All is calm. All is bright: Advent 2018

“All is calm, all is bright.” It’s a delightful sentiment, though not typically how I’m experiencing the world these days.

That’s why I’m making it my motto for Advent.

Advent, the time leading up to Christmas, tends to hold a lot more anticipation and magic in childhood. These days, I struggle to find ways to make it special.

To me, Christmas has a “true meaning” indeed. It has nothing to do with Santa, giving or receiving presents, and it’s definitely not about shopping.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ. A real live baby boy who changed the world. God walking on Earth. The man who was persecuted, whose body couldn’t be found in his tomb three days later, and who appeared to hundreds of people – people who became martyrs in dedication to his kingship.

It’s world-shattering stuff.

Worthy of pause. Reflection. Introspection. Action.

Every year I struggle with how to do this.

I don’t particularly enjoy tradition and ceremony for its own sake. It’s too easy to go through the motions.

I want to be intentional about Advent. But how?

I heard of the idea of adopting a “Christmas motto” on the podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin. One of their listeners shared the concept of choosing a theme for Christmas. The theme could impact what you’ll prioritize during the season – which activities you’ll do and which you’ll skip, how you want to feel, what kinds of gifts you’ll get for people, etc.

Gretchen announced that her motto for this Christmas season would be “Tis the season to be jolly.” The co-host, Gretchen’s sister, Elizabeth, chose the motto:

“All is calm, all is bright.”

Elizabeth’s choice resonated with me. I would love to feel calm and bright this Christmas.

This is not typically a calm season. There’s a lot to get done before the year ends. There can be duties and obligations, busyness and to do lists that get overwhelming. And in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where I’ll be celebrating with my family, the days are short and often dreary at this time of year. On top of those things, there’s a looming ugliness that seems to be hanging over our world, constantly in the background, these days. Not exactly bright and cheery.

So my focus this coming month is going to be on simplicity. Simplifying my schedule. Minimizing how much I take on. Leaving space for rest and reflection, spontaneity and relationships.I also came across an Advent series put together by World Relief called Listen For Your Yes. They send out a weekly audio file with a guided meditation. Here’s the promo that made me sign up:

“What if you could move beyond feeling overwhelmed and hear clearly from God about the one thing you’re called to do? Our 4-part audio series, “Listening for Your Yes,” helps you slow down and find space in this crowded and busy season.”

So that’s where I’m starting.

Confession: I started writing this post on the overnight train from San Diego to Salem last week. But the first weekend of Advent has come and gone already, and I don’t feel like anything has slowed down or simplified yet…

Do you have favorite practice during Advent? How do you stay calm and bright during Christmas season? Let me know in the comments below.

Michelle’s 35 Things Update

It’s been an eventful year so far – we both turned 35 and celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with an extra dose of travel. With roughly 2 months left in my 35th year, I wanted to take another look at my “35 things to do in my 35th year” bucket list.

I was able to complete most of the things on my list without a problem. But I found that there were a couple things I resisted. One thing I’ve recently learned about myself, thanks to Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies, is that I am a Questioner. That means I only meet expectations that I have rationalized to myself are important. So I expect that the reason I resisted the 35 thank you letters task is because 1) I’ve never really appreciated the tradition of thank you cards in the first place, and 2) it was a popular birthday activity for others that I felt like I should do even though I wasn’t excited about it, and 3) it was overwhelming to choose 35 people and write 35 letters.

So I may end up replacing that one if I can’t find a way to align it better to my own style and personality. There are a few others I might need to adjust as well. Here is my current progress:

  1. Complete 30 days of daily sun salutations
  2. Visit Italy with Jedd 
  3. Finish the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series (almost done, waiting on the library)
  4. Create a list of 35 of my favorite quotes (almost complete )
  5. Complete a daily hand-lettering challenge, writing some of my quotes 
  6. Visit Spain for the first time 
  7. Hand-write 35 thank you letters – need to adjust?
  8. Visit Portugal for the first time 
  9. Contribute the full amount to our Roth IRAs by the end of the year – TBD
  10. Celebrate each day of Advent 
  11. Memorize the countries and capitals of Africa 
  12. Learn a choreographed dance – may change this to learning a new song on piano?
  13. Visit Malaysia for the first time 
  14. Send postcards each quarter to The Aunties 
  15. Do a zipline for the first time – updated: Float down a river in an inner tube 
  16. Take a personal retreat (full day or overnight)
  17. Return to Hoi An, Vietnam for at least a month 
  18. Learn to say “hello” in 35 languages (almost done)
  19. Double my collection of gospel music 
  20. Travel to a new continent (New Zealand/Australia!) 
  21. Host a reunion for our 10th anniversary 
  22. Wear my wedding dress again and then donate it (worn yet to be donated)
  23. Make croissants from scratch 
  24. Find my favorite tea to drink on a daily basis 
  25. Sleep under the stars
  26. See a chiropractor for the first time (Malaysia or Thailand) – need to replace
  27. Get a skin cancer screening (Malaysia) 
  28. Schedule a dental cleaning (Malaysia) 
  29. Take a monthly “screen sabbath” 
  30. Create a video recap of our year of travel – coming soon
  31. Continue blogging at least once a week 
  32. Read 35+ books (on book 29 so far)
  33. Try at least 10 completely new dishes (only 6 so far)
  34. Keep a capsule wardrobe 
  35. Save money for a real estate investment – need to make this a more concrete goal

So that’s my quick update on the birthday list. Hopefully I’ll be able to work out the remaining goals before the end of September!

7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Marriage (updated)

Ten years ago today Michelle and I stood before family and friends and committed to being life partners. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed and yet, there’s always a newness in our relationship as we keep working on being better individuals, and working through challenges to grow closer and stronger as a couple.

3 years ago I wrote this post and upon revisiting it, a lot of the things I wrote still hold true. But to mark this anniversary I also wanted to add 3 new things I’ve learned from our 10 years of marriage. Here’s the original post with some new thoughts: Continue reading “7 Things I’ve Learned in 7 Years of Marriage (updated)”

You Have a Purpose and You are Loved

Time is strange. As a child, 5 minutes in timeout felt like eternity. Our wedding, now almost 10 years past doesn’t feel that long ago. And then there’s the instances where a major event happens in your life and all you can think about what life was like before and after that event. Such is the case with saying goodbye to my father last year. I think of life in terms of all the time that we shared together when he was with us and now, the time without him.

Just about a year ago we gathered with our dear friends and family to say goodbye and thank you. Somedays it feels like a lifetime ago. Other days it feels like just yesterday that he was here. I had an opportunity to give the “thanks” on behalf of our family. In the midst of all the things that were going on at the time, I didn’t think to save what I wrote and I threw away the only copy of my words. Or so I thought. 

I was going to write my annual birthday post and low and behold I had actually copied my speech to share here (insert my tears here). Now it really felt like it was yesterday that I was talking with my Dad.

We try our best to keep his legacy alive each day and I tried my best to share what I thought he would want others to know — that you have a purpose and you are loved:

Continue reading “You Have a Purpose and You are Loved”

Will 2018 Be Your Year of Simple?

Seven years ago we made a life-changing decision to serve in the Peace Corps. We put in our notices at work, ended the lease on our apartment, and sold all of our furniture. We kept our winter clothes and yearbooks in storage with family and headed off to volunteer in Jamaica with the required maximum of two suitcases each.

Living with less was completely liberating. Not only did we have less stuff to keep track of, our weekly schedules in that rural Jamaican community were simplified, too. When we came home from work, we had time to read, journal, practice new recipes… In Jamaica, it was nearly impossible to get more than two real tasks done per day, so we became accustomed to a slower pace of life.

That simpler life was so much less stressful – it was something we vowed to keep in our lives moving forward. And we’re passionate about helping others do the same. Continue reading “Will 2018 Be Your Year of Simple?”

Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List

I promised myself that I wouldn’t actually be old until age 75. But turning 35 means I’ve left my “early thirties” behind, which makes me feel that I no longer fit in the “young adult” category. I’m doing my best to accept this shift in identity without dragging my feet.

I confess that one of my biggest fears about aging is that life will somehow go downhill. I realize that the physical obstacles will increase – I’ve had chronic pain and headaches since my mid-twenties, so I don’t have much hope of anything getting better in that regard. But my real concern doesn’t involve bodily functions.

I remember as a Continue reading “Turning 35: Michelle’s Birthday Bucket List”

A Legacy of Love

It’s strange that just three months ago we said good bye to my father.

Some days it feels like he has been gone for a while. Other days like today, it feels as if he was just here. He was just here.

When people ask me how I’m doing regarding my Dad I’m not sure what to say. I appreciate the kind sentiments but it’s hard to explain what I’m feeling. How do I explain to people that I feel sad, angry, thankful, longing, terrible, at peace, all at the same time? Dad’s passing is easily the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and I still don’t feel like I’ve gotten to process or share all that I want to from that experience.

I’ve been especially Continue reading “A Legacy of Love”

What Matters Most

Every year I write a birthday post reflecting on something I’ve learned in the past year about myself (and thoughts about getting older). It’s a great way to see where I’ve been, who I am today, and hopefully reflects the person I am working on becoming.  


I want to ask you a question: what core values drive the major decisions you make for your life?

In other words, what are the things you value the most? Do you know? Have you ever asked yourself this question? If you do know what matters the most to you, do you live your life in such a way that reflects these values?

This is the foundation to Continue reading “What Matters Most”

2016 Annual Review Part 1: How Well Did The Year of Productivity Go?

For the last three years, Michelle and I have done a practice called an Annual Review. It’s an opportunity to intentionally reflect on the past year and think of the things that went well, things that didn’t go so well, and to take all that information and start planning for the upcoming year and beyond. We highly recommend this activity as an individual, as a couple, and even as a family. Don’t know how to start one? Check out this awesome free workbook from our friends at Live Your Legend and example posts from the Art of Non-Conformity


At the beginning of this year I made a pronouncement to make this the “year of productivity”. I even wrote a post explaining my plan here.

I was going to:

  • Learn Spanish (mind)
  • Get ripped and in-shape (body)
  • Grow in my faith (spirit)

How did I do? Well… Continue reading “2016 Annual Review Part 1: How Well Did The Year of Productivity Go?”

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