Advent Conspiracy and How I am Like a Christmas Tree

I’m not sure when trimming the Christmas tree dropped out of the top ten Christmas activities in my opinion. Somewhere along the line I lost the magic of transforming the green bush into the sparkling personification of Christmas. It may have been, now that I think about it, back in high school when I realized my mom was tricking my friends and me into doing “her” job by offering pizza and cookies. It was a brilliant ploy, and one that I’ve used successfully around here, as well.

But today is the day. And by the end of the day I will be thrilled with it all, entranced, sitting in my living room with the lights low thinking about how it was all worth it. And it will be, once again, magical.

I read something today about Christmas trees that has me thinking.

We bring an essentially dead tree to our home. We water it and give it fresh cuts to keep the water flowing. Some people swear by misting their trees. Yet no matter what we do…the tree is dead. At best we’re giving a form of life support to keep up appearances. Without roots, without a healthy, though essentially unseen, delivery system for nutrients and contact with the ground, the tree is dead.

This Christmas as we’ve been contemplating the Advent Conspiracy and ways to celebrate Christmas differently, I want to make sure I’m not like my Christmas tree. I want to make sure my roots aren’t severed from the source of life. There’s no sense in making myself appear decorated with a bounty of tinsel, ornaments, garland. I’d rather spend the time rooted and grounded, connected to God and my family and the things that matter the most.

I want to live more this Christmas.

Our friend Timmy Allen created this video for Advent Conspiracy at Christ Fellowship this year. I think it’s awesome. And someday (tomorrow, I think!) I’m going to make my acting debut as a stick model in one of his productions. Check this out. And then think about ways to grow your roots deeper this Christmas.

The Advent Conspiracy – Enter the Story from Timmy Allen on Vimeo.

Christmas Books: Thomas Kinkade’s On Christmas Eve

One of my guilty pleasures each Christmas season is to devour (yes, that’s the appropriate word) a few light and fluffy Christmas novels from the display at Barnes and Noble. It’s a ritual each November: when it’s still too early to pull out the decorations and the first peppermint mocha hits the counter at Starbucks, I survey all the new Christmas tales and begin making my list. This year the book first on my list is the newest installment of Thomas Kinkade’s series of books set in the fictional town of Cape Light. You know Thomas Kinkade for his paintings, but he also paints with words, and the help of his co-author Katherine Spencer! While the book is one of a series, it can stand pleasantly on its own and will probably intrigue you when you read the lives of the cast of supporting characters, all richly drawn because they have books of their own!

The plot line follows two main characters. Lucy is a nurse married to a crusty diner owner. She waitresses in the hours she isn’t nursing, raises two sons, and is a genuinely caring and busy person. Towards the beginning of the Christmas season a young runaway named Zoey plops herself down in a booth at the diner to escape the cold, where she is discovered by Lucy at closing time. With nowhere else to send the girl in small Cape Light, Lucy brings her home (against the wishes of that cantankerous husband) and begins the process of rescuing a soul who doesn’t necessarily want to be rescued.

Betty, a nearly 50 year old real estate agent turned caterer, is struggling to find her place in the Christmas season. She has been divorced for eleven years, and is now watching her son get engaged and her friends live their lives set in families. Lacking in Christmas spirit, however, Betty decides to get out of herself and help plan and fundraise for the local food pantry. In the process, the Santa hired for a big party teaches her a lot about life and about herself. Her journey is an example of how God uses all the events of our lives — big and small — to give us clues about who we were created to be.

Will “On Christmas Eve” change your life? Probably not. But it will add a little Christmas cheer and color to the few moments you have during this busy, busy season. A few minutes with a cup of coffee (a must) and a good book are just what I need to restore my peace on earth and good will toward all.

My Christmas Card


Have you wondered where my Christmas card is this year?

I have to admit that my Christmas Card history is shaky at best. So many years have come and gone, years when the hustle and bustle just hustles the plan to send cards right out the window. But most years I do try to get that yearly note out to family and friends.

Not this year. This year I intentionally didn’t send my cards. Know why? Because they cost roughly $200 dollars to send. And this year, Christmas has a whole new meaning. David, Kylie, Jillian and I are joining with another family to build a well for Christmas this year. Not in our back yard (though quite honestly we have a well in our back yard and could probably do with another!). We are partnering with Charity: Water to build a well for a village that needs fresh, clean water. And that $200? That money translates into fresh water for 10 people for their lifetime. Or a portion of a well for a whole village.

Want to see how close we are to achieving our goal? Go to our website at My Charity: Water. We named our group the Conspiracy Theory, since we are raising this money as part of the Advent Conspiracy project for celebrating Christmas in a whole new way.

It is now the night before Christmas. And you know what? We’ve had a lot of fun with our family this year. We’ve gone boating, we’ve gone on trips to Disney World to soak in the season. We’ve hosted game playing nights for our family and friends, and we’ve spent far less time in the mall. It’s been a great Christmas. Next year I’m hoping to take the conspiracy to a whole new level, and I hope you’ll join me.

So from our house to yours, consider this your Christmas card. And Merry, Merry, Merry Christmas.

Christmas Lunch


Do you know what this picture is?

It is the staff of my church, Christ Fellowship, gleaning in the fields. Yes, gleaning. The mechanical harvester has gone through, and now the gleaners are handpicking corn and other vegetables that are left. What they pick will be donated to local food banks.

Know what’s incredibly inspiring about this?

On this particular day, the staff was celebrating Christmas together. It was their annual “staff luncheon” done in a whole new way. Genius.

And that, my friends, is what Advent Conspiracy is all about.

What I am thankful for this year…

Is there anything better than giggly girls in onesies around the Christmas Tree?

Is there anything better than giggly girls in onesies around the Christmas Tree?

When I was a little girl it seemed as if there were long stretches of time in which nothing exciting ever happened. Sometimes those stretches of time were heaven itself: summer vacations lying on my back of the hill in my front yard, or the winter afternoons between Christmas and New Years. At other times, those long stretches seemed interminable, such as the stretch between January and Spring Break when I was in college.

Now, however, life is coming at me so quickly I barely have time to experience it, let alone capture it in my blog or journal. But I can’t let Thanksgiving weekend pass without sharing some of the extraordinary things for which I am thankful.

  • Top of my list is my growing realization that God made it all. He owns it all. He controls it all. What a weight off my shoulders that is!
  • I am thankful that I have a family I adore. I’m not just talking about my immediate family, either. I love the nieces and nephews scattered from Pittsburgh to California and every stop inbetween. I am also thankful for the handful of friends who are as close as family, friends with whom we share a lifetime commitment. Is there anything that can compare to that?
  • For the past few days I’ve been SO thankful to live in South Florida. We’ve had a string of the kind of days that make the rest of you jealous. Glorious!
  • Last week my daughter Kylie received a facebook message from her half birth-sister. This was the first contact we have had with them, and I’m SO thankful that we found three half sisters, the youngest of whom is just two months old. We’ve chatted with the oldest of her sisters (age 22) and are thankful to begin a relationship with this precious family that gave us our Kylie.
  • I’m giving thanks these days, too, for Jillian. Her creativity and persistence always astound me. She’s teaching me a lot of lessons, that’s for sure!
  • At the totally superficial level, I’m thankful for: my comfy couch (even with the feathers that poke me!), the new soy candles I found that smell incredible, the taste of a peppermint mocha latte from Starbucks in a red cup, hanging out with people who keep me young, the movie the Blind Side (LOVED it!), homemade rolls which I ate all weekend, even though they will lead to more homemade rolls that I exercise off at the gym. Think about all those little comforts that brighten our days!

So that’s what I’ve been up to in this time of silence from Coffee Shop Journal. I’ve been basking and battling with all the family on the couch, enjoying getting to know new family we never knew existed, and keeping it all running full steam ahead!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Are you ready to do Christmas in a whole new way?


What if the countdown to Christmas didn’t make you groan?

What if you looked forward to it again, like you did when you were a kid?

What if, somehow, Christmas brought some good news to the world instead of stress and debt and extra holiday pounds?

If that sounds good to you, you need to join a conspiracy.

Advent Conspiracy is a movement to replace the consumerism of Christmas with the good news of hope. It is about giving our presence, not our presents. It is about remembering that if you are reading this on the internet, you already have more resources than millions of people in the world. It’s about giving and living together.

Knowing that my church, Christ Fellowship, is getting ready to join the Advent Conspiracy, I recently agreed to write a review of their new book and DVD. I didn’t realize what a dangerous decision that was. Read this one little book by Rick McKinley, Chris Seay and Greg Holder in a day or two and you will be changed for the rest of your life. The premise is simple:

Worship Fully – Because Christmas begins with Jesus!

Spend Less – And free your resources for things that truly matter.

Give More – of your presence, your hands, your words, your time, your heart.

Love All – The poor, the forgotten, the marginalized, the sick, in ways that make a difference.

What do you think? Could we do it? Could we take a step or two back from our rush to the mall and re-prioritize our Christmas, now…before we get started? “The heart of what we’re truly searching for — hope, peace, love, rest, worship –is in Christ, but each time we try to meet our desire for fulfillment at the mall, we take another step away from the nativity.”

Advent Conspiracy started several years ago with a group of people who wondered if they could make a difference in the world just by scaling back on Christmas. With the extra money they thus released, they pooled their funds and dug wells in Liberia through Living Water International. Think of it: just a few extra dollars, joined with other’s extra dollars, resulted in whole villages drinking clear, clean water. Our Christmas spending alone could wipe out the problem of unclean drinking water all over the world.

Order the Advent Conspiracy book and DVD. Watch it as a family or gather a few friends and families together. Then start praying about how this can be a life-changing year for you and your community. And if I haven’t given you enough inspiration yet, just come back to Coffee Shop Journal all this month. I’m going to be sharing all month as we lead into the Advent season, a season of generosity.

This year is going to be different.

How many minutes do you have?

Today has been a day of small minutes: no big blocks of time, just disconnected moments to ponder. I could easily feel as if this was a frittered away day, but I’m not going to. For instance,

  • I got to spend an hour in my car with the windows down, reading a good book and making a few plans for the coming year. An hour of time all to myself…lovely. I know that sounds like a big block of time, but as I was waiting for someone I knew it could end at any moment. Nonetheless, I used those moments well.
  • I gave my friend a ride home from the doctor’s office after she received painful injections. A few moments of quality time, a few minutes to let her know that I cared. Not much in the scheme of life, but I could tell it filled her love tank, and mine.
  • Time at the hair salon spent reading and sitting in the chaos…I’m not going to deny it was my favorite time of the day! I also had a chance to connect with several ladies while there.
  • Finished the Christmas decorations moving back to storage: that feels so good in the “I can breathe” sort of way!
  • Organized an impromptu birthday party for both friends and family. Fun, fellowship, who knows the purpose?

Disconnected minutes in my day, but in a weird sort of way they all tell a tiny part of the story I live out here. And remember those 10,000 hours? Well they are made up of minutes, disconnected and otherwise. So I’m determined to use them!

Wrapping up Christmas

These days of stillness between Christmas and New Year’s always catch me by surprise. I’m unprepared for the state of suspension, not quite sated with Christmas and yet not ready to embrace the freshness of the New Year. I attempted, this year more than most, to be intentional about our Christmas. Compared to previous years I believe I made progress, though not as much as I had hoped. Rather than move on to the New Year’s thoughts and plans, I thought I’d take this first post after Christmas to reflect. Who knows: maybe next year I’ll actually be prepared! So…

  • We changed up our Christmas day routines a little to reflect all the people we wanted to spend time with this year. We made time during the day to spend a little longer with David’s family, let Jillian spend time with a friend, and invite friends over in the evening to share more food and fun. Christmas day routines have been kind of a sacred cow in our extended family, so having that flexibility was freeing.
  • The little things seemed to be the most fun this year. The infamous blue bag held delightful necklaces for all the girls in the family. I was excited because David picked one for me that I had never seen before and yet loved. But as fun as the TIffany necklace is, it’s the Apple bag that has brought me the most pleasure so far! He got me earphones for my iPod that have a little clip to go over my ears, solving an annoying problem for me. Every time I am on the treadmill or elliptical, my earphones used to pop out of my ears! Yesterday they stayed put for the first time ever. The little things.
  • Sitting aroud waiting for Jillian to come home, we amused ourselves by opening a few presents. That did NOT amuse her, by the way. We started playing with one of those Nap pillows for Brookstone, shaped like a U. The friends who were with us started a game of “Props.” What could this pillow be? We laughed for thirty minutes over that. Small things amuse us, I guess. My mother thought we were making fun of her pillow and took it away from us.
  • I did end up purchasing water for charity:water, and giving out the cards as gifts. Unfortunately for me (but not really, because it IS a charity) I bought too many and never gave out all the cards. That’s ok. It was still my favorite gift.

That’s about it for Christmas. We definitely had more fun with the people than the process this year, would love to simplify some more for next year. We made time to stop and sit by the tree, gave in on some of the decorations not being up, and nearly killed ourselves with the Snow Ball.

Now to clean up…

Not so Silent Night

We just got back from Christ Fellowship’s Christmas Eve service. We planned to go to the latest one, 8 PM, so that it would feel like Christmas Eve. I don’t have the time or energy to write all I thought about tonight, and you are pretty busy as well…no time to read. So in random order, a few thoughts.

  • I love our choir. I was watching them worship tonight. Wow. We happen to have, in our choir, several people with disabilities. One woman rides a scooter. One woman rides a scooter and is missing a leg. Another woman is blind, and sings with her guide dog next to her. These women bless my socks off. They have faces that shine. Tonight I was imagining what Christmas in heaven will be like…celebrating Christ’s birthday party each year. Do you know what? Those ladies are gonna be dancing. They were dancing in their hearts tonight. They will dance in reality on that day. Can’t wait to see it.
  • I love the ending of the service each year, when we light candles — little candles — in the room and slowly turn off the lights. Those little candles light up the huge room. Yes, there’s a metaphor for our role in the world/community  there. You can flesh out the rest of the metaphor!
  • I love our new building. Yes, I know that big buildings are “controversial” but I loved seeing our people stream into the life center and — this is the radical part — STAY. They stayed. They talked. They celebrated. They ate, and drank coffee. Happy.
  • I love the milestone. I thought back to last year, thought about all the paths through which God has led me. I thought about the people I’ve connected with and reconnected with. Unbelievable what God has done.

I could get carried away here, but won’t. There are presents to wrap, kitchens to clean (even at midnight) and sleep to be had!

Merry Christmas, my friends.