Advent, Inspiration

The Expectancy of Advent

A Moravian star emergency.  This rare predicament is unique to a particular subset of the population – Moravians. We are a small church,  one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world. There are about a million of us world-wide, with less than 10% of that number residing in North America.

110-pt star

A Moravian star emergency is likely only to happen during Advent, the season of the church year leading up to Christmas. That is when Moravians (& others) display the Moravian star, beginning with the first Sunday in Advent and ending with Epiphany, the celebration of the wise men’s arrival on January 6. So, back to my pastor friend, for whom Advent is quickly approaching (three days!) and for whom the sanctuary’s 110-point Moravian star is not working! He has called all experts in the workings of Moravian stars, and as you can imagine, this is not a very long list. Having done all he can, he realizes with some anxiety, all he can do now is . . . wait.

Waiting. . . we all do it, though it seems in these days of immediate gratification that we are not content to wait long before we become frustrated and irritated by our waiting . . . for traffic to clear, the doctor to appear, for the web page to load, for dinner to arrive. Waiting frustrates us because we have so many expectations . . . expectations of clear roads, efficient service, quick internet speeds, fast food. We are impatient people, full of expectations. Our waiting is not peaceful or contemplative.

Yet Advent turns all this on its ear. During this holy season, we are required to be expectant, to wait. Waiting is an intentional part of Advent as we anticipate the coming of the Christ child. We hear in Jeremiah 33:14 the words of promise . . . “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” We wait.

“Behold, a promise. . .” No frustration here, only hope. For with the birth of one small child, a tiny babe in a manger, our “hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee.”

Stop. Breathe. Wait in hopeful expectancy for the coming of the Lord. As Advent arrives and we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, how do we wait? How might expectancy help us behold God’s promise?star and nativity

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come, thou long expected Jesus;
born to set thy people free;
from our sins and fears release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

(Words: Charles Wesley, 1744. Music: Rowland H. Prichard, 1830)

And oh yes, my friend’s waiting paid off. The beautiful star was fixed in time to shine brilliantly for the first Sunday in Advent. The season of hope and expectation has arrived!

Some inspiration for the post came from Behold! Cultivating Attentiveness in the Season of Advent by Pamela Hawkins. This book is available for individual and small group use. You can find it in The Resource Center, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries, 500 South Church Street, Winston-Salem, NC.  www.moravianbcm.org

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Inspiration, Kids

The Assist

(Note: this story was first written in early March of 2012. I just noticed it in my draft post list and decided to go ahead and publish it, since it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.)

Assist, n. 1. An act of giving aid; help. 2. Sports a. A fielding and throwing of a baseball in such a way that enables a teammate to put out a runner. b. A pass, as in basketball or ice hockey, that enables the receiver to score a goal. c. Official credit that is given for such a pass.

My son, Jake, is a lacrosse player. Since his first experience with the sport, when he announced to me (at age 9) that lacrosse “is my destiny,” to today as the only freshman on his high school varsity team, the boy has lived and breathed lacrosse.

His high school team is “rebuilding,” which is a nice way of saying they aren’t very good but have tremendous potential. A new coach with discipline and a plan has helped tremendously, but we know that part of the reason Jake is playing varsity is because he is one of few players with several years of community league experience. At a different high school with a more established team, Jake would be playing JV and playing it well. Here, he’s proving to those upperclassmen that he can hold his own on a varsity squad. The pressure is rather intense, as is Jake. He wants to do well, he wants to learn, and he wants to be a team player. Amazingly, not traits that all lacrosse players share. But I digress.

The team had their first home game last night, playing a new team with even less experience and skill. We scored so many goals in the first couple of quarters that Coach was able to put in a variety of players to give them some experience. One of those kids, we’ll call him Jordan, is a special needs kid. Not quite sure what his issues are, but he seems to process life a little differently than the rest of us. He’s a senior and the written policy is that seniors can’t play JV. The unwritten policy is not to cut seniors from a team, so Jordan is playing varsity. He has no real hope of ever seeing much game time, so this big blowout appears to be his opportunity.

Coach puts Jordan in the game at attack, an offensive position that circles the goal and hopes to catch a pass they can immediately shoot and score. The ball makes it way to Jake, who has an open shot at the goal. Remember, this is a kid who loves to score, who NEEDS to score to prove to his older teammates he’s got the chops. So, what does he do? He sees Jordan hovering near the goal with no defenders on him, since he is not perceived as any kind of threat. In a split second, Jake passes the ball to Jordan, who shoots, and to everyone’s  amazement, scores.

Pandemonium ensues!! Jordan is euphoric, jumping up and down, running to embrace his teammates on the sidelines, who hoist him to their shoulders while the crowd goes wild. If this had been on YouTube, it would have been a instant classic. I turn to the mom beside me, just as she says, “Did Jake pass that ball to Jordan?” “Yes, yes,” I nod, “I believe he did.”

I can’t quite describe the feeling that came over me as I realized Jake made that moment happen. If I were the Grinch, I would say my heart grew three sizes that day, but my heart is already pretty normal-sized, so I’d use that old cliche that my heart “swelled with pride” instead.  Jake went on to score at least once in that game, but when you ask him what the highlight of the game was, he says, “Jordan’s goal.” I smile and agree, but for me, the highlight was, and always will be, the assist.

Family Traditions

Why I Took Down My Christmas Tree

My tree has been up for two years – literally. It’s a beautiful 7.5′ pre-lit artificial (duh!) tree, decorated almost solely with my extensive Santa ornament collection. I estimate there are over 75 Santas on that tree. It looks terrific lit, and creates a heat that keeps the entire living room nice and toasty.  It’s stayed up because, frankly, it makes me happy! My rationale has been “Why should I take down this beautiful thing that makes me feel so wonderful?!” I turned the living room into a Christmas room (keeping several of my Santa figurines in a glass case nearby) and called it a day.

The children (well, the teenagers) were initially mortified. They viewed my sentimentality as procrastination, disorganization, or even worse, some sort of mental defect. “Mom, what is wrong with you?” Eventually, my daughter began using the tree as a landmark when providing directions to the house. . . “it’s the fifth house on the left – the one with the Christmas tree in the big front window – yes, that’s right…” Finally, it became a source of some kind of perverse pride. “Nobody else has a Christmas tree up in July… my mom is just a Christmas person… we like it!” Hubby just laughed and checked it off as another one of Ruth’s eccentricities. It has even gotten a mention on Facebook as a viable option for a Christmas tree — “the year ’round Burcaw Approach!”

 

Still, I was surprised by the family reaction to my announcement that we would be taking down the tree at the end of the 2011-12 holiday season. What was I thinking? “We are the family who leaves their Christmas tree up! What will we tell our friends?” It just seemed like time; I mean, do you have any idea how much dust can accumulate on a Christmas tree over the course of two years?  Dusting a tree is not an easy task.  So, the weekend after epiphany (January 6), the tree came down. As I worked on the dismantling, I reflected about why it had to come down now:

  • Simple Boredom: Over time, I stopped noticing the tree. My trips into the living room to sit and read/knit by the glowing light of the tree became fewer and fewer. I began to take its beauty for granted.
  • The Process is Important : As I removed each ornament one-by-one from its carefully-chosen location nestled among the branches, I realized I receive great satisfaction in touching, admiring, and most of all, remembering the story of each ornament.  A thoughtful employee who moved on long ago gave me the gorgeous Santa and Mrs. Claus kissing fish ornaments.  We picked up the little Mickey Mouse in a Christmas light bulb ornament during our family trip to Disney World in 2006. Another rare wooden Santa I bought in a mall in Phoenix while traveling for work.  Santa riding a fish I gave to my husband, an aspirational fisherman. An old-fashioned Santa cross-stitched by my father-in-law was an early marriage gift. The elegant Radke, the whimsical Silvestri, the Santa on a golf ball from my childhood tree. Each ornament stirs up emotions and memories, most all of them good, associated with people and places throughout my life. Why would I deny myself the small pleasure of the trip down Santa Memory Lane?
  • A Tree Does Not Equal Happiness: Where does authentic happiness come from? Certainly, I am aware that nothing external creates happiness on any core level, but the tree has always represented meaningful aspects of  my life – the joy and anticipation of Christmas, special family memories and trips, light that shines in darkness, and moments of peaceful, quiet contemplation. But do I really need the tree to conjure up those thoughts and images? Can I create happiness without the physical reminder? I suppose it is time to consider the possibility.

Will I ever leave my tree up again? Do I promise to go back to the predictable but somewhat dull Advent through Epiphany approach to the Christmas tree? Will the “Burcaw Approach” have value for another year? Or two? What about decorations for next year? Will I go back to the homemade ornaments I tucked away several years ago as the idea for a Santa tree took hold? So many questions, so much to think about. Stay tuned  . . . hopefully many more holiday seasons to contemplate the questions of the TREE!

Knitting Patterns

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Way to Knit a Moravian Lovefeast Candle!

My mom, Joy, has the most beautiful felt Moravian candles on her Christmas tree, sewn years ago for a church display tree (You can see them to the left). For Moravians, it’s just not Christmas until we pull out the lovefeast candles, beeswax creations wrapped in a red trim, and use during our Christmas Eve lovefeast to declare that yes, Christ IS the light of the world.  Lots of Moravian Churches trim their own candles each year in anticipation of their special candlelight services. I’d admired my mother’s candles at the start of Advent, wondering aloud if one could knit such a candle. The short answer, my friends, is “yes.” The long answer appears below in the form of a rather convoluted pattern.

Knitted Moravian Lovefeast Candle

Finished Dimensions
About 8″ tall and 1″ in diameter (the trim is approx 4″ in diameter)
See adaptation for 5″ version below.

Materials

  • Small amounts of off-white, red, and yellow yarn (I used a combination of a merino wool (white), a variegated wool (red), and cotton (yellow) and it worked just fine.) This is a good way to get rid of stash yarn.
  • 42″ circular needles, sizes #3 and #6 (this is what I had – I would bet you could use 3 and 5 or 2 and 4…) You could also use dp needles or 2 circulars but magic loop seems easiest to me.
  • darning needle
  • scissors
  • small amount of polyester or other stuffing (I don’t stuff the 5″ version)

Instructions

*Candle Body

  • Cast on 13 stitches using smaller needle. Divide onto two needles (magic loop), with 6 stitches on front needle and 5 on back.
  • Knit approximately 1 1/2″ from bottom.
  • Switch to larger needle.
  • Knit 1 round.

*Red Trim

  • Switch to red yarn.
  • Knit 1 round.
  • Increase 4 stitches (at beginning and end of each “row”) to 17 sts. (9 front/8 back) – I use the bar increase for this (K1 f&b).
  • Begin loop pattern.

Double Loop Stitch:

Here’s a quick tutorial on the loop stitch, in words and pics and in video. Note the video shows very clearly how to do a double loop stitch, which is what I recommend, especially if your yarn is a worsted weight or lighter. Experiment with what works best for you.

Candle Trim Loop Pattern:

Round 1: *K1, loop 1*, repeat, end with knit stitch
Round 2: Knit
Round 3: *Loop 1, K1*, repeat, end with loop stitch
Round 4: Knit

Continue in loop pattern for 2-3″ or when it looks right!

  • Knit 1 round, decreasing by knitting 2 together four times (at beginning and end of each “row”) to 13 stitches. (For 5″ version, I switched back to 0ff-white yarn before decreasing – I think I like that better.)

*Candle Body

  • Switch to off-white yarn and smaller needle. Knit 1 round.
  • Knit approximately 3″
  • Knit round, decreasing by knitting 2 together at first stitch (leaves 12 stitches)
  • Knit round, knitting 2 together until 6 stitches remain.
  • Knit 1 round.
  • Next round – knit 1, knit 2 together, knit 1, knit 2 together (leaves 4 stitches)

*Flame

  • Switch to yellow yarn.
  • K 1 round.
  • Knit round, increasing 2 stitches (k1fb end of each “row”) to 6 sts.
  • Knit 4-5 rounds.
  • Begin decrease – k2tog, k, k2tog, k (leaves 4 stitches)
  • Knit 1 round.
  • K 2tog to 2 sts.
  • K2tog – leaves one stitch.
  • Cut and weave in yarn.

Finishing

  • With a pencil, stuff candle from bottom with stuffing until desired thickness.

Add a yarn or monofilament loop for hanging on the tree or use with a candle holder. Enjoy!

Update December 18:

I perfected the 5″ version! This size is perfect as an ornament. This version assumes a worsted or DK-weight yarn, but I am also experimenting with fingering weights. The Reader’s Digest version:

  • With Size 2 circular and off-white yarn, cast on 10 stitches. Divide evenly. (I’ve also done this with just one needle size and added a couple more stitches when I get to the red trim.)
  • Knit 1-1/2″
  • Switch to size 4 needle (I used size 5s on sample, but only b/c my 4s were on another project). Switch to red yarn.
  • Knit one round.
  • Knit another round, increasing to 13 sts.
  • Begin double loop stitch (see above for tutorial) – here’s the short candle version of the loop pattern:

R1: K, Loop (repeat – end with K)
R2: Loop, K (repeat – end with Loop)
Repeat pattern twice more (for total of 6 rounds)

  • Switch back to size 2’s, switch to off-white yarn, and knit one  round, decreasing to 10 sts.
  • Knit until desired height (approx 2-2 1/2″) from red trim.
  • Decrease to 8 sts, then to 6, and then 4 sts.
  • Switch to yellow yarn – knit one round.
  • Increase to 6 sts.
  • Knit 2 rounds.
  • Decrease to 4 sts, then 2.
  • K2tog – bind off.
Knitting Patterns

Computer Sock

Computer SockWanted something simple to cover my new Toshiba netbook, so I grabbed some stash and whipped this up. This netbook is approximately 7″ x 10″, so create accordingly.

I used a worsted weight yarn from Knit Picks and 10.5 circular needles.

CO 60 stitches and join to work in the round.
K2, P2 several rounds to make 1″ to 1.5″ ribbing.
Switch to stockinette stitch for as long as it takes!
Add stripes to make it more interesting.
When you reach the desired length, bind off and then stitch together.

Fun and cushy!

Family Traditions, Random Stuff

The Color of the Past

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” – Winston Churchill

Last summer, I sang in church. I have a couple of buddies who play guitar and we did a lovely rendition of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” We even got a “whoop!” of appreciation afterwards, a real feat for a sedate Moravian church.

As we waited for church to begin, my friends and I discussed possible names for our little acoustic, folksy group. I’ve been doing some genealogical research and mentioned I had a great picture of a couple of my ancestors, the Rev. Cole Brothers. The brothers were Methodist Episcopal circuit preachers up in the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina in the early 1800’s. “Hmm,” my friend said, “Do you have any interesting female ancestors?” My great-great-great grandmother’s name was Temperance – Tempy for short. So, we’re now “Sister Tempy and the Rev. Cole Brothers!”

I don’t know much about “Sister Tempy,” but I do know about my great-great grandmother, Carolyn Neumeyer. While working as a hatmaker, she was knocked over by Teddy Roosevelt’s carriage in the streets of D.C. The President was mortified and offered her a ride home (she was unharmed). She refused, on the grounds that it was improper for a single woman such as herself to accept a ride from a gentleman not part of her family, even if he was the PRESIDENT of the United States!! Another ancestor served in the NC legislature, riding horseback from his home near Boone, NC all the way to Raleigh (probably an 8-day ride). Family legend has it that Lorenzo Dow Cole, my great-great grandfather, was spared certain death during the Civil War when the musket ball heading for his heart was stopped by the bedroll he carried on his chest. And of course, I can’t resist throwing in my 7th great uncle, the pioneer Daniel Boone. Now that’s an exciting life!

Ah, the color of our history. Our ancestors seem so much more interesting and brave than we are or think we could ever be. And yet, day after day, week after week, we persevere, even if it is just through the mundane aspects of our own suburban lives. Life is as dull as we make it.

Carolyn, Tempy, Daniel Boone, and the Cole brothers inspire me as I sometimes trudge through my own daily living. I may not be riding horseback through the rugged NC mountains or straightening my bustle after a brush with greatness, but I’m blazing my own trail. What will my descendants say about my life? I hope I can live up to the colorful legacy of my own past!