Tsh, please introduce yourself to the Velvet Ashes community!
I currently live in Georgetown, Texas, about 30 minutes north of Austin where I was born and raised. After college, I moved to Kosovo to serve in a tiny village as an English teacher, and it was there I met my husband, Kyle, who was helping rebuild houses following the genocidal conflict spearheaded by Miloseviç. A few years into our marriage we moved to Turkey to serve with a different organization, this time with a two-year-old daughter in tow.
I became pregnant with her next baby brother just a few months after moving there, and ultimately I spent most of our time there in that early stage of parenting—I was either pregnant, nursing, miscarrying, or chasing a toddler the entire time. Many of you probably know how challenging that stage is while also learning the language and culture, not to mention work and interpersonal challenges. I’m ultimately grateful for our time in Turkey, though it was definitely difficult.
When our second was a few weeks old I started a blog—this was in an era when blogs weren’t necessarily new but they were taking off like wildfire. I had started it as an innocent creative outlet, to give me something to do that helped me feel more competent in the challenging cross-cultural and parenting stage I was in (this was sage advice given to me from my therapist, since I was also battling depression at this time).
It turns out I accidentally started a second career from this blog because it found its audience rather quickly and it took off. Although we planned to live and work cross-culturally long-term, we ended up returning to the States after three years because of some unexpected health issues with one of our children. We moved to central Oregon to work with a member care organization, all the while still working on my website (which added a podcast along with the original blog). Kyle and I ultimately dedicated most of our focus to my online work and it became our family’s main business while still helping with the member care organization.
When our three children were ages 4, 6, and 9 we backpacked around the world for a school year, visiting old friends and new, prayerfully exploring whether it was time to move back overseas, and generally rekindling a love for the world. We ultimately moved back to central Texas, coming full circle near where I was raised, and we’re still here now. Our kids are 10, 12, and 15, and though we miss living overseas something fierce, we’re confident we’re where we’re meant to be for now. I still write and podcast, and Kyle still helps while he also pursues other work. Life is good.
Why do you believe Advent important?
Advent is a gift to the global Church because it helps us connect our earthly time with God’s rhythms and story. As the first season in the liturgical calendar, Advent is an invitation to lean into the anticipation of Christmas, since the entire focus is on waiting. We wait for Christmas, yes, but we also remember what it was like to wait for the Messiah and wonder if God was truly going to fulfill that which he promised.
We also recognize how we’re in the middle, already/not yet stage of still waiting for Christ to ultimately return and make all things new. Advent gives us the freedom to look around our life, look around our world, and admit that things are not what they should be, and yet to remember that this is not all there is. God will one day right all the wrongs, so as we wait for the Christmas season, we tap into that longing for the holidays to remember we also long for justice, mercy, and goodness to prevail. And we remember that it indeed will one day.
Share with us how you decided to write this Advent guide. What was the process like?
When my three kids were still little, I wanted our family to recognize Advent in our home as a way to connect to the worldwide Church, no matter where we lived. The desire was as simple as wanting to acknowledge Advent as a season separate from Christmas (yet still interconnected to the arrival of the Messiah that we celebrate during Christmastide), but I wasn’t sure where to begin. Everything we tried was either too complicated, too time-consuming, too theologically deep, or too devotionally shallow. We were a family with three young children, but I still wanted something Kyle and I could contemplate as adults.
So, I ultimately made our own Advent guide for our family, leaning into the Psalms for daily reading as the Church’s original prayer book. I added daily music and art we could enjoy as we lit our Advent candle each night, and eventually, a (very) short devotional and reflection question after the Psalm. Collectively, this has become Shadow & Light, a gift for anyone else longing for a rich Advent season without the burden of “one more thing to do” during the holidays.
What is your hope for those who use this book during Advent?
Because Advent is a gift for marking our time and not a checklist of required tasks from God, my hope is that those who use Shadow & Light experience the true grace and peace that comes as a gift. I knew when I wrote this devotional for those beyond our family that I wanted two main things: I wanted it to be accessible to both families and those who use it on their own, and I wanted an ecumenical experience, for everyone in the global Church from all sorts of traditions. I hope those who use the book find the freedom to lean into Advent how it works best for them and their households. Advent is for everyone.
Is there anything you would like to share with the Velvet Ashes community?
As you move into the holiday season, which I know comes with all sorts of emotions when you’re living cross-culturally and far from what’s familiar, my prayer for you is that you find a true sense of home, of belonging, and of rest from God. May you hear God’s voice in a just-right way this Advent season, as we collectively wait as a global Church for one day all things to be made new.