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Dec 01 2013

Advent…Discovering Beauty in Imperfection

Discovering and focusing on the beauty of imperfection has never been easy for me. For so many years, I’ve tended to get myself all stressed out and completely frustrated in my quest to have everything go “just right”.

It has taken years for me to “get” the fact that life isn’t perfect. No one is perfect. And family is filled with imperfect people so our homeschooling days and special holiday celebrations will be far from the unrealistic goal of “perfection” that I had gotten in my head actually exists.

Intensity is something that I struggle to calm and God has used my late husband, and now my children, to help me “loosen up” a little more every year.

In the past, the only kind of family portrait I was OK with having would look like this one. You know the kind…the kind that takes more than half a dozen attempts before you get even close to “forcing” everyone to hold still, smile…all at the same time. Whew!

Know what?

I love this picture. I love the looks on the faces of my kids. I love the impish look on my youngest’s face…the giggles he is trying to suppress.

But I must admit, this year, I was actually the one who suggested that we have a relaxed silly family photo taken too!!! I thought my kids would fall over when I told them that if they held still for a nice smiling family photo the next one would be a goofy one!

They were thrilled! And their grins became more real. And so did mine!

Every day I struggle to remember that even though our homeschooling day are filled with “interruptions” and unexpected detours, the reality is my kids love learning. They love asking questions and when I stop and I am learning to breathe and find ways to encourage their curiosity more and stop being so intensely focused on what we “should” get done in one day. Some of our best learning days happen because Mommy is more focused on learning than on a check list. In reality, there is so much beauty in the imperfection of those days.

I struggle with this in areas outside of homeschooling too…

Today is the first day of Advent, one of my most favorite seasons of the year! I have to watch myself SO carefully though. I have a tendency to create a picture in my mind of what our Advent celebration “should” look like, so when things don’t go exactly as I had planned I get put out and get cranky with my boys…the complete opposite of the purpose of our celebrations and family traditions!

Today I found myself starting to do that again. After sending Michael off to time out for the second time this evening, I was finally able to see the error of MY ways. I had gone back to my intense habit of pursuing a perfect experience of our tradition instead of keeping my focus on the REASON we have these family traditions. I felt convicted as soon as that thought hit me. What am I pursuing and who I am teaching my boys to pursue? A life of love and grace or the idea that it isn’t a good experience unless everything is perfect!!! Ouch!

I had to back up and look at our evening through the eyes of grace.

I didn’t have a chance to finish making our Advent/Christmas count down calendar and have it neatly hanging on the wall before the boys woke up this morning. Instead, I got it started tonight while they watched a Christmas movie and Josh got involved and helped me with some of it.

I decided to accept the fact that I didn’t have time to finish all 25 tags tonight and move forward with our first Sunday of Advent family celebration…and watching my son, Josh’s face relax when I told him we would finish it tomorrow and move on from the work and start the celebration, his relaxed grin was the answer and reminder I needed. Seeing his face helped me to remember to discover the beauty in the imperfection of our First Sunday of Advent family celebration this year and stop kicking myself for what I “should” have been able to do.

With that changed mind-set the stress level started lowering in our house.

We sat on the floor in the living room and I shared the first stage of the amazing story of Mary conceiving our Messiah, Joseph’s disbelief until the angel appeared to him in his dream, their rough journey to Bethlehem while she was VERY pregnant and not finding a beautiful room at the end of their trip…their accommodations couldn’t have been more imperfect!! But there was so much beauty in the imperfection of their surroundings. God was present. He worked through their situation to help Mary to give birth to the only perfect gift!!! Jesus our Messiah! Our long-awaited Savior had come!

If the imperfect birth place of a manger bed in a stable was good enough for our Savior, why do we waste so much time trying to create “perfect surroundings” so that our memories will be perfect?

In fact, it was Michael attempting to follow my lead story telling and Josh helping me place the people/characters in our stable that hit my heart. He couldn’t find all the pieces to their Nativity (because they have played with it and leaving pieces all over the house). I couldn’t see how he would be able to use it and told him it wouldn’t work. But I am so grateful that he didn’t listen to me this time.

He found a few shepherds and angels, a lamb and a goat. He decided to use the lamb in place of Jesus and set it up like the photo above.

My heart almost stopped when I paused to really look at what he had done.

Jesus…the Lamb of God…placed in the manager.

He didn’t realize what he did at first. He was just trying to discover beauty in what he did have. When I told him that using the lamb was a great idea because Jesus is the Lamb of God who sacrificed himself for our sins and rose again, his grin was priceless. It was an amazing moment! It was a moment that would have been lost if I hadn’t stopped myself from stopping him from following my lead with the Nativity story because “he didn’t have all the right pieces”.

We continued our Advent celebration with the lighting of our first purple candle in our Advent wreath and our devotion for tonight that I printed off of the Adventures in Odyssey Advent Adventures Calendar for this year. It is free, easy and fun to use, and the boys love it! Our Advent wreath isn’t perfect either. We should have new candles each year, but this year I could only afford to replace the pink candle. I couldn’t find a pink one at the store so I I took a deep breath, prayed and told Michael, who was my shopping helper, that red would work just fine. Once more trying to focus on the beauty in imperfection.

Know what? I am the only one who noticed that we only have one new candle this year and they didn’t care that it wasn’t pink. They were just excited about getting to light our first candle and starting our Advent devotions with their favorite characters in Adventures in Odyssey. Josh read the scripture verse for today. I read the devotion. We all sang “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”, and Michael wiggled a lot. LOL

We ended with Josh getting to turn over the first of our Christmas/Advent Countdown tags and reading today’s instruction…reading from Luke. Josh excitedly found the passage and read it to all of us. We closed with sharing prayer requests and me leading our little family in prayer.

Over and over God taught me the lesson I need most during this time of year…getting my boys to focus on Jesus during the weeks of Advent and Christmas isn’t about creating “perfect memories” with everything in place and working perfectly smoothly. The pure joy and excitement of the story of our Savior isn’t taught through perfect lessons…it is caught through grace and joy filled experiences. When I relax and just allow myself to experience the awe of the season and do it with grace discovering beauty in the imperfection of our celebrations…I am teaching them so much more than the story of our Savior, I am passing on His grace and that is a lesson for a lifetime.

I hope you will join me through this Advent season as I share my journey of discovering beauty in each day, no matter what challenges I may face. Some days I will remember to slow down and discover the beauty in imperfection and other days I will need to be reminded. But this is a wonderful season to learn this lesson!

Advent is a time of slowing down and preparing our hearts and minds for Christmas by putting our focus on His love, His grace, His story by retelling it, sharing it, and serving others with grace. It is in remembering the incredible imperfections in the journey Mary and Joseph took as expectant parents that we rediscover the gift of our Messiah in our hearts and lives. And no Pinterest perfect activity or tradition can compare to that.

Will you join me on this imperfect journey to Christmas?

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Abiding in His Grace,

Mary Joy

**Special thanks to David Pershing, my wonderful brother-in-law and the photographer who took the family pictures in this blog post.

 

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About the author

Mary Joy

I am a broken daughter of God and a work in progress. I am passionate about encouraging women to embrace God's grace and faithfulness as I discover and share His faithfulness, grace and even joy in the messiness of my journey as a widowed (less than 2 yrs), homeschooling mom with a missionary's heart. I am in awe of how God fills me up and carries me through each day. My Heavenly Father leads me as I continue to parent and home school my two recovering and very active boys and encourage my beautiful teenage step-daughter (long distance) during her first year in of college. In every moment I see incredible evidence of God's healing love, grace and faithfulness. I am so blessed to be the creator, manager, and an author of Unwrapping His Grace as I lean on my Savior to lead us in this special web-ministry.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.surrenderedlivingnow.com/2013/12/01/advent-discovering-beauty-imperfection/

  • Christina

    Beautiful! Good stuff, my friend!

    • http://www.surrenderedlivingnow.com/ Mary Joy Pershing

      Thanks, Christina. That means a lot.

  • http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/ Faith Lohr

    You and I are very much alike in this :-) I was such a perfectionist early in our marriage and when I only had my first two boys. I would get so upset about cleaning up only to have it destroyed a few minutes later. I was pretty much a control freak and wanted to do everything myself. I really didn’t give the kids chores because I was sure I could do it “better” and more efficiently. HA! Well God sure taught me a few lessons along the way and I discovered exactly what your title is here: Beauty In Imperfection. This year for example while my children decorated the tree and put ornaments up my 2 year old had a “section” or ornament bulbs all clustered together at the very bottom of the tree. The old perfectionist in me would have “fixed” those ornaments after the kids went to bed…but I just smiled and treasured the memory instead (I even took a picture of his little cluster of ornaments). As far as the pictures…I COMPLETELY relate to that. I am a professional photographer and was always the same way. I would bribe my kids with treats just to get them to smile and look at the camera. Over the last few years, however, I’ve loosened up and now our “photoshoots” are fun. I even recently let them have a dress up photoshoot. They dressed up as super heroes and my daughter was a princess and I took pictures of them in character. :-) They loved it and I got some awesome smiles! I love what your son did with the “Lamb of God in the manger” :-)

    • http://www.surrenderedlivingnow.com/ Mary Joy Pershing

      Thank you so much for sharing your own experience! You made me feel so much better! :D So good to know that I am not alone. LOL I worked on letting them do most of the decorating of our tree this year, but still have a little more letting go to do in this area. Thanks for the encouragement. Your tree sounds beautiful and I bet the kids love it!

      Sounds like you have come a long way! You help me see it is possible! thanks for sharing your own overcoming challenges and discovering beauty in imperfection!

      I would love to see your photo shoots! A dress up one sounds like a blast! See? I am beginning to loosen up already! LOL

      I am so sorry I took so long in responding. I am back now though. I hope you had a fantastic Christmas!

      • http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/ Faith Lohr

        I love that we can encourage each other toward reaching those same goals :-) You can see some of the pictures I captured from that shoot here: http://www.artistichandsoffaith.com/?p=195 Don’t worry about taking long to respond… I took a break all through December as well. We had a wonderful Christmas and hope you did as well. :-)