of His grace.

Like Christmas day in the story of the Grinch, He comes just the same. Somehow or other, Christ comes just the same. Christ comes without candles, He comes without tags. He comes without ornaments, readings, or bags. 

This Advent, I am longing for a Christ that comes just the same. 

Grace, grace, grace.

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Learning Life Rhythms

There is a certain level of instinct that exists about how to handle ourselves in the water.  

But most of us need more than instinct: we need lessons.

 

We need someone to hold our shoulders, and tilt our heads back, and tell us to point our belly buttons in the air so we can float.

 

Our techniques need to improve beyond our instincts if we want to swim well. We need to learn the rhythm.

 

Stroke… breathe… kick. With time and help, we learn to glide through the water, and do more than just flail ourselves to survival.

 

This is true about more than just swimming, isn’t it?

 

rhythms for lifeWe need to learn the rhythms that help us glide through the waters of life.

 

It takes time and help and patience to learn how to bring the pieces together: our thoughts, our calendars, our faith, our emotions, our friends, our family.

 

Without intention, we end up flailing in the water, hanging on for life, but not gliding, not enjoying, not making it to the other side with air still in our lungs.

 

We find our rhythms by patience and practice. It takes time. We make mistakes. We learn new things.

 

And along the way, we receive the help of others willing to hold our shoulders, and remind us to keep facing up.

 

Five Minute FridayThis post is linking up with Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday. A weekly prompt with strict instructions: write for 5 minutes and post. No over-editing. No do-overs. An practice of freedom. A way to let go of perfectionism. An exercise for some not often used writing muscles. Read more posts or link up over there. Today’s prompt was: RHYTHM. (Full disclosure: I write the post in 5 minutes, but I take a little extra time to create a graphic to go with it. I think that's still okay according to the rules...)