Sunday, December 14, 2014

First Advent

The word advent can mean "arrival" or "coming into view."

This advent season for us has been really special as we await the day when we celebrate the arrival of Jesus on this earth. For Ivelina, it has definitely been a time of bringing Jesus into view for her. Who is he? What's so special about this baby? Why do we celebrate this holiday that bears His name? It has been easy to get her excited about the true story of Christmas because, well, the story has a baby in it...enough said for her.

We have wondered what her past experiences with holidays were like. So far, she has been able to give us a few clues. We know that her orphanage had a Christmas tree, for we have a photo of her taken last December that shows a small one in the background. She also seems to have knowledge of Santa, and points him out in every store we visit. We are also pretty sure she received a gift for Christmas last year (a baby doll), but it seems that it either had to be shared (and she was not very happy about that) or another child took it from her. Either way, the toy was broken at some point in her old home. That is about all we know of her past Christmas experiences.

Obviously, I am on a mission to make this Christmas, her first real Christmas with a family, the best one yet! We decided that a big part of that needed to be teaching her what Christmas is all about. Along with a gazillion other folks, we ordered Unwrapping the Greatest Gift and have been reading a devotion out of it every day since December 1. Along with a gazillion other folks with littles I have high hopes for our advent devotion time each day, but usually spend it redirecting Ivie's attention or shouting at the dog or battling Ivie's urge to go mess with our nativity scene people. We have been pretty consistent and are praying that some nugget of truth is sinking in.

We start dinner a little earlier these days so we can have extra time for our advent activity each night. After dinner, we begin by taking a link off our Christmas countdown chain. Although she doesn't know numbers this high yet, she can tell the chain is getting shorter every day, and I think she is getting more excited each time we remove a link.

Next we attempt to sit on the couch together and read the daily advent devotion from Voskamp's beautiful book. I like how it clearly traces Jesus' lineage through the family tree of Jesse. After the story, we usually pray for someone or talk about something nice we can do for someone to share the love of Christmas with them. For us, we took on a little family project to bake cookies for our neighbors and friends. I thought this was something Ivelina could easily help with and have fun with too.  She loved choosing the cookie cutter and adding the sprinkles.

We also spent some time together making cinnamon ornaments. I didn't know the recipe would make so many, but I was overjoyed when Ivelina came up with the idea to give some of them away as gifts. Ahhh....evidence that she is capable of thinking of others and being thoughtful!  Yippee!

Then, Ivelina colors the Jesse tree ornament of the day and we attach it to our Jesse tree. (Our tree is made from green dollar store wrapping paper taped to the back of our door.) Then, we color our advent coloring page for the day. I'm keeping all these and will bind them together for her when the season is over.

Lastly, I usually give her two options: tell the birth story using our nativity scene or watch Promise, a new movie I picked up for $5 at Lifeway. I actually do not own a nativity set, but I made a bulletin board style one this year that Ivelina could interact with. It might not be the prettiest thing, but it is Ivelina-friendly and we like it. I tell her the story orally and have her help me put each character into the scene. She has learned about shepherds, wise men, king Herod, Joseph, Mary, manger, stables, and animals, and of course, her favorite, baby Jesus!  She is still working on pronouncing frankincense. The movie Promise is very good for her. It's about 45 minutes long, and it does a good job of telling the Christmas story, and Ivelina loves seeing John and Baptist and Jesus as babies toward the end of the movie.

It has been a delight to get the honor of teaching Ivelina about the true meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate this holiday. I am having the most fun Christmas ever just watching her wait on the arrival of Jesus' birthday. Watching her squeal with delight and jump up and down as we erected our little artificial Christmas tree, seeing her crane her neck to check out baby Jesus in the manger scene, and hearing oohs and ahhs from the back seat when she notices twinkling Christmas lights on peoples' houses has been a true blessing for all of us.

I had a small glimmer that maybe the giving and loving spirit of Advent is rubbing off on Ivie just the other day when we went to the grocery store. As soon as we entered the store, she started talking about wanting to see an orange toy. I had no clue what she was talking about so just brushed her comments off and kept shopping. As we were strolling past the pet aisle, she exclaimed "Yes, the orange toy!  Remember, Mama?"  I didn't remember, but she demanded to look at the display of squeaky dog toys, and wanted to hold the orange one. She told me she wanted to get this toy for our dog Josey and put it in Josey's stocking for Christmas. It was only $3, and it had a coupon on it. I couldn't resist her desire to be thoughtful. I gave her the coupon and two dollar bills and let her buy the toy separately at the checkout. She was overjoyed to hand the cashier money, get change in return, and hold her very own bag containing a present for the dog. I praised her for being so thoughtful and thinking of what someone (or what some dog) would enjoy.

So yeah, Josey is just a dog, and some people may think it's silly to get a dog Christmas presents at all, but my girl acted selflessly and thoughtfully in the grocery store that day. It's the small victories, ya know. I was proud of her, and I have to believe that she is slowly learning to be compassionate, caring, thoughtful, and loving toward others. This Advent season has been a great time for teaching her those important things.

So yeah, she will get a few gifts this year, and she has met Santa, but we are intentionally trying to downplay all that and teach her boldly that Jesus is the reason for the season. This is a time for joy, loving, giving, and celebrating the birth of our Savior, who was really the greatest gift we could receive.

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