Saturday, November 29, 2014

starting Christmas simple

it's like this every year.
we finish our turkey and turn our hearts and our homes immediately toward christmas.

and i like that.
i like the order of the events. the expectation. the tradition.

i'm pretty sure i'll never be a gal who agrees to put up her christmas before carving the bird.
(not a thing wrong with that, mind you ... just how i'm wired).

and so yesterday -- the day after thanksgiving -- the trees came in.
two of them.
and the house filled with that heavenly mixture of holiday pine and hollering children excitement.

in classic, chaotic, large family style, we took on the trees.
the littlest ones helped us wrap lights -- assembly line work around all this gorgeous green.
the oldest son sprawled beneath taking orders from his dad.
"a little to the left. back to the right. straighten it out. screw it in. careful now."

the teen girls took snapchats and selfies and instagram photos while offering opinions about the location and best side and the overall effect.

and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
the trees were in.
the lights were on.
and christmas could commence.

and that's all we accomplished -- only trees in and lights on.

my 11 year old must have asked no less than 26 times,"tomorrow mom? tomorrow we are going to do all the other stuff, right?"  tomorrow we are going to decorate the whole house, like everything, like lights and other stuff, right mom? tomorrow?"

when i crashed, tired on the couch, he capitalized on the opportunity to slide his ipad under my nose with picture after picture of grand outdoor lighting displays from houses around the country.
what we COULD do.
"look at these, mom ... can you imagine if we did this, mom? wow. just think if we did all this, mom. wouldn't it be something if we did this, mom? 
... mom, can we do something kind of like this?"

trust me, the griswold christmas house had nothing on these pictures.

but this morning, sitting here with nothing more than some white lights twinkling and a warm fire blazing i am enjoying the simplicity of just this.

and i feel that same strong desire, which comes every year ... to keep it simple.
to add nothing more.
to stop right here.

we have crates upon crates upon crates of christmas stuff in our basement. and yet, for this brief quiet morning, i kind of want to pause at this spot of green tree, white lights and fire blazing.


it's not the grinch in me rising up ... but the grace in the moment showing up.

there's beauty to be found in simple.
there's quiet.
there's calm.
there's peace.

what if we chose to forget the hoopla and the must-haves and the many shopping lists and the multi-colored, glittery gobs of stuff we get lost in?

what if we did it different.

just as Jesus came to us  -- different.

“and this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in 

swaddling cloths and lying in a manger …” ~ luke 2:12

i know everyone was expecting a king in royal robes to show up ...
but, instead, the Savior of the world arrived as a baby in swaddling cloths.

everyone must have imagined the most amazing palace, the most ornate kind of cradle ...
but mary laid his head in nothing more than a rough wooden manger ... in a stable.

and in the start of 2014 christmas, that verse speaks deeply to me.

the swaddling cloths.
the manger.
the stable.

the Savior.

the beautiful simplicity of what really matters.

and, yes, today ... i will begin pulling out some of those crates ... (perhaps not all of them). and we will add some festive ribbon and garland and ornaments. we will embrace and enjoy a little bit of the fun christmas chaos. of course we will ...

now i see you shaking your heads. and you're right. i, too, realize we can only keep things so simple for so long. i mean can you imagine if we didn't pull out the 8 tiny reindeer and the giant inflatable snowman? can you imagine what connor mcnatt might say if we don't cover every single bush of our front yard with twinkling white lights?

no, of course we will.

but right now ... in this quiet, dark morning. 
in this moment. 
i will enjoy ... only this.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

in the backseat {veterans day 2014}

even after a grim cancer diagnosis his buddies were still asking him, "roger, why are you always so happy?"

that's what our guest speaker told us on veterans day this past tuesday. his friends -- even his doctor -- over the years have wanted to know his secret ... wanted to know why he always seems to be so darn happy.

roger wise went on to tell the audience what he tells anyone who asks, "it's because i'm in the back seat. God's driving my car and i'm happy to hang out in the backseat. i'm just along for the ride. that's it. that's all of it."

roger explained that since he wasn't in charge, he didn't have to worry. "if God wants me standing in 6 months, i'll be standing ... looking up. and if God wants me laying down in 6 months, i'll be laying down ... looking up."

i sat in the director's chair with my headset and my tech notes and i began to listen closer to the words of our guest speaker. and though i was the gal who had to be sharp and ready and on top of the next cue, i couldn't stop the tears from running down my cheeks.

what a message to hear on this veterans day. with an auditorium packed full of almost 2500 people -- school children. senior citizens. busy moms and dads. soldiers. heroes. the disabled, the discouraged, the disease ridden. what a message. what a gift.

and me, the chief sinner.
me, the chronic controller.
me, the one who had just spent her last 24 hours stressing over the details of this program and trying to fit all the moving parts into a perfect order and pace.
me, who had left the dress rehearsal the day before, climbed into my car, and wondered how in the world everything would combine in time for a program which hinged on military precision and the fine details of decorum. me, the woman who (because she's weird) has always kinda liked to sit in the director's seat.

"i'm just in the backseat, but God's driving my car." and those words of roger wise tuesday morning, nailed me, right between my control-seeking eyes. this was not in my notes, not part of the script, not even especially what i wanted to hear. but tuesday morning i got the message. loud and clear.

tuesday, our school held its 20th veterans day celebration. for the past twenty years perimeter christian school has been putting on a program to honor the heroes of our country. and a celebration it was! every extra element imaginable was added to the show this year ... including a ballet number, a marching band and a special tribute.

when i was asked to step back into my old position as director, i was quick to agree. i did this for several years prior to moving to minnesota.

no big deal. easy peasy. could do it in my sleep. (not really, but you get the point).

but by the end of monday's dress rehearsal, i'll be honest, i was second guessing myself.
"who did i think i was?"
"what did i think i could handle?"
"why wasn't i better organized?"
even ... "why in the world had i said yes?"
you know ... those kind of phrases which fly willy nilly through our heads when the chaos level and fear of failure has risen to a precarious level.

i left the auditorium feeling defeated.

by the time i got home i had already texted several friends and asked them to pray.

asking a few friends to pray?  --- best director's call i made all day!

please pray.

at perimeter we like to do it right. we like to do it well. we care about the details. and, honestly, i love that about our school. i love that blazers are buttoned and ties are straightened and knee socks are pulled up and cheeks are scrubbed clean and heads are held high.

because on veterans day, we are there to honor people who take that kind of thing seriously.

soldiers are trained deep in discipline. they are raised up in practices of respect and responsibility.

and the last thing any of us working on this special day want is to have them show up to something sloppy or half-hearted. so we all give a little extra to pull it together. i can't tell you the number of people it takes. i don't even know the number ... but it's big including everything from decorations to drum rolls ... from flags to final curtains.

and clearly, in these past 20 years, God has been in the driver's seat. His hand is on this program as it has been on this school. blessing it. growing it. driving it forward.

as a part of tuesday's celebration, our headmaster, bobby scott, invited gayle murray to join us. mrs. murray was the 3rd grade teacher who came up with this idea 20 years ago. she spoke a few minutes about how this all came to be.
"i wanted to do something different on veterans day, but i didn't know what. i didn't know what i could do. but then it occurred to me, i could be thankful. so i began there."

that's how this celebration found its start 20 years ago, and that's still the heartbeat of what holds it together today -- thankfulness. we are thankful to the men and women who have served our country well and it is a privilege to put on a program which shows our gratitude.

from my spot in the tech booth tuesday, i could see veterans out in the audience ... the smiles ... the tears ... the beautiful emotion evident on their faces. and i was reminded of what we do and why we do it. it's not just another program to direct or another chance to perform ... no ... it's about HONOR and GRATITUDE and GIVING BACK to those who have given so much.

and if that means a few extra hours of planning or a hectic dress rehearsal on monday, then so be it. it's worth it. every minute of it. it's worth it when we hear the 4th graders belt out the "armed forces medley" or watch small children wave flags and welcome veterans. it's worth it when we get to listen to a young boy's essay telling why his grandpa is his hero -- a man who once battled for his country and is now battling Alzheimer's. it's worth it to see the faces of these veterans as the colors are posted or their branch is recognized or "taps"" is played. it's worth it and it's humbling.

i am humbled and i am reminded that regardless of our title or our position or even our determination, we are not in the driver's seat. whether we are talking about our precious health or our beloved homeland ... we have no control over the outcome.

roger wise explained that this knowledge is what makes him happy.

it's easy to think (at least in my world) that if i have all my plans in place and all my ducks in a row (and my house clean - let's not forget that) ... it's easy to think THEN ... THEN i will be happy. and though i do not want to discount the immense pleasure of clean floors, i was reminded this week in a veterans day program that all the T-crossing and plan-making and detail-orchestrating in the world isn't going to be what makes any of us happy.

it's surrendering our seat.

soldier or barely sane woman ... school child or senior citizen ... surrender.

no matter our rank or our responsibilities ... no matter our medals or our mistakes ... we belong in the backseat.

got to catch a quick glimpse of this little american proudly waving her flag!

the JCVA posted the colors this year -- an honor to work with these men.
our headmaster, bobby scott, is presented an award for leading our school these past 20 years in this program.
ballerinas danced beautifully to "we will not forget." 
veterans stand and are honored when their branch song is sung in the medley.
6th grader, asher, explains his poster. a soldier bowing to the cross. Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice.
essay winners
mr. levon stack blew the roof off the house singing "the star spangled banner" acapella.

think of what our country's freedom has meant to these girls ...
a couple of these pictures are mine. 
 thank you for these beautiful pictures talented ladies!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

the promise concert recap on orphan sunday

"religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: 
to look after orphans and widows in their distress ..."  ~ james 1:27

it’s taken me a few days to get my act together. okay ... maybe more like a whole week.
last weekend was the promise686 concert and i have yet to post a blog or add an album of pictures from the event.

but today, on this orphan sunday, i’m motivated to share what took place last saturday night.

we had 14 of these canvases around the pool/patio area.
just some of the kids who have come home with the help of promise686.
the ministry, promise686, which helped bring bella home 4 years ago, has been growing steadily since we’ve been in minnesota and when they called and asked if i would help lead a fundraiser for the ministry, i couldn’t say no.

and just like that (haha) ... we put on an outdoor dinner and concert under a big white tent on a beautiful night in october. good music, good food, good wine and good people gathered together to hear about what God is doing in an anything-but-good-situation.

promise686 is committed to helping children in crisis.
through adoption and foster care, promise686 helps families raise money for grants to bring home kids.
promise comes alongside families both financially and physically – huge areas of need when dealing with kids who have no one.

kids who have been abandoned, neglected or orphaned.

i've actually had a few different people tell me that word makes them uncomfortable.

yes, that's what they've said, "uncomfortable."

well, i would hope so.


but for the majority of us, the idea of orphan can be something we loosely associate with a cute red head on broadway singing her heart out about tomorrow.

that's as far as our brains will allow us to go --- just a cute kid, with a cute dog who ends up living with a millionaire.

a fairytale.

except, in reality, there are over 150 million orphans in our world.

and in their reality, these kids don't have much to sing about. the reality for these kids doesn’t provide much hope for tomorrow, because today, they are still orphans.
real ones.
kids living without a mom or a dad or sisters or brothers.
kids who are alone and kids who are lonely.

psalm  68:5-6 says that God is "father to the fatherless ...God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing..."

maybe that broadway dream isn't so far-fetched when God gets involved, right?

when God calls families to the family-less.
when God sets the lonely in loving places.
when God leads imprisoned children out in singing.

i don't know about you, but i'm visual. i love to see pictures in my mind to help make sense of things and when i read that verse i see 150 million kids of every color, shape and size being led forth in singing and it's a beautiful picture because i know that's God's heart.

God – the Father to the fatherless.

and we see it everywhere.

we have lots of friends who have adopted kids internationally and domestically. just this morning we sat in church next to dear friends who adopted both domestically and from the ukraine.  another family was in front of us who has for the past 6 years been waiting and fighting for their daughter in krgystan – they are finally getting close! just behind us was a family who added their 5th child in a recent domestic adoption (their oldest is 6)!

seriously, adoption is all around us.
and i love that.
but there are still so many.
so many orphans.

so many kids who still need to come home.

last weekend, we hosted this fundraiser and invited 200+ people to come and hear. people who weren’t aware of what promise686 is doing …people who had the ability to help make a difference … people who, perhaps, didn’t even realize there was a crisis.

through videos and stories and short talks, the evening was a celebration of what has already taken place and an awareness challenge to what we all can do to continue these efforts.

i was excited about all the beautiful elements of this party … but without doubt, the most beautiful part of the evening was hearing people say, “i want to help. I want to support … i want to give.” what they were really saying is, "i want to help bring more kids home."

we can’t solve the orphan crisis in one evening. but we can do our part … and that’s what God calls us to – just doing our part. whether it be to pray, to act or to give --- we all have an important part to play.

so the word orphan makes people uncomfortable.
i get it. and, personally, i’m so glad.
i’m glad because i know it’s in our comfortable places that we become numb to the nudgings of Jesus.

so, Lord, go ahead ... and make us uncomfortable.

as the person responsible for the atmosphere of our event, my job was to accommodate our guests … to ensure a good meal, good entertainment and good overall experience – to make them comfortable.

And where everything in me wanted to do that and even enjoyed doing that … the prayer of my heart was always, through all of it, “Lord, make us uncomfortable that we would see the crisis of these kids and hear the cries of the orphan.”

"i always questioned if i was ready to adopt and then realized no child was ready to be an orphan." ~ unknown
(stole this quote from my dear friend, diana's post today)! 

each table was named for a child who has been adopted or fostered with the help of promise. the centerpiece had the child's name and picture and at each place setting a little bit of the child's story was shared with the guests. each table told the story of a different child.

this is april and she's amazing. no kidding, she was my right hand or wing-woman on this event! 
love her.

the evening began with a cocktail party poolside! what's not to love about that?

 rose and her dad, jeffery, shared the powerful story of how she and her brother came home from haiti. it was almost the only time in the evening i actually stood still and listened. it's one thing to hear about adoption and orphans from adults ... a whole other thing to hear it from the children. 

that's andy cook up there on stage -- he's the executive director of promise686. he worked tirelessly on the details of this event. i remember the phone call when he shared the vision of this evening with me. pretty cool for all of us to see it come to be.
everyone enjoyed the music of ed roland of collective soul and the sweet tea project.