Tomorrow is December 1st, which means I woke up in a panic, realizing how much I need to get done before Christmas and how little time I actually have to do it in. But honesty forced me to admit it’s not so much things I need to do as it is things I feel I “should” do. Sound familiar?

The expectation choir is belting out tunes in four-part harmony right now. If you celebrate a different holiday, the song may be different, but we know the verses, don’t we? “But we always bake/attend/make/watch/do…” or, “It won’t seem like Christmas/Hanukkah/holiday unless we…”

I took a deep breath and told myself to stop for a New York minute and figure out how to do this season differently. The awesome Mel Jolly suggested making a Joy List and being very deliberate about what goes on it—and what gets cut.

I love that, but my heart needed to go deeper. Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, which, for Christians, is about looking ahead to the birth of Christ. It also acknowledges the universal heart-longing for, “Immanuel, God with us.” That deliberate pause is something I need in my hurry-scurry world.

Heirloom advent wreath from my childhood

I want to be more intentional, to savor moments instead of checking things off a list. I’m listening to an audio book by Allen Arnold called, The Story of With: A Better Way to Live, Love, & Create and it is currently changing my life, for real. He talks about the difference between EXPECTATIONS and EXPECTANCY and that distinction is making all the difference.

Instead of the closed-fisted need to control embodied in expectations, I want a joyous sense of expectancy, a childlike wonder about what comes next. Doesn’t that sound better than the whip of the “shoulds”?

I’m currently anticipating a trip I’ve longed to take since I spent six weeks in Manila (Philippines) as a college student. I left a huge piece of my heart with the street children there, delighted by their creativity and curiosity, but heartbroken by the abject poverty

Mealtime at the School in a Cart

Several years ago, I got to know fellow author Sara Goff, whose non-profit, Lift-the-Lid,supports a ministry to Manila’s street children called, The School in a Cart. They encourage and support the children’s efforts to not only stay in school, but to do well, so they can build a better life for themselves and break the poverty cycle.

My heart’s journey is about to come full circle. On December 16, my daughter Michele and I are flying to Manila, where we’ll meet up with Sara and her family and spend Christmas with the children! (We’ll also do a bit of sightseeing before and after)

Mother Daughter trip

Follow us on social media: #ChristmasinCubao or #Manila4Christmas

In conjunction with our trip, we’re helping raise funds for the School in a Cart, to support the work they do in Manila. I hope you’ll check out this article: Lift the Lid Celebrates CHRISTMAS IN CUBAOand meet some of the children. If you’d like to help, any gift, large or small, will make a big difference and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. (Lift-the-Lid is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, so gifts are tax deductible.)

Michele and I will be posting pictures and updates, so I hope you’ll follow our journey on Instagramor Facebook. We’ll be using the hashtags #ChristmasinCubao and #Manila4Christmas. Join us on our adventure! Prayers and good vibes for safety while we’re traveling also greatly appreciated.

I hope you’ll also join me in ditching expectations this year. None of our lives look like Hallmark movies or social media highlight reels, but I’ve learned that even during the really hard years, the gut-wrenching, disappointing, lonely or sad years, we can still approach the season with a glimmer of anticipation. There is always hope.

Immanuel, God with Us.

You are so very loved.