the paralytic and the poor girl: confronting disability in church

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Sunday morning, Claire and I were walking hand in hand up the steps to church. As I went through the door, a woman coming in behind us asked, “Is your daughter left handed?” “That’s a random question,” I thought, but I answered, “No?” “Oh, she leads with her left foot,” the woman said. “OH!” I said, “Yeah, she has spina bifida and her left foot is her strongest foot, so she tends to step first and step up with it.” And then she said it.

“Oh, you poor girl!”

To her credit, the look on her face as the words left her mouth was like she’d like to suck them back in unsaid if possible. I had kept moving toward the table where we make nametags, and she ended up writing her tag next to us. “I didn’t mean to say that like that,” she said. “You’re a beautiful girl.” I smiled at the woman. I don’t think she meant to say something hurtful, and she knew it came out wrong.

Claire and I went in, found seats, and sat down. I started to think about what I was going to say to her after church about what that woman had said.

And then guess what the lectionary text was on Sunday? The one where Jesus heals a paralyzed man after his friends lower him through a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is speaking.

Little known fact: we parents of disabled kids who go to church are a little bit wary of Bible stories where disabled people are miraculously healed. We spend our time trying to convince ourselves, our kids, and the world that having a disability is just another way of being a person in the world, that people with disabilities are whole and complete, just the way they are, and then we go to church and hear retrograde terms like “crippled” thrown around and stories like that of the paralyzed man used to suggest that maybe people with disabilities are more in need of healing than the rest of us sinners, somehow.

To make matters more awkward, the children’s message was actually a play put on about the Bible story by some older kids. My little blonde piece of sassy perfection was sitting on the front row on the floor watching it. And while I’m sure they did it because slapstick humor is always funny, the play presented the “paralytic” as completely unconscious, constantly being dropped or otherwise accidentally injured by his friends attempting to carry him toward Jesus. It completely removed any agency or really humanity from the man, and made the only actors in the story the friends and Jesus.

Claire loved the singing and the big kids and declared it the “BEST. SHOW. EVER.”

After she went off to children’s church, I paid extra attention to the Bible reading of the story, Mark 2:1-12. And you know what I saw? Everyone but Jesus is focused on the man’s physical body, his disability. Four friends carry the man up to a rooftop, make a hole in it, and lower him down. But when Jesus sees the man, his first words are, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” And Jesus stops there. Jesus doesn’t immediately jump to healing that man’s body. He sees him as no different than anyone else: someone in need of grace and salvation, just like we all are, able-bodied or not. In fact, he doesn’t infantilize the man or take away his agency, but he reminds us that the man is a human actor with free will, responsible for his own sins, as in need of forgiveness as anyone else.

It’s only after some of the crowd starts grumbling and questioning, “who is this guy to forgive sins? This is blasphemy!” that Jesus decides he needs a way to show people that he has the power to give us all the wholeness we need. It’s like he goes, ok, fine, since you guys don’t believe I can heal the important, soul-level stuff, let me give you something you can see. And then he tells the man to take up his mat and walk.

Finally, an insight into this story that doesn’t leave me feeling frustrated with a Bible that reinforces a worldview that sees Claire as somehow less than whole in a way that able-bodied people aren’t. Instead, I see a Jesus who sees us all as equally in need of healing and wholeness. A Jesus who gently rebukes the people who might only look at the physical disability and reminds everyone that the place we’re all broken isn’t a place anyone else can see.

That night at the dinner table, I said to Claire, “I want to talk to you about what that woman said in church, how when I said you have spina bifida, she said, ‘poor girl.’ Do you think you’re a poor girl, or that she should feel sorry for you because you have spina bifida?” And Claire said, “I’m not poor! I’m just different!” We talked about how our bodies are not the reason we love and are loved, but that it’s our hearts and minds that make us who we are to people. We talked about how so many of us are different and need help sometimes. And we reminded her that we love her because of who she is, a funny, nurturing, hilarious little being who takes such great care of everyone around her. Thanks be to God.

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we will not comply

litany of resistance

In 2008 or so, around the time I started this blog, I went down a rabbit hole that changed my faith forever. I think it was because I was a Relevant magazine subscriber and frequent message board contributor there (if you were on the Relevant boards at any point in the first decade of the 2000s, you may remember someone named funnyface with an Audrey Hepburn avatar). Thanks to Relevant, I heard about Rob Bell. I started listening to his sermons (and, briefly, to some Mark Driscoll sermons because I thought the two Mars Hills were related: BOY THEY WEREN’T), reading his books, and then reading the people he footnoted in his books. Rob Bell, Dallas Willard, Brian Maclaren, and Shane Claiborne radically revolutionized my thinking.

The Way of Jesus became not primarily a creed I promised to believe in but an actual lifestyle. It changed the way I ate, the media I consumed, my politics, everything. Heck, it’s still changing me. Shane in particular challenges areas that I might not actually want challenged all the time, particularly my consumerism. By the way, I told him this when I had the opportunity to meet him last year, as I had helped lead a class at church based on his and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution, and then he came to speak. He smiled. He really doesn’t care about my angst around wanting All The Things.

Shane literally lives his faith in a way few do. He’s been a radical and a resister of empire since at least the Bush administration. And I’m finding myself drawn back to his work at the beginning of the Trump regime (I refuse to call it an administration, because an administration implies some level of competence and experience and reason that does not exist with this presidency). We’re only a week in, and I’m already finding my emotional and spiritual reserves tapped, my cynicism rising, and my anxiety raging. I need to get grounded in things that will feed and fuel me through months and years of this. I’ve been doing things that busy my hands and occupy my mind, like sewing, cooking, and crafting. I took a long walk with my dog yesterday while listening to a Robcast from Rob Bell, and it felt so good, I’m planning to do it more often. And I’m coming back to the book by Shane that changed my faith in 2008.

Get this. It’s called Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals. You should absolutely get a copy. (That was not an affiliate link, btw. In fact, it’s to the used copies of the book, because Amazon is currently out of stock on the paperback.) In particular this week, my heart is drawn back to the Litany of Resistance in the back of the book. Since Shane says he invites readers to use and adapt it, I feel ok reprinting it here. I am thinking of writing out a copy so I can read it every day. I pray it fuels your reserves for resistance as it does for me.

A Litany for Resistance

from Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Have mercy on us.

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Free us from the bondage of sin and death.

One: Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.

All: Hear our prayer. Grant us Peace.

One: For the victims of war.

All: Have mercy.

One: Women, men, children.

All: Have mercy.

One: The maimed and the crippled.

All: Have mercy.

One: The abandoned and the homeless.

All: Have mercy.

One: The imprisoned and the tortured.

All: Have mercy.

One: The widowed and the orphaned.

All: Have mercy.

One: The bleeding and the dying.

All: Have mercy.

One: The weary and the desperate.

All: Have mercy.

One: The lost and the forsaken.

All: Have mercy.

One: O God, have mercy on us sinners.

All: Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

One: For our scorched and blackened earth.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the scandal of billions wasted in war.

All: Forgive us.

One: For our arms makers and arms dealers.

All: Forgive us.

One: For our Caesars and Herods.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the violence that is rooted in our hearts.

All: Forgive us.

One: For the times we turn others into enemies.

All: Forgive us.

One: Deliver us, O God.

All: Guide our feet into the way of peace.

One: Hear our prayer.

All: Grant us peace.

One: From the arrogance of power.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the myth of redemptive violence.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the tyranny of greed.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ugliness of racism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the cancer of hatred.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the seduction of wealth.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the addiction of control.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the idolatry of nationalism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the paralysis of cynicism.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the violence of apathy.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ghettos of poverty.

All: Deliver us.

One: From the ghettos of wealth.

All: Deliver us.

One: From a lack of imagination.

All: Deliver us.

One: Deliver us, O God.

All: Guide our feet into the way of peace.

One: We will not conform to the patterns of this world.

All: Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

One: With the help of God’s grace.

All: Let us resist evil wherever we find it.

One: With the waging of war.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the legalization of murder.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the slaughter of innocents.

All: We will not comply.

One: With laws that betray human life.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the destruction of community.

All: We will not comply.

One:  With the pointing finger and malicious talk.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the idea that happiness must be purchased.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the ravaging of the earth.

All: We will not comply.

One: With principalities and powers that oppress.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the destruction of peoples.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the raping of women.

All: We will not comply.

One: With governments that kill.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the theology of empire.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the business of militarism.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the hoarding of riches.

All: We will not comply.

One: With the dissemination of rear.

All: We will not comply.

One: Today we pledge our ultimate allegiance to the kingdom of God.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To a peace that is not like Rome’s.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the gospel of enemy-love.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the kingdom of the poor and broken.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To a king who loves his enemies so much he died for them.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the transnational church that transcends the artificial borders of nations.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One:  To the refugee of Nazareth.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the homeless rabbi who had no place to lay his head.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the cross rather than the sword.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the banner of love above any flag.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the one who rules with a towel rather than an iron fist.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the one who rides a donkey rather than a war horse.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the way that leads to life.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: To the slaughtered Lamb.

All: We pledge allegiance.

One: And together we proclaim his praises, from the margins of the empire to the centers of wealth and power.

All: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.

One: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.

All: Long live the slaughtered Lamb.

 

beware of false peaks: we are not yet to the mountaintop

Finding a new church here in Denver was a process I worried about and prayed over. We loved our church in Little Rock, and I didn’t think we’d find a place I loved so much here. Theologically, we line up most with progressive, mainline churches, but we’re not anchored to one denomination. In the past we have attended Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and Methodist churches. We visited two Methodist churches here where we were warmly welcomed, but knew neither felt “right.” We visited a gorgeous Episcopal cathedral, where Etta loudly exclaimed that the communion host “tastes like cotton balls,” and we realized our four year olds are just not ready for high church.

And then we visited Montview Presbyterian. Walking in felt like walking into our beloved Little Rock church. Even the architecture was similar. And the music! That first day, there was brass, timpani, organ, and choir, and the music gave us goosebumps. We noted that the church is led by a man and woman co-pastor team. We were soothed and challenged by the prayers and preaching. We were excited to see the classes, events, and mission opportunities they listed in the bulletin. And to top it off, they were having an ice cream social after church that day, and the girls were totally sold. Plus, when Claire ate too much ice cream too fast in the hot sun outside and barfed, several members helped us deal.

We knew our hunt was over. And then, months later, we learned that in our new church, we actually already had some deep roots. Jon’s dad said, “You know, I think Montview is where my grandfather and grandmother met,” and it turned out to be true.

While we are excited to talk to the church historian and see if we can find any members who were around when Jon’s great grandparents were there, our family history is not the biggest historical event that has happened at Montview.

Today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, yesterday our pastor Ian preached about the civil rights movement and the struggle for social and racial justice which continues today. He started by saying he was always honored and humbled to preach from a place Martin Luther King Jr. once stood. In 1964, MLK visited Denver, and he actually spoke at Montview. In fact, the story goes that he got stuck in a room of the church (I have heard cloakroom, bathroom, and pastor’s study all mentioned) and had to be rescued with a ladder at a window in order to get out and walk around to the front of the church to go in and speak. To the overflow crowd gathered out front, he was just kind enough to come say hello before his talk, but the truth was, that great man had just climbed out a window and down a ladder!

Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.

Martin Luther King Jr. at Montview Presbyterian Church.

It turns out his choice of Montview was significant. Montview is in a neighborhood near ours called Park Hill. In the 60s, as in much of the country, white flight was happening from the city to the suburbs, as many white people opposed the integration of their neighborhood. In Park Hill, there were many residents and many churches who bucked this trend and decided to stay and fight for a unified, integrated neighborhood. Montview was one of those churches.

I am sure that this longstanding legacy of activism and unity is why I can look in my church bulletin and see, just listed this week, that there was a Peace And Justice Forum with leaders from the Denver Justice Project and Together Colorado “to learn more about important issues in Colorado’s criminal justice system, including prison overcrowding, use of force issues, and current reform efforts.” On Tuesday, at least 100 members of our congregation plan to attend a meeting at a nearby AME church to also learn about these issues. In a couple of weeks, people from the Colorado Faith Communities United to end Gun Violence will come help members learn about the legislative process and how to lobby for reforms that will reduce gun violence. And next month, we are invited to a Presbytery-wide conversation about race and the Denver Presbytery.

I also think this legacy is what enabled Ian to stand where MLK once stood, and preach to a largely white congregation about things like privilege, police accountability, and mass incarceration. Like MLK, Ian chose a metaphor very familiar to a Colorado congregation: mountaintops. He reminded us that climbing a mountain is hard work, and that there are many false peaks. A false peak is when you can look and see a ridge up ahead. You are tired, and yet so excited, and yet you get there only to realize you still have a long way to go to reach the top. This is a point where you have to decide if you want to keep pushing on toward the top, or if you will turn back, or stay where you are.

I think for a lot of our nation, we experienced a false peak with the election of Barack Obama. While the election of our first black president was indeed a milestone and a huge piece of history, it was not the mountain top. We are not “there” yet. We are not past racism or “post-racial” as a society, by any stretch of the imagination. The last year has brought a lot of un-dealt-with injustices into the light– things that black Americans have always known were issues are finally being brought to the attention of a white America that has for too long been too insulated by privilege to see– how many young black men have to be shot down in the street by police, how many hateful comments do we have to hear from our own president-elect and his supporters, before we realize that the civil rights movement was not just then but is now, and we have to keep going, keep pressing on toward the mountaintop?

Ian wrapped up his sermon by reminding us of the words of Jesus to some of John the Baptist’s followers: “Come and see.” We are called to come and see the injustices faced by our neighbors. We are called to show up for tough conversations, and to get uncomfortable with our own privilege. Because to come and see is to follow Jesus into the way of love. When we see, then we realize we have to act.

So, this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am planning to do more showing up. To the meetings about racial issues and gun violence, to the marches, and the protests. What are you planning to do?

Of course, after his wonderful sermon, Ian got completely upstaged by the choir. They performed “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin, with actual recordings of Martin Luther King Jr. speaking interspersed with the singing. I was moved to tears, as were many in the congregation. I will leave you with a video of Patty performing the song (click through if you can’t see the embedded video):

I’m not ready for Christmas, but I’m desperate for Advent

I'm not ready for Christmas, but I'm desperate for Advent | erniebufflo.com

It’s a weird holiday season this year. I’m not so sure I have ever entered this season in such a fraught place. Last year, yes, I was struggling with what I later realized was clinical anxiety, but this year feels like a malaise bigger than me. It’s not just a darkness in my thoughts, but it seems like darkness is all around me. The election seems to have emboldened some of the darkest parts of our national identity. We look around and see reasons to fear and worry. Many of our neighbors are afraid and worrying too. Wondering what the new presidency will mean for their lives in very real terms.

None of this feels very Holly Jolly Christmas. But it turns out it’s the exact right mood for Advent. We begin this season with prophecies for “a people who walked in darkness.” The Israelites had lived in exile, in slavery, in the wilderness, and under an oppressive empire. They had experienced war, famine, and death. I can relate to them now more than ever. Times feel uncertain. The future often looks bleak.

Advent is a time of waiting and expecting and daring to hope in the worst of circumstances. As we’re literally anticipating the birth of a savior, pregnancy is often a fit metaphor for Advent, for this waiting time. I didn’t really grasp these metaphors until I actually was pregnant. It’s a time of joy, for sure, but also a time filled with worries and discomfort. During Advent 2011, I was pregnant-to-bursting with twins and had just found out that Claire had spina bifida. The joy of that season was also tempered with sorrow and worry, uncertainty about what our life would look like with a disability in the midst of it.

We are in such a dark time now. We feel stretched, swollen, tender, emotional, and concerned. We are restless. It may not be pregnancy heartburn keeping us up at night, but there is a tightness in our chests. Our hearts do burn a little. And though we have hope for new life, we know there will be much pain in the attaining of that joy.

A familiar verse from Romans comes to mind:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Right now, we are the weary world, not yet the one that rejoices. We are the people who walk in great darkness. We are captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here. We are groaning and in pain. We look around us and we do see bondage and decay.

I read a perfect piece Sunday morning by Diana Butler Bass in the Washington Post, suggesting this may be more of a “blue” advent. She notes our national blue mood, and suggests blue as an appropriate advent color, because blue is the color of the sky just before dawn. We need Advent as much as ever because

Advent recognizes a profound spiritual truth — that we need not fear the dark. Instead, wait there. Under that blue cope of heaven, alert for the signs of dawn. Watch. For you cannot rush the night. But you can light some candles. Sing some songs. Recite poetry. Say prayers.

On this, the first week of Advent, we dare to light the candle of Hope. We hope for that which we do not currently have. We hope for so much more than where we are at right now. We are not ready to jump straight into Christmas joy, but Advent doesn’t expect us to. Advent sits with us in this darkness. Advent lets us feel how we feel. But it’s also a little pesky, a little optimistic. It keeps directing our attention to flickering flames and twinkling lights, reminding us that we will see a great Light. That our labors will produce joy. That our waiting will not last forever. That while the sorrow may last for a night, and those nights seem oh-so-long in the bleak midwinter, joy comes in the morning, and there is a bit of light on the horizon. And so I too will light a candle. I will try to remind myself to hope.

My prayer this week is from my church’s corporate confession on Sunday:

Hear me Lord,
grant me an ease
to breathe deeply of this moment,
this light,
this miracle of now.
Beneath the din and fury
Of great movements
and harsh news
and urgent crises,
make me attentive still
to good news,
to small occasions,
and the grace of what is possible
for me to be,
to do,
to give,
to receive,
that I may miss neither my neighbor’s gift
Nor my enemy’s need.
Amen

 

advent starts tomorrow!

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

Some folks say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. I would say it’s actually Advent, the season of anticipation leading up to Christmas, that’s the most wonderful time of the year. I grew up Presbyterian (PCUSA) and always loved observing Advent– lighting candles on our wreath, doing devotionals from our church, and especially the big church Advent Celebration where we’d have a fellowship meal and then go around making different Christmas crafts and games. We always drew the name of one other attendee to make a gift for during the evening, giving it to elves to be delivered to the recipient. Our favorite was always the room where white chocolate pretzels were made.

Last year, I posted about finally (two years after I had intended to) finishing our felt Jesse Tree Advent Calendar and offered ideas about creating your own. I love that the Jesse Tree Advent Calendar corresponds to Bible stories about Jesus’ family tree, and each night as a family, we hang up an ornament and read a Bible story from our Jesus Storybook Bible. As last year was our first year using the calendar, and I finished it just under the wire, I didn’t have time to make sure there was a corresponding story for each ornament in the JSB. As we went through, I discovered that some of the ornaments didn’t have a story in the JSB, and I also learned that attempting to read out of a regular Bible to small children is difficult and boring for the. This year I thought ahead and pulled out the calendar early. I discovered that Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Jacob’s Ladder, Mary Visiting Elizabeth, and Gideon were all missing from the JSB. In some cases, like Ruth and Naomi and Gideon, I wrote paraphrase stories to read to my kids, printing them off and tucking them into the JSB. In other cases, I swapped out the ornament to better reflect the story that is in the JSB, like getting rid of Jacob’s ladder and making an ornament of 3 wedding rings, since the ladder story isn’t in the JSB, but Jacob’s marriage to Leah and Rachel is. I also ordered a kids’ storybook about Esther to tell her story.
I also got curious about options for Jesse Tree Advent Calendars on Etsy and scoped a few out for you if you’d like to start using this tradition with your family. Most completed felt calendars are still quite pricey. I found a nice one for $180. I also discovered that if you want to go the full DIY route, the pattern is still available to make one like I did. However, I think the best option I found was to buy this pre-made tree calendar for $13, and then buy this semi-DIY kit where all you have to do is cut out machine embroidered ornaments and add hanging string to them. The ornaments even come with a book. You’ll end up with an heirloom for $73, and not have to do nearly as much work as I did. (I have embedded pins of these items in this post– if you’re reading this in a RSS feed, you may not see them below.)

don’t talk about my kid that way

“Raging Sociopath.” “Little Criminal.” “Corrupt.” “Depraved.” “Demon Child.”

If someone said those things about either of my children, they’d be facing a very angry mama bear. Imagine my surprise to find them littered throughout an ostensibly Christian parenting book (Parenting by the Book, by John Rosemond) my Sunday School class has started studying! I had so many issues with the first lesson of the study that my head almost exploded, but this is one of my biggest issues with the author’s entire view on parenting, because the way he speaks about children, I think, has a lot to do with the harsh manner in which he advocates treating them.

Can you imagine the Jesus who said “Let the little children come to me,” and who encouraged all of us to have faith like a child speaking of his beloved little children in those terms? It’s hard to imagine a Bible that says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen,” (Ephesians 4:29) seeing such terms as “building up” or “beneficial” to children.

I gather that in order to understand “sinful nature,” some people must force themselves to believe that children are basically depraved sinners. I just don’t think that in order to accept that all humans have a capacity to sin I must see my children in only those terms. While my children have their periods of selfishness (which it seems to me is pretty much the root of all evil, even in my own heart), nearly four years with them has taught me that kids have great capacities for love and empathy. They genuinely want to please the adults in their lives. They genuinely want to show love to the people around them. One of the highest compliments I can pay my girls is to tell them what loving hearts they have, and how happy my heart is to see them being kind to others. When I do, I can see them radiating joy. They have a capacity for selfishness, too, but the answer is not to tell myself or them that they are basically monsters. The answer is to encourage and nurture their naturally loving little hearts, and to learn from them.

I am often quoting author Thomas King, “The truth about stories is, they’re all that we are.” I’ve also read that our voices will one day become the voices in our children’s heads. The words that we use to think about and talk about our children shape the way we treat them and the way we speak to them. They will do their best to live up to the selves they see reflected in our eyes. I want them to know that I see their best selves, that I feel privileged to know them and to be their mom. Imagine my surprise to find a Christian parenting expert speaking of children in terms I'd sock a stranger for using about my kids!

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?