Called to Care…Living Generously This Advent

This year Advent looks and feels different due to COVID-19. I found my usual hectic calendar surprisingly blank and my heart a bit empty. I prayed about something special I could do to fill the void and bring some joy. I knew I wanted to focus on individuals in my church congregation who live alone and are probably feeling isolated, lonelier and more home bound than usual. But I wasn’t exactly sure what God was calling me to do until I heard that the leaders of my women’s bible study were planning a service project that involved creating and delivering care packages to the 35 shut-ins in our congregation. Then I got the idea to write a Thrivent Grant so we could make the care packages special and so more individuals could be reached.

Along with writing personalized notes, the women in my Bible study donated a variety of items from fresh fruit, puzzle books, hard candy and hot chocolate, just a few of the many items in the overflowing bag. Our church, Zion Lutheran Church in St. Charles, MO, donated pens and Portals of Prayer books. Thrivent funds allowed us to add face masks and hand lotions to the initial 35 care packages. One of our leaders sewed the LCMS cross on the masks, making them extra special and with the generous donations from the Bible study, along with the Thrivent funds, I was able to expand the project to 30 additional individuals. (15 additional members at Zion St. Charles, 8 members from neighboring churches, and 7 members from my childhood church, Zion Lutheran Belleville). We were able to bless a total of 65 people!

Pastor Fieberkorn told us many of the individuals receiving care packages are feeling like prisoners in their own homes. They are receiving fewer visits, are not going out and are feeling more isolated.

Our pastor advised us to call first and mentioned that some of the people we deliver to may understandably prefer to have no contact, while others may invite us in. I found both to be true. I left packages at the door or briefly said hello. For those that wanted to talk, we bounded over being Lutheran, most stating that, like myself, they have been Lutheran their entire life. We talked about the virus, the feeling of isolation and the love we shared for our Lord and Savior. I received appreciative waves and “God Bless Yous” from afar, along with sweet phone calls and notes of appreciation.

The entire project filled my heart with pure joy! From writing the personalized notes, to having my mini me help pack the bags, to delivering the bags (with my husband driving, me navigating and our kindergartener learning how to live generously in the back seat), this project was a true gift and made this year end on a positive note. But the greatest gift of all was seeing the smiles on the recipients faces! I learned that it wasn’t about the contents of the bag but the gift of being remembered, knowing in this time of isolation that someone cares. This service project was a reminder that God continues to bless us with tiny miracles, even during times of darkness. We have hope in Him!

The Noteworthy Mommy would like to thank the following individuals for their help and support. This service project would have never taken place without them! Thrivent Financial, The women of Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles Bible Study, Angie Gielow, Rachel Schenck, Pastor Fieberkorn, Vickie Adams, Lillian Talley, Ken Talley, Marilyn Talley and Keith and Janet Freeman.

Advent Traditions…Preparing The Way

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent, the liturgical season where Christians prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ by celebrating His birth on Christmas and looking forward to the day we will see Him again. This year Advent is going to look a bit different and I’m going to dearly miss some favorite church traditions like Advent By Candlelight, Family Advent Night and Advent services led by school children. As the pandemic continues, our traditions are forced to be altered and a little bit of sadness creeps into a season usually filled with cheer.

Instead of concentrating on what is missing this year, I am focusing on the gifts God has given me. More quality time with my family of three has allowed us to try new activities and as a result, the beginning of new traditions. Without the parties and added distractions, I am taking more time to study God’s word, beginning each day with an Advent devotional that is deepening my relationship with God. And the extra time I’ve gained from cancelled events has allowed me to slow down and clearly see the many blessings God has given. And that fills by heart with hope and joy, which is truly what Advent represents.

Advent Wreath– Christians have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation. Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church and at home has five candles with three of the candles being blue or purple in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

Advent Family Devotionals– This year my family of three are doing two different Advent devotionals, “The Way in the Manger” and “Jesus’ Family Tree” (Praying through Advent with the Jesse Tree). We begin our devotional by lighting our Advent wreath and singing the following song..

“Light One Candle”– Light one candle for hope, One bright candle for hope. He brings hope to every heart He comes! He comes! **For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.

The tiny Advent wreath above was created by my mini me during her first year of preschool. Carefully crafted out of clay and decorated with green paint and birthday candles it is very special to us.

Advent Calendar With Pastor Rouland and Rupert the Dog– Our senior pastor is making daily Advent videos where he leads viewers in singing “Light One Candle,” reads a scripture verse and reveals a new ornament for his Advent tree. My daughter squealed with delight when Rupert the Dog makes a special appearance. Search for Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles on You Tube or click here for a video link.

Chocolate Advent Calendar– When I was little I always had a chocolate German Advent calendar. In fact, the German Club at my high school sold them. The tradition continues with my daughter and everyday we guess what shape the chocolate will be, hunt for the number and then rip open the little window and enjoy the sweet treat hiding inside.

Advent Tree– We’ve had this Melissa and Doug wooden Advent tree since my daughter was a toddler. My daughter loves adding a magnetic ornament to her tree everyday. It’s the perfect countdown to Christmas

Angel on Assignment…An Angelic Tradition

Angels are the highlight of our Advent celebrations this year. From the angels that adorned the tables at the Advent By Candlelight events I participated in to the messages from the angels that changed everything to the lovely book and plush angel doll that showed up in our mailbox.

The book “Angel on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” beautifully written by Wanda Carter Roush has instantly become a family favorite! Written in rhyme, the book shares the heavenly messages delivered by angels to Mary and Joseph, to the shepherds and to the wise men regarding the birth of a baby who would change the world! The book teaches children that angels were present from the birth to the grave to the resurrection…”From a poor simple stable and a bed made of hay, To the cross on a hill, in a borrowed tomb He lay. Angels were there from the star to the stone, When the greatest gift to the world was made known.”

“Angles on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition”, has another message. The book teaches boys and girls that angels are sent from Heaven above and show God’s love by performing special missions. From sending comfort when we are scared to guarding and protecting, angels are all around us. The delightful illustrations by Mike Motz and Alicia Young engage the reader. Angels are hiding on every page and my daughter loved studying the book, shouting with excitement when she located an angel!

An Angelic Tradition– As an “Elf on a Shelf” alternative, our book came with a sweet plush doll that mirrors the little angel hiding in the book. The book explains that angels do much more than just sit on a shelf and suggests starting a new Christmas tradition with your family by assigning an angel to your house. Give your angel a name and use your angel to remind your family of God’s love. While other Christmas traditions center around receiving instead of giving. I like how the book encourages children to be “angels on assignment” looking for people in need and lending a helping hand by giving unto others and sharing kind words. This year our “Angel on Assignment” projects included purchasing gifts off of the angel tree at our church, packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, donating outgrown dance shoes to Traveling Tutus and purchasing cat beds and toys for Five Acres Animal Shelter, a no kill shelter in our community.

The angel my daughter and I made together.

Creating an Angel- You can purchase an angel or make one of your own. Just look in the back of the book, “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition,” and you will find pages filled with ideas on how to make an angel. There are many creative ideas like making the body out of an old paperback book or using coffee filters for wings. The possibilities are endless.! I look forward to starting a new tradition of making an angel with my daughter every Christmas. As she gets older I envision the angels will get more intricate. There are patterns in the book if you want to make an angel out of paper. My daughter and I chose that option this year, tracing her little hands to use as the angel’s wings. We placed our angel by her Advent calendar to remind us of God’s love. We made a few additional angels to gift to others so they too can be reminded of God’s love and the message of showing kindness. The author, Wanda Carter Roush, encourages individuals to post pictures of their angels on the “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” Facebook page.

I shared “Angels on Assignment, An Angelic Tradition” with the students in my daughter’s preschool class at their Christmas party and helped the boys and girls make angels so they can start this angelic tradition with their families. Through kind words or doing a good deed, sometimes it’s the little things that remind us of angel’s wings.

You can purchase this beautiful book on the author’s website at http://wandacarterroush.com or on Amazon. Amazon also has a digital version available. Make sure to check out other books and journals by Wanda Carter Roush. They make perfect gifts!

 

 

Advent By Candlelight

The Christmas season can be stressful for a variety of reasons. For some it’s an overwhelming “to do list” that appears to have no end. Or it may be the pressure of feeling financially strapped and unable to give your family the Christmas of their dreams. You may be experiencing emptiness thinking about loved ones who will be missing from the dinner table this year. While others may feel loneliness, simply yearning for family and friends to spend Christmas with. I’m sure all of you can relate to one of these scenarios and I find comfort knowing that I am not alone. One of the things I did this year to help me focus on the true meaning of the Advent season is participate in “Advent By Candlelight.”

Advent By Candlelight– In early December I gathered with other women and participated in a beautiful evening called “Advent By Candlelight” at my church, Zion Lutheran. “Advent By Candlelight” was new to me but after signing up to be a table hostess I discovered that women from all denominations kick off the advent season by holding “Advent By Candlelight” events at their churches. A simple search of “Advent By Candlelight” on Pinterest yields hundreds of lavish table decorations, delectable desserts and meaningful programming suggestions. I quickly realized I had been missing out on something very special.

My Table– I enjoyed decorating my table for “Advent By Candlelight.” I used my Lenox Christmas China (Holly Berry Pattern) and placed the dessert plates on gold chargers. I borrowed festive gold flatware adorned with a sprig of holly from my parents. Matching tea cups and glasses completed my table setting. I used a cream table cloth and glittering gold napkins. Nuts, candy and a variety of tea bags were placed in candy dishes that match my china pattern. My centerpiece was simple with two cream candles sitting among a bed of evergreen and white flowers.

I found the perfect gold detailed porcelain ornament favors. They matched my dishes perfectly and the messages of Blessed and Believe were appropriately written across the angel and star design.

The evenings program, “A Personal Journey to the Nativity” set the tone of the Advent season. Through singing, scripture and fellowship, I left the event feeling renewed and exhilarated; ready to great the craziness of the season head on.

Advent Wreath– Christians all over the world have adopted the tradition of lighting candles during Advent to observe this as the time of the coming of Christ who is the light of the world. One tradition is lighting an Advent wreath at church and at home to mark each Sunday in Advent. This Advent tradition dates back to Germany and the Lutheran Church following the Reformation.

Today Advent wreaths are made out of evergreen and are shaped like a circle to represent eternal life. The Advent wreath we use at church has five candles with three of the candles being blue in color to match the liturgical colors. The candle lit on the first week is blue and represents hope. The candle lit on the second week is blue and represents peace. The candle lit on the third Sunday is pink and represents joy. On the last Sunday of Advent a blue candle representing love is lit. The candle in the center is white and is know as the Christ candle. It is lit on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

The Advent wreath we are using in our home was carefully molded out of clay by my daughter’s tiny hands. Plastered with green paint it is adorned with five skinny birthday candles. Mrs. Stanglein helped Lillian craft this Advent wreath in preschool and although simple in design it glows with radiant splendor.

Lillian and her class learned an Advent song to go along with their wreath and they have been singing a new verse every week. We also sing the simple song in church as a new candle on the Advent wreath is lit. Lillian learned the song quickly and she had enjoyed singing it at the top of her lungs every day this month!

Light one candle for hope,
One bright candle for hope.
He brings hope to everyone.
He comes. He comes.
**For verses 2-4, replace hope with peace, joy, and love.**

Jesus Joy– I was once again reminded of my focus this Advent season during a recent children’s sermon at church. Lillian’s preschool teacher gave this particular children’s sermon a few weeks ago.While talking to the children Mrs Stanglein declared she would rename Advent, “Jesus Joy.” Her words reminded me to focus on the joy that the season brings instead of becoming overwhelmed with stress and anxiety. We should be joyous during the season of Advent for it is a time of triumph, exultation and joy as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

Lillian with her teacher after singing at the preschool Advent service.