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Hello Sisters in Christ! The below is one of my early blog posts, published in 2012. I enjoyed re-reading it and I pray it resonates with you this Advent. – Lisa

ALL GOOD GIVING AND EVERY PERFECT GIFT IS FROM ABOVE, COMING DOWN FROM THE FATHER. – JAMES 1:17

As Christmas approaches, I’m freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it’s a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I’ll get my act together a little earlier. And then there’s the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn’t because we’re waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It’s because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.

Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn’t dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It’s about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer – the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent calendar where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God’s plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.

He continues to fill up a very personal Advent calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it’s lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God’s love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do’s. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He’s sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.

For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Opening Your Heart Connect Coffee Talk “Priority #2: Your Heart – You Are Captivating!”

Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ’s sweet love.

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

Walking with Purpose

Dear friend,

The Elf on the Shelf is stressing me out. For those of you who haven't noticed this little fellow in the stores, here is his happy little story:

“The Elf on the Shelf® is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day's adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning.”

While it is true that “children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning,” the children are not so happy and excited when the elf has failed to move. It's too much pressure, my friend. I can't take the look of utter disappointment on their faces. And all these mothers from school are upping the ante by having their elf do things like fish in the sink, wrap the tree (seriously? I could barely get mine decorated), build towers out of forks, and decorate little baggies of red and green m&ms with the label “elf poo.”

Our seven-year-old, Bobby is still a believer in all things magical. Although our elf is rather inconsistent in terms of “perching in a different place to watch the fun”, Bobby has nevertheless cried every night out of fear that the elf will end up in his room, staring at him when he sleeps. None of us like to be watched when we aren't putting our best foot forward.

In the rush to relocate the elf, deck the halls, plow through crowded shops, wrap, bake, etc., I sometimes forget that Jesus is “watching the fun” as I prepare for His birthday.

Is it fun?

Or has the sparkle of Christmas grown dim because of the quantity of stuff, the steady activities, and the pressure to keep up with the latest electronic or name brand gifts?

Do you ever get to the end of the Christmas season, and find that your strongest emotion is relief that you got through it?

The next time I relocate our little Elf on the Shelf, I'm going to remind myself that Jesus watches the fun of Christmas, and nothing delights Him more than seeing love in action.

Advent is supposed to be about preparing for the coming of Christ, but too often, all we're really preparing for is more stuff to shove in drawers and closets, and hefty credit card bills in January.

I was walking to my car the other day with my arms full of heavy bags. (I had a lot of blessed people to bless with more things this Christmas season.) Feeling a little sorry for myself that my car was parked at the far end of the lot, I started thinking about God's perspective on it all. I was thinking about the fact that He doesn't just see me in the parking lot. His view is higher, and includes a young African girl on the other side of the world. We're both walking, but she's up when it's still dark, afraid as she makes her daily trek to a well to get fresh water. And it occurs to me that maybe my perspective has been a little faulty. And then I do the same self-talk that I've been doing for years, “So be grateful for what you have. It's not all about the finding the perfect gifts. Keep Christ in Christmas.”

Is that as far as God wants me to go?

Did He bring the disparity between my lifestyle and that of so many others to my mind simply to call me to a place of gratitude? Or would He actually like me to do something about it?

My mind travels to His words in Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
 but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

We are to be the “pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing,” 2 Corinthians 2:15. It's more important for me to be the scent of Christ to someone in need than for my house to smell like pine, gingerbread and peppermint. This requires that I go beyond being grateful for what I have, to actually doing something. God didn't say that He required for us to think about the importance of justice. He requires that we do justice. He didn't say that we should love kindness in theory. Our love of kindness needs to be seen in our actions. And God invites us to walk humbly with Him during the Advent season and each day afterwards. He didn't say, “Run around frantically while checking things off your list, while ignoring me.”

I can't solve world hunger. I can't build a well in every village that needs clean water. I can't hold every orphaned child that is longing for a mother's arms. But if all God's children decide to celebrate Jesus' birthday by doing justice and showing kindness in action, we would see change. That scent of Christ would fill the air and people would be drawn to Him. Now that would be a birthday gift fit for a King.

Can we spend less on gifts for loved ones who already have so much, and give to someone truly in need?
Can we forgo a luxury for ourselves in order to be more generous?
Can we practice kindness in unlikely places, like the mall parking lot and the long line in the store?
Can we walk humbly with God by prioritizing time with Him over creating the “perfect Christmas?”

The next time I relocate our little Elf on the Shelf, I'm going to remind myself that Jesus watches the fun of Christmas, and nothing delights Him more than seeing love in action.

May we be the fragrance of Christ as we prepare for His coming.
Blessings to you this Advent season-
Lisa

“All good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.” James 1:17

As Christmas approaches, I'm freshly inspired to create the perfect Advent setting in my home. I picture beautiful arrangements of greenery and berries by my front door, a lovely tree by the roaring fire, homemade cookies, and peace and harmony wafting through the house like a scent of cinnamon, cloves, and orange. I want everything on my Christmas Pinterest board to magically appear in my house. Regardless of my good intentions, my reality never seems to match my ideal. Take for example the Advent calendar that I always forget to fill until mid-December. Why on earth I bought the Advent house that has little tiny openings that hardly any candy actually fits in is beyond me. But now it's a tradition (although an empty one, literally), so each year I bring it out and hope that I'll get my act together a little earlier. And then there's the nativity set with no baby Jesus. This isn't because we're waiting to put him in the manger on December 24th. It's because we lost him, and every time I buy a new nativity set, I manage to lose that baby Jesus, too.

Thankfully, a meaningful Advent season isn't dependent on a perfectly decorated house, consistent traditions, homemade cookies or Christmas cards sent out on time. What is Advent all about? It's about getting ready, spiritually preparing, for the coming of Christ. As we wait to celebrate Christ's birth, we remember the long wait the Israelites had as they anticipated the coming of their Rescuer- the Messiah. During their wait, God stretched out a long Advent Calendar, where, from time to time, they were able to “open” a gift that reminded them they were drawing closer to the realization of His promise. These gifts were prophecies that pointed to Christ, and glimpses of God's plan of redemption. Literally hundreds of Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus.

He continues to fill up a very personal Advent Calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters. Pope Benedict described this in his Apostolic letter, Porta Fidei, dated October 11, 2011. He wrote, “Faith grows when it's lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy.” When we see God's love at work in our lives, our faith grows. Unfortunately, these graces often go unnoticed by us as we dash around, always busy, slaves to our lists of to-do's. Perhaps this Advent season can be different. Look for His unexpected gifts. How is God helping you to experience His love today? Did you listen to a beautiful piece of music? Did you receive an unexpected kindness? Did a piece of Scripture speak to your heart and encourage you? Did your child give you an unexpected hug? What reminder of His love did He send you today? God knows what delights you. It blesses His heart when we recognize what He's sent. I encourage you to make an Advent list, recording what He has given. We can forget and take things for granted so quickly.

He continues to fill up a very personal Advent Calendar for each one of us. Every day. Jesus (who is the giver of all good gifts) sends us reminders of His love that are handpicked for His precious daughters.

For a reminder of how much God adores you and loves to lavish you with the things that delight, take a look at the Connect Coffee Talk from WWP 101, “Priority #3: Your Heart- You Are Captivating!”

Wishing you an Advent season with time to pause and be filled with Christ's sweet love.

Lisa Brenninkmeyer

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