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Advent Series - HOPE

Advent: Our Manna Season

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5 NIV

This season is one many of us look forward to while many others of us dread. Some of us can’t WAIT for Black Friday; others of us feel the weight of financial stress pressing down harder than ever.

Some of us are eager to prepare the house for holiday celebrations; others of us can’t bear to think of the table this year: missing a treasured loved one, wishing they would be there instead of an empty chair.

Some of us relish the chance to lovingly stalk a friend or relative’s interests to find the perfect gift: research it, buy it, and get it wrapped before the Thanksgiving dishes are washed and put away. Some of us never know WHAT to give our people creating an annual source of discouragement, and the Christmas Eve scramble-to-sweetly-surprise-them simply seems inevitable.

Advent and Christmas can make us feel like our gifts —and our lives — better be wrapped up neatly in a bow. But there are years where shopping lists are far from our thoughts and our souls are entrenched in worry, fear, grief, or despair. Years where if feels like we are waiting in darkness. Our heads wondering why, our hearts aching with brokenness, and our souls wandering, feeling lost in despair.

I have a collection of Advent memories involving wondering, waiting, and wishing.

The year I turned 21, my heart was numb and my soul was still in shock realizing my mom would never be there for Christmas again.

Seven Advents ago, my husband Todd and I put our hope in God in a uniquely tangible way. In December of 2012, we completed our application to adopt a little girl in China, whose precious face we would not see until the spring of 2014. Little did we know, she was making her way into the world just as we were finishing our application. The waiting she began almost immediately after she was born was the kind of waiting we’d never wish for anyone: waiting for a family.

Last year during Advent, my husband Todd entered a time of unexpected career transition which has had incredibly challenging implications in many areas of our family’s daily rhythms as well as long-time traditions. Also this past year, our oldest graduated from high school and left for college. A change which brought rollercoaster-ish transitions of its own. The job change colliding with our new college tuition payment adventure have ushered in one of the most financially challenging times of our 22 year marriage.

My prayers for Todd to find “something” as soon as possible began shortly after last Thanksgiving. If you had told me one year later he still wouldn’t have a full time job, I would have envisioned my family living in our van down by the river. I never expected to STILL be praying this prayer as we approach another Thanksgiving. After enduring almost 8 full months without having found a full-time job, here we are.

It’s been a year of some dark times, friends. When I’m feeling optimistic, I like to refer to it as our “manna” season. A season where you find yourself emotionally, medically, financially, vocationally, or relationally STUCK. Wandering in an unwanted wilderness, attempting to calculate, manipulate, work, or just WISH your way outta there. But there you are, and there’s no light visible at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps you recall the Israelites so many millennia ago, in their own dark season of wandering. The rhythm of their days was punctuated with asking for, receiving, and being sustained by manna, just enough for today. It fascinates me that manna means “What is it?”

If you or your family perhaps are, along with my family, in your own manna season, we ask ourselves “What is it? What is it that sustains us as we, who are followers of Jesus, wander in this desert?”

Manna was the Israelites’ sustenance. Manna gave them a sense of God’s faithful presence, God’s light, in a literal dark wilderness season. Manna was a gift of hope.

Into these times of our family’s darkness, aching heart-waiting and soul-wondering, I have seen the Holy Spirit place bits of light, you-just-might-miss-it blessings, and seeds planted, seeds of help & hope.

From the devastating loss of my mom, my hope came to life as a real-life realization of what Jesus’ resurrection means for me personally. That even in my darkest, scariest, worst-case-scenario realities, Jesus can bring new life, new light, new love, new hope and healing.

From raising a child who lost her first family, our family’s compassion grows for all families who must make a soul-searching life-altering, forever-missing decision.

And this past year: oh, so many manna moments! Many miniscule ones and some shockingly incredible & surprising ways God provided for us and sustained us.

  • Faithful encouragement & support from family & friends

  • A group of long-time acquaintances forming into what is our amazing weekly small group

  • Shockingly few medical and automotive concerns (did you know it’s still legal to drive with only 2 of your 3 rearview mirrors in most states?) between 6 people and 3 vehicles

  • Many unique opportunities for us and our children to grow in doing what we love, and,

  • Financial provision through a myriad of part-time jobs as well as crazy generosity of others.

It has been humbling to walk this manna-laid path, but we are changed for the better having been invited to practice a more daily opportunity to trust God in all things.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” If you are trudging through a manna season, be encouraged! Lift your eyes & look for the tiniest traces of light. Jesus’ gifts of light, hope and life can never be extinguished. Isn’t that amazing news!? To borrow from the lyrics of Oh Holy Night: I pray we all would feel a thrill of hope when we see the Holy Spirit at work. There is indeed reason for this weary world to rejoice! In Advent and always.

Follow Up:

1. What kind of Advent does this year bring for you/your family? Is is a season of heartache, or celebration, or simply feeling stuck in the mundane?

2. Can you name some small almost-imperceptible bits of, breaths of Hope that God is breathing into the hard parts of your season? Do you regularly notice these or does it seem unlikely that they actually exist?

3. Whatever season you’re in, consider intentionally setting apart a few moments between now and Christmas to hold some sacred space. To help it actually happen (decide on a day/time and add it to your calendar now! and) make it as simple as possible. Light a candle, hold hands and say a prayer together. Dedicate your commute to belting out some favorite Christmas hymns. As a family, make a list of ways you’ve each seen God bless your lives this month. Spend some quiet moments in the early or late hours of a long day, get still, and listen to music that helps you feel God’s presence. One of my very favorites in Advent is “O Magnum Mysterium” by Luther College’s Nordic Chamber Choir. It seems to hold heartbreak and resurrection simultaneously, and tenderly ministers to my soul every time I hear it.

Nancy is a family camper, Enneagram coach, and a presenter at our upcoming 2020 Marriage Retreat. Additionally, she has been part of our staff training with her skills in helping people understand themselves better through the use of the Enneagram so they are better equipped to work together as a team.

Dec. 5 - UPDATE -Within the past week, Nancy's husband was offered a full time, contract job! After 11 months of waiting, they are joyful and thankful for God's provision in this season of hope!

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