Wednesday, November 23, 2011


I broke my own rule yesterday...
Please don't judge me...
I just couldn't wait any longer...

I listened to Christmas music a whole 48 hours before Thanksgiving.
And it was glorious!

I usually feel the itch about now (especially since, as a pastor, I'm thinking about Advent and Christmas long before Thanksgiving), but I hold out until the Day of the Leftovers (Friday). It's a commitment that is reinforced every October when stores start to display Santas and Christmas trees. But this year my willpower was spent in other ways. This year, I just couldn't wait. I felt as if Tyler and I have been celebrating Thanksgiving and Advent for months without the music...

Certainly, this year we've had more than our usual helping of thankfulness with sides of hope. Each week we find ourselves more and more thankful for everything around us: for babies that have not only survived, but are thriving; for friends and family who have shown us abundant love; for a church who responds with grace; for doctors who truly care; and for our own relationship, which has only grown stronger during these months. If someone asks us tomorrow, "What are you thankful for?" we'll need close to an hour to list it all. I've never been more thankful.

So yesterday, as I drove home from our 35 (35!) week ultrasound where the babies measured over 5.5lbs each, I couldn't help but feel the joy of Christmas and the nostalgia of family. Even if I hadn't put the music in, my heart was already singing "Joy to to the World!" Very soon, Little Gummi Bear and Jr. Mint will be joining our family with real names and sweet faces. Their first Christmas will undoubtedly be the most blessed Christmas of our lives. We are so excited...we just can't wait...

But we do.

The season of Advent is just around the corner (officially beginning on Sunday). For most of us, though, Advent preparation is marked less by a church worship service and more by the sound of the clock buzzer alerting us to the beginning of a chaotic day of sales and shopping.

For many, the Friday after Thanksgiving is not only a day to listen to Christmas music, nor is it fondly titled "The Day of the Leftovers." It's Black Friday, of course! It's a day to shop, buying as many gifts on sale as possible. Some of us awaken before the sun in order to be the first in line...for a TV or a toy or some other electronic item. For some, Christmas preparation begins with their primary task of the season: shopping. I remember one year when my parents took my sister and me to the mall for Black Friday was the year of the Furby if I remember correctly. I was a teenager who LOVED the mall then, but even I was completely overwhelmed and appalled at the intensity of the day.  The crowds and the emotional charge were outrageous, and we spent our entire day in lines (not to mention, we weren't even successful in our Furby quest)! Never again have I set foot in a mall or big box store the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Instead, the Harrell family tradition became spending that Friday finding our perfect Christmas tree. For many years, we bundled ourselves up to trudge through acre after acre of White Pines, searching for the "perfect" one. Branches needed to be strong enough for ornaments and full enough to hold many strings of lights. We considered many before falling in love with "the one." Dad cut it with a handsaw while my sister or I held it with gloved hands. With help, we'd tie it to the top of the car for a quick trip home along Nebraska back-roads winding through harvested cornfields. Then we'd excitedly welcome it into our family room with lunch and hot chocolate. Friday night and Saturday were spent decorating, listening to the first Christmas music of the season, and smiling. The season of preparation was officially upon us, ushered in by family, tradition and nostalgia.

This year, for this pastor and her family, Advent preparation and waiting have an entirely new meaning. Not marked by a calendar day or a certain tradition, the meaning of Advent settled in our hearts as we began preparing to welcome two real babies into the world. By now, the nursery is ready, car seats are installed, my hospital bag is packed...and our hearts are wide open. After so many months of uncertainty and fear, we welcome feelings of relief, joy, and love. We have waited so long for these words from our doctor yesterday: "At 35 weeks, your babies will be fine, even if they're born today." Oh the joy! We have waited...and waited...and now we wait...and wait...

In a world of instant gratification, waiting has become almost unheard of. Tyler and I chose not to know whether our twins are boy/girl before they are born. Thus, we have heard more than one person cry out with surprise or lament,"But how will you prepare?"
"The same way I would otherwise," I respond, "babies don't care what color they're wearing." In many ways, preparing for the babies' gender was the last thing on our minds. Our preparation was forced to take a different path: sure, we started by preparing for a "normal" twin pregnancy, but then found ourselves preparing emotionally for the babies to be born way too early, weeks of bed rest, and the possibility of being parents of two children with major disabilities and many hurdles in life. We prepared ourselves for extended NICU visits and drained bank accounts. Only lately have we been able to put our emotional and physical energy into preparing like "normal" first-time parents again, by arranging a nursery, imagining a healthy delivery, etc. For a long time, we had to wait to make plans because we simply didn't know if our plans would come to fruition. Waiting, for us, has been the norm.

So this Advent season, we are so very thankful for a time of waiting that is finally full of happy expectation, hope, joy, and health. We are thankful for a non-traditional time of waiting this Advent -- to be spending our days and hours preparing our hearts and home for two new lives rather than shopping at the mall; thankful that our counters will soon be covered with dishes rather than frosted cookies and the hallway full of laundry rather than Christmas wrap.

Most of all, we are thankful for a reminder that Advent preparation and Christmas joy are really not so much about the cookies and the wrapping paper anyway. They're about finding the holy wherever we are: whether participating in family traditions or finding a new way through whatever life brings us. Advent is about making room in our hearts and our lives for new life, for transformation of our world, for hope and joy, peace and love. It's about welcoming a baby named Jesus into the world, the one who promises that even in the midst of our darkest nights...light shines. 

New life is on it's way...for us, for the shape of a baby (or two).
How will you prepare this year? With what energy will you wait?

Will you spend these days waiting in lines and feeling exhausted...or will you find life elsewhere, with family or friends, or a quiet time of prayer? Will you attend Advent church services or say a prayer for someone around the world with every ornament you hang? Will you share some time or a meal with a neighbor in need, or give your own spirit a welcome break from your usual busyness?

This year, Tyler and I may not have much peace and quiet and we may not make it to many church services...but we will certainly open our hearts and arms to the light of God and the promise of new life. We will listen to Christmas music and celebrate hope. And we will thank God for you, the family and friends who have kept us in prayer all these months of waiting...

"A light shines in the darkness...and the darkness will not overcome it."

Amen. God is Good.

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