Light and Loveliness

Reflections of Emily Sue Allen

Date archives December 2013

Life & Faith / Thoughts

Christmas Thoughts

Fog falls heavy and hard on the soul and I can’t make sense of how things can be so carefree in one moment only to feel completely frustrating in the next. Twists and turns of unexpected and frantic searching for the peace that is supposed to be here this time of year but feels more absent than usual.

There is no crisis, except one in my own heart, at the place where I couldn’t grasp and hold and control all that I wanted the days of December to be. I wanted laughter and meaning and the weightlessness of a perfectly beautiful season suspended in time and memory for the years to come. Instead I was met with the paradox of beauty found in the miry, desperate place…beauty that is missed when we make glossy the things born out of hardship.

I thought for sure, being rather pregnant this Christmas season, that I would feel drawn to the story of Mary, carrying child in the expectation and uncertainty of what is to come, but that has not been the case. I still look and feel very pregnant, but my heart has identified most closely with the helplessness, the smallness, and the humility of baby Jesus. I have been pounded from all sides with struggles and sadness that derailed all my great plans for a carefree Advent, and while I have felt not-at-all comfortable in my moments of struggle, I do see how each one has given me a way to glimpse into the truest beauty of the of the Nativity…the gifts that come in unexpected packages, in unexpected places, but also with intention and purpose.

This month I have been truly humbled. Not the kind of humility the ego aspires to…that brand of humility that makes one appear noble or selfless when they really may not be under the surface. But the humility that rubs against tender places, the humility that hurts and costs more than maybe we thought at first glance, but also produces fruitfulness that would never be possible if we didn’t journey through seasons that put us in touch with the dirt, our faces in it, with mud made from our tears of lament and loss. It’s only in the dirt the seed can germinate, and yet, I do my best to resist going there until I have no other choice and am dropped right down in it.

It seems like at Christmas, we want to make everything merry and bright and totally forget the ways the heart hurts and the soul struggles. But wounds are real, and acknowledging our struggles does not take anything away from the beauty of the Christmas story…if anything, it makes the story of the coming of Jesus as a helpless babe, entering into filth and humanity, all because of His great love for us…all the more beautiful. You can’t convince me that the Nativity was a scene of an immaculately kept barn, a warm and picturesque place of birth with angels singing and animals gathered round and an effortless arrival of a newborn child. I know way too much about natural childbirth to believe that. In the moments leading up, I imagine it was cold, dark, dirty, and desperate…which makes me feel just a bit better that this month for me has been anything but picturesque. It’s ok. The upside-down Christmas is maybe the truest one…The King of Glory surprising everyone and coming in the lowest way imaginable, not as a conquering King, but as a humble one, showing us even from the first moments of His life on earth that our journey with Him will be messy beautiful and not always perfectly merry and bright.

And so, I guess I wish you a messy Christmas…one that is hopefully merry and joyful and filled with magic, but more than pinterest-perfect, I hope it is full of deep meaning, connection with God and the ones you love, and marked by perseverance through your own struggles and trials with the promise that out of humble places come the greatest gifts.




Creativity / Family

Advent Activities Update

My goal for December is to keep things simple but be very intentional about celebrating Christmas together, making fun memories as we go along. We have been keeping up with our Advent calendar activities, and I thought I would give a report on what we have already done and how they have gone. As of yet, we have not missed a day, although we did rearrange a few days that seemed to conflict with our schedule.

december 2  – pick out one new christmas album – We chose Justin Rizzo “Christmas” and I love it.

december 3  – color a christmas picture – I printed several coloring pages out from the internet for the kids to color. Totally simple, but they were all about it.

december 4  – have hot chocolate with marshmallows together

december 5  – donate used toys, books, and clothes – This is the one thing we haven’t completed. We have done the sorting, but we still need to actually deliver our boxes of toys, clothes, and items to donate to their destination(s).

december 6  – put up a ribbon for christmas cards – At first I was going to put up something new/different, but when I pulled the paper garland I made last year out of the Christmas box, it seemed fitting to just use it for the cards that started arriving. There are a few more up now since these photos were taken (pinned up with small wooden clothespins) and we have lots of room for more! This garland was made with a thick yarn and paper triangles strung on. The kids helped me put it together last year, and the paper held up pretty well in storage & handling. Eventually I would love to make a fabric one.

A closer look at my growing belly for the curious. Baby seems to be right on track with her growth. This is the first/only photo of myself and my round shape that I’ve shared this pregnancy.

Above is the adjacent wall, where more cards will be added as they come to us. On the Advent calendar, I just turn the numbers over and discard the slips of paper that had the activities on them.

december 7  – buy a new ornament or christmas decoration – We had a sick baby at home for a few days, so my husband took the kids to Leavenworth on his own and the treasures that found their way back here were: a miniature light-up snow globe, a nutcracker ornament, and a horse ornament.

december 8  – cut tree & decorate house for christmas – I put the few photos I took of that day on this post and this post. I hope to share some more when I get around to photographing the whole decorated tree. We are still adding to it.

december 9  – make a popcorn garland – This was a fun activity, but was really mostly enjoyed by the oldest. The others started off with gusto but were quickly frustrated and became disinterested in anything except eating the popcorn. We used blunt needles and embroidery thread, and I provided a giant bowl of salted stove-top popcorn for eating alongside a smaller bowl of unsalted popcorn for threading. I would say this is a great activity for 7+ year olds. Even when everyone abandoned her, she kept at it and filled her whole string (about 3 feet).

december 10  – make and mail christmas cards for grandparents – Everyone had fun with this. I’ll have photos of them soon.

december 11  – make felt ornaments – This is always a hit as well. The three older kids (ages 4, 5.5, and 7) all made their own ornaments by sewing two pieces of felt together and stuffing fluff inside. I cut out their shapes (which I cut from a pattern I made out of cardboard first), got them started with a threaded needle, and let them go to town. The ornaments pictured are the ones A & J made last year and are hanging on the tree.

december 12  – $5 present shopping with kids – This is what we did tonight, and it was really fun. We split up into teams (boys team and girls team) to head out shopping and each of the kids were given the name of another sibling they had to choose a $5 gift for. To me, it was not as much about what gifts they ended up choosing (although they are sweet), but the excitement they had about choosing thoughtfully for another, and the experience of knowing (and having to keep) a surprise. Each of them was involved in choosing and wrapping the present they will to give to their selected sibling, except the toddler who doesn’t understand yet. We’ll see if they can keep the surprise until Christmas day!



Family / Life & Faith / Motherhood

Family Quirks

I know I tend to live on the serious side of life, especially in my writing, so I thought it might be fun to share a few of the silly things we do in our family that may not be exactly normal. We are an odd bunch.  Here goes some randomness off the top of my head…

My children barely know what the word “sucker” is, and only know the word “lollipop” just slightly more. They’ve had approximately 100,000 suckers each in their lifetimes (I know, bad mom), but somewhere toward the beginning, the firstborn started calling them “bum-bum’s”, which may have been her way of saying “dum-dum”, and it has stuck. To this day, every one of us refer to them as bum-bums.

While we are on the subject of food weirdness, my children also think that oatmeal is normally served with sprinkles on top. It kind of makes me giggle to think about times ahead when they start comparing notes with friends and say, “You mean, your mom didn’t put sprinkles on your oatmeal?”

A confession: My children only wear socks about 10% of the time, and only when I absolutely insist/beg/demand. I blame it on our early years in California, when sandals were the norm and socks were not needed. Sometimes I’m embarrassed that we’re pretty much sockless year-round even in the rainy northwest, but really, its just one less thing to worry about, so most of the time I don’t stress over it. The kids wear socks on their hands (for play) all the time, and love playing all sorts of games with the gobs of socks in the community sock box (nope, I never sort and match them, except for a few pairs for daddy), but that’s really most of the action the socks get around here.

When A was a wee little one, we started singing songs to her while she was having her teeth brushed to get her to sit still, and have most often sung the ABC song (to various tunes) over the years. I still have “turns” with each of them a few times a week where we sing ABCs or other silly songs that help them remember things while brushing their teeth. It’s one of my favorite quirky family traditions we have, and they have memorized a lot of remarkable things just during this funny activity. Number 3 gets especially frustrated if you try to brush without singing.

Cleanup times are always accompanied by music, and a few of our children seem to be convinced that you CANNOT clean a house unless the tunes are turned up. The great thing is, everyone has really caught on to the momentum of doing tasks together, and aside from the times when not everyone is willing to rally, cleanup times are usually a very productive and sometimes even fun for all.

My kids think the best household tasks are scrubbing the walls with a wet soapy sponge and mopping the floors. I’m very ok with the excitement they have to do these jobs. They also argue over who gets to vacuum and unload the dishwasher. And just this morning we had a team deep-clean in the kitchen where the kids emptied out and organized the pantries (we have 2 smaller ones), helped organize the bowls and tupperware, and cleaned out the fridge and freezer with me. Willingly. Let’s just ride that wave all the way to college, shall we?

Grandpa Mac has our kids convinced that bunnies live in our yard. When he comes over, he tells them all about the bunnies and how they need to be fed. They usually dig lettuce or carrots out of the fridge and go searching for them all around the yard, deciding finally to leave the food out for the bunnies to find when they are hungry. Of course the “bunnies” always take a few bites out of the goodies for the kids to find when they come back, and apparently are so convincing that even the oldest still tells people we have bunnies that live in our yard even though I’ve never seen one.

(Photos from our Christmas tree-cutting adventure 2013. Self-timer for the win!)

Does your family (current or from your childhood) have any quirks that make you smile?


Life & Faith / Motherhood

Unexpected Turns

I seriously debated naming this post “The Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Start to Celebrating Advent,” but I think that title might be copyrighted and it’s difficult to fit such a long string of words in a blog title.

This week has been tough for us, for me. I had Christmas bursting in my heart well before Thanksgiving, and following a restful and meaningful Thanksgiving holiday, had great plans and high hopes for a blissful season of joy, peace, and all those other nice words that are supposed to make the season ring.

In the past, I have not been well-prepared for making the most of this time of the year. Spread thin and scattered, it is usually all I can do to make sure we do just one fun thing all month, and even then, it’s usually my husband who pulls it all together to make the best memories for the kids. Bless him. This year I was determined to get ahead, to put my heart and soul into squeezing the best out of each day and trying to make every activity worthwhile and memorable, merry and bright. You might have seen my Advent Calendar. I had well-laid plans.

But sometimes our plans don’t work out. The undertow has had me. To be fair to myself, we have actually done every activity on the calendar this week. Each on the right day. Win. But there have also been piles of hard things: the unexpected loss of a friend, hearing about another friend’s missing husband – who is still missing, miscommunications, pregnancy woes, a sick baby, irrational worries, challenging kids, and a cluttered house. My attitude has tanked more than once, and truthfully, I’m still struggling. My plan for an exuberant launch into Christmas has been made very simple. Wait in stillness, hold on to the hope of Jesus who joins me in the mess and heartache, and cling to grace through each moment, because it apparently takes moment-by-moment reminders that He wants my heart and attention more than my great outward efforts to somehow look like I’ve got this.

Anyway, I’ll have more (lighter-hearted) things to share later this week, but I think its important to be just as real with you about the harder things in my life. If you’ve had a rough start to December as well, you’re not alone…and I think there is much hope to see the spirit of Christmas–the beauty and mystery of Jesus who emptied Himself to come into our humanity with us, the very reason we can know His love and pass it on to others in the midst of our brokenness–that this spirit will find its way to our hearts, whether or not our plans and desires are fulfilled in outward celebration.

A good friend turned me on to a new Christmas album that has been whispering love to my weary heart all week. Feel free to check it out if you’re needing a little TLC for your heart too. Justin Rizzo, Christmas. So many good tracks. Until next time….


Creativity / Family

Handmade Christmas: Our Advent Calendar

For years, I have had the best intentions about making memories together during the season of Advent, but to be honest, it has never come together in any sort of successful effort. We always talk about buying an advent calendar to countdown the days, but I have found myself creatively uninspired by the paper/disposable ones you can buy with little candies inside, too frugal to buy anything of the quality I would desire for a calendar we could use again and again for years, and in times past, I have been too scattered and stressed out to make a DIY advent calendar project happen.

Last year was the first year it dawned on me that I really hate buying Christmas decorations and ornaments. Of course, there are some exceptions, and we do have some really meaningful ones that we have purchased over the years, but really, what matters most to me is that we have a personal investment in the creation of the trimmings we put up. Last Christmas, the two oldest kids made sewn felt ornaments for the tree, and I fell in love with them. This year, and for the years to come, I am planning to add many handmade projects to our Christmas collection.

I started off by creating an Advent calendar that we can hopefully use for multiple years. It is very simple – just a craft board, painted silver, little clothespins attached with hot glue, and a ribbon to hang. The tags came blank and pre-cut in a package and I decorated them with stamps and paper punch snowflakes. After I finished all the elements, I compiled a list of activities that are printed on slips of paper and clipped behind each tag. (See list below.)

In preparation for Christmas day, each day we flip around the appropriate tag on the calendar to reveal the activity on the slip behind it, and each night we read Luke chapter 2 (the birth of Jesus) from a different bible (with some repeats, of course), sing a few carols together before bed, and talk about different topics like love, peace, generosity, and the things that Jesus says are important to Him in the New Testament…the foundational things I hope my children will glean from why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. My list starts on Dec. 2 because I hadn’t pulled it all together in time for Dec. 1. Real life!

  • december 2  – pick out one new christmas album
  • december 3  – color a christmas picture
  • december 4  – have hot chocolate with marshmallows, together
  • december 5  – donate used toys, books, and clothes
  • december 6  – put up a ribbon for christmas cards
  • december 7  – buy a new ornament or christmas decoration
  • december 8  – cut tree & decorate house for christmas
  • december 9  – make a popcorn garland
  • december 10  – make and mail christmas cards for grandparents
  • december 11  – make felt ornaments
  • december 12  – $5 sibling present shopping with kids
  • december 13  – holiday party
  • december 14  – have a fireside night together
  • december 15  – make gingerbread houses
  • december 16  – watch a christmas movie
  • december 17  – christmas crafts with friends
  • december 18  – go out to see christmas lights
  • december 19  – make dough ornaments
  • december 20  – build legos together as a family with hot chocolate
  • december 21  – make and decorate christmas cookies
  • december 22  – make a christmas decoration together
  • december 23 – sing christmas carols
  • december 24  – open a gift & watch a christmas movie

To me, the activities are fun, but are not the main point. Most are easy and will not require a lot of time or energy, but will probably be a great delight to the kids. If we miss one, oh well. I see them as opportunities designed to bring us together, make memories and meaningful projects that can go in our Christmas box for the years ahead.

Life & Faith


She is a lovely woman. You can see, even from this profile shot from a few years ago, how warm her face is. Her arms are every bit as warm, and her love for her kids – the biological children and grandchildren, and all the kids she has welcomed into her home over the years – is something that sticks close in the heart. I am one of those kids, even though some years have passed since I’ve been in close contact. Holly’s home was a haven for me in my teen years, and her family has been a huge blessing in my life. Holly herself has hugged me, listened to my heartaches, encouraged me, and is someone who ranks up there in my list of beautiful servant hearts that inspire me to pursue quietness and selflessness in my life, merely by her example.


Holly is fighting for her life with her children around her this very minute. She has had a brain aneurysm, is not responsive, and doctors are saying she will not make it through. This is a tragic prognosis, and is being felt hard by everyone around her. Completely unexpected, and far too soon to see her slipping away.

I’m clinging to hope for an unexplainable miracle. For restoration and a chance to spend years ahead watching her beloved grand-babies grow. If you would, please join me in prayer for her to be made well in spite of the odds, for her family’s needs to be met in full, and for the Lord to be near to all of them as they navigate this uncertain and troubling time.

Holly – I love you, and we’re not giving up. You are a vision of beauty and grace, and I am thankful beyond words for all the love you have given me.

***UPDATE: I have received word that Holly has passed away. I am very sad, as are all the friends and family she leaves behind. Please feel free to leave memories or prayers for the family in the comment section and I will be sure to share with them at an appropriate time. Blessings to all. We miss you already, Holly.