Monday, December 30, 2013

a january journey: all things new with Jesus

i know, i do it too. as january one draws close, i begin to look close. i begin to scrutinize the excess and the process and, if i'm being honest here, i might even be a little tempted to obsess. i can't seem to ignore the "r" word which is tossed around just about everywhere in this week between christmas and new year's. resolution! 

i remember being a young girl, maybe 5th grade, when i heard the new year's resolution phrase for the first time. i am pretty sure that was the same year i filled five pages in my diary with resolutions. five pages! i was going to fix everything and everybody. because when you're ten you truly believe anything is possible, right?

i think that was the same year i discovered anne of green gables. {whom i still wildly love and adore}. one of my very favorite anne quotes is, “isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” (l.m. montgomery). i mean seriously, don't you just love that? just like the mischievous anne, i was a girl who messed up and made mistakes all the time, every day. still do, in fact. and though i'm not writing five pages of resolutions in my diary these days, i am always a little bit excited for tomorrow and always in line for a new year.

a brand new year.

it's just so sparkly and bright spanking clean, isn't it? so attractive. so desirable.

who doesn't love the promise of a new year?

the slate wiped clean. the mistakes erased. the past forgotten. the future wonderful and wide open.

come january one, is there anyone not ready to turn the page and begin anew? 



i know i'm always ready.

even our minnesota landscape seems to cooperate --  clean, white snow everywhere. almost pristine. frozen, frigid temperatures crystalizing all of nature and covering the brown mush of the winter earth. (looking for a silver lining as i write this morning in below zero temps)!

and that lofty resolution word flies around, fluttering in front of our holi-dazed eyes. leading us down the path of grand expectations and high, high hopes. part of us likes it. part of us dreads it. and most of us aren't quite sure what to do with it. you don't have to raise your hands, but how many of you (of us) have started down that noble road of resolutions only to realize halfway there it just wasn't going to work. you just weren't going to cut it. you had set your goals too high and your sights too far. whether it was to be nicer, get skinnier, eat better, work harder or shop smarter. sound familiar? sure does to me!

because as much as we want to turn over a new leaf and start off on the right foot, we have this tendency to make it about us: what we can do. what we want. who we are. and the truth is, even in january, it's not about us. it's not about our strength or determination or will power or commitment. it's just not.

sure all those things are important, but if we really want a change and a chance for new, we have to learn, not to try harder, but to trust deeper. as much as we all feel encouraged january one, i have a sense that january thirty-one is often fraught with discouragement. january one might seem full of possibility and promise, but january thirty-one can might come with its share of defeat and disappointment. because somewhere in those thirty days in between we had to face the fact that we are simply not enough.

and so often our thoughts go in the direction of "if-only-i-had-tried-harder."

well, this january i want to introduce a new series which isn't about our trying harder, but about our turning to Him. i'm planning a january journey in the direction of Jesus. i don't want it to be about what i can do to make things new, but what He can do, is doing, wants to do and will do!

our resolutions are good. but His redemption is better. and, the beautiful news? our Jesus is very much in the business of redemption. He redeems all things. even our old, tired, worn out, last-year selves.

“and He who was seated on the throne said, “behold, I am making all things new.” also He said, “write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” ~ revelation 21:5

His Word is clear, "I am making all things new." did you get that? HE makes them new, not us. He, the One on the throne of heaven, Him. He is in charge of the new.

HE is the one who turns over the leaf and wipes clean the slate.
HE is the one who pushes the re-do button and flips the reset switch.
HE is the one who gives us our strength and stamina to start afresh.

and reader, i am pretty sure that deserves a heartfelt a-men!

what's more, i just love, love, love how He even tells us to "write this down ..." He wants us to record in our journals and spell out in our diaries His promise. and the good news is, we don't need five pages, we just need five words: "I make all things new!"

do we want to embrace a truly new year? if so, we will need to embrace the maker of all things truly new.

so friend, consider yourself invited on ...

  a january journey:  all things new. 

we begin january 1st!
you can expect much the same as my october prayer challenge and my november gratitude series -- a picture, a verse, and a few thoughts. you'll find this tiny devotional post each morning on my even-the-sparrow facebook page. please click on the link and follow along there. 
also, i would love for you to share it with others! 

“forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  see, I am doing a new thing! now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  ~ isaiah 43:18-19

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the day after christmas

no one talks much about the day after christmas. there are no advertisements or heartwarming stories or special broadcasts about this day.

december 26th.

as a kid, i can remember feeling a little let down. a tiny bit blue. christmas was over and we’d have to wait an entire year to have christmas come again.

as a mom, though, i kinda like this day. i’m not saying it’s better than christmas, nothing can take the place of christmas, but it has it’s own kind of goodness.

i came down the stairs early this morning, stepping over small bits and pieces of our holiday. a doll shoe here, a remote control car there. some playing cards strewn across the family room floor. a plate shoved to the side of the couch with a piece of half eaten cake. you know, the typical aftermath of
christmas mess. there are pine needles and shreds of wrapping paper tucked into most corners of our family room ... i'm sure i'll still be finding pine needles come next july.

decorating gingerbread houses
on christmas eve is one of our traditions .
kids get better and better every year! 
i woke this morning to a kitchen island dusted with snow -- one of the kids must have blown on the powdered sugar gingerbread houses late last night. there’s a stack of gift boxes, empty and waiting for a motivated someone to move them to the basement storage room. of course there’s a return pile: things which weren’t just right or didn’t quite fit. and opening the fridge for my creamer, i was sort of shocked at the collection of containers and oddly wrapped packages jammed on the shelves. leftovers. a slice of this, a scoop of that. the chocolate cake with the beautiful iced poinsettia looking a bit decimated this morning after on its glass pedestal plate. clearly the attack of a family of seven.

bits and pieces of christmas spilling over into this nothing special day. this day after. this december 26th.

as a mom, i’m seeing a lot of stuff in need of my attention, sure. but i’m also seeing this morning, how this aftermath of christmas kind of makes it continue.

all this stuff ... is with us now. some of it was wrapped up and hidden away until yesterday, but now we’re living with it. (and stepping over it). now it’s among us. it’s part of us. it’s right here in the middle of us. sure, some of it’s kind of messy and mixed up. some of it needs to be figured out  -- where do we keep this new toy or store that new thing. that’s all a part of it too, right?

and, except for the return pile, it's all here to stay.

when we had finished unwrapping yesterday some of the kids were quick to pick up their new loot and cart it off to their rooms. but my husband’s little pile stayed right there by the tree. years ago, when we were first married, he told me he just likes to look at it there for a while. he likes it all to linger. he doesn't want to hurry his christmas.

and linger christmas can.

and linger christmas should.

our home and our hearts should look a little bit different the day after christmas.

Jesus came as Emmanuel: God with us. just like those bits and pieces of our celebration stuck everywhere, we should be seeing remnants of the gift of God’s son. the day after christmas isn’t a blue day, it’s a bright day. a day when we realize we live a little bit different now. the day after Jesus’ birth changed everything. hope was born when love came down. and when love came down it dwelt among us.

we don't live in expectation of the birth of the Messiah anymore, we live in exultation because of the birth of the Messiah.

Emmanuel doesn’t mean God visited. it doesn't mean God dropped by. Emmanuel means God came to be with us. to stay with us. to live in us. to change us. God came to die for us so that we can live with Him forever.

"therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: 
behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, 
and she will call His name Emmanuel." ~ isaiah 7:14

i know most of us will spend the next few days picking up and putting away some of our holiday hoopla. but, as we restore order, let's remember that even in this ordinary, nothing special, day after Christmas God is with us. God came yesterday to be with us today ... and forever.


a few pics from christmas eve and christmas morning ...

em painted this for her sister
a big smile over a "hoped for" gift!

potential college colors?

on this day after christmas bella's sweet friend, emme, stopped over
with this adorable gift -- a monogramed sweatshirt and matching headband!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

what is knitting your family together this christmas?

i was fumbling with the coffee maker when i noticed it sitting there on the counter: two needles plunged securely into a round ball of gray yarn. things sometimes aren't what they seem in the murky hour of 6am. and my son's knitting might have been one of those things.

attached to the needles and ball was about 18 inches of knitting. 18 inches of neatly ordered rows. the work of my boy's hands.

you heard me right, my 16 year old son is knitting -- a scarf, to be exact.

early morning or not, coffee coursing through my body or not -- it's true.

this boy who can throw it down on the soccer field or kick it up on a dirt bike; this boy who can gut a fish or track a deer or handle a jump on his snowboard; this boy, this same boy, my boy, is knitting.

your eyebrows raise a bit. i know ... mine, too.

while waiting for the keuring to spew out my first morning cup, i picked up his project, studying his handiwork. "not bad for a first time knitter," i thought to myself.

who am i kidding? not.bad.for.a.16.year.old.boy.period!

grabbing that warm mug, now ready, i smiled. how did this happen?

i'm not exactly sure, but it was a thursday night last week. a school night and both boys -- connor (10) and tyler (16) wandered into the office where i was up to my eyeballs in christmas cards. they came in to chat, but after staring at my basket of yarn for a minute, they announced they'd like to learn how to knit. "mom, will you show us?" just like that. it was late and i was skeptical. surely they weren't serious. but, rick was traveling and i was tired of sticking address labels on envelopes ... and so, i said, "sure, we can knit."

--- after all, it's not every thursday night when a woman's two sons approach her with a request to knit.

and as a mother, i know, when your boys want to knit. you knit. it really is that simple

i mean i was pretty sure they were just trying to stall and push back on bedtime. obviously that thought crossed my mind. except they were extremely focused on what i was teaching them. they were serious. intent. even kind of boyishly-determined. they really did seem to want to learn.

hmm ... i thought. strange.

i posted this unlikely event on facebook and got a lot of "likes" and some funny comments. i was sure it was no more than an evening distraction ... a phase ... a passing fancy ... an odd alignment of the handiwork stars. except they are still both knitting. and, except that a few nights later, the girls and a couple of friends joined them, too! one night last week i had 6 kids knitting in my family room by the fire. no television. no netflix. no phones. no you tube or snap chat or instagram or twitter. only the clicking of bamboo needles and some fun conversation. let's just go ahead now and file this into that you-can't-make-this-stuff-up AND i-can't-believe-my-eyes folder!

and what's more, tonight, and i kid you not, tyler went to the gym to work out and on his way home he STOPPED AT THE KNITTING STORE. he not only stopped at the knitting store, but HE BROUGHT ALONG THE BUDDY WHO WAS WORKING OUT WITH HIM.

again, all together now: YOU-CAN'T-MAKE-THIS-STUFF-UP!

the truth is though, you know i love it. i love the unexpected twist. i love the unsuspecting turn. and i really love that for several nights now, the kids and i have been sitting around knitting our scarves in this month of december. i love that in these new and strange stitches our family is being kind of knit together in a new way.

it's the things we can't plan, isn't it? it's those things which often work to make connections with our kids in our homes. i could have spent a month talking up the great knitting project of christmas 2013 and i'm telling you, it would never have left the starting block. but my boys wander into my office on a thursday night and ask me to teach them to knit and voila! we have knitters.

we even had talk with some good family friends about a "knitting tournament!" best knitting project by the end of christmas wins ... or something like that. (between you and me, our family will turn anything -- even knitting -- into a competition).

i love how unpredictable life can be. especially with kids. especially with teens. you just never know what's coming down the pike ... and, though that can be scary, it can also be delightful. and this knitting thing, well, that's on the side of delightful. delightful because we're all together. we're doing something. we're connecting. we're knitting ourselves as a family when we sit fireside for a few minutes.

people have remarked before, "you're such a close knit family." and we are. but i have to wonder what will keep us that way? as the kids begin journeying off in different directions -- emily will begin college in just a matter of months (gasp)! -- what will keep our crazy family of seven knit tightly together?

what is knitting your family together this christmas?
maybe the better question is, WHO is knitting your family together this christmas?

i had lunch with a couple of girlfriends on monday and we were talking about this very thing. we were talking about how easy (and even common) it is for families to become fragmented and fall apart as kids grow up and leave home. all three of us have witnessed that: brothers and sisters no longer speaking to one another. grandparents who don't know their grandchildren. sons estranged from fathers. daughters from mothers. how does this happen? why does this happen?

how do these children who ran through sprinklers together and chased down the ice cream truck on summer evenings, stop talking in their adult lives?

how do brothers who shared dreams while shooting basketballs and sisters who put on plays for their parents grow to be men and women who don't know much about each other's lives any longer.

i'll be honest, as a mama of five, this worries me.

as my girlfriends and i pounded out these questions over our lunch, we all landed on the same thought: it has to be Jesus who keeps us together. only Jesus can truly and securely knit together families. because when beliefs change and ideas change and people change it feels like family can easily unravel. and without Jesus, the simple truth is, it can, and often, it will. all of those years raised in a home can simply unwind with a few rough conversations or some unpleasant words. sometimes it happens abruptly, sometimes it happens slowly. but without the strong thread of Jesus knitting us together, it happens.

and, if you've experienced this, you know, it's heartbreaking.

psalm 139:13-14 says, "for you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. i praise you, for i am fearfully and wonderfully made. wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well." 

did you read that? God knitted me together! funny to think that God is also a knitter. (i'll have to remember to tell my son that). God's design was to knit us together in the wombs of our mothers and to knit us together in the fabric of a family. it's His design. it's His perfect design. we're the ones who mess it up ... tangle the threads ... cut the yarn. we're the one's who go off course, add extra rows, drop a stitch or forget about the project altogether, abandoning it to a basket somewhere out of sight.

i suppose that's why, especially, at this time of year, we mothers work extra hard to create memories, stir up magic and continue traditions. we want our kids to have something they are woven into when the time comes for them to leave.

we want our family stitches to be as secure as possible.

it's almost a desperate kind of feeling sometimes, isn't it?

but it occurred to me today, that just like my son's knitting, it isn't really about me coming up with the great project or the next memorable thing. it's not really even about me stitching my kids securely together. yes, we should work hard to create "home" for our families, but we also have to remember the only real thing which holds is the thread of Jesus woven through the hallways and hearts of this house. we can add all the trappings and trimmings and tremendously awesome stuff, but only the thread of Jesus truly holds tight.

there aren't any guarantees. i know that. i have five children, and not for one minute do i feel assured that all five will stay knitted together. that is my desire. that is my hope. that is my prayer. but it is not my absolute confidence, because i know the world we live in and i know the sinful people we are and i know the things which snag and snare and even sever family threads.

i'll keep coming up with crazy christmas ideas and family fun projects, but let me not forget that what i really need to be worried about weaving into my family is Jesus. only when we include Him in the knitting process do we have something in our hands to hold onto.

a few days ago a friend sent me this link to storyteller, stuart mclean. she thought, with all the knitting going on over here, i might enjoy it. so, in my crazy-chrsitmas-mother-fashion, i made everyone stay home one night this week and gather in the family room for 20 minutes (harder than you think). we turned on the fireplace and turned off the television. we played it over the computer and we listened. yes, just listened. there was nothing to watch, no video, no screen, no 1000 inch high definition anything. we just sat and listened (and knit). it's a sweet story and it was a sweet time for my family.

i looked at us all sitting around with smiles on our faces, laughing, enjoying mclean's story, and i, as usual, wanted to push the pause button.

Lord, let us stay in this place for a little bit longer: children sprawled across the floor, the dog's head on my lap, christmas lights flickering, sock feet touching and needles clicking. Lord, there aren't any guarantees, but this, right now, this is a gift. let us see the good that what we have and hold it as grace. remind me, the mother, that i cannot plan out the neat rows of our life, but i can surrender the project to you ... God, you are the one who knit these children inside me, would you continue to knit us together in this world of unfinished and unfulfilled days. knit us to you ... knit us in the knowledge of you, Lord Jesus.

so:  if you can find a few minutes, whether you knit or not, i'd recommend you listen to this 20 minute audio. it's a great little christmas piece ... really funny, sweet, and easy to follow. even my family agrees! 
for the link click on stuart mclean's  CHRISTMAS PRESENT

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

the shepherds

"and there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night."  ~ luke 2:8

me? well, i'm sort of partial to the shepherds. i don't ever like to play favorites, but when it comes to the christmas story, there's something about the shepherds that really gets me.

maybe it's that they seem pretty simple. they were doing their thing: keeping watch over their flocks at night; camped out in a field; minding their own business; literally -- they were counting sheep.

i can hear the low hum of their conversation hillside. i can see them warming chilled hands by a fire. (clearly the setting isn't minnesota). i can imagine their sleepy attempts to stay awake.

their joking. their story-telling. their dream-sharing.

whispers in the dark muttered amongst plain, hard working, sheep-handling men.

the rustle of the animals.
the stillness of the night.
the calm of these caretakers.

and then BAM! 
out of the clear black sky, an angel of the Lord appears. and if that isn't enough, number one angel is joined quickly by a great company of the heavenly host -- a multitude.

now, i'm not exactly sure how many angels that might include, but something about a "great company" or "multitude" makes me think more showed up than a mere three or four. maybe three or four thousand? maybe? perhaps? i don't truly know ... but stop for a minute and just imagine the scene.

can you picture it? can't you just see those sleepy shepherds scrambling up off their hill? clinging to their staffs. pulling back their shepherd headdresses. eyes opening wide in wonder. hearts beating hard in surprise. faces startled into expressions of fear. this heavenly host blinding their sleepy, sheep-counting-eyes.

"do not be afraid. i bring you good news 
which will cause great joy for all the people. 
today in the town of david a Savior has been born to you."

 "... and the glory of the Lord shone all around them." ~ luke 2:11 & 14

these ordinary, simple, everyday, nothing-special shepherds on a hillside come face to face with the good news and with God's glory.

average guys meet glorious angels.

i think that's the part which really gets me when i read this passage.

it's at this moment with shepherds -- keeping watch in their fields ---where the mundane meets the majestic. where the monotony of sheep-watching mixes with something miraculous.

these shepherds in their rough woolen cloth, holding hand-carved staffs, sleepy and just trying to do their job, find themselves smack dab in the middle of God's glory.

it sounds a little like a close encounter with the third kind, doesn't it?

i'm sure they were shaking in their sandals.

i'm sure they were shaking heads in disbelief.

i'm sure the sheep were, suddenly, unimportant.

we know they dropped everything -- even the sheep.

the scripture is clear: "they hurried off..."

were they negligent shepherds? were they looking for a way out of their work? i don't think so. i think they had truly come into contact with the glory of the Lord and, here's the deal:  when you come into contact with God's glory, it quickly puts other things in perspective. you realize the menial tasks of life can be tabled for a time.

these simple shepherds were standing in angelic brilliance and they immediately knew this was big stuff. this was special. this was not your average, every day, shepherd boy's story.

"they hurried off..." excited. confused. bewildered. intrigued. purposeful.

they might have been a bit dazed by the heavenly display, but their is no record of them stopping to discuss the next steps. the only reaction recorded is,"let us now go and see ... and they hurried off." they got a glimpse of God's glory and they hurried off in search of Jesus. they wanted more. they couldn't wait. Jesus became urgent.

personally, i've never come across a great company of angels, but i know with certainty i've seen God's glory. i see it everyday in the little things He brings my way. everyday, i get some kind of glimpse. it's rarely a big dazzling kind of demonstration though. in fact, more often, it's the simple, quiet, unassuming gifts which announce His presence. sometimes, in order for me to take notice, the gifts require me to be more vigilant than a half-asleep shepherd. i have to "keep watch" for them.

but continuously, in little ways, He mixes the miraculous into my messy life making me want to react like those shepherds, who hurried off. i don't want to spend my time deciding or debating or discussing whether or not i should go find Jesus and tell others ... i just want to hurry off and do it without delay.

i want Jesus to be urgent in my life.

i want that kind of wild wonder.

i want to react to His glory -- whether it be startling and brilliant or simple and basic.

i want to be a shepherd-woman who reacts with haste. especially in december; to be woken up out of my sheep-counting, day-counting, present-buying, gift-preparing, party-planning, tree-trimming life ... and i want to hurry off to find Jesus.

how about you? do you want to be more like one of those shepherds on the hillside?

check out the lamb on the right -- missing an ear. bella likes to play
with our nativity set. clearly, i wasn't keeping watch.
you know, we can ask God to show us His glory -- we really can.

let december be a reminder that God appears to the simple, in the simple, and with the simple. His glory probably won't show up like a heavenly host of singing angels {but oh my goodness, how cool would THAT be!}, but it's there for our sheep-counting eyes to see. if we're a little bit sleepy on our hillside of life with heads nodding off and voices  whispering low, maybe, it's time we pull back our shepherd hats and keep watch for what He has for us.

He brought the glorious angels to the simple shepherds
He  brought the Savior of the world to the simple stable.
what gift, today, does He want to bring to simple us?

let's keep watch ... hurry off ... and go find Jesus.
"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  ...  
 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." ~ luke 2:15-20

oh...and please leave me a comment! i think i FINALLY fixed my problem with the comments! if it  still doesn't work --- join me on my facebook page (link is in upper right corner) and tell me it isn't working. i'll be changing from blogger to wordpress somewhere in the new year.  but can't tackle that task at the moment. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

like mary {grace words wednesday}

that's me in the blue! clearly, i'm  pondering (something).
i was mary once. really, i was.

and i assure you, i knew i was an imposter back then at age 11, just as i know it today at 45.

i'm not a mary and it has nothing to do with her virgin birth or no room in the inn, but everything to do with luke chapter 2. verse 19:
 "but mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." 

she treasured and she pondered.

and for that, mary must have stood still long enough to do both.

i, on the other hand, am not doing a whole lot of standing still these days. not in this season ...

and yet ... i want to be. i long to be.

only yesterday morning, i was in bible study and our speaker talked about doing christmas differently this year. she said,
"this year, all i want for christmas is Jesus. Jesus. just to know Him better, to see Him more clearly, to worship Him more wonderfully."
she went on to explain how when she went shopping for the perfect gifts for her children, she wanted to remember it is Jesus who is the perfect gift. when she hung christmas lights on her tree she wanted to think about Jesus, the Light of the World. and when she baked cookies she wanted to keep in mind Who it is that truly satisfies.

i listened to her words and loved everything she was saying. shaking my head in agreement, i thought to myself, "yes, sister, yes!"

but, if i'm honest, i also sat cringing a bit in my secret knowledge of who i really am and how i really operate. especially in busy seasons like these.

i'm not mary. and often, i forget about Jesus.

i, too, want to string lights and remember the Light of the World. but it was just last week that i was wrestling (yes, wrestling) with that stupid, stubborn strand of lights on our tree that went out AGAIN.

i want to remember when i pop a cookie or two (or ten) into my mouth that only Jesus really satisfies  -- but, oh man, how i do love those christmas cookies! i am pretty sure when i was eating one cookie after another at our holiday gathering on sunday i didn't once think about Jesus!

and then, just yesterday morning, at the beginning of her talk, i was half listening while making a list on my iphone of things i had yet to do in my day.

anyone slightly appalled (yet) at the irony or sheer ridiculousness of this situation?

anyone else struggling in this same way?

there i was listening to a lovely lady talk about keeping christ the focus of christmas and i was focusing on my errand list. i was plotting how just after bible study i would quick dash over to the craft store in the next town and purchase my large paper mache letters which i would quick dash home and paint and then arrange on my mantle to spell out "NOEL." (one of those strange decorating "visions" i am prone to).

there i was hearing about the first noel, the birthday of Jesus, and my need to focus on Him, and there i was a woman with no focus.

i wasn't treasuring.

i wasn't pondering.

i wasn't listening.

no, instead i was on my iphone typing. plotting. listing.

because i'm jody and i'm nothing like mary.

mary who the bible tells us was just a young girl. simple. scared. overwhelmed. on her own.

mary who had no experience in birth.
mary who had no midwife or doctor.
mary who had no room in the inn.
mary who had no clue what would be required.

mary who was wrapping in swaddling clothes the very Son of God. the King of Kings.  the Redeemer of Nations. the Prince of Peace.

and i think i'm overwhelmed with what i have to do?

give me a break!

young mary, overwhelmed and under-experienced, was holding Jesus. Jesus!

and yet the scripture, in no way, suggests that she was fretting or pacing or panicking. the only thing it reveals about this young mother after giving birth to the Christ child is her treasuring and pondering.

oh Lord, make me a little bit more like mary.

i don't have to dress up in a blue sheet and hold a baby doll in front of a church service, but Jesus, make me still enough in this christmas season to treasure you. make me quiet enough to ponder the Prince of Peace. make me take notice of the First Noel.

all week in minnesota we've dipped below zero degrees. tonight we are expecting a low of minus 10. it's cold. frozen. frigid. there's a lot of snow. and with this snow comes a hush. a quiet. it's the kind of weather which just makes a person want to stay put. to sit in front of the fire with a cup of coffee. to stare out the window and watch the flakes fall. to be still.

“be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,  
  I will be exalted in the earth!” ~ psalm 46:10

like mary: still. treasuring. pondering the Son of God. the exalted among all nations.

sure, everyone's got a lot to do in december and this kind of weather is more like january -- even in minnesota. but the deep cold has come early this year and the stillness and hush have set in.

and today, i realized, i'm kind of glad.

if i can't make myself be still and quiet and calm in this season, than i'm thankful the weather is keeping me in a bit. {okay, so i did rush over to the craft store after bible study yesterday --- i cannot lie} --- but on the way home, i thought more about the message of the morning, and i realized the frozen, bare landscape outside my window is just another reminder to seek Jesus, just as He arrived to mary in that stable --- beautiful. simple. quiet. Jesus.

oh friends, i don't know what it might take for you. but i'm praying this morning that, like mary, you might trade in your december trips and panic for God's treasure and pondering.

whether your hands are nestled in warm mittens or not, let them open to hold the perfect gift, the Christ child ... like mary. 

looking out my front window ...  sometimes God is so incredibly clear.

{grace words: treasuring. pondering. still. noel}

okay, so here's the (infamous) N O E L ...

becky's writing some grace words this morning too! check her out at THE WORD OF GOD AND A CUP OF JOE!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

she can't forget

i handed her the pill and some water. watching her swallow, i swallowed right along with her. hard to believe just last week she was in the dominican republic serving on a senior class mission's trip.

now with thanksgiving behind us and christmas around the corner, our home is taking on a festive glow. a glow which isn't easily reconciled with where she's just come home from.

i can see the tree lights behind her as she sets down her water glass.

the malaria pills must be continued for a few weeks after returning to the states. we've set alerts on our phone and reminders on the fridge door. we can't forget.

no, we simply can't forget.

and that's it -- she can't forget either.

she's not so worried about her malaria pill, but what she can't forget is her time spent in the dominican republic.

i can see it in her eyes. she arrived home from her week in a foreign land, speaking a foreign language, living a foreign life. she arrived home and jumped feet first into the holiday hustle. home just in time to plop herself down at the bountiful thanksgiving table. just in time to count blessings and friends and the incredible number of side dishes.

thanksgiving morning she sat at our kitchen counter as i worked on a couple of casseroles and she talked on and on and on about her week in the "DR." when i had completed the strawberry jello salad, i sat with her and we scrolled through her 1500+ pictures. one image of need and brokenness after another spilling out from her computer screen. i'll be honest, it was hard to see. i was so glad she was home and wanted to hear all about her trip, but thanksgiving morning or any morning, it can be hard to take it all in.

she told how on the first day her group went to a big supermarket warehouse and purchased many bags of groceries. they filled their carts with staples and basics and then loaded these bags into their bus heading for a small village on the outskirts of town. a village literally in the middle of the jungle.

as i began to chop vegetables for our wild rice casserole, she went on to explain how shocking it had been when they arrived in the village with their groceries. it was only day one of their trip and she hadn't quite prepared for the enormity of need she would encounter. there was no training. no preparing. no getting ready for a village like this. the bus stopped and they climbed out with their bags and their high school innocence. they walked from house to house in the midst of small children running everywhere in excitement. some of these children only partially clothed. the students followed these children to the houses stepping around dirt and rubbish and random pieces of building material along the way. the homes were devastating to see. emily has been to guatemala and thailand on mission's trips, but these homes were some of the worst she'd ever experienced. the need was overwhelming. the heat incredible. the situation devastating. after offering groceries, they spent time inside some of the houses praying with a few of the people. one lady even insisted on praying for them.

emily gave her testimony in this home here to the right. "this structure was smaller than my bedroom, mom," she explained, "and seven people live here! they all live in this one room!"

and then just a week later, thanksgiving morning, and she was home, sitting in my kitchen telling stories of her first day in this impoverished community. i mixed the wild rice and sauted onion and listened as she talked on and on. one story of impact leading to another. there weren't enough minutes in our thanksgiving morning to hear everything.

how did my daughter leave that scene and then come home to sit at a beautifully appointed thanksgiving table a couple of days later watching us all eat until we could eat no more. how does this happen? how does a 17 year old girl transition between these two worlds? how can any of us easily reconcile the bounty and the burden?

these issues involve a deep wrestling in the spirit. until we go and see and experience life in villages like this, it is easy to forget about our need wrestle.

this week, the kids are back to school and we've stepped from our november holiday right into december. the house is in the process of getting decorated. we are debating big issues like white lights or colored. we are wondering why the garland seems dry and fussing over where to put our nativity scene. i found myself grumbling earlier today over  that stubborn string of lights on the tree which has gone out for the second time. we are making our lists and checking them twice not wanting to forget anything. i've been to the craft store and the floral store and the home goods store 32 times since saturday trying to pull everything together. not wanting to forget an item or a necessary thing.

and then i watch her this afternoon swallow her malaria pill and think about how she must be processing all of this. she was only just last week passing out food to unclothed children and burdened mamas and tired men. just last week she walked the halls of a leprosy center, fed lunch to disabled children at an orphanage, and bartered in the streets of santo domingo.
emily's good friend, kevin, awesome smile, awesome shirt, awesome kid!
i know my girl is full swing back into her suburban minnesota life. she is excited about the holiday season and she is excited about choosing her college and she is excited about things like coffee dates, christmas decorating and snowboarding. life resumes in all of its beauty and wonder, but i also know my daughter has come home changed.

she won't easily forget what she left behind in the dominican republic.

she doesn't need a malaria pill every tuesday to remind her of what she experienced, what she saw. she doesn't need these photos to help her remember. she came home with a heart impacted and eyes opened wider. she came home with a better understanding of need and brokenness and struggle.

in a time when we want to lose ourselves in the glow of the beautiful season, we must remember our blessings. not take any of it for granted. not spend too much time worrying over the casserole or the color of our lights or the gift items on our list.

i know it's just easier to look away from the struggle. it's just easier to focus on the beautiful. i know for my girl, it would be easier to just forget what she saw.

but just like that malaria pill  -- she knows she can't forget. her experience is seared deeply in her heart and it will go with her. it will change her. it will prepare her for another opportunity to go or serve or bless again.

it is probably harder this week for emily to make her list of christmas wants when she has only just come back from a place of such great need. but i would challenge us all to consider that christmas does need to be about the want of others. not just what is on our list ... but what we can do to bless others: how we can come alongside them? where can we meet a need? how can we bless? where shall we serve? what can we do?

maybe the next few weeks don't allow you the opportunity to walk through an impoverished village in a foreign country. but friend, i'd encourage you to look around. chances are you'll find someone pretty impoverished right here where you are.

don't just look, but ask yourself, "what can i do?"

emily went to the dominican to serve. if you think about it, she really wasn't able to "do" a whole lot. she was a 17 year old girl in a group of 60 some students. they were only there for a quick seven days. yes, they built a swing set, played with children, put on skits, shared their testimonies, prayed over people. yes! but considering the great need, someone might argue they didn't make a huge dent in the needs of this third world country. but here's the deal: they did what they could. they did what we are called to do. and maybe the dent they were supposed to make wasn't just in that country, but in their own hearts. maybe we serve and we go and we bless, so that we experience the impact and dent in our own lives. and when we're dented we are also softened and made more aware of what God wants us to do with our time here on earth.

yes, we go on mission's trips to serve others, but we also go to get dented. changed. maybe even wrecked a little bit for the normal things of our comfortable lives.

and then we go again. we serve again. we bless others again. maybe it's not about just doing this one thing  ... maybe it's about how doing one thing changes us in multiple things. in multiple ways. for multiple purposes.

and if it seems these students weren't able to accomplish much, you didn't see the smile on the face of the disabled little girl who had never before experienced a swing. these students built a swing set while they visited and her smile alone was worth the entire trip.

this morning i attended a chapel at the school where the seniors shared their experience with parents and the other students. it was amazing to hear student after student tell stories of their week.  this morning one of emily's friends, luke, was sharing about the time they spent with people at the leprosy center. luke said this, "it was so incredible to see the joy of these people. even though they had suffered so much, even lost limbs and been rejected by people ... even though they didn't have the
another "new swing" smile!
privileges we have, they had so much joy."

another senior girl, elisa, shared her experience when she was feeding a frail woman at the leprosy center. the woman barely had enough strength to swallow her food, but elisa started singing "open the eyes of my heart Lord" and in this morning's chapel,  she told us, "the more i sung, the more it was like i was praying a prayer over her and i couldn't help but think of that verse where Jesus said, 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'"

luke and elisa and emily and the rest of this senior class won't forget these experiences. these teens have come home with more than stories and pictures and incredible moments, these kids have come home with a few dents in them. beautiful, beautiful, beautiful dents.

they have a couple more weeks of malaria pills ... but they have a life time to remember the impact from their week in the dominican republic.

this is a home which was built in that jungle village.
this family once lived in one of those ramshackle structures pictured above. such hope!

emily said as they left the village these children chased their bus waving good-bye.

"truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least 

of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." 

~ matthew 25
emily's good friend, lauren, loving on one of the kids.
emily told me this girl is 17 like her...
the students got to play baseball with a group of kids and talk with them

emily with friends, braedy and kevin
the seniors did a drama for students at a public school - love the drama!
emily had a chance to share her testimony with the school kids
cow wandering the roadside eating a little garbage -- oh my!

finding some time to eno in the DR with friends jack and jacob!
peace out!

* for more, check out the slide show emily and her friends put together:  you tube video of DR trip