Advent in a Jar – A New Resource by Jill Aylard Young

I realize that it is a little late for Advent this year but I wanted to share with you the resource that MSA Board member put together after reading resources recommended in the post Celebrating Advent with Kids . It might be a little late for this year but certainly something to consider for next year.

Advent in a jar by Jill Aylard Young

The attached PDF file contains all you need to build your own “Advent Calendar in a Jar”. Simply download the file, print out the pages, and cut the paper into little cards to put in your own Jar. On these slips of paper are activities that you can do as a family or individual in preparation for Christmas.

You will choose 24 slips of paper for your Jar, one for each day of Advent. Then during Advent you will draw one slip out of the jar each day and complete the activity until all the slips are gone and Christmas has arrived. (Note: If you can’t complete a particular activity on the day you draw it, schedule it on your calendar for another day and draw a different one for that day.)

  1. Pray for Christ to bless this project so that it will create space in your life or family’s life for his presence and working in you this Advent/Christmas season.
  2. Decide whether this is something you want to do as an individual or as a family. The slips of paper with stars are geared for families and those with candles are geared for individuals. Feel free to mix and match if you like.
  3. Choose 24 activities2 that would be doable for you and/or your family, but also ones that will stretch you in helpful ways. You can select from the pre-made slips of paper and you can use blank ones to write your own. Also try to select a variety of activities, those that are service-oriented, those that are fun, and those that are reflective.
  4. Fold each slip of paper and place it in your jar, which you can decorate as you choose.

Have Fun as you anticipate the coming of our Lord!

Waiting on the Trail an Advent Reflection by Jill Aylard Young

Today’s post in the Advent series Let Us Wait As Children Wait, is written by Jill Aylard Young. Jill serves on the board of Mustard Seeds Associates. She lives with her husband Matthew and daughter Grace in Elysburg, PA where Matthew is pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church. Jill has an MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary and is particularly interested in spiritual direction and formation.

Jill on the trail with her daughter Grace

Jill on the trail with her daughter Grace

“In their hearts human beings plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Prov 16:9

I was eager, even joyful, to share with our four year old daughter Grace the Sierra Nevada mountains.  For the first time since our honeymoon, Matthew and I – this time with my dad and Grace – had come to visit one of my favorites places – Mammoth Lakes, CA. On several occasions during my childhood, my family had vacationed there in the summer. In my young adulthood I had visited yearly from the Los Angeles area with friends and even retreated by myself.  On every Mammoth visit there had been an anticipation in my heart – a waiting and yearning for God – for a moment of deep connection.  It sometimes took a while, but each time my spirit had been refreshed as I hiked into the alpine beauty.  I longed for the same this time.

On the second day of our visit, my dad and I took Grace with us on the Barrett/TJ lakes hike  – only a mile long, but steeper than I remembered. On this hike my dad and I were given the challenge of waiting. Though both of us were appreciating the beauty along the way, and even the adventure of a bear siting near the beginning of the trail, we were focused on reaching our destination of the two lakes. Grace, however, in her very preschool way, was not at all focused on an end point or goal.  She was finding much to love right in front of her – walking across a log over and over again while practicing her balancing skills, watching the creek water flow under the bridge, and building little rock towers each time she plopped down stubbornly on the steep section of the trail.  We tried all forms of persuasion to coax her up the trail from enthusiastic exclamations about the lake to “follow the leader” games to promises of being nearly there, even resorting to picking her up and carrying her.

Once we made it to Barrett Lake we decided that this would be the final destination for Grace, even though TJ was the larger and more dramatic of the two lakes. And there at little Barrett lake, Grace slowed us down.  Grace and I sat on some rocks by the lake and had a snack, looked around for interesting sticks, and even dipped our feet in the icy glacial lake water like I used to do as a kid. Then at her prompting the three of us walked around the lake to get to a snow patch on the other side. She marched, hopped, and played with delight in the snow. We even found some bear paw prints.

Later my dad mentioned that Barrett lake was one of the highlights of the Mammoth trip for him. Because Grace slowed us down he got to take more time for photography around the lake and appreciate its simple beauty.

Along with the important parental challenges of how to navigate the clashing of my daughter’s will with mine and of being patient and fully present with her, this experience reminded me of lessons I still need to learn about spiritual waiting. As I wait for God, I get focused on destinations – experiences I want to have of the Spirit’s presence, specific changes I want for our lives, evidences I want to see of God’s hand in the world, longings that I want fulfilled, etc.  I can get so preoccupied with and even spun up about these things that I miss what is right in front of me.

Perhaps the kind of waiting God calls us to is the kind that involves sitting down right where we are on the trail and enjoying God’s gifts, like a preschooler would. Maybe then we can let go of our restless drivenness for a while and just hang out with Christ, our hiking guide. Then as we trust him to lead us ahead on the trail in his time, especially through the steep patches, we just might find some unexpected delights.

May it be so for us this advent.

Advent Waiting on the Cancer Journey – Reflection by Jill Aylard Young

This evening’s Advent reflection comes from Jill Aylard Young. Jill serves on the board of Mustard Seeds Associates. A recent Princeton Theological Seminary graduate and originally from Covina, California, she now lives with her husband Matthew and daughter Grace in Elysburg, PA where Matthew is pastor of Elysburg Presbyterian Church. Focusing on her roles of mother and pastor’s wife, Jill is continuing in the ordination process, leads a weekly prayer practice group, and plans to become certified as a spiritual director. Her parents, brother, and sister live in Auburn, WA.

Jill with her mother

As I write this I am waiting to hear results of my mother’s scans, to find out if the cancer is being kept at bay or how far it has advanced in her body. Each time we have one of these “reality checks,” we experience emotional aftershocks from the day we first got the horrendous and totally unexpected news of the large cancerous tumor in her kidney that we later learned originated in her bladder.

I’m praying for my mum, that “love would cast out fear” as she waits this day. Over the last several months she has been remarkably hopeful and positive. When we visit in person or Skype long-distance, communicating via web-cam between Pennsylvania and Washington, I see her embracing life and her loved ones – delighting, for example, in each new developmental step that her 15–month-old granddaughter Grace takes or in hearing from her son-in-law about how his sermon is shaping up for the coming Sunday. But waiting to hear from the oncologist is always very difficult for her…and for the whole family.

As I care for our dear daughter Grace, tidy up the house, and prepare for the women’s prayer practices group that is meeting at our house this evening, I feel an anxiety, a fear, a dread around my heart. I want to sooth these feelings by snacking on the Moravian Christmas cookies that I’m laying out on a plate for our guests, or with the satisfaction of checking things off my “to do” list even as Grace tugs for my attention.
Here in this dread-full waiting I feel a nudge, an inner longing, a thirst for a different kind of waiting….for Advent waiting. Rather than satisfy the urge to fill the spaces and cover the fear and sadness, I desire to heed this gentle but urgent tug to slow down…to “prepare a way for the Lord” in my heart….to sit as Jesus’ feet like Mary instead of busying myself like Martha. I want to sit quietly in stillness of heart and mind and just be with God…and know that God is with us on this painful path of cancer.
While we wait, hoping and praying for encouraging test results even as our psyches try to prepare us for the worst, Advent beckons us to ground our hope in Emmanuel – hope that God is with us in this darkness. And to hope for the coming completion of God’s good purposes when fear and disease will be no more – that day of Christ’s coming again in glory for which all creation groans (Romans 8:18-23). May we embrace the light and life that is breaking in now – even if not always in the form of physical healing.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(from “O Come O Come Emmanuel”)