Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional Q&A

Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional Q&A

Advent is a wonderful time for reflection and devotion as believers look forward to Christmas and its significance for our faith. UrbanFaith had the opportunity to have a Q & A session with Katara Washington Patton, the author of Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional. The exchange is below, edited for clarity.

It is so good to have you share with UrbanFaith again and your new and relevant book. Advent is a great opportunity to reflect, be inspired, and deepen our relationship with God and others, so I’m grateful for your book.

1. A lot of people are not as familiar with Advent as some of the other major holidays such as Christmas and Easter. What is Advent and why is it important for believers?

Advent is the period leading up to the observance of our Savior’s birth–Christmas; Advent is observed during the four weeks before Christmas and normally begins the last Sunday of November. Advent means to anticipate the coming of Christ (remembering how people anticipated His birth and how we anticipate His second coming).

2. What inspired you to write a book of devotionals for this holiday season?

I love devotionals; they have been one of my main sources of growth. They are shorter readings you can do mostly every day, which increases your faith through reading and reflecting on Scripture. So, whenever I’m given the opportunity—as I was by my publisher with this book—I jump at the chance to write material that can help people grow in faith. This one particularly is for the entire family…so adults and children can learn from it.

3. You were very intentional at making this a FAMILY devotional, why is that important to you?

We know Family can mean…grandmother and child, two parents and children, auntie, uncle, big sister, etc. So I like the fact that families—whatever your definition is—can center themselves around a scripture and reading and explore its meaning, have activities to do. This can be done alone as well but it is written at a level children will understand too. I think that’s important…for my family, my child has a different Christian education than I did. I went to Sunday school every Sunday because my mom was the superintendent and my dad a teacher; today, pre-pandemic, my child was in a class at church maybe once a month or so (due to several reasons like the format of classes at our church); and now with the changes due to capacity limits and the pandemic, she’s not in a class. Where does she learn those fundamental lessons we learned? In family devotions, I hope and pray.

4. I love the format of your devotions, why did you decide to include activities as well as the traditional prayer and Scripture inspirations?

I’ve always been a person who looks at learning and even ministry from a practical stand point. If I can’t apply this lesson to my life, then it’s just words. Activities help reinforce the application of the lesson. I’m always going to look for a way to bring home the point through activities.

5. How has choosing devotion during Advent and Christmas impacted your faith journey?

I loved rediscovering many of the stories I selected: Jesus’ genealogy, Simeon and Anna, even Noah and the rainbow, Elizabeth and Mary, even Abigail and David– all to drive home the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. I think we need to tell these stories over and over again to remind ourselves and to teach our children of the goodness of God and the amazing faith journey we have been presented with as we journey ourselves. Utilizing these devotions can also help us connect the faith stories within the Bible to our own faith story based on our belief in our savior’s birth.

6. What advice would you give to our audience who may be trying to grow in their faith?

Other than read my books?! Lol. Honestly, read your Bible and supplemental material of your choosing faithfully. If you find one devotional or book isn’t giving you enough or inspiring you to read regularly, find another. There are so many different formats we can utilize for Bible reading and devotions that you can find something that is speaking to you in the moment. Being consistent is key. I enjoy waking up and having that time with God; I understand it may be car time for another or bed time or lunch time for others—but the consistent practice of carving out that time to study, reflect, and pray has been my saving grace.

Joyous Advent: Family Christmas Devotional is available everywhere books are sold.

’Tis the season to say things we later regret

’Tis the season to say things we later regret

 

Christmas is a stressful time for many, so not surprisingly it’s also known as the season for arguments.

Some assume it’s because we share the time with family members, who we’re more likely to argue with because of bottled-up resentment or some other annoyance we’ve been secretly nurturing. Others put it down to alcohol.

But, in either case, under normal circumstances, people are usually adept at keeping potentially hurtful comments to themselves. So why is it that we’re more likely to say things we might later regret during Christmas?

Over the past three years, we’ve been studying why people say things they later regret. Released in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, our research discovered in eight experiments over three years the same variable consistently explains why people disclose things that cause them anguish.

From innocuous faux pas to more serious disclosures of secretive information, in each experiment we found “arousal” explains tendencies to disclose information that probably should have been concealed.

Christmas is stressful, and stress leads to chronic arousal. When people are aroused, they’re more likely to say things they probably shouldn’t.

So what is arousal? And why does it cause people to say things they later regret?

Essentially, arousal is the degree to which an individual is awake and alert. You might assume being awake and alert would increase rather than decrease the accuracy of what we say – but this appears not to be the case.

The reason is that arousal uses up so-called “cognitive resources” — basically brainpower. Because there are less conscious cognitive resources available for controlling what comes out of our mouths, our minds default to more automatic, and seemingly less considered, responses. When we lose conscious control over what we say, it becomes more likely we’ll disclose information that we would otherwise keep to ourselves.

Our research finds that information we’re usually careful about concealing, such as secrets and very personal information, is more likely to be disclosed when we default to more automatic responses. We found arousal makes people reveal more personal information, disclose secrets, reveal incriminating information and share frowned-upon experiences with strangers.

In our first experiment, we asked participants to write dating profiles. We evoked arousal with half the participants. They disclosed more embarrassing, emotional, intimate and even incriminating information on their dating profiles than those who were relatively relaxed.

A posthoc study found those people who disclosed such information were less likely to be chosen for a date. The study suggests people who aren’t chilled out are viewed as less ideal partners.

In our second experiment, we found people were more likely to disclose times when they said mean or malicious things to others online, suggesting that arousal increases the disclosure of information that people do not normally like to disclose. Relaxed people, it seems, are better at concealing information and keeping secrets.

In our third study, we evoked arousal by getting people to jog on the spot for 60 seconds. The results found participants were more likely to share embarrassing stories (open up to others) after physical exercise. Usually, people might disclose personal information like this to friends and family, but it seems people are more likely to open up to strangers when aroused. This finding suggests that doing physical exercise together might be a better way of getting to know someone than more docile pursuits such as sitting around.

It seems that lowering arousal is the key to gaining more control over what we say. The problem is that the times when we ought to be careful — such as job interviews, media engagements, important work meetings, or romantic encounters — are often arousing, and it is not easy to remain calm and relaxed.

So what are some things people can do to minimize unintended disclosures and save the family from a memorable Christmas for the wrong reasons?

Some techniques are known to reduce daily stress levels and are useful for situations when we’re most riled up. These approaches include consciously controlling your breathing and listening to chilled music. Other techniques for longer-term benefits mirror the advice of health professionals – reduce how much coffee you drink, eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep.

Not only do these steps make you healthier, they also reduce your stress levels and ultimately your control over what you say.

So when you’re opening your pressies or digging into your turkey this Christmas, try to chill out and relax. Turn on the music, breath deeply, and reduce the chance of saying something you might later regret.The Conversation

Brent Coker, Academic – University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Surviving Holiday Drama

Surviving Holiday Drama

Video Courtesy of WKBW TV | Buffalo, NY


Turkey dinners, desserts for days, decorating the house, planning for parties, and power-shopping until the wee hours of the mornings — yes, it’s that time of the year. And just as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve come at the same time each year, without fail every holiday season, the very people you’re supposed to be cherishing are the ones who seem to bring you the most stress.

Unfortunately, the picture-perfect family dinner we see on television is not something that always translates to our personal situations. With crazy relational dynamics that can test one’s patience and sanity, there’s a bit of dysfunction in every family — and it’s often heightened during the holidays.

While on the surface certain family members may appear to be the enemy, they are people to whom God has connected you for a reason, and they’re often the first opportunity we have to learn to “love your neighbor.” As the old saying goes, “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” With that in mind, here are five tips to help you navigate family drama during this most joyful season.

1. Learn how and when to say no. You can’t satisfy everyone in your family, and the quicker you realize that the better you and your family will be. Set boundaries for yourself and your personal relationships. With pressure to shop for gifts, attend holiday parties and family gatherings, as well as your usual everyday demands of work and family, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You have to remember that you’re just one person, you can’t do everything. You may not be able to go to every party that you’re invited to and you may even have to make adjustments to plans for traveling to see different relatives. Set priorities and stick to them.

2. Accept your family’s differences. We all have that aunt or uncle who drinks a little too much and lets their mouths get them into trouble. Or there’s the cousin who always comes late with the main dish — so the family is waiting for hours to eat. Whatever your family scenario, remember that we all have our own idiosyncrasies that can be irritating — and honestly we all probably have a bit of crazy deep down inside. It doesn’t mean you condone or agree with certain behaviors, but you just don’t let it hang you up. Don’t sweat the small stuff that you can’t change.

3. Keep it simple. Whether it’s with gift-giving, hosting a family gathering, or cooking a dish for a family potluck — make it easy on yourself. While you may want to stick to traditions, it’s okay to make adjustments. Instead of cooking, maybe you can buy a prepared dish. You may want to do it all on your own as your mother did back in the day, but know that it’s okay to ask for help. Get other family members involved with planning and preparing holiday meals or gatherings. When it comes to gifts, stick to a budget. Be real about your financial situation; if you can’t afford to buy everyone — or anyone — a gift, it’s okay. Your presence really is enough.

4. Keep conversations light. Avoid hot-button issues during the holidays. Keep conversations light and focus on the good. Trying to flesh out unresolved conflicts at the dinner table is probably not a good idea — especially because of the spirit of the season. Try to find things that you have in common with your loved ones and bring those elements into your conversations. Often tension and angst arise from misunderstandings and miscommunication. Find common ground, which will help in the end to build stronger bonds that last beyond the Christmas dinner at Granny’s.

5. Take time out for yourself. Focusing on everyone else, it’s easy to forget about yourself. If it’s no more than 15 minutes or an hour, take some time for you. Do something you want to do. Seeing a movie, reading a book, journaling, exercising — whatever you need to do to tend to your mind, body, and soul do it. Even Jesus needed some time alone.

The Real Reason for the Season

When it’s all said and done, remember what the holidays are really all about. Taking time to be thankful for the blessings in your life, celebrating the birth of Christ and looking ahead to the New Year, it’s a time to reflect and put things in a proper perspective.

After all, Jesus had supper with Judas (who betrayed Him) and Peter (who would later deny Him). If He can forgive and show love, shouldn’t we follow His lead and extend grace to those special relatives who annually work our last nerve?

So how do you survive the stress that the holidays can put on family relationships? Share your thoughts and tips for coping below.

Elevating Easter

Elevating Easter

Video Courtesy of Mario Moton


In the weeks and days leading up to Christmas, the average Christian spends a lot of money, time, and energy preparing for the holiday. While I’ve always considered that time of year to be a very special one, I’ve often wondered why we don’t elevate Easter–or Resurrection Sunday, to use the name that many believers prefer–to the same level. After all, didn’t Jesus come into the world for the very purpose of suffering, dying, and rising again to demonstrate His love and give us new life?

So why don’t we celebrate the day Jesus arose from the dead the way we celebrate the day He came into the world? Well, if I interviewed every believer I know, I’d receive a multitude of opinions. For example, some men and women of faith would say it’s because Resurrection Sunday is more somber than Christmas. When these Christians think about the horrific thing that was done to Jesus to save our souls, they can’t help but be sad. They don’t like thinking–or talking about–the demise of any human being, let alone the torture and death of the One they call Savior. So, while they honor the day Jesus was resurrected, they aren’t inspired to engage in the same type of festivities as the ones they deem appropriate for Christmas.

For other Christians, the difference in how they celebrate these two holidays stems from the fact that they aren’t constantly being courted by retailers that promise to provide just what they need to have a perfect holiday. In other words, as Resurrection Sunday approaches, they don’t feel the same kind of pressure or obligation to buy the right presents or hang the prettiest decorations. So, they don’t do anything special for the holiday. Still others would probably say that it’s simply because, other than Passion Plays or Sunday school programs put on at churches, there just aren’t that many religious traditions associated with the holiday.

But does it have to be this way? Couldn’t we begin today to create our own family traditions that recognize the fact that Jesus kept His promise that He’d die and then, on the third day, be alive again? Isn’t that very fact pivotal to our Christian faith? Isn’t that reason enough for a celebration or, even better, kicking off certain lifestyle changes that will last long after the holiday has come and gone?

Holiday traditions have a wonderful way of ushering in greater spiritual awareness and a renewed commitment to one’s faith. They can provide us with opportunities to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as share our faith with non-believers. And they can also help us make our faith more tangible in the eyes of our impressionable children.

One way to do this is to set aside time to pray and read God’s Word every day, particularly reflecting on verses that remind us of His Son’s sacrificial love for us. Among the verses you may want to read and meditate on are the following ones: John 3:16; Romans 10:9; Luke 19:10; Romans 5:8; and I John 4:7-10. Don’t feel as though you have to do this alone. Invite your spouse, a prayer partner and even your children to join you. If you already set aside time for devotions, you may want to use the time to not only read them but memorize them. That way, they’ll not just be counted among the many that you perused this year, but listed among those that meant enough to you that you chose to engrave them into your heart and mind.

Reaching out to others during this time is another way to take your appreciation of the holiday to new level. Some people do this by inviting unsaved relatives, friends, or neighbors to go to church with them. Others may opt to host an event–such as a brunch, dinner party, movie night, or even a dessert party–in their home for relatives and friends who appreciate Christian fellowship as much as they do. In addition, those that love giving presents on holidays could consider making homemade gifts–such as sugar cookies made into shapes representative of various components of the Gospel message (e.g., a cross, sheep, stars, etc.)–or purchasing small gifts at their local Christian bookstore.

You also could fill your home, office, and car with sights and sounds that are symbolic of Christ’s life. Little figurines displayed on mantles or tables in your home, as well as small ornaments, hung on bedposts, doorknobs, or even your car’s rear-view mirror could serve as perfect reminders of what God did for us through His Son. If you’ve been thinking about incorporating more faith-based forms of entertainment into your life and home, this is the perfect time to start. Check your local library, video rental store, or favorite bookstore for inspirational titles and schedule a few movie nights. And don’t forget to set aside time to be blessed by the ministry of music, whether you enjoy the gospel, contemporary Christian, holy hip-hop, or sacred jazz. Let it play softly in the background while eating dinner with your family, as you complete chores, and as you’re commuting to and from various places.

Regardless of which traditions you decide to infuse into your life in the coming weeks, what’s important is that you hold on to why you’re adding them. Celebrate the good news of Easter unabashedly so that you, your loved ones, and anyone who crosses your path will have the opportunity to experience a renewed appreciation for Resurrection Sunday and all that it symbolizes for God’s children.

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

Originally published by The 19th

It was the morning after Thanksgiving when her body finally gave out. The layers upon crushing layers of loss — her grandmother two days prior, her job at the start of the year — tethered her to her bed. As did all the little losses, the in-between bits this year where structure dissolved, order vanished and sanity waned.

Amy Kugler had reached the point where the answer to her husband’s question — are you OK? — came out as a resounding “no.”

But Christmas was only 28 days away, and even as she said it, her mind wandered to the tree they were supposed to be picking out with their 3-year-old son and the Christmas lights. My God, she thought, she couldn’t put up the lights.

In her head it was a ping-pong between obligation and exhaustion.

Can I do this? Can I rest? Can I do this? Can I not? 

Kugler had to mourn the grandmother’s death, which was not caused by COVID-19, but was still affected by it, through a funeral broadcast on a Facebook Live video. Would she mourn Christmas, too? She wondered whether for the first time, she wouldn’t be able to complete all of the tasks — the workthat needs to happen to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s work that too often falls on moms to perform, the same moms who have already endured an unmooring year that has displaced them from work, tested the reaches of their patience, and still asked them to give more and more and more.

Kugler could already see how Christmas day could play out: She would be the one fielding texts all day about when to Zoom the grandparents and when to FaceTime. She’d be the one cooking dinner, an extra special version that said, “we survived a pandemic this year.” And she would have to make time to play with her son so he has a memory to tuck away about his pandemic Christmas.

“It’s going to be the most stressful holiday, in my opinion,” said Kugler, speaking on Zoom from a Starbucks parking lot in Seattle — the only place she could go to get some quiet.

“I’m not a bare minimum person,” said Kugler, 39. “And that’s where the rub is. I feel more guilt put on myself for not being able to be that person.”

Pressure and guilt, in all their forms, converge around this time every year, when the invisible work women typically do at home gets ratcheted up a few notches for the holidays. Add to that the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives and, at its worst point, 20.8 million jobs. People are burnt out. Women most of all.

And yet, the household work — who keeps track of what groceries to buy, what appointments to make, the outfits needed for the holiday photos — continues to fall on women, as it historically has. In the paid labor force, women continue to make up the majority of caregiving positions. (They’re 95 percent of the child care workforce and 75 percent of the health care workforce.) In the unpaid labor force, gender norms ensure much of that same work was delegated to women in the household, said feminist sociologist Lisa Huebner, a professor of women’s and gender studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re gendering anything related to care, so the holidays become like, ‘This is how you show your love,’” Huebner said. “We don’t talk about those things in terms of workplace skills, like strategies and being creative and being intelligent. Instead we still frame those as being caring and focusing on family, and then we further attach that in gendered ways.”

Women are still socialized to be the organizers, cleaners and emotional managers — ideas that are further reinforced in the media, advertising, even at school.

“It’s not that men can’t or even don’t want to,” Huebner said. “It’s that they’re not practiced at it.”

All of that was already true before 2020, before the year that changed everything.

For Kugler, now it also feels like every task on the self-regenerating to-do list of the holidays will be mixed with grief and exhaustion.

For some, the pandemic has, somehow, impossibly, added even more pressure — the desire to give something positive to hold onto at the end of a year that has seemingly only taken away.

And for others, it has recalibrated the holidays, unraveling years of thinking less wasn’t enough.

Kristina Aleksander, for instance, is ready to cancel Christmas.

She had the talk with her husband, an attorney who promptly pulled out a yellow legal pad and started making a pros and cons list. It all boiled down to a simple flip: If he really wanted Christmas to happen this year, it would be his job to see it through instead of hers.

Reaching that decision feels like they’ve come miles from the time last year when her daughter was born and Aleksander plunged into postpartum depression. She’d hide away in her room at the end of a day working in communications at the Iowa State Capitol. Her husband once said her mood was affecting the entire house.

That labor, invisible and emotional, was hers alone to bear. Her husband helped with many tasks, but she was the center of the household for them, and that responsibility came with expectations about the work they relied on her to perform.

Not this year.

“There is a lot of forced expectation around Christmas and New Year’s where you just have to enjoy yourself and have fun. At least for my age group, women who are in their 20s to late 20s, it feels like a performance that we are putting up for Instagram,” said Aleksander, 26. “And I am just out of energy this year.

I don’t want to perform for anyone.”


The performative aspect is especially visible on social media, where people are spending so much more time as they stay socially distanced and quarantined.

“We have this very intensive Pinterest culture that backs up against these ridiculous expectations for homemaking,” said Eve Rodsky, who has spent a decade talking and writing about invisible labor. “Women were conditioned to have it all and do it all. And then doing it all is a lot higher level threshold because doing it is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram and a lot of counting and competing.”

But doing it all, especially at the end of the year, requires time — and at the source of the problem is the way we look at how men and women spend it.

“We’ve been guarding men’s time since the beginning of time,” Rodsky said. “Women’s time is infinite.”

Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” draws on her work talking to couples, most of them heterosexual, about the way they approach invisible labor and outlines a road map for addressing it. She usually guides couples through two key points.

First, there has to be buy-in. Most men Rodsky works with tell her the tasks their wives obsess over are unnecessary, and they don’t understand why they’re nagging them to do it or why it’s taking place at all. But, Rodsky said, part of it is men often don’t understand the unseen work: the cognitive load of keeping track of something, organizing it and executing it.

As an example, she told the story of Ed and Julie, a couple at a crossroads over a second grade DIY secret Santa project. Julie had to explain to Ed why it mattered: The girl their son got as his secret Santa had few friends — Julie, as the designated drop-off parent for school, knew this — and their son delivering on the gift would mean a lot. Once Ed understood the stakes, he could get to the second part of the equation: ownership of the task.

Watching Ed go to Michael’s, the craft store, and make popsicle-stick jewelry holder with glitter-covered hands changed their relationship that year. Julie felt Ed was really in it with her.

It started with creating room for a conversation most women don’t know how to start. It’s completely different in many of the same-sex couples Rodsky works with, she said, because many already have the context for starting difficult conversations — about coming out, or introducing partners or making health decisions for their children. “What a lot of same-sex couples will say to me is that the reticence of hetero couples to have these types of conversations because roles are already assigned feels sad to them,” Rodsky said.

I am just out of energy this year. I don’t want to perform for anyone.

Kristina Aleksander

This year, it feels like the pandemic has been the catalyst for some of the conversations to take place, she said. With so many people working from home, the labor that happened in the background is now happening at the fore, with everyone around to see it. And so more and more people are choosing to unburden themselves for the holidays, opting for a slimmed down approach to the festivities.

Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio who has been working on the city’s COVID-19 response, is exhausted after a year that eliminated the concept of a break. That’s why she’s planning a smaller Christmas at home, far from her family and without the opportunity to really start creating memories for her 3-year-old, who won’t sit on Santa’s lap or see her grandparents this year.

But even with abridged plans and being tired from a long, stressful year, Mayes admits there’s a part of her that likes the control of doing most of the holiday work herself.

“When I let go of control, then I get all anxious and I want to know what’s going on,” said Mayes, 33. “Where I’ll accept the extra work, I also know at the end I would have wanted it done in certain ways, too.”

That’s another tension point, one some women whisper almost shamefully. By admitting they like the organization or prefer to do it all themselves, that could absolve their partners of needing to help.

It’s even more complicated for stay-at-home moms. Carly Gibbs stopped practicing law to spend more time with her three kids — a first grader, a preschooler and a three-month-old baby — while her husband kept his job as a doctor in Salt Lake City.

If she’s not going to be an attorney, she tells herself, she has to be an excellent mom.

“I am very bad at feeling OK with not doing everything,” said Gibbs, 37. “My inclination is I need to do everything and if I don’t, usually the consequence I am most fearful of or anticipate is my kids being disappointed in any way.”

It takes some mental fortitude for her to reason out of that sometimes. They won’t really care if they don’t build the gingerbread house this year — right?

The pressure women put on themselves is common, said Celeste Headlee, a journalist and author of two books on communication and overworking. So is the desire to want to take up the task themselves because they’ll do it faster, better — in a more organized fashion with less fuss.

Headlee suggests making a list that makes easily visible all the invisible tasks and then dividing it by strengths. Each person puts their initials next to their task for accountability, and the list goes in a public place.

“We are dealing with centuries of pressure that come from religious forces, political forces and corporate forces that led us to believe we have to be working all the time, and we will never meet the bar,” Headlee said. “Instead, I would approach this like you would a project at work — who is going to do what?

Liza Dube and her two sons are going to celebrate their Christmas on their own timeline, a liberation from the years of big parties and coordinated family Christmas caroling.

“What’s driving all of that is really that emotional labor and that tradition-keeping and magic-making, memory-creating and relationship-maintaining,” said Dube, 42. “So this year I feel like we’ve really been trying to kind of get a little bit closer to what the intent is behind a lot of those things, and figuring out simpler ways to meet that intent.”

She plans to celebrate with the boys on a day of their choosing, and they’ll spend Christmas Day with their dad, where they can bake the cookies and do the traditions without having to be shuttled from house to house in their small Massachusetts town. Dube, meanwhile, plans to spend Christmas Day doing something she’s always wanted to do: volunteer, this year with a crisis hotline.

She wonders if she’ll ever do it the old way again.

“I’ve been saying a lot this year, ‘Everybody has to make choices,’” Dube said. “We are all just making choices and we can’t even compare them with each other’s choices anymore.”