“What is a reverse advent calendar?” I hear you ask 🙂
Traditionally when we think about ‘Advent’ we are referring to a season observed by many Christians that is symbolic of the expectancy of Christ’s first Coming into the world, and the preparation and celebration of the Nativity of Jesus Christ at Christmas, and the return of Jesus at His Second Coming, which we still expectantly await.
Advent calendars fill the shops, and most people think of them as a kind of a ‘countdown’ to Christmas. They pop open little cardboard flaps on a cardboard advent calendar, and then pop a little festive shaped chocolate into their mouths, and so it goes. Advent calendars have over the past few years become much more elaborate though with people having the option of spending a small fortune on high end advent calendars that contain everything from chocolates, teas, beauty products and the like.
A ‘reverse advent calendar’ turns the commercialised idea of an advent calendar on its head. Jesus came in meekness and humility and love, and He came to serve other people and to give. We use advent calendars as a way of ‘treating ourselves’. To reverse this would be to give to other people.
One way in which to do this is as you ‘count down’ to Christmas, each day, or for whatever time frame suits you and is most convenient, collect an item that you can give to someone who is in need and without the blessings of food and warmth that you and I enjoy and often take for granted.
For example, you could collect items for a food bank, a soup kitchen or a homeless charity, and once you have collected them all, you have a collection of things that you can give away.
Perhaps this is something that you could do with friends or family, to encourage a community spirit and to help each other think of other people who are in need this season. And if you feel financial pressures yourself, just think that buying a tin of soup is probably cheaper than buying a box of Christmas crackers or novelty toys, and will go a lot further in making a difference. You could even pick up an extra item when you do your own shopping and you will hardly notice the ‘dent’ in your purse or wallet if you do.
If you are in the position to do so, you and your friends and family could collect some change each day and at the end of the time you could contribute that money to a worthwhile cause or charity.
Is this something that sounds like a good idea to you, and would you try it out with your friends and family or by yourself? Maybe it is something you could introduce into your workplace and see how many other people you can get on board. A little goes a long way, and it will make difference to someone this year if we consider ‘reversing’ our advent calendars to celebrate what should be a season of giving rather than getting. Be blessed. x
There is a beautiful line in Max Ehrmann’s prose poem, ‘Desiderata’ (things to be desired), that encourages us to enjoy our achievements as well as our plans.
The concept is so simple, and yet equally profound. We desire certain things in life, and we give our lives to pursuing, obtaining and experiencing them. And yet, once obtained we are so quick to move on to the next thing, just as butterfly or a honey bee might flit from flower to flower.
How many of us take the time to enjoy our achievements as well as our plans? We rarely seem to be satisfied, but perhaps we don’t give ourselves time to truly appreciate and be grateful for our lives as we hurry on to experience something bigger or better.
Perhaps you are reading this and inwardly agreeing to the sentiment behind this statement: “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”. It is a nice thought, an encouraging quote, but what will you and I actually do with it? And how can this Winter Survival Guide prompt us to use the time we have this season to do just that?
1. Review your year:
We could just sit in quietness and enjoy pondering our achievements, but can we appreciate and enjoy them in a more focused and practical way before moving on to the next thing or things in the year to come?
A good and simple starting point could be to set aside some time, to take a pen and a piece of paper and sketch out the important things you have done, experienced and learned in each of the months of 2019 (leaving room for the time you still have left of this calendar year).
It doesn’t matter from an outside perspective whether the things you have captured seem ‘significant’ or not, the thing that matters is that they are important to you, in your life’s journey, no matter how small or inconsequential you might think they would seem to someone else. That’s not what matters, what matters is the life you have lived this year and the lessons you have learned.
What could be some points to ponder as you consider each month in turn? Perhaps we could start with something like this:
- What was the main thing I learned in that month?
- Why was this important?
- What do I consider I achieved (no matter how big or small, it could be as seemingly simple as sticking to a routine, surviving a challenge or showing kindness to someone)?
- How have I grown from these experiences and what will I take forwards?
2. Enjoy your achievements:
As you reflect upon the specific achievements and experiences of each month of the year gone by, take time to ponder them, to be grateful for the lessons you have learned, how you have changed and grown as a person and to enjoy the fact that you are living life right now and learning new things now. Take it in, and celebrate it in a way that is personal to you, even if it is quietly, and even if it is ‘giving yourself a pat on the back’ for having got through a tough time – achievements aren’t all about gold stars and certificates.
Consider writing down and naming the ‘treasures’ that you have gleaned from this year’s experience of life before you move on to the next thing. A life well lived involves appreciating the life that we are living.
3. As well as your plans:
It is a time for looking forward as well as for reflecting and enjoying the moment. Maybe you can spend some time by yourself discovering what has really been meaningful and significant to you this year, understand what is valuable and begin to plan ahead as you reach towards your future achievements and make plans for how you will accomplish them.
Life is filled with wonder. With every sunrise we have a new day to live, new things to discover, new questions to ask and to be curious about, new challenges and unknowns. With every sunset we have the chance to enjoy the fulfilment of another day lived, whether with joy or sadness, and to reflect upon what we have learned and experienced.
We all look up from time to time from the everyday things of our lives. We remind ourselves that we are a small part of something far greater than us, far beyond our understanding and comprehension. Perhaps we don’t spend enough time reflecting and contemplating the miracle of our existence in this vast universe, for surely everyone who stands in solitude and stares up at a star filled night sky, or waits in silence upon a mountain top, feeling the raw beauty and power of nature and of design, feels humbled by the exquisiteness of the ‘something more’ that we have been gifted to be a part of.
I think if we would all but take the time to inhabit such moments more often, then we would live as people and amongst people of humbled hearts and inquiring minds. We would remember that we are not the centre of all things, but we are important as small as we are and have a part to play in this wondrous symphony of life conducted from far higher than any perspective we could hope to have in this fragile life. Perhaps we would notice more the harmony of the diverse aspects of nature working together in one accord, and we would take those lessons to heart in the way we perceive life and our fellow human beings and how we treat each other – each unique but with an important reason and part to play in the grander scheme of things. We all need to ‘look up’, and perhaps we need to make time to do this more often in lives that are otherwise overly busy, hurried and caught up in the mud and mire at our feet.
I like to think of the deeper aspects of life regularly. I believe in, know and love God – The One True and Living God, and as a follower of Christ, Loved Perfectly by Him, I anticipate the gifts of this season when Truth is more freely proclaimed about Who He Is and why He came to us. To honour and think upon the uncreated One Who has Been since before time was, in Whom everything exists and lives and moves and has its being, in Whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found.
No matter where we are on life’s journey, we need to make time to think, to consider our faith, our relationship to our thoughts about our very existence and what that means for who we are and how we live. We need to look up, and not just look but listen. Be still, ponder Truth, and let our faith be strengthened.
1. Keep a list of emergency contacts handy so that you can easily call someone if you need help. Also, phone or reach out to a friend and connect to people face to face when you can even if it’s not an emergency. We all need each other.
2. Make an appointment with your doctor and be honest about your mental health struggles – they’re here to help.
3. Have a routine.
4. Practice your deep breathing technique.
5. Practice ‘grounding’ exercises.
6. Eat regularly, well and healthily.
8. Positive distractions / self-care ‘toolkit’.
10. Copy this list and keep it somewhere you can easily refer to when you need some help.
Sleep it off: sometimes we really need the chance to rest our bodies and our minds. If you have tried the other tips, maybe you could try to get some sleep. Make sure that you have eaten well and maybe have a warm drink and then giver yourself some rest and the chance to heal.
Positive Distractions: Create a self-care ‘toolkit’ or list of your favourite things that you can go to that will serve as positive and healthy distractions when your mind is not in a good place.
Some ideas below:
- Something tactile, soft and comforting, like a cosy blanket, a soft toy, etc.
- A colouring book, pens and pencils.
- Arts and crafts materials such as paper, card, stickers, pens.
- Beautiful pictures or postcards of calming scenes such as nature scenery, animals, or photos of friends and loved ones that don’t ‘trigger’ you but only bring about positive and helpful emotions.
- Some mood lifting songs.
- A journal where you can write out and express your thoughts.
- A book of puzzles or mind teaser computer games such as cards or word games (avoid anything with too much noise, visual stimuli or emotional content).
- A favourite or sentimental object that makes you feel happy.
- A stress ball, children’s play dough, slime or putty, that feels relaxing when you hold it.
- A book of beautiful pictures.
- A bar of your favourite chocolate, dark chocolate is good for you (in moderation like everything of course) so if you like that maybe you can choose a bar of dark chocolate.
- Some calming scents, such as a fragrant wax lavender candle, something that gives of a calming aroma without you having to light it, some essential oils which you can also get in the form of a room spray, lightly scented hand cream, etc.
- Herbal teas.
- A book to ‘doodle’ and draw in.
- Cosy socks / slippers.
- A cosy cardigan or jumper.
- Stencils to create patterns.
- A favourite book that has a positive message.
- A DVD of your favourite film – preferably something uplifting or light-hearted like a comedy.
- Audiobooks (that will not be ‘triggering’ for you).
- Encouraging, inspiring and uplifting podcasts, Ted Talks, etc.
- Anything else that you know will help, calm and soothe you in those difficult moments.
Medication: If you are taking medicine that is prescribed by your doctor, make sure you have an adequate supply, and that you are able to get your repeat prescriptions on time. Check in advance that you will have enough medicine for the days when doctors surgeries, pharmacies, etc. will be closed over the holidays so that you don’t run out. Ask someone for accountability to help make sure you are taking the medication as per your doctor’s advice, and if you feel foggy, hazy or forgetful, keep a log or tick off your calendar so that you know when you have taken or need to take your doses. If you need any help or advice regarding your medication please consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Eating: During my times of severe depression, I found that I either ‘forgot’ to eat meals, was too tired or low to manage to eat, or on the other side of the scale would comfort eat. It can be really hard to take care of ourselves when we are struggling with our mental and emotional health, and how we treat our bodies inevitably has a huge impact upon our energy levels, our moods, mental health and ability to cope day to day.
Therefore my ‘quick tip’ is that you write down / plan some quick, easy, healthy and nutritious ‘go to’ meals and stock up so that you can prepare something for yourself to ensure that your body and mind is getting enough fuel to help you survive and cope with what you are going through. You can ask someone for help in advising you according to your specific needs – but even if it is something as simple as baked beans on toast, soup and bread, a baked potato with fillings, pasta, rice and veg, nuts, a sandwich, etc. these are all pretty easy and quick to put together – make sure you are eating well and regularly and your mind and body will thank you for it, and it will help you have the resources to power through this rough patch.
The funny thing about life is that even though we all know and have heard and see it vibrantly displayed in the lives of young children, that there is a joy and freedom from living in the moment that we can’t find if we are constantly overthinking things, we still know that life has a forward momentum and we need to go with it.
We can be still…but for a moment. I love to sit at a high point of the park overlooking the city, and just be still, to pause, reflect and just ‘be’. And yet, I know I will have to get up again, my feet will keep walking and I will have to move from the stillness and from one moment to the next. The gentle or fast paced momentum of life is still a momentum that no one can escape.
You know the saying, ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. Perhaps you are also familiar with Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60: