Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reflection and Waiting

What a beautiful Christmas season we had! I realized, as we entered into the Advent season and I was making my list of things I hoped to do with my family and friends and for myself, just how much I missed last year while Tom was here in Colorado and the kids and I were still finishing up our time in Louisville. This left me feeling immensely grateful for the extra measure of grace the Lord provided us last year as well as the amazing people we had around us  - in Colorado and in Kentucky. 

Last year we didn't put up any Christmas decorations in our apartment in Lou; instead we were busy sorting and purging and packing and saying our hasty goodbyes. We drove for two days before Christmas and arrived late Christmas Eve, just in time to enjoy a nice fire in our new apartment, have the kids "open" (**ahem** pull out of the Wal-Mart bags...) their new pajamas and throw blankets on the floor in one of their bedrooms to sleep on. Tom and I spent Christmas day unloading the truck. Many of the traditions we had come to cherish were simply by-passed and put off, with good reason, of course.

This year I was able to settle into the Advent season and reflect. I thoroughly enjoyed decorating our apartment, perusing our Christmas music to put together my own playlist, and reinstate some of the traditions we had to bypass last year. As a family we decided to celebrate Advent together with a fast of sorts and a family devotional. I bought candy canes and made hot chocolate from scratch so we could decorate the tree together. We read a different Christmas book [nearly] every night, cut snowflakes out of paper, made a count-down chain, and watched our favorite Christmas movies. 

Having grown up observing Advent with my church for the 4 Sundays before Christmas, culminating in a solemn, intimate, candlelight Christmas Eve service, I did not always stop to think about what it all meant. This year it was like something clicked for me that hadn't before: Advent is a celebration of the waiting. My dear friend and pastor, Laurie Thornton, gave a beautiful teaching on waiting and a God who waits just before Advent started, which really got me thinking. There is truly something magical about this season and about the fulfillment of the promise God had given to His people so many generations before Jesus actually came as a baby in Bethlehem. 

Now, if you know me even a little, you may not find it hard to agree that I am not typically a very patient person. For example, I finally made cake (from a box) the right way - meaning, I used the hand mixer for the full 2 minutes, not just until everything looked sufficiently combined - and realized there is actually a reason they instruct you to do it that way! The cake came out so spongy and moist... Yes! It was in that moment that I realized why I'm just not that into baking - so many dishes and ingredients for one recipe and so many time-consuming steps... 

Anyway, I digress. As I was reflecting this Advent season and thinking about how patient my Lord is with me and how very long those people who were alive when Jesus was born had been waiting for the coming of a Savior, I couldn't help but praise my King with gladness. He really came! He really rescued! He really sought and pursued and sacrificed! All of this He did for me. And for you. How can my response be anything but worship?

I must confess: I could often be found getting emotional and tearing up, especially for the first couple of weeks of Advent. Certain songs or Scriptures or greetings or gatherings simply made my heart swell until I felt it would burst. 

When I read of the promise foretold in Isaiah 9, my heart races with excitement and anticipation.
Darkness and despair will not go on forever... The people who walk in darkness will see a great light... For You will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders... For a child is born to us! A son is given to us!.. And He will be called: Wonderful! Counselor! Mighty God! Everlasting Father! Prince of Peace! His government and its peace will NEVER end!.. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven's Armies will make this happen! 
I mean, WOW! That is a promise from Almighty God and He has fulfilled it and is fulfilling it! Yes and amen!

And the lyrics! Oh, the songs of Christmas are always so special to me and some of my favorite to sing, and this year I found so many of the words of my favorites - from long ago and from recently - touching the deep parts of my soul that aren't often exposed to sense. The lyrics to this verse of O Holy Night especially got to my heart this year:
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother
and in His name all oppression shall cease!
This brought tears to my eyes every time, especially with all that is happening in this country right now as well as in Myanmar, where the organization I work for supports children in dire situations, not to mention every other nation in the world. Jesus is breaking chains and abolishing oppression!! He has promised!

I may not have succeeded in checking off every activity on my list and we may not have succeeded in reading the book and devotion every night of Advent, but I'm not bothered by any of that. The things that mattered the most to me were time with my family, peace in our home, seeing the beauty and joy around me, and celebrating the waiting and the promise fulfilled. We enjoyed a wonderful candlelight Christmas Eve service downtown Wednesday night - exactly one year after we arrived as a family to our new home in Colorado Springs - and a fine, peaceful, relaxing Christmas day as a family and with new friends. My heart is full. I enjoyed many a silent night, pondering and reflecting in the warm glow of the twinkle lights decorating my living room. As I reflected, I rejoiced.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lingering Christmas Album Giveaway!

This Christmas season we are celebrating Advent as a family in a way we never have before. The Advent season is a time for expectant waiting and celebration in anticipation of the coming of our Lord Jesus. This is the first time I've really engaged my heart in the concept of waiting and anticipating. I find myself expecting miracles and rejoicing in the promises of God in a new way. I find myself resting and feeling and pondering and reflecting.

In fact, that is my word for this season: Reflection.

And this word has especially impacted my listening preference this Christmas season. My playlist is full of emotional, nostalgic, reminiscent carols and works that often bring tears to my eyes and sighs to my lips. I love allowing my heart to feel and to feel deeply.

So when my friend, Karla Adolphe, started talking about making a Christmas EP a few months ago, my heart skipped and twirled at the notion of what could be. And, dear friends, she did not disappoint!

Talk about waiting with great anticipation! As she started planning and producing, Karla shared on her blog about the process and kept her friends and fans updated on social media with teasers and tidbits that kept me on the edge of my seat. I was especially intrigued when she released the name of the album: Lingering. This so perfectly accompanies my posturing of reflection this season and I could not wait to get this in my ears and let my heart linger in the haunting beauty of Karla's voice and heart.

Karla released this 5 song EP on Monday, December 1, available to download for only $6! I passionately implore you to go download it right now and get it in your ears.

All 5 songs on Lingering are downright magical! Four of them are some of my all-time-favorite classic carols and one is an original work that I adore. Truly, this woman is an artist! I am inspired and mesmerized by how she has taken liberties and added her own flare to the songs I love so much without losing the integrity of the melodies or the nostalgia of the music. Her original song, "All Your Glory," is raw and deep and stirs emotions in me I didn't know I wanted to feel. The way she uses words to express the deepest things in my own heart gets me every time. I am blown away by her talent again again and with this album she has raised the bar once more by playing every musical track you hear! That's right, she is the only instrumentalist on the album. I love the way she pushes herself and works to hone her craft. Her humility and genuine excitement are just beautiful reminders of what an amazing person and treasure she is.

I have the privilege of offering a giveaway of this album here on my blog. In fact, I am giving away 2 free downloads! Here's how you can enter to win one of the downloads for yourself:

You will receive one entry for each of the following actions; you can enter up to 2 times on my blog and once a day on Twitter or Facebook. The winners will be drawn by random selection and announced on Wednesday, December 10, at 3:00 pm, MST.

  1. Comment on this blog post. I'd love to hear your thoughts, your favorite Christmas carols, what word you have for yourself this Christmas season, or a favorite Christmas memory!
  2. Share this blog post on Facebook or Twitter. Please be sure to use the hashtags #mackushlingeringgiveaway and #lingering in your post so I can keep track of your entries.