Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy Birthday, William! {a belated birthday letter})

November 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, to my sweet William!

You are six years old today!  I love watching you grow.

Your character has really grown and blossomed this year.  You are developing a compassionate heart, especially for Ruby and Ben.  You play so well with each of them, and love to do what makes them happy (most of the time), like letting Ben win, and playing peek-a-boo with Ruby.  You are becoming sensitive to their needs, which is very different from a couple years ago.

I love how you look forward to listening to G.T. Bible Verse songs or Mrs G stories every morning, and then you tell me something new you learned about God.  You already understand how important it is to start the day with Jesus, which makes my heart so glad.

Yesterday at lunchtime I asked you what you listened to that morning, and you said it was about self-control.  “Yeah, I need that today, for my mind,” you added, buttering your bread.  “Why?” I asked.  “Because before, when Ben did something I didn’t like, I thought of something in my mind I wanted to do to him.  Something bad.”  I was so amazed you realized you needed self-control for your mind - a pretty advanced connection for a six-year-old to make and verbalize!  So we talked about “taking every thought captive” and learning how to grab that bad thought and quickly give it to Jesus.

Even though we had to travel so much during your sixth year (NZ, USA, Thailand, Central Asia, Turkey, more Central Asia…) you took it all in your stride!  You stayed calm, and you really enjoyed all the different places we went - the food, the sights, the fun things we got to do.  It wasn’t until our second long visa run (our third three-week trip this summer) that you finally started saying, “I miss our home…”  You did so well!  You are really maturing, and we are so proud of you.

RIght before Christmas, you finished the 100th lesson in your reading book!  Congratulations!  You did so well persevering, even on the the hard days, when you hit a mind block, or you just didn’t feel like doing it, but we worked through your attitude and Jesus is helping you.  If you put your mind to anything, I know you’ll be able to do it.  

This Christmas, you wrapped up your reading book and gave it to Jesus, saying, “I want to give Jesus my mind, and what I read this year, and I only want to read things that make Him happy.”  That makes me happy, and Jesus too!

My favorite time with you each day, Will, is our quiet time together in the afternoons.  You’re such an atmosphere guy - you love to snuggle up with a blanket and do our reading together, and afterwards have a cup of tea and play a game - UNO, Checkers, Connect4, Memory… 

I couldn’t ask for a more wonderful firstborn son, William.  I am so thankful I get to be your mom, and help you grow into the man God created you to be.

My prayer for you this year is from Jeremiah 29:11, a verse you came and told me about one morning after listening to G.T., saying, “Mom, God has plans for me!  Good plans!”  Trust God’s plans for your life, Will, to give you a future and a hope.  Seek God with all your heart, and you will find him.  

Happy Birthday, sweetie!



Saturday, December 28, 2013

living the art you were made to live

{On my nightstand: I've been enjoying emily p. freeman's new book 

My daughter is screaming in her bed.

I just sat down to write.  She just started screaming.  I’ve been waiting all day for the house to get quiet.  

An hour or so earlier, I put her down for her nap, read to my second son and settled him in his bed, sat on the couch for a reading lesson with my first son and then set him up with paper and markers, and I’ve just settled on my bed with my computer….

And my daughter wakes up.  

I ignore her as long as I can, try to write a few sentences, but it’s no use.  She’s teething, poor thing; this is the second time she’s woken up screaming this afternoon, and I’m pretty sure she’s not going back to sleep again.  

I sigh, slide from under my cosy blanket.  I slip into her room.  She’s sitting forlornly in the bottom of her portacot, heaving with sobs.  My heart breaks a little.  I gather her up, try to contain her writhing body while she screams for another five minutes in my arms, punishing me for making her wait so long.  She hiccups, snotty and streaming.  I cuddle her close, pushing down my longing to write, trying to quell my rising frustration.  

Didn’t I sign up for this parenting thing?  Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted?  But how do I weave it all together?  Maybe I should just give up writing for now… I think in despair.  

But writing is part of who I am.  If I was locked in solitary confinement for twenty years, I think I’d write with my fingernails on the jail cell wall.   

Ruby sits with me now at the kitchen table, still hiccuping.  We need a treat, both of us.  I look over at the bag of tiny Mandarin oranges my sweet husband brought home from the bazaar yesterday.  

“Would you like an orange, Ruby?”  

A blank stare.  We’ve bought them twice already this week and she adores them, but she doesn’t yet recognize the word orange.  So I cradle her pink-tighted legs in the crook of my arm and we walk over to the bag.  I show her two little oranges in the palm of my hand.  She grins, and starts her new skill: nodding.  Chin up, chin down, up, down. 

“This, Ruby,” I tell her, “is an orange.”  More nodding.  She reaches.  We sit down.  I peel one slowly, taking off the skin in bits and laying them on the table.  Her body is quiet on my lap.  Attentive.  She’s stopped hiccuping.  She reaches toward the  orange I’ve peeled and grabs it.  Then, instead of eating it, she sets it aside.  Reaches for the unpeeled one.  Presses hard on it with her fingers and thumb.  I try to help get her started - she pulls away with a grunt.  More pressing and poking.  She slides her little fingers around the orange, trying to find a hole.  Finally, I sneak in a fingernail and scratch a hole to get her started.  She works away for a while, excavating one tiny bit of peel at a time.  Some goes on the table, some tumble to the floor.

I think about independence.  The innate drive to do something yourself, with no help.  The need to test ourselves, to prove ourselves - to ourselves, first of all.  A 13-month-old isn’t out to impress anyone - she just wants the thrill of accomplishment.  

What am I aiming to do when I write?  Impress others?  Or can I write just for the joy of writing?  Is writing really necessary to me?

I know the answer to that last one: yes.  It’s necessary.  As necessary as breathing.  

Her sobs have subsided, now that she’s with me.  All the noise hushed for now.  My lap, and oranges.  That’s all she needs.  

What do I need in order to hush the noise?  

I know the answer to that one too: quiet.  And Jesus.  I need to be aware of being together with Jesus.  

I think about togetherness.  I cradle her in the crook of one elbow, still clutching her half-peeled orange, and we go to the bedroom to retrieve my computer.  Laptop balanced precariously in one hand, baby in the other, I go back to the table.  I think about balance.  While she’s occupied with oranges, I write this post.  And consider.

How do I balance motherhood and art?  What is the point of all this longing to write, planning to write, all these words, anyway?  Is it really worth it?

Emily P. Freeman would say, yes.  Yes, it is totally worth it.  Keep writing.  Keep making the art you were made to live.  And she would also say (from the chapter I just finished today) - sink into Jesus, before, during and after.  

Follow His leading, let His life live through you.  Be together with Him.  Let Him hush the noise.  

Because, I realize, Jesus, not me, is the primary parent of these children.  Jesus, not me, is the primary source of these words I'm writing.  His life is tinted with my personality as He shines out through me, but it is His life“I have been crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live, but Christ lives through me.”  

If I’ve been crucified with Christ, then even though I’ve been waiting all day for Jesus to give me a slot of time to write, I can release it even as it began, for the joy of comforting my daughter.  

If Christ lives through me, I can write about oranges, surrounded by the smell of oranges, with sticky baby fingers reaching for my keyboard.  As long as my children are happy, with me, learning, growing, being fed (or learning to feed themselves), it’s ok to sometimes have the computer on the table.  There were other moments today when I focused in on each of them, put my hands on their shoulders, met their eyes, told them how much I love them.  

Now they can happily munch, while I happily type.  This is not ignoring them, and I don’t need to feel guilty about it, I tell myself.  

This is just all part of figuring out how to live the art I was made to live


What is the art you were made to live?  Are you managing to weave it into your day-to-day life?  Is the whole process more challenging for you some days than others?  

Monday, December 23, 2013

for when you just need to let go...

{Joining in with the community of lovely sojourning ladies over at The Grove today… }

Expectations can make or break your Christmas.  In fact, they can make or break just about anything.  No matter how hard I try not to have expectations - to hold everything loosely, to keep my hands open - it’s nearly impossible not to expect something.  

I expect myself to bake all the wanted goodies, without losing my cool or snapping at the kids when they knock milk on the floor or snatch spoons off the table to lick

I expect myself to visit every. single. house on our street, not just some of them: all or nothing, that’s definitely me!

I expect myself to plan even the Christmas season meals creatively.  (Does anyone else find it so much harder to get even a simple a dinner on the table, in the midst of planning Christmas menus and all that extra baking?)

As I linger at naptime in Ann’s devotional each day this Advent, I am struck by these words from her Saturday, December 21 (mine full of rush and bustle):

“We are most prepared for Christ, for Christmas, 
when we confess we are mostly not prepared  
“You are most prepared for Christmas  
when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift 
and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”   

~Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift 

I confess, I haven’t done much reveling lately.  I’ve been going to bed later and later, waking up later and later, squeezing Jesus out of my morning, trying to find him in the cracks throughout the day, and not succeeding very well.  True, there are those occasional moments to myself in the bathroom (!) when I reach for the Messiah book and see Christ in the curves and caresses of Timothy Bott’s beautiful calligraphy.  There are the moments at the sink when I pause and breathe deep, whisper His name over the soapsuds, remember, He’s here.  But those moments feel like tiny islands in the hectic fabric of my day.

And so I’m finding myself a little nervous.  Nervous that Christmas will come and go and we will be too rushed to settle in, to sink deep and enjoy it.  Nervous that my expectations are flying every which way and I’m losing my Center, forgetting what - Who - it’s all about.  It’s so easy to do.  

Today, I decided to let myself off the hook.  Let's make this last Sabbath before Christmas a day of true rest, I thought.  I put aside the laundry, the baking, the shopping, the desperately needed haircut, the errands and the hustling.  This is a day for family.  We do our fourth Advent candle together with the kids, decide together what we will each give Jesus for His Birthday this year.  We linger long over homemade wrapping paper and Christmas labels: “To Jesus, from Ben”  “To Jesus, from Will”  We smear glitter on paper angels, and Will draws a beautiful picture of Jesus as our King.  In the afternoon, we mix Jesus’ traditional birthday fruitcake with my British mother-in-law’s family recipe, and we remember Who is at the center of Christmas.

And slowly, my expectations melt away.  This moment is what matters.  These scents, these smiles, these giggles, even these fights and tussles and pouts - this is where Christ is.  In the center of all of this.  He lives here, in us, in our home.  

He is Christmas.   

This afternoon, in the midst of our Sabbath, after a long lovely nap with my husband, while the kids are still quiet and the house is hushed, I read today’s devotional, for December 22.  

“The being with is always the gift, 
not merely the doing for 
Because God knows relationship is the only reality; 
there is nothing else.”

My husband stirs beside me, stretches his arms behind his head.  “Now this is what I call a Sunday.”  He sighs deep with contentment.  

I feel warm all over, and I know this is the feeling of Christ already come.    

Friday, December 20, 2013

when you don't know what to give to Jesus

{Preparing for Christmas: Week 3}

It was three days before Christmas last year, on a warm, New Zealand summer afternoon.  

Sitting by our Christmas tree, I asked my firstborn son, 

“What do you want to give Jesus for His Birthday this year, Will?”  He had just had his fifth birthday, so presents were fresh in his mind.  

Without missing a beat, he answered back promptly, “My heart.”

My own heart skipped a beat.  Does he even know what that means?  

This tradition of giving gifts to Jesus on Christmas Day began in my own family.  My Mom wanted to teach us to honor Jesus first on Christmas morning instead of ripping into our own presents.  She asked each of us to think of something we wanted to give Jesus, and then wrap up an item to symbolize it and put it under the tree.  

On Christmas morning around the tree, each of us opened our present for Jesus first, and told everyone what we were giving Him and why.  One year, I wrapped up a music book and gave Jesus my voice.  It was a reminder to me all year that Jesus owned the rights to my voice, so my yeses and nos were to come from Him regarding what I did or didn’t do with singing that year.  Another year, I wrapped up a watch, to symbolize my time.  When I was tempted to rush things, or to complain at how long something was taking, I’d remember that Jesus owned my time and whatever happened was His decision - my job was to stay content and rest in Him.  

That afternoon, I helped Will get out paper and markers, and he drew a lopsided heart on the paper and cut it out.  He wrote “J - E - S - U - S” inside the heart, in backwards, crooked, beautiful letters.  We punched a hole in it, strung some red ribbon through and made a loop, and hung it on our Christmas tree.     

“That’s beautiful, Will,” I said, as we looked at it hanging on the tree.  

“Because Jesus lives in my heart,” he said.  Yes.  He knows what it means.  My eyes stung.  

Will’s whole-hearted generosity prompted my own heart: What am I giving Jesus this year?

In that season my whole world was wrapped around the most precious gift I felt I had ever been given: a daughter.  Suddenly I felt an urge to wrap her in gold paper and put her under the tree.  Both an offering and a dedication.  

Sitting there quietly with Will, looking at his heart dangling peacefully from the branch, I said softly to Jesus - the tears trickling down now -  

My daughter is yours, Jesus.  She was your gift to me, and she is my gift back to you.  I release her to serve You in whatever purpose you have for her.  Don’t let me clutch her too tightly, or hold on to her too long.  Use her for your glory.  

I want my kids to realize very early the true Center of Christmas: Whose birthday it is, and Who we honor on Christmas Day.  

In the process of reminding them, I’m remembering, too.  


What will be your Christmas gift to Jesus this year?  Is there something you need to re-surrender, or commit to Him for the first time?  Is there an area of your life or a gift He’s given you which you need to remember belongs to Him first?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

the fragrance of Christ

{Preparing for Christmas: Week 2}

I love cinnamon.  

Cinnamon candles, cinnamon toast, hot spiced apple cider: I could sing with Maria, “These are a few of my favorite things…”  I love making French toast for breakfast; as it sizzles in the pan, it fills the kitchen with the scent of cinnamon.

Cinnamon reminds me of Christmas and all the good things that come with it.  My mom used to tie pairs of cinnamon sticks together with red satin ribbon and hang them on the Christmas tree.  They were my favorite ornament to unpack and hang up.  I loved pressing the sticks under my nose and inhaling their spicy fragrance.    

Every year I light cinnamon candles all over our house to fill it with their Christmassy scent.  I have one on my writing desk; as I write this I’m surrounded by the scent of Christmas.  

A thought occurred to me: this Christmastime, is my house filled with the fragrance of Christ as well as the scent of cinnamon?  Are kind, joyful words being spoken?  Am I filled with gratitude for the gifts in each day?  Am I infusing my kids with joyful anticipation for Jesus’ coming?  

Or am I allowing the stress of last-minute projects, cookie-making for neighbor families, or reaching my home-school goals overwhelm me?  Am I sinking into frustration because something didn’t turn out exactly like I’d hoped?

What spiritual scent is filling our rooms?  

Lord, help me light You as a scented candle in my heart, so your fragrance spills from my mouth and actions these Christmas days.  Fill our home with Your sweet Presence as we eat and sleep and talk and play together.  May every guest who comes through our doors notice not only cinnamon, but Christ.

{for the first post in this Advent series, click here...}

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Princess and the Crown

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

{Today I'm joining in with the community of sojourning ladies over at Velvet Ashes, writing on this week's prompt: Story…}

Once upon a time… (aren’t those lovely, magical, anything-can-happen words?)

Once upon a time, there was a princess.  

But she wasn’t always a princess.  She was born the daughter of humble peasants, and they lived in a small cottage and kept chickens.

Now, the king of that land had a heart as wide as the sky.  One of the things his big heart loved to do was adopt children.  He didn’t care if they already had parents of their own; he adopted them anyway, so that he could care for them and honor them and bless them just like he did for his own son, the prince.  He knew there was a difference between ruling over people and fathering them, and he loved being a father.  

When the king wanted to adopt another child, he sent his firstborn son, the prince, to tell them the good news: that they had become a prince or princess too.  The king’s son took immense delight in ranging far and wide over his father’s kingdom, delivering his father’s messages.  

One day, our princess (who didn’t yet know she was a princess) was outside feeding the chickens.  She tossed grain to them and hummed a little song to herself, because the sky was blue and the air smelled sweet.  She was about six years old, and she wore a ragged peasant dress and had bare feet.  Her long brown hair fell loose down her back.

Suddenly, at the edge of yard, leaning on the fence, she noticed a most remarkable person.  He was tall, broad-shouldered, and dressed in peasant garb like herself.  He wore a jaunty cap on his head, and when he saw her looking at him, a broad smile spread over his face.  She liked him at once.

“Hello,” she said.

“Hello,” he replied.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I’m the prince,” he answered.  She believed him without question; she was only six years old, and miracles happened every day.  

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said politely, dropping a quaint little curtsy in her peasant rags.  His grin broadened.  She could tell he liked her too.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.  He beckoned her over to the fence.  She quickly threw the rest of the grain to her chickens, and came over to where he was.

“It’s a secret,” he said, “so I shall have to whisper in your ear.”  Obligingly, she stood on tiptoe, and the prince leaned down over the fence rail and whispered something into her small ear.  

Her face brightened immediately, and she pulled back and gazed up into his face to see whether he was telling the truth.  He gazed solemnly down at her, his brown eyes twinkling.  “It’s true,” he said.  “From this day on.”

She flashed him the brightest of smiles.  Hopping onto the bottom rail of the fence, she stretched up to plant a kiss on his cheek.  Then she skipped off across the yard, glancing back and waving her hand before she disappeared into the house.  

The prince watched her go, a smile still on his face.  Then, whistling, he sauntered off up the lane, hands in his pockets.  He had more houses to visit that day.

The little girl with the wonderful secret in her heart grew up.  She married a good man and gave birth to three beautiful children of her own.  Sometimes she remembered the truth of what the prince told her that day, and sometimes she forgot.  On days when she remembered, she walked with a beautiful grace and was polite and kind and gracious, no matter how tired she felt.  On days when she forgot, she grumbled at every inconvenience and was rude and unkind and impatient.  

One day, the prince returned.  The little-girl-grown-up was inside her house, washing the dishes.  She and her husband still lived in the same cottage; they built a little hut next door for her aging parents, and that afternoon her three children were playing at their grandparents’ house.  

She was feeling especially tired; the baby had been up in the night teething, and her two sons had struggled to play kindly all morning.  She was tired of breaking up fights, tired of holding a fussy baby, tired of dishes - just tired.  

Suddenly, there was a knock at her door.

“Come in,” she called, sighing a little inside.  She had been hoping for a quiet cup of tea all by herself with her book.  She dried her hands on the tea towel, and went to open the door.

There stood the prince.

“Hello,” he said cheerfully, the same old twinkle in his eye.

“Hello,” she replied, a little flustered.  

“May I come in?” said the prince. 

The woman opened the door wider and gestured into their humble living room.  “Of course,” she said, “but I haven’t much to offer you.”

“I don’t mind,” said the prince.  “It’s nice to see you again.”

“It’s nice to see you, too,” said the woman, thinking how handsome he still was.  He didn’t look like he had aged a single day.  Staring at him, she forgot her manners, until he said, gently, “I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea, if you have some…”

“Oh!  Oh, yes, of course,” the woman went quickly to the stove, where the kettle had just begun to boil.  She reached another mug down from the shelf, placed it next to her own, and poured out two cups of tea.

Handing him a steaming mug, she sat down across the table from him, and they looked at one another in silence for a moment.

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” the woman finally blurted out.  “I just can’t seem to keep remembering what you told me all those years ago - I have trouble believing what you said is, well, is really true.”

“You believed me back then,” the prince said, mildly.  “What happened?”

“Well, I grew up, I suppose,” the woman replied.  “And… life happened, I guess.  It’s just that I don’t feel any different, and my life is just the same as it was before I knew - before you told me, that is.”  

“I brought something for you,” said the prince.  “I’ve been waiting for just the right moment.”  He reached into his satchel and pulled out something that sparkled in the sunlight.  The woman’s eyes widened.  The prince set the beautiful thing on the table between them.    

“I - I don’t know what to say,” she stammered feebly, staring at the delicate golden circlet set with precious gems.  She loved beauty.  All her life she had dreamed of owning such a lovely thing, but they never had money for anything extra.  

“This is a very special crown,” the prince said gently.  The woman raised her eyes from the circlet to his face.   He picked it up, and said, “May I?”  

The woman flushed a rosy pink, but she lowered her head and leaned forward slightly.  The prince set the circlet on her shining brown hair.  Then he took one hand, and raised her chin so their eyes met.  The woman’s eyes filled with tears.  She could feel the beautiful crown resting lightly on her head.  

“Only you will be able to see this crown,” the prince said to her earnestly.  “You will feel it resting on your head, and when you look in the mirror you will see it glimmering there, but it is only visible to you.”   

The woman reached up her hand, and carefully touched the smooth gold with her fingers.  Her face bore a look of wonder.  She rose from the table, and walked into the bedroom, where there was the only mirror in the house.  Looking into it, she saw a still-youngish woman with tired eyes gazing back at her.  A sparkling golden crown rested on her head.   At the sight, her tears began to overflow, and trickled slowly down her cheeks.  She reached up again, as if to make sure it was really there.  

After a long moment, she returned to the table and sat down again opposite the prince.  He was looking at her quietly, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.  He reached across the table and covered both her hands with his.  

“Never forget,” he said, looking into her eyes.  “You are a princess.  You are a daughter of the king.  You are loved, and you are cherished.  Live each day like that is true.  Never forget who you are.”

She nodded, gazing at the prince, not trusting herself to speak.  He held her eyes, and her hands, for one more moment, and then he rose.  

At the doorway, he turned and smiled at her.  “That means you’re my sister, you know,” he said, his smile broadening to a grin.  “See ya round, sis.”  

And he was gone.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Our home, Christ's home

{Preparing for Christmas: Advent Week One}

Last year, in New Zealand, the boys and I made our first gingerbread house.  

I love baking, but I had just given birth to our third baby, we were living in a rental house, and I didn’t feel up to making gingerbread house pieces from scratch.  I wasn’t even sure I was up to making Christmas cookies that year.  

But I found an inexpensive gingerbread kit at the store, and thought it sounded like a fun Christmas craft with minimal effort.  The boys loved getting out all the house pieces, sticking them together with ready-made icing, and lavishly decorating the house with bags of included lollies (NZ-ese for candy).  

Looking through photos of making the gingerbread house got me thinking about our actual house, and decorating our house for Christmas, and about the little book “If Jesus Came to My House” which just arrived recently in a package from my Mom.  

I also thought of those beautiful verses in Proverbs 24:3-4

“By wisdom a house is built, 
and through understanding it is established; 
through knowledge its rooms are filled 
with rare and beautiful treasures.”  

I thought of the MnMs and gumdrops crusting the edges of our gingerbread roof, and how the house was made to look beautiful on the outside, but it was just an empty shell.  The last thing I want our home to be this Christmas, or any Christmas, is beautifully decorated but empty of meaning.

What if Jesus came to our house this Christmas?

What if He was there in our living room on Christmas Eve, listening to us read the Christmas story, helping James and I wrap the presents, watching a Christmas movie with us?  

What if He slept on a sleeping bag in the kids’ room, woke up gleefully with them on Christmas morning, and ran with them to velcro the figure of baby Jesus onto the Advent Calendar manger?  

What if He was there on Christmas morning while we each opened the present we’d wrapped for Him, received each gift with a delighted look and a big grin, sat down with us to tuck in to Christmas dinner, and stretched out on our couch for a much-needed Christmas-afternoon nap?

What if He (being Jesus) could read all the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts?  What if He could see when we were being truly grateful, and when complaints crept in, even the ones we didn’t say aloud?  What if He heard every kind thought, as well as every frustrated one? 

Well, guess what.

He’ll be here.  At your house.  And mine.  For Christmas.  

Are we ready for Him?

Lord, help us prepare for your coming this Christmas by imagining you walking among us.  We know you’re always with us; we welcome you again into our homes and hearts.    Come, Lord Jesus, take your place in our midst and may all that you find here bring you joy.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Advent begins tomorrow!

Congratulations to those of you who made your own Advent calendar this year!  If anyone wants to pull an all-nighter, there's still time to finish one before Advent begins… 

…tomorrow!   (scroll down for instructions…)

Since it's the first Sunday of Advent tomorrow, I wanted to post briefly to offer a FREE Advent tool to use with your children for the 4 Sundays of Advent plus Christmas Day.  I created this tool especially with preschoolers in mind: it's a shortened, repetitive, simplified version of the Advent readings I grew up with in church.  

Apparently, Blogger doesn't support PDF hosting (correct me if I'm wrong! I'm still new at this tech stuff), so please email me at for a PDF copy of all 5 Advent for Preschoolers readings.  

Tune in here each week for a meditation on Advent, leading up to Christmas… 

Enjoy your Advent season!  

[And if anyone can tell me how to put a PDF up on my site for free download, leave a comment!  I'd welcome the info!]

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Taste {The Grove}

Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas{Linking up post-Thanksgiving with The Grove community over at Velvet Ashes, musing on  Taste…}
I never fully realized how one taste can send you straight home (in the "where-I-grew-up" sense).  

For the first time in my 8 years of married life, this week I cooked my first ever Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings: roasted chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted veggies, peas, even cranberry sauce made from scratch from real cranberries!  The crowning glory, however, were my two pies, made from scratch - and I am NOT a pie maker!  

Without apologizing, I made the pumpkin pie for myself.  I knew my Kiwi husband would love the apple pie and tolerate the pumpkin (New Zealanders tend to keep things like pumpkin in the "savoury" category). I wasn't sure how my kids would react since they've never had pumpkin pie before, and I was pretty sure our local guests would take a polite bite or two and leave the rest (and I was right).  But I wanted pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving, and so I roasted the pumpkin, and followed the recipe carefully, and made one.  All by myself.  For me.  In honor of American Thanksgiving, as the only pure American in our vicinity.  I even tracked down real whipping cream (for a prince's ransom) to go with it!

I wasn't sure how the pies had turned out.  (After all, you can't taste a pie without cutting into it, and who serves a pie with a chunk out of it?)  

But as I slid my first forkful of pumpkin and real whipped cream into my mouth, I closed my eyes with pleasure.  Yum.  It tasted perfect.  I couldn't believe it.  Just like Thanksgiving at home.  

And with that mouthful I was at once perfectly happy and very sad.  No one else around my table - my kind local friends, my wonderful Kiwi husband, our lovely guest from New Zealand, even my sweet children - could share my experience in that moment.  

I felt immensely far from home, and immediately close to my original family, all at once.  I felt sorry for everyone else around my table who couldn't share this taste with me… not just the taste of pumpkin with whipped cream, but the taste of home.

And yet, I didn't feel guilty.  I savored every bite of my piece of pie, cut off another sliver and ate that too, and kept my eyes closed the whole time.  Home tastes sweet.  

And as I build my own home, I'm feeling nourished by the physical memory of the home that made me…. one Thanksgiving dinner at a time, year after year, holiday after holiday, memory after memory.  

Best of all, unbelievably, my children will have the taste of pumpkin pie and whipped cream as part of their memories growing up, even though they live in Central Asia… and that thought tastes really good to me.  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Preparing for Advent {Make Your Own Advent Calendar: Finishing Touches}

{Making your own family Advent Calendar to teach your children the Christmas story?  Good for you!  Time for the finishing touches!  
Click here for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3…}

Make Your Own Advent Calendar: Finishing Touches

Getting Started

Gather your supplies:

  • dowel the width of your calendar plus 2" either end for hanging
  • Christmas ribbon for hanging
  • gold felt and red permanent marker for verse, if desired

Verse (Luke 2:11) - Optional

1. If desired, cut out a rectangular piece of gold felt the same size as the back of the storage section of your Advent Calendar, when it's folded up.  

2. With a red permanent marker, print Luke 2:11 on the gold rectangle.  
3. Glue the rectangle upside down on the back of your felt background, so when you fold up your storage section the verse will appear right-side up.  

Hanging Your Advent Calendar

1. Sew a straight seam along the safety-pinned allowance at the top of your piece of background felt.

2. Slide the dowel in, making sure it's long enough to stick out 1.5 - 2 inches on each end.

3. Tie a pretty Christmas ribbon around each end of the dowel, making sure your knots are tight enough so the ribbon won't slide in towards the center.  

4. Hang your Advent Calendar!  

{If you included the verse on the back, it's your choice whether you fold up the storage section every day to show the verse, or whether you leave it unfolded until December 25 and have your kids fold it up for the first time to display the verse under the finished manger scene.}


Here's my version from two years ago of carrying out the above instructions, with a little Christmas devotional included:

Out back, in our borrowed apple orchard, James hacks off a branch from one of the little apple trees.  “Long enough?” he asks.  

I bring it inside, the ice melting off its underside from the warmth of my hand.  Feeling decidedly rustic, I sit with a kitchen knife and chip off buds along its length, smoothing the rough places.  

I choose a reasonably smooth 70cm length from the middle - not too fat, not too thin.  I clip each end with secateurs, try to get a clean cut.  

I slide the stick into the sewn tube at the top of my felt Advent Calendar background, and voila!  

A bit rough-looking, but it’ll do the job - and I didn’t even slice my finger (came close a couple times, though!).  

I sweep up the shavings, and think about Joseph being a carpenter.  About the beautiful cradle he might have made for Mary’s baby’s birth.  About the manger in which he had to lay Jesus instead, knowing at some level that Jesus was much more than his natural son, that He was infinitely special.  

Did Joseph mourn the lowliness of the rustic manger, cursing the Roman decree that dragged them so far away from home at this most inconvenient time?  Or was the manger well-crafted, and did Joseph rejoice that the boy to be raised as a carpenter had carpenter’s craft for his bed?  Or did he even think of it at all, so thankful he was for the safe delivery of this precious gift, for a place to lay the baby that raised him up away from the cold dirt floor and the mice and rats?

James and I listen to our Sunday night sermon.  I sew velcro on the backs of “frankincense” and “myrrh”, still missing a square gold button for the “gold”.  No trip to the bazar this morning as planned: everyone sick with colds, huddled up away from the snow, drinking soup and hot tea and taking long naps.  

The gold button will have to wait.  

My needle pokes and pulls, and John Piper describes the afflictions of Christ, in a sermon from Romans we chose at random.  A Christmas sermon.  Born as an illegitimate child.  Jesus carried that slur all his life.  The Pharisees threw it in his face.  Forced to flee as a refugee almost immediately after he was born, barely escaped with his life; spent the first two years of his life sojourning in Egypt, grew up listening to a foreign tongue as his first language.  

“Let’s have a balanced Christmas celebration,” urges Piper, unpacking Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  Rejoice in hope, Paul says, but that joy is an embattled joy, under constant attack from inside and outside.  Piper quotes the angel’s words: “I bring you good news of GREAT joy!” and adds, “That little baby grew up and said, ‘I have not come to bring peace but a sword… and a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”  
Sufferings are normal.  If you don’t have any right now, you will.  And the thing is, we rejoice in our sufferings, not just in spite of them, because we know what sufferings do: they produce endurance.  “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  (Rom. 5:3-5)
So… a worn-out furnace, a broken door lock, a leaky sink, a surprise visit from our landlady when I’m still in my pajamas, relationship struggles, sickness, sleepless nights, feelings of futility and fruitlessness… all these are  actually gifts, to be rejoiced in?
Says Piper: “We have a God who doesn’t just defeat the enemy, but turns that enemy into the servant of our faithEvery tribulation that comes your way has a design from Satan, and a different design from God.  
All our tribulation drives the roots of our joy into hope.  For the Christian, the best is always yet to come.  An hour before you die, the best is yet to come.  The minute you wake up on the other side of death, the best is yet to come.  After 10 million years of reveling in God’s presence, the best is still yet to come.  In a profound sense, rejoicing for the Christian will always be in hope: the best is always yet to come!”

I stitch and sew and poke at the buttons I'm using for the wise men's gifts, and I think about these gifts the wise men are bringing to Jesus, and I listen to Piper close his sermon by asking, “So, what would the wise men answer when they’re told to “rejoice in hope”?  They’ve got everything: gold, frankincense, nice clothes, elephants to ride on… What does a man like that say when he’s told, “Rejoice in hope”?  When he’s got so much around him to rejoice in?”
Piper answers his own question: 
“We are given good gifts to enjoy - but only as gifts from God, and as pointers to God as the ultimate satisfaction of your soul.  All the pleasure in life - sex, food, relationships, thrills, more stuff - is created only to point you to Jesus: you will barely remember it when what it is pointing to is given you in the age to come.  So don’t embrace the gifts as ends; send your heart flying to the Giver to embrace Jesus as the ultimate joy of your life - then the gifts won’t become idols.”
The goal and ground of my hope is Jesus Himself: The glory of God, shining in the face of Christ.  He is my Gift.  Do I really want that treasure, more than I want anything?  Is that true of my heart this Christmas?  
I glue this verse onto the back of my calendar: “Unto you is born this day… a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)  

I glue it on upside down, since it will hang on the back of the calendar until December 25, when the last piece is put in place and we fold up the bottom of the calendar, now empty, to reveal the verse on the back.  

And I think about gifts, and idols, and the Giver, and Advent: the season of waiting for the coming of Christ, the upside-down King of an upside-down kingdom.  

And I remember a quote from Ann earlier today, deciding to re-read her gem of a book during Advent this year, starting early so there’s plenty of time to chew and digest her beautiful words before the New Year begins of a sudden:
“Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience: thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.
...the way God shows His salvation: ‘He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God’ (Psalm 50:23 NIV).  
Thanksgiving--giving thanks in everything--prepares the way that God might show us his fullest sacrifice in Christ.”  
~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p.39-40

Advent is about preparing the way.  And how best to prepare the way?  To rejoice.  To give thanks, even for trials.  To receive each element of each day, the good, the “bad” and the ugly, as a gift to be given thanks for.  To sacrifice thank offerings. 

Thanks is really the only gift I can give back to Jesus this Christmas, and in giving it daily, my heart will be prepared for seeing God’s showing of His salvation.
I tie red ribbon around the ends of my stick, like I’m wrapping a present, and stand back to look at my finished calendar: the scene it shows, of God’s Gift to us entering the world, is only the beginning.  

The Wise Men knew their gifts weren’t enough; they offered them, and then “they bowed low and worshiped.”  
The coming of the Gift invites worship; and the giving of thanks returns  worship unto the Giver.  

{I found “gold” a few days later at the bazar in the form of a pair of men’s square gold cuff links - I pried off the link part and salvaged the gold square.  A spot of velcro, a bit of glue, and the calendar is finished!  Just in time, too…}


How is your calendar coming along?  I'd love to see your finished product!

{For a copy of the Christmas story divided into 25 pieces, email me at}