Wednesday, December 28, 2011

of Advent Calendars, donkeys, and the top of our Christmas tree

Our Advent Calendar was everything I hoped it would be.  By Christmas Day, Ben was filling in all the pertinent words of the Christmas story, and Will was saying almost the whole story along with me.  
Here are the boys on Christmas morning, after putting baby Jesus in the manger.  (They fought over who got to stick him on until I made them do it together!)  I'm so glad I created this calendar this year, and I hope it will get great use for many years to come.  As I hoped, it also did attract attention in our hallway and proved a helpful teaching tool to explain the Christmas story to any local friends who came to our house.


Look who was standing outside our kitchen window most of last week:

Doesn’t he make you think of Bethlehem?  (He belongs to a neighbor boy who was chopping branches for firewood in our backyard.)  I couldn't resist a few photos of his fuzzy face.

A final Christmas anecdote…
The boys and I decorated our little Christmas tree, bought at the bazar, with decorations collected from several different sources, including a bag of dusty ornaments scrounged from the basement of this house.  (A little background: Russian New Year holiday traditions are actually almost identical to the the secular Western “Christmas” - decorated trees, presents, even a Santa Claus figure - except they don’t have Jesus in the middle  either.)  At the end of decorating, Will hooked a sparkly gold star we found in the basement at the top of the tree.  I thought it looked nice, even though we couldn’t get it to hang at the very top.
We do have a couple of real ornaments too, including an olive-wood carving of the manger scene.  While Will and I were carefully putting hooks on and spacing the ornaments out over the tree, Ben behind us was methodically taking them off again.  For the rest of that day, I kept finding ornaments at the bottom of the tree, minus their hooks - Ben was taking them off, discarding the hooks, playing with them and then, not being able to put them back on the tree, leaving them helpfully visible on the tree skirt!
When my house helper arrived the next morning, she set about tidying the living room, and in the process picked up around the tree.  Here’s what the tree looked like when I came back in again after she finished:

I left it that way, and prayed that she would come to see Christmas in exactly the same way.  
A Merry Christmas to all you lovely readers, and a safe and blessed New Year’s weekend!

Friday, December 16, 2011

the art of weaving {a balanced life}

“She who reconciles the ill-matched threads of her life,  
and weaves them gratefully into a single cloth -  
it’s she who drives the loudmouths from the hall 
and clears it for a different celebration  
where the one guest is You.” 

Rainer Maria Rilke
I sit with one of my favorite quotes in front of me, the one that sits framed on my kitchen desk.  We’re halfway through December, list-making month.  Only a few days remain in this year.  
I list my threads:
{Homemaking}  Atmosphere, cleanliness (cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, tidying up, laundry), routine, beauty, productivity, rest, peace...
{Creativity}  Music (worship leading, songwriting, performing, recording), visual art (photography, painting, collaging), crafts (crocheting, cross-stitch), personal appearance (dressing, hair/nails/face, etc)...
{Writing} Blog, poetry, fiction, autobiography, emails, encouragement...
{Wifehood}  Romance, care of needs, submission and following, prompting / suggesting family initiatives, sharpening / accountability, intentional encouragement...
{Motherhood}  Homeschooling, heart-shepherding, fostering creative play, building spiritual habits (memorizing Scripture, facilitating time with Jesus in the morning, daily verse on the kitchen table, ABC Bible Verses before naptime), hygiene/care...
{Jesus}  Reading His Words, committing them to heart, conversing throughout the day, meditating on truth, pausing at set times to commune, listing graces with gratitude...  
{Daily Life}  Inconveniences, interruptions, general maintenance...
{Ministry}  Giving and receiving hospitality, meeting needs, entering community, learning and teaching, attending events, hosting events, administration (newsletters, communication, fundraising, etc)...
{Friendship}  Local friendships, overseas friendships, workmate relationships...
{Foreign Culture(s): Three!}  Moving forward in language learning, ability to read and expound Scripture in a second and third language, constant culture learning and adaptation...
{Extra Initiatives/Events} birthdays, Christmas, Easter, local holidays…

I count eleven different colors, each with its own skein of individual threads in varying shades… I feel a bit dizzy.  
No wonder I’m feeling stretched rather thin at the end of this year.  How did Bilbo Baggins put it? “Like butter scraped over too much bread.”  

I’ve gulped great draughts of fresh 2011 air, welcoming this brief lull between pregnancies/nursing/infants/transitions, eagerly reviving one at a time these beautiful color-threads that have gotten smooshed and tangled under the fast-moving speedy boots our life has worn for the last six years.  This is my life, I chose it and I love living it, but sometimes it leaves me rather breathless.  Stability is an elusive luxury; and mostly, I like it that way.  It’s sure never boring!  But… this year I’ve been enjoying a break from all the speed...  
True to form, I threw myself into this Year of Here, just like I throw myself into the speed...  Breathlessly, I asked of these months: Oo - oo! How many new habits, traditions, good, healthy enjoyable threads can I weave into my life?  How many treasured goals and hoped-for projects can I revive in just a few short months?  
Who’s running this show, anyway?  I think I’ve slid into believing it’s me.  No wonder I’m getting a bit weary.  So much for a “break” - is it me that’s in the habit of going much too fast?  Cramming too much in?  

Like a friend of mine discovered, not wanting to waste a moment I desecrate the moments by accelerating through them and not staying in them.  

Once a week on Saturday mornings I walk for a whole hour while my hubby plays with the boys (usually outside doing boy-stuff).  I explore a direction that interests me; this week I headed out of town up towards the mountains across snowy fields.  
Feet tramping in happy rhythm, thoughts relaxed and fluid, I walked into a realization: I am not the pattern-maker.  -Pop-  Something pinged inside of me, and I found myself taking a deep breath.  And another.  And another.  Shoulders sagged.  Steps slowed.  Joy welled deep.  
I am not the pattern-maker.  All I have to do is listen to the Pattern-Maker.  

It’s difficult!  I protest to myself.  I have known this; I just haven’t been living it.  I love each of my threads too much to find it easy to let go.  To lay them down.  To release a thread I especially love and let it rest for a while.  I just want to hold onto all of them and keep them all moving at the same time; I dislike slack.  It makes me feel like I’m moving backwards.
What is it in me that needs to hold on so tightly?  What am I afraid of?  That if I let go, the threads will reel out of control and all the beautiful things I want in my life will disintegrate and fly to pieces around me?  Doesn’t He want beautiful things for my life too?  And wouldn’t His pattern be far more beautiful - stately - measured - balanced - perfect than mine, all bunchy and forced?  Anyway, it’s impossible for me to keep all these threads moving much longer.  I exhale, long and slow.  
Why can’t I just trust?
I need the Pattern-Maker.  I need to hear His pattern, need to let all my threads rest.  Pick them up gently, one at a time, weave a slow dance, a balanced dance.  Follow His pattern.  Wouldn’t His pattern have flowers and fields and scents and lovely, restful streams?  And wouldn’t His timing be perfect, Him knowing right moment for each thread to shimmer into place, Him speaking soft to my heart, my hands?
Isn’t that a better way to live?  To weave?  

My feet walk on, follow a path across a field, see, stop.  I take photographs of an abandoned mud house, open to the sky, shadows of cut-out spaces on its walls, patterns of light and dark, azure and pearl and dusky brown.  

Turning my face up to the sun, I close my eyes.  I stretch out my arm and snap a picture.  Sunlight warms my face, pressing heavy orange on closed lids.  I feel the weight of heat through the sharp winter cold.  My heart lifts.  Threads hang slack.

On the way home, a new song comes.  I take the song-thread into the house with me, sit at the piano to weave a while, the boys watching cartoons, James trimming trees, the house humming quiet.  Time for song-writing.  I take up the thread and obey - with joy.  Next it will be time for lunch-making, nap-taking and word-crafting.  And after that… ?  

My hands lie open.  Threads surround.  

I listen, and pick up the next one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, William! {belated}

November 29, 2011

Dear William,
Happy Birthday!  You are four years old today!  I look at your tallness and your grown-up smile, and I can’t believe it’s already been four years since I became your mother.  You are so unique and smart, and I love your goofy silliness that’s emerging as you get older.   You know how to dress yourself almost without help, and you’re even helping Ben, too.
You love stories.  You aren’t content to sit and look at pictures in a book - you want to hear the story.  You’re already learning how to notice what letters make words, and to sound out words one letter at a time.  Pretty soon you’ll be reading stories on your own!  And you love watching stories on TV - your favorite shows are Little Einsteins, Special Agent Oso and Mickey Mouse.  Maybe someday you’ll write stories of your own, too!

You love Lightning McQueen and Thomas the Tank Engine.  Your days are divided between "playing race cars" and "playing trains"...  You were thrilled when we found life-size models of Lightning McQueen and Mater in the big city nearby!  

You also love to paint pictures, especially making a special separate spot of each possible color so you can see each one clearly.  You’re starting to draw pictures of actual things, too; the other day you drew a complicated factory/machine, and spent half an hour telling me what each different colored part does.   

You love music, especially dancing to “Uncle Clayton’s music” (indy rock!).  You get your Elvis groove out and wiggle your hips and all of a sudden, my cautious boy turns into a rock star!  I can’t wait to see where your zany streak takes you.  

You’re really complimentary and encouraging, William.  I loved it when I came out of my room yesterday wearing a new sweater and you turned around and saw me, and said with a big sweet smile, “Aw, you look pretty, Mom!”  And then, as I thanked you and kissed you: “I like pretty girls!”  I think I blushed!
And you’re good at encouraging your brother Benjamin.  You are so kind to him, even though lots of times he messes up what you’re trying to do.  Most days you wake up first from your nap, and after about 5 minutes of playing by yourself, you’re asking me if you can go wake Ben up so you can play together.  The best parts of the day are when you find games you can both play together happily, and I hear you together making car noises or train noises.  You’re learning how to give and receive apologies, and you’re learning how to show the Fruit of the Spirit to Benjamin.  

You have a really good memory, William.  You memorized Psalm 23 when you were barely 3, and this summer you memorized Ephesians 6:11-18 and part of 1 Corinthians 13.  You’ve learned half of your ABC Bible Verses book, and you can even remember almost all of the references!  And you can already say half of the Christmas Story from doing our Advent Calendar this month.  I am so excited you are happy to hide God’s Word in your heart right now… you will stay rich as you get older and you will never regret it.  

You’re good at learning and practicing Russian words, too, and you enjoy having your local friends over to play with you - as long as they come one at a time!  You let me give a birthday party for the kids on our street, and you were so patient when they all came over and wanted to play with your toys.  Even though you’re just four, you understand that we need to show God’s love to everyone around us, and you like to share your toys and give things away to kids who don’t have very much.  I love your generous heart, William.  

Best of all you’re understanding more and more about who Jesus is and how you can know him.  I love seeing you in the mornings with your Jesus Storybook Bible, listening to stories about Jesus, looking at the pictures.  You’re still hesitant to talk to Jesus in your own words, but just tonight you forged out on your own at bedtime, praying for your friends far away in America.  It won’t be long before you figure out you can talk to Jesus just like you talk to me or Daddy.  
I love you so much, William! I am so proud of how you’re growing and learning, and how motivated you are to learn and grow yourself every day.  I’m so happy you love Jesus so much and are hiding His Word in your heart.  I feel so privileged that God picked me to be your Mommy and grow and learn with you as you grow up!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One Thousand Gifts in December

I'm reading Ann’s journey again, and it is as though I’m reading it for the first time.  How fast was I skimming before that I missed this much?  I slow down, breathe the words in, one at a time.  I live them, in this moment.  

I need to do this.  

How have I known this truth for over a year now, and have still been living in the dark shadows of discontent and skepticism?  
I have a sudden thought.  How many days left until the end of 2011?  December 1 is Thursday.  31 days.  

I pull out my phone and press “calculator”.  1000 divided by 31 days is… just under 33.  

If I write down 33 gifts every day of December, I will finish counting to 1000 by New Year’s Eve.  (No need to post every list online - that will just slow me down.  Highlights, maybe, or joy-lights…) The important thing is having beautiful white paper somewhere visible, and a colorful pen full of ink.  Writing.  Writing down all the gifts of December’s moments, the presence of my God to me, in my life.  Right here, right now.  Writing with the skin, the blood, the muscles, so the mind and heart remember: give thanks.  Live joy.  

I want to finish this year with joy.  I want to be brimful of it on New Year’s Eve, paging back through even just one solid, final month of giving wild, extravagant, non-stop thanks.  

Can I do it?  With all the hectic busyness, etc?  Maybe it's because of all the hectic busyness I need to do it.  

And even just trying will jumpstart my joy-meter.  

I pull out a blank notebook with hummingbirds on the front, place it on my kitchen desk.  A pen.  A white page.  Hummingbirds, with wings so fast they’re just a blur.  Sipping nectar, eating up to 12 times their own body weight each day because they use up so much energy just flying.  Daily nectar for daily needs.  That’s what my “December blitz” joy list will be.

  1. Hummingbirds 
  2. A pen filled with ink
  3. 31 days to give thanks
  4. This breath of life
  5. My two sleeping children
  6. That they’re healthy, happy, and holy.
  7. That the kingdom of heaven is made of such as these.
  8. Fresh white pages waiting for thanks.
  9. That thanksgiving prepares the way for God to show us His salvation.
  10. For Ann’s life-giving, life-restoring words
  11. For words, for language to express thanks.
  12. For naming and the power of names.
  13. For my husband and his naming of me as his wife.
  14. For trials and how they produce perseverance and character.
  15. That this world is the only hell we’ll ever know.
  16. That after this breath of a life we’ll see God face to face
  17. And we’ll know as we are fully known.
In less than 3 minutes, I’m more than halfway to my 33 gifts for today. 

Joy bubbles in the heart.