Tuesday, January 7, 2020

january christmas cards

just this january afternoon i finally managed to carve out some time with our pile of christmas cards. i might get a quick glance as they arrive throughout the busy month of december, but i truly relish the chance to sit with them, looking and reading a little more closely. they are wonderful! 

christmas cards are ... 

1. BEAUTIFUL REMINDERS. these cards are reminders of the many lovely people God has placed in our lives. people we can’t always keep up with on a regular basis, but, people we treasure—high school and college friends, colleagues and coaches, relatives and relationships we hold dear. “i thank my God every time i remember you.” philippians 1:3.

2. MUCH NEEDED UPDATES! the new faces and jobs. the accomplishments, adventures and new addresses! what an amazing group of people you are. truly! it is a blessing and a joy to read your words and see your smiles. what a gift to watch your families grow and change over all these years. as most of our peer group has crossed over the 50 year line now, we are all looking a little older too! lol. our kids are graduating, getting married and even having babies themselves. that’s crazy. but it’s crazy good.

3. A TINY SLICE OF LIFE. christmas cards—like social media— give us only a glimpse.
when our kids were little it was challenging to line us all up, clean and smiling for a family portrait once a year. i thought that was really hard. but as we’ve journeyed through these years, i have come to realize that a smiling picture of an intact family isn’t really that hard at all. it’s the living between those snapshots which challenges each and every one of us. doesn’t matter how pristine or perfect the picture, we all have some pretty messy days which don’t make it into the annual christmas card. i love that some of you do take the time to share not only the joys, but also the challenges. it is a blessing to rejoice with you, but even more, it is a blessing to share in the struggles. i love that so many of you have found your hope in the Lord. how encouraging! what a beautiful thing to witness your families—some broken and bruised—but all so beautiful.

i know some of you took the year off. or the decade. and some of you stressed over the perfect picture, arranged outfits and languished over the letter. however you did them—or didn’t do them—just know, it’s okay. either way. we are so thankful to keep in touch a little through social media or through seasonal mail. it’s all good. it’s a pleasure to be reminded of God’s goodness in the gift of you and your friendships. our card this year was nothing to write home about. it was kind of a goofy, chaotic quick picture we managed on one of the only days in 2019 we were all present. i wrote a little update on the back of the photo and when they arrived from “minted” i realized it was barely legible—at least not for middle aged eyesight! live and learn —white writing on a beige background doesn’t really work.

5. A CHANCE FOR PRAYER. your cards will give me a chance to be praying for you. a friend gave me the idea of pulling out a different christmas card each day or each week (not sure yet) and praying over that person, couple or family. i love the idea and plan to commit (or at least try) to this in 2020. (if you want prayer and didn’t send a card, it’s not too late)!

thank you, dear friends and much love to you all!

Monday, December 23, 2019

even when it isn't

all is calm. all is bright. 

and because it rarely is for any of us, we embrace the moment when it feels almost so. 

it’s why we love christmas. 

it’s why we love sitting in front of a crackling fire and gazing into the twinkling lights of our tree. 

we all have something deep inside which longs for a silent night. a holy night. just one tiny minute of a midnight clear.

and the weary world rejoices. it’s what we want. what we wish for—that thrill of hope!

it’s why we love christmas. 

but if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that longing is not just for a mere night or a short season, but for a much needed savior. 

the babe born holy in bethlehem who came for this whole worn out, weary world. 

he, alone, is our calm and bright. our silent night. our joy to the world. 

oh, yes! our thrill of hope. 

even when--especially when--all is not calm and all is not bright.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

dropping needles and droopy skin

our christmas tree is dropping needles at an alarming rate this week. in our house we aren't hearing sleigh bells jing-jing-jing-a-ling, but pine needles fall-fall-fall-a-ling. and because the tree is so ridiculously large, i'm pretty sure we currently have more puddles of needles under our tree than we do presents. it’s like we have our own evergreen rain shower right here in the living room. 

i'm telling you, the tree is dry. really dry.

but, apparently, so is my skin.

this weekend, on the hunt for stocking stuffers, i walked blindly into an ulta store and found myself immediately assaulted by a well meaning beauty guru and her well-stocked jars of cream. before i knew what was happening, she had my face slathered with her products while commenting and cooing about how my skin desperately needed nourishment. moisture! specifically, her expensive creams. apparently i was looking extra old and way too wrinkly and she seized the opportunity like any good cosmetic counter sales girl should.

needless (or needles) to say, she got my attention: clearly, i am not doing enough.

i came home with my package of much-needed creams only to find more needles puddling below the droopy boughs of my poor tree and felt a new, fast connection with my withering evergreen. 

o christmas tree, o christmas tree how lovely were your branches.

it’s no fun to feel dried up and droopy.

i was really hoping my tree might make it to the new year. as for me, i’d like to think i also have a few more new years ahead, but based on the beauty consultant’s comments, i am now seriously concerned. 

by the way, i do fully realize i could go the fake route -- both with my tree and my skin.  and i don't judge that choice one bit, might even at some point be tempted. but for the time being, i've been holding on pretty tight to the whole nature and natural thing. but i'll never say never. 

christmas trees and aging complexions, let’s be honest, they are in a constant state of decline. there’s really no getting around it. no matter what we pour into them or smear all over them, they eventually deteriorate. it’s just what happens. it’s the way it goes. no one expects our trees to last forever … or ourselves. dust to dust, and all that ugly jazz. 

that verse in isaiah 40 which says “the grass withers and the flowers fall …” well, thanks to my unfortunate encounter in ulta, that verse has been running through my head all weekend. i even invented my own version: “the needles drop and the skin sags …” perfect, right? sounds crazy, i know.
and i very well could get crazy and derailed this christmas thinking about that kind of stuff. i mean i came home all stressed out about my skin and my desperate need for, well, apparently everything. but later that day staring at my needle-dropping tree, it hit me—the thing i really need to keep well-watered is not my tree or my skin, it's my soul. that should be first and foremost. but, if i’m honest, it isn’t always my main concern. i can easily find myself fixated on temporal things like trees and treatments and quickly forget all about my own spiritual nourishment. 

i don’t know why that is so easy for us to do. but, gosh, is it ever.

after writing this piece, i do vow to completely refrain from thinking one more minute about dropped needles or droopy skin.  instead, when i gaze at my tree and or even into the mirror, i want to use that image, not as a sign of how quickly things are going south, but as a reminder to drink deeply from the living water which only Jesus provides.  

that isaiah 40:8 verse continues … “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”  

that, alone, needs to be my focus in this christmas season and in every season.

his birth brings life. and because of his coming, we have the most beautiful chance for eternal living. no tree preserving potion or skin treatment protocol can compete with the living water of our living God. 

“and the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” isaiah 58:11

before she started aging

Saturday, December 21, 2019

mary didn't know

i think i was trying to look serene. like mary.
circa 1975?
part of growing up in sunday school was hearing the christmas story each december. as a small child, i could have repeated it pretty much word for wonderful word. i loved the predictability — the same scenes and the same sequence, year after year. with a bit of an overactive imagination, i played out the different dramas often and never questioned much of anything.

no room in the inn? sure. 
a babe born in a lowly manger? great. 
angels on high and shepherds in fields? fine. 
even three wise men? well, maybe …

but it was the angel-visiting-mary-thing, that eventually got me. wait, what? the sunday school teachers had always quickly glossed over that part. perhaps it had something to do with the mystifying word “virgin,” which sometimes invoked snickering from the back of the classroom, but, suffice it to say, we never camped very long on those particular verses. i can’t say as i blame them. i suppose if i was a sunday school teacher with a room full of well-sugared-christmas-crazed children, i, too, might have been prone to move swiftly past the mystery of it all.

but, as a young girl, i was perplexed. 

as was mary. 

in different versions of luke 1, we are told she was---troubled, deeply troubled, greatly troubled, perplexed, perturbed, deeply perturbed, confused, and startled.

imagine young, engaged mary glancing up from her bread making (in my mind biblical people were always making bread) and finding the angel gabriel perched right there in her room one day. maybe it was that imagination of mine, but i played that part out in my head as well and wondered how it must have felt for this inexperienced, teenaged girl. the bible says she was favored. but did she feel favored or did she feel just really, really afraid? 

an unannounced angel in her room?

i kind of worried about that as a kid. i was pretty sure i wanted God in my life, but i wasn’t so sure how i’d feel if he decided to send me an angel. the thought of waking one night to find a big glowing guy hovering in my bedroom’s corner, well, to be honest, that kind of freaked me out.

and, clearly, it freaked mary out as well. 

“and the angel came to her and said, “greetings favored woman! 

the Lord is with you.” but she was deeply troubled by this statement, 

wondering what kind of greeting this could be.” luke 1:28-29

deeply troubled? well, i should say so!

here’s the thing though—back in my sunday school days, i just assumed mary was bewildered because of the angel’s appearance and perplexed because of his big baby announcement. but if we look closer in luke 1, we find that wasn’t exactly the case. mary was deeply troubled prior to even knowing what God was going to ask of her. the bible doesn’t say it was the angel, but the angel’s statement-- “the Lord is with you.” it wasn’t gabriel, but it was his greeting which first startled mary. and he hadn’t even gotten to the good part! he hadn’t even mentioned the fact that she would supernaturally conceive … AND that it would be the very Son of God! it’s probably safe to say sweet mary’s emotional state sky rocketed a tiny bit after receiving the rest of the news.

it’s good news to us now. but was it good news to mary right off the bat? right out of the angel's mouth? right at that moment in the corner of her kitchen?
i have to wonder.   

and in my wondering, i want to know—why was she deeply troubled by the words “the Lord is with you?”
isn’t that what we want? 
isn’t that a good thing?
a great thing?
the most comforting thing of all? 

it doesn’t say she was troubled by the angel’s visit or even by the big news of her baby, but she was troubled by “the Lord is with you.” we use those same words to impart blessing and encouragement and great comfort. but, strangely enough, mary found them, at first, quite unsettling. 

when God is evident in our life — invited in and clearly present — it is good news, but it can also leave us feeling a little out of sorts wondering what He is up to. wondering where He will take us. wondering what He might ask of us. 

sure, now we know the rest of mary’s story, so we can easily see the good news of gabriel’s visit, but i am reminded, even this christmas, that our own chapters aren’t quite finished. we don’t always know how the things in our lives are going to work out or work together. we are left wondering. we are even a little bit startled, perplexed and troubled when we see evidence of God at work. and though we celebrate Emmanuel —God with us — we know that sometimes “God with us” becomes less about our human control and more about His holy construction.

it is good news when God is present.
it is good news when God is at work.

but, dear ones, remember, even though we trust in God’s working all for good, we aren’t always promised complete understanding of the entire story. we aren’t chapters in the bible with final verses, we are his continued workmanship and He isn’t finished with any of us quite yet.

      “for we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” 
~ ephesians 2:10

one year i got to play mary in our church christmas pageant. i’m not going to lie, i did feel quite favored. i felt like the luckiest little girl in my small sunday school class that christmas. i got to wear the blue sheet and sit center stage and hold the wee (plastic) babe. but at that age, it was all still just a bit of a fairy tale. i am not sure i wanted to get too close to this God who asked big things of small people like mary. oh to be sure, i wanted to play mary in the pageant, but i had no desire to follow in her footsteps. i suppose i still feel like this at times.

having babies of my own has made me more empathetic to sweet mary. to the best of my knowledge, i’ve never been visited by an angel in my kitchen---i also, by the way,  have never made bread in said kitchen---but i’ve certainly understood what the presence of the Lord in my life has sometimes required. and i’ve watched how even when His working has felt foreign or caused some fear, it truly was favored. even though it was hard, it became holy. even though it seemed too great a need, it became good news. my imagination can, on occasion, still be a little overactive, but, even so, i still don’t have the entire picture played out perfectly. and, the (other) good news is i don’t have to. gabriel’s final words to mary, “for no word from God will ever fail,” (vs. 37) is the beautiful promise we can hold tight to, even when we don’t know exactly what He is up to. 

and that is the very best news of all. 

merry christmas!

Monday, October 28, 2019

bring them home - promise686

i love this event.

mostly because it brings kids home and helps families who do. that's the main thing---God setting the lonely in families as He faithfully promises in psalm 68:6

but after all that amazing main stuff, what i love most is The Working Together. 

the people. 

the different talents. 

the gifts given and the sweet collaboration for a worthy cause. 

honestly, it's hard to even begin to describe the army of individuals gathered around this goal—the people who freely give and passionately serve—wish i could bottle it all up. a few photos hardly hit the mark. i have such gratitude in my heart this monday and thank you is not nearly enough.

sure, i like being in charge.

my mom said she knew that about me before i could even talk. but i learned early on it is ALL ABOUT team work. teamwork is everything in events and, yes, in life. it's a hard lesson for (bossy) enneagram #3s like me. but i am so thankful God has shown me over and over again my need to rely on others ... and mostly on Him. 

6 months of planning ... over $700,000 raised this weekend ... for the good of vulnerable children and for the glory of our very amazing God. praise be to Him. 

loved bossing these three around for the past 6 months! 

design team!

homer found a home!

Monday, June 3, 2019

china: tea, bamboo & babies

tea and bamboo!
dear friends - thank you so much for your prayers while i was on the other side of the world this past may. what an amazing few weeks it was!

before leaving china we gently pressed the feet of our babies into paint and onto paper. their tiny footprints representing the enormous imprint these little ones would leave on our hearts. 

i can’t show you their pictures over social media or on my blog, but be assured the sweet faces of these wee ones won’t easily be forgotten. these are children from every kind of hard, and yet God’s fingerprints are clearly all over them. 

i come home with so many stories. again, stories i am not able to write about, but certainly would welcome the chance to talk about.

each day i had the privilege to hold their small bodies; to feed them, bathe them, wrap them up and pray over their uncertain futures. and each day i became more certain of God’s perfect design—fearfully and wonderfully made, each and every beautiful child. regardless of their struggles or disabilities or devastating beginnings, God clearly has them.

love the colors of china!
even if i can’t always understand how His hand works, i trust His heart. He’s a Good, Good Father to all of us — yes, even to those left fatherless. 

the work that is going on across our world is amazing, but only a brief glimmer of God’s glory. we might not fully see it now, but when we go to hard places and find His holy presence alive and active we are given a glimpse. and it is good. so good. the work going on over in this area of china is astounding.

my amazing team
those of us on this journey cannot help but travel back across the ocean with this beautiful gift stamped upon each one of us.
“can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? even these may forget, YET I WILL NOT FORGET YOU. behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” isaiah 49:15 -16

though i can't openly blog about the specific children and their stories out of respect for the orphanage, i can certainly share more about  them in person and would love to do that if you have some time to listen!  the pictures below are a few of the photos that were safe to share while i was in china. even though we were spending most of our time in the orphanage, we did have a little bit of time each day to explore. and y'all know how much i love to explore and photograph everything along the way. 

i captured this first batch of pictures in our neighborhood. i spent a good deal of time walking the streets between my hotel and the orphanage each day and there was always so much to see, hear and smell! =)

oh china!

tea fields and bamboo!

sleeping beauty. can you see her?

 we spent one afternoon at a buddhist temple.

our final allowed a little time to explore the botanical gardens. they were lovely!

brides were everywhere! we saw at least a dozen photo shoots. 

crazy tourist

my wonderful team!

again, thank you for your prayers and encouragement. i can't tell you how much they were felt. this trip truly stretched me. every part of me.  it opened up some very raw and vulnerable places. places i don't easily go, but am so glad i did.

 i will go back. it is my desire that someday i might even go back and take with me the precious little girl whom china gave me 9 years ago. perhaps there will be a day when bella and i will hold babies together in this very holy place.