This is my Advent Letter.  Advent is a time of “expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus” ( In the past Advent has been of little importance to me; some years I have failed to even acknowledge it’s occurrence and the most attention I have ever paid it is recognizing the advent candles if they have been specially lit during church service.  Sure there have been times when I have tried to focus on the true meaning of Christmas as it approaches so as to not be bombarded by the barrage of commercialism and busyness and stress that our secular Christmas has birthed.  However, usually I fail quite miserably in this effort.  This year though the idea of Advent has been presented to me through a “Life with God” class I have been participating in at my church.  The class’s whole intent is to teach tools to help create spaces for God to speak and for us to listen.  In this context Advent becomes so much more important to me as an opportunity for God to speak and for me to ask questions like ‘How may receiving Christ in this season impact my life?’ and ‘What is God’s invitation to me this season?’ and ‘How might I need Christ?’ and ‘How will I be different?’.  In my initial Advent reflection the many things I’ve been learning over the last months came together into a coherent progression of teachings and “aha!” moments of God speaking to me that I want to share.  And so is born my Advent Letter. 
            Joy to the World
The angel proclaims to the shepherds in the field “Don’t be afraid.  I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master.” Luke 2:10, Message.
Not too far into the year of 2012 a joyous event of my own occurred: the birth of my beautiful daughter.  I cherish her and love her immeasurably.  There are many moments that I soak in and treasure because they are so precious: her giggles, her smiles, her cuddles, the way her beautiful blue eyes look into my own, and how she’s learning to move.  But the past 8 months have not been full of exclusive joy.  Oh no, loneliness has been a common theme surfacing regularly despite successful efforts to socialize.  Frustration and incompetence have shown themselves as well.  I never really expected it; but, it is readily apparent that even a precious child whom I deeply desired cannot create a sustained joy in me.  There have indeed been numerous struggles and challenges in these past 8 months.
Beyond loneliness I have struggled with lacking validation.  What a huge life change and what a huge shock to my ‘center of worth’ becoming a mom was.  No longer did I feel so accomplished and self-sufficient and confident.  Certainly, there have been many times where I felt like I was not doing much at all and in not doing what worth am I?  Of course in my head I knew this was a lie.  I knew that I held innate worth and furthermore, I was indeed keeping our daughter alive and thriving.  However, there is that heart center, that emotional depot that can be hard to convince even when the mind has ‘got it’.  So as a person who believes in the value of prayer and in the ability of God to hear me when I pray, I would pray about these challenging feelings.  They continued to challenge me off and on.  I would have periods of vacation and traveling and I would push aside these feelings and though I wasn’t feeling more validated, I was feeling ‘good’ and ‘happy’ and ‘busy’ so it didn’t bother me.  This became a good way to cope.  I could ask myself: “Am I lonely?  Am I feeling invalidated?”  And I could answer: “Oh don’t worry Cheryl you will be going away again soon and then you won’t have time to think about it.”  And inside I would think: “Thank goodness my husband has the ability to work on the go and we can get away so much!”
Then one day in October while my daughter was napping and I was again feeling lonely and invalidated I practiced some techniques I had learned in the class I was taking at church.  Low and behold, God spoke.  He said:
“Revel in this time Cheryl.  Don’t lament that you’re not accomplishing this and that; revel in the opportunity of time that you’ve been given.”
But isn’t it just so hard at times to be fully alive in the present moment?  To immerse oneself in the blessings that today has to offer instead of trying to escape through busyness or through emotionally projecting oneself into the future?  Essentially what God was saying to me was enjoy this time.  Savour the moments that you have been given to practice being, rather than doing.  I fought against this notion.  Of course I was trying to cherish moments with my daughter and of course I felt grateful to live in a country which expects you to take a full year off work to spend with your child.  Of course this was all wonderful.  But, I still struggled.  I told myself that while I was a good mom and would continue to be a good mom, being a mom of a baby was not particularly my natural strength.  I get such satisfaction from my work and enjoy it so much and am pretty good at it that it would be good when I return to work to restore some balance to my life. 
This time was a blessing, but also a struggle. I am an introvert and so I gain much renewal from solitude and time alone to think and read and reflect.  Even so, this maternity leave had afforded me a different kind of time and a different quantity of this time than I was used to embracing.  It just wasn’t natural for me.  I really didn’t take well to this idea of learning more what it meant to be.
You can see this clearly in the following life example. Nearly immediately after starting my year away from work outside the home I channeled my desire to achieve and perform into running.  My body physically fought against my persistence to whip it back into shape.  It was much slower of a process than I had anticipated and hoped for to get my cardiovascular fitness back to its pre-pregnancy condition.  However, I pressed on and decided perhaps in all this it would be good to give myself a goal.  I decided I would run the 30KM trail race around Cultus Lakewhich would take place 6 and ½ months after I had given birth to my daughter.  “That’s reasonable, right?” I thought, “That will be an accomplishment I will be able to feel good about.”  Well, it ended up being a great event, but getting there was this love/hate relationship with my training.  While I enjoyed my weekend training runs with my running partner, I nearly loathed my mid-week runs.  This was partially about regaining fitness and conditionally, and more about doing something BIG, since my daily life now felt so small.
But God had something to tell about this too.  As I was sitting in my “Life with God” class the week after completing my trail race He spoke again:
“Know child, you are just as alive sitting here in these moments as you were completing your last running endeavor.”
And then the invitation:
“Be. Alive. In. Me.
And the affirmation:
“I love you child.”  
Humph. There it was again.  Be.  Not do.  Simply be.
I was beginning to slacken my resistance to this idea of practicing being.  I still didn’t really know how to do it and was trying to figure that out (yes I was a beginner student of this call to be, unable still to segregate ‘be’ from ‘do’).  But I was familiar with the story of the sisters Mary and Martha in Luke 10, so I thought about it.  Martha is the doer.  She’s the hostess with the mostest and is good at it.  Her and her sister have Jesus in their home and she’s bustling about making sure the floors are swept, the linens are clean, the meal is done just right and there is Mary just sitting there.  Lazy Mary’s just enjoying conversation with Jesus.  Martha is right ticked.  She wonders why Jesus doesn’t say anything.  Of course other men are often oblivious to when a woman could use some help because she overloaded with household duties; but this is Jesus, surely he knows how much work she’s doing all by herself.  Finally she can’t bite her tongue anymore and says to Jesus, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work?  Tell her to come and help me.” (vs 40, NLT) And Jesus replies, “My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about.  Mary has discovered it – and I won’t take it away from her.” (vs. 42, NLT, emphasis mine) 
I can’t remember the first time I heard this story, but I do remember thinking that it just didn’t quite make sense.  Mary wasn’t doing anything! Now here in the present I was beginning to see clearly how my current situation was lending itself well for me to develop my Mary-self and the benefit it could afford; but still I wanted to be Martha.  And then God emphasized to me that it is not simply important to be present with Him, it is the one thing of vital importance above all. Mary has discovered this one thing, could I?  God drove this point home when I read Psalm 27:4 “The one thing I ask of the LORD – the thing I seek most – is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life.”  Here in this Psalm David is saying that the one most important thing that he longs for is presence with God.  I was beginning to see that being in the presence of God is indeed the one thing essential to my spiritual health.
Despite this, again I began to find myself lonely and even dejected.  I journalled one day, “I find myself in spaces and places where I am longing to feel loved, where I am yearning to be special.” Thankfully I wasn’t truly depressed so I was able to determine that these feelings were not truth, I was indeed loved and special, but they were still there and penetrating me.  So, to counter them I started a mission to be a really good wife. Since I was feeling kinda awful, I was feeling awful about my performance as a wife and decided that was the first place to start working to improve matters as it is my most important role.  Looking at Proverbs 31 and the commonly touted accolade of what a godly wife should strive to be like, I felt so far from the mark.  So I asked myself:  “what can I do to be a better wife?”   I didn’t even realize that this word do was coming up again. So I compiled a resource list of a few things off the top of my head that I could refer to in order to work at being a better wife.  These were all good things, including Proverbs 31 itself, and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit.   What I didn’t realize was that being a good wife and godly wife wasn’t about doing, it was about being: being present with God and then being present daily in the tasks of life.  Of course life does require doing, however it is the being that precedes the doing that matters.  So two days into my pursuit to be a better wife I ended up feeling lost.  “It’s been 10 years of marriage” I thought, “and I’m still so awful at doing the things a super wife should”.  And in this frustration I started to feel hopeless.  I cried out to God “I feel like a lost little girl and I want to find You so I can be the woman you want me to be, so I can be a woman paralleling the Proberbs 31 woman.” 
And God answered as I sat in our church service 2 days later:
“Now you’ve finally got it my child.  You feel like a lost little girl, because that’s exactly who you are without Me.”
The sermon was on Romans 3 hallmarked by verses 23-24 “For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty.  He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins.” The pastor reinforced the message of this scripture highlighting that no one is worthy, no one is good and it is only through knowing who we are without God that we can begin to see more fully who God really is.  In feeling like a lost little girl, God was able to more fully show me that He is my Father who cherishes me so deeply as his precious child and that I desperately need Him.       
The One thing.  Being.  Because I am so very lost otherwise.
I began to see how there is this innate longing in women to be loved, to be special, to be cherished, to be beautiful to someone, to be someone’s princess.  I was no exception to this.  I felt it strongly in those few days.  And I realized that particularly as a woman I need to acknowledge that being a better wife will not enable my husband to completely, wholly fill the gap of that longing.  Certainly I desire that my own husband and the significant men in other women’s lives will be working to fill that desire; but, a human man’s fallibility is guaranteed and not every woman has a significant man in her life.  And so my subconscious ulterior motive to be a better wife in order to have a better husband became apparent. And further, I realized my need to guard against desiring another person to fully fill this inborn longing. I could do this by being present with my Father who can truly love me unconditionally and infallibly.   
How grateful I am for the way God has used this time of maternity leave to speak to me. 
Or perhaps I should say how He has used it to allow me to listen to Him speak.  These months have opened up spaces in my life which try as I might, I could not cover well with busyness and this has allowed rich teaching in my life.  The blessing of my daughter has expounded twofold: her birth into our family and the life change that has ruffled ‘the going through the motions of life’ to create space to hear God.
 Now as we begin Advent I’ve been challenged to continue practicing being.  To listen, to take time to see the joy in Christmas and the joy that Christ in me can create.  I’m challenged to be changed by being present with God.  Mark 1:7-8 tells me this is possible.  John the Baptist says “…I’m baptizing you here in the river turning your old life in for a kingdom life.  His baptism – a baptism by the Holy Spirit- will change you from the inside out.” (Message)
My daughter cannot give me true joy, nor can my husband, but Christ can.
So this Advent I ask myself: “Jesus changed everything when he was born, will I now let him change me?”
Will I allow myself to fully experience the Joy of being God’s cherished child?
My Advent prayer is to be reminded that God loved me so much that He gave his son to be born into a cruel life, so He could show me how cherished I am.  John 3:16-18 says:
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (Message)
I also pray that I will allow God to grow bigger and that I will grow smaller (John 3:30) so the light of Joy may radiate from me and so songs of Joy may spill from my lips.
This Advent, it is my desire that you may contemplate how Christ’s birth has changed the world and to experience the deep joy of Christmas that only Christ is able to bring.
Joy to the World the Lord is Come.