Advent, Week 4: Gift Giving

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On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  Matthew 2: 11

The Christmas story brims with generosity. There is the long-desired child that comes to Elizabeth and Zachariah. John the Baptist prepares the hearts and minds of a people waiting and longing for the Messiah. The gracious hospitality of Elizabeth to Mary—the  young, pregnant, and most likely frightened teenage girl—who stays at Elizabeth’s home for three months is another example. And then we have the Magi, offering lavish gifts that many scholars believe helped support the family financially, especially on their trip to Egypt.

Over the years, I have listened to my parents recount the story of the Christmas they spent in Israel. They were young, newly married, poor graduate students. After attending a Christmas Eve service at Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem, they were invited to spend the night with a woman who had connections at the school where my dad was a student. My mom always told with great affection the lovely, yet simple, meal the woman served, the heated water bottle she placed in my parent’s bed before bedtime, and the single rose gracing their bedside. As a young child, I did not appreciate or understand how this memory could evoke such strong emotions in my parents. I was far too worried about the lack of presents. How could anyone be happy with NO gifts?  

Little did I realize what a gift my parents received.

Now when I hear that story I have a completely different response. Yes, receiving an actual gift is wonderful. But presents aren’t the only type of gifts.  In this case, my parents received the gift of hospitality. The fond memory of that experience has stayed with them through the years.

As we head into the final week of Advent, let us consider some other ways we can give a gift. Perhaps you can offer the gift of time to a lonely friend or an act of service to a neighbor. Maybe you can bake some homemade goodies to share with coworkers. Or maybe you can even host someone in your home whom you may not know very well, like the woman did for my parents.  Who knows the impact your gift of time, service, or hospitality may have.

Blessings to you and yours this Advent season.

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Everywhere God Launches

Reader, the book is available for purchase!

In some ways, I can’t believe I made it to this point. I think every author has a moment, or two, or three, where she wants to quit. The task of writing a book seems too daunting, too difficult. I certainly hit that moment several times along the way.  

Thank you, friends and family, who encouraged me and believed I could do this. I am grateful beyond words.

I look forward to sharing the book and connecting with readers in the coming months. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead.

And, if you’re still looking for a few Christmas presents, I have the perfect suggestion!

With gratitude,

Alicia

 

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Advent: Savoring the Season, Week 2

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As we head into week two of Advent, I wanted to share some ideas and suggestions for ways to observe this meaningful season. Some of my ideas are geared towards families. Other ideas are more individual in nature.  I’m no expert on this topic and I don’t want to suggest there is a “right” way to celebrate Advent. But if you’re like me, you enjoy hearing ideas from others and you will pick and choose the ones that suit you best.

Whether you have children in the home or not, an Advent Wreath is a lovely starting point. Your wreath can be as elaborate or as simple as you like. Check out Pinterest if you’re looking for inspiration. For a number of years, each Sunday evening our family would gather to light one of the candles and read the appropriate Scripture passage. Once our children learned to read, we shared the reading duties.Throughout the week, while eating dinner, we would relight the candle(s) for that week. I particularly enjoyed this aspect—lighting the candle(s) each night—because it made Advent feel more like an “everyday” observance rather than a once-a-week affair.

Another family-friendly Advent tradition is an Advent calendar. I’m not referring to the kind that gives a gift each day, but the one that opens to a picture or a verse related to the story of Christ’s birth. Jacob and Anna loved taking turns opening each day’s frame. I found the Advent calendar a fun way to foster anticipation—a central theme of Advent. What does today’s picture reveal in the Christmas narrative?

A more recent tradition that has been meaningful to me personally is to light  a candle each morning while reading my Bible and drinking my coffee. This simple act of bringing light into darkness, as well as some good smells, reminds me of Christ’s presence as I begin another day.

Several of my friends celebrate St. Nicholas Day with their families. Allowing a child to open a small gift on December 6, the actual feast day for this saint, eases some of the tension of waiting all the way until Christmas Day. While this day is not connected to Advent per say, it provides an opportunity to talk and to think about gift giving and showing compassion to others. Perhaps this could be a day where you bake a special food gift and give it friends or neighbors. I know, not much lead time on this idea as tomorrow is St. Nick Day.

Lastly, this is a season for reading aloud, whether it be Scripture, poetry, or a classic piece of literature such as The Christmas Carol. Some of my favorite read alouds contain some lovely Christmas scenes. Reread the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when Father Christmas visits Narnia or find all of the vignettes about Christmas in The Little House on the Prairie books.  For a number of years, as our family drove to the Midwest for the holidays, we read aloud The Best (Worst) Christmas Pageant Ever. This heartwarming story guaranteed good laughs along with poignant moments that helped the long hours to pass more quickly.

What about you? Do you have any special Advent traditions? I would love to hear them!

May Christ’s peace and hope be yours this week.

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Advent: A Reality Check for Real People, Week 1

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Outside, the falling rain hits the roof in varying degrees of intensity as the wind whips the bare trees. The golden leaves of a few weeks ago no longer remain. Today’s weather feels like quintessential late fall. Winter is just around the corner.

I don’t know about your November, but mine has been a whirlwind. Earlier this month, I wrapped up another coaching season, which included travel to upstate New York for the State cross country meet several weekends ago. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Brad, Anna, and I left for several days of college visits before continuing onto Nashville to celebrate Thanksgiving with extended family. Arriving home this past Sunday after a day and a half of travel, I felt less than prepared to usher in Advent–a season I look forward to each year. Mentally, my mind was ticking off “to do” lists even as my heart told me to slow down, relax, take a deep breath.

Where do you find yourself this Advent season?

Already my calendar is filling with commitments and plans. I don’t want the next four weeks to be a blur. I want time to pause, to reflect, to think, to pray, to properly prepare for Christmas.

Is that even possible?

Reading through some of my previous posts about Advent, I came across one I wrote several years ago. I’ve tweaked it a bit to include here. The Scripture passage is one of my favorite Old Testament passages to read during Advent.

If you at all think Advent is warm-fuzzies and good cheer, think again. I have been struck this year by the misery, the yearning, the suffering that God entered into when he sent his Son to earth as a baby. His people weren’t a perfect lot and still aren’t! But God entered that messiness because of his love for me—for the world. I can type those words more easily than I can fathom them. As I read Scripture, I come face-to-face with my own brokenness and disappointments.

 In Isaiah 40, I find a mixture of comfort, prophecy, as well as a reality check. Verse 1 begins by Isaiah telling the people of Israel, “Comfort, Comfort my people says your God,” which is a reminder that God does care about the well-being of his people. Dare I say it? No matter who is President of the United States.  

In verse 3, there is a prophetic reference to John the Baptist and eventually the Messiah—“a voice of one calling: In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.” What does it look like to “prepare the way for the Lord” in my everyday life? This is one part of the verse I want to think and reflect on over the next several weeks.  

And then in verses 6-8 a reminder of how limited humankind really is, “all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall.” Just this morning, while listening to NPR, I heard of a freak accident that killed a local man who was cutting down a tree in a park as part of his job. I don’t know if he was married or had children, but how awful for that man’s family. That morning he left for work like he always did.

The passage ends with a beautiful image of God acting like our shepherd as he “tends his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” Each of us enters this Advent season with joys and burdens. This passage reflects the mixed nature that is so often a reality of life. There will be times of peace, times of pain, times of joy, and times of suffering. Yet God has made clear, through the Incarnation, that he has chosen “to dwell among us.” 

With hope and anticipation this Advent season…

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Here it is!

everywhere-god-cover-1 A first look at the cover of Everywhere God.

You can pre-order the book here.

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On Writing and Fall

The daylight hours grow shorter and the temperatures turn cooler, announcing fall’s arrival. Every year I ask myself, where did September go? This year is no exception.

It’s been awhile since I have written about THE BOOK so I thought I would include a brief update and share some exciting news.  After spending the summer revising and cleaning up the various chapters, I sent the book back to my editor at the end of July. Earlier in the summer, we spent a productive Google hangout brainstorming ways to promote and market the book. In August,  I received a sneak peek at the book cover. Very exciting. Suffice it to say, orange plays prominently in the design.

In the meantime, I have received some lovely endorsements from authors I respect and admire. As I read their words, I am humbled and grateful. Others have agreed to give Everywhere God a shout out on their blogs and newsletters. Again, very grateful for these individuals. Finally, on November 1—All Saints Day—a day to celebrate all those who serve God in their everyday lives, the big reveal will happen. Whether it’s Twitter (@ReadingAlicia), Facebook (AlwaysOrange), Instagram (aliciabrummeler), Pinterest (abrummeler), or even back here—you’ll see the cover of Everywhere God: Exploring the Ordinary Places and hear the latest news about pre ordering a copy of the book.

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Full. That’s the best word to describe life at the moment. Fall is always a busy season for me. I coach girls cross country in addition to teaching my classes. This year I added the role of dorm mom to the mix. Dorm life is obviously a key part of working at a boarding school and for the past five years I haven’t been a part of it. But this year I jumped in. Since I hang out with Middle Schoolers during the day, getting to know some upperclassmen is a nice perk of the job. I admire these young women. They juggle a variety of responsibilities. The bonds they form with their roommates and wingmates go deep. So that’s where Sunday nights find me, hanging out with these ladies and making sure they study and are ready for the week. Going to bed late certainly stretches me, especially since Mondays are some of my busiest days, but God’s strength has been real and present.

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Applications. That would be college applications, round 2. Anna is right in the middle of it. She has visited several schools so far and there are more on the list to see. As a parent, the differences between my two children is very evident at the moment. For Jacob, the college application process was a more private affair. I know he consulted his dad for some feedback on his college essay, but that was about it.  Anna, on the other hand, wants to process this journey out loud. Last weekend we drove to the beach and I listened to her talk through the various schools she wants to apply to. We also talked about which college-essay prompt best suits her. When I am tired and don’t feel like I have much left to give, I remind myself that soon she will be out of the house and I will miss these sorts of conversations immensely.

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Literature. My fiction reading has been lacking as of late. I started one book and ditched it after almost 300 pages. It was a long one. I’m reluctant to name it, but I wearied of too many subplots. The storyline also started to feel unwieldy. I picked up some nonfiction  and ditched that one too. Two books in a row! And an English teacher to boot! I did read a good article written by Alan Jacobs that appeared in Harper’s Weekly titled “The Watchmen,” which was about the role of the Christian intellect. The article gave a historical perspective and definition of an intellect and pondered who, if anyone, is filling this role today. I read this piece in conjunction with a faculty book group. The result was thoughtful, stimulating conversation. I’m looking forward to reading and discussing a variety of books with this group this year, even if I will feel a bit out of my league at times. At hearing some good press, I picked up Zadie Smith’s book On Beauty and look forward to starting it.

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Lovely. The season of fall is one of my favorites. I love watching the colors change. I love the heartier fare that moves into our kitchens. I love the scents associated with this season. I love putting away the lighter colors of summer for the deeper, richer ones of fall. I bought a pair of plum ankle boots at the end of the season last year and have found them to be the perfect addition to my fall wardrobe. They are surprisingly comfortable to wear while teaching and look good with both pants and skirts. Even better, they cost less than $10.

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For those of you really into fall, did you notice that I spelled the word? Too cheesy? Too cliche? Perhaps. Whether you find yourself relishing this season or wishing summer lasted a bit longer, may the God of all seasons—our hope, our anchor, our future—fill you with his grace and peace.

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A Review: Scattering Ashes

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Over the summer my mom became a published author. She also turned 73 in August. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that my mom, my dad, and me all have books coming out this year. A lovely turn of events to be sure!

Scattering Ashes: A Sister’s Journey with her Gay Brother is a story of love, sorrow, and growth. For my mom, the writing of this book was not an easy journey. From recalling childhood memories tucked away in the deep recesses of her mind to reliving my uncle’s final days as his body–ravaged by the effects of the AIDS virus–slowly succumbed to death, the retelling of these experiences took an emotional toll. But how grateful we, the readers, are for her perseverance.

My uncle Ron was the fourth child of Ray and Doris Smith. Some might call him a “dessert baby.” My mom was the middle sister and the two of them shared a special sibling bond. In the opening pages of the book, my mom writes of the Christmas Eve when the young-adult Ron finally told her he was gay. Unbeknownst to me, a young child at the time who was dreaming of Christmas morning surprises, my mom was the only family member he told for a number of years.

My mom had no idea how to respond. There were no good books on the topic for Christians with gay family members. Neither the culture nor the Church was talking about the topic in the 70s. The reader joins in my mom’s journey as she wrestles with trying to say just the right words to her brother. Early on, she put immense pressure on herself out of a desire to “fix” the situation. Wise counsel from a priest eventually frees her from this weighty burden and she begins to see that loving her brother and walking alongside him is the better path.

My uncle’s story isn’t always easy to read. Alcoholism and drug abuse plagued him throughout his life. Fears of all sorts were a constant companion. Toward the end of his life, paranoia settled in too. In many respects, his life is a story of sadness and pain.

My early memories of him were happy ones. He had a smoker’s laugh and as a young child I liked the way it sounded. He smelled of tobacco. One time, I rode in his car with my cousin Kris, and he wanted us to sing because his radio didn’t work. I can’t remember why we were in his car or where we were headed, but I remember singing all sorts of songs to pass the time.

For Christians, I think the main reason this book needs to be read is that the Church hasn’t always provided the tools or resources we need to grapple with this difficult topic. We have loved ones who are gay and suddenly we have all sorts of questions that we don’t know how to answer. Readers will appreciate the honesty with which my mom shares her mistakes. She didn’t always handle situations perfectly. But she loved her brother and she sought to have a relationship with him. Perhaps this is the key lesson for all of us, regardless of whether we have a gay loved one or not. How often do critical thoughts or judgmental attitudes trickle into our assumptions about others? What does it mean to love the other even when we disagree with her choices?

This may be a hard book for some to read. Some may think my mom homophobic for even suggesting that my uncle should have changed his lifestyle. Others will think she should have tried harder to convince him otherwise. Yet others, shaped by their own personal experiences, will find themselves a bit raw, feeling like the book opens old wounds. To all of this I say, give the book a read. Whether you agree or disagree or find yourself somewhere in the middle, this book serves as a launching point for personal reflection as well as group dialogue.

Of course, I am immensely proud of my mom. She never sought to write a book about her experiences. But over the years and numerous conversations later, she realized she had a story to share that would benefit others. Her readers will be grateful.

 

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