Angie Southard, a Practical Disciple reader, created 5 intentions for the season of Advent and shared those in a post called Christmas Manifesto Revisted. Those intentions really helped her have a better holiday season and in the process she modeled some great disciplines for her family. In today’s post she shares with you her experience. As you read through the post, note how her simple concrete disciplines reached out and touched people around her.
Also, note that Angie set herself up to succeed by:
1) Having clear simple goals.
2) Physical triggers, i.e. Her prayer jar sat out as a reminder each day and she printed her gratitude blog, so that she could see and review it. These served as great silent teachers and conversation points with her family.
3) Accountability. She let some people know what she set out to do. Knowing that other people know what you are trying to do can really motivate you to stick to a discipline.
4) She evaluated when she was done.Half of the learning of any discipline comes in looking back and evaluating. I am so grateful that Angie shared her very honest evaluation with us.
A big congratulations and thanks to Angie!
Guest Post by Angie Southard
This year for Advent, I tried something new for myself. I created a Christmas Manifesto inspired by a blog post from a dear friend of mine. Here is a link to the disciplines I was going to try and follow during Advent: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=462884377250
Essentially, I wanted to do something meaningful for Advent, something that would help me keep my focus on the main thing. 🙂 Here are the five things I set out to do:
1. I will write a daily gratitude blog.
2. I will pray each day for a specific person.
3. I will make gifts.
4. I will be positive and cheerful with others wherever I go.
5. I will teach my children about the meaning of Advent and Christmas.
1. I will write a daily gratitude blog. I am happy to report that I was able to write a gratitude blog for each and every day of Advent. Now some nights, I wasn’t posting my blog until the wee hours of the morning. But in my mind, if I haven’t gone to bed for the day yet, it still counts as the day. 🙂 I used to write daily gratitude blogs for a couple of years and then life changed, got crazy, and well, I just stopped making the time to write them. I missed writing them. For me, writing a gratitude blog helps me keep my perspective during the day, give thanks to God on a regular basis, and it helps me to pay attention to the finer details of life. I hope to be able to continue writing my gratitude blogs.
2. I will pray each day for a specific person. I am also happy to report that I did indeed pray for a specific individual or group every single day. In the beginning, I found myself really looking forward to seeing who’s name I’d pull from the jar. Sometimes I’d say a simple prayer before I would draw a name asking God to help me select the name of the person needing the prayers most at that time. For some people, I felt compelled to share with them that I was praying for them for that day. I like to think it made that person feel loved by me. It was a bit disjointed for me to switch the focus each day though. I did a similar activity this summer where I spent 30 days praying for one focused topic. It was a great experience for me. I was hoping this “different person a day” approach would be similar and I was disappointed it was not similar. But it was still a good thing. Praying on a daily basis is never a bad thing.
After I created my list of names and placed them in the jar, I was disappointed to discover I failed to include someone special to me. And then I had to mentally kick myself b/c I don’t need to select a name out of a jar in order to pray for a person. A couple of interesting notes: my children were thrilled to discover I had prayed for them individually. There was great conversation between the older two and excitement regarding my prayer jar. It showed me though that I don’t share with them enough that I pray for them b/c I pray for them all of the time. Even my husband was excited when I selected his name. And then I selected “elders” the next day and he was excited I had prayed for him two days in a row. I think he looked forward each day to seeing whom I had selected for the day. One other interesting fact, my first name drawn was for our pastor. So my first day of prayer was for our church in a sense. I thought that was a fitting start! I chose Christmas day to be my last day in this exercise. I don’t think it is technically a day of Advent, but nonetheless, I chose it to be my final day. On my last day, on Christmas, the name that was left in my jar was “church”. I thought it was appropriate that on Christmas day, my prayers were to be for my church. A full circle! I was worried that I’d forget to pray for the last “individual” b/c it was Christmas and I’d be distracted. “Church” being my final name kept me from forgetting b/c it was all around me all day!
3. I will make gifts. I did indeed make gifts for friends and family. I made ornaments, Christmas decorations – most with a focus on the reason for the season, I made pretzel snacks, and cookies. I really didn’t have the time to work on these things until that final week leading up to Christmas. Normally, I feel super stressed trying to get it all done. But I didn’t this year. I actually felt joyful and peaceful towards all of it. I had a couple of nights in a row of staying up to 5 AM & 3 AM respectively. I should have been a zombie, I should have been stressed out. But I wasn’t. I felt quite calm. The night before Christmas Eve, I went to bed without having a “big” item crafted for each family like I wanted. I did have something small made for everyone but it wasn’t what I had wanted to do overall. I went to bed that “night” at 5 AM with the feeling that what I had done was enough and it was okay (that’s probably the biggest thing there – it was okay if I didn’t make something “big” for each family). And then I woke up at 9:30 AM with this feeling that I could indeed do it. And with the help of my husband, I was able to craft like I wanted. I got it all finished like I wanted. But the great thing is that it was without stress or any major problems. Normally something big usually goes wrong whenever I am crafting on this scale. And it did not. I’m grateful to God for helping me remain peaceful, focused on the reason why I was crafting, and to help me get it all finished like I wanted. I didn’t have the thoughts “Can I do it? Will it get done?” My thoughts were more along the lines of, “What I get done will be enough.” I let a lot of pressure that I place on myself, go and tried to just let God guide me in what I was to do.
4. I will be positive and cheerful with others wherever I go. This one was probably my most difficult one. You’d think it would be my easy one. But holiday shoppers and drivers set me over the edge at this time of year. I had to mentally check myself often when I encountered rude customers or selfish drivers. I would remind myself of #4 and a couple of times I wished I hadn’t selected this b/c I felt God was testing me. 🙂 During my life, I have been able to let go of stress that occurs when driving in traffic. When traffic is trying to slow me down when I want to go much faster, I just tell myself that God needs me to slow down at this moment. And that usually calms me. I have not been able to something similar for this time of year regarding negative people/rude drivers. I still need to work on this category. It is the one I had to remind myself of the most. It did help though. I did notice more positive interactions between me and others that might have been overshadowed by negative people. And for each cashier I encountered, I tried to smile, look that person in the eye, and leave giving him/her a happy comment for Christmas. I didn’t come home after each shopping adventure a ball of stress. So that was a good thing. But I don’t feel l showered others with Christmas cheer. So I need some refining on this one.
5. I will teach my children about the meaning of Advent and Christmas. This was the one that I worried the most about b/c I didn’t know exactly how to go about doing this. I found that many things just happened that made this easier. I had a printed version of my blog out in my bathroom for me to read everyday. I found that my son had read it (which is a good thing). But it made me realize that I hadn’t shared what I was doing with my children. I did with my husband, with some friends but not my children. I really could have used this activity as a springboard for talking with them. But the prayer jar opened up a lot of conversation with them. So that was a good thing. I tried utilizing information given at church regarding Advent to have conversations with the kids at dinnertime. Every night we discussed Advent when we lit the candles. I noticed there was much less talk about Santa and that makes me happy. I noticed my kids talking about Jesus’ birthday and being excited about it. I noticed they were paying attention more in Sunday School and/or church. One day my daughter was looking through a calendar and was excited to see that Jesus’ birthday was on it! I wish you could have heard her excitement when she said, “Yes, Jesus’ birthday is on here!” She was excited b/c it was Jesus’ birthday not b/c it was the day Santa comes to bring her gifts!!!!! There was some sort of shift this year for the family. I’m not sure if it was just my perspective or what. But it was there and it was good.
Overall, this was an excellent experience for me. I felt joyful, at peace, and calm. I felt more centered overall and I really didn’t experience stress. The lack of stress (or at least the tense, hurried feelings I normally have) is one of the greatest things I experienced during this activity. I found myself not getting worked up about the little stuff that might normally get me going. I need to figure out how to sustain that feeling, the feeling of being able to let things go and just feel peaceful.
Would I do this again? Definitely. I’m not sure what my disciplines will be next time, but I know that this activity helped me remain focused this season. I feel like I learned much on one hand but on the other realizing there is much more for me to learn – that I really am just getting glimmers of what I can really learn. I’m certainly grateful for my family and friends who encouraged me during this, those who supported me, and for those who simply just read my blogs. I pray that God is using this as a tool to help me & my family grow in faith and for me to possibly help others grow in faith.