I’m already obsessing about Advent

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.comI’m the first to gripe about “Christmas Creep” and how people keep trying to make Christmas happen before its time, which, in my opinion, should absolutely never be before the day after Thanksgiving. (Mostly because Thanksgiving is one of my favorites.) However, I spent the last week obsessively working on finishing the Advent calendar I started making for the girls in 2013. It was a bit more than I could achieve when the girls were one, but now that they’re three, not only do I have more time to craft, I really think they’ll enjoy incorporating this tradition and get something out of it. And I’m writing about it now because if you start soon, you’ve got time to make one before Advent starts, too. But not if you have two one-year-olds — take it from me and take it easy on yourself.

Celebrating Advent has always been part of my family and faith tradition, a way to focus on the “reason for the season” as my dad loves to say. Growing up we had an Advent wreath and candles, and I remember doing family devotionals sent home by our church. Through friends, I heard about the Jesse Tree tradition, which uses the whole “out of the stump of Jesse” prophecy from Isaiah to tell the story of Jesus’s family tree through ornaments and a tree. Each ornament corresponds to a Bible Story about one of the members of Jesus’ family tree, so each day leading up to Christmas, you take out an ornament and read the corresponding scripture. One friend even hosted a Jesse Tree ornament party a few years back, where everybody was assigned one ornament and made enough for everyone, so each guest left with a complete set but only had to make one type of ornament — fun and efficient!

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Lots of people put the ornaments on their actual Christmas tree or on a smaller table-top tree that they use just for the Jesse Tree. I had seen many beautiful felt and fabric Advent calendars, so that’s what I had in mind. I love the idea of making a normal Advent calendar slightly more scriptural, so I started looking for Jesse Tree Advent calendars. I wanted to make something that my family could use for years to come and remember fondly, so I bought a kit from an Etsy seller that included patterns, instructions, and all the supplies. My kit was $60, but it looks like my seller is no longer selling the kits, just fully handmade calendars for $390. While I love my kit, I can’t imagine having paid nearly 400 bucks for a completed calendar, though I know that it’s worth that with all the painstaking work that goes into it. So painstaking, in fact, that I modified my calendar– I used puffy paint on the felt to make the ornaments instead of hand-sewing tiny layers and appliques, and I machine-sewed the body of the calendar. I have come to accept that I am just not a fan of embroidering. It’s beautiful, but tedious and frustrating.

Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com


Ideas for creating a Jesse Tree Advent Calendar | erniebufflo.com

Still, I didn’t want to write about finishing this beautiful thing for my family and then be like, sorry, folks, good luck to ya. I found a few felt Advent calendar patterns that I think you could fairly easily adapt into Jesse Trees by swapping out the ornaments, either by making these felt ornaments, by trying one of these other kits, or by buying a set of alreadymade Jesse Tree ornaments. There are also lots of free tutorials for making felt Jesse Tree ornaments online.

Is a Jesse tree part of your holiday tradition? Do you celebrate Advent in other ways?

no words

Maria II.

I find myself unable to write much of anything right now. On Sunday at church, the sermon focused on Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Our pastor accompanied this lesson with a slideshow that could have come from within my own mind– Ebola, Gaza, Ukraine, ISIS, Robin Williams, Mike Brown, Ferguson. In a world that seems to have gone wrong, it’s hard to find the words to pray, the words to describe how we feel, the words to articulate what needs to be done. My last post was about dealing with darkness, but at times there just seems to be so much of it, not just in my own soul, but in the world.

I take some comfort in Romans 8:26. I also take comfort in the words of others who describe things outside of my experience in ways too powerful for me to ignore or deny, who break into my privileged world and open my eyes and leave me groaning for change. It feels silly to write my usual parenting stuff in the face of these last few weeks in the world. It feels silly to try and take on global issues on which I have no experience or expertise, either.

Instead I groan. I pray. I read folks like Stacia L. Brown and Ta Nehisi Coates. I am glued to Twitter, breathing prayers for the protesters each night in Ferguson. I encourage everyone I know to know their rights. I try to find small ways to help. But I have no words.


The image used above is via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

the light and the dark

orsbornpicLike a lot of people who have spent their lives loving his work, I’ve been pretty sad about Robin Williams’ death. He was just a bright light in the world, and now that he’s gone, things seem a little dimmer. He will be missed.

I’m glad that his tragic suicide is being used to shed some light on the very real problems of depression and suicide. It’s not enough to replace his light, but it’s something.

I have been concerned by some of the rhetoric I’ve seen though, even in well-meaning statements. Mental illness is an illness. It’s one that others often don’t know about, because of things like stigma that keep people from reaching out. But it’s an illness, same as any other chronic condition– with something like diabetes, your pancreas doesn’t work right. With mental illness, it’s your brain. You can’t cure any chronic disease just by “knowing how loved” you are. Or by “knowing God.” Or by “choosing joy.”  Continue reading

good friday

I won’t be making it to a Good Friday service this year, but I’m thinking a lot about what this day means. It’s a weird day if you’re a Jesus follower who doesn’t believe in what theologians call “penal substitutionary atonement.” In more normal terms, that’s the belief that the reason Jesus died on the cross is because God was angry at us for being sinners, and someone had to die for it, but instead of killing us and killing us forever, or damning us all to hell, God sent Jesus, God’s only Son, to die in our place as a sort of proxy stand-in recipient of God’s wrath, so that we could be forgiven and live forever with God. I don’t believe in this, because, to paraphrase Brian MacLaren, I believe in reading all of the Bible and in fact approaching God Himself, through the lens of Jesus. And in Jesus I do not come to know an angry God who demanded blood to satisfy his rage.  Continue reading

ash wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. I like Lent, if that can even be said. It deeply suits a morbid, doubting place in my soul, and knowing that the church has made space for such a season in the church calendar reminds me that this part of me is not contrary to my faith, but part of it. Sometimes I find myself envious of those for whom faith comes easy, who are quick to count blessings, who feel God’s presence regularly, who don’t feel like they’re talking to the ceiling when they pray. While I am richly blessed, while I find much joy in my family, friends, and daily life, faith still does not come easy to me. If on Ash Wednesday, most Christians are remembering that they come from ashes and to ashes they will return, then for part of me, it is always Ash Wednesday. Especially after my near death experience, I just can’t NOT be aware of the reality of death and loss.

I need Lent to remind me that not only are these thoughts just part of the package, they propel me for a reason. I need Lent to teach me that this Christian journey isn’t about how much or how deeply I believe, or how hard I try, or how strictly I can keep the fast. I need Lent to show me just how desperately I need Easter, a new day dawning to look forward to. I need Lent to remind me that I’m not apart from the faith, but still in the thick of it, even as like an apostle I pray, “Lord I believe, please help my unbelief.”

And so, I will fast. This year, I’m abstaining from meat. Last year’s failed attempt at a vegan fast definitely showed me the limits of what I can do on my own, and inspired me to take a smaller step this year. Last year I failed in my fast– but that’s kind of the point of the fast anyway, to show us our own limits and failings and to teach us to rely on the abundant Grace of God. This year, aware of my failings, I’m trying again. I am sure I will still need grace. I know it. I feel it. The need rises from me like smoke from ashes.

This year, my prayer is well summed up by T.S. Eliot in “Ash Wednesday:” “pray to God to have mercy upon us / And pray that I may forget / These matters that with myself I too much discuss.” And for you, if you observe Lent, I pray for a meaningful season as you journey through the dark, always heading toward the light.

*Image on this post is via the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, via Flickr, under a Creative Commons License.

hello, babies

Kid President is pretty amazing. I think most people need to watch that video sometime before or after their high five just for getting out of bed in the morning. Because the world IS amazing, and we all mess up, and we do need to forgive each other’s mess ups. And maybe dance some more and have some more corndogs.

He actually echoes a favorite bit of Kurt Vonnegut that I’ve loved since I found out I was pregnant with twins. It’s from a baptismal speech the protagonist of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater plans for his neighbor’s twins: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

This quote actually led to me experiencing a moment of kindness. I had tweeted about my love for the quote and how I wanted to hang it up in my babies’ room. Then I almost died and came back again, and a friend I had only met via Twitter said she had made me something to celebrate my survival. One night soon after we had both babies home, she came by and gave me this beautiful (and slightly censored because kids) canvas:


It’s one of my favorite things in my favorite room of our house. I want my kids to know that they have to be kind. But I also want them to know that people are kind. That the world is full of good and beauty, if we look for it. I guess that’s my answer to Kid President’s question about what kids need to know.

It reminds me of a bit in Thomas King’s The Truth About StoriesKing’s refrain throughout the (excellent) book is that the truth about stories is that’s all we are. The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and about the world literally construct the world we experience. He points out in one passage that we can tell ourselves or our children that “life is hard,” but we can equally teach them that “life is sweet.” Each perspective constructs a way of being in the world. Sometimes life is just hard, it’s true. To quote Vonnegut again, “so it goes.” But I think the balance bends toward the beautiful and the good, because I believe in a God who is at work on a great project of reconciliation, re-creation, and renewal. And I think we get to participate in this project, to be agents of beauty and goodness and change. I’m raising up revolutionaries to participate in this project, too. So I want them to be kind and see kindness, in their hundred years here and beyond.

merry crazy magical christmas

This week, the Christmas and the Crazy have taken over. We’re about to leave for a week with family in Colorado. I’m super looking forward to it, because I’m excited for everyone to see how much the girls have grown, and to watch them get loved on, and to see them finally able to play with their 2 year old cousin, and to spend time with people we don’t see often enough. But I’m also dreading a bit all the prep it takes to get us out the door and onto planes and through the plane ride, and sleep disruptions that come with traveling. Last year’s visit was amazing and also awful because the girls were both sick the whole time and did not sleep at all. This year, they’ve picked this week to cut their canines AND some molars, Etta’s started coughing in the last 24 hours, and Claire’s nose is running like a faucet.

Meanwhile, I realized yesterday, when Claire’s preschool teacher gave me a list of all the kids’ names, that I was meant to bring some sort of Christmas Thing for all the kids. I’d planned and prepared to gift her three teachers and three therapists, but the kids threw a wrench into my plans. A quick jaunt to the store (well, as quick as any jaunt can be with a toddler who wants everything she sees) and I had clearance jumbo crayons and holiday coloring books for all the preschoolers. I also dipped my toe into the Crazy Pinterest Mom deep end by using my phone to edit a pic of Claire in her Christmas jammies, send it to Walgreens through their app, and pick my prints up an hour later, ready to turn them into custom gift tags. I must say, it made all the gifts look super cute for less than $5.

photo 1

At the same time, yesterday was just a truly hellish day on the toddler front. Etta was teething and cranky and on a nap-strike all day, and then Claire came home ready to cry at the drop of a hat. I seriously fantasized about just running out the door and down the block and on and on and on.

But then, the magic started to happen. We went to our Happy Place, a local Mexican restaurant where they know and love us and give us our usual table. We drank margaritas and the girls ate cheese dip. We got them to bed. I got to attend a Christmas party with some of my dearest friends. The girls woke up happy, and we had a little mini-Christmas so we could do it just the four of us, before we head off on our trip. We all opened our stockings and sipped egg nog and just enjoyed a morning together. Etta napped (glory hallelujah)! Claire came home happy from preschool! Sesame Street-as-babysitter allowed me to finish sewing my last three gifts! I got Claire snuggled and to sleep, and then got a rare 20 minutes of holding my sweet Etta baby (who is usually go go go), just smelling her hair. By the time I had both babies in bed tonight, my world had turned a complete 360 from yesterday’s insanity.

photo 2 photo 3

I’m starting to realize, early enough to have it matter, I hope (because, ha, seriously, I have it easy with toddlers, there’s no school programs or class parties or dance recitals or required outings yet), that Christmas is not about making the magic for my kids, even as I have to make magic happen in the form of last-minute gifts for bunches of preschoolers. Because my kids are the most magical thing I’ve ever seen, when I stop to see it. Christmas, really, is about a magic, miraculous, mundane thing: babies are born every day, but the Son of God is only born once. God picked the most normal thing in the world and used it to transform everything. And in the process, even the mundane becomes magical and miraculous. Christianity talks a lot about God giving us a new heart, a new life. But I think lately what I need the most is new eyes to see what’s already around me all the time.

Things like: the day before yesterday, I stopped at a light next to a man begging. The light turned green, and I drove away. But a verse popped right into my mind: Give to anyone who asks of you (Luke 6:30). Later, somehow, that same guy approached me in a parking lot a mile away. With my new eyes, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the verse that had popped into my mind and heart, and I gave him some money. I don’t know if I should have, I don’t want to debate giving money to strangers, and I don’t want to brag or let my left hand know what my right is doing. All I know is, in that moment, I truly felt I was being given another opportunity to do the right thing.

Later, irked in traffic, head and sinuses pounding, I looked up and saw a bumper sticker on the van in front of me: “Good Happens.” Message received. It does.

I want to be the good that happens. I want to see it. I want to hold it and smell its hair. And I can, all because of a baby that was born. Because of a new heart. Because of new eyes. That’s what this Christmas seems to be all about, for me. It’s my first to be acutely aware of the Crazy and the Busy. But it’s also my first with two magical little people who are old enough to be starting to see the magic. I want to see it too.