Photo Friday: A Look From Above

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I love flying. I love seeing the earth from above and trying to guess what is below based on little clues like bodies of water, the color of the vegetation, and major roads. It is a change in perspective that makes me think about how big our world is and how many people are out there trying to make a life out of what they have been given. Last weekend I got to fly home to Minnesota for Thanksgiving break and I took this picture of Minnesota as I was flying back. I think that the view from the plane looks even cooler with the snow. I had a wonderful trip home and it is crazy to think that I’ll be back there in just two weeks for Christmas break. So, this photo was a goodbye to Minnesota, but it won’t be long before I see this place again!

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The First Week of Advent

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It’s hard to believe that Advent is here already, but this past Sunday was the first Sunday of this season of preparation. Even the weather has been tricking me into thinking that it isn’t that late in the year. Up until last week, it has been sunny and 60 degrees in New Jersey and that makes it hard to believe that it is almost the holiday season.

Advent, the season of preparing for Christ’s birth, is a season that is overlooked by most of our world. We are so excited to celebrate Christmas (whether religiously or secularly) that we skip straight to the holiday. Even in November, stores are decorating their windows, people are putting up Christmas trees, and Christmas music is playing on the radio. Don’t get me wrong, I love all these things, and the last thing I want to do is to be a scrooge about Christmas. The desire to celebrate the holiday that marks Christ’s birth is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a great thing. The problem is that in our excitement about Christmas, we skip over Advent and the period of waiting where we prepare for the Christ Child to enter this world.

The Catholic Church sees Advent as an important season of preparation and waiting: “The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries.When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 522a,524a). This season not only prepares us to celebrate the feast of Christ’s historical birth, but also his presence in our world today and his second coming in the future. It is a season that prepares us for Him in the past, present, and future.

Prior to Christ’s birth, the world waited thousands of years for His coming. After his birth, the world has waited thousands of years for Him to come again. We only have to wait four weeks to celebrate his coming, and yet we still want to skip straight to His birth. I am challenging myself this year to enter into the season of Advent as an important time of preparation and waiting. I don’t like waiting, but the Lord builds it into our lives for a reason. Waiting stretches us and prepares us for the good things that are coming

Advent started this past Sunday. As it begins, I want to share some ways to enter into the season. Some of these I have done myself and some I have seen others do.

Scripture

Advent is a perfect season to dive into scripture. There are so many parts of scripture that talk about waiting, especially about waiting for Christ. There are a lot of good books and resources out there to guide you through reading scripture. This year, I am doing a bible study through an app and website called She Reads Truth. They have done several Advent scripture studies (which are available on their app or website) and this year’s study (called Advent: Born Is The King) is specifically about how people in the Old Testament waited for Christ. I highly recommend any of their studies and Advent is the perfect season to commit to reading more scripture. Also, their is a very similar site, called He Reads Truth, with the same Advent study.

Another way to read scripture is to read the Catholic Church’s daily readings. You can find this readings on the USCCB website. I like to read the daily readings with a reflection, and I love the blog Blessed is She. I also used the book In Conversation with God last Advent and it has wonderful and thought-provoking reflections.

From shereadstruth.org.

From shereadstruth.org.

Prayer

Advent is a great season for extra prayer. Not only should we prepare our homes and lives for the Lord, we also need to prepare our hearts for his coming. One great resource for this is the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours is a set of prayers that are said each morning, day, evening, and night by Priests and Religious all over the world. These prayers include psalms and readings for each day and time of day. You can buy a book with all the prayers, or you can use this site to read them. If you’d like to read more about these prayers, here is a more in-depth explanation.

Another good book for prayer is Jesus Calling. It is a book with daily reflections for the whole year, but it would be a perfect resource for prayer during the Advent season too. In fact, you can download the reflections for all the days of advent from the publisher’s website here. You have to submit your email address, but once you do that, you will be sent a link where you can download the Advent days of Jesus Calling.

Decoration

I love Christmas decorating. It is one of my favorite times of the year when the boxes come out of the basement and the house becomes festive with lights, greenery, and ornaments. But, sometimes we decorate for Christmas before we event think about Advent. Try decorating for Advent this year, before you get carried away for Christmas. Use the colors purple, navy blue, and rose to remind yourself that you are still in a time of waiting. Advent wreaths are also great reminders of the season of waiting. In fact, they are the perfect decoration for waiting because you have to slowly light the candles, one each week, until all four candles are lit. Advent wreaths are easy to make, all you need is four candles. You can add branches, a wreath or other decorations, but don’t worry about making it fancy. Another Advent-specific decoration is the Jesse Tree. I’ve never made one of these myself, but I think they are a great way to reflect on biblical history while waiting for our Savior. Each day, you add one ornament that is a symbol of a story or event in the Old Testament. All of these stories relate to the coming of Christ and remind us that the world waited for Christ just as we are waiting to celebrate Christmas.

So, in this first week of Advent take a moment to reflect. Are you celebrating Christmas or Advent now? How can you embrace this season of waiting and preparation? How can you prepare your heart for the coming of our savior?

God Bless!

A Weekend Away

As I was starting today’s blog post, I saw that I had an unpublished draft saved. I thought I had posted this in September, but apparently not. So, in the spirit of “it’s better late than never,” here it is:

September 22

As I turned on to the road marked Dead End and my phone, propped up as a GPS, flashed “No Service,” I rolled down the windows and took a deep breath of the fresh brisk air. The landscape, other than the steeply rolling hills, reminded me of the woods of Minnesota, with tall hardwood trees and glimpses of a river on one side of the road. I, and a car packed with camping gear, another missionary, two students, and enough groceries for twenty people, pulled into the driveway of a tiny cabin. We had made it to our destination. As we piled out of the car after three hours of being on the road, we admired the adorable cabin and beautiful river across the road. It was refreshing to be out of the city and away from civilization, even if it was for less than 48 hours.

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Last weekend we took about 20 women to go camping on the Delaware River in New York. It was a great weekend of getting off campus, getting to know some of the freshmen students, hanging out with some of the older students, and taking a break. It is amazing how much more you can connect with other people when the distractions of homework, cell phones (we had no cell service), work, and computers are gone. Together, we played Yahtzee, sat by the river, made dinner over a fire, went hiking, and spent undistracted time together.

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I really appreciated this opportunity to build relationships with students. It was weird to start the year as a missionary and not know any of the students. I have been a part of the SPO chapter at the University of Minnesota for the past six years, so it is weird to work for SPO but not know any of the students very well. This weekend was very helpful to get to know the students better. I left feeling more rested and more connected to the community. I’d say that was a successful weekend!

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